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Her Highness, the Traitor~

The Second Duke and Duchess of Buckingham

Henry Stafford and Katherine Woodville

by Susan Higginbotham



In the fall of 1483, Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, rebelled against Richard III, breaking faith with a monarch whom he had helped to bring to power just months before. Much has been written about Henry’s conduct during 1483, but comparatively little has been written about the rest of his life—and about his duchess, Katherine Woodville, sister to Queen Elizabeth Woodville.


Sadly, the household records that would give valuable insight into the lives and personalities of this couple—showing, for instance, what they spent their money on and with whom they associated—were destroyed in 1483 and 1485 by supporters of Richard III, either during the rebellion that bears Buckingham’s name or in raids following the battle of Bosworth.[1] We are left largely with scattered records of contemporaries and chronicle evidence.


Born on September 4, 1455,[2] Henry Stafford was the oldest son of Humphrey Stafford and Margaret Beaufort (who is not to be confused with her better-known first cousin of the same name, mother to Henry Tudor). He signed himself “Harry,” and that is what we shall call him here, to avoid confusion with the other Henrys who figure into this history. Harry had royal connections, being a descendant of Edward III through both Thomas of Woodstock and John of Gaunt (via John's legitimatized children by Katherine Swynford). He also had sound Lancastrian ones. Both Harry’s father and grandfather had been wounded fighting for that house at the first battle of St. Albans in 1455, and Harry’s grandfather died guarding Henry VI’s tent at Northampton in 1460. Harry’s mother, Margaret, was a daughter of Edmund Beaufort, first Duke of Somerset, who was killed at St. Albans in 1455. Margaret’s three brothers carried on the Lancastrian cause: Henry Beaufort, second Duke of Somerset, was executed by Yorkist forces after the battle of Hexham in 1464; Edmund Beaufort, the third duke, was executed after the battle of Tewkesbury; John Beaufort, the youngest brother, died in the battle of Tewkesbury.


Harry's father died of the plague in 1458,[3] predeceasing his own father, the first Duke of Buckingham, also known as Humphrey Stafford. Harry inherited his grandfather’s dukedom when the first duke was killed at Northampton on July 10, 1460. As Harry, not quite five, was a minor, he and his estates passed into the custody
of his grandmother the Duchess of Buckingham. Anne Stafford, the duchess, was Edward IV’s aunt, being an
older sister of the king’s mother, Cecily, Duchess of York.  


In February 1464, Edward IV purchased Harry’s wardship and marriage from Anne Stafford. He then placed Harry in the custody of Anne, Duchess of Exeter, Edward IV’s older sister. 


Later that year, Edward IV secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed daughter of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford. The duchess’s marriage to a mere squire years before had produced a large brood of children, of which Katherine Woodville was probably the youngest. A post-mortem inquisition for her brother Richard in 1492 identifies her as “aged 34 and more,” placing her birth year at around 1458.[4]


Edward IV announced his marriage to his council in September 1464, and Elizabeth Woodville was formally presented to the council and other worthies at Michaelmas (September 29). She was crowned on May 26, 1465.

Somewhere in this period, young Harry Stafford and Katherine Woodville were married. In 1483, Dominic Mancini, an observer of English affairs during this time, declared that Harry “had his own reasons for detesting the queen’s kin; for, when he was younger, he had been forced to wed the queen’s sister, whom he scorned to wed on account of her humble origin.”[5] Recently, historians have been less inclined to take this comment at face value, given the anti-Woodville propaganda that was being circulated by the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, at the time.[6] 


In fact, at nine years of age, Harry was likely to have taken his cue from his elders, who on the Stafford side at least appear to have been on cordial terms with the Woodvilles and with the king. The dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine’s mother, the Duchess of Bedford, were old acquaintances, who had often been in the receipt of gifts from Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. They and their husbands attended Corpus Christi pageants in her company in 1457.[7] In 1460, the two duchesses and Lady Scales were delegated by the citizens of London to negotiate with Margaret of Anjou. The dowager Duchess of Buckingham played a prominent role at Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, bearing the queen’s train. In 1470, the duchess lent the queen money after Edward IV was forced to flee the country.[8] Her second husband, Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy, and her two surviving sons, Harry’s uncles, were loyal to Edward IV in 1470–71. Thus, if the nine-year-old duke did resent his marriage at the time, his feelings do not seem to have been shared by his Stafford relations. The person who probably was upset about the marriage was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the “Kingmaker,” who with the duke’s marriage to Katherine lost an eminently suitable husband for one of his own two young daughters.[9] 


The arrangements regarding Harry’s wardship and marriage, in fact, made sound sense. Given Harry’s Lancastrian connections (especially his Beaufort kin) and his wealth, Edward IV had every reason to want him to be reared by people Edward could trust unreservedly, like the king’s sister and his queen. Marrying Harry to one of Warwick’s daughters, moreover, would have joined the vast Stafford estates to the vast Warwick ones, allowing the earl to expand his influence even further at a time Edward IV was declaring his independence from Warwick.


In May 1465, the young duke and duchess participated in Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, where both were carried on the shoulders of squires. That they were married by then is evident from a contemporary account of the event, where Katherine is described as “the younger Duchess of Buckingham,” and her prominent place in the procession, immediately behind the dowager Duchess of Buckingham, the Duchess of Suffolk (Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth), Margaret of York (Edward IV’s youngest, then unmarried sister), and the Duchess of Bedford.[10]
At the banquet afterward, the dowager Duchess of Buckingham and the new Duchess of Buckingham sat at the same table, near the newly created Knights of the Bath, among whom were Harry, Duke of Buckingham, and his younger brother, Humphrey. 


Edward IV transferred custody of the Duke of Buckingham from the Duchess of Exeter to Elizabeth Woodville in August 1465, but as payments to Elizabeth for the duke’s maintenance were later made retroactive to Easter, he had probably been living in her household at least since then.[11] The queen was granted 500 marks per year from Harry’s estates for the maintenance of him and his brother. Elizabeth’s household accounts for 1466-67 show that three people were paid for their services to Katherine, who was being raised in the queen’s household alongside her husband. The queen engaged a tutor, John Giles, to teach grammar to Henry and Humphrey. (Giles was evidently good at his task, for he later became a tutor to the Prince of Wales and his younger brother.)[12] Humphrey passes out of the records after this time, apparently having died young. 


Despite the inquisition postmortem, the coronation description, and Elizabeth Woodville’s household records, all of which indicate that Katherine was a child at the time of her marriage to Harry, a number of writers—especially Ricardian ones—maintain that she was a grown woman and cite this supposed age difference as a shocking example of Woodville greed and corruption.[13] One Ricardian novel even depicts Katherine as a pedophile and an “aging slut,” forcing the hapless twelve-year-old duke into her bed as a sex toy with the blessing of the evil Elizabeth Woodville. Harry is found in a state of shock by the upright Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who chivalrously rescues the lad from his wife’s perverted clutches by whisking him off to Wales.[14] (Of course, the ingrate Harry betrays Richard anyway.) 


Back in the realm of reality, eleven-year-old Katherine Woodville’s life took a terrifying turn in 1469, when the Kingmaker, acting in concert with Edward IV’s younger brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, took advantage of unrest in the country to mount his own rebellion and to rid himself of his political enemies. Naming the Woodvilles and others as favorites who were corrupting the king, and reminding those who read his manifesto of the deposed rulers Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI, Warwick gathered troops, some of which met the king’s forces at Edgecote on July 26, 1469, defeating them. After the battle, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and one of Warwick’s enemies, was beheaded. As John Gillingham points out, this execution was illegal, as Warwick still recognized Edward IV as king and Pembroke had merely been coming to his aid.[15] Three days later, Edward IV himself was captured by Warwick’s brother, George Neville, and taken to Warwick Castle, then to Middleham. Meanwhile, Warwick’s men captured Katherine Woodville’s father, Richard, and one of her older brothers, John. They were beheaded without trial on August 12, 1469. Like Pembroke, they were executed entirely illegally. To add to the misery of the Woodville family, one of Warwick’s followers accused Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, newly widowed and mourning the death of a son as well, of sorcery. (The duchess, however, fought the charges vigorously and was acquitted in early 1470 by a committee that included Harry’s stepgrandfather, Walter Blount.) 


Where the young Buckinghams were during this period is unknown, though Elizabeth Woodville and her little daughters were in Norwich when her father and brother were killed, and Katherine may have accompanied the queen there.


Things were not working out for the Earl of Warwick as he had planned, however. His capture of the king had ushered in a period of lawlessness that Warwick could not contain with Edward IV in captivity. He was therefore forced to release the king, who entered London in grand state in October 1469. John Paston reported that “the Lordes Harry and John of Bokyngham” as well as Walter Blount were among his entourage. John would have been John Stafford, a younger son of the first Duke of Buckingham. “Harry” may refer to the fourteen-year-old Duke of Buckingham, though some believe it refers to his uncle Henry Stafford, brother of John Stafford.[16]

Harry spent the Christmas of 1469 as a guest of his uncle Henry and his aunt Margaret Beaufort at Guildford.[17] Meanwhile, the freed Edward IV and Warwick patched things up, but only temporarily. In September 1470, Edward IV fled the country, and Henry VI was nominally on the throne, controlled by Warwick. With Elizabeth Woodville and her children in sanctuary, custody of Harry was transferred to his grandmother and to his stepgrandfather, Walter Blount.[18] 


During Lent of 1471, Warwick took the precaution of arresting a number of suspected Yorkist sympathizers, including, apparently, Harry, whose stepgrandfather and uncle John were also arrested.[19] Some of these men were kept in the Tower; when Edward IV arrived in London on April 11, 1471, they overpowered their captors and went out to join his forces. Three days later, Edward IV defeated Warwick’s army at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick was killed. 


Nothing indicates whether Harry, not yet sixteen, fought at Barnet or at the battle at Tewkesbury that followed. He certainly must have been with the king’s army, for when the triumphant Edward IV returned to London in May 1471, the duke was among those who accompanied him.[20] The experience must have been an unsettling one for Harry, whose family had become hopelessly split between York and Lancaster: While the family of Harry’s father supported Edward IV, Harry’s maternal uncle, Edmund, third Duke of Somerset, led Margaret of Anjou’s forces at Tewkesbury and was executed after the battle. Harry’s other maternal uncle, John Beaufort, perished in the battle, also fighting for the house of Lancaster. One wonders what the youthful duke thought of the destruction of his mother’s brothers at Yorkist hands and whether this figured into his actions in 1483.

Not surprisingly, due to her age and gender, Katherine Woodville’s whereabouts during this time are unrecorded. She is not mentioned specifically as being with her sister the queen in sanctuary, so perhaps she was living with her husband’s grandmother. 


In January 1473, Harry, only seventeen, was allowed to come into his inheritance, one of the richest in England, although Harry would have to wait a number of years to enjoy all of it. Most of the land he received then was in Wales, as his grandmother, who lived until 1480, held many of his English estates in dower; other lands had been set aside to pay the dower of his aunt, a debt owing from Henry’s grandfather’s day.[21] He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1474.


Despite these marks of favor, the role the adult Harry would play in Edward IV’s court would be almost entirely ceremonial. He and his wife were present at the grand events of Edward IV’s reign, such as the welcoming of Louis of Gruthuyse to England in 1472 and the marriage of Edward IV’s younger son, the Duke of York, to little Anne Mowbray in 1478. He enjoyed no influence at court, however. He accompanied Edward to France in 1475, when the anticlimactic Treaty of Picquigny was signed, but is recorded as having gone home prematurely, for unknown reasons.[22] Michael Jones has speculated that he may have shared the Duke of Gloucester’s distaste for the treaty and that he remonstrated with Edward IV about it, thereby consigning himself to oblivion for the rest of that king’s reign.[23] 


Other explanations for Edward IV’s apparently aloof behavior toward Buckingham abound. Some argue that Buckingham was squeezed out by the Woodvilles, while others suggest that Edward IV disliked him personally, regarded him as unstable or untrustworthy or incompetent, or distrusted him because of his Lancastrian connections or because of his royal ancestry. For his own part, Buckingham must have bitterly resented Edward IV’s refusal to hand over his share of the Bohun inheritance, to which Buckingham had a claim after the deaths of Henry VI and Edward of Lancaster in 1471. As Carole Rawcliffe points out, doing so would have not only cost Edward IV over a thousand pounds per year in lost income but would have emphasized Buckingham’s claim to the throne through the house of Lancaster.[24] In this respect, it probably did not help that Buckingham in 1474 had sought and received permission to use the arms of his ancestor Thomas of Woodstock.[25] 


In 1478, Buckingham’s relations with the crown took a brief upswing. Buckingham was made high steward of England for the purpose of pronouncing a death sentence upon Edward IV’s troublesome brother, George, Duke of Clarence. That same year, Edward IV granted him the manor of Ebbw and the lordship of Cantref Mawr. 

Both Harry and his duchess had attended the wedding of Richard, Duke of York, to Anne Mowbray in January 1478, with the Duke of Buckingham joining the Duke of Gloucester in leading the small bride to the wedding banquet. Katherine was heavily pregnant at the time, for on February 3, 1478, she gave birth to the couple’s first son, Edward—just a few days before the Duke of Buckingham sentenced Clarence to death. Edward IV served as godfather to Edward and gave a gold cup for the occasion.


The couple later had two other sons, Henry and Humphrey; they also had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne.
All but Humphrey, who apparently died in early childhood, married and survived into Henry VIII’s reign,
though that king would be fatal to Edward, the third Duke of Buckingham, who was executed in 1521 on dubious grounds.[26]


In August 1478, William Paston reported that the Duke of Buckingham was making a pilgrimage to Walsingham and would be visiting his “sister” Lady Knyvet at Bokenham (actually his paternal aunt, who had married William Knyvet after her first marriage was dissolved). Walsingham had strong associations with childbearing; perhaps Buckingham was giving thanks for the birth of his first son. 


Buckingham dropped back into obscurity after that, not to emerge until 1483, the last and the most crucial year
of Harry’s life. The turning point was the death of Edward IV, following which Harry and Richard, Duke of Gloucester banded together at Northampton to seize Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, to whose care Edward IV had entrusted the Prince of Wales, the uncrowned Edward V.


Richard and Harry, who was nearly three years younger than the Duke of Gloucester,  were cousins. Cecily, Duchess of York, Richard’s mother, was a younger sister of Anne Stafford, Harry’s grandmother, and it was into Anne’s care that Cecily and her three youngest children had been placed by Henry VI in 1459. By that time, Harry’s father had died, leaving him the heir to the Buckingham dukedom, so he may have been living with his grandparents as well. It is quite possible, then, that the four-year-old Harry met the seven-year-old Richard at that time. Their paths had certainly crossed since then, as when they both accompanied the victorious Edward IV into London in 1471 and attended the marriage of Richard, Duke of York, in 1478, but how close they were before 1483 is unknown. Richard had spent most of his time in the North, Harry probably on his great estates in Wales and its borders.


Buckingham’s motives for joining together with Richard are unknown. As noted earlier, Buckingham was said by Mancini to have detested the Woodvilles because of his “forced” marriage to one, but Mancini is demonstrably wrong on other points (for instance, his claim that Richard shunned the court after the death of George) and may well be wrong on this one, perhaps influenced by the anti-Woodville propaganda being circulated at the time. D. E. Lowe has noted that Buckingham served as a feoffee of Anthony Woodville, and Buckingham conveyed estates in 1481 to feoffees with strong ties to Anthony.[27] Certainly Anthony, not known to be credulous or reckless, did not take any precautions when he met with his two brothers-in-law, as he surely would have had he regarded either man as being hostile toward him. It seems more likely that Buckingham, seeing at last the chance to gain power and the Bohun inheritance, sprang at the opportunity offered him by Richard. Whether Richard’s subsequent actions were at the urging of Buckingham, or whether Buckingham followed Richard’s lead, can only be guessed. It seems unlikely, however, that Richard, three years Buckingham’s senior and far more experienced militarily and administratively, would have allowed himself to be manipulated by Harry.


The succeeding events are too well known to require recounting in detail.[28] Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey (the queen’s second son by her first husband), and Thomas Vaughan (Edward V’s chamberlain since his infancy), were seized and arrested. Edward V was taken to London by his uncles Gloucester and Buckingham, who lodged him in suitably royal quarters in the Tower at Buckingham’s suggestion. On June 13, 1483, William Hastings, Edward IV’s closest friend, was seized at a council meeting and executed without trial on the pretext that he had been plotting against Richard. Elizabeth Woodville, who had fled to Westminster sanctuary upon hearing of the arrest of her brother and her son, was persuaded on June 16 to hand over her youngest boy, Richard, Duke of York, to Gloucester. Buckingham met the boy at Westminster Hall, after which he was greeted by Gloucester and escorted to join his brother in the Tower. The next day, it was announced that the coronation had been postponed until November. 


Beginning June 22, sermons were preached to the effect that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid and their children therefore illegitimate based on a supposed precontract between Edward IV and one Eleanor Butler—both parties being conveniently dead. Buckingham and Richard were present at one such sermon, preached by Dr. Ralph Shaw. 


Buckingham appeared at the Guildhall on June 24, where he made a speech, attended by the mayor and numerous other prominent citizens, urging that Richard be crowned king. Though the speech was “so well and eloquently uttered and with so angelic a countenance, and every pause and time was well ordered, that such as heard him marveled and said that never before that day had they heard any man, learned or unlearned, make such oration,”[29] the response was not enthusiastic.  


The next day, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan were executed at Pontefract. Back in London, on June 26, a petition formally setting out Richard’s title to the throne was presented to Richard at Baynards Castle. Richard agreed to take the throne.  


Buckingham had the main part in organizing the coronation, held on July 6. He bore Richard’s train in the procession to and from Westminster Abbey, gave the king a pall and a pound of gold at the altar, and helped him remove his ceremonial robes and replace them with purple robes. His stepfather, Richard Darell, his cousin Edward Stafford, Earl of Wiltshire, and his uncle by marriage, William Knyvet, also attended.[30] One family member, however, was significantly absent: Katherine Woodville, whose brother Anthony and nephew Richard Grey had been executed and whose sister the queen was still in sanctuary. Whether Katherine was purposely excluded from the coronation or chose herself to avoid it is unknown. 


Richard III richly rewarded Buckingham for his kingmaking services. Having held no position of importance during Edward IV’s reign, he now was created chief justice and chamberlain of north and south Wales for life. He was also made constable, a hereditary Bohun office, and chamberlain—and he was granted the coveted Bohun estates, with a promise that the grant would be confirmed at the next Parliament.  


Meanwhile, Richard III’s nephews had disappeared from public view, never to be seen again. Rumors quickly spread that they had been murdered, with both Richard III and Buckingham being named as the killers by contemporary sources. Buckingham has become the favorite suspect of those who wish to exonerate Richard from any guilt in the matter, but the case against him can be proven no more than that against Richard. 


