Berkeley, Sir William, governor and captain general of Virginia from 1642 to 1652 and from 1660 to 1677, was son of Sir Maurice Berkeley, and brother of Lord John Berkeley of Stratton. He was born at Bruton, in Somersetshire, England, about 1610; graduated Master of Arts at Oxford in 1629, and travelled extensively in Europe. He was commissioned by King Charles governor of Virginia, August 9, 1641, and arrived in the colony in February, 1642, bearing with him the assurance of the king that the charter would not be restored. On April 18, 1644, a second Indian massacre occurred, but this did not prevent his visiting England in June, 1644, where he remained at the king's camp till June, 1645. In his absence his place was filled by Richard kemp, a member of the council, who had been its secretary. Another event of Berkeley's first administration was the expulsion of the Puritans from Norfolk and Nansemond counties. During the civil war in England many cavalier officers and other friends of the king emigrated to Virginia. The result was to give a strong royalist sympathy to the colony, so that the death of Charles I. was denounced by the assembly as murder, and to question the right of Charles II. was declared treason. At last, in 1651, parliament sent a fleet to subdue the country, but force was not used, and an accommodation was agreed to by both sides. April 30, 1652, Berkeley was superceded in the government by Richard Bennet; whereupon he retired to his country residence, "Greenspring," distant about five miles from Jamestown.
In January, 1660, Governor Samuel Matthews died and the general assembly, who had became disgusted with the chaotic state of affairs in England, recalled Governor Berkeley to the government in the March following. He was commissioned by Charles II. July 31, 1660, and Charles II. himself was proclaimed in Virginia, September 20, 1660. In April, 1661, Berkeley was sent by the colony to England to protest against the navigation act, Col. Francis Morryson acting as governor till Berkeley's return in the fall of 1662. The reaction of the restoration occasioning much extravagance among the government officials finally brought about a great feeling of unrest in Virginia. This discontent, increased by the lavish grants of land by King Charles to certain court favorites, was brought to a head, in 1676, by an Indian attack. The measures taken by Berkeley were deemed ineffective, and the authority of defending the people was assumed by Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., a recent arrival. Sir William Berkeley declared him a rebel, and the colony was torn with opposing factions of armed men for nearly a year. Bacon perished of camp fever, and Berkeley showed much severity in punishing the surviving leaders. He was finally recalled by the king and died at Twickenham, July 9, 1677.
He wrote two plays, and is the author of a "Description of Virginia," folio, 1663.
He was survived by his wife, Lady Frances Berkeley, who was a Culpeper, and married three times; 1. Samuel Stephens; 2. Sir William Berkeley; 3. Colonel Philip Ludwell. Her brother, Alexander Culpeper, was surveyor-general of the colony from 1672 to 1692.