Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723)
Much of our visual interpretation of British historical figures from the reign of Charles II to George I is gleaned through the study of Kneller’s portraits...
Much of our visual interpretation of British historical figures from the reign of Charles II to George I is gleaned through the study of Kneller’s portraits, as over a forty year period he painted nearly every person of note – sometimes twice in fact as with the case of Berkeley, who also sat to Kneller earlier in 1710 for the series of Kit-Cat Club portraits [NPG, London].
James Berkeley was the second son of Charles, 2nd Earl of Berkeley and Elizabeth Noel, daughter of Baptist Noel, 1st Viscount Campden. Berkeley’s career in the navy began in May 1695 when he was appointed a volunteer on board the Centurion before moving to the Monk in 1697. In 1699 following the death of his elder brother, Berkeley was styled Lord Dursley and later that year was promoted to lieutenant. After a brief career in politics as a Whig MP for Gloucester, Berkeley, presumably due the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession, returned to the service as a captain and commanded the frigate Sorlings. In March 1705 Berkeley was summoned to the House of Lords as Lord Berkeley of Berkeley and the following year returned to sea, where he later saw action at the siege of Toulon in 1707.
Whilst returning to England from Toulon, Berkeley witnessed one of the most tragic events in naval history; the wreck of the Association off the coast of the Isles of Scilly. On that night a total of four ships were wrecked with the loss of some 1,450 men, however Berkeley’s ship The George, which hit the same rock was pushed to safety by the heavy swell.
In 1708 Berkeley was promoted to vice-admiral of the red and whilst aboard the Berwick was second only to Sir George Byng. In late 1708 Berkeley was promoted to vice-admiral of the white and one year later in December 1709 to vice-admiral of the blue, before leaving the service in 1710 for a number of years.
In September 1710, on the death of his father, Berkeley became 3rd Earl of Berkeley as well as succeeding him as lord lieutenant of Gloucestershire and high steward of Gloucester. In the same year Berkeley was appointed to command the fleet of warships charged with the safe delivery of George I from the Dutch coast to Greenwich, who in return appointed him lord of the bedchamber. In 1717 Berkeley was appointed first lord of the Admiralty and the following year was made knight of the Garter.
Following brief service in March 1719 Berkeley was appointed commander-in-chief of the fleet in the channel but one month later struck his flag, although remained at the Admiralty until 1727 when he was dismissed. Berkeley died in France in August 1736 and was buried at Berkeley.