Exeter is one of John of Gaunt’s bastard sons. Unlike his brother Winchester, Exeter is loyal to the King and England. Exeter began as one of Henry V’s top advisors, and continues as an advisor to Henry VI. Exeter sees through Winchester’s false face, and can see how Somerset and York’s quarrel will bring ruin to England. He has the most direct contact with the audience, ending several scenes in a monologue directed to them—something I call a theatrologue.
The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by
G. L. Harriss.
Beaufort, Thomas, duke of Exeter (1377?–1426), magnate and soldier, was the youngest of the three illegitimate sons of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Swynford [see Katherine, duchess of Lancaster]. His brothers were John Beaufort and Henry Beaufort; he also had a sister, Joan Beaufort. He was one of the most resolute and trusted of Henry V's commanders and the governor of the infant Henry VI. Raised in the household of John of Gaunt, from whom he received an annuity but no lands, he was married by 1397, while still a minor, to Margaret (b. before 1385), granddaughter and heir of Gaunt's retainer, Sir Robert Neville of Hornby. He joined Richard II's retinue in July 1397 and in September 1398 was rewarded with the grant of Castle Rising forfeited on the exile of the duke of Norfolk. Next year he transferred his loyalty to his half-brother Henry IV and strenuously defended the Lancastrian regime throughout his reign.
As captain of Ludlow (21 August 1402) Thomas Beaufort probably fought alongside Prince Henry at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, and from 1404 to 1407 served among the group of the prince's retainers in the hardest phase of the war against Glyn Dŵr, himself commanding garrisons at Carmarthen, Cardigan, Newcastle Emlyn, and Wigmore. His other contribution was to guard the sea. Appointed admiral of the north in November 1403 he patrolled the Dover Strait for thirteen weeks in the summer of 1404, preventing the count of St Pol's fleet at Gravelines from blockading Calais. In 1408 he was again appointed admiral of the northern and western fleets, and in 1410 and 1411 checked the privateering of John Prendergast and William Longe which threatened the maritime truce with Flanders. In these operations he identified himself with the pro-Burgundian policy of his brothers and Prince Henry. When the prince became head of the council in 1410 Thomas Beaufort was appointed chancellor (31 January 1410), almost certainly as surrogate for his brother Henry (d. 1447), who was unacceptable to the king. It was an office ill-suited to his military temperament and which he combined with maritime operations from his base at Bishop's Lynn. Created earl of Dorset on 5 July 1411, he retained the king's favour when the prince of Wales's council was dismissed in December: on 3 March 1412 he was appointed admiral of England for life. By then he was already involved in the expedition led by the prince's brother and rival, Thomas, duke of Clarence, to support the Armagnac lords in Aquitaine.
At Henry V's accession in March 1413 Dorset was appointed lieutenant in Aquitaine which he defended at his own cost against Burgundian forces. In July 1414 he was recalled, to play a leading part in the preparations for the war in France. He was a member of the embassy which early in 1415 presented the English demands in Paris, and on its return in April to report the French rejection he pledged the support of the Lords for war. As admiral he was responsible for gathering and commanding the fleet which sailed from Southampton on 12 August 1415. On arrival at Harfleur he took up position near Graville and when the garrison capitulated to the English assault on 22 September the king delivered the town into his custody. Although Dorset remained at Harfleur during Henry's march to Agincourt, his defence of the town over the next year as it came under siege by the French became an epic of endurance.
With reinforcements brought from England early in 1416 Dorset first made forays into Normandy, on one of which he was ambushed at Valmont (11 March) and fought his way back to Harfleur with heavy losses. The French intensified the siege and the English relief expedition was dangerously delayed by the prolonged peace negotiations at Beauvais; Dorset was temporarily sustained by supplies brought in by ships of the earl of Huntingdon in May, but by the time that Bedford scattered the French fleet at the battle of the Seine on 15 August the town was on the edge of starvation. Dorset's tenacity and firm discipline were rewarded by his elevation as duke of Exeter on 8 November 1416 with an annuity of £1000.
