I often wonder how my ancestors met and decided to marry. For my noble ancestors marriages were arranged and I hope love developed from their union. At the other end of the scale I suspect that some of my pauper ancestors married out of financial need and for companionship. For the rest, the majority, I believe love was a factor. It was certainly a factor in this story, because my direct ancestor Sir Maurice Berkeley lost an inheritance over his choice of bride.
Maurice Berkeley, also known as Maurice the Lawyer, (1435- 1506) de jure the 3rd Baron Berkeley of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, was an English nobleman. He was born at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, the youngest son of James Berkeley, the 1st Baron Berkeley, (1394–1463). Contemporaries also referred to James as James the Just.
Maurice’s mother was Lady Isabel, daughter of Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, while his elder brother was William Berkeley, 1st Marquess of Berkeley, the 2nd Baron Berkeley. William was known as William the Waste-All. In terms of succession, because William had no children, Maurice was in line to inherit the Berkeley fortune.
In 1465 Maurice married Isabel Meade (1444 – 29 May 1514), the daughter of Philip Meade (c1415-1475) of Wraxall Place in the parish of Wraxall, Somerset. Philip was an Alderman of Bristol, an MP, and thrice Mayor of Bristol, in 1458-9, 1461-2 and 1468-9.
Maurice and Isabel produced four children.
- Sir Maurice Berkeley, de jure 4th Baron Berkeley (1467 – 12 September 1523), eldest son and heir, who was made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of King Henry VIII in 1509.
- Thomas Berkeley de jure 5th Baron Berkeley (1472 – 22 January 1532), second son, who was knighted on 9 September 1513 by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, at the Battle of Flodden.
- James Berkeley (c1474 – 1515).
- Anne Berkeley (d.1560), my direct ancestor who married Sir William Denys (1470–1533) of Dyrham, Gloucestershire, a courtier of King Henry VIII and Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1518 and 1526.
Maurice and his brother William were participants in the Battle of Nibley Green, which was fought near North Nibley in Gloucestershire on 20 March 1470 between the troops of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle, and William Berkeley. This battle was notable for being the last fought in England between private armies of feudal magnates.
The Battle of Nibley Green took place because of a dispute over the inheritance of Berkeley Castle and associated lands. Lisle challenged William Berkeley to a battle, a challenge William accepted.
Lisle raised a force among his ill-equipped local tenants while William Berkeley drew upon the garrison at Berkeley Castle, his local levies, and miners from the Forest of Dean. Maurice, with his retinue, also rode to his brother’s aid.
In terms of numbers, the Berkeley brothers held the advantage, 1,000 men to 300. Philip Meade, Maurice’s father-in-law, also provided men to support the Berkeley brothers’ cause.
Lisle encouraged his men to charge against Berkeley’s troops. In response, Berkeley’s archers loosed their arrows and broke up the charge. One of the Dean Foresters, an archer named ‘Black Will’, shot Lisle in the left temple through his open visor and unhorsed him. In the melee, dagger thrusts put an end to Lisle’s life. Leaderless, Lisle’s army scattered and fled.
Despite Maurice Berkeley and Philip Meade’s support, William Berkeley disinherited his brother. The reason? William reckoned that Maurice had married beneath himself; he’d married a ‘commoner’ a person of ‘mean blood’.
In reality, Isabel’s father, Philip, was a wealthy merchant, but William reckoned that the marriage brought the noble family of Berkeley into disrepute. However, Maurice stood by Isabel and forsook his inheritance, which included Berkeley Castle.
Maurice died in September 1506 aged 70 and was buried in the Austin Friary in the City of London. Isabel was also buried there, in 1514.