Elizabeth Carey, Lady Berkeley

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Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley's tomb effigy by Nicholas Stone, in St Dunstan's church, Cranford, Middlesex

Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley (née Carey; later Chamberlain; 24 May 1576 – 23 April 1635), was an English courtier and patron of the arts.


Elizabeth Carey was the only child of George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon, and Elizabeth Spencer. Queen Elizabeth I was one of her godmothers.[1] Her childhood was divided between the Hunsdon residence at Blackfriars, London, Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, and (from 1593) the manor of West Drayton, Middlesex.[2]

She married Sir Thomas Berkeley on 19 February 1596, probably at Blackfriars, when she was nineteen years old: her wedding is one of the occasions that has been suggested that Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream was performed for the first time in public.[3] On 5 January 1606, at the wedding festivities of the Earl of Essex and Lady Frances Howard, Elizabeth was one of the female dancers representing the "Powers of Juno" in Ben Jonson's masque Hymenaei:[4] there is an extant portrait of her dressed in her masque costume.

She bore her husband a daughter and a son:

Elizabeth and her husband circulated between Berkeley residences including New Park, Gloucestershire, Claverdon, Warwickshire, and Caludon Castle, near Coventry (the last being the principal home of her father-in-law, Henry, 7th Baron Berkeley, until his death in 1613). However, Sir Thomas was financially imprudent and ran up enormous debts. In a crisis of 1606–7, Elizabeth took over the management of his affairs (selling her own inheritance at Tonbridge and Hadlow, Kent, to minimise the burden); and in 1609 Sir Thomas signed a contract handing over all responsibility for household management to Elizabeth and the Berkeley family steward, John Smyth of Nibley. When Sir Thomas died (aged 37) in 1611, she paid off the many outstanding debts.[6][7]

In 1618 she bought the estate of Cranford, Middlesex for the sum of £7,000 from the co-heirs of Sir Richard Aston.[8] In February 1622, she remarried Sir Thomas Chamberlain (or Chamberland), a Justice of the King's Bench. When he died on 17 September 1625, her second husband bequeathed a generous £10,000 to her son from her first marriage.[3]

Elizabeth died on 23 April 1635 and was buried on 25 April in Cranford parish church.[3] Her white marble effigy, depicting her in her shroud, is by Nicholas Stone.[9]

Learning and patronage[edit]

Carey's mother was educated and a noted patron of the arts, and passed these traits on to her daughter. Carey was tutored by Henry Stanford. In 1594, aged 18, she is known to have translated two of Petrarch's sonnets from Italian into English.[10] In the same year, Thomas Nashe dedicated The Terrors of the Night to her, praising her "sharpe Wit" and "religious piety".[1][11] (The previous year, Nashe had dedicated Christ's Teares Over Jerusalem to her mother.) Peter Erondelle's French primer and book of manners, The French Garden (1605), was also dedicated to her, and it has been suggested that she served as the model for the character of "Lady Rimellaine" in the book.[3] In 1610, she was patron of Philemon Holland's translation from the Latin of William Camden's Britannia. She appears to have considered contributing £20, and perhaps £40, towards the volume; and in a commendatory poem Thomas Muriell praised her as the "rare Phoenix cause of this translation". However, shortly before publication, she seems to have become dissatisfied with the quality of Holland's work and withdrew her support: the published book does not mention her patronage, although she is mentioned in the next edition of 1637.[5] She is also listed among the many dedicatees of Camden's Annales (1625).

She donated volumes in Latin, Greek, French, Italian and English to Coventry school and city library.[5] In later life, John Smyth described her living at Cranford, "amongst her thousands of books".[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Beilin 2011.
  2. ^ Duncan-Jones 1999, p. 307.
  3. ^ a b c d Kathy Lynn Emerson, A Who's Who of Tudor Women, retrieved 12 October 2010
  4. ^ Barroll, Leeds (2001). Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: a cultural biography. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 108, 202. ISBN 0812235746. 
  5. ^ a b c Harris 2015, pp. 285–7.
  6. ^ Stone 1973, pp. 250–51, 255–59.
  7. ^ Broadway 1999.
  8. ^ Cokayne, George Edward; Gibbs, Vicary (1912). The Complete Peerage. 2 (2nd ed.). London: St Catherine Press. p. 139. 
  9. ^ Reynolds, Susan, ed. (1962). A History of the County of Middlesex. 3. London: Victoria County History. p. 185. 
  10. ^ Duncan-Jones 1999.
  11. ^ Duncan-Jones 1999, pp. 307–9.


  • Beilin, Elaine V. (2011) [2004]. "Carey [Carew], Elizabeth, Lady Hunsdon (1552–1618)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4641.  (subscription required) (on her mother, but includes a paragraph on Lady Berkeley)
  • Broadway, Jan (1999). "John Smyth of Nibley: a Jacobean man-of-business and his service to the Berkeley family". Midland History. 24: 79–97. 
  • Duncan-Jones, Katherine (1999). "Bess Carey's Petrarch: newly discovered Elizabethan sonnets". Review of English Studies. n.s. 50: 304–19. 
  • Harris, Oliver D. (2015). "William Camden, Philemon Holland and the 1610 translation of Britannia". Antiquaries Journal. 95: 279–303. 
  • Stone, Lawrence (1973). Family and Fortune: Studies in Aristocratic Finance in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 019822401X.