Two proud Dukes of Buckingham (too proud perhaps?)

George Villiers (pronounced 'Villers') Duke of Buckingham / nowportsmouth.co.uk

George Villiers (pronounced ‘Villers’) Duke of Buckingham / nowportsmouth.co.uk

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was born around 1454 in Salisbury, Wiltshire. He was a member of the House of Lancaster, being a descendent of Edward III, and most of his forebears had lost their lives fighting the House of York in the interminable wars over royal succession (1455 – 85).

In 1460, only six years old, he succeeded his grandfather as Duke of Buckingham. At twelve he was dynastically married to Catherine Woodville, a sister-in-law of the Yorkist King Edward IV. Edward had married Elizabeth Woodville, a strong-minded woman of mean temper, probably as his second wife, though the first marriage was supposed to be a secret.

Because he was a Lancastrian, Henry Stafford was given no official jobs to do by Edward IV. This rankled enormously, and he found it hard to hide his pleasure when Edward died comparatively young in April, 1483. He instantly showed his loyalty not to the twelve year old Edward V, Edward IV’s oldest boy, but to Richard, Duke of Gloucester,  youngest brother of the dead King. Buckingham virtually orchestrated London’s acceptance of what must have appeared to be an usurpation. He did not need to do so in the North, as Richard was most popular inYork already.

It was in fact Buckingham who arranged for the arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of the young Edward and his brother the Duke of York. With Edward’s sons safe in the Tower of London, Buckingham then arranged for the Mayor and various other dignitaries to proclaim the illegitimacy of the princes, which he did by producing evidence of Edward’s bigamous marriage. Such a marriage would of course render any offspring illegitimate. The problem historians have always had when telling this sad tale is whether or not the first (secret) marriage really existed.

Richard of Gloucester was accepted as the new king however, and Buckingham received honours and riches. Perhaps they were not enough; perhaps Buckingham himself was after the throne – after all he was a descendent of Edward III too, and could be said to have the same rights of succession as Richard. Gloucesterbecame Richard III on 6 July, 1483.

By late September Buckingham was heavily involved in a Lancastrian plot to overthrow Richard. The plan called for the elevation into public view of a man calling himself the Earl of Richmond, offspring of a liaison between a Welshman called Tudor with the widow of gallant Henry V, himself father of the weak Henry VI, who had been dethroned by Edward IV. Are you with me? Most of us think that Buckingham had already made his plans to use Tudor as an means to help him to the throne. It is perfectly likely that it was Buckingham, who had nothing to lose, who caused the princes in the Tower to vanish into thin air (which is where they stay; no true evidence exists that the two skeletons found years later below a stairway were those of the Two Princes). The murderer could not have been Henry Tudor, because he was in exile. It might be that Richard of Gloucester knew of the disappearance. We shall never know. Apart from the unfortunate fact that he was the lost boys’ uncle, it did not really matter, as they had both been declared illegitimate, and could not occupy any throne. It is plausible thinking to opine that Buckingham’s plan was to denounce Richard as the wicked uncle who had done away with the princes, and then grab the throne himself.

Meanwhile Buckingham had gathered a motley army together in the West Country, but flooding stopped his progress towards London. The rag, tag and bobtails soon dispersed, leaving Buckingham to be captured and very quickly dispatched by order of Richard III.  He was twenty-nine years old.

The mighty Stafford Duke had fallen, though  reputedly one of the richest men in England. He had been too ambitious, and not intelligent enough to provide much of a headache to a man as artful as Richard of Gloucester.

George Villiers was the first Villiers Duke of Buckingham. He was born in 1592, and was supposedly a university student when first spotted by King James I, who had a quiverful of children but rather liked beautiful young men. James is reputed to have stopped his carriage and invited the more-than-eager George to climb in with him.

In a trice, James had made George a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and almost as quickly the Ist Duke of Buckingham. He began amassing fortune and power for himself as the second most famous favourite of the King. The first had been a Scot called Ker or Kerr or Carr, reputedly saddened by being replaced. George quickly learned the art of distributing favours to his friends, being extravagant, even promoting Laud to be Archbishop. Politically, he was incompetent and unpopular, but his bravery was not questioned, especially when he set out with the young future King Charles I on a hazardous overland journey to Madrid, an extraordinary adventure. Sadly Charles did not succeed in his purpose, which was to marry a royal Spanish princess. He was only just five feet tall, though well-made, but the ladies would have preferred the Prince of Wales to be George Villiers, Ist Duke of Buckingham.

After Charles accession in 1625, Buckingham amazingly stayed as his chief advisor, ignoring Parliament’s hostility towards him and his craving for plaudits . . . and war against Spain or France or anybody. He was desperate to become a great general He went on a disastrous expedition to Cádiz in the same year, but not even this debacle disturbed his relationship with Charles I.

Parliament tried to impeach him for corruption and financial mismanagement, but the King dealt with this by dissolving Parliament. Meanwhile Buckingham was able to finish a nice new house he was having built in the meadows near the City, which he would call Buckingham House, modesty not being among his virtues.

Off went George to France and Spain (the latter was having trouble in the Low Countries) in search of war. He tried to relieve the besieged Huguenots at La Rochelle but failed. It did not help poor George that his chief opponent at La Rochelle was Cardinal Richelieu (q.v.), who could have eaten him as a snack at breakfast.

A disgruntled naval lieutenant called Felton, aggrieved because of George’s absurd mismanagement of the war, murdered him on the quay at Portsmouth. He was thirty-six years old.

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