Just weeks after Richard’s coronation, plans were made to rescue Edward IV’s sons from the Tower by starting fires in the city of London. The plan failed, and four men were executed,[31] but the country was at last emerging from the stupor into which it had been plunged by the events of June. Another scheme arose, this time to take Elizabeth Woodville’s daughters out of sanctuary and send them abroad. Richard thwarted it by posting an armed guard around Westminster Abbey. By August, however, the conspiracy—involving mostly gentry who had been loyal to Edward IV—was spreading through the south. As rumors began that the princes in the Tower were dead, Elizabeth Woodville, her brothers Lionel and Richard, Buckingham’s relation Margaret Beaufort, Buckingham’s prisoner Bishop Morton, and Buckingham himself became involved. According to the Croyland Chronicler, in October 1483, Buckingham, having joined the rebels, invited Margaret Beaufort’s son, Henry Tudor, living in exile abroad, to come to England and to assume the throne.[32] (Richard’s act of attainder is less specific. It states only that the rebels planned to depose and kill Richard, not that Tudor was the intended replacement—presumably a notion Richard did not wish to implant in his subjects’ heads.[33])  


Buckingham’s motives for joining the rebellion after receiving so much from Richard remain a mystery. Some have suggested that he aimed at the crown himself (and killed the princes as a step toward that ultimate goal), others that he was manipulated by Bishop Morton and/or Margaret Beaufort, still others that he believed that Richard’s reign was doomed and wanted to shield himself from reprisals by joining the rebels. Yet others believe that he was a latent Lancastrian who finally had the chance to show his true colors. The notion that he was appalled by Richard’s killing of the princes has been discounted by historians as of late, but it should not be rejected out of hand (assuming, of course, that Richard did indeed kill them). Buckingham may not have had difficulty condoning the death of grown men, but infanticide may have been an entirely different thing to him. Horror and the fear that he had imperiled his immortal soul by his complicity with Richard could explain his willingness to risk all of his long-coveted gains for an uncertain future with an obscure and untried exile. The Croyland Chronicler’s statement that Buckingham was “repentant of what had been done”[34] may well be the truth. 


Whatever Buckingham’s motives, his own part in the rebellion failed miserably, due to Richard’s swift response, Buckingham’s inability to inspire loyalty in his Welsh tenants, and horrendous rains and flooding that hampered his forces’ passage. Leaving his daughters at his castle of Brecon in Wales, he went with his wife and sons to Weobley in Herefordshire, where Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers had a home. Lord Ferrers’ role in this episode is a mystery. He was not named as being a rebel, and later fought and died for Richard III at Bosworth, but he had sheltered the young Henry Tudor in 1470 when the boy was in the care of Anne, Countess of Pembroke, Walter’s sister. Ferrers had also controlled Buckingham’s lordships of Brecon, Hay, and Huntington while Buckingham was a minor. It was presumably these connections that led Buckingham to him. Perhaps Ferrers was an unwilling or absent host; perhaps the presence of the duchess and the couple’s small sons allowed him to tell Richard later that he had acted merely out of consideration for their plight.


Katherine’s presence at Weobley with her husband and sons raises its own questions. If she really were the despised wife that Mancini describes, would Harry have brought her along for his last, doomed stand before he took to flight? Katherine’s brothers Lionel and Richard had also joined the rebellion; perhaps Katherine played a role in contacting them once Harry decided to throw his lot in with the rebels.


After spending a week speaking to the local men, presumably in a fruitless attempt to gain support, Buckingham—now with a reward of a thousand pounds on his head— disguised himself and fled, leaving what was left of his army behind. Before this, according to a memoir by a family retainer,[35] he entrusted his heir, five-year-old Edward Stafford, to Richard Delabeare to keep until he sent for the boy. With them to Kynardsley went William Knyvet, who was married to Buckingham’s aunt and who had also served as one of Buckingham’s councilors. Buckingham had taken the precaution of having a frieze coat—a coat of a coarse cloth that would not ordinarily have been suitable for a duke’s child—made for his son. While the duke and duchess and their remaining son, Henry, were still at Weobley, members of the Vaughan family (not to be confused with the Vaughan who had died at Pontefract) seized Brecon Castle, looting its contents and doing historians a great disservice by destroying many of the Stafford records. Buckingham’s young daughters and their ladies were taken to Tretower, the Vaughans’ home. 


The fleeing duke sought shelter at the home of a retainer, Ralph Bannister, in Wem. Either out of fear or out of greed for the price on Buckingham’s head, Bannister betrayed Buckingham and was later rewarded by
Richard III with a manor.


Buckingham was taken to Shrewsbury, where on October 31 he was handed over to the ubiquitous James Tyrrell and to Christopher Wellesbourne, who took him to Salisbury. In Salisbury, his pleas for an audience with Richard III were refused, leaving what he meant to say or do had he been admitted to the king’s presence as yet another mystery to ponder. Buckingham’s son Edward is said to have claimed that his father carried a dagger up his sleeve with which he would have stabbed Richard after kneeling before him.  The supposed remark, however, was attributed to Edward by a hostile witness in connection with Edward’s own trial for treason in Henry VIII’s time, as an illustration of Edward’s own supposed murderous intentions toward Henry VIII,[36] and for that reason should be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism.


