Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester (1460?-1526)
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Portrait of Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester.
Signature of Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester, from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester (1460?-1526)

CHARLES SOMERSET, Earl of Worcester (1460?-1526), born about 1460, was an illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort, third Duke of Somerset. In his childhood he was doubtless an exile in Flanders, for he was knighted by the Archduke Philip, then himself a child, before the Battle of Bosworth. He was carefully looked after by Henry VII. Among the accounts for the coronation there is an entry of three yards of cloth of gold 'for the bastard Somerset.' On or before 1 March 1486 he was made captain of the yeomen of the guard, and on 1 March keeper of the park of Posterna, Derby, while on 9 March he had a large grant of forfeited estates. He seems to have been the king's cupbearer, and from 3 May 1486 till 25 Sept. 1503 was a knight of the body. He obtained the stewardship of Helmesley on 3 May 1487.

At the beginning of 1488, when affairs in France and Brittany were in a critical position, Henry tried to assume the part of mediator, and to secure his authority he fitted out a fleet. The ships seem to have been hired from Spanish merchants. Somerset was placed in command of them as admiral on 20 Feb. 1487-8, his patent being repeated on 4 May. The battle of St. Aubin du Cormier followed on 28 July, and on 9 Sept. Francis II, duke of Brittany, died. Henry began to think of supporting the duke's daughter, Anne, and hence again on 1 Oct. 1488 Somerset was commissioned to go to sea. His ship was the Sovereign. He sailed in August 1489.

In September 1490 Somerset was sent to invest Maximilian with the Order of the Garter at the time when an understanding was arrived at as to the protection of Brittany. About 23 April 1496 he became K.G. [i.e., Knight of the Garter], and on the 29th of the same month was named a commissioner of array for Wales. He was made a Knight Banneret on 17 June 1497, the date of the Battle of Blackheath.

On 7 April 1498 Charles VIII of France died, and, as Louis XII wished to continue the status created by the treaty of Etaples, Somerset was sent with others to Paris, and the treaty was solemnly ratified on 14 July 1498. He was present at the meeting between Henry and the Archduke Philip, which took place just outside Calais on 9 June 1500, and his close personal connection with the king was secured by his appointment, probably in 1501, as vicechamberlain of the household. In this capacity he took part in the ceremonial connected with the reception of Catherine of Arragon in October and November 1501. Subsequently he and William Warham undertook an important embassy to Maximilian to secure the banishment of the Yorkist rebels, notably Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, from the empire. The discussions were carried on at Antwerp, and finally resulted on 19 June 1502 in a general treaty of commerce, and on the promise of the payment of £10,000.1 Maximilian gave a satisfactory undertaking as to the rebels. The commission as joint ambassador of 14 Aug. 1502 doubtless has reference to the later stages of these agreements.

In 1503 Somerset had several valuable grants, and on 21 Feb. 1503-4 he was styled Baron Herbert in right of his wife. On 28 Dec. 1504 he received the office of constable of Montgomery Castle, and early in 1505 he seems to have become a privy councillor. That he was thoroughly relied on may be gathered from the fact that he was entrusted with the delicate negotiations regarding Henry's French marriage scheme; he was at Blois with Louis XII very early in June 1505. He was rewarded for his long service by his creation as Baron Herbert of Ragland (sic), Chepstow, and Gower on 26 Nov. 1506, and by his appointment as chamberlain of the household about 30 May 1508.

Henry VIII continued Herbert in his appointments, creating him Chamberlain of the Household on the day after Henry VII's death, and subsequently adding to his grants. He went on the expedition of 1513, landing at Calais on 10 June. On 1 Feb. 1513-4 he was created Earl of Worcester. In August the king's sister, Princess Mary, was affianced to Louis XII, and Worcester was appointed her proxy. His commission was dated 18 Aug. 1514, and he accompanied Mary to France for her marriage. He appears then to have taken part in the mysterious negotiations which had for their ultimate aim the expulsion of Ferdinand from Navarre, and the assertion of an English claim to a share in the heritage of Joanna. All this fell to the ground on the death of Louis at the end of the year.

In 1515 Worcester received various grants. He took part during that year in the negotiations as to Mary's dower; but he was chiefly occupied in seeing to the fortifications of Tournay, then in English hands. He returned to England at the end of the year. He was present at the christening of the Princess Mary on 20 Feb. 1515-6. In 1516 he was reported to be in receipt of a French pension. In September he was again at Tournay, where he, Jerningham, and others drew up plans of fortification which Henry, fortunately for himself as the matter turned out, thought to be too costly. On 28 Dec. he was commissioned to go on an embassy to the Emperor, with Knight, Wingfield, and Tunstal. Worcester went to Tournay, whence Wingfield summoned him to Brussels. He had an interview with Maximilian and Charles on 31 Jan. 1516-17 at Malines, having previously seen Charles alone. The situation was difficult owing to the failure of the advance on Italy by Maximilian and the treaty of Noyon. Maximilian, moreover, was not genuine in his anxiety to maintain the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, and the ambassadors advised Henry to send him no more money. On 18 Feb. Maximilian openly swore to observe the treaty of Noyon, but that treaty recoiled on the head of the emperor. The English and French drew together, and in this same year Worcester took part in the more fruitful negotiations which resulted in the conclusion of the treaty with France. Here he was greatly aided by Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham. When all had been settled in England, he was one of the splendid embassy which went to Paris. They reached Dover on 13 Nov. 1518, and Paris on 10 Dec. Magnificent entertainments followed, ending with the gorgeous spectacle at the Bastille, which it is said cost the king of France above 450,000 crowns. After this he seems to have journeyed to Tournay, where he remained over Christmas, doubtless to make arrangements for its surrender.

Owing to his office as Lord Chamberlain, Worcester bore the chief part in the arrangements for the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He landed at Calais on 13 April 1520, and took charge of the preparations. He was afterwards present at the meeting of Henry and Charles at Gravelines. In May 1521 he took part in Buckingham's trial, and went with Wolsey to the congress at Calais. Thence he with others went on an embassy to the King of France, whom they saw near Valenciennes (October 1521). In 1522 he was present at the reception of Charles V, and was one who attested the treaty of Windsor. After the battle of Pavia he took part in arranging the treaty between France and England, which was signed 30 Aug. 1525. He was now old and feeble, and the reversion of his office was granted to William, Baron Sandys of 'The Vine', on 27 Feb. 1525-6.

Worcester died on 15 April 1526, and was buried in the Beaufort chapel at Windsor. He married, first, Lady Elizabeth Herbert, daughter of William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, by whom he had a son Henry, who succeeded him; secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas, eighth Lord de la Warr, by whom he had Sir Charles Somerset, who was captain of the Rysbank at Calais, and Sir George Somerset of Bedmundsfield in Suffolk; thirdly, Eleanor Sutton, daughter of Edward, fifth Lord Dudley. His will, proved 20 Nov. 1526, is printed in 'Testamenta Vetusta.'

1. £10,000 in 1502 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £7,124,000 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.

Archbold, W. A. J. "Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester."
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. LIII. Sidney Lee, Ed.
London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1898. 230-1.

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