Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron de Botetourt (1718-1770)
Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt (1718 - October 15, 1770) was governor of the Virginia Colony from 1768 to 1770. He was also a member of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Before coming to Virginia he was Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire 1741-1763. He then obtained his peerage, when it was called out of abeyance in 1764, the third holder of the title having died in 1406. Lord Botetourt resided in the Governor's Palace on Duke of Gloucester Street, now a major attraction of Colonial Williamsburg in the Historic Triangle. Although a popular governor, Lord Botetourt served only two years. He died suddenly while still in office in 1770 and was buried in the crypt under the chapel in the Wren Building. He had already given a substantial sum for the founding of what is now Eastern State Hospital and another gift to found a work house for the poor, as well as a gift of silver service for the communion table at Bruton Parish Church. He had the reputation of being a generous, courteous, and sympathetic gentleman and was greatly loved by his constituents.
The list of his property at the time of his death has been published in Graham Hood's "The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg : a cultural study." It includes the names of eight slaves owned by Lord Botetourt who worked in the Governor's Palace.
A unique historical monument, the Botetourt statue commemorates a popular governor of the colony of Virginia, Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt. Born in England in 1717 into a family which had already furnished the colony with one governor (Sir William Berkeley), Lord Botetourt was appointed Governor-General in August of 1768.
At the time of his appointment, Lord Botetourt was an important figure in court and political circles in London. A member of Parliament, colonel of the Gloucestershire militia, and a Bristol businessman, Lord Botetourt was noted for his charm and diplomacy. The first governor in almost seventy-five years to take up residence in the colony, he arrived in Virginia amid great rejoicing on the part of the inhabitants, and his administration was marked by efforts to maintain good feeling between the colony and the mother country, following the bitterness of the Stamp Act controversy. The popular governor took an active interest in the academic life of the colonial capital, serving as Rector of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary and establishing a fund for the purchase of two gold medals to be awarded annually by the College for excellence in classical learning and natural philosophy.
The sudden death of Lord Botetourt on October 15, 1770, just two years after his arrival in Williamsburg, was the occasion for mourning throughout the colony. Lamented by his obituarist in the Virginia Gazette as “the best of Governors and the best of Men,” he was honored with a splendid funeral and buried in the crypt under the chapel of the Wren Building.
As permanent evidence of their esteem, the House of Burgesses of Virginia, on July 20, 1771, resolved:
“That an elegant Statue of his late Excellency the Right Honourable Norborne, Baron de Botetourt be erected in marble at the Public Expence, with proper Inscription, expressing the grateful Sense this house entertains of his Lordship’s prudent and wise Administration, and their great Solicitude to perpetuate, as far as they are able, the Remembrance of those many public and Social Virtues which adorned his illustrious Character…”
Richard Hayward, a well-known English sculptor, was commissioned to execute the statue under the direction of John Norton, a Virginia merchant in London. Using a wax medallion of Lord Botetourt as a model, Hayward produced a “great resemblance” from “a block of fine Marble,” Norton reported from England. The 2,000 pound figure arrived in Williamsburg in June of 1773 and was placed upon the piazza of the Capitol, where the sculptor’s conception – a figure clothed in the court dress of the times, standing in the manner of an orator with his right hand holding a rolled parchment – was “universally admired.” On the pedestal Hayward had appropriately carved the Botetourt coat-of-arms, a relief showing Britannia and Virginia meeting over an altar inscribed CONCORDIA, and three inscriptions to the popular governor.
It is significant of the great regard that Virginians felt for Lord Botetourt that even after the American Revolution had begun and until the government moved to Richmond in 1790, regular sums were appropriated for cleaning the statue. Some time after the Revolution the statue was mutilated; its head and right arm were broken off and its nose was smashed. In his "Autobiography" George Tucker reports that the head was preserved by the landlord of the Raleigh Tavern, Gabriel Maupin, who kept it in his desk; he had preserved it because of "the respect felt for Lord Botetourt." The student who had knocked the head off, according to Tucker, was Benjamin Howard, later a congressman and governor of the Missouri Territory.
