Winchester is a bastard son of John of Gaunt. He begins the play as a bishop. The original Folio text calls him a cardinal throughout the play, but there is a scene where he thanks the Papal ambassador for appointing him to be a cardinal. We chose to keep the original text and let the discontinuity remain. As a character he is a scheming politician in church robes. He is desperate to use his position to gain influence over the young king, and works directly against Gloucester in an attempt to gain power.
The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by G. L. Harriss.
Beaufort, Henry (called the Cardinal of England) (1375?–1447), bishop of Winchester and cardinal, was the second of four illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (1340–1399), and Katherine Swynford (1350?–1403), daughter of the Hainaulter Sir Payn Roelt, who was governess to the duke's children [see Katherine, duchess of Lancaster]. His siblings were John Beaufort, Thomas Beaufort, and Joan Beaufort.
Early advancement, c.1375–1403
Henry Beaufort was brought up with his brothers and sister in the ducal household. From the first he seems to have been marked out for a clerical career, residing at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1388–9 and at Queen's College, Oxford, in 1390–c.1393. Having completed the arts course and commenced the study of theology he was ordained deacon on 7 April 1397. He had been supported in his studies by prebends in the Lincoln diocese, at Thame (1389) and Sutton (1391), and in York diocese at Riccall (1390). He was also made warden of the free chapel of Tickhill in the gift of his father. In 1396 he was provided by papal bull to the deanery of Wells, while the University of Oxford made him its chancellor in April 1397. John of Gaunt, now at the height of his influence with Richard II, married Katherine in February 1396 and their issue, the Beauforts, were legitimized by papal bull and royal charter in 1396–7. On 27 February 1398 Pope Boniface IX was persuaded to remove the aged John Buckingham (against his wish) from the see of Lincoln and to provide Henry Beaufort in his place. He was installed in March 1399, before accompanying Richard II to Ireland. Bishop Beaufort played no part in the deposition of Richard II by his half-brother Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV; indeed during the first years of the new regime he was infrequently at court, and lived mainly within his extensive diocese. About this time a liaison with Alice Fitzalan (b. 1383×5), widow of John Charlton of Powys, brought him his only known child, a daughter named Jane or Joan, who later married Sir Edward Stradling (1389–1453) [see under Stradling family]. In 1401–2 Beaufort spent a large part of the year at Oxford. But in the autumn of 1402 he moved decisively into the political centre. He was appointed to the king's council, and in the October parliament was named as one of the lords to intercommune with the Commons and urge convocation to grant a tax. In November he was sent to Brittany to conduct the new queen, Joan of Navarre, to England where, on her arrival, he officiated at the royal marriage. Finally, on 28 February 1403, he was appointed chancellor of England, a position he was to hold for almost exactly two years.
Political career under Henry IV, 1403–1413
These were years of danger for Henry IV, who faced the revolt of Henry Percy (Hotspur) in July 1403 and that of Archbishop Richard Scrope in May 1405, along with a continuing French threat to Calais. For Beaufort the defence of Calais, under his brother John's command, held high priority as part of a general policy to protect mercantile interests through good relations with the duke of Burgundy and the so-called Four Members of Flanders (Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, and the marc of Bruges) and by reaching a new agreement with the Hanseatic League. As chancellor he opened the two parliaments of January and October 1404, successfully defending the crown's interests against a critical House of Commons, and eventually securing a substantial grant of taxation. His continuous attendance at council in these years left him little time for diocesan duties, and his elevation to the rich see of Winchester in November 1404, in succession to William Wykeham who died in that year, was the reward for his political service to the crown. He resigned the chancellorship on 2 March 1405, though remaining an active member of the council for another year. His influence on appointments within the English church was increasing but he showed little interest in the wider problems of Christendom, and while Robert Hallum led the English embassy to the Council of Pisa in 1408–9, Beaufort was engaged in negotiating a renewal of the truce with France.
