Frances Culpeper1

Female, #8476, (circa 1634 - after 31 May 1695)
Father*Thomas Culpeper of the Middle Temple (s 1602 - s 1652)
Mother*Katherine St. Leger (c 1602 - 1658)
Name Variation She was also known as Frances Culpepper. 
Name Variation She was also known as Frances Colepeper. 
Birth*circa 1634 Frances was born at Hollingbourne, co. Kent, England, circa 1634. 
Baptism27 May 1634 She was baptized at Hollingbourne, co. Kent, England, on 27 May 1634.  
Married Name1652  As of 1652, her married name was Stephens. 
Marriage*1652 She married Samuel Stephens of Warwick, VA in 1652. 
Married Name1670  As of 1670, her married name was Berkeley. 
Marriage1670 She married Sir William Berkeley Governor of Virginia in 1670. 
Married Name1680  As of 1680, her married name was Ludwell. 
Marriage1680 She married Philip Ludwell of James City, VA in 1680. 
Death*after 31 May 1695 She died after 31 May 1695.2 
Burial* Her body was interred at Jamestown Church Cemetery, Jamestown, James City Co., Virginia.3 
Biography* She was baptised in Hollingbourne, May 27, 1634, as 'Francis, dau. of Thomas Culpeper, esq. and Katherine his wife.' The earliest evidence for her in Virginia is the reference in the will of Samuel Filmer (1667, P.C.C. Penn, 58; cf. Va. Mag., xv, 181) to 'my friend and cousin Mrs. Frances Stephens wife of Mr. Samuel Stephens of Virginia.' Stephens' death and her subsequent m. to Sir William Berkeley are recited in a Virginia act of September, 1674 (Hening, ii, 322). Her final m. is reported in Lord Culpeper's letter to his sister in 1681 (Va. Hist. Register, iii, 192) ; and it was from the son of her third husband by an earlier m. who succeeded to Green Spring, that the Lees inherited her portrait which we reproduce. She was living in good health in her fifty-sixth year in July, 1690, as reported by William Byrd the elder (Va. Mag., xxvi, 128), but must have died soon after, for there is no mention of her in the will of her brother, Alexander (1691). She was buried in the church yard at Jamestown, where Dr. Tyler (Cradle of the Republic, p. 129) deciphered a fragment of her tombstone as follows: "...yeth the Bod... Lady Franc... eley..."

Dame Frances Berkeley appears in Virginia history a woman of high spirit, loyal and intensely partizan. When Col. Jeffreys and the other Commissioners reached Virginia to investigate her husband's conduct of the government during and after Bacon's Rebellion, she organized the 'Green Spring faction' to frustrate their politics and with the aid of Ludwell and Robert Beverley carried the Assembly along with her. The best of the anecdotes of this campaign is of her putting the common hangman up as an improvised postilion when the Governor's coach conducted the Commissioners away from a visit of ceremony at Greenspring (See Jeffreys' complaints in Am. & W. I., 1677-80, passim). At Leeds Castle the Historical MSS. Commission (Sixth Report, 465) brought to light a document in this quarrel–a. letter addressed to Berkeley, dated Virginia, August 2, 1677, and signed 'F. Berkeley,' It begins: 'My dear, dear Sir,' and, after some discussion of property in Jamaica, proceeds, 'as soon as your back was turned, the Lieut. Governor [Jeffreys] said he would lay 100 £ that you would not be permitted to see the King, but would be sent to the Tower.' On the date of this letter the Governor was already dead, but the news had not reached Virginia. It was her last message to her husband, and came into her brother's hands. Under Berkeley's will (Hening, ii, 558, in which she is described, six years after marriage, as 'my dear and most virtuous wife') she became one of the proprietors of Carolina. By a curious combination of circumstances she had the good fortune to sell this interest twice, in 1682 and again in 1684, and each time to be paid for it. The story is well told in McCrady, South Carolina under the Proprietary Government, p. 234.4 
News Article* Lady Berkeley Was A Formidable Colonial Force

