Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (d. 1471)

Not too long ago, I did a post on Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was executed in 1464 following the battle of Hexham. Henry was survived by two younger brothers, Edmund and John. This post is about his brother Edmund, the last of the legitimate male Beauforts. (Readers of The Stolen Crown will recall that Edmund, who was an uncle to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, makes a couple of appearances there.)

Edmund Beaufort was born around 1438. At least one historical novelist has fingered him as a possible father of Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales, who was born in October 1453, but even if Margaret of Anjou was inclined to adultery (and there’s no evidence other than gossip that she was), it seems unlikely that she would have picked a 15-year-old boy as her paramour.

I haven’t found any evidence that Edmund was at the first battle of St. Albans, where his father was killed and his brother Henry badly injured in 1455, though at age seventeen he would have been old enough to fight there. Nor have I found any hint that he was involved in his brother Henry’s feuding with the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick in the mid-to-late 1450’s, though it seems likely that he would have been in his brother’s entourage.

In late 1460, Parliament disinherited Henry VI’s son, Edward of Lancaster, in favor of Richard, Duke of York. Henry, Duke of Somerset, who had been abroad, returned to England to fight on behalf of Margaret of Anjou and the disinherited Prince of Wales. Somerset left his brother Edmund in charge of the Isle of Wight as he himself headed north. Unfortunately for Edmund, he and his 61 men were captured by Geoffrey Gate, who had been made governor of the Isle of Wight in December 1460. Edmund was imprisoned, first at Carisbrooke Castle (according to Michael Jones; Cora Scofield says Calais) and then in the Tower of London. Thus, he missed the Lancastrian victories at Wakefield and the second battle of St. Albans and the massive defeat at Towton.

Edmund’s brother Henry surrendered to Edward IV in December 1462 and for a time enjoyed the king’s favor. Edmund Beaufort was a beneficiary of that short-lived reconciliation: he was released from the Tower around July 1463. Henry returned to the Lancastrian fold late in 1463, however, and Edmund followed suit. He was reported by the author of Hearn’s Fragment to be in Scotland by early 1464. Edmund and his younger brother, John, may have been in Wales in October 1464: on October 26, 1464, Edward IV authorized Walter Devereaux, Lord Ferrers, and others to pardon all of the rebels within Harlech Castle, with the exception of “all sons of Edmund, sometime duke of Somerset.” (The “Edmund, sometime duke of Somerset” referred to here is our Edmund’s father.) By December 13, 1464, Edmund and his younger brother John, traveling from Brittany and through Paris, had arrived with six horses at Margaret of Anjou’s court-in-exile at Koeur.

Henry Beaufort, meanwhile, had been executed in May 1464 following his defeat at Hexham. Edmund Beaufort thus became known as the Duke of Somerset, though he technically had no right to the title, as Henry had been attainted.

Somerset, as we shall call him now, did not linger long at the impoverished court of Koeur. His brother Henry had been on friendly terms with Charles, Count of Charolais, and Somerset joined Charles’ League of the Public Weal against Louis XI of France. He fought for Charles at the Battle of Montlhéry on July 17, 1465. Charles, who became Duke of Burgundy in 1467, treated Edmund with great favor, bestowing a pension upon him and giving him war horses and other gifts.

Charles, Duke of Burgundy, married Edward IV’s sister Margaret in 1468, and Somerset was temporarily sent from the Burgundian court back to Koeur. John Poynings and William Alford, two young men who had traveled in the Duchess of Norfolk’s entourage for the Burgundian wedding, were executed in November 1468 by Edward IV’s government for having “familiar communication” with Somerset, who unlike Lord Byron might not have been mad or bad, but was certainly considered very dangerous to know by the Yorkist government. Meanwhile, Somerset’s absence from Charles’s court was only temporary: he was campaigning for Charles by September 1468 and soon resumed his favored position at the Burgundian court. (One wonders whether he and Margaret, the new Duchess of Burgundy, had conversation with each other.)

In 1470, Margaret of Anjou came to terms with the Earl of Warwick. Their agreement was brokered by Louis XI of France, who wanted Warwick’s aid in a war against Burgundy in exchange for his aid in restoring Henry VI to the throne. Somerset was not a party to this agreement, which went against his loyalties to the Duke of Burgundy and offered him little personally but the restoration of his title and lands. Somerset also bore grudges against Warwick: Warwick had played a leading role at the first battle of St. Albans, where Somerset’s father was killed, possibly through a targeted assassination rather than as a plain death in battle, and Somerset’s brother Henry had been executed at the orders of Warwick’s brother John. Nonetheless, in January 1471 at St. Pol, Somerset argued to the Duke of Burgundy that he should support Henry VI’s government instead of the exiled Edward IV.

By the end of January, Somerset was back in England, along with Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, who had also been in exile abroad. Somerset had an audience in February with Henry VI, apparently in an attempt to dissuade England from declaring war on Burgundy, but this failed.

Somerset visited his cousin Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond (mother of Henry Tudor) at Woking on March 3, 1471, when Margaret ordered salmon, eel, and trench for him to dine upon. When Edward IV returned to England later that month, Somerset began raising troops on Henry VI’s behalf. He actively courted the support of Margaret’s husband, Henry Stafford, who decided at the last minute to support Edward IV.

Instead of holding London for Warwick, Somerset moved to Salisbury, where he continued to raise troops; it’s been suggested that he simply did not want to cooperate with Warwick, who probably to Somerset’s secret delight was killed at Barnet on April 14, 1471. Meanwhile, Margaret of Anjou and the Prince of Wales had finally arrived in England. Somerset and the Earl of Devon found them at Cerne Abbey and broke the news of Warwick’s death. Margaret, disheartened, was all for returning to her exile in France, but Somerset encouraged her to stay and fight, telling her that with the divisive figure of Warwick dead, her cause would be strengthened.

Somerset’s optimism was not unfounded, for over the next couple of weeks, Margaret, with Somerset’s help, was successful in raising men for the Lancastrian cause. With the hope of meeting Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, in Wales, the Lancastrians approached the city of Gloucester, through which they could reach the River Severn, but the city refused to open its gates. The Lancastrian army, which included Somerset’s brother John, had to detour around the city to Tewkesbury, where the exhausted force camped. Edward IV’s men were in the vicinity, and they joined battle the next day, May 4, 1471.

Somerset had chosen a good defensive position, but either a barrage of arrows or a prearranged plan caused him to leave it and go on the attack against Edward’s forces. This backfired seriously when Somerset was attacked by the combined forces of both Edward and his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Somerset’s troops were driven back and suffered a further attack from a detachment of 200 spearmen who had been ordered by Edward IV to employ themselves when needed.

According to the sixteenth-century chronicler Hall, Somerset made his way back to the center of the forces, under the charge of Lord Wenlock, and accused him of not supporting him properly, then emphasized his point by braining Wenlock with a battle axe. This lurid story is unique to Hall, who also gives us the probably apocryphal story of Edward of Lancaster being hauled before Edward IV and murdered by his brothers, Lord Hastings, and Sir Thomas Grey. Contemporary sources, however, simply report that Wenlock was killed in the fighting. John Beaufort, Somerset’s brother, was also killed.

Defeated, Somerset and a host of other Lancastrians made their way to Tewkesbury Abbey, where they were sheltered until May 6, when Edward IV ordered the Lancastrians removed by force. Somerset and others were tried before the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Norfolk and, not at all surprisingly given what had become the usual fate of defeated commanders, condemned to death. Somerset was beheaded that same day “in the mydste of the towne, upon a scaffolde therefore made.” Somerset’s execution was illustrated in the Ghent manuscript of the Arrivall of Edward IV, the authorized account of Edward IV’s triumph over his enemies. His death wiped out the legitimate male line of the Beaufort family, though his older brother Henry had fathered an illegitimate son, Charles, who was to flourish under the Tudors, eventually becoming Earl of Worcester.

