The English Civil war claimed victims in Virginia, and the most prominent casualty was William Berkeley.
Berkeley’s first administration has been painted as rather successful, and for good reason. He had made peace with the Powhatan Confederation, increased trade with other colonies, as well as other countries, such as the Dutch, and he greatly aided in solidifying Virginia’s colonial government. For at least these major reasons Berkeley earned high praise from his Virginian constituents. But though high praise often followed Berkeley, there were still those who fell afoul of the Governor.
Much opposition accounts also had what seemed to be valid issues. The most prominent of those issues centered around religious freedom. Berkeley was a staunch Royalist, who supported the Anglican Church, but his increasingly powerful opponents were Puritans that sided with the Parliamentarian cause. That being the case, when King Charles I lost his head in 1649 the English government had to address their Royalist supporting Virginia governor.
The Mathews-Claiborne faction moved to spearhead Parliament’s response. Religious freedom certainly influenced their cause, but Berkeley’s decision to spurn the Navigation Acts which forbade Virginia to trade with anyone other than the English fueled the faction’s fire. In the end, Berkeley could not withstand his enemies combined weight, nor would Berkeley lead the colony into a bloody war. He submitted, to a point, and retired to his Green Spring Plantation, a subject of Cromwell’s England with powerful Royalist connections.
The English Civil War undoubtedly colored Sir William Berkeley’s first administration. Berkeley’s first Assembly answered the issue concerning a revived Virginia Company, but once King Charles sent his reply across the Atlantic war had already broken out in England.
Berkeley was a staunch Royalist, but Virginia had many ties to those in Parliament. Some of those ties were economic, and many were religious. Therefore, Berkeley had to deftly navigate tricky waters in such a way that allowed him to proclaim his allegiance, while also appeasing opposition, and opposition that included the powerful William Claiborne.
Though Berkeley had many years in Virginia to look forward to, the seeds for trouble were being sown as soon as that first Assembly meeting. But seeds for a strong Royalist enclave were also being planted deep into Virginia’s heart, and Berkeley was the main planter.
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William Berkeley arrived in Virginia during the winter 1642. He had many obstacles to overcome, even before he left England, but once he handled those obstacles he started to build a solid foundation from which to govern Virginia.
In spite of former Governor Harvey’s failures, he did put a few things in place that Berkeley could build upon, such as increased domestic government. Berkeley decided to keep those innovations in place, and work through those established channels to get the job done.
Berkeley’s approach to Virginia’s affairs endeared him to the many opposing factions. He’d need all the help he could get to govern the colony, especially considering the ambiguous political situation upon Berkeley’s arrival.
A potentially volatile Powhatan tribe made Berkeley’s position all the more tenuous. But the new governor was up to the task, and the beginning of his first gubernatorial tenure signaled a time of stability unseen in the colony. Virginia was now poised to advance like never before.
William Berkeley lived during an exciting though volatile era. England was transforming into a powerful modern country, and William worked hard to put himself close to all the action. He used powerful connections which were tied to the monarchy in ways that most Englishmen could only wish for. But though Berkeley enjoyed those connections, he was often uneasy about his future.
William had reason to worry, especially after the Bishops Wars proved to be a massive failure for King Charles and England. Growing discontent swelled ranks against the Crown, and those attached to it. Many within the administration saw trouble on the horizon and fled the kingdom for places they deemed safer. Berkeley’s connections urged him to do the same, and it seemed that he would follow those connections to the continent. But at the last minute, the ever ambitious Berkeley organized a stunning change of heart.
Instead of moving to ancient, exotic locales, William Berkeley looked to the often plagued Virginia. He didn’t want simple comfort. He wanted to build a name. King Charles consented to Berkeley’s request, and Virginia would forever be changed. So too would England.