John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset

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The Duke of Somerset
Beaufort Arms (France modern).svg
Arms of Beaufort, Earls and Dukes of Somerset: Royal arms of England differenced by a bordure gobonne argent and azure
Earl of Somerset
Predecessor Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl
Successor Edmund Beaufort, 4th Earl, 2nd Duke
Spouse Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso
Issue Lady Margaret Beaufort
House House of Beaufort
Father John Beaufort, 1st Earl
Mother Margaret Holland, Countess of Somerset
Died 27 May 1444(1444-05-27) (aged 40)

John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, KG (1403 – 27 May 1444) was an English nobleman and military commander.[1]


Baptised on 25 March 1404, he was the second son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and Margaret Holland, and succeeded his childless elder brother Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset to become the 3rd Earl of Somerset in 1418. He was also the 1st Earl of Kendal.

French Campaign[edit]

The young earl fought in his cousin Henry V's 1419 campaigns in France. In 1421 he accompanied the King's younger brother Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence to the fighting in Anjou. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Baugé while Somerset and his younger brother were captured. On 25 March 1425, Somerset came into his majority, but the estates of his father had to be managed by his mother for the next thirteen years until he was released from imprisonment.

He remained imprisoned until 1438, and after being ransomed became one of the leading English commanders in France.[2]

Duke of Somerset: a soldier[edit]

The heraldic achievement of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, KG, as shown on his Garter stall plate St. George's Chapel, Windsor. It is the earliest garter plate with supporters.[3] The badge of an ostrich feather, here shown as a pair, is blazoned: feather argent pen gobonne argent and azure

In 1443 he was created Duke of Somerset and Earl of Kendal, made a Knight of the Garter, and appointed Captain-General of Guyenne. However he proved a poor commander. He married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso in 1439. He presided over a period during which England lost much territory in France. The Regent Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester was unable to control the administration of justice and finance with corresponding lawlessness. At the beginning of Richard, Duke of York's second protectorate, Gloucester declined the Lieutenant-Governor's post, which was offered instead to Somerset. From this post he drew a salary of 600 pounds and was Lieutenant-General for war even after York's appointment on 2 July 1440.

Somerset was appointed Admiral of the Sea to Lord Talbot's army command.[4] Talbot besieged Harfleur from August 1440, which for five months had been in French hands. Charles VII of France sent a large army under Richemont. The English dug a double ditch rampart with only 1000 men, while Somerset's squadron prevented a French landing by sea, using archers to pick off the enemy at short range. Frustrated the French withdrew to Paris, lifting the siege. The town surrendered to the English and was re-occupied. York was incensed that John's uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort should advise the King to sue for peace. Somerset was political and astute advising King Henry that peace was humanitarian and that the King of France was determined to seize Pontoise.[5] When York arrived in Normandy in 1441 to campaign, Somerset had resigned. But the fall of Pontoise to the Duke of Orléans in September 1441 weakened English garrisons; and in Gascony the situation was even worse.[6] The Beauforts had sent Sir Edward Hull, who arrived at Bordeaux on 22 October 1442 to inform York that a huge army would arrive commanded by Somerset. York was ordered to fortify Rouen; just as the King and Dauphin of France were threatening Bordeaux and Aquitaine and seized the town of Dax. Somerset dithered; York was held back as Guienne was being lost.

Tomb of John and Margaret Beaufort in the minster church of St Cuthburga, Wimborne Minster, Dorset

Meanwhile the Duke of York fighting alongside the tactician Lord Talbot had been appointed Lieutenant for all France. With the Duke of Gloucester's wife charged with treason, Somerset took the opportunity in April 1443 to declare himself Lieutenant of Aquitaine and Captain-General of Guienne. Meanwhile the negotiations Somerset had started as Captain-General of Calais had failed. These two factors turned York against the Beauforts. But the last straw was the payment of £25,000 to Somerset while York remained heavily in debt. Furthermore Guienne was consuming precious resources otherwise destined for Normandy.[7]

In August 1443, Somerset led 7,000 men to Cherbourg, and marched south to Gascony; the Duke was ill. He blundered into Guerche, a Breton town with which England had signed a Peace Treaty. But Somerset set all prisoners free, accepting money from the Duke of Brittany. Marching aimlessly through Maine, he returned that winter to England.[8] His death in 1444 may have been suicide.[9][1] His death, and that of his uncle the cardinal, marked the end of Beaufort influence, and left the door open for William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk to dominate government.[10] But the lasting effect of these events was burning resentment between the House of York and the remaining members of the Beaufort family.


