Henry Beaufort and the Calais Pale 1459 - 1460

After the rout of Ludford Bridge in 1459, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset replaced the Duke of Warwick as Captain of Calais and in November 1459 Somerset crossed the Channel accompanied by Lord Audley, Humphrey Stafford of Hooke, John Butler and Anthony Trollope and 1000 soldiers intent on recovering his new command from the Yorkists. Unfortunately for Somerset, Warwick, Salisbury and Edward, Earl of March, were firmly ensconced in the town and Somerset, faced with a barrage of arrows and cannon fire was forced to withdraw. On the advice of Trollope, Somerset took control of Guisnes Castle from where he intended to attack Calais overland however the bulk of his fleet, carrying horses, armour and supplies were scattered by a storm and forced to take shelter in Calais were then promptly captured by Warwick. A similar fate befell reinforcements sent by the Queen in January 1460 and the same month Stafford and Lord Audley were captured by Warwick and imprisoned in Calais.

Although short of supplies and equipment, Somerset continued to launch a series of vigorous raids against Warwick that impressed contemporaries by their boldness and enterprise (Gregory’s chronicle describes how he “fulle manly made sautys”) which had the effect of winning over the garrison of Hammes Castle and encouraged desertions from Rysbank Fort. However by the spring Somerset’s financial situation was becoming desperate and taking advantage of Warwick’s absence (he had sailed to Ireland in March to meet with York) Somerset launched a concerted attack on Calais on 23 April 1460 (St George’s Day). After a hard fought and bitter struggle on Newenham Bridge, during which many of his men were killed, he was finally forced to withdraw and from then on Somerset found himself virtually besieged within Guisnes.

In May 1460 Osbert Munderford, a long serving Beaufort retainer and veteran of France, was commissioned to gather troops to reinforce Guisnes but before it could set sail in June a Yorkist force from Calais fell upon Sandwich and defeated Mundeford in a short, sharp fight. Munderford was taken back across the channel and summarily executed on the sands below Rysbank FortC. The same month the Yorkists leaders departed Calais bound for England with their invasion force and on the 10 July 1460, the Royal Army under the Duke of Buckingham was beaten by Warwick and the Earl of March at Northampton and the King captured.

After hearing of the Lancastrian defeat at Northampton, Somerset decided his position at Guisnes was hopeless and he finally agreed terms with the besieging Calais Garrison, surrended Guisnes and withdrew into France (contemporary sources reported that Somerset, as part of his surrender terms, was made to swear an oath that he would henceforth not take up arms against the Neville family).

The King of France, Charles VII, who had been impressed by Somerset’s resistance at Guisnes, lodged him at Montivilliers and met the full expense of his retinue and on 16 July 1460 he granted him safe conduct. Somerset had also won the admiration of Charles, Count of Charolais, heir to the Dukedom of Burgundy, and he was entertained by the Count at a lavish dinner at Ardres on 12 August 1460. Somerset finally returned to England in October 1460 having sailed from Dieppe in ships provided by Charles VII.

(This Article previously appeared in Vol 2 Issue 8 of the Beaufort Companye Herald)