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Stafford, Edward, third duke of Buckinghamlocked

  • C. S. L. Davies

Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham (1478–1521)

by unknown artist

The Master and Fellows, Magdalene College, Cambridge

Stafford, Edward, third duke of Buckingham (1478–1521), magnate, was born at Brecon Castle on 3 February 1478, the eldest son of Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham (1455–1483), and his wife, Katherine Woodville (1457/8–1497) [see under Stafford, Henry, second duke of Buckingham].

Recovering a position

When his father rebelled against Richard III in 1483, Edward Stafford was hidden in various houses in Herefordshire; whether he remained there for the rest of Richard's reign is unclear. He attended the coronation of Henry VII on 30 October 1485, and was created KB. He was recognized as duke of Buckingham and restored to his inheritance on the reversal of his father's attainder in November 1485. Although his mother had married Henry VII's uncle, Jasper Tudor, Buckingham's wardship was entrusted to the king's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and his education probably took place at her various houses, under the aegis of the graduate clerks employed there; he was to follow Lady Margaret's example in his own household. There is no evidence that he attended a university, although by family custom he was almost certainly a benefactor of the monastic Buckingham College, Cambridge, and, under pressure from Lady Margaret, of Queens' College. He was certainly literate, wrote memoranda in his own hand, and possessed an extensive if rather conventional library. In 1512 he commissioned a printed translation of Helyas, Knyghte of the Swanne (STC 7571), and later A Lytell Cronicle (STC 13256), a translation of an account of the Middle East perhaps made in connection with his proposed pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1520.

In 1488 Henry VII suggested Buckingham as a possible husband for Anne, the new duchess of Brittany; but, given formidable international competition for her hand, Henry did not press the matter. In December 1489 the king accepted £4000 from the executors of the recently assassinated fourth earl of Northumberland for Buckingham's hand for the earl's eldest daughter, Eleanor Percy (d. 1530). The duke became KG in 1495 and in 1498, not yet quite of age, he was granted livery of his lands, but was charged £3000 instead of the usual £1000 by the king, who also demanded £2000 from him for his mother's unlicensed marriage to Richard Wingfield.

Buckingham served in the army raised against Perkin Warbeck in 1497. He played a conspicuous part in court festivities such as royal weddings and the reception of ambassadors and foreign princes, dazzling observers by his sartorial splendour. At the wedding of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon in 1501 he wore a gown said to be worth £1500, and was chief challenger at the extravagant tournament held the next day. He served as lord high constable and lord high steward at Henry VIII's coronation in 1509. In 1513 he led 550 men on Henry VIII's invasion of France, distinguishing himself, in the event, more by his appearance than by prowess in action. Later, probably in 1517, he excused himself from selection as one of twelve noble 'challengers' to fight against the king and his 'scholars', pleading the danger of 'run[ning] against his person, for I had liever by his commandment go to Rome than so do' (Ellis, Original Letters, 3rd ser., 1.214–18). In 1520, at the Field of Cloth of Gold, he served as a judge rather than a participant in the tournaments.

Relations with Henry VIII

In 1514 Buckingham was appointed to the commission of the peace in nine English counties in which he had extensive property. His major responsibility for public order related to his lordships in south Wales. In 1504, with other marcher lords, he had entered into indentures with Henry VII to reduce the incidence of murder and robbery by placing his tenants under bond and by expediting extradition over franchisal boundaries. In 1518 he received a stinging rebuke from Henry VIII for his failure to achieve results, being required to place his adult male tenants under bonds immediately. In 1514 he claimed to be entitled to hold the constableship of England by virtue of his tenure of certain manors; a claim ostensibly about status, but with potential political implications. The judges conceded the claim, but with the proviso that the king could dispense with his services, which, inevitably, he did. In spite of his prominence at court and in the country, the duke exercised little political influence, and was never one of the inner circle of councillors.

There is no evidence of continuous hostility between Buckingham and Henry VIII. In 1509 the young king cancelled many of the recognizances imposed on Buckingham and other magnates by Henry VII. Next year there was talk of a scandal at court when the duke discovered Henry VIII's designs on the virtue of his sister Anne, Lady Hastings. In 1514 Buckingham was forgiven some of the debts incurred in 1498, but in 1515 he failed in his suit against Henry VII's executors for £7000 wrongly extorted from him, together with £3500 in legal expenses and lost revenue. Described in 1510 as a 'mortal enemy' of France (CSP Spain, 1509–25, no. 44), he resented the pro-French policy begun in 1518. There is little doubt of the duke's dislike of Wolsey, who, he believed, was plotting to ruin the old nobility. However, the circumstances and even the dating of the remarkable letter written by Henry VIII in his own hand, instructing Wolsey to 'make good watch' on five peers, including Buckingham and his brother Henry Stafford, earl of Wiltshire, remain unexplained (Scarisbrick, plate 4).