In August 1409 Pope Gregory XII (r. 1406–15), declared deposed by the Council of Pisa, named Beaufort as legate in England to combat the council's choice of Alexander V (r. 1409–10), but it was an office that Beaufort neither sought nor exercised. Nevertheless it did not commend him to Archbishop Thomas Arundel on whom Henry IV increasingly relied. When, in January 1410, Henry, prince of Wales, displaced Arundel as head of the council, Bishop Beaufort and his brother Thomas headed the administration. Thomas became chancellor while Bishop Henry opened parliament, of which his cousin Thomas Chaucer (d. 1434) was speaker, and strove to secure the support of the Commons with promises of ‘good governance’. For the two years of the prince's administration, until November 1411, Beaufort followed a policy of fiscal solvency, the safeguard of Calais and the sea, and friendship with Burgundy which served to strengthen the bond between crown and subjects. It was Prince Henry's French policy, his military support for John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, against the Armagnacs in November 1411, contrary to his father's wishes, that precipitated his dismissal at the end of that month. At this juncture there is some evidence that Beaufort urged the prince to demand the king's abdication, but wisely Henry withdrew to await his own succession to the throne and Beaufort had perforce to follow, spending the next eighteen months in his diocese. In March 1410 his elder brother John died, leaving his widow, Margaret, with three young children. Five months later the pope gave a dispensation for her marriage to Thomas of Lancaster (d. 1421), the king's second son. Thomas would thereby enjoy the lands that formed the greater part of the young Beauforts' inheritance. As his brother's executor Bishop Henry tried to impede the marriage, and refused to surrender to Thomas his brother's treasure which he held. In this, as in other future instances, the interests of the Beauforts succumbed to those of the royal family. Yet on the whole the careers of the bishop and his brothers had been furthered by their loyal and arduous service to the house of Lancaster which, by the time of Henry IV's death, they had helped to establish.
Bishop Beaufort and Henry V, 1413–1417
With Henry V's accession Bishop Beaufort again became chancellor (21 March 1413), pledged to implement the royal policy of ‘good governance’ followed in 1410–11. His opening sermons to the parliaments of 1413 and 1414 extolled the king's concern for enforcement of the law, security on the sea, economical government, and the eradication of heresy, on all of which positive action was taken. In return he appealed to the generosity of the Commons to support the king in claiming his just rights in France. Although the November parliament of 1414 granted the king two subsidies, the Commons still favoured negotiation rather than war. Beaufort himself was not on the embassy that travelled to Paris early in 1415, but he must have helped to frame the competitive offers to the Burgundians and Orleanists in the course of 1414–15 while advancing military preparations. In the summer of 1415 he was raising loans on the security of the taxes and crown jewels, and his palace at Wolvesey became the king's headquarters in the weeks preceding the Agincourt expedition. There, in July, he received and rejected, in the king's name, the final French offers made by the archbishop of Bourges. Before he sailed Henry named Beaufort as the principal executor of his will.
On 29 October Bishop Beaufort announced the news of Agincourt at St Paul's Cathedral and in his letter congratulating the king he expounded the myth of English invincibility. Henry was extolled as a great conqueror, comparable to the heroes of biblical antiquity, but the victory was not to be ascribed to him alone but to God, who had shown the justice of the English cause by giving victory against all odds to a chosen few. Henry was urged to show humility and gratitude but also to prosecute his quarrel in the confidence that God was on the English side. Beaufort's speech as chancellor to the parliament of 1415 followed similar lines and the Commons were led to grant the wool subsidy for Henry V's life, an act of generosity paralleled only by that made under compulsion to Richard II in 1398.
