The time has come to address the “elephant in the room,” Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and his relationship with King Richard III. It is the most crucial relationship in The Protector and is the reason I wrote the book in the first place. It also seems to be the aspect of my story that has gained the most notoriety in on-line chats. Of course, the true nature of that relationship will never be known, but to me its apparent intensity and violent conclusion speak volumes. Whoever played the jilted lover better than Buckingham?
Henry Stafford had an impressive pedigree. He was descended from King Edward III though his youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock. In addition, he had a double dose of Beaufort blood, both from his own mother (confusingly named Margaret Beaufort, but not the same Margaret Beaufort who gave birth to Henry Tudor) and also from his father’s mother. Suffice it to say that given the blood-lines on both sides of his family, Buckingham had a small but not insignificant claim to the throne. He seems to have been particularly proud of his descent from Thomas of Woodstock, requesting and receiving the right to quarter the coat of arms of this ancestor along with his own.
He was born on September 4, 1455 and upon the death of his grandfather in 1460, inherited the duchy of Buckingham at the age of four. (His father had died the preceding year.) Edward IV eventually granted his queen the lucrative wardship of this minor child, which meant that she became his guardian and exercised a great deal of control over his life. As discussed in a previous posting, she wasted little time in marrying him off to her younger sister Katherine. Buckingham was apparently most unhappy with this arrangement but was powerless to stop it. From that point on, he seems to have been an enemy of the Woodville clan.
As an adult, he led a relatively obscure life, spending most of his time at Brecknock Castle in southern Wales. That changed with the untimely death of King Edward on April 9, 1483. We can only guess what motivated the duke to ally himself with Richard of Gloucester. He may have feared that his Woodville enemies would assert even greater power if they retained custody of the boy-king Edward V, or he may have been trying to exact some sort of vengeance on the queen for her presumed mistreatment of him in his youth. A third possibility is that he may have wanted to benefit from the political turmoil wrought by the late king’s passing. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Whatever his reasons, he was a major player in helping the protector, Richard of Gloucester, first secure custody of Edward V and then a short time later supplant him as king.
Although Richard amply rewarded him for his support, Buckingham seems never to have been content. Did he want more than Richard could give him? And if so, exactly what did he want? Sometimes one must read between the lines of history to understand it, or at least to come up with a plausible explanation for why people behaved as they did. I never liked Buckingham as a character but I nonetheless found him and his relationship with Richard fascinating. Whether or not it was, as I depict, a love affair between the two men, it seemed to have been laden with emotion, and it came apart very quickly for no apparent reason. Only a few months after helping Richard assume the throne, Buckingham entered into open rebellion against him, declaring most improbably for Henry Tudor. (Most likely, we have Bishop Morton to thank for that, perhaps using a classic “bait and switch” technique as I show in The Protector.)
What about the Princes in the Tower? Some speculate that Buckingham turned against Richard because he was outraged that Richard had had them killed. That is one possibility, but not one that fits with my understanding of the duke’s character. If Richard was not guilty of their deaths, Buckingham was the most likely suspect. He had the means, he had the access, and if he truly planned to put Henry Tudor on the throne, he had the motive. Henry planned to marry Elizabeth of York to solidify his own shaky claim to the throne, but for that strategy to work, both of her brothers would have to have been dead. Who better to take care of that little task than the good duke?
Buckingham and Richard’s relationship came to a bloody conclusion on November 2, 1483, when the duke was beheaded on the king’s orders in Salisbury market square. Despite Buckingham’s desperate pleas to see Richard prior to his execution, the embittered king refused to grant him an audience. In The Protector, I show Richard most eager to learn the fate of his nephews, but unwilling to risk a face-to-face meeting with his former friend in order to find out. Did he not trust himself at that point? Of course, the actual fate of those boys is still lost to history, as is the riddle of what happened between Richard and Buckingham that made things go so terribly wrong.