Victims of Henry VIII: Edward Stafford

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Edward Stafford was born on the 3rd of February 1478 to Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and his wife, Katherine Woodville. Katherine was the sister of Elizabeth Woodville who was queen consort to King Edward IV (Grandfather to Henry VIII).

When Elizabeth Woodville married the King of England her kin were lucky enough to be given good marriages, titles and land. Her sister Katherine was no exception. At roughly seven years old, just before the coronation of her sister, Katherine was married to Henry Stafford – Stafford was merely 11 years old.

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Italian Dominic Mancini wrote a report of what he witnessed in England after he left in 1483 and in this report he mentions that young Edward Stafford resented having to marry someone of such low birth – this was a common sentiment at the time at English court. Many resented the Woodville family and regarded them as upstarts.

Forty-four years after their marriage and five monarchs later, Edward Stafford found himself in a heap of trouble. As a descendant of Edward III, Stafford had what some believed to be a stronger claim to the throne since Tudor’s claim was through an illegitimate line. If something were to happen to the King and his daughter Mary, Stafford would be considered next in line to succeed to the throne of England.

After Henry VIII hears of Stafford’s claims that Stafford he orders an investigation. It is treason to speak of yet imagine the death of the King.

“On April 8, 1521, the duke was ordered to London from his castle at Thornbury. He set out for the court, seemingly unaware of any danger, and was greatly shocked when arrested along the way and taken to the Tower. At his trial, he was charged with imagining and compassing the death of the king, through seeking out prophecy from a monk named Nicholas Hopkins about the chances of the king having a male heir. Evidence was supposedly obtained from disgruntled former members of the dukes household.

Buckingham denied all charges. But a jury of 17 peers found him guilty, led by the duke of Norfolk, who condemned him while weeping.” – ExecutedToday.com

It was also documented in the Letters and Papers that Buckingham was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. The following statement was written by Gasparo Conarini, an Italian diplomat:

The Royal Courts have condemned the Duke of Buckingham to death. He will be definitively sentenced this morning (13 May) at Westminster, the final sentence having been passed ordering him for decapitation; and he is gone back to the Tower to be executed according to the custom here, and they will do by him as was done by his father and grandfather. – Letters & Papers: ‘Venice: May 1521’

The Secretary of the Venetian Ambassador in England, Lodovico Spinello describes the events on the day of Stafford’s execution:

This morning the late Duke of Buckingham was taken in forza de’ brazi from the Tower to the scaffold, at the usual place of execution, with a guard of 500 infantry. He addressed the populace in English. Then on his bended knees he recited the penitential psalms, and with the greatest composure calling the executioner, requested that he would dispatch him quickly, and forgave him; after which he took off his gown, and having had his eyes blindfolded, he laid his neck on the block, and the executioner with a woodman’s axe (fn. 11) severed his head from his body with three strokes.

The corpse was immediately placed in a coffin and carried to the church of the Austin Friars, accompanied by six friars and all the infantry.

The death of the Duke has grieved the city universally. Many wept for him, as did one-third of the spectators, among whom was I. Our Italians had not the heart to see him die. And thus miserably, but with great courage, did he end his days on the 17th of May. – Letters & Papers: ‘Venice: May 1521’

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As we’ve seen before with the execution of Edmund de la Pole, those with royal blood and viable claims to the crown of England were closely watched, especially when they spoke against the King. Unfortunately, while Stafford’s royal blood indeed gave him cause to believe he should be included in the line of succession it was for the King to decide, not Stafford.

Sources:

‘Venice: May 1521’, in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 3, 1520-1526, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1869), pp. 119-130. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol3/pp119-130 [accessed 16 August 2016].

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