1463 A Year of Living Dangerously

By September 1462 the Duke of Somerset had began to tire of exile in Scotland and, having decided to change sides, wrote to his sworn enemy the Earl of Warwick “in order to come to his grace”. However events would intervene and in October Somerset was in command of a Lancastrian raid into Northumberland which succeeded, through defection of their garrisons, in capturing Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles.

Edward IV and Warwick were quick to react and Somerset soon found himself besieged within Bamburgh along with its small garrison of 120 men under Sir Thomas Findherne. By Christmas Eve the garrison had eaten all the horses and reluctantly began negotiating their surrender. Conscious of the approach of a Lancastrian relief force Warwick offered generous terms including safe conduct for all and on 27 December 1462 Somerset surrended the castle.


Grasping his opportunity Somerset declined the safe conduct and immediately sought an audience with Edward at Durham where he paid homage and swore allegiance to the Yorkist King. Immediately afterwards Somerset rode off to assist Warwick with the siege of Alnwick where, as several contemporary sources recount, he played an active and enthusiastic part. After the surrender of Alnwick on 6 January 1463 Somerset rejoined the King and accompanied him back to London.
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Somerset now turned on the charm and he quickly found himself in favour with the Edward and by Shrovetide, 10 March 1463 his titles and estates had been restored and his attainder reversed. The King went on to grant Somerset an annuity of £222 with a similar sum handed over in cash to cover his immediate expenses. The two men became inseparable and were to be found eating and hunting together and at times they “Shared the Royal Bed” a mark of particular favour. At Whitsun Edward arranged a Grand Tourney at Westminster in Somerset’s honour during which Somerset reportedly impressed spectators by wearing a straw hat instead of a helmet during the joust.
In the summer of 1463 Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh once again declared for Lancaster and in July Edward was forced to march north in order to deal with the increasing Lancastrian raids. The King was accompanied by Somerset and his personal retinue who, dressed in Somerset’s own livery colours, now acted as the King’s Bodyguard. However the Duke’s involvement with the Lancastrian regime had not been forgiven and on 25 July an angry mob assembled around the King’s lodgings in Northampton demanding Somerset be handed over to them. The King was able to calm the mob but so as to not further enrage them he ordered the Bodyguard to Newcastle to reinforce the garrison and then dispatched Somerset in secret to Chirk Castle in Wales.


By December 1463 Somerset, frustrated that he had been “exiled” to Wales and angry that the pension promised to him by Edward IV had yet to be paid, decided to rejoin Queen Margaret in Scotland and, after sending word to his men in Newcastle, rode northwards with two retainers. While lodging at an Inn in Durham, Somerset was once again recognised and during the night he awoke to hear footsteps and threatening voices outside his room. Fearing for his life he escaped by climbing out of his window dressed only in his shirt forsaking his money, clothes and harness in the process. His two retainers were not so lucky and were taken and killed. In Newcastle, as his men attempted to leave the town, they were set upon by the Yorkist garrison and a running fight through the streets ensued were several of Somerset’s men were “taken and lost their heads for their labours”.

Somerset, having now acquired new clothes and been reunited with his men, headed north to once again swear allegiance to Henry VI and thereby bringing to an end his year of living dangerously with the Yorkist regime. Unfortunately he backed the wrong horse and, after escaping the carnage of the Lancastrian rout at Hexham on 15 May 1464, he was captured, tried and executed.


This article originally appeared in Issue 76 of Skirmish Magazine published Feb 2010