John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset

John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset

John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373 – March 16, 1410) was the first of the four illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his mistress Katherine Swynford, later his wife. Beaufort was born in about 1371 and his surname probably reflects his father's lordship of Beaufort in Champagne, France. [Armitage-Smith 196-199]

The family emblem was the portcullis which is shown on the reverse of a modern British 1p coin. John of Gaunt had his nephew Richard II of England declare the Beaufort children legitimate in 1390, [It is thought that this may have been a "private" act (that is, not entered in the public records), because, in January 1397, the Duke had Parliament issue a similar declaration, with the same proviso.] Gaunt married their mother in January 1396. Despite being the grandchildren of Edward III of England, and next in the line of succession after the Lancasters, their father's legitimate children, by agreement they were barred from the succession to the throne. [This prohibition was not in the original act of 1397, but appears in a 1407 confirmation by Henry IV (Pollard 158), making the ultimate legallity of the addition uncertain. While this legal wrangling ultimately caused an enormous amount of bloodshed and destruction, it did result in one of the Beaufort descendants ascending the throne as Henry VII.]

Early life

In 1396, after his parents' marriage, John and his siblings were legitimated by a papal bull. Early the next year, their legitimation was recognized by an act of Parliament, and then, a few days later, John was created Earl of Somerset (February 10, 1397).Pollard 158]

That summer the new Earl was one of the noblemen who helped Richard II free himself from the power of the Lords Appellant. As a reward on September 29 he was created Marquess of Dorset, and sometime later that year he was made a Knight of the Garter and appointed Lieutenant of Ireland. In addition, two days before his elevation as a Marquess he married the King's niece, Margaret Holland, sister of the 3rd earl of Kent, another of the counter-appellants.

He remained in the King's favour even after his half-brother Henry (later Henry IV) was banished. In February 1397 he was appointed Admiral of the Irish fleet, as well as constable of Dover and Warden of the Cinque Ports. In May his Admiralty was extended to include the northern fleet.

Later career

After King Richard II was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399, the new king rescinded the titles that had been given to the counter-appellants, and thus John Beaufort became merely Earl of Somerset again. Nevertheless, he proved loyal to his half-brother's reign, serving in various military commands and on some important diplomatic missions. It was he who was given the confiscated estates of the Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndwr in 1400, although Beaufort could not effectively come into these estates until after 1415. In 1404 he was Constable of England.


Somerset and his wife Margaret Holland, the daughter of the Earl of Kent, had six children; his granddaughter Lady Margaret Beaufort married a descendant of Catherine of Valois by Owen Tudor, creating a powerful branch of the Lancastrian family and enabling Henry VII to claim the throne in spite of the agreement barring the Beaufort family from the succession.

Somerset died in the Hospital of St. Katherine-by-the-Tower. He was buried in St. Michael's chapel in Canterbury Cathedral.

His children included:
*Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset ( 1401 – November 25, 1418).
*John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset (baptized March 25, 1404 – May 27, 1444).
*Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland (1404 – July 15, 1445).
*Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Perche (1405–1432).
*Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset (1406 – May 22, 1455).
*Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Devon (1409–1449). Married Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon.

Titles, styles, honours and arms


As a legitimated grandson of the sovereign, Beaufort bore the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a "bordure gobony argent and azure". [ [ Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family] ]



*Armitage-Smith, Sydney. "John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Lancaster, &c.". Constable, 1904.
*Jones, Michael K, and Malcolm G. Underwood, "The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby". Cambridge University Press, 1992. see especially pp. 17-22
*A.F. Pollard, "John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset," Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement vol. 1, 1901.

External links

* [°%20E.%20Somerset) The Beaufort Family]
* [°%20E.%20Devon) The Courtenay Family]
* [ John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset at]

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