The Berkeley feud and the last private battle in England

Berkeley Castle (https://www.berkeley-castle.com/visit)

On the 20th March 1470 the Battle of Nibley Green brought the so-called Berkeley Feud to a head. It was to become the last private battle on English soil.

Edward IV was in the north of England at the time tying up the loose ends of unrest there. The Earl of Warwick, increasingly unhappy with his cousin, had rebelled in 1469 and imprisoned Edward in Warwick Castle. In September Edward was released and in 1470 following the Battle of Losecoat which had been fought on the 12th March the Earl of Warwick had fled England for France along with Edward’s brother, George Duke of Clarence.

Meanwhile Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle and William, Lord Berkeley took the opportunity to get on with a spot of feuding. Both men believed that they were entitled to the Berkeley estate as well as title and castle. Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury born Beauchamp was the granddaughter of Thomas, Lord Berkeley who died in 1417 (this is a long story). She and her sister were his co-heiresses via their mother Elizabeth. However, Berkeley’s estates and title passed to his brother’s son James, though it should be added that this wasn’t without dispute. In fact Thomas had enfeoffed Berkeley Castle and his lands to several trustees prior to his death because the line of inheritance was uncertain.

James died in 1463 and his son William inherited the title and the estates.

It wasn’t a straight forward sort of transfer across the family branches because Margaret was married to the Earl of Warwick – so one of the most powerful families in the land. Margaret had imprisoned James’ wife, Isabel, in 1452 when she attempted to appeal James’ claim to a council of Henry VI. Isabel died whilst still in captivity. Its probably didn’t help matters much.

In 1468 Margaret died and her claim was taken up by her eighteen year old grandson Thomas Talbot.

In 1470 William Berkeley attempted to conclude matters by issuing a personal challenge to Thomas. The pair’s heralds agreed a time and a place. The result was the Battle of Nibley Green. William had a substantial force of men which outnumbered Thomas’s. Thomas Talbot and some one hundred and fifty other men died. it probably didn’t help that Thomas forgot to lower his visor in the heat of the moment.

Thomas’s manor at Wotton was then sacked.

Margaret had occupied Wotton which was part of the Berkeley estate so William Wotton regarded it as his anyway. Lord Berkeley in one of his legal petitions accuses the Countess of unjustly keeping possession of his manors of Wotton, Symondshall, Cowley, and some others; of plotting and corrupting his servants to get possession of Berkeley Castle, and finally of compassing his death by means of a hired assassin.

Margaret denied the charge of intended murder but held fast to her claim to the Castle and manors of Berkeley. She believed that as Thomas Berkeley’s granddaughter by a direct line of inheritance that her various attempts to gain possession were justified and she petitioned to have her rights restored to her. The first petition and reply were referred by the king, (Edward IV) to the Lord Chancellor, to whom the subsequent pleas and counter-pleas were addressed, and in these proceedings, varied by predatory incursions upon each others’ manors and frequent fights between their servants and tenants, five years had passed without any decision being pronounced when Thomas Talbot inherited the feud.

William Berkeley was a Yorkist and Edward IV needed his support so he suffered little punishment being made a viscount in 1481. In 1483 he became the Earl of Nottingham. Berkeley didn’t have any legitimate children so his brother Maurice inherited the estate by which time William had done a Lord Stanley at Bosworth i.e. sat and waited to see what the outcome was going to be before joining the battle. Even worse he’d sent men to Richard III and money to Henry Tudor.

“A Sketch of the History of Berkeley Its Castle, Church, and the
Berkeley Family” by James Herbert Cooke,
Land Steward to the Right Hon. Lord Fitzhardinge.

Wagner, John A. The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses

2 thoughts on “The Berkeley feud and the last private battle in England

  1. I’ve seen several sources that believe James Hyett, the Constable of St. Briavels Castle was the one who killed Thomas Talbot at the Battle of Nibley Green. What is your opinion on this? I think Hyett is my ancestor. I really enjoy your articles. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.