Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Duke who started a war

Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, (1406-22nd May 1455), sometimes styled 1st Duke of Somerset was an English nobleman.  He also succeeded in the title of 4th Earl of Somerset and was created 1st Earl of Dorset and 1st Marquess of Dorset and Count of Mortain and was also known for his deadly rivalry with Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.

Edmund was the 3rd surviving son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and Margaret Holland.  His paternal grandparents were John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford while his maternal grandparents were Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Alice FitzAlan.

Although head of one of England’s greatest families his inheritance was only 300 pounds, compared to his rival Richard, Duke of York net worth of 5,800 pounds.  His cousin Henry VI of England efforts to compensate Somerset with offices worth 3,000 pounds only served to offend many of the nobles and his arguments with York grew more personal.  Another dispute with the Earl of Warwick over the lordships of Glamorgan and Morgannwg may of forced Warwick into York’s camp.

Edmund’s brothers were taken captive at the Battle of Bauge in 1421.  Edmund was too young at the time to fight.  While his brothers were captive he gained military experience and took command of the English army in 1431.  After his re-capture of Harfleur and lifting the Burgundian Siege of Calais in 1436 he was named a Knight of the Garter.  After subsequent successes he was created Ear of Dorset (1442) and the next year Marquess of Dorset.  From 1444 to 1449 he served as Lieutenant of France.  In 1448 he was created Duke of Somerset.  As the title had previously been held by his brother he was usually called the second Duke.

Somerset was appointed as commander in France replacing York in 1448.  In 1449 fighting broke out in Normandy and Somerset’s defeats left him open to criticism from York’s supporters.  Somerset was meant to be paid 20,000 pounds but no evidence exists that he ever received the payment.  He failed to repulse French attacks and by the summer of 1450 nearly all of England’s French possessions were lost.   By 1453 all of England’s possessions in the south of France were lost as well and the Battle of Castillon ended the Hundred Year War.

York used the insanity of the King to be made Lord Protector gaining power which had been monopolised by Somerset since 1451.  York imprisoned Somerset in the Tower of London and his life was probably saved by the King’s recovery in 1454, to again save one of his favourites.  York at this point was forced to surrender his office.

By now York was determined to be rid of Somerset one way or another and in May 1455 he raised an army.  He confronted Somerset and the King at the First Battle of St Albans.  This marked the beginning of the War of the Roses.  Somerset was killed in a charge from the house he had been hiding in.  His son Henry could never forgive York and Warwick for his father’s death and would spend the next nine years trying to avenge him and restore his family’s honour.

Henry VI definitely had his favourites rightly or wrongly and it seems to be that they definitely help lead him into a Civil War which would split a country in two for years to come.

Arms of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, Edmund's father

Arms of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, Edmund’s father

Traitorous Merchant who lost his head

An imaginary portrat of William de la Pole by Thomas Tindall Wildridge, 1888

An imaginary portrat of William de la Pole by Thomas Tindall Wildridge, 1888

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk (16th October 1396 – 2nd May 1450) was an English commander during the Hundred Year War and Lord High Admiral of England from 1447 to 1450.  He was born at Cotton Suffolk and was second d son of Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and Katherine de Stafford, daughter of Hugh de Stafford, 2nd Earl of Stafford and Philippa de Beauchamp.

He was seriously injured during the Siege of Harfleur in 1415.  His father also died of dysentery during the siege.  Later in that year his elder brother Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk died at the Battle of Agincourt.  William then succeeded as the 4th Earl of Suffolk.  He became co-commander of the English army at the Siege of Orleans in 1429 after the death of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury.  When the city was then relieved by Joan of Arc in the same year he managed to retreat to Jargeau where he was forced to surrender on the 12th June.  He remained a prisoner of Charles VII, King of France for three years before he was ransomed. 

After his return to England in 1434 he was made Constable of Wallingford Castle.  He became a courtier and a close ally to Cardinal Henry Beaufort.  His most notable achievement during this period but also his most controversial was his help with negotiating the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1444.  This earned him the elevation to Marques of Suffolk.  Although a secret deal with in the marriage contract gave Maine and Anjou back to France was not popular in England and would eventually bring the downfall of William.

His own marriage took place on the 11th November 1430 to Alice Chaucer (1404-1475).  Alice was the daughter of Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme, Oxfordshire and granddaughter to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his wife Philippa de Roet.

With the deaths of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort in 1447, Suffolk became the principal power behind the throne.    He was appointed Chamberlain, Admiral of England as well as other important offices, and made Earl of Pembroke in 1447 and Duke of Suffolk in 1448. 

On 16th July Suffolk met in secret with Jean d’Orleans, comte de Dunois at his mansion of the Rose in Candlewick Street.  This was the first of several meetings in London as Suffolk passed Council minutes to Dunois in assistance with the plans for the French invasion of England.  Dunois was a French hero from the Siege of Orleans.  It was rumoured that Suffolk never paid the £20,000 owed to Dunois for his ransom and because of this he now passed on state secrets. 

The following three years saw the near complete loss of England’s possessions in northern France.  Suffolk could not avoid the blame for these failures partly because of the loss of Maine and Anjou with the marriage arrangements for Henry.  On 28th January 1450 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The king intervened and tried to save his favourite who was then banished for five years.   Suffolk then sailed to Calais by ship but was intercepted by the ship ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ and captured.  He was then subject to a mock trial and executed by beheading. 

