Born in 1408, Eleanor Beauchamp was the second of three daughters of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and his countess, Elizabeth Berkeley. (Despenser tidbit: through her mother, Eleanor Beauchamp was a descendant of Hugh le Despenser and Eleanor de Clare through their youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who married into the Berkeley family.) She married Thomas, Lord Ros, after 1423. Ros was killed in France on August 18, 1430, leaving behind a son, Thomas, who was born on September 9, 1427. Eleanor’s second husband was Edmund Beaufort, who later became the Duke of Somerset. The couple had three sons, Henry (born in 1436), Edmund (born circa 1438), and John, and five daughters.
Among Eleanor’s connections were her niece Eleanor Talbot, claimed by Richard III to have been precontracted to Edward IV, and her grandson by her daughter Margaret, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Eleanor’s father, Richard Beauchamp, governor to the young Henry VI, is the subject of the famous Beauchamp Pageant.
Eleanor’s most unfortunate connection, however, was her brother-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who married Anne, Eleanor’s younger half-sister by her father’s second marriage. Warwick allied himself with the Duke of York against Somerset, who had become hugely unpopular following the loss of Normandy and Gascony. When Henry VI became insane in 1453, York took advantage of his office as protector to imprison Somerset, who remained in the Tower for over a year without ever being brought to trial. When Henry VI regained his sanity, he ordered Somerset’s release in 1455 and restored him to his offices, much to the disgust of York and his ally Warwick. Eventually, the king’s forces confronted York’s forces at St. Albans on May 22, 1455. Henry’s quite reasonable refusal to hand over Somerset to York led to a short, fierce fight in the streets of St. Albans. Trapped by York’s forces in the Castle Inn, Somerset chose to die fighting and emerged, reportedly killing four men before being felled by an axe and hacked to death, most likely having been specifically targeted for elimination by York’s men.
Eleanor’s son by her first husband, Thomas Ros, was probably at St. Albans fighting with Somerset; her eldest son by Somerset, Henry, was injured so badly at St. Albans that he had to be carried off in a cart. The nineteen-year-old Henry, who might well have incurred his severe injuries attempting to save his father, spent the next few years spoiling for a fight against Warwick and York and had to be prevented on several occasions from attacking them in the streets. Eventually, he got his revenge against York at the battle of Wakefield. His pleasure, however, was short-lived, as York’s son was soon to take the throne as Edward IV.
Edward IV made great efforts to reconcile Henry (who inherited his father’s dukedom), holding a tournament in his honor and even allowing him to share the royal bed. He also granted Henry and his widowed mother, Eleanor, annuities—a necessity as the Beauforts were relatively land-poor and had relied heavily upon royal largesse. Somerset, however, proved unable to stomach an alliance with York and deserted the king for Henry VI in November 1463.
With her son’s desertion of Edward IV, Eleanor’s pension dried up, and she was placed under arrest by the king. As a result, in March 1464, Eleanor presented this plaintive bill to the king, published by Cora Scofield:
Signed Bills (Chancery), series I. tile 1494, no. 3953.
To the kynge oure liege lorde.
Memorandum quod xxvij die marcij anno &c. quarto ista billa liberata fuit domino Cancellario Anglie apud Westmonasterium exequend’
Right humbly bisecheth and sheweth vnto youre highnesse your true liegewoman pore prisoner and contynuell Oratrice Alianore Duchesse of Somerset whiche longe tyme by youre high commaundment hath been and is vnder arrest and in warde giltles god knoweth and many tymes by persones not wele disposed to her vnknowen hath been in ieopartie of her lyf robbed and spoyled in suche wise as she was like to haue perisshed for lakke of sustenance had not dyuers persones of their verray pite and tendernesse releued and comforted her wherfore it hath liked youre seid highnesse of your habundant and speciall grace to graunte to youre seid Oratrice by youre Ires patentes ccxxij li. iiij s. vj d. for terme of her lyf to be had and taken yerly of youre pety custume in London and at your receyt wherof she hath receyued no peny nor can as yet but xx li. Also that the value of suche lifelode as she within iiij yeres last passed and afore had for her sustenance and nowe therof receyueth no profites atteyned to the somme of Diiij li. and more yerly and the value of suche lifelode as remayneth in her handes for her sustenance excedeth litill the somme of xlviij li. yerly the ffermours tenantes and occupiours wherof take the seid arrest notwithstondynge youre goode grace to her shewed for an emprisonment wherfore they deny and be not willynge to contente their dutees to her seiynge that they woll knowe who shall be their lorde or lady first And also that vitaillers and crafty men be not willynge eny thinge to sell leue or forbere her beynge vnder arrest So that youre same Oratrice is like to perisshe for lakke of sustenance without your especiall grace be shewed to her in this behalf. Please it youre seid highnesse the premisses tenderly to considre and that thought dolour and hevynes of and for the premisses hath grevously augmented her sikenesse and caused her to haue bodely innrrnytees not likly to be recouered, in so nioche that she hathe be and nyghtly without right goode and speciall attendaunce is like to be in parell of deth, Of youre grete pite benigne grace and blissed disposicion for the loue of her whiche is moder and merour of pite and mercy to enlarge your seid Oratrice of the seid arrest and warde and of youre more ample grace to graunte to her that your Chaunceller of Englonde by this bill may haue auctorite to do make a writ patent direct to the Sherreffes of Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Essex, Norfolk, Oxenford, Berkshire, and Sufr orelles seueral writtes commaundynge them and euery of them vpon your behalfe to charge the Officers ffermours tenauntes and dettours of your seid Oratrice to be obedient and content her of her dutees as right and conscience requyreth So that youre same Oratrice perisshe not for lak of sustenaunce and she shall pray to god for your most royall and prosperous estate.
Forlorn as Eleanor’s circumstances had become in March 1464, they were about to get a lot worse, for on May 15, 1464, John Neville, Warwick’s younger brother, defeated Somerset’s men at Hexham. Somerset was captured and executed. His older half-brother, Thomas Ros, who had never swerved from Henry VI’s cause, also fought at Hexham; he fled following the battle but was caught and executed on May 17. Thus, in the space of two days, Eleanor lost her son by her first husband and her eldest son by her second husband. Her younger two sons, Edmund and John, joined the exiled Margaret of Anjou abroad.
Despite the fact that Eleanor’s younger sons were still at large and plotting, Edward IV does seem to taken pity upon Eleanor Beauchamp, for on May 12, 1465, he granted her an annuity of 100 pounds, presumably to replace the one of 222 pounds granted her in 1463. (Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1461-67, pp. 263, 472). I have not found any indication as to whether she regained her freedom. She died on March 6, 1467 (Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1467-77, p. 100, though a 1505 inquisition post mortem gives the date as March 4, 1467). Her surviving sons, Edmund and John, continued to support the Lancastrian cause and died for it at Tewkesbury: John was killed in battle there on May 4, 1471, and Edmund, who had been in command there, was executed on May 6, 1471, after being forced out of sanctuary at Tewkesbury Abbey.
Eleanor’s grandson by Thomas Ros, Edmund, succeeded in having the attainder on the Ros family reversed when Henry VII came to power. Edmund was restored to the Ros estates but did not have long to enjoy them, for he apparently went insane by 1492. He and his lands were put into the custody of his brother-in-law, Thomas Lovel. Ros died in 1505.
None of Eleanor’s three Beaufort sons married or left legitimate offspring, but in around 1460, Henry Beaufort had sired an out-of-wedlock son, Charles, by a mistress, Joan Hill. Charles Beaufort, who changed his name to Charles Somerset, had a rather happier fate than his father and uncles. Having grown up in exile, he returned to England to fight for his relation Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth. His abilities served him well with both Henry VII and Henry VIII; the latter made him Earl of Worcester in 1514. The magnificence of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1420 owed much to Worcester’s organizational skills. Having sired an heir by his first wife, Elizabeth Herbert (daughter of William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Woodville, a sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville), Somerset died on April 25, 1526, and was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor—a happy fate for a man whose future at age four, when he was the bastard son of an attainted and dead traitor, must have seemed bleak indeed.
Calendar of Patent Rolls.
The Complete Peerage.
Keith Dockray, ‘Ros, Thomas, ninth Baron Ros (1427–1464)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/50226, accessed 18 Jan 2010]
Jonathan Hughes, ‘Somerset , Charles, first earl of Worcester (c.1460–1526)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2007 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26004, accessed 18 Jan 2010]
Michael K. Jones, ‘Beaufort, Edmund, styled third duke of Somerset (c.1438–1471)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1856, accessed 18 Jan 2010]
Michael K. Jones, ‘Beaufort, Henry, second duke of Somerset (1436–1464)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1860, accessed 18 Jan 2010]
Colin Richmond, ‘Beaufort, Edmund, first duke of Somerset (c.1406–1455)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1855, accessed 18 Jan 2010]
Cora Scofield, “Henry, Duke of Somerset, and Edward IV,” English Historical Review, April 1906. (available on Google Books).
Jennifer C. Ward, ‘Berkeley, Elizabeth, countess of Warwick (c.1386–1422)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/56573, accessed 18 Jan 2010]