In the subsequent twenty months Beaufort was again at the centre of the political, diplomatic, and financial preparations for the next expedition. As prelate of the Order of the Garter he had a prominent role in the ceremonies for the admission of the emperor Sigismund on 22 May 1416, and for the celebration of the feast of St George, which had been elevated in the previous year to the status of a ‘greater double’, making it one of the principal feasts in the church's calendar. Sigismund was pressed to enter a formal alliance with Henry V, embodied in the treaty of Canterbury of 15 August. This opened the way for a meeting with Duke John the Fearless at Calais in September, designed to complete the diplomatic isolation of the French. Beaufort attended the negotiations though he may never have known the precise terms of John's undertakings to Henry V. His first task on return was to secure sufficient taxation from parliament to launch the expedition for the conquest of Normandy in 1417. Addressing parliament for the last time as Henry V's chancellor, he reviewed the king's achievements, comparing his labours over six parliaments to the creation of the world in six days and declaring the king's intention to consummate the establishment of justice and peace with a final victory over the French, for which he now asked the Commons to supply the money. But, as the costs of the large army assembled in the summer of 1417 mounted, the taxes proved insufficient; crown jewels had to be pledged and further loans secured. Immeasurably the greatest of these was that on 12 June from Beaufort himself, amounting to £14,000. With this he emerged as a major lender to the crown.
The cardinal's hat, 1417–1422
Six weeks later, on the eve of Henry's departure for France at the end of July, Beaufort resigned the chancellorship to go on pilgrimage. His intentions at this point have been variously interpreted and were intentionally obscure. The immediate purpose of his ‘pilgrimage’ was undoubtedly to break the deadlock at the Council of Constance where Sigismund was insisting that measures for the reform of the papacy should be adopted before the election of a new pope. The English had hitherto supported this position, but at this moment Henry V was less interested in reform than in securing a pope sympathetic to the English cause in the struggle with France. Beaufort's mission was to swing the English delegation behind the choice of such a candidate. At one point he himself was proposed, but ultimately the choice fell on Odo Colonna who was elected as Martin V (r. 1417–31) with English support. He at once, on 18 December 1417, rewarded Beaufort by naming him a cardinal and appointing him legate a latere, while allowing him to retain the see of Winchester in commendam and to be exempt from the jurisdiction of Canterbury.
It remains unclear to what extent this matched Beaufort's own aspirations. Though it is understandable that he should covet the superior dignity while wanting to retain his wealthy see, it is difficult to believe that Beaufort would have sought legatine powers, which English kings had always viewed with misgivings. As it became clearer that Martin V's intention was to recover the papacy's powers over taxation and provision in the English church lost during the fourteenth century, Henry V became convinced that Beaufort and the pope had connived to outwit him, and he forbade the acceptance of the dignities on pain of Beaufort forfeiting his see and his wealth. It is unclear at what point Beaufort heard of Henry's reaction, for he had proceeded from Constance to Venice, where in March 1418 he embarked for Jerusalem. Possibly only on his return in September did he fully grasp his predicament, for, making a winter crossing of the Alps, he reached the king at Rouen on 3 March 1419. Martin had not published any of the bulls of promotion of which Beaufort had copies, but if he hoped to mollify the king he failed; Henry remained adamant and Beaufort's resignation was discussed. Finally he returned to England in August 1419, cowed by the threat of praemunire if he attempted to publish his bulls, and under surveillance by Thomas Chaucer on the king's instructions.
At this point, having forfeited Henry's trust and favour, confined to his diocese and excluded from politics, Beaufort more than once contemplated resigning his see and making his way to Rome. In the end he reined in his resentment and remained in England. On Henry V's return in February 1421 for the queen's coronation Beaufort received a measure of reinstatement. It was the king's need for money to finance a new army that finally procured his restoration. With parliament reluctant to make a grant Henry turned to the bishop for a loan of £17,666. With £5693 of his previous loan only repaid, it meant that some £26,000 of his wealth was now in the king's hands. Although the repayment of the whole loan was secured on the customs of Southampton and he had the gold crown in pledge, it could take ten years to discharge the loan in full. Henry had squeezed Beaufort hard, but on his departure the bishop again took his place in council and began cautiously to repair his standing with the Holy See. Yet in contrast to the power and influence he had wielded from 1413 to 1417, his position in the closing years of the reign represented a striking reversal of fortune.
