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Dear Henry: Buckingham’s letter to Henry Tudor. . .

Richard learns of Buckingham's treachery - Edmund Blair Leighton Call to Arms

A tweaking of Edmund Blair Leighton’s painting

Here is a passage from https://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/the-road-to-bosworth-battle-of-bosworth-field/

I quote:

“…Buckingham [wrote] a letter to Henry on 24 September 1483 which stated he would support the rebellion against Richard, even though he and Henry’s interests may not be perfectly compatible.  What is certain is that Buckingham suspected his own life was forfeit with Richard III; he and Henry Tudor could sort out things once Richard was defeated. . .”

Two things here. That Buckingham wrote a letter to Henry on 24th September 1483, pledging support, and that he also suspected his life was in danger from Richard.

I was reminded that Kendall mentioned such a communication in his 1955 biography of Richard III, so I took a look. On page 263 of my 1968 copy, it says:-

“. . .To him [Henry Tudor] a message was sent, by the Duke of Buckingham, by the advice of the lord Bishop of Ely, who was then his prisoner at Brecknock, requesting him [Henry] to hasten over to England as soon as possible, for the purpose of marrying Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the late King, and at the same time, together with her, taking possession of the throne. . .” Source: Croyland Chronicle

Hmm, I’ll bet that last bit went down a treat with Henry! Together with her? It would drum up support, but Henry wanted to be king on his own—not through a Yorkist wife!

By the way, if this wording was indeed contained in a letter on 24 September 1483, it signifies that the boys in the Tower were definitely dead by then. Otherwise, if Elizabeth of York could be married and reach the throne, her two brothers would necessarily have precedence over her. Did Buckingham know they were dead? Had he been the one to extinguish them—well, order their demise, not do it himself. It therefore seems to me that their deaths served the Tudor-Buckingham-Lancastrian faction far more than Richard, who was already king. And who, my instinct tells me, would not have murdered his boy nephews. He wasn’t that sort of man. And if he wanted rid of his nephews, why omit his brother Clarence’s definitely legitimate son, Warwick? Attainders can be reversed, so Warwick was a claimant too. No, no, any murdering in the Tower was at hands other than Richard’s.

The high and mighty Buckingham had a blood claim to the throne that was infinitely better than Henry’s illegitimate line, so would he really connive to put the latter on the throne? Pigs will fly, methinks. Their goals were definitely not compatible! To begin with, Buckingham was far better off with his cousin Richard, who advanced him and favoured him with lands and riches. Henry could not better that. So why did Buckingham bother with this paltry fellow in Brittany? Why indeed. I think the slippery duke intended to pretend to support Henry, and use him until the opportune moment came to take the throne for himself.

Now to come to my second point. Was Buckingham really in fear of his life from Richard? Well, only if Richard discovered his treachery! So Buckingham’s plotting must have come first, because until it was revealed, Richard seems to have continued to trust and reward his ambitious ingrate of a cousin. According to Kendall, page 268, “Not until Richard reached Lincoln on October 11 did he learn that Buckingham had betrayed him.” To my mind, from that moment on Richard was more than justified in wanting Buckingham’s treacherous head on a plate.

When he learned of the rebellion, Richard cried out bitterly that Buckingham was the most untrue creature living. Hardly the reaction of a man who’d already been intent on ending Buckingham’s life. And when the rebellion failed and Buckingham was captured, Richard wouldn’t see him. The treacherous duke was beheaded, pleading with Richard for a meeting. But Buckingham richly deserved execution. Yes, ultimately, his life was threatened by Richard. But only after he’d shown his hand, not before. And when that letter to Henry Tudor was written, Richard knew nothing, being content that his Stafford cousin was his loyal friend and supporter.

This suggests to me that the meaning of the letter, if it said that Buckingham feared for his life, was the duke’s fore-knowledge that when Richard found him out, he would indeed be in fear of that life! Cause and effect.

It wasn’t the other way around, that Richard threatened him, leading Buckingham to defend his own neck by rebelling. Buckingham was a gaudy snake. It’s a shame that the Tudor snake didn’t get its just deserts too!

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5 thoughts on “Dear Henry: Buckingham’s letter to Henry Tudor. . .

  1. Kirsten Muller on said:

    Nice article! Interesting thoughts about the letter. It never occurred to me how that can be used as evidence like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This seems to me as good reasoned hypothesis.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Or Henry thought or was made to think the boys were dead – not necessarily the truth though!

    Like

  4. hoodedman1 on said:

    Carol Rawcliffe, the biographer of the Staffords, with no drum to beat for any side, says that there were copies of Buckingham’s letter to Tudor still extant in the 1600’s with no mention of ‘claiming the kingdom’ etc, just ‘join me.’ I really cannot imagine Buckingham wishing to put Henry on the throne above himself, because not only was his own claim better, he already had enormously high offices. Henry couldn’t give him anything he didn’t have. He probably had never even met Henry, or only when they both were children, and there was no guarantee Henry would let him keep the power he’d obtained, even if he was ‘grateful’ for Buckingham’s help.

    Like

    • I also agree; I think the claim that Buckingham wanted Henry to be king is an invention of Tudor historians. After all, Buckingham had a stronger claim to the throne than Henry Tudor did. Buckingham was legitimately descended from Thomas of Woodstock and also had the bastard claim that Henry did. Why would he – an anointed duke in possession of his holdings – defer to an exile who hadn’t set foot in England for twelve years with a bastard claim.

      Liked by 1 person

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