Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Defying Henry VIII: Edward Stafford

Edward Stafford came from a brief line of unfortunate Dukes of Buckingham. The first Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, Edward's great-grandfather, had been killed at the Battle of Northampton during the Wars of the Roses, fighting with the Lancastrian army. At his death, Henry Stafford, Edward's father, gained the title. He is infamous for first supporting Richard III and then rebelling against him. He was executed after being denied an audience with the king. Because of Henry's treason, his son, Edward, did not inherit the title until it was granted to him by King Henry VII in 1485. Given his history, one might have expected Edward Stafford to live and speak carefully. One would be wrong.

Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham
Edward had been a child when his father was executed, and he does not seem to have learned the lessons he should have from his demise. Proud of his royal lineage that he traced back to Edward III, Edward was also a cousin to the king through his mother, Katherine Woodville. He was not the only one to notice that his blood was equally royal as Henry VIII's.

But did he commit treason? Edward's most serious sins seem to be pride, vanity, and an uncontrollable mouth. His household was always splendidly dressed and decorated with a coat of arms that included the Plantagenet lions and French fleur de lis, claiming his royal lineage. He was not shy about pointing out his close relation with the king and may have even claimed he could do a better job at it than cousin Henry. He arranged excellent marriages for his children, including securing Ursula Pole of royal York blood for his son.

However, Edward had also served alongside Henry in France, served as an ambassador, and been a member of the Privy Council. Buckingham had failed to please the king in controlling Welsh marcher lords, but seems to have served him well besides. Contemporary reports describe his astonishment and grief when arrested.

So what made Henry change his mind?

Coat of Arms of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
In 1521, Henry VIII was the father of a single daughter and husband to a wife who had proven her inability to provide him with a son. Where Henry had once embraced his extended family in a way that his father never had, this situation made him look more suspiciously at families such as the Staffords, Poles,  Courtenays, and de la Poles. These families, each with noble blood to rival his own, were no longer trusted by him and each paid the price for thriving while he could only pray for a son.

Besides the king's obsession with the future of his dynasty, a problem that would mar the remainder of his reign, a bill of attainder also enabled him to obtain Buckingham's great wealth, including the beautiful, newly built Thornbury Castle.

Edward Stafford was one of the first to pay the ultimate price (Edmund de la Pole had been executed in 1513). He was accused of "imagining and compassing the death of the king," a controversial and doubtful charge at best. But Henry VIII's desires were known. Therefore, Stafford was found guilty and executed on May 17, 1521. His son, Henry Stafford, never received the Buckingham title but was created Baron Stafford decades later.

Don't miss the rest of the Defying Henry VIII series!