Trial for treason

In 1519 Sir William Bulmer was accused in Star Chamber of wearing Buckingham's livery in the king's presence although he was a member of the royal household. This was presumably on the occasion of the king's visit to Buckingham's house at Penshurst in August of that year. The case resulted in Bulmer's being publicly rebuked by the king, who declared 'he would none of his servants should hang on another man's sleeve' (Hall's Chronicle, 599). Buckingham's finances were overstretched at this time, although far from being in a state of crisis, and he grumbled at the expense of accompanying Henry VIII to the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Years later, in Mary's reign, his son claimed that Buckingham had angered Wolsey by springing to Queen Katherine's defence when she was rebuked by the cardinal during the festivities. The duke was arrested in April 1521; he was indicted for treason on 8 May and put on trial before his peers in the court of the high steward on the 13th. He was found guilty on 16 May, and executed the next day. The judicial process was completed by a comprehensive act of attainder in the 1523 parliament.

The evidence against Buckingham was provided by Charles Knyvett, recently dismissed as one of his senior estate officials, his chancellor the cleric Robert Gilbert, his chaplain Edmund Dellacourt, and Nicholas Hopkins, a monk of the Carthusian house of Henton in Somerset. They testified that the duke had been listening to Hopkins's political prophecies since 1512, notably that he would one day be king. Buckingham thought the Tudor family lay under God's curse, as a result of the judicial murder of the earl of Warwick in 1499 (when Buckingham had been a member of the jury): that explained Henry VIII's failure to produce a male heir. Hopkins advised him to make himself popular with the people, and Buckingham was accused in his indictment of trying to bribe the king's guard with expensive clothes and of appointing supernumerary officials to build up his following. He had grumbled about Wolsey and about the reluctance of his fellow nobles to make a stand against the cardinal. Knyvett testified that, after the Bulmer trial, Buckingham talked about his father's plan to stab Richard III to death. Possibly in 1517, and certainly in 1520, he unsuccessfully sought permission to take an armed guard of 300–400 men with him to establish his authority in his Welsh lordships: no doubt a necessary precaution, given his failure to control the area, but inevitably rekindling memories of 1483.

Buckingham's royal blood was dangerous. As early as 1502 there had, allegedly, been some discussion when Henry VII 'lay sick' as to whether Buckingham or Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, 'should have the rule in England' (presumably as regent for the young Prince Henry) in the event of the king's death. Buckingham's supporter, a 'great personage', had judged him likely to make 'a royal ruler' (Gairdner, 1.239). His royal blood came from his descent from two sons of Edward III: like the Tudors, from John of Gaunt, through the Beaufort family; and from Edward's youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock. Neither Henry VII nor Henry VIII deliberately sought to destroy Buckingham because of his blood. Henry VIII, indeed, allowed the marriage of Buckingham's heir to Ursula Pole, granddaughter of George, duke of Clarence, which would bring a third stream of royal blood into the Stafford veins. While Wolsey had had Buckingham's household under surveillance for some time by 1521, he had also warned him to be more circumspect in his behaviour. But speculating about possible events after the king's death was treason. Sir John Fyneux, chief justice of the king's bench, ruled that overt action was unnecessary to establish a charge of treason.

Buckingham certainly expected to be the leading figure in the realm if Henry should die, and intended to take revenge on Wolsey. A claim to regency could easily be misrepresented as a design on the throne, and this is the story that the government put about. Neither the evidence nor the indictment suggests any formed design on the throne, only speculation on what might happen if Henry should die childless. Only one of the prophecies about becoming king postdates Princess Mary's birth in 1516. Buckingham's treason consisted of ill-judged remarks about present politics, speculation about the future, and, after the Bulmer affair, a dramatic bout of the bad temper to which he was prone. He talked vaguely of a possible rebellion. It may be that he was liable to depression. Early in 1520 he told his chancellor that 'he had been such a sinner that he was sure that he lacked grace' (LP Henry VIII, 3/1, no. 1284 (3)) and that any political action was bound to fail. In October 1520 he surprised his council by announcing an intention to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

