Frances Culpeper was the youngest of two sons and three daughters of Thomas Culpeper and Katherine St. Leger Culpeper. She was born in England and baptized at Hollingbourne Church, Kent, on May 27, 1634. Her parents were related to several families interested in the colony of Virginia, and in 1623 her father had become a member of the Virginia Company of London. In 1649 he was made one of the original patentees of the Northern Neck.
Frances Culpeper accompanied her parents to Virginia about 1650. Sometime early in 1653, at the age of eighteen, she married Captain Samuel Stephens, who in October 1667 became governor of the Albemarle settlements. After Stephens died in December 1669, she petitioned the General Court of Virginia for possession of a 1,350-acre plantation in Warwick County called Bolthrope, or Boldrup. An agreement she made with Stephens before their marriage had stipulated that she inherit the property, and because they had no children, the widow received absolute possession of the estate.
During Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, certainly the most difficult episode of Sir William
Berkeley's administration, Lady Berkeley vigorously supported her husband and his
policies, garnering praise from his supporters and bitter opposition from his
enemies. In June 1676, at a low point for the governor in his political contest with
Bacon, she went to England as his personal emissary to the king. She returned to
Virginia early in
The commissioners were exceptionally critical of Governor Berkeley's conduct during and after the rebellion, and Berkeley did not always cooperate with them. When two of the commissioners paid their formal farewell visit to the Berkeleys in May 1677, they found that the colony's hangman had been sent to drive their coach. Noting that Lady Berkeley had "peeped" through a window to "see how the show looked," they concluded that she had planned the insulting trick.
By about 1680 Lady Berkeley had married a third time, to Philip Ludwell, secretary of the colony. He eventually became deputy governor of North Carolina (1689–1693) and South Carolina (1693–1694). Although less involved in Virginia politics, Lady Berkeley, as she continued to be called, occasionally petitioned the House of Burgesses on Ludwell's behalf as he managed legal business begun by Governor Berkeley. The couple spent most of their time in Virginia and had a pew built for themselves in Bruton Parish Church. Other Virginians, such as William Byrd (1652–1704) and William Fitzhugh, commented on Lady Berkeley's influence and entrusted information and documents to her care. Her vigorous convictions, lively temperament, and shrewd mind made her a valuable friend and ally and one of the most influential Virginians of her time.
Lady Berkeley is not known to have had any children, although she may have been pregnant at the time of her marriage to Ludwell, and Ludwell's two children from his first marriage lived with them at Green Spring. On February 26, 1684, when she was almost fifty years old, Byrd wrote that Lady Berkeley was "not yet brought to bed" and questioned whether she was, in fact, with child. Later in the same year Byrd again remarked that she was indisposed because of pregnancy but could not say when she might deliver.
Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley Ludwell probably died at Green Spring or Jamestown about 1695. A fragment of her gravestone in the cemetery on Jamestown Island bears a partially legible inscription.
1624 - Thomas Culpeper becomes a member of the Virginia Company of London.
May 23, 1634 - Frances Culpeper is baptized at Hollingbourne Church, Kent, England. She is the daughter of Thomas Culpeper and Katherine St. Leger Culpeper.
1649 - Thomas Culpeper is made one of the original patentees of the Northern Neck.
1650 - About this year, Frances Culpeper accompanies her parents, Thomas Culpeper and Katherine St. Leger Culpeper, to Virginia.
1653 - At the age of eighteen, Frances Culpeper marries Captain Samuel Stephens.
October 1667 - Captain Samuel Stephens becomes governor of the Albemarle settlements in present-day North Carolina.
December 1669 - Captain Samuel Stephens, governor of the Albemarle settlements in present-day North Carolina, dies, leaving his 1,250-acre plantation in Warwick County called Bolthrope, or Boldrup to his wife Frances Culpeper Stephens.
May 19-June 21, 1670 - Sometime between these dates, Governor Sir William Berkeley marries his second wife, the young and wealthy Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley, whose first husband, Samuel Stephens, governor of Albemarle, has just died.
June 1676 - During Bacon's Rebellion, Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley sails to England as her husband the governor's personal emissary to King Charles II.
1677 - Early in the year, Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley, wife of the Virginia governor, returns to the colony from England with Herbert Jeffreys, one of the royal commissioners sent to investigate Bacon's Rebellion and succeed her husband as governor. A thousand English troops arrive with them.
May 1677 - Following Bacon's Rebellion, Sir William Berkeley sails to England to plead his case with King Charles II.
July 9, 1677 - Before he can gain an audience with King Charles II, Sir William Berkeley dies at Berkeley House in London.
1680 - By about this year, Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley marries for a third time, to Philip Ludwell, secretary of the Virginia colony.
May 3, 1680 - Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, arrives in Virginia with royal instructions that seek clearly to define the subordinate status of the colony and the General Assembly within the Restoration empire. His governorship marks the decline of Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley's political influence.
February 26, 1684 - William Byrd writes that fifty-year-old Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley is "not yet brought to bed," questioning whether she is, in fact, pregnant. It is not clear that Lady Berkeley ever gives birth.
1695 - About this year, Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley dies, either at Green Spring or Jamestown. She is buried in the cemetery on Jamestown Island.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Snyder, T. L., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley (1634–ca. 1695). (2013, August 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Berkeley_Frances_Culpeper_Stephens_b_ap_1634-ca_1695.
- MLA Citation:
Snyder, Terri L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley (1634–ca. 1695)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 28, 2010 | Last modified: August 23, 2013
Contributed by Terri L. Snyder and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.