Apart from Pocahontas, Lady Frances Berkeley, the strong-willed, thrice-married and childless Colonial dame who ruled the political roost in Virginia from around 1670 until her death in the 1690s, was the Old Dominion's most notable 17th century woman.
     Proud, imperious and fiercely partisan, Lady Berkeley was the sworn enemy of anyone who dared to question her own or her three husbands' aristocratic convictions. From the time of her first marriage when she was 18 until her death in her middle 60s, she was in the thick of the Virginia political melee. So much so that during the seven years of her married life to royal governor Sir William Berkeley, she became such a powerful behind-the-scenes factor that many blamed the blunders of her doddering husband on her none-too-subtle tugging at the governmental reins.
     Lady Berkeley came from an ancient English family accustomed to command. Her great-great-grandfather, Walter Culpeper (c. 1475-1516), was the Under Marshal of Calais. Also, her haughty cousin, Thomas, Lord Culpeper, was one of Virginia's less distinguished Colonial governors during the latter part of her life.
     The youngest of the five children of Thomas and Katherine (nee St. Leger) Culpeper, she was baptized in Hollingbourne Church, Kent, on May 27, 1634. Her father, one of the original proprietors of Virginia's Northern Neck, lost most of his English property during the British Civil War. After the execution of Charles I, he emigrated with his entire family to the Old Dominion in 1650.
     Two years later, when she was 18, Lady Frances became the wife of Samuel Stephens, governor of the Albemarle settlement in North Carolina and the owner of Roanoke Island, the site of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony.
     But Lady Frances never exchanged what few amenities Virginia then offered for the Carolina frontier and lived with Stephens at "Balthorpe," his Warwick County plantation until he died in 1669.
     Meanwhile, her vivacity and intelligence had attracted the attention of aging Virginia Gov. Sir William Berkeley (1606-1677), and six months after Stephens' death she became Lady Frances Berkeley and mistress of "Greenspring" in James City County, the finest country seat in English America.
     Later, in 1676, when Lady Frances' cousin, Nathaniel Bacon, headed a revolt against her husband, the latter sent her to England to enlist help in putting down the troubles headed by Bacon, whom Lady Frances branded as a liar and deep-dyed ingrate.
     When she returned in 1677, accompanied by 1,000 troups to restore order, she discovered not only had "Greenspring" been reduced to shambles by Bacon's henchmen, she also learned that their leader had died. Angered by her property losses and the shameful way her husband had been treated, Lady Frances became a leading light in the pro-Berkeley "Greenspring Faction" and in no time wholesale hangings and confiscation of "rebel" property became common.
     Later, when Charles II sent three commissioners to Virginia to look into the causes of the rebellion, Lady Frances openly flouted their authority. And this serves to introduce one of those anecdotes that throw a searchlight on the dry bones of history. Here is how Philip Alexander Bruce in his "Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century" recounts the episode:
     "The Commissioners, sent out to Virginia to inquire into the sources of the insurrection of the previous year, had called at Greenspring, the home of Sir William Berkeley, whose bitter enmity they had incurred by their condemnation of his violent conduct in punishing the unfortunate followers of Bacon.
     "When they left the house, the Governor's coach was waiting at the door ready to convey them to Jamestown. Apparently they were to be the recipients of an attention worthy of their rank; after taking their seats within the vehicle, however, they observed to their indignant horror their postilion was the common hangman. As they drove away, they saw Lady Berkeley peeping at them in evident derision through a broken quarrel of glass in the window of her chamber."
     Even after Berkeley returned to England in 1677 to plead his case before Charles II, Lady Frances continued to be a thorn in the sides of the commissioners.
     Finally, when the news arrived at Jamestown that Sir William had died shortly after his return to London, she married Col. Philip Ludwell of "Rich Neck" plantation, her late husband's chief supporter, and remained a power behind the throne in the "Greenspring Faction" that continued to thwart successive attempts on the part of royal representatives to impose arbitrary measures on the Virginia colony.
     Interestingly, even though she took Ludwell as her third husband, Lady Frances never relinquished her title and she continued to be known and feared (or respected) as Lady Frances Berkeley until she died in the 1690s and was buried at Jamestown.
     In summing up her character, historian Jane D. Carson has this to say: "Opponents called her arrogant, grasping and devious, but friends trusted her and respected her judgment. Her letters, written with force and polish, reveal strength of character and proud integrity, personal warmth and tact, intense loyalty and affectionate regard for kinsmen and friends."5 
Biography She is referenced in a biographical note for John Culpeper son of Thomas & Katherine.6,4 


Samuel Stephens of Warwick, VA (say 1631 - 1670)
Marriage*1652 She married Samuel Stephens of Warwick, VA in 1652. 
Last Edited31 Oct 2012


  1. Col. F.W.T. Attree R.E./F.S.A. & Rev. J.H.L. Booker M.A., "The Sussex Colepepers, Part I", Sussex Archaeological Collections, XLVII,47-81, (1904)
  2. Warren M. Billings, compiler, The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605-1677, Richmond, Virginia: Library of Virginia, 2007.
    On 31 May 1695, Frances wrote a letter from Green Springs to her nephew, Sir Abstrupus Danby (son of her sister, Anne).
  3. Find a Grave (online database)
    Jamestown Church Cemetery, Jamestown, James City Co., Virginia
    + Frances Culpepper Berkeley, 68324648, 1634 – 1691 (sic).
  4. Warren M. Billings, compiler, The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605-1677, Richmond, Virginia: Library of Virginia, 2007.
  5. Virginian-Pilot/Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA.
    George Tucker, 22 Feb 1999, Section: Local, Page: B3.
  6. Fairfax Harrison, The Proprietors of the Northern Neck - Chapters of Culpepper Genealogy, Richmond, VA: The Old Dominion Press (Privately printed), 1926, Repository: LDS Family History Library - Salt Lake City, Call No. US/CAN Film #929429. Transcription available online at: