Saturday, 16 June 2012

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, part 3

Lest it be forgotten, this Somerset was the Somerset who had commanded the Lancastrian forces at Wakefield and Towton and was thus (arguably) responsible for the deaths of (among others) Salisbury (Warwick's dad and Edward's uncle), Rutland (Edward's brother and Warwick's cousin) and Richard, Duke of York (Edward's dad and Warwick's uncle.) He had been (since at least first St. Albans) as big an enemy of the Yorkist cause as anyone you can name, including Margaret of Anjou. So on the face of it, it's hard to understand why Edward extended favour to him, when someone like Jasper Tudor (who if no better was certainly no worse) was told to pick up his bag and walk.

First, the basic reason. It was part of the deal to capture Bamburgh, quickly and with minimum expense. OK, that accounts for the pardon, and maybe the restoration of land, but not the favour. Even Warwick might have gone along with this, out of sheer practicality.

Second, the politics. Somerset was a key Lancastrian player. More important than any other single noble. It was at least arguable that if could be persuaded to make a permanent defection, the wars would be over. This may well have been Edward's calculation.

Third, the personal. It is my suspicion (I have no proof!) that Edward's involvement with Somerset's cousin, Lady Eleanor Talbot, was part of the mix. Edward may have thought that there was potential to win over not only Somerset but also the Talbots, an important 'Lancastrian' family via this route. Apart from this, Somerset seems to have been an urbane individual, and was possibly quite likeable on a personal level. He and Edward had a fair bit in common, having commanded armies at a relatively young age - maybe they compared notes?

Anyway, it is an undoubted fact that Edward showed Somerset marked favour. He shared his bed with him - this by no means implies a sexual involvement in the context of the time, but it was an exceptional sign of favour and trust. He hunted with Somerset. He placed Somerset in charge of his guard.

Warwick and Montagu (and probably others) were unhappy with this. First, because potentially more favour for Somerset would mean less for them, given there is only ever so much patronage to go round. Secondly they feared Somerset might try to murder Edward - he certainly had adequate opportunity. They may well have felt that Edward's treatment of Somerset was naive. (Yet if it was, it was exceptional. Edward, even as a young man, was far from naive and more than capable of being ruthless. As I hope to explore shortly with a post about the execution of Oxford and his son.)

In the next post I shall try to explain how this all went 'orribly wrong.

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