The following post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Sue Vincent, fellow Buckinghamshire blogger and supremely talented writer and artist. A kindred spirit in so many ways, she loved history and ancient sites and revered nature.
Sue, I will miss our long, rambling conversations and your amazing work.
Save that glass of mead for me…
As many of my blogging friends will be aware, at the moment I’m currently up to my ears researching and writing my dissertation, the final project that will mark the end of my history degree. I’ve barely managed to look up from my work so far this year, but in the rare moments I have come up for air I’ve been looking into a bit of local history. In particular,
I’ve been finding out about our own Dukes of Buckingham, named after my nearest town, and what a sorry lot they were! Of course, my interest in the dukes lies mainly in the middle ages when the title was created, but despite there having been ten incumbents in total, no single family who received this seemingly cursed title could cling onto it for more than three generations. For the most part, theirs is a hapless tale of misfortune, misjudgment, misplaced allegiances and financial mismanagement.
The first family to be awarded the Dukedom of Buckingham was the Staffords, who were descendants of the youngest son of Edward III. Born in 1402, Humphrey Stafford’s future looked rosy when he was knighted by Henry V in 1421 before becoming Constable of Calais the following year. On the death of his mother Humphrey inherited the Earldom of Buckingham but the title was soon promoted to Duke, and this new status put him above all other English dukes outside the royal family. But in 1455 Humphrey’s fortunes changed. As a devoted Lancastrian, he backed the wrong horse at the start of the Wars of the Roses, being captured at the Battle of St Albans in May of that year when he led the King Henry VI’s army to the field. He later managed to secure his own release and for a short time his status was reinstated when Richard, Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) was killed, only to lose his own life at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. His son had predeceased him, falling victim to the Plague, so the title went straight to his grandson, the notorious turncoat Henry, or ‘Harry’ Stafford.
Harry succeeded to the Dukedom at around five years old, but as he grew up he became increasingly keen to flaunt his rank and status. However, having expected to make a suitable marriage with some great heiress, his ambitions were thwarted early on when the Yorkist king Edward IV intervened, marrying him to his queen’s younger sister, Catherine, while the couple were still children. Unfortunately for Harry, Edward had chosen to marry a commoner, the widow of a lesser noble, so young Buckingham seethed with resentment throughout the ceremony and beyond at being forced to marry some low-born nobody.
But in 1483 he sprung into the limelight as the self-appointed supporter of Richard, Duke of Gloucester as he became King Richard III. In return for Buckingham’s support Richard showered his friend with favours and high offices, making him the supreme power in Wales and the Welsh Marches. Although Harry held considerable lands elsewhere, the two friends maintained a link with Buckingham itself, enjoying hunting expeditions around the town where Richard’s hawks were kept on Castle Hill, once the site of a Norman castle.