Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Somerset, Robert Edward Henry

SOMERSET, Lord ROBERT EDWARD HENRY (1776–1842), general, commonly known as Lord Edward Somerset, born on 19 Dec. 1776, was third son of Henry, fifth duke of Beaufort, by Elizabeth (d. 1828), daughter of Admiral the Hon. Edward Boscawen [q. v.] Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, first baron Raglan [q. v.], was his younger brother. He was commissioned as cornet in the 10th light dragoons on 4 Feb. 1793, became lieutenant in December, and captain on 28 Aug. 1794. He was aide-de-camp to the Duke of York in the expedition to Holland in 1799, and was given a majority in the 12th light dragoons in November, from which he was transferred twelve months afterwards to the 28th light dragoons. On 25 Dec. 1800 he was made lieutenant-colonel of the 5th foot, from which he exchanged in the following year to the 4th dragoons. From 1799 to 1802 he was M.P. for the Monmouth boroughs. He was returned for Gloucestershire in 1803, and continued to represent it till 1829.

In April 1809 he went to Portugal with the 4th dragoons, and commanded the regiment at Talavera and Busaco. At Usagre (25 May 1811) his regiment, with the 3rd dragoon guards, charged two French cavalry regiments, killing or taking about two hundred men. At Salamanca it took part in the charge of Le Marchant's heavy brigade, and after it had broken through three columns of infantry, Somerset, ‘continuing his course at the head of one squadron with a happy perseverance, captured five guns’ (Napier). He was mentioned by Wellington in his despatch, and at the end of 1812 was recommended by him for a brigade. He had been made colonel and aide-de-camp to the king in July 1810.

In June 1813 Somerset was promoted major-general, and was presented with a sword of honour by the officers of his regiment on leaving it. He was given command of the hussar brigade (7th, 10th, and 15th), and held it till the end of the war. He was present at Vittoria, the Pyrenees, Orthes, and Toulouse. At Orthes he led a charge upon the retreating French infantry, which secured a large number of prisoners, and was mentioned in Wellington's despatch as highly meritorious. He received the thanks of parliament (26 June 1814) and the gold cross with one clasp for his services in the Peninsula, and was made K.C.B. in January 1815.

In the Waterloo campaign he commanded the household brigade of cavalry, consisting of nine squadrons of the 1st and 2nd life-guards, horse-guards, and king's dragoon guards—1,135 rank and file in all. Together with Lord Uxbridge, he led the charge of the brigade at Waterloo, at the time of the first attack made by d'Erlon's corps. The charge was directed against Dubois's brigade of Milhaud's cuirassiers, which was on d'Erlon's left, and which had just ridden down a Hanoverian battalion sent forward to reinforce La Haye Sainte. The leading regiments of the two brigades ‘came to the shock like two walls.’ The French were more numerous, but the British were better trained, better mounted, and had the advantage of the descending slope. The French were broken, and were pursued into and across the valley. The blues had been told off to support, but they soon came up into first line. The brigade was attacked in its turn by lancers, and by a fresh brigade of cuirassiers, and lost heavily as it retired; especially the squadrons on the left which had become mixed up with the union brigade. But the results obtained well repaid the losses. Reduced as it was, it made other charges later in the day, against a large body of cavalry and a column of infantry, but with no decisive effect. It was afterwards joined by what remained of the union brigade, and guarded the part of the British line immediately to the west of La Haye Sainte. Here they suffered such further loss from the enemy's fire that the seven regiments ultimately formed only one squadron of about fifty files. The fire was so severe that at one time Uxbridge sent to Somerset to suggest that he should withdraw his men, who were extended in single rank to show a larger front; but Somerset replied that if he moved, the Dutch cavalry behind him would go off at once.

He was among the officers particularly mentioned in Wellington's despatch, received the thanks of parliament (29 April 1816), and the foreign orders of Maria Theresa, St. Wladimir, and the Tower and Sword. Somerset was appointed to command the first brigade of cavalry in the army of occupation in France on 30 Nov., and he held this command till the army was withdrawn at the end of 1818. He afterwards held the post of inspecting-general of cavalry until his promotion to the rank of lieutenant-general on 27 May 1825. He had been given the colonelcy of the 21st light dragoons in January 1818. He was transferred to the 17th lancers in September 1822, to the royals in November 1829, and to his old regiment, the 4th dragoons, in March 1836. He was lieutenant-general of the ordnance in 1829–30, and surveyor-general of the ordnance for a short time in 1835. He received the G.C.B. in 1834, became general on 23 Nov. 1841, and died in London on 1 Sept. 1842. He married, on 17 Oct. 1805, Louisa Augusta (d. 1823), twelfth daughter of William, second viscount Courtenay, and had two sons and five daughters.

[Gent. Mag. 1843, i. 199; R. M. Calendar, iii. 288; Wellington Despatches, Supplementary, vols. vii.–xiii.; Waterloo Letters; Sir Evelyn Wood's Cavalry in the Waterloo Campaign; De Ainslie's Historical Record of the Royal Dragoons.]

E. M. L.