In 1797 the President and Professors of the College of William and Mary purchased the statue for $100. It was removed to the College in 1801, partially repaired, and placed in front of the Sir Christopher Wren Building in the College Yard, where, as a student of the day commented, “it cut a very handsome figure indeed.” There it remained for 157 years except for a brief period during the Civil War when it was placed for safekeeping on the grounds of Eastern State Hospital. The practice of freshmen tipping their hats before the statue began sometime after 1900, and when the College became co-ed in 1918 it was customary for entering girls to curtsy to Lord Botetourt. The statue was again removed in 1958 and placed in storage as a protection against vandalism and weathering. The statue found a permanent home on display in the Botetourt Gallery of the Earl Gregg Swem Library, which held its official opening dedication in 1966. The original sculpture of Lord Botetourt is one of the earliest examples of public statuary in North America and the only one erected by the colonists to commemorate a royal governor.
A replica of the statue was commissioned as part of the College of William and Mary’s Tercentenary celebration. Due to the deteriorated condition of the original statue, it could not serve as a mold for the new version. Washington, D.C. sculptor Gordon Kray, class of 1973, created a new statue cast in bronze, working closely with the original sculpture and available portraits of the governor. Lord Botetourt returned to his position in front of the Wren Building on October 23, 1993, with a dedication in front of alumni and students as part of Homecoming festivities. Members of the College of William and Mary community had expressed “a great sense of loss” during Lord Botetourt’s absence and welcomed the new sculpture. According to Rector James Brinkley, “the crown has been missing one of its gems and it is back.”
A video about the statues of Baron de Botetourt is available via YouTube.
Inscriptions on the Statue of Lord Botetourt
The Right Honourable Norborne Berkeley Baron de Botetourt His Majesty’s Late lieutenant; and Governor General of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. (Resurge Rege Favente)
America! Behold your friend Who, leaving his native country, Declin’d those additional honours, which Were there in store for him, that He might heal your wounds, and restore Tranquility and happiness to this Extensive continent; with what zeal And anxiety he pursued these glorious Objects, Virginia, thus bears her Gratefull testimony.
Richard Hayward London MDCCXXIII
Deeply impressed with the warmest sense Of gratitude for His Excellence the Right Honble Lord Botetourt’s prudent And wise administration, and that the Remembrance of those many public and Social virtues, which so eminently Adorned his illustrious character might Be transmitted to latest posterity, The General Assembly of Virginia On the XX day of July Ann. Dom. MDCCLXXI Resolved with one united voice to erect This statue to His Lordship’s memory.
Let wisdom and justice preside in any county; The people will rejoice and must be happy.
During the looting and burning of the Wren Building in 1862, the plate from Lord Botetourt's coffin was stolen from the burial vault under the Wren chapel by a Union Soldier. It was later returned to the College in the 1890’s by a Presbyterian minister who had discovered it in Rome, New York. While the coffin handles, escutcheons and the engraved coffin plate belong to the College, the coffin plate is usually in the shop room of the James Geddy House in Colonial Williamsburg where it has been on display since 1956.
Awards In His Honor
The Botetourt Medal was the second academic prize medal awarded in the colonies and the first to be stamped from dies created at the Royal mint in 1771. Lord Botetourt’s intention to give the two gold medals as prizes to the two best students at the College of William and Mary, one student in Classics and one in Physical or Metaphysical Science, was announced in 1770. The medals were originally presented on August 15th, Commemoration Day of the transfer of the charter to the President and Masters of the College. Today a single undergraduate with the greatest distinction in scholarship is awarded a medal on Commencement Day in May.
Lord Botetourt Award
The Lord Botetourt Award, begun in 1997, is presented to individuals or institutions that embody the spirit of Norborne Botetourt, Baron de Berkeley, a colonial governor of Virginia as well as rector and a friend of William and Mary. It is given to non-alumni who have contributed to the college’s advancement and prosperity.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Material related from the SCRC Collections Database related to Lord Botetourt.
- Norborne Berkeley Botetourt, Baron de in the SCRC database.
- SCRC file.
- Hood, Graham. The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg : a cultural study. Williamsburg, Va. : Chapel Hill, N.C. : Colonial Williamsburg Foundation ; 1991 Distributed by University of North Carolina. https://catalog.swem.wm.edu/Record/453539
In the News
- The College's Most Beloved Ghosts, Ghouls, and Secrets, The Flat Hat, 21 August 2009.
- A video about the statues of Baron de Botetourt is available via YouTube.
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