On November 2, 1483, All Souls' Day, Buckingham was beheaded in Salisbury marketplace. He had apparently been allowed by his captors to make a will, as both a 1485 Act of Parliament assigning his widow a jointure and William Catesby’s testament refer to a will by Buckingham. 


Over the years, several sites have been put forth as a final resting place for the late duke. The first was the Church of St. Peter in Britford, just outside of Salisbury. In 1836 in The Gentleman's Magazine, R. Colt Hoare wrote that the tomb bore the shield of Stafford and Rivers.[37] He added,


I am inclined to suppose that the figures on the base of the tomb allude to a melancholy event which took place at Salisbury. There are six niches, five of which contain male and female figures; the first is vacant, which I think was designed for the unfortunate Duke. I consider the female figure in the second niche, having a crown on her head, as representing the Duchess, his wife. The next figure is evidently an ecclesiastic or bishop deploring the unfortunate fate of the Duke; and at this period Widvile, brother of the Duchess, was bishop of the see. The fourth figure represents a female crowned like the second, holding a sword in one hand, and in the other a cap or bonnet, probably that of the Duke.

The fifth figure represents the executioner with the sword in his hand.

The last figure represent [sic] a female holding up her hand in apparent grief, and with a child in her arms, as alluding to one of the unfortunate Duke's offspring.

One D.H., however, also writing in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1836, would have none of this. Dissenting in a gentlemanly manner (as one might expect), he wrote that the figures probably represented saints, not family members of Buckingham, and he doubted that the shields represented the House of Stafford. Later writers have suggested that the Britford tomb might have been erected in Buckingham's memory, but does not contain his remains.


The picture grew murkier in 1838, when according to a report in the Salopian Journal, during renovations at Salisbury's Saracen's Head Inn, a skeleton was found beneath the flooring, missing its head and right arm. The skeleton underwent an extremely unscientific examination by the locals, with the landlord measuring a rib against his own and concluding that the deceased was of “large dimensions,” a maidservant "laying irreverent hands upon the neck-bones," and another person “seiz[ing] . . . that honoured left leg, once encompassed with the glittering insignia of the most noble Order of the Garter.” Under the assumption that the skeleton belonged to a long-ago murder victim, the workers knocked the fragile bones about so that they merged into the surrounding clay. A few 19th-century antiquarians suggested that this was Buckingham's skeleton; they noted that the Saracen's Head Inn stood on the site of the Blue Boar Inn, the yard of which is given by some sources as the site for Buckingham's execution. It is possible that Richard III, furious at Buckingham's betrayal, might have ordered that his erstwhile ally be buried ignominiously instead of in consecrated ground, but how to explain the missing right arm?[38]


Finally, the Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London states, "Thys yere the duke of Buckyngham was be-heddyd at Salsbery, and is burryd at the Gray freres [in Salisbury]."[39] As noted in a footnote by John Gough Nichols, this is probably the most logical resting place for Buckingham. It was nearby, and as Richard III had afforded other executed opponents of his, notably William Hastings, honorable burial, he probably did so with Buckingham as well.[40]


With Buckingham dead, a search began for his wife and sons. Search parties failed to find young Edward, whose caretakers moved him from place to place and dressed him as a little gentlewoman (complete with shaven forehead) to avoid detection. Katherine and her other son, Henry, were found at Weobley by Wellesbourne, who with the brother of John Huddleston, probably Richard Huddleston (married to Queen Anne’s half-sister, an out-of-wedlock child of the Earl of Warwick), took the duchess to the king in London. 


Katherine’s status after she was brought to Richard III is unclear. Some writers have claimed that she was allowed to join her sister Elizabeth in sanctuary, but I have not found their source for this statement; as Richard III was trying to get Elizabeth out of sanctuary, it seems unlikely that he would have let yet another Woodville in. On December 19, 1483, however, Richard III did issue an order allowing the duchess to convey her children and servants from Wales to “these parts,” meaning London, from where the order was issued.[41] Whether Katherine was staying on her own in London at the time or was living as a prisoner or under close supervision is unknown. Presumably the youthful fugitive Edward Stafford was included in this order and was brought out of hiding to join his mother and siblings. 


By April 1484, Richard III had granted Katherine an annuity of 200 marks to be paid to her out of the issues of Tonbridge.[42] This has been often cited as an instance of Richard’s selfless generosity,[43] but it should be noted that a widow of an attainted traitor was legally entitled to receive any jointure that had been set for her. In an act passed during Henry VII’s first Parliament, it is indicated that Buckingham in his will had set Katherine’s jointure at 1,000 marks. If this was the case, Richard III ignored Katherine’s rights to jointure, and his grant to her should be viewed in that light instead of simply as an instance of disinterested benevolence. 


