1st Duke of Somerset (1448-1455)
Born c.1404 Died 1455
Edmund Beaufort was the younger son of John, earl of Somerset, and grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was taken prisoner at Bauge in 1421 during his first campaign, and did not return to England till 1431. He was then styled Earl of Mortain, and in 1432 was one of the envoys to the council of Basel. In 1436 he served at the relief of Calais, two years later he commanded with some success in Maine, and in 1440 recovered Harfleur. Next year he was made earl, and in 1443 Marquess of Dorset. In 1444 on the death of his elder brother he became Duke of Somerset.(*)
As head of the Beaufort party he was the rival of Richard of York, whom in 1446 he superseded as lieutenant of France. He lacked statesmanship, and as a general could do nothing to stop French successes. The loss of Rouen and Normandy during the next four years was precipitated by his incompetence, and his failure naturally made him a special object of Yorkist censure. The fall of Suffolk left Somerset the chief of the king's ministers, and the Commons in vain petitioned for his removal in January 1451. In spite of York's active hostility he maintained his position till Henry's illness brought his rival the protectorate in March 1454. For a year he was kept a prisoner in the Tower without any lawful process. On the king's recovery he was honourably discharged, and restored to his office as captain of Calais. Mistrust of Somerset was York's excuse for taking up arms. The rivalry of the two leaders was ended by the defeat of the Lancastrians and death of Somerset at St Albans on the 22nd of May 1455.
Though loyal to his family, Somerset was without capacity as a leader. It was a misfortune for Henry VI that circumstances should have made so weak a man his chief minister. Thomas Basin, the French chronicler, describes Somerset as a handsome, courteous and kindly man. By his wife, Eleanor, daughter and co-heiress of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, he had two sons, Henry and Edmund, who were executed by Edward IV after the battles of Hexham and Tewkesbury.
For further information see Sir James Ramsay's Lancaster and York (Oxford, 1892), and C. Oman's Political History of England, 1377-1485 (1906), with authorities there cited. (C.L.K.)
Being the entry for SOMERSET, EDMUND BEAUFORT, DUKE OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.(* This is debatable; most sources now state that Edmund became Duke in 1448 as a result of an entirely new creation of the title.)