Thursday, 25 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 5)

Sorry for the delay to this. Anyway, in the aftermath of Cade's rebellion and the English expulsion from Normandy, England was a very discontented place. There were lots of discharged soldiers wandering around London, and the arrival of York in October (from Ireland) added to the tense atmosphere as preparations began for Parliament to meet. Various seditious 'bills' were nailed to the doors of St Paul's, Westminster Hall, and even the King's chamber at Westminster!

On 1 December there was an actual rising against Somerset, an attack by more than 1000 men. He was (for his own protection) taken by barge to the Tower, while order was maintained by York, Devon and the Mayor, apparently the only people for whom the insurgents had any respect.

The Parliament petitioned for the removal of Somerset (and others, including the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk) from the King's presence, but Henry managed to evade this demand, and when Parliament was prorogued in May 1451 the pressure on Henry's favourites eased for a time. Somerset was actually appointed Captain of Calais, presumably on the basis that he wouldn't dare to lose that as well. (On the face of it, you'd have thought him the last person eligible for the job.)

In 1452, despairing of removing Somerset by peaceful means, York rose in arms. However he was joined only by Devon and Cobham, and was forced to submit to the King at Dartford. Though swiftly pardoned, in return for swearing never to rebel again, the affair had brought about his total humiliation and strengthened Somerset's position immeasurably.

Unfortunately for Somerset, about the beginning of August 1453, Henry VI had a complete mental collapse. This coincided roughly with the news that Talbot (Shrewsbury) had been defeated and killed at Castillon in Gascony, with the result that English rule in France (barring Calais) was over. In addition, Queen Margaret of Anjou had lately announced that she was pregnant. While either of these events might have added to Henry's stress and pushed him over the edge, it's dangerous to assume that they did.

At first the King's illness was kept quiet, but in October 1453 a Great Council was held - equivalent to a sort of slimmed-down Parliament. Somerset tried to exclude York, but this led to representations, including one from Duchess Cicely to the Queen, and York was sent a belated invitation.

York's supporters now included the Nevilles (alienated by Somerset over the small matter of Glamorgan) and the Duke of Norfolk. It was actually Norfolk who appealed Somerset of treason, mainly based on his failure in France. As a result Somerset was taken to the Tower where he remained for about a year. No charges were brought.

York was not actually named Protector until late March 1454, an alternative proposal that Queen Margaret act as Regent having been dismissed on grounds of precedent.

King Henry recovered (or was said to have done so) around Christmas 1454, and on 26 January 1455 Somerset was released from the Tower, though the release was not actually confirmed until a meeting of the Great Council on 5 February. Soon afterwards York resigned as Protector and, in effect, Somerset regained power. All charges against Somerset were dropped and arrangements were made for a panel of arbitrators to settle all disputes between him and York.

York and the Nevilles now decided that the time for talking and playing politics was over. They believed that Somerset and his clique were poisoning the King's mind against them and that in fact they were not safe to approach Henry in the normal way. Under this belief or pretext they marched to St Alban's at the head of about 7000 men and there met Henry and his court on their way to a further Great Council meeting that had been arranged for Leicester.

York demanded that Somerset should be handed over to him, and when this was refused, the Yorkists attacked. Somerset, having killed four men with his own hand, was slain in the fighting, along with the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford. Their deaths brought the battle to an end, but not unnaturally filled their sons with a burning passion for revenge.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Constance of York

Constance now has her own entry on Find a Grave and it's quite a nice write up for her, nothing much that I can disagree with. (I'm quite used to disagreeing with the dismissive and patronising remarks from sundry historians on the subject of her ladyship.) You can even leave a memorial message if you like!

Google Alerts strikes again!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sorry for the delay

Sorry about the length of time it is taking me to complete the saga of the Beauforts. I am in fairly manic mode at the moment, running about doing all sorts of stuff, and I'm not really in the right frame of mind to put together an entry on Edmund Somerset - he deserves me at my composed and sober best.

Will be back soon - I hope!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 4)

Edmund, Duke of Somerset (or Edmund, Marquess of Dorset as he was at the time) replaced the Duke of York as lieutenant-general and governor of France on 24 December 1446. The court party, dominated by Edmund's aged uncle, Cardinal Beaufort and the Duke of Suffolk, probably thought that York was too committed to the war. Their policy, by this time, was peace on almost any terms. King Henry VI's marriage to Margaret of Anjou (1445) had been undertaken on the basis of a truce with a secret agreement to cede Anjou and Maine.