Back in March, Elizabeth Woodville had agreed to leave sanctuary and had been given an annuity of 700 marks. She seems to have been placed under the supervision of John Nesfield, who had previously been guarding her in sanctuary.[44] Perhaps Katherine and her children were similarly living under the watchful eye of a royal official.


Wherever her living quarters, Katherine now faced the problem of raising four children on her small annuity—small, at least, for the widow of one of the richest landholders in England who had hitherto wanted for nothing. With the prospect of Richard III sitting on the throne for years to come, she must have wondered how she was going to provide for her landless sons’ futures and find appropriate husbands for her daughters. Katherine may have appealed to William Catesby, Richard III’s royal councilor and a man who had served Buckingham as well. Richard III had granted Catesby and others a number of manors out of which to pay the duke’s debts. Catesby seems to have been derelict in discharging his responsibility, however, for in his will, made as he was facing execution after Bosworth, he left Katherine 100 pounds “to help herr children and that she will se my lordes dettes paid and his will executed. And In especialle in suche lond as shold be amortesid to the hous of Plasshe.”[45] Pleshey College had received gifts from Buckingham’s forbears; presumably Buckingham had remembered the institution in his will. 


As it was, Katherine’s financial worries ended in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth. After Henry VII took the throne, he reversed Buckingham’s attainder and assigned Katherine jointure.  Probably the generous treatment accorded Katherine—her lands more than satisfied the amount of her jointure[46]—was due to Henry’s desire to benefit his uncle, Jasper Tudor. The latter, newly created Duke of Bedford, married Katherine before November 7, 1485. In his middle fifties, he had never been married previously. Before Henry VII’s coronation, seven-year-old Edward Stafford, now the third Duke of Buckingham, was made a Knight of the Bath. With Edward restored to his family’s estates, his wardship had become a very desirable one. It was given to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, and he and his brother grew up in her household.  


As Duchess of Bedford—the title her mother had held—Katherine was prominent in the ceremonies surrounding the coronation of her niece, Elizabeth of York, in 1487. She and several other ladies, carried in two chairs, followed the queen as she processed to Westminster the day before her coronation, and at breakfast the day after, Katherine sat on the left of the queen, with Margaret Beaufort on the right.[47] At the christening of Henry and Elizabeth’s first daughter, Margaret, Katherine carried the train of the baby’s mantle, assisted by Lord Strange.[48] She is not mentioned by name as attending her sister Elizabeth Woodville’s funeral, though one of Katherine’s daughters was present.[49]  Perhaps the timing of the queen's funeral, held a few days after her death on June 8, 1492, allowed Katherine too little time to receive the news and to travel to Windsor for the ceremony. Katherine is said to have spent most of her time at Thornbury, a manor in Gloucestershire on which Edward Stafford later lavished his attention and money.[50]


On December 21, 1495, Jasper Tudor died, aged about sixty-four. Katherine, only about thirty-seven, very hastily married Richard Wingfield, a man twelve years her junior, without a royal license. Part of a prosperous but very large Suffolk gentry family that had had close ties to Edward IV, Richard, the eleventh of twelve sons,  would go on to have a distinguished diplomatic career in Henry VIII’s service, but at the time he must have had few material resources. (Perhaps persuading the rich duchess to the marriage, which took place before February 24, 1496, was an early example of Richard’s diplomatic skills—or sex appeal.) Henry VII fined the couple two thousand pounds for their presumption, although it was ultimately Katherine’s son Edward who bore the burden of paying the fine. Katherine would have probably known Richard for some time, as there were already ties between the Wingfields and the Woodvilles: Richard’s mother was connected to Mary FitzLewis, Anthony Woodville’s second wife. Two of Richard’s brothers, and perhaps Richard himself, had served in Katherine’s household,[51] and some of Richard’s older brothers had rebelled against Richard in 1483 and fought for Henry VII at Bosworth. 


Katherine died on May 18, 1497, barely a year after her third marriage, having had no surviving children by Wingfield (or by Jasper Tudor). Richard Wingfield remarried, but in his will in 1525 requested that masses be said for Katherine’s soul as well as for those of other deceased family members and friends. Her burial place is unknown.


In 1920, a Book of Hours was sold at auction by Sotheby’s. Inscribed “M. Richard Wingfield,” it had belonged to the first Duchess of Buckingham and had apparently passed from her to her grandson Harry to Katherine to her Wingfield in-laws.[52]


Of the many children born to Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Katherine was the last surviving. Through her sister’s marriage and through her own, she had achieved high estate, enjoyed great wealth, and experienced the tremendous tragedy so typical of the great ladies of her age. In her lifetime of less than forty years, her father, her brothers Anthony and John, her nephew Richard Grey, and her husband Harry Buckingham had lost their heads. Fortunately, she did not live long enough to witness the beheading of her eldest son by Henry VIII in 1521. 