The minority regime, 1422–1424
Hitherto Beaufort's career had been determined by the service he had rendered and the favour he had received from two able and active kings. But now, following the death of Henry V on 31 August 1422, with the new king an infant, Lancastrian rule in France and England rested on Henry V's two brothers, John, duke of Bedford (d. 1435), and Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (d. 1447). Already an elder statesman with twenty years' experience in high office, Beaufort was not prepared to render to them the subservience exacted from him by Henry V. Henry had left no written instructions about the government during his son's minority, and the duke of Bedford assumed the regency in France by prescriptive right. In a codicil to his last will Henry had conferred the tutelam et defensionem of his heir on Duke Humphrey who, on this basis, claimed an equivalent regency in England. But the lords of the council declined to invest Gloucester with either the title or the power to govern in this way. They would only agree to his becoming principal counsellor with the title of protector. It seems probable that the opposition to Gloucester had been orchestrated if not led by Bishop Beaufort; it was certainly against him that Gloucester came to harbour deep animosity.
The council, now acting in loco regis, acquired a new importance, and over the next ten years a permanent core of bishops, lords, and knights became Beaufort's close associates. These included the three officers of state, Bishop John Kemp (d. 1454), who succeeded Beaufort as chancellor in 1426, Bishop John Stafford (d. 1452), and Walter, Lord Hungerford (d. 1449), successively treasurers, and Bishop William Alnwick (d. 1449), keeper of the privy seal, along with Sir John Tiptoft (d. 1443), the steward of the household, and Ralph, Lord Cromwell (d. 1456). The council drew up its own working procedures which emphasised corporate responsibility and allowed Gloucester only a nominal headship. Bedford looked to it to raise and pay for reinforcements for each summer's campaign, but following the treaty of Troyes of 1420 parliament was reluctant to grant direct taxation for war. With indirect taxes (the customs) already pledged for the repayment of Beaufort's loans to Henry V, the council could only meet Bedford's demands by contracting further loans with the bishop. Though still owed some £8000, Beaufort provided a loan of £9333 in March 1424 to send an army which helped Bedford win the crucial victory at Verneuil in August. The partnership thus cemented was to provide a safeguard for Beaufort as Gloucester's own interests diverged from those of the council and led him to an alternative strategy.
Disputes with Duke Humphrey, 1424–1427
For Gloucester was now intent on helping Jacqueline of Hainault, whom he had married in April 1423, to recover her inheritance from her estranged husband, John of Brabant. John had the support of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, and since the Anglo-Burgundian alliance was the cornerstone of Lancastrian France, Bedford dared not alienate Philip, and called on Gloucester to desist. But neither he nor the council in England was able to deflect Gloucester from entering Hainault with an army in October 1424. Before he left, Gloucester had invested Beaufort with the chancellorship for a third time, and when, after a fruitless campaign, he returned in April 1425, a confrontation between them rapidly developed. Gloucester played on anti-Burgundian feeling in London to secure further assistance for Jacqueline, while the council strove to provide Bedford with reinforcements for a summer offensive in Anjou. Still failing to extract taxation from parliament, Beaufort agreed to lend almost £9000 to aid Bedford, extending his lien on the customs for repayment. Fearing that Gloucester was planning a coup, he debarred him from the Tower of London, which Gloucester saw as a challenge to his authority as protector.
At the very end of October the armed retinues of Gloucester and Beaufort confronted each other on London Bridge, as Gloucester attempted to remove the infant Henry VI from Eltham into his custody. A withdrawal was arranged to diffuse the situation, and Beaufort appealed to Bedford to return to England. He arrived in January 1426, and at a parliament held at Leicester on 18 February forced the contending parties to accept a settlement. Beaufort was allowed to disclaim any intention of affronting Gloucester's status and authority, but was compelled to surrender the chancellorship and withdraw from the council. For the second time his career had been broken and he himself humiliated. Bedford endeavoured to sweeten the pill by procuring from Pope Martin V the cardinalate that Beaufort had been forced to waive in 1419; this he conferred on Beaufort at Calais when they both returned to France in March 1427, and Beaufort thus became cardinal-priest of St Eusebius. Beaufort had secured repayment of all he had loaned the crown, and his withdrawal from English politics once again foreshadowed a new area of activity. For Martin V had designated him leader of the crusade against the Hussites of Bohemia and given him legatine power in Germany to mobilize an effective army.