Obviously, this secret could not be kept for ever, but the surrender was opposed by York, the Lancastrian establishment in Normandy (who could see the strategic implications) and above all by the King's uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. However Duke Humphrey had little influence now and in early 1447 was arrested and shortly after died. Many people believed he had been murdered, but there's no particular proof of this. He may simply have had a heart attack or the like. Meanwhile York was given a 10 year contract to govern Ireland. This was not necessarily demotion or banishment as such, but York was undoubtedly aggrieved, especially as the Crown's debt to him amounted to tens of thousands of pounds.

The appointment of Beaufort to the French post was not, however, all that ridiculous. He had a mixed track record as a soldier, admittedly, but he had had some success, while York, though competent, was not exactly Robert E. Lee. (It might be added that even Lee, Cromwell and Marlborough working together as a team might have struggled to keep the French out of Normandy for very much longer, given the appalling military situation and almost total lack of finances.)

Anyway, the agreed surrender of territory proceeded, despite the attempts of local commanders to be as awkward as possible so as to drag matters out. These stalling tactics made the French wonder about English good faith. If they were sufficiently perceptive, they probably also realised that Henry VI's government was somewhat lacking in grip.

Somerset (as he became in March 1448) was not especially tactful in his dealings with Charles VII, indeed he was rather discourteous, and this cannot have helped in so delicate a situation. Negotiations to resolve the situation were about to begin when an English force seized the town of Fougeres, on the borders of Brittany. Naturally this alienated the Duke of Brittany more than somewhat and gave the French justification for believing the truce had been broken.

Meanwhile, having allowed the capture and sack of Fougeres, the English did not give assistance to the mercenary captain involved and he was eventually forced to capitulate. At the same time Somerset's negotiations - or perhaps the word is dealings - with Charles VII failed miserably, since the French King, quite reasonably, had no faith in Somerset's honesty.

In the Spring of 1449 hostilities began in earnest. It's tedious to recite the tale of towns falling, one by one, and the process speeded still further after Charles VII declared formal war on 31 July. Rouen was captured on 29 October. Somerset obtained a safe conduct to England for his family and himself, and for many of his supporting cast, including Shrewsbury, Abergavenny and Roos. In return he had to agree to surrender not only Rouen but several other fortresses, pay a hefty ransom, and leave hostages behind to secure his good faith. By August 1450 the remaining Lancastrian holdings in northern France (except Calais) had fallen, and the last (rather feeble) English field army defeated.

It was a disaster, and there were many (notably York of course) who put much of the blame on Somerset. However, with Suffolk's fall from power, and subsequent murder in May 1450, it was Somerset who had Henry VI's confidence and became dominant at court.

More another day...

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 3)

My bewilderment about Edmund Somerset's locus standi in the matter of Glamorgan has been solved by reference to The End of the House of Lancaster by R.E. Storey - another book I am keen to recommend to anyone wanting to understand the complex background to the start of the so-called Wars of the Roses.

Anyway, in 1453 Somerset was was given charge of the lands of George Neville during his minority. This George Neville being the son of Elizabeth Beauchamp, half-sister of Anne Beauchamp on her mother's side - this particular Anne Beauchamp being Warwick the Kingmaker's wife. OK so far?

The only thing is that Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, his son Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, the guardians of Anne Beauchamp, Henry's little daughter, and finally the Kingmaker himself, in the right of his wife, the other Anne Beauchamp, had all of them held onto George Neville's share of Glamorgan. In the case of Richard Beauchamp, it was undoubtedly because his wife, Isabelle, mother of the aforementioned Henry, Elizabeth and Anne (Kingmaker's wife Anne that is) was the rightful owner of Glamorgan in preference to her own children.

But after Isabelle died (1439) it becomes more problematical, doesn't it? Presumably Henry Duke of Warwick got the whole pot because he was a male. Then his daughter got the whole of his inheritance. But when she died, surely the Despenser inheritance should have been divided between her aunt, Anne and her cousin George, heir of her other aunt? It's hard to discern a legal reason for George not getting his share at that point.

However in 1450 Warwick the Kingmaker was given a grant of all the lands formerly held by his wife's niece (Little Anne Beauchamp, as opposed to Big Anne Beauchamp, aka Mrs Warwick). This included the whole of Glamorgan. (Except for the Countess of Northumberland's dower lands, but that's another story.)

So when in 1453 Somerset was given the wardship of George Neville and started to press for possession of George's share of Glamorgan, we can understand why Warwick would be annoyed, even if, from an objective point of view, his case for possession seems a tad dubious.

There was 'military activity' in Glamorgan , and both Warwick and Somerset were ordered to appear before the King's Coucil to sort things out. Due to events, however, nothing substantive happened to settle the dispute, and Warwick continued in possession of all Glamorgan. He was, however, now second only to York in the I Hate Somerset Club.

The next post will try to summarise the remainder of Somerset's political career.