[1] Rawcliffe, The Staffords, p. 2.

[2]Harris, p. 250 n. 94.

[3] Rawcliffe, The Staffords, p. 27. He is often reported to have died at the first battle of St. Albans three years before, but he was only “greatly hurt.” James Gairdner, ed., The Paston Letters, A.D. 1422-1509, p. 29–30.

[4] Calendar of Inquisitions Post-Mortem, Henry VII, no. 283, “Richard, Earl of Rivers.” Special thanks are due to Society Nonfiction Librarian Brad Verity for his detailed reply to my inquiry regarding genealogical information about the Woodville siblings.

[5] Dockray, p. 43.

[6] E.g., Lander, p. 114 n. 111; Rawcliffe, The Staffords, p. 28. As Lander also points out, the word “forced” is misleading: “His marriage had been disposed of like that of any other child of the feudal classes whether in wardship or not.”

[7] Smith, p. 47.

[8] Laynesmith, p. 211,

[9] Harris, p. 20

[10] Smith, p. 16.

[11] Okerlund, p. 71.

[12] Myers, pp. 471–72, 475. Thanks to Society member Kate Skegg for her assistance in Latin translation.

[13] E.g., Geoffrey Richardson, “The Gullible Duke of Buckingham,” Ricardian Register (Summer 2003), p. 15, describes Katherine as “much older” than Harry. Roxane Murph in her introduction to Richard III: The Making of a Legend. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977, reproduced on the Richard III Society’s American Branch website, states that Harry was “a dozen or more years [Katherine’s] junior.”

[14] Mary Dodgen Few, Under the White Boar (Atlanta, Droke House, 1971), p. 5557.

[15] Gillingham, p. 164.

[16] Kleineke, p. 79 & n. 89.

[17] Jones and Underwood, p. 140.

[18] Rawcliffe, p. 122 n. 57.

[19] Kleineke, p. 79 & n. 89.

[20] Hammond, p. 111.

[21] Rawcliffe, The Staffords, pp. 12526.

[22] Barnard, p. 14.

[23] Jones, p. 98.

[24] Rawcliffe, The Staffords, pp. 3031.

[25] Harris, p. 21.

[26] Henry, later created Earl of Wiltshire, died of natural causes in 1523, having survived a couple of close calls with Henry VIII. Elizabeth and Anne served as attendants to Catherine of Aragon, becoming involved in a court scandal in 1510 when William Compton, one of Henry VIII’s favorite courtiers, made advances to Anne, inciting the rage of Anne’s hotheaded brother Edward and leading to a testy exchange of words between him and the king.

[27] Lowe, pp. 57172.

[28] I follow the timeline of events detailed by Sutton and Hammond.

[29] Dockray, p. 63.

[30] Sutton and Hammond, pp. 27074, 332, 364, 397.

[31] Horrox, p. 149.

[32] Dockray, p. 86-87.

[33] Hammond and Sutton, p. 162.

[34] Dockray, p. 86.

[35] A transcription of the memoir, which was written for Harry’s son Edward and was found among Stafford family papers at Thornbury, appears in Farrar and Sutton.

[36] Harris, p. 183.

[37] Gomme, pp. 21516

[38] Bate, pp. 5658. Gill, while noting the competing sites for Buckingham’s burial, writes that the skeleton “is stuff for the imagination” and suggests that Richard might have taken out his frustration by having the right arm severed (p. 68).

[39] Nichols, pp. 2324.

[40] Debenhams department store in Salisbury, which Buckingham’s ghost is said to haunt, marks the site of Harry’s execution with a plaque.

[41] Horrox and Hammond (Harleian 433), p. 63. Farrar and Sutton suggest that the children were taken into Richard III’s or his queen’s household, but the authors appear to have been unaware of the order allowing Katherine’s servants and children to be brought to her in London.

[42] Horrox and Hammond (Harleian 433), pp. 130, 213.

[43] For example, Paul Murray Kendall in Richard the Third (New York: Norton, 1983), p. 382.

[44] Okerlund, p. 239; Hampton, p. 277.

[45] Williams, p. 49; Roskell, p. 172.

[46] Rawcliffe, The Staffords, p. 127.

[47] Nicolas, pp. lxxiii, lxxv.

[48] Green, p. 52.

[49] Okerlund, p. 258.

[50] Davies, “Stafford, Henry.”

[51] Davies, “Stafford, Henry.”

[52] Wingfield, p. 250.



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Daniel Williams, “The Hastily Drawn Up Will of William Catesby, Esquire, 25 August 1485,” Leicestershire Archaeological Society Transactions, 1975–76.

 John M. Wingfield, ed., Some Records of the Wingfield Family. Athens, Ga.: Wingfield Family Society, 1991 (reprint of 1925 edition).



Copyright © 2008 Susan Higginbotham





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