Buckingham’s Rebellion

In 1483 a series of uprisings took place across England and Wales. Collectively they are often referred to as Buckingham’s Rebellion. This is because of the complicity of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in the plots. However, the uprisings involved many other disgruntled nobles and exiles, most notably Henry Tudor

The make-up of the rebellious forces was quite varied:

  • There were Lancastrians who had been forced into exile. They saw an opportunity to challenge a new King. This included Henry Tudor, who mustered a force of around 500 men to sail, in 7 ships, from Brittany.
  • Events of Summer 1483 had implications for the former household of King Edward IV. For some, Richard III presented a threat to their positions. Chief among these were those associated with the Dowager Queen’s family. There was a clear and obvious division between Richard and the Woodville’s that had already cost lives. For those most closely affiliated to the Woodville’s, rebellion at this time had appeal.
  • There too were opportunists. A new King who had acceded in controversial circumstances was a vulnerable one. For ambitious men, like the Duke of Buckingham, there was the possibility for advancement.

Mixed motives?

The combination of motives for different groups is an unusual mix. The only common strand was a desire to overthrow Richard III. It saw two men with potential claims to the throne working in union. There were Lancastrians plotting alongside men who, under Edward IV, been staunch supporters of the House of York. There were different groups of exiled, voluntarily or enforced, nobles who had been accused of much the same thing, often by each other.

Buckingham’s Rebellion

Background to the Revolts

In the meantime, and while these things were going on, the two sons of king Edward before-named remained in the Tower of London, in the custody of certain persons appointed for that purpose In order to deliver them from this captivity, the people of the southern and western parts of the kingdom began to murmur greatly, and to form meetings and confederacies. It soon became known that many things were going on in secret, and some in the face of all the world, for the purpose of promoting this object, especially on the part of those who, through fear, had availed themselves of the privileges of sanctuary and franchise. There was also a report that it had been recommended by those men who had taken refuge in the sanctuaries, that some of the king’s daughters should leave Westminster, and go in disguise to the parts beyond sea; in order that, if any fatal mishap should befall the said male children of the late king in the Tower, the kingdom might still, in consequence of the safety of the daughters, some day fall again into lie hands of the right heirs. On this being discovered, the noble church of the monks at Westminster, and all the neighbouring parts, assumed the appearance of a castle and fortress, while men of the greatest austerity were appointed by king Richard to act as the keepers thereof. The captain and head of these was one John Nesfeld, Esquire, who kept a watch upon all the inlets and outlets of the monastery, so that not one of the persons there shut up could go forth, and no one could enter, without his permission.

Croyland Chronicle

The Buckingham Plotters aim to ‘Avenge their grievances’

The plotters were to be found in a number of geographical locations. This had the potential to present the King with insurmountable problems. It is very difficult to face even amateur armies in multiple locations at the same time. In the South East, in the South West, in Wales, in Brittany, and in the South near Salisbury there were distinct groups who liaised to ‘avenge their grievances’ against the King.

At last, it was determined by the people in the vicinity of the city of London, throughout the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, Somersetshire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire, as well as some others of the southern counties of the kingdom, to avenge their grievances before stated; upon which, public proclamation was made, that Henry, duke of Buckingham, who at this time was living at Brecknock in Wales, had repented of his former conduct, and would be the chief mover in this attempt, while a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edward before-named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how. Accordingly, all those who had set on foot this insurrection, seeing that if they could find no one to take the lead in their designs, the ruin of all would speedily ensue, turned their thoughts to Henry, earl of Richmond, who had been for many years living in exile in Britany. To him a message was, accordingly, sent, by the duke of Buckingham, by advice of the lord bishop of Ely, who was then his prisoner at Brecknock, requesting him to hasten over to England as soon as he possibly could, 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.

Croyland Chronicle

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. The revolt of 1483 is named Buckingham's Rebellion due to his involvement.
Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

King Richard III learns of the plot

The die cast, the plotters now needed to execute their plan in a coordinated manner. This, however, was where their plans began to disintegrate from the off. In the South East the rebels began their protest ten days early. It had consequences. First, they had mistimed things so badly that they had not gathered their own part of the rebel army. Some 3500 were supposed to muster at Maidstone. It didn’t happen. Second, they spoke of their leader. They named the Duke of Buckingham, who was known by the King and his agents to be in Wales. He had been inadvertently been betrayed by co-conspirators.

The whole design of this plot, however, by means of spies, became perfectly well known to king Richard, who, as he exerted himself in the promotion of all his views in no drowsy manner, but with the greatest activity and vigilance, contrived that, throughout Wales, as well as in all parts of the marches thereof, armed men should be set in readiness around the duke, as soon as ever he had set a foot from his home, to pounce upon all his property; who, accordingly, encouraged by the prospect of the duke’s wealth, which the king had, for that purpose, bestowed upon them, were in every way to obstruct his progress. The result was, that, on the side of the castle of Brecknock, which looks towards the interior of Wales, Thomas, the son of the late Sir Roger Vaughan, with the aid of his brethren and kinsmen, most carefully watched the whole of the surrounding country; while Humphrey Stafford partly destroyed the bridges and passes by which England was entered, and kept the other part closed by means of a strong force set there to guard the same.

Croyland Chronicle

Richard’s Response to Buckingham’s Rebellion

Richard was now armed with knowledge of Buckingham’s involvement. Spies also obtained information about the nature and scale of the plot. It was possible to take action to prevent forces merging. A bounty was placed on the heads of the rebel leaders. Loyal forces were placed at key points on the Thames to stop the people of Kent and Essex joining forces.

Capture and Execution of the Duke of Buckingham

The early rising of the men of Kent placed Buckingham in a position of weakness. He was forced into hiding and resorted to disguises. However, he was soon captured and taken to Salisbury, Wiltshire. At Salisbury Henry Stafford was tried on charges of treason, found guilty and beheaded in the marketplace.

In the meantime, the duke was staying at Webley, the house of Walter Devereux, lord Ferrers, together with the said bishop of Ely and his other advisers. Finding that he was placed in a position of extreme difficulty, and that he could in no direction find a safe mode of escape, he first changed his dress, and then secretly left his people ; but was at last discovered in the cottage of a poor man, in consequence of a greater quantity of provisions than usual being carried thither. Upon this, he was led to the city of Salisbury, to which place the king had come with a very large army, on the day of the commemoration of All Souls ; and, notwithstanding the fact that it was the Lord’s day, the duke suffered capital punishment in the public market-place of that city.

Croyland Chronicle

Rebels in the West crushed

Dealing with the Duke of Buckingham was not the end of the revolt. There remained threats in the West Country and from Brittany where Henry Tudor was known to have support. The king’s force made for Exeter and most of the leading rebels took flight to Brittany. Henry Tudor had sailed for the south coast of England. His small fleet was caught in a storm. Some ships were forced to return to France. With only two ships remaining at anchor in Plymouth Sound, Henry Tudor was forced to sail away when challenged.

On the following day, the king proceeded with all his army towards the western parts of the Kingdom, where all his enemies had made a stand, with the exception of those who had come from Kent, and were at Guilford, awaiting the issue of events. Proceeding onwards, he arrived at the city of Exeