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

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