Suffolk was interred in the Carthusian Priory, Hull by his widow Alice.  The Priory was founded in 1377, by Suffolk’s grandfather Michael de la Pole, the 1st Earl of Suffolk and then dissolved in 1539.  Almost none of the original buildings survive following two English Civil War sieges in Hull in 1642 and 1643   

He was one of the first from the merchant class to raise him into a loftier position.  For this alone he is an important figure who fought for Henry VI’s father and then twisted himself either by chance or with his known traitorous acts manipulated his way into a higher position.  Whichever it was the weakness of Henry VI definitely helped him.  William was succeeded as the Duke of Suffolk by his only known legitimate son John, who became the 2nd Duke of Suffolk.

Henry VI, and where it all started

Henry VI

Henry VI

Henry VI, (6th December 1471 – 21st May 1471) was king of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 and 1471.  He also held a disputed claim of the kingship of France between 1422 and 1453.   Reports describe him as very pious and peaceful man, who was not suited to the bloodshed of the dynastic wars that blighted his reign, such as the War of the Roses.  Bouts of insanity led to his wife Margaret of Anjou taking control of his kingdom.  His weakening position led to his own downfall and the collapse of the House of Lancaster and the rise of the House of York, eventually the conflict between the two would become known as the War of the Roses.

Henry was the only child of Henry V and was born on 6th December 1421 at Windsor Castle.  He succeeded the throne of England after his father’s death on 31st August 1422 at just the age of nine months old.  He was the youngest person ever to succeed the English throne.  Two months later and still not one  year old Henry also became titular King of France on the death of his grandfather Charles VI in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes.  His mother, Catherine of Valois (Charles daughter) was twenty years old herself this point and viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles preventing her from playing a full roll in her son’s upbringing.

On 28th September 1423 the nobles all swore loyalty to Henry VI and a parliament was summoned in the Kings name as a regency council to govern until the King should come of age.  One of Henry V’s surviving brothers; John, Duke of Bedford was appointed senior regent of the realm and was in charge of the ongoing war in France.  During Bedford’s absence Henry V’s other surviving brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm.  His duties were limited to keeping the peace and summoning parliament.  Henry V’s half uncle; Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester was an important member of the council.  After the Duke of Bedford’s death in 1435, the Duke of Gloucester claimed the regency for himself but was contested by other members of the council.

Henry’s half brothers Edmund and Jasper, through his mother and her new husband Owen Tudor were both given earldoms.  Edmund was the father of Henry Tudor who would become Henry VII, King of England.   From 1428 Henry’s tutor was Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.

In reaction to Charles VII Valois’ coronation as King of France in Reims Cathedral on 17th July 1429, Henry was soon crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on 6th November 1429.  He was then crowned King of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 16th December 1431.  It was not though until 13th November 1437, just before his sixteenth birthday that he gained some form of independent authority.  His want to gain some form of authority was clear to see when the place named of signing writs was changed from Westminster (where the council sat) to Cirencester (where the king was) in 1434.    Henry then gained full royal powers when he came of age.

Henry was declared of age in 1437 which was the same year that his mother died.  Henry took the reins of government gaining full control, although this shy and pious boy averse to deceit and bloodshed soon allowed the court to be dominated by a few noble favourites who clashed on the matter of the French war.  After the death of Henry V, England lost momentum in the Hundred Year War.  Military victories by Joan of Arc helped the Valois family gain ground.  The young King favoured peace which was preached to him by Cardinal Beaufort and William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk.  On the other side Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Richard, Duke of York preferred a continuation of the war.

Cardinal Beaufort and the Earl of Suffolk persuaded the King that the best way to pursue peace with France was through a marriage to Margaret of Anjou.  Margaret, a niece to King Charles VII of France was apparently very beautiful and Henry agreed straight away.  Suffolk was sent to negotiate with Charles.  Charles agreed to the marriage as long he did not have to provide the customary dowry and instead receive the lands of Maine and Anjou from the English.  These conditions were agreed in the Treaty of Tours, but the cession of Maine and Anjou was kept secret from the Parliament in London as it was believed that it would be hugely unpopular with the English populace.

Margaret of Anjou, Henry's wife

Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s wife

The marriage took place at Tichfield Abbey on 23rd Aril 1445, one month after Margaret’s fifteenth birthday.  Henry wavered the agreement to give up Maine and Anjou to Charles after he realised just how unpopular this would have been.  Margaret was determined to make him to see it through and after the deal became public knowledge in 1446, public anger was angered at the Earl of Suffolk, with Margaret and Henry determined to protect him.

One thing is certain within Henry’s early life and with his gain of full royal powers.  He was easily led and influenced by others.  Shy, pious a peaceful man never having the full set of skills for rule.  Maybe his weakness led to the War of the Roses and the power struggle that was going on between his most trusted and powerful advisors.  It was clear to see the stage was set by this point and that the audience was about to sit down for a feud that would cause so much bloodshed across England.

War of the Roses

War of the Roses was the battle of two families, who tried to wrestle the crown of England for their chosen branch of the House of Plantagenet.  The houses of Lancaster and York and their supporters fought each other several sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1487.  It followed the turbulent time of the Hundred Year War between England and France, which caused social and financial troubles in England.   The war started with Henry VI on the throne and he was challenged by Richard, Duke of York.  By the end of the war the weak claim of Henry Tudor gave the Lancastrians a victory over the last Yorkist king Richard III. 

The next series of blog posts will look into some of the key and important players from the period and some of the more obscure unknown people who also played their parts.