John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset

John Beaufort
Earl of Somerset
Head of effigy
Drawing of an alabaster tomb effigy of John Beaufort, wearing a Collar of SS and plate armour, Canterbury Cathedral
Born c. 1371
Died 16 March 1410 (aged c. 39)
Hospital of St Katharine's by the Tower, London
St Michael's Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral
Spouse Margaret Holland
House Beaufort
Father John of Gaunt
Mother Katherine Swynford

John Beaufort, 1st Marquess of Somerset and 1st Marquess of Dorset, later only 1st Earl of Somerset, KG (c. 1371 – 16 March 1410) was an English nobleman and politician. He was the first of the four illegitimate children of John of Gaunt (1340–1399) (third surviving son of King Edward III) by his mistress Katherine Swynford, whom he later married in 1396.

The Beaufort children were declared legitimate twice by parliament during the reign of King Richard II of England, in 1390 and 1397,[1] as well as by Pope Boniface IX in September 1396.[2] Even though they were the grandchildren of Edward III and next in the line of succession after their father's legitimate children by his first two wives, the Beauforts were barred from succession to the throne by their half-brother Henry IV.[3]

Early life

Map showing location of the Castle of Beaufort in the Champagne region of France, probable birthplace of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset[4]
Flat countryside surrounding the site of the now demolished Beaufort Castle, Champagne

Beaufort's surname (properly de Beaufort, "from Beaufort") probably reflects his birthplace[4] at his father's castle and manor of Beaufort ("beautiful stronghold") in Champagne, France.[5][6] The Portcullis heraldic badge of the Beauforts, now the emblem of the House of Commons, is believed to have been based on that of the castle of Beaufort, now demolished.[7]

Heraldic badge of the House of Beaufort: A portcullis chained or, believed[4] to represent the portcullis defending the gate of Castle Beaufort in Champagne, birthplace of John Beaufort 1st Earl of Somerset. Today it continues to be used as the badge of two officers of the College of Arms in London, namely the Somerset Herald and the Portcullis Pursuivant, is the symbol of the British House of Commons and has appeared on several British coins[8]

Between May and September 1390, Beaufort saw military service in North Africa in the Barbary Crusade led by Louis II, Duke of Bourbon.[2] In 1394, he was in Lithuania serving with the Teutonic Knights.[9]

John was created Earl of Somerset on 10 February 1397,[2][10] just a few days after the legitimation of the Beaufort children was recognized by Parliament. The same month, he was also appointed Admiral of the Irish fleet, as well as Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.[11] In May, his admiralty was extended to include the northern fleet. That summer, the new earl became one of the noblemen who helped Richard II free himself from the power of the Lords Appellant. As a reward, he was created Marquess of Somerset and Marquess of Dorset on 29 September, and sometime later that year he was made a Knight of the Garter and appointed Lieutenant of Aquitaine.[2] In addition, two days before his elevation as a Marquess he married the king's niece, Margaret Holland, sister of Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey, another of the counter-appellants.[2] John remained in the king's favour even after his older half-brother Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) was banished from England in 1398.

Later career

After 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 Beaufort who was given the confiscated estates of the Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndŵr in 1400, although he would not have been able to take possession of these estates unless he had lived until after 1415. In 1404, he was named Constable of England.


John Beaufort and his wife Margaret Holland, the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Alice FitzAlan, had six children. His granddaughter Lady Margaret Beaufort married Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, the son of Dowager Queen Catherine of Valois by Owen Tudor.

John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, died in the Hospital of St Katharine's by the Tower. He was buried in St Michael's Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral.

His children included the following:



As a legitimised grandson of King Edward III, Beaufort bore that king's royal arms, differenced by a bordure gobony argent and azure.[12]

Arms of Beaufort, legitimised progeny of John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of King Edward III: Royal arms of King Edward III within a bordure compony argent and azure (see Royal arms of England). The arms were updated when the Kings of England adopted France modern, having been adopted by the King of France in 1376. Charles, an illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset (1436–1464), took the surname "Somerset" together with the Beaufort arms and was created Baron Herbert (1461) and Earl of Worcester (1513). In 1682 his descendant Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester (1629–1700), was created Duke of Beaufort. These arms are thus used by Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (extinct) and Somerset, Duke of Beaufort (extant).