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Portrait of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (1478-1521)

EDWARD STAFFORD, THIRD DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM, eldest son of Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, was born at Brecknock Castle on 3 Feb. 1477-8.1 Through his father he was descended from Edward III's son, Thomas of Woodstock, and his mother was Catherine Woodville, sister of Edward IV's queen, Elizabeth Woodville; she afterwards married Henry VII's uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford.

His father forfeited all his honours by attainder in 1483, when Edward was five years old, and a romantic account of the concealment and escape of his young son is preserved among Lord Bagot's manuscripts.2  On the accession of Henry VII, the attainder was reversed in 1485, and the custody of Edward's lands, together with his wardship and marriage, which had been given to the crown, was granted by Henry VII to his mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond.3   He is doubtfully said to have been educated at Cambridge.4

On 29 Oct. 1485 he was made a knight of the Bath, and in 1495 he became a knight of the Garter.  On 9 Nov. 1494 he was present when Prince Henry was created Duke of York, and in September 1497 he was appointed a captain in the royal army sent against the Cornish rebels [see Battle of Blackheath]. In November 1501 he was sent to meet Catherine of Arragon on her marriage with Prince Arthur, and on 9 March 1503-4 he was appointed high steward for the enthronement of Archbishop Warham.

On the accession of King Henry VIII, Buckingham began to play a more important part. He was appointed lord high constable on 23 June 1509, and lord high steward for the coronation on the following day, when he also bore the crown. On 20 Nov. following, he was sworn a Privy Councillor.  In Henry's first parliament, which met on 21 Jan. 1509-10 and again in February 1511-2, Buckingham was a trier of petitions for England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. From June to October 1513 he was a captain in the English army in France, serving with five hundred men in the 'middle ward.'

On 13 Aug. 1514 he was present at the marriage of Henry's sister Mary Tudor with Louis XII of France, and he served on commissions for the peace in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Kent, and Somerset.  He was summoned to parliament on 23 Nov. 1514.  In 1518 he was thought to be high in the king's favour, and in August he entertained Henry with great magnificence at Penshurst.  He was present at the meeting with Francis I in June 1520 [Field of the Cloth of Gold] and at the interview with Charles V at Gravelines in the following July.

Nevertheless, Buckingham's position rendered him an object of jealousy and suspicion to Henry VIII. Even in the previous reign his claims to the throne caused some to speak 'of my lorde of Buckyngham, saying that he was a noble man and woldbe a ryall ruler.'5 He was formidable alike by his descent, his wealth, his wide estates, and his connections. He was himself married to a daughter of the Percys; his only son had wedded the daughter of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and his daughters, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and afterwards Duke of Norfolk, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, and George Neville, Lord Abergavenny.

He naturally became the mouthpiece of the great nobles who resented their exclusion from office and hated Wolsey as a low-born ecclesiastic. On one occasion when the cardinal ventured to wash in a basin which Buckingham was holding for the king, the duke is said to have poured the water into Wolsey's shoes, and on another Wolsey sent him a message that, though he might indulge in railing against himself, he should take care how 'he did use himself towards his Highness;' but Polydore Vergil's story, followed by Holinshed and others, that Buckingham's fall was mainly due to Wolsey's malice, lacks documentary proof.6  Nor is Wolsey's statement to the French minister Du Prat, that Buckingham fell through his opposition to the French alliance, the entire truth, though that opposition was probably one of the causes.

According to the tradition followed in the play of 'Henry VIII' assigned to Shakespeare, Buckingham was betrayed by his cousin, Charles Knyvet, who had been dismissed from his service; but more probably his betrayer was his chancellor, Robert Gilbert, who was no doubt the author of an anonymous letter written to Wolsey late in 1520, giving an account of the duke's so-called treasonable practices. Henry took the matter up himself, and personally examined witnesses against the duke in the spring of 1521. On 8 April Buckingham was ordered to London from Thornbury, where he had spent the winter in ignorance of these proceedings. On his arrival he was committed to the Tower (16 April).

Execution of Buckingham He was tried before seventeen of his peers, presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, on 13 May. The charges against him were trivial and possibly not true. He was accused of having listened to prophecies of the king's death and of his own succession to the crown, and of having expressed an intention to kill Henry. The chief witnesses against him were Gilbert and Delacourt (his confessor), but the duke was not allowed to cross-examine them. Henry had made up his mind that Buckingham was to die, and the peers did not venture to dispute the decision. He was condemned, and executed on Tower Hill on 17 May, his body being buried in the church of the Austin Friars. An act of parliament confirming his attainder was passed 31 July 1523.7

Buckingham was certainly guilty of no crimes sufficient to justify his attainder, and his execution aroused popular sympathy; but his character does not merit much admiration. Weak and vacillating, he seems to have treated his dependents with harshness, and his vast enclosures were a constant subject of complaint. At the same time he was devoted to religion. On 2 Aug. 1514 he obtained license to found a college at Thornbury, Gloucestershire, where he had built himself a castle and imparked a thousand acres. he has also been claimed as a benefactor of Magdalene College, Cambridge, which, however, was called Buckingham College before his time. The college possesses an anonymous portrait of the duke.8 Another anonymous portrait belongs to the Marquis of Bath, and a third to the Rev. Abbot Upcher. Two, attributed to Holbein, belong respectively to the Lord Donington and Sir Henry Bedingfield.9

Buckingham married, in 1500, Alianore, eldest daughter of Henry Percy, fourth Earl of Northumberland.10  By her he had an only son, Henry Stafford, first Baron Stafford, and three daughters: (1) Elizabeth, who married Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk; (2) Catherine, who married Ralph Neville, fourth Earl of Westmorland; and (3) Mary, who married George Neville, third Baron of Bergavenny.

1 'Stafford Register,' quoted by G. E. C. Complete Peerage, vii. 22; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. i. 326; Brit. Mus. Add. Ch. 19868.
2 Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. i. 328b.
3 Campbell, Materials for the Reign of Henry VII, i. 118, 532 et passim.
4 Cooper, i. 24.
5 Gairdner, Letters and Papers of Henry VII, i. 233, 239.
6 Brewer, Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. ii. pt. 1. Introd. pp. cvii et sqq.
7 Statutes of the Realm, iii. 246-58.
8 cf. Cat. Tudor Exhib. No. 105.
9 cf. Cat. First Loan Exhib. Nos. 44, 71; Cat. Tudor Exhib. Nos. 69, 136, 439.
10 cf. Campbell, Materials for the Reign of Henry VII, ii. 554.

      Excerpted from:

      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. LIII. Sidney Lee, ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1898. 446-7.

Books for further study:

Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and His Court.
           New York: Ballantine, 2001.

Wilson, Derek. In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition,
           and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII.
           New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

Other Local Resources:

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This page was created on March 21, 2007. Last updated November 23, 2022.

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Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
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Edward Stafford, D. of Buckingham
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Sir Francis Bryan
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John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford
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Archbishop Matthew Parker
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
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Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3. Southampton
Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9. E. Nothumberland
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
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Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
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Medieval English Drama

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