Henry Stafford, Second Duke of Buckingham

Finding out about people in the 15th century: Henry Stafford, Second Duke of Buckingham
Continuing our series on fifteenth century people we shall look at the life of Henry Stafford, Second Duke of Buckingham and his relations with Richard III – yet another mystery of the period!

The main source is The Staffords, Earls of Staffod and Dukes of Buckingham 1394-1521 by Carole Rawcliffe (1978). This book traces the lives of the first three Dukes of Buckingham and their relationship with Crown and makes a detailed study of how they managed their estates and finances. There are also brief biographies of Henry Stafford in the Complete Peerage,, the Dictionary of National Biography and The Coronation of Richard III: the extant documents edited by Anne F. Sutton and P.W. Hammond, (1983); this latter book is a very useful source for concise biographies of all who attended Richard’s coronation.

Henry was born in 1455 into a noble family who were proud of their descent from Thomas of Woodstock, the fifth son of Edward III. His mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund Beaufort, Second Duke of Somerset and cousin of that other better-known Margaret Beaufort who was mother of Henry Tudor. When he was only three years old his father, Lord Humphrey Stafford, died of the plague, so that when his grandfather the First Duke was killed fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton two years later, Henry inherited the title. As heir to a rich inheritance Edward IV purchased his wardship and marriage from the First Duke’s executors, perhaps already seeing him as a suitable match for one of Elizabeth Woodville’s younger sisters. In 1465 aged eleven he was duly married to Katharine Woodville (which marriage he always resented according to Dominic Mancini in The Usurpation of Richard III, edited by C.A.J. Armstrong, 2nd edition, 1969) and shortly afterwards he and his brother became members of Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s household.

He seems to have grown up in court circles, but without being trusted with any positions of power or authority in government, only purely formal or ceremonial duties. He took part in the ceremony for the marriage of Anne Mowbray to Richard Duke of York, when he and Richard of Gloucester lead the young bride back to the King’s Great Chamber for the wedding banquet. His appointment as High Steward of England seems only to have been for the period of the Duke of Clarence’s trial.

Perhaps his willingness to ally himself with Richard of Gloucester in 1483 stemmed partly from a desire to have his revenge on the Woodvilles in whose shadow he had grown up, and partly because he now saw an opportunity to gain the position and power that he felt was his due. Whatever the reason, he became Richard’s most enthusiastic supporter, assisting him in the coup at Stony Stratford and acting as his right hand man through the uncertain weeks leading up to the coronation. According to More and the London chroniclers it was Buckingham’s golden oratory that persuaded the citizens of London to offer Richard the crown. Appointed Lord Great Chamberlain he had the chief rule of the coronation, carried the King’s train in the procession and led the lords in homage.

Richard rewarded Buckingham’s support with generous grants of lands and offices, particularly in Wales and the Marches and also gave him the remaining de Bohun estates which Edward IV had long witheld from him.

In view of the power and honours heaped upon him it is difficult to understand Buckingham’s motives in joining the rebellion against Richard in autumn 1483; some writers have suggested he hoped to win yet more power and perhaps the crown itself, others have pointed to his revulsion at the rumour that Richard had had the Princes done away with, while others have credited the skill of his prisoner Bishop Morton at persuading him to break his allegiance – we shall never know. A detailed study of what has been written about the rising appeared in two parts in The Ricardian, Number 78, September 1982 and Number 80, March 1983 entitled “The Rebellion of 1483: a study of Sources and Opinions’ by Kenneth Hillier, who also contributed a series of articles on some of the leading rebels, which have been collected in Richard III: Crown and People edited by James Petre, (1985) on pages 101 and 145.

The rebellion collapsed, Buckingham was captured, betrayed by a servant, and executed at Salisbury on the 2nd November 1483. Richard refused a last interview with ‘him that had best cause to be true.’ – HCH