A magnate's lifestyle

Buckingham possessed the greatest noble estate of his time, worth at least £5000 per annum, with property in most English counties as far north as Yorkshire, and the lordships of Brecon and Newport in south Wales. He took over a depleted inheritance: the Welsh estates had been badly neglected; the English ones were ruthlessly exploited by Margaret Beaufort, but she handed over little documentation to him. He set himself to retrieve the situation by rigorous personal supervision, drawing up rules of procedure, instituting an organized archive, scrutinizing accounts personally, and placing his officials under bond in a manner reminiscent of Henry VII. He instituted at least 128 cases in the courts of king's bench and common pleas, mostly against his own tenants and officials, designed to bring pressure rather than to force a verdict (only six are known to have been successfully concluded). He created parks by enclosure with little regard to the rights of occupiers, and systematically investigated putative villeins to charge them for their manumission. While these policies worked in restoring the value of his English estates, he was unable to enforce his authority in his Welsh lordships, either judicially or economically. He rebuilt a manor house at Thornbury in Gloucestershire as an impressively towered castle, its ostensible military purpose, however, belied by the insertion of huge oriel windows in the living-quarters in the inner court. He intended to endow a college in the adjoining parish church. He restored his London house, Poultenay's Inn, in ostentatious style, providing 'two great roses and two portcullises' over the gates which earned it the name 'Manor of the Rose' (Barron, 11–12).

Buckingham was buried at the Austin friars' church in London on the day of his execution, 17 May 1521. He was survived by his wife, Eleanor (who died on 13 February 1530), his heir, Henry Stafford, and three legitimate daughters: Elizabeth [see Howard, Elizabeth], unhappily married to Thomas Howard, later duke of Norfolk; Catherine, married to Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland; and Mary, married to George Neville, Lord Bergavenny. He had an illegitimate son, also Henry, and an illegitimate daughter, Margaret, who was married to his ward Thomas Fitzgerald (of Leixlip), half-brother to the earl of Kildare.


  • B. J. Harris, Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham (1986)
  • C. Rawcliffe, The Staffords, earls of Stafford and dukes of Buckingham, 1394–1521, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 3rd ser., 11 (1978)
  • P. B. Farrer and A. F. Sutton, ‘The duke of Buckingham's sons, 1483–1485’, The Ricardian, 6 (1982–4), 87–92
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  • M. K. Jones and M. G. Underwood, The king's mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond and Derby (1992)
  • Hall’s chronicle, ed. H. Ellis (1809)
  • The Anglica historia of Polydore Vergil, ad 1485–1537, ed. and trans. D. Hay, CS, 3rd ser., 74 (1950)
  • LP Henry VIII, vols. 1–3
  • A. Luders and others, eds., Statutes of the realm, 11 vols. in 12, RC (1810–28), vol. 3, pp. 246–58
  • H. Ellis, ed., Original letters illustrative of English history, 3rd ser., 1 (1846), 220–26
  • J. S. Brewer, The reign of Henry VIII from his accession to the death of Wolsey, ed. J. Gairdner, 1 (1884), 375–404
  • P. Gwyn, The king's cardinal: the rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey (1990)
  • A lytell cronycle, ed. G. Burger (1988)
  • T. B. Pugh, ‘The indentures for the marches between Henry VII and Edward Stafford (1477–1521), duke of Buckingham’, EngHR, 71 (1956), 436–41
  • A. D. K. Hawkyard, ‘Thornbury Castle’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 95 (1977), 51–8
  • GEC, Peerage, new edn, 2.390–91
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  • J. G. Russell, The Field of Cloth of Gold: men and manners in 1520 (1969)
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  • CSP dom., 1553–8
  • CSP Spain, 1485–1525
  • CSP Venice, 1520–26
  • Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, 3 (1842), appx 2
  • C. Rawcliffe, ‘A Tudor nobleman as archivist: the papers of Edward, third duke of Buckingham’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5 (1974–7), 294–300


  • Staffs. RO, estate, household, and wardrobe accounts, legal materials, estate surveys, and family miscellanea
  • TNA: PRO, papers and accounts incl. material relating to trial and execution
  • Westminster Abbey
  • BL, esp. Add. MSS 36542 and 40859B


Wealth at Death

landed estate of £5000–£6000 p.a.: Harris, Edward Stafford, 262, n. 62; Rawcliffe, The Staffords, 133

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J. S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, & R. H. Brodie, eds., , 23 vols. in 38 (1862–1932); repr. (1965)
English Historical Review
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
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Record Commission
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Camden Society