The Hussite crusade, 1427–1430
Beaufort parted company from Bedford at Calais. He visited Duke Philip in Flanders, and then, by July, arrived in Nuremberg in time to witness the rout of the German forces by the Hussites at the battle of Tachov (4 August 1427). That strengthened his resolve to organize an effective army, and he spent the winter in negotiations with the princes at Frankfurt, at length persuading them to levy a tax on clergy and laity for the defence of the empire. But by the spring of 1428 the difficulties of assembling a coherent military force from the towns and principalities persuaded him to look to the military resources of England, France, and Burgundy. All were, of course, engaged in wars of their own, but during the summer Beaufort secured support in principle from Bedford and Philip should the war permit. The crusade now became part of a wider Lancastrian strategy. If the fall of Orléans undermined the dauphin's resistance, and a successful campaign could be waged against the Hussites, the pope would be persuaded to recognize Henry VI as legitimate king of France and leader of Christendom.
By the autumn of 1428 Beaufort had moved to England where he hoped to raise a substantial force of archers and levy a crusading tax. However the response of the council was lukewarm; it permitted him to recruit a force of only half the size he had envisaged and forbade the levy of a tax. Its priority remained the war in France where, with Salisbury's death, the siege of Orléans began to look problematic. The council also induced Beaufort to journey to Scotland in the winter of 1428–9 to renew the truce with James I (r. 1406–37), his own brother-in-law, in order to safeguard the northern frontier. By the time he had returned to London in March the situation in France was becoming critical. Bedford was demanding reinforcements and proposing that Henry VI should come to France for his coronation.
At this point Gloucester chose to renew his challenge to Beaufort by questioning the legality of his retention of Winchester, as a cardinal, and his liability to the penalties of praemunire for accepting papal bulls without royal licence. The council ordered Beaufort to absent himself from the Garter ceremony at Windsor, though he protested strongly. But with the retreat from Orléans and the defeat at Patay on 18 June 1429 the council brought overwhelming pressure to bear on Beaufort to send his crusading army to Bedford's assistance. On 1 July the council agreed to take over the payment of this force which Beaufort now led to France. For this flagrant betrayal of his commission Martin V never forgave Beaufort, who lost papal favour and any hope of a career in papal service. Gloucester's renewed hostility likewise excluded him from English politics. But by his action he won Bedford's undying gratitude and protection. At the end of July he engaged to remain in Bedford's service for the rest of the year, and in the months following the repulse of Jeanne d'Arc's assault on Paris he worked with Bedford to strengthen Duke Philip's attachment to the English cause.
The defence of Lancastrian France, 1430–1431
For the next two years Beaufort devoted himself to planning and financing Henry VI's journey to Paris for coronation. He had returned to London for the king's coronation on 6 November, which formally terminated Gloucester's protectorship, and to attend the parliament at which the Commons were finally persuaded to grant taxation for the royal expedition. Despite some resistance from Gloucester, he was permitted to resume his seat in council in recognition of the essential services he would render in the coming months, though the matter of his see was left unresolved. To finance the army of more than 7000 men loans were again raised from Beaufort and from the duchy of Lancaster feoffees whom he headed, his own contribution of £8333 being the largest. Furnished with a large army and secure finance, Henry VI left England for Rouen on 23 April 1430, while Beaufort hastened to Ghent to strengthen the alliance with Duke Philip (recently married to Beaufort's niece Isabella of Portugal), whom the French were trying to detach with offers of peace. However the Anglo-Burgundian offensive in Picardy during the summer failed to capture Compiègne, ending any prospect of the recapture of Rheims, and necessitating a further campaign in 1431 to secure Henry VI's coronation in Paris.
