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Berkeley was the son of George Harding, 8th Baron Berkeley, who died 1658. He was a canon-commoner at Christ Church, Oxford, but did not take any degree. In 1654 he was elected Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire in the First Protectorate Parliament. He was re-elected MP for Gloucestershire in 1656 for the Second Protectorate Parliament. Berkeley succeeded to the barony in 1658, and was nominated in May 1660 as one of the commissioners to proceed to the Hague and invite Charles II to return to the kingdom. In the following November he was made keeper of the house gardens and parks of Nonsuch Palace, where the Duchess of Cleveland later lived.
In 1661 Berkeley was placed on the council for foreign plantations. In 1663 he became a member of the Royal African Company on its formation (10 January), acquiring a share in the territory lying between the port of Salee in South Barbary and the Cape of Good Hope. In the same year he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. He was made a privy councillor in 1677. In April 1678, he was made a member of the Board of Trade and plantations which had been established in 1668.
On 11 September 1679 he was created Viscount Dursley and Earl of Berkeley. He was elected to the governorship of the Levant Company on 9 February 1680 and held the position for most, if not the whole, of his subsequent life. In May 1681 he was elected one of the masters of Trinity House. At this time he was a member of the East India Company. In February 1685 he was appointed Custos Rotulorum of Gloucestershire, and 21 July 1685 was sworn of the privy council. After the flight of James II, 11 December 1688, Berkeley was among the lords who assembled at Guildhall and declared themselves a provisional government. He was nominated as ambassador to Constantinople on 16 July 1698, but not wishing to go, petitioned parliament in May 1699 to be excused the office.
Berkeley died after 1699, and was buried in the parish church of Cranford, Middlesex, where he had an estate.
He published in 1668 a religious work entitled Historical Applications and Occasional Meditations upon several Subjects.
Berkeley married on 11 August 1646, Elizabeth Massingberd, daughter of John Massingberd, treasurer of the East India Company, by whom he had two sons, Charles and George, and six daughters:
- Charles Berkeley, 2nd Earl of Berkeley
- Rev. Hon. George Berkeley (d. 1694), graduated M.A. at Christ Church, 9 July 1669, took holy orders, and became a prebendary of Westminster, 13 July 1687, married Jane Cole and had issue
- Lady Elizabeth Berkeley (ca.1650–d.1681), married William Smythe Esq.,(ca.1645-d.1720) and had issue, Theoplia Smythe married 4 November 1696 in Westminster Abbey Hen VII Chapel to Arthur Moore MP and their sons James Moore Smythe & William Moore M.P. for Banbury & Arthur Moore Smythe. and their dau. Elizabeth (Moore) Ormond, married 1718 Wyriott Ormond Sr. of London No: 11 Meard St. London & Bath N.C. Colonial Official and had issue including Roger Ormond or Ormand.
- Lady Theophila Berkeley (d. 1703), married Sir Kingsmill Lucy, 2nd Baronet and had issue, Sir Berkeley Lucy, 3rd Baronet, then married Robert Nelson
- Lady Arabella Berkeley, mar. Sir William Pulteney, son and heir of Sir William Pulteney, Bt., of Misterton, and had issue
- Lady Mary Berkeley (d. 19 May 1719), married first Ford Grey, 1st Earl of Tankerville and had issue, and second, aft. 22 May 1712, Richard Rooth
- Lady Henrietta Berkeley (b. c. 1665), unmarried, famously seduced by her sister's husband, the Earl of Tankerville, in 1682
- Lady Arethusa Berkeley (d. 11 Feb 1742/3), married Charles Boyle, 3rd Viscount Dungarvan, and had issue
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Berkeley, George, first earl of Berkeley". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
|Parliament of England|
|Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire
With: John Howe
Matthew Hale 1654
Christopher Guise 1654
Sylvanus Wood 1654
Baynham Throckmorton 1656
John Crofts 1656
William Neast 1656
John Grobham Howe
|Interregnum||Custos Rotulorum of Gloucestershire
The Viscount Mordaunt
|Custos Rotulorum of Surrey
|Custos Rotulorum of Surrey
The 2nd Earl of Berkeley
|Peerage of England|
|New creation||Earl of Berkeley
(descended by acceleration)