Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 17 May 2021

The fate of Edward Duke of Buckingham

Today is the quincentenary of the execution of Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham in 1521.
His death is sometimes presented as an example of King Henry VIII’s overly suspicious attitude to his relatives with a possible place in the then unspecified line of succession. Some accounts placed the blame, almost certainly unfairly on Wolsey - even if Buckingham
 did not like him. Others, concerned to stress the ‘modernity’ of Tudor government, present the Duke as a relic from the past, and thus implicitly an obstacle to progress. 

These do not seem particularly good arguments. That the King was prone to become suspicious about blood relatives is true, but something was needed to arouse his suspicions. He was frankly normally too indolent to bother about such things until a serious threat was detected. The suspicions about Buckingham, who resolutely denied committing treason, seem to turn on the risky matter of wondering out loud if or what ones claim might be and speculations about the monarch’s longevity. This was what brought down George Duke of Clarence in 1477-78 and the Howards in 1546-47. Things did not change as much as some later historians like to claim.

There is a Wikipedia life of Buckingham at Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham As that shows he had a role as a patron, as a builder at Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire - for which see Thornbury Castle - founder of a collegiate church there, patron of Buckingham College - now Magdalene - in Cambridge and owner of Penshurst in Kent. There is another account of him, with additional detail and another portrait at luminarium.org/encyclopedia/edwardstafford.

Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham 1520.jpg

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
Portrait by an unknown artist 1520
Magdalene College Cambridge 

Image: Wikipedia 

That and his position as a grand seigneur  a man who cut a splendid figure at court, yet disdainful of Wolsey, a jouster and soldier - seems to belie the rather lumpen aspect that the surviving portraits of him suggest. There is little to suggest the courtier or man of the jousting lists in the image. However maybe he did have such a ponderous quality. Unpopular it appears as a landowner, with servants who betrayed him Buckingham may have been unfortunate in that as well as in other aspects of his life and death.

Buckingham’s uncompleted Thornbury Castle

Image: Wikipedia 

His estates and lineage, his titles and high public rank, castle building and quasi-princely magnificence may have put him in the limelight and together with memories of his father’s actions in 1483 may all have made for the background to his downfall. It is not so much that he was a throw-back to the fifteenth century as that firstly society had not changed that much and secondly that families like the Howards, Seymours and Dudley could rise and prosper, then fall precipitately as much as the Staffords in the sixteenth century. Being too close to the throne by blood, marriage and connection was to risk everything.

As the Wikipedia link shows despite his death and attainder his immediate descendants and other relatives survived - further disproving the idea of the virtual extinction of the bloodlines of the later medieval nobility.

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