Monday, 21 June 2010

Duke of Somerset

During a visit to Cogito bookshop in Hexham, the owner told me of an execution that took place long ago in the Market Place. There was a plaque, he said. Two visits I made without discovering said plaque. But today - success.

At first, I couldn't find it, so I decided to ask. I began with the lady in the coffee shop, who directed me to the man in the blue shirt who worked in the jewellers on the other side of the market place. He didn't know, but felt he should; I went next to the National Trust shop, but they didn't know either.

Back to the bookshop, but the man I wanted wasn't there. His colleagues told me they thought the plaque was in the Shambles, fixed to one of the columns. So off I went, back to the market place.

By this time I was getting some very curious glances. My exploration wasn't helped by the fact that it was Monday, and the market traders were in their usual place in the Shambles.

Losing patience, I asked the market trader who was watching me if she knew of a plaque on one of the columns. 'Ah,' she said. 'It's here.' and she led me around the corner of the dresses and into the plants and flowers and gestured towards a pillar.

'Ah,' I said. Satisfaction complete.

It is perhaps ten or twelve paces from the coffee shop lady. What pity she doesn't know about it. I took some pictures, retreating slowly so I could set the scene, as it were. If anyone else wants to find it it, perhaps it will be easier for them than me. In the second pic, the plaque is in deep shadow and if you didn't know it was there, you'd certainly miss it.

So why was the the 3rd Duke of Somerset parted from his head?

Because he supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses and dared to fight Edward of York. Towns such as Hexham and Langley in the Tyne Valley remained red rose strongholds. While Edward gathered an army in Leicester, Montagu marched to confront the Lancastrians camped on the levels near the Devil’s Water, a river south of Hexham.

Montagu arrived with his army in the early morning of May 15th, catching Somerset unprepared. Somerset chose to fight with the Devil's Water behind them; it mean he couldn't be attacked, but neither could he escape.

The battle was short. Somerset’s force was overwhelmed. Some reports say the Lancastrian force fled in panic. The Devil’s water claimed many victims, either drowned trying to cross or crushed beneath the feet of those who did make it to the other side only to struggle to scale its steep bank.

Thirty senior Lancastrian commanders were executed in a brief period of retribution after the battle. Somerset was captured and put to death in Hexham on the very day of the encounter; others were given summary trials in York and then executed.

1 comment:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks for posting the picture! Henry Beaufort is one of my favorites from this period.