At the end of the year Beaufort returned once more to England to persuade parliament to grant further taxation for another army of 2600 men. Once more he loaned money on the security of the tax for the wages of the expedition. On his return to Rouen in May 1431 he presided at the trial and burning of Jeanne d'Arc. In a summer of heavy fighting Louviers finally fell to the English (28 October), opening the way to Paris, and Beaufort had the satisfaction of crowning Henry VI in Notre-Dame on 16 December. Throughout the twenty-one months of the king's stay in France Bedford's regency had been suspended, and Beaufort as president of the grand conseil had effectively headed the civil administration. Not only had he worked tirelessly to raise money and troops but he had made numerous loans for current expenses and emergencies, so that he could justly feel entitled to recognition and reward.
Disputes at home, crisis in France, 1432–1435
Yet all at once Beaufort found his whole career in jeopardy. The king's impending return to England raised the question of Bedford's continuing authority in France, which Beaufort insisted should henceforth be held under royal commission and not prescriptively. Bedford took this ill and the two quarrelled. In England, too, Gloucester was preparing to renew his assault on Beaufort's position, persuading the council to lend its backing to a charge of praemunire. Beaufort thus faced the enmity of both royal dukes, at a time when a large proportion of his wealth was in the crown's hands. On hearing of Gloucester's moves he decided not to return to England with the king but to seek the hospitality of Duke Philip in Ghent, where he stood godfather to Isabella's child. He had ordered his treasure to be shipped in secret from England, and may once again have contemplated going to Rome or taking part in the peace negotiations promoted by Pope Eugenius IV (r. 1431–47). But on 6 February 1432 Gloucester seized and impounded his treasure as it was being loaded at Sandwich, and in the following days writs of praemunire were issued against Beaufort and his supporters were removed from the council.
Gloucester's attempt to deprive him of his see, confiscate his wealth, and destroy his political influence before it could be rebuilt in England compelled Beaufort to return and defend himself. This he did in a parliament that met from May to July 1432, aided by the support of the Commons and the reluctance of the Lords to provoke dissension. The praemunire charges were dropped, his treasure was restored under bond of £6000, and he purged himself of any charge of treason. Helped by his ability to make a further loan of £6000 Beaufort had survived the attempt to ruin him, though he was forced to retire to his diocese. But for as long as the war with France continued the council could not easily dispense with his wealth and abilities, and by 1433 his financial support was again urgently required by Bedford to send further reinforcements to France. Indeed in May 1433 Bedford decided he must return to England, displace Gloucester as vicegerent, reorganize English finances, and revive support for the war.
Under Bedford's protection Beaufort therefore returned to the council and to his role as financier of the English crown. Armies were sent to France in 1433 and to accompany Bedford's return in 1434, enabling the English to recover much ground in France. But by the end of 1434 the pressure from both the papacy and the Council of Basel to bring the Anglo-French conflict to an end, coupled with Duke Philip's own inclination towards a settlement with France, produced a proposal for a peace congress at Arras in the summer of 1435. English, French, and Burgundian delegations met there along with papal mediators from July to September. Since the French and English could not agree on terms for peace, the real issue was whether the French could detach Philip from his commitment to the treaty of Troyes. As Philip's defection from the English side became certain, Beaufort made a last impassioned plea to him on grounds of their historic alliance and personal friendship. It was in vain, and he left Arras knowing that Henry V's vision of a dual monarchy lay finally in ruins. At the same moment Bedford lay dying at Rouen. The future both for the Lancastrian conquests and for Beaufort himself looked bleak.
