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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, (September 4, 1455 – November 2, 1483) was an English nobleman known as the namesake of Buckingham’s rebellion, a failed but significant collection of uprisings in England and parts of Wales against Richard III of England in October 1483. He is also one of the primary suspects in the disappearance (and presumed murder) of the Princes in the Tower.

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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Henry Stafford was the only son of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Stafford, and Anne Neville (d.1480) was a daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and his second wife Lady Joan Beaufort, the legitimised daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the third surviving son of King Edward III of England. His first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, was also his third cousin; both were great-great-grandchildren of King Henry III.

Henry Stafford became Earl of Stafford when he was three years old in 1458 upon his father’s death, and was made a ward of King Edward IV of England. He became the 2nd Duke of Buckingham at age 4 in 1460 following the death of his grandfather Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, at the Battle of Northampton.

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Catherine Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham

In February 1466, at age 10, Henry was married to Catherine Woodville, the daughter of Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers, and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the eldest daughter of Peter I of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol, Conversano and Brienne, and his wife Margaret of Baux. Catherine Woodville was sister of Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

The Duke of Buckingham and Catherine Woodville had four children:
* Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham (February 3, 1478 – May 17, 1521)
* Elizabeth Stafford, Countess of Sussex (c. 1479 – 11 May 1532)
* Henry Stafford, 3rd Earl of Wiltshire (c. 1479 – April 6, 1523)
* Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon (c. 1483 – 1544)

Upon the death of Edward IV in 1483, the Duke of Buckingham allied himself to the king’s younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, helping him succeed to the throne as Richard III in lieu of Edward’s living sons.

Buckingham’s rebellion of 1483

In 1483, a conspiracy arose among a number of disaffected gentry, many of whom had been supporters of Edward IV and the “whole Yorkist establishment”. The conspiracy was nominally led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who was Richard III’s former ally and first cousin once removed.

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Richard III, King of England, Lord of Ireland

Although it had begun as a Woodville-Beaufort conspiracy (being “well underway” by the time of the duke’s involvement). Indeed, it has suggested that it was “only the subsequent parliamentary attainder that placed Buckingham at the centre of events”, in order to blame a single disaffected magnate motivated by greed, rather than “the embarrassing truth” that those opposing Richard were actually “overwhelmingly Edwardian loyalists”.

It is possible that they planned to depose Richard III and place Edward V back on the throne, and that when rumours arose that the young King Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, were dead, Buckingham proposed that Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, should return from exile, take the throne and marry Elizabeth of York, elder sister of the Tower Princes.

However, it has also been pointed out that as this narrative stems from Richard III’s own parliament of 1484, it should probably be treated “with caution”. For his part, Buckingham raised a substantial force from his estates in Wales and the Marches. Henry, Earl of Richmond, in exile in Brittany, enjoyed the support of the Breton treasurer Pierre Landais, who hoped Buckingham’s victory would cement an alliance between Brittany and England.

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Henry VII, King of England, Lord of Ireland (Formerly The Earl of Richmond)

As Richard III’s ally, the plausibility of Buckingham being a suspect in the murder of the Princes in the Tower depends on the princes having already been dead by the time the Duke of Buckingham was executed in November 1483. It has been suggested that Buckingham had several potential motives.

As a descendant of Edward III, through two of his sons, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester on his father’s side, as well as through John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster through John Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt on his mother’s side, Buckingham may have hoped to accede to the throne himself in due course; alternatively, he may have been acting on behalf of a third party.

Some, notably Paul Murray Kendall, regard Buckingham as the likeliest suspect: his execution, after he had rebelled against Richard III in October 1483, might signify that he and the king had fallen out; Alison Weir takes this as a sign that Richard had murdered the princes without Buckingham’s knowledge and Buckingham had been shocked by it.

A contemporary Portuguese document suggests Buckingham as the guilty party, stating “…and after the passing away of King Edward V in the year of 83, another one of his brothers, the Duke of Gloucester, had in his power the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the young sons of the said king his brother, and turned them to the Duke of Buckingham, under whose custody the said Princes were starved to death.”

A document dated some decades after the disappearance was found within the archives of the College of Arms in London in 1980; this stated that the murder “be the vise of the Duke of Buckingham”. This led for some historians to suggest that possibly some of Richard’s prominent supporters, including Buckingham and Tyrell, murdered the princes on their own initiative without waiting for Richard’s orders.

It is noted In the document “After the King’s departure Buckingham was in effective command in the capital, and it is known that when the two men met a month later there was an unholy row between them.” This supports theory that a rift between Buckingham and Richard III after the king learned of Buckingham’s involvement in the murders of his nephews.

Buckingham is the only person to be named as responsible in a contemporary chronicle other than Richard himself. However, for two reasons he is unlikely to have acted alone. First of all, if he were guilty of acting without Richard’s orders it is extremely surprising that Richard did not lay the blame for the princes’ murder on Buckingham after Buckingham was disgraced and executed, especially as Richard could potentially have cleared his own name by doing so.

Secondly, it is likely he would have required Richard’s help to gain access to the princes, under close guard in the Tower of London, although Kendall argued as Constable of England, he might have been exempt from this ruling. As a result, although it is extremely possible that he was implicated in the decision to murder them, the hypothesis that he acted without Richard’s knowledge is not widely accepted by historians.

While Jeremy Potter suggested that Richard would have kept silent had Buckingham been guilty because nobody would have believed Richard was not party to the crime, he further notes that “Historians are agreed that Buckingham would never have dared to act without Richard’s complicity, or at least, connivance”. However, Potter also hypothesised that perhaps Buckingham was fantasising about seizing the crown himself at this point and saw the murder of the princes as a first step to achieving this goal.

For his participation in the rebellion against the King, Henry Stanford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was executed for treason by Richard III on November 2, 1483: he was beheaded in the courtyard between the Blue Boar Inn and the Saracen’s Head Inn (both demolished in the 18th century) in Salisbury market-place. He is believed to have been buried in St Peter’s Church in Britford in Wiltshire.

After the execution of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, his widow, Catherine Woodville, married Jasper Tudor, second son of Owen Tudor and King Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois. After Jasper Tudor’s death on December 21, 1495, Catherine Woodville married Sir Richard Wingfield (d. July 22, 1525). Catherine Woodville died 18 May 1497.