Governor Berkeley Is Undone

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.


Green Spring
Governor Berkeley’s Green Spring Plantation as seen by Benjamin Latrobe during the plantation’s Ludwell ownership


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  2. Billings, Warren M. Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2004.
  3. Billings, Warren. A Little Parliament: The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond, VA: Library of Virginia, 2004.
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  8. Mapp, Alfred J. Virginia Experiment: The Old Dominion’s Role in the Making of America, 1607-1781Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2006.
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  12. Wallenstein, Peter. Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2007.
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  14. Washburn, Wilcomb E. Virginia Under Charles I and Cromwell 1625-1660. Kindle Edition.
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  16. Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. The Planters of Colonial Virginia. Kindle Edition.


Berkeley Signature



All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is Governor Berkeley’s addressing the Virginia Assembly regarding the new Parliamentary government following the English Civil War.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and “Facade” by Sons of the East, also available on iTunes.

Rev. John Ericson Interview – From Religious Wars to Religious Freedom: 17th Century Virginia’s Religious Transformation (Pillars of 17th Century Virginia Society, Part 2)

Rev. John Ericson

Religious wars plagued Europe. The Thirty Years War claimed up to 40% of Germany’s population. Many towns were completely destroyed in the conflict that pulled not just the Germans, but so many of Europe’s other leading powers into the abyss.

Such a conflict inevitably spread beyond the European continent. The Dutch, who were also fighting their own religious war against the Spanish took advantage of the crumbling Portuguese and Spanish overseas empire during this time, while constant pressure from the Turks added bloodshed in Southeastern Europe.

King James anxiously watched from his island haven, especially as many of his relatives played key roles in the continental fight. He had to navigate those stormy times, but his piloting the English ship of state soon led to fallout that erupted into the English Civil War during which James’ son Charles lost his head.

Politics and religion mixed with devastating effect. The combination scarred the European landscape literally and figuratively for generations to come. Because of these horrific events many looked to escape the scene. They wanted to exchange the centralized, top-down governmental religious control responsible for Europe’s implosion.

Those settlers who wanted to escape sought refuge in the New World, and many of them leaving England found freedom to exercise their faith in Virginia.

Virginia was officially an Anglican colony, especially after 1643, but Puritans, Catholics, Huguenots, Baptists, and other groups filled the landscape. In time these groups started to work together in a way that influenced America’s religious thought, and brought about toleration. No longer would people be tied to whatever belief the king or government held. Individuals would be allowed to hold personal convictions that they’d be responsible for in front of God alone.







All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author. The Featured Image is of Historic St. Luke’s Church in Smithfield, Virginia.

Music used for this episode – Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers,”Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” available on iTunes, and Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major BWV 1007:1 Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Yo-Yo Ma, also available on iTunes.