Edward IV allowed Somerset, his brother John, Edward of Lancaster, and others to be buried in Tewkesbury Abbey. Somerset was buried before an image of St. James at an altar in the north transept of the abbey; his brother John was buried close to him by St. Mary Magdalene’s altar. In 1500, their kinsman Henry VII granted a license to Tewkesbury Abbey for it to appropriate two churches, in part for the purpose of saying daily masses for Edward of Lancaster and for Somerset and his brother John.


Mark Ballard, “’Du sang de Lancastre je suis extrait. . .’ Did Charles the Bold remain a loyal Lancastrian?” Publications du Centre Européen d’Etudes Bourguignonnes, vol. 35 (1995).

Anthony Gross, “Lancastrians Abroad, 1461-71,” History Today (August 1992).

P.W. Hammond, The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

M. K. Jones, “Edward IV and the Beaufort Family: Conciliation in Early Yorkist Politics,” The Ricardian (December 1983).

Michael K. Jones, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry on Edmund Beaufort.

Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood, The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

G.M. Rushforth, “The Burials of Lancastrian Notables in Tewkesbury Abbey after the Battle, A.D. 1471,” Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaelogical Society, vol. 47 (1925).

Cora Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth. London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd. 1967 (reprint).

7 thoughts on “Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (d. 1471)”

  1. I can't imagine there were ever too many 15 year-olds that any grown woman with an ounce of sense would risk her marriage for, much less her very public and royal marriage. Maybe she slapped him for some impertinence and chroniclers took it as a lovers tiff 😉

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Kathryn!

    Elizabeth, I can't imagine that either. He would have had to have been a very discreet 15-year-old to keep that secret!

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    By the way, Elizabeth, I enjoyed your Jude Morgan review! I try sometimes to comment on your blog, but the full comment screen never appears for me, so once I enter the verification code, there's no place for me to press "OK."

  4. I've had the same problem on Elizabeth's blog – I've often tried to comment, but can't! 🙁

  5. Well… fudge. I've emailed the blogger people letting them know I'm having some issues and then my husband tested a post and it worked, so hopefully all is solved. I'd love to hear your comments in the future 🙂

  6. Thank you very much Sue for filling me in on some of the details regarding the Battle of Tewkesbury. I’m afraid I’ve been more into people, personalities and psychological profiling than actual events which is rather disgraceful considering where I live. A propos of where I live the actual site of the battle has now become a somewhat contentious issue rather like that of Bosworth. Some experts contend owing to the confusion of where the town’s medieval boundaries actually lay that it took place 1/2-3/4 mile further north though the some of the terrain around the acclaimed site is still boggy today. I hope they don’t think it was that much further north otherwise it might have to be renamed the Battle of Potters Bar -:-).

    According to the programme for TMF not only will there be a complete re-enactment of the battle itself –a two hour feat – but its bloody aftermath including the storming of the Abbey and the trial and execution of the leading Lancastrians. Should be interesting to see what TMF’s take on the battle is.

    If Somerset did dump on Warwick when E4 returned to England I am not one whit surprised. By all accounts Warwick was hardly welcomed by the Lancastrian stalwarts and to judge by your earlier comments Somerset had already opted out of communal co-operation and collaboration for the good of the cause. If his attempt to dissuade England from declaring war on Burgundy was through Henry VI then he was obviously by-passing Warwick.

    My feeling is that by the time he returned to England it was already too late. King Louis had already declared war on Burgundy by early December and Edward IV and Duke Charles had already met up within a few days of the New Year.

    Did Somerset realise what the possible outcome of King Louis’s faux pas could be, declaring war before the restoration of Lancaster had been properly established I wonder? Certainly the return of E4 to England before MoA turned everything into a whole new ball game and the rest as they say is history.

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