2nd Duke of Somerset, 3rd Duke of York, 5th Earl of Salisbury, Chancellor of England, Edmund Beaufort, House of York, King Henry VI of England, Lord Protector of the Realm, Princess Margaret of Anjou, Richard Neville, Richard Plantagenet, Wars of the Roses
The Duke of York and his ally, the Duke of Norfolk, returned to London in November with large and threatening retinues. The London mob was mobilised to put pressure on parliament itself. However, although granted another office, that of Justice of the Forest south of the Trent, the Duke of York still lacked any real support outside Parliament and his own retainers. In December Parliament elected York’s chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall, as speaker.
In April 1451, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset
was released from the Tower and appointed Captain of Calais.
Edmund Beaufort was the fourth surviving son of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the eldest of the four legitimised children of John of Gaunt (1340-1399) (third surviving son of King Edward III) by his mistress Katherine Swynford. Edmund’s mother was Margaret Holland, a daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent by his wife Alice FitzAlan, a daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel by his wife Eleanor of Lancaster, 5th daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, a grandson of King Henry III. Edmund was thus a cousin of both Richard, Duke of York, and the Lancastrian King Henry VI.
One of York’s councillors, Thomas Young, the MP for Bristol, was sent to the Tower when he proposed that York be recognised as heir to the throne, and Parliament was dissolved. King Henry VI was prompted into belated reforms, which went some way to restore public order and improve the royal finances. Frustrated by his lack of political power, the Duke of York retired to Ludlow.
In 1452, York made another bid for power, but not to become king himself. Protesting his loyalty, he aimed to be recognised as King Henry VI’s heir to the throne (Henry was childless after seven years of marriage), while also continuing to try to destroy the Duke of Somerset. Henry may have preferred Somerset to succeed him over York, as Somerset was a Beaufort descendant.
Gathering men on the march from Ludlow, York headed for London, only to find the city gates barred against him on Henry’s orders. At Dartford in Kent, with his army outnumbered, and the support of only two of the nobility (the Earl of Devon and Lord Cobham), the Duke of York was forced to come to an agreement with King Henry VI.
He was allowed to present his complaints against Somerset to the king, but was then taken to London and after two weeks of virtual house arrest, was forced to swear an oath of allegiance to King Henry VI at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Protector of the Realm, 1453–1455
By the summer of 1453, York seemed to have lost his power struggle. King Henry VI embarked on a series of judicial tours, punishing York’s tenants who had been involved in the debacle at Dartford. The queen consort, Margaret of Anjou, was pregnant, and even if she should miscarry, the marriage of the newly ennobled Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, to Margaret Beaufort provided for an alternative line of succession. By July, York had lost both of his offices, Lieutenant of Ireland and Justice of the Forest south of the Trent.
Then, in August 1453, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown, perhaps brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, which finally drove English forces from France. He became completely unresponsive, unable to speak, and had to be led from room to room.
The Council tried to carry on as though the king’s disability would be brief, but they had to admit eventually that something had to be done. In October, invitations for a Great Council were issued, and although Somerset tried to have him excluded, the Duke of York (the premier duke of the realm) was included. Somerset’s fears were to prove well grounded, for in November he was committed to the Tower.
On March 23, 1454, Cardinal John Kemp, the Chancellor, died, making continued government in the King’s name constitutionally impossible. King Henry VI could not be induced to respond to any suggestion as to who might replace Kemp.
Despite the opposition of Margaret of Anjou, Prince Richard the Duke of York was appointed Protector of the Realm and Chief Councillor on March 27, 1454. York’s appointment of his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, as Chancellor was significant.