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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (4 September 14542 November 1483) played a major role in Richard III of England's rise and fall. He is also one of the primary suspects in the disappearance (and presumed murder) of the Princes in the Tower. Buckingham was related to the royal family of England so many different ways that he was his own cousin many times over, but his connections were all through daughters of younger sons. His chances of inheriting the throne would have seemed remote, but eventually the internecine conflicts among the descendants of Edward III of England and within the Houses of Lancaster and York brought Buckingham within striking distance of a crown. Some historians claim Buckingham's deliberate plotting to seize the throne started as early as the reign of Edward IV, and if they are correct then his elaborate and lengthy plan very nearly succeeded.


Important relatives

Buckingham was the son of Humphrey, Earl Stafford and Margaret Beaufort. Four of Buckingam's first and second cousins became King of England, and one of his second cousins became Queen:

Relationship to Edward III

Three of Buckingham's four grandparents were descended from Edward III of England:

Early life

Buckingham was born in 1454 during the reign of Henry VI.

His father, Humphrey, Earl Stafford, a Lancastrian, was killed at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 when Henry was an infant, and his grandfather, the First Duke of Buckingham, another leading Lancastrian, was killed five years later, in 1460.

In 1465, at the age of 11, he was recognized as Duke of Buckingham. The new Duke eventually became a ward of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, consort of Edward IV of England. The next year he was married to the queen's sister Catherine Woodville — she was 24.

Buckingham never forgave Elizabeth for forcing him into that marriage, and he resented his wife and the other Woodvilles, as well. When Edward IV died in 1483, and the Woodvilles struggled with Edward's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, over the guardianship of the young Edward V, Buckingham first sided with Richard.

Parliament subsequently declared Edward V illegitimate offering Richard the throne, and he accepted it, becoming Richard III. After initially supporting Richard, Buckingham subsequently started working with John Morton, Bishop of Ely, in support of Buckingham's second-cousin Henry Tudor against the King, even though this placed him on the same side as his Woodville in-laws.

Reign of Richard III

When Henry Tudor tried to invade England to take the throne from Richard in October 1483, Buckingham raised an army in Wales and started marching east to support Henry. By a combination of luck and skill, Richard put down the rebellion: Henry's ships ran into a storm and had to go back to Brittany, and Buckingham's army was greatly troubled by the same storm and deserted when Richard's forces came against them. Buckingham tried to escape in disguise but was turned in for the bounty Richard had put on his head, and he was convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury on 2 November. Following Buckingham's execution, his widow, Katherine, married Jasper Tudor, 1st Duke of Bedford.

The Bohun Estate

Buckingham's motives in these events are disputed. His antipathy to Edward IV and his children probably arose from two causes. One was his dislike for their mutual Woodville in-laws, whom Edward greatly favored. Another was his interest in the Bohun estate. Buckingham had inherited a great deal of property from his great-great-grandmother, Eleanor de Bohun, wife of Thomas of Woodstock and daughter of the Earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton.

Eleanor's younger sister and co-heir Mary de Bohun married Henry Bolingbroke, who eventually became Henry IV, and her share of the de Bohun estates became incorporated into the holdings of the House of Lancaster, being eventually inherited by Henry VI. When Henry VI was deposed by Edward IV, Edward appropriated that half into the Crown property under the House of York.

Buckingham claimed those lands should have devolved to him instead, and it is likely that Richard III promised to settle the estate on Buckingham in return for his help seizing the throne. Indeed, after Richard's coronation he did award the other half of the Bohun estate to Buckingham, but it was conditional on the approval of Parliament. Historians disagree on whether this condition was in fact a way for Richard to appear to keep his promise while actually breaking it, but this may have been a motivation for Buckingham to turn against Richard.

The Princes in the Tower

Richard III is alleged to have consolidated his power by eliminating his brother's children, who preceded him in succession to the throne, however, there is some question about Buckingham's relationship to the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. According to a manuscript discovered in the early 1980s in the Ashmolean collection, the Princes were murdered "be [by] the vise" of the Duke of Buckingham. There is some argument over whether "vise" means "advice" or "devise," and, if the former, in what sense; for a discussion of the matter, see the article by Richard Firth Green, who discovered the manuscript, in the English Historical Review of 1984.

If Richard was responsible for killing the Princes in the Tower, the murders may have caused Buckingham to change sides. On the other hand, Buckingham himself had motivation to kill the Princes, being a Lancastrian contender for the throne with a viable claim potentially equivalent to that of Henry Tudor, depending on one's view of the legitimacy of the Tudor branch of the House of Lancaster. According to this perspective, if Buckingham killed the Princes and blamed Richard, he could foment a Lancastrian rebellion, putting the throne into play with only Henry Tudor as a rival. Indeed, a Lancastrian rebellion followed, but it was Henry Tudor who succeeded in deposing Richard III.

Last updated: 06-02-2005 12:11:33
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