An Ashdown House and Berkeley Castle Story

The Berkeley family is famous for being the only great family in the UK who managed to hold onto their castle from the first day its building began. Their castle became famous for being the location of King Edward II’s (possible) execution. The Berkeley’s were also the family who fought the last private war in England during the days of the Wars of the Roses, but they never managed to reach royalty. Well, at least not until the days of Princess Elizabeth Berkley.

Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of the 4th Earl of Berkeley, born in 1750 and her life had one primary purpose- to marry with a suitable match and to birth as many heirs as possible. She was only 17 when she was matched to William Craven, 6th Baron, who was a wealthy landowner who owned several houses, including Ashdown house.

Elizabeth had her accomplishments: she was a talented writer, and she was bright and funny. Her husband, however, was dull and uninterested in both her and the world around them. It was not a great match although it did produce seven children. As always, this meant that both Elizabeth and William could start pursuing romantic affairs outside of the marriage and Elizabeth had several of them, including with the French ambassador of the UK. Besides enjoying herself and having relationships, she was also, as previously mentioned, a writer and poet. She was also one of the first people to write a travel novel about her trip to the Crimea. She also spent some time in Ashdown house where she wrote an opera.

The problem was not that Elizabeth had affairs, but that she had them publicly. Unlike other writers, she did not find her inspiration in solitude, and her affairs were played out in public, creating a scandal. So whilst William had several romantic liaisons of his own, Elizabeth was labelled the scandalous, immoral one.

Eventually, the earl husband became tired of Elizabeth’s perceived flagrant acts of independence and decided to divorce his wife, granting her a yearly pension and asking her to go her own way. Well, she did, and since the English high society had snubbed her, she moved to the continent where she ended up becoming the mistress of Charles Alexander the Margrave (some sort of a prince) of one of the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire named Brandenburg Ansbach. Charles Alexander had several mistresses, and he built a house for each one of them, but it seems that Elizabeth was his favourite because as soon as his wife and her ex-husband died, they immediately got married.

Next, the new couple decided to move back to Britain. However, there was this little matter of Charles Alexander being a Margrave and running his principality, and so he agreed that the best thing to do was to sell his principality to the Prussians and travel to the UK as a private person with a hefty wallet.

Elizabeth was now the wife of a prince, well an ex-prince (although he kept his title of margrave). The couple lived a prosperous life and spent time between several stately homes, but because of their history, they were both still snubbed by most of high society, including the court of George III. Luckily, there was some good news for the couple: the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II decided to grant Elizabeth an official title, and in 1801, he officially named her a princess, the first Berkeley princess

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