Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset

Born: January 26, 1436

Died: May 15, 1464

Hexham, Northumberland, England (Age 28)

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset in History

The fact that Henry Beaufort was a great-grandson of John of Gaunt, a first cousin of King Henry VI and a son of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, a leading Lancastrian commander, assured the fact that he would be a leading member of the house of Lancaster when tensions arose between them and their rivals, the house of York. In 1455, outright civil war erupted to the point where a battle broke out between the forces of Somerset and his hated enemy, the Duke of York, along with York's allies, the Nevilles (the Earl of Salisbury and his son, the Earl of Warwick) at St Albans. Henry fought along side his father and was gravely wounded. By the end of the battle, Somerset was dead, Henry VI was captured and the Yorkists had won a significant victory over their rivals. Henry became Duke of Somerset that day, certainly a great honor, but could never forgive the Yorkists for his father's death and dedicated the rest of his life to revenge against them. The following years saw Somerset become increasingly powerful (engaging in military activities against French invasions) and increasingly vengeful as further conflicts arose between himself and the Yorkists. In 1459, when the Yorkists were chased out of England and attainted for treason, the duke must have been overflowing with joy to say the least. Somerset set his attentions against the Earl of Warwick, who had retreated to his stronghold of Calais. He spent the next several months attempting to seize the French port city from the earl but, despite his more than valiant efforts, was unable to do so and was forced to take refuge with Charles VII in France. Somerset made a valuable ally in the French king (and also in Charles, son and heir of the Duke of Burgundy) but the situation in England became more dire when the Yorkists returned and defeated the Lancastrian army at Northampton, once again capturing Henry VI.

The situation looked bad for the Lancastrians, but Somerset was able to win his most significant victory yet in late 1460. He was able to isolate the Duke of York's army at Wakefield and hand him a significant defeat. York himself was killed, along with his son, the Earl of Rutland, and the Earl of Salisbury. Somerset achieved another important victory against Warwick at the second Battle of St Albans and regained possession of the king. Unfortunately, when the forces of Somerset and Queen Margaret reached London, they were barred entry into the city and were chased off by the Earl of March (York's eldest son) who was then crowned as King Edward IV. The new king then handed the Lancastrians a bloody defeat at Towton, forcing them to flee the country and go into hiding. Somerset himself fled to Scotland and was soon dispatched by Queen Margaret to seek the aid of Charles VII in France. When Somerset arrived in France, Charles VII had died and his son Louis XI was now king. Louis had sent aid to the Yorkists at Towton and had Somerset arrested on the spot. He was imprisoned for the next two months before his friend, the Duke of Burgundy's son, intervened on his part. Somerset then pulled an unexpected move: he made peace with Edward IV and the Yorkists. As a result, Somerset was given a large role in the king's government and received royal favor surprisingly quickly. The two became extremely close, which angered a number of the king's subjects. It appears that Somerset's new-found loyalty to the king would turn out to be a sort of hoax in the end, and by 1464 he had rejoined Henry VI and the Lancastrians in the north. Apparently, Somerset's thirst for revenge had not been quenched and he was merely waiting for the proper time to pounce on his enemies. Somerset engaged in two battles against the Yorkists, at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham, and was soundly defeated. The duke was captured and promptly executed after the latter battle, a prime example of a man destroyed by revenge. Although Somerset died unmarried, he had a bastard son named Charles, future Earl of Worcester, whose male descendants bare the title of Duke of Beaufort to this very day.

Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset

Born: c. 1438

Died: May 6, 1471

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England (Age c. 33)

Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset in History

Edmund Beaufort was the second of the three sons of the elder Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, a leading Lancastrian commander in the Wars of the Roses which officially began at the Battle of St Albans in 1455. The younger Edmund was not present at said battle, which saw the death of his father at the hands of his Yorkist enemies, and his first political appointment seems to have been the command of the Isle of Wight in 1460. Edmund was then captured at the hands of the Earl of Warwick, a Yorkist supporter, and spent the next two years of his life in prison. In 1463, when the Yorkists had already been in power for two years and Edward IV sat on England's throne, both Edmund and his elder brother Henry, Duke of Somerset, were released from prison. It appears that the king's intentions were to reconcile himself with his powerful enemies and the two brothers were indeed restored to places of political influence. The king, however, would find out that he was too generous in this enterprise and the Beauforts soon deserted him to rejoin the Lancastrian forces in Scotland and England's north. In 1464, Henry Beaufort was killed at the Battle of Hexham against the Yorkists and posthumously attainted, preventing his brother from inheriting the dukedom of Somerset. Nonetheless, Edmund, from the day of his brother's death, began to style himself as Duke of Somerset and is generally accepted to have held the title. Because it was no longer safe for the Lancastrians on the English isle (Henry VI was captured wondering about in the Scottish marches), Somerset fled to France to join with the former king's wife, Queen Margaret, and her son, Prince Edward. While back on the continent, Somerset formed a friendship with Charles of Charolais, who was to become Duke of Burgundy in 1467 and was a friend of his late brother. Charles had close ties to both the house of York (he was married to Edward IV's sister) and the house of Lancaster (he was a direct descendant of John of Gaunt) and would therefore be a key player in the upcoming events.

In 1470, Edward IV faced rebellion from both the Earl of Warwick (once his most staunch supporter) and his own brother George, Duke of Clarence. After releasing the king from the temporary captivity they had him under, the two men were forced to flee to France and join the Lancastrians. An alliance was formed and Warwick and Clarence returned to England, chased away Edward IV and proceeded to place Henry VI (who had been a prisoner in the tower since his capture) back on the throne. Somerset supported the readeption government but was unhappy when Warwick preceded to declare war on the Duke of Burgundy (Warwick himself had received support from King Louis XI of France, a mortal enemy of the duke's). It is this quarrel that is believed to have caused Somerset to withdraw his support for Warwick when Edward IV returned from exile in 1471 to reclaim his throne. For this reason, Wawick's forces were defeated by those of Edward's at Towton, the earl himself being killed in the battle. Somerset did, however, put his support behind the recently landed army of Queen Margaret and Prince Edward and recommended they do battle with Edward while his army was somewhat weakened. The two sides met at Tewksbury and a battle erupted that saw disastrous results for the Lancastrians. Prince Edward and Somerset's younger brother John were killed in the action and Henry VI and Queen Margaret were in Yorkist custody. Somerset took sanctuary in Tewksbury Abbey. Edward IV, however, was not willing to take any chances with such a powerful enemy. The king forced his way into the abbey, extracted Somerset and promptly had him beheaded, officially ending the house of Beaufort in the legitimate male line. With Henry VI's murder several weeks later, the house of Lancaster (in the male line) was officially at an end.

3rd and 4th Duke of Somerset in Shakespeare

Appear in: Henry VI, Part 3

The Duke of Somerset appears in 3 Henry VI, first as a supporter of the house of York, which coincides with Edward IV's reconciliation with the Beauforts when he took the throne, and then of the house of Lancaster. Somerset decides to desert the Yorkists when the king's own brother Clarence switches his allegiance. In reality, Somerset (the third duke) deserted the Yorkists five years earlier than Clarence did, and was killed at the Battle of Hexham. For this reason, it can be reasoned that the Somerset within the play is a conflation between Henry, the third duke, and his younger brother, the fourth duke. Somerset fights for the Lancastrians at Tewksbury where he is afterward taken prisoner. Edward IV, unhesitatingly, orders his execution. In the play's final scene, Edward IV brags that the Yorkists have defeated three Dukes of Somerset (meaning the father of Henry and Edmund, killed at St Albans, and Henry and Edmund themselves) giving further evidence that the character of Somerset is indeed meant to include the third and forth dukes, just as the Somerset character was meant to include the first and second dukes with 1 & 2 Henry VI.



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