Illegitimate children of John Beaufort:

  1. Tacine of Somerset. Being foreign born, she was made a denizen of England 20 June 1443. She married before 29 Sept. 1447 Reynold (or Reginald) Grey, 7th Lord Grey of Wilton. He was born about 1421 (aged 21 in 1442). They had one son, John, Knt. [8th Lord Grey of Wilton]. He was summoned to Parliament from 13 Jan. 1444/5 to 12 August 1495, by writs directed Reginaldo Grey de Wilton’. In October 1447 Reynold and his wife, Tacine, conveyed the manors of Yelling, Huntingdonshire, Acresfleet (in Wallasea Island), Snoreham, and Weldbarnes (in Debden), Essex, and Shirland, Derbyshire, and a moiety of the manor of Vaches (in Shenley), Buckinghamshire, to Thomas Grey, Knt., and Margaret his wife (Reynold’s step-mother) for the term of their life. On 24 May 1469, he and his wife, Tacine, with the agreement of their son and heir, John Grey, conveyed a messuage called Stabullers in Water Eaton (in Bletchley), Buckinghamshire, together with various tracts of land, to William Danyell, of Water Eaton, and Eleanor his wife, and the heirs of the said William. Sir Reynold Grey, 7th Lord Grey of Wilton, died 22 Feb. 1493/4, and was buried at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. References: Nicolas, Proceedings & Ordinances of the Privy Council 5 (1835): 288 (Act of Privy Council dated 20 June 1443: “Also the Kyng graunted at the same time and place that Tacyn doughter bastard to my said Lord of Somerset and her heires of her body lawfully begotten deniszeins …”). Egerton, Commentary of the Services & Charges of William Lord Grey of Wilton, K.G. (Camden Soc. 40) (1847): 60 (funeral certificate of William lord Grey of Wilton dated 1562 names his deceased great-grandparents as: “Reygnolde lorde Grey, and Thomasyn or Thasyna base daughter to John duke of Somersett.”). Complete Peerage 4 (1916): 19, footnote f; 6 (1926): 180, 185–186 (sub Grey); 12(1) (1953): 48, note a (sub Somerset). Cal. Close Rolls, 1441–1447 (1937): 410–412 (wife Tacina named in 1446). Feet of Fines for Essex 4 (1964): 40. Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies: Small accessions 601–700, D-X629/1 (grant dated 24 May 1469 by Reginald Grey, Lord of Wilton over Wye, Herefordshire, and Tacina his wife, with the agreement of John Grey, their son and heir) (available at Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry (2013).
  2. John of Somerset (c. 1444–1453)

Child of John Beaufort and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso:

  1. Lady Margaret Beaufort (31 May 1443 – 29 June 1509), mother of Henry VII



  1. ^ a b  "Beaufort, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ Harriss, G.L. (1988). Cardinal Beaufort: A Study of Lancastrian Ascendancy and Decline. Oxford: Clarendon Press. [page needed]
  3. ^ Planche, J.R. (1851). Pursuivant of Arms. p. xx. 
  4. ^ Burne 2005, p. 422.
  5. ^ Burne 2005, p. 426.
  6. ^ Oxford History of England, 1399–1485, p. 470
  7. ^ Oxford History of England, 1399–1485, p. 468
  8. ^ Burne 2005, p. 435–6.
  9. ^ Harriss, G.L. (2004). "Beaufort, John, duke of Somerset (1404–1444)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1862. 
  10. ^ Burne 2005, p. 438.
  11. ^ a b c d Brown 2004.
  12. ^ Weir 2008, p. 232.
  13. ^ a b Weir 2008, p. 92.
  14. ^ a b c Weir 2008, p. 93.
  15. ^ Marshall 2003, p. 50.
  16. ^ Weir 2007, p. 6.
  17. ^ a b c Weir 2008, p. 125.
  18. ^ a b Browning 1898, p. 288.
  19. ^ a b Weir 2008, pp. 94–95.
  20. ^ Weir 2008, pp. 94, 125.
  21. ^ a b Weir 2008, pp. 97, 104.
  22. ^ a b c Weir 2008, p. 77.


  • Brown, M.H. (2004). "Joan [Joan Beaufort] (d. 1445)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14646. Retrieved 21 November 2013.  (subscription required)
  • Browning, Charles H. (1898). The Magna Carta Barons and Their American Descendants. London: Genealogical Publishing Company. 
  • Burne, A.H. (2005). The Hundred Years War. London: Folio. 
  • Marshall, Rosalind (2003). Scottish Queens, 1034-1714. Tuckwell Press. 
  • Weir, Alison (2008). Britain's Royal Families, The Complete Genealogy. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-09-953973-5. 
  • Weir, Alison (2007). Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. London: Random House. ISBN 978-0-345-45323-5. 

External links[edit]

Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Somerset
1st creation
Preceded by
Henry Beaufort
Earl of Somerset
2nd creation
Succeeded by
Edmund Beaufort