Established as one of Henry V's most trusted commanders and advisers, Exeter attended the king's crucial meeting with John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, at Calais in October 1416 but remained in England with Bedford when the second invasion of France was launched in July 1417. Together they repulsed the ‘foul raid’ by the Scots in September, thereby securing the northern frontier. Early in 1418 Exeter was summoned to France, and he indented on 3 March 1418 to take a force of 2000 men. On arrival he played an active part in the second phase of the conquest; he captured Évreux and was positioned at the Beauvoisine gate when Rouen was besieged on 1 August. After its surrender on 13 January 1419 the city was placed in his custody. He then proceeded to reduce the strongholds to the west and north up to Dieppe and afterwards to invest Château Gaillard to the south, which surrendered to him on 23 September.
Exeter's participation in the fruitless negotiations with the duke of Burgundy at Meulan in May and June 1419, and in those of 1420 that led to the treaty of Troyes, brought little interruption to his military activity. He was entrusted with the captaincy of Conches on 26 March 1420, and of Melun when it surrendered to him on 18 November. On Henry V's return to England in January 1421 the king left Exeter as military governor of Paris with the guard of Charles VI. The defeat of Clarence at Baugé in March shook English authority: in Paris, Exeter's arrest of the Burgundian captain Lisle Adam provoked an uprising, forcing him to withdraw to the Bastille. He was later replaced by a Frenchman. He was engaged in the long winter siege of Meaux which surrendered in May 1422 and in Henry's final expedition to the relief of Cosne.
Exeter was present at the king's deathbed in Vincennes on 31 August. His return to England with the cortège effectively closed his military career. He excelled as a leader who commanded his men's loyalty and the king's confidence. Henry entrusted him with the safeguard of his greatest conquests: Harfleur, Rouen, and Paris. He was well, though not lavishly, rewarded. The grant of the comté of Harcourt and lordship of Lillebonne in tail male in June 1418 was followed by that of Croisy in June 1419. In England he held the important lordship of Wormegay in Norfolk forfeited by Lord Bardolf in 1405, and at different times was granted the custody of valuable estates during the minorities of Lord Ros, the earl of Oxford, and the earl of March. Although Exeter was only intermittently in Norfolk, his estates there and his office of admiral made him the effective head of the Lancastrian affinity reconstituted under the leadership of Sir Thomas Erpingham (d. 1428), and many of his retinue were drawn from the region.
Henry V's confidence in Exeter led not merely to his inclusion among the king's executors and feoffees, but to his nomination in the codicil of the king's last will as governor of the person of his infant heir. At the same time Henry had accorded Gloucester the ‘tutelam et defensionem principales’ (‘principal tutelage and protection’) of Henry VI, which the duke interpreted as entitling him to the regency. Thomas and Henry Beaufort, who were both appointed to the council in December 1422, were among those who opposed Gloucester's claim. Despite these responsibilities Exeter still saw his contribution primarily in the military sphere and in March 1423 he indented once more for service in France. Serious illness prevented him from mustering until July, but it is unclear where or for how long he served; he is not recorded at council until 1425. Failing health may have limited his activity, and he died on the last day of 1426 at his manor of Greenwich where his will was dated two days earlier. This prescribed conventional if restrained obsequies, performed as the cortège conveyed the body to the chapel of St Mary in the abbey of Bury St Edmunds where his wife, who predeceased him, was interred. As he had no children his honours were extinguished, and his lands held in tail male reverted to the crown. The sale of other lands and effects by his executors realized the sum of £6787 from which numerous bequests were made to Carthusian monasteries, colleges, hospitals, recluses, paupers, prisoners, and other charitable purposes. Individual benefactions went to forty-three members of his familia. The will echoes William Worcester's later account of his household: the thirteen poor men fed daily at his table and three hundred others given potage; his washing the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday; his expulsion of swearers, liars, and tale bearers, and care of his soldiers in old age. Exeter exemplified chivalric noblesse in his service and fidelity to the king, courteoisie to his knights, and largess to his dependants. He furthered the interests and aims of the Lancastrian crown but contributed little to the endowment of the Beaufort family.