The search for peace, 1435–1440
In France crises loomed on many fronts. The French seizure of Dieppe in September triggered risings in the Pays de Caux which threatened to spread throughout Normandy. The English prepared to abandon Paris and Duke Philip to besiege Calais. These events stiffened English resolve and renewed the council's dependence on Beaufort, who in February 1436 loaned £12,666, together with a further £4000 from the duchy of Lancaster, for a large army to be sent to Normandy. By March Philip's preparations to besiege Calais were confirmed, and an impressive army under Gloucester was mobilized for its defence. For this Beaufort loaned a further £6000 in August. For the moment Gloucester was inhibited from any attack on the cardinal; further, by the autumn of 1436 the young Henry VI was beginning to exercise some measure of royal authority, and this afforded Beaufort a degree of security. He was now convinced of the necessity for a settlement with France that could guarantee the retention of Normandy. He still hoped to achieve this through the mediation of Burgundy, with whom commercial and diplomatic relations were gradually re-established in 1437–8. By the beginning of 1439 Beaufort and Duchess Isabella had agreed to summon a conference at Gravelines near Calais for negotiations with the French.
Abandoning any attempt to reconcile the opposing claims of the protagonists, the negotiations concentrated on the proposal for a long truce of twenty years on the basis of the status quo, during which Henry VI's title would be held in suspense. Beaufort himself conducted the talks with Isabella and remained at Calais while their joint proposals were sent to the council in England. After discussion the council found them unacceptable and Beaufort returned from what proved to be his last diplomatic mission. His career had now reached its climax. Over the past two years he had dominated English policy, had loaned almost £26,000, and had received favours from the pliant king, notably the grant of Canford and Poole in Dorset for life, and the sale to him of Chirk and Chirklands in north Wales, which Gloucester bitterly opposed. The duke had likewise led the opposition to the terms for a truce and when Beaufort returned discredited he took the opportunity systematically to denounce his rival.
During the parliament of 1439–40 Gloucester presented to the king a long and detailed indictment of Beaufort, reaching back over the length of his career and designed to destroy his reputation as a statesman and diplomat, and to convict him of corruption and fraud. The reaction of the king and the council, indeed of Beaufort himself, is unknown, for no answer was made and no action taken. Though ineffectual, Gloucester's attack revealed the weakness of Beaufort's position, which was underlined when in this and the following parliament he was forced to surrender the duchy of Lancaster lands that he held as a feoffee of Henry V. It was further underlined by his failure to secure the post of lieutenant in Normandy for his nephew John Beaufort, earl of Somerset (d. 1444), whose career in France, with that of his more successful brother Edmund, he had been promoting with his loans. The post went to Gloucester's candidate, Richard, duke of York (d. 1460).
Beaufort was now aged about sixty-five, and was perhaps unwell. He attended council less frequently after 1440, as the rising power of William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (d. 1450), gradually displaced his own. It is doubtful whether he had any hand in the prosecution of Eleanor Cobham, Gloucester's wife, on charges of treasonable necromancy in June 1441, though he took a formal part in the proceedings. Likewise he ceased to make major loans to the crown. It was only with the prospect of enabling his nephew John to fill a major command in France that he moved back into the political centre for the last time in 1443. Faced with the threat of major French offensives against Normandy and Gascony, the council decided in the winter of 1442–3 to send a large army to France in the summer. Cardinal Beaufort was ready to supply the cash for this if Somerset was given command.
Though this expedition was to be independent of the duke of York as lieutenant-general, and in the area outside his control, it intentionally diverted resources from the defence of Normandy to an aggressive strategy designed to bring Charles VII to battle in Anjou. In all Beaufort advanced £22,666 for Somerset's army, which was the largest since 1436. In the event Somerset failed to bring the French to battle and, having achieved nothing of military significance, returned in disgrace. It was an ignominious conclusion to the cardinal's political career and he now retired to his episcopal residences in Hampshire. From 1445 to 1446 he resided in a house called Meister Omers, in the precincts of Christ Church, Canterbury, which he renovated at his own expense. Finally in the autumn of 1446 he returned to Wolvesey. By then the cardinal was nearing his end. He drew up his will on 20 January 1447 and added codicils on 7 and 9 April. He died at Wolvesey on 11 April.
Aspects of Beaufort's career: plutocrat and prelate
Henry Beaufort's wealth was notorious—indeed he was the wealthiest English prelate of the late middle ages. He was known as the Rich Cardinal. At the height of his career his fortune was probably not less than £50,000, and was at least half this at the time of his first major loans to Henry V. The source of his wealth remains as unclear as it was to his contemporaries, but the revenues of his see, the perquisites of office and influence, the export of wool, and his elder brother's legacy are all possible sources. His loans to the crown were not technically usurious, the exact sum being repaid from national taxation through the exchequer, but he often held important crown jewels as security, and his right to some retained by the crown's default in 1424 troubled him in his final hours. Beaufort used his loans to protect his political position, to influence policy, to advance the careers of his brothers and nephews, and to maintain the dignity and lifestyle of a prince of the church.
In several respects Beaufort was notable as a prelate. He held episcopal office for almost fifty years, longer than any other English bishop, and he was the first of a new breed of national cardinals to retain his see and reside in England; indeed he employed the title cardinal of England with some pride. Unlike the last of these, Thomas Wolsey (d. 1530), Beaufort did not use his dignity or his legatine power either to overshadow the archbishop of Canterbury or to intervene in the government of the church. Nor did he contribute to its spiritual life. He had no interest in reform, was indifferent to the new devotional movements, and regarded heresy as merely subversive. He adhered to the religious observances of his age. By his will he provided for 10,000 masses to be said for his soul, he made bequests to the principal churches and monasteries with which he was connected, and to the poor by way of charity. He instructed that his tomb and chantry should be sited next to the shrine of St Swithun in Winchester Cathedral.
The man and his reputation
Beaufort possessed a keen intelligence and could speak with eloquence, but he showed little appreciation of the intellectual outlook of the humanists with whom he came into contact in Italy. Poggio Bracciolini, one of the most illustrious of these, was his secretary from 1418 to 1422, at a time when Beaufort's career was in crisis, and perhaps on this account found little to satisfy his literary and philosophical interests in his service. Yet Beaufort was a good patron and master to those who served him faithfully. Many were rewarded in his will, and in his last years he refounded the hospital of St Cross at Winchester, as an ‘almshouse of noble poverty’ for his old servants and retainers, building a gatehouse, kitchen range, and rooms to form an impressive quadrangle. Major additions to the palaces at Wolvesey and Bishops Waltham, as well as the house at Canterbury, marked his later years, but as a builder he did not match the scale of Wykeham or William Waynflete, nor did he have any interest in educational foundations.
Beaufort saw himself first and foremost as a prince of the blood and his life was spent in service to a dynasty in whose destiny he steadfastly believed. He subscribed to Henry V's vision of a dual monarchy which should unite Christendom under the hegemony of the Lancastrian crown. He consistently supported Bedford in attempting to fulfil this ambitious legacy and, as it faltered and collapsed after 1429, he used all his financial and diplomatic resources to sustain the French title and finally to safeguard Normandy by peace. He also fought to advance the fortunes of his family and to defend his position in the council. In each of these spheres he experienced severe and seemingly disastrous set-backs, from which his political acumen and the indispensability of his services enabled him to recover. These vicissitudes bred in him a stoicism tempered by optimism and wry humour, qualities that are manifest in the fine portrait of a cardinal by Jan Van Eyck which has been plausibly identified as that of Beaufort, making it the earliest realistic portrait of any Englishman. Other representations of him occur in a sculptured stone head at Bishop's Waltham and on a roof boss in Fromond's chantry at Winchester College.
Beaufort's reputation as a mainstay of the house of Lancaster was not challenged until the sixteenth century, when Edward Hall (d. 1547), the protestant chronicler of the Wars of the Roses, depicted Beaufort as the precursor of the infamous Cardinal Wolsey. Shakespeare followed Hall in the first two plays in his Henry VI trilogy, presenting Beaufort as a haughty, avaricious, and worldly prelate, whose scheming brought retribution on the dynasty. William Stubbs, in the 1870s, still censured him as ‘ambitious, secular … and greedy of honour’ (W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England, 3 vols., 1873–8, 3.139), but acknowledged his qualities as a statesman, an approach elaborated in the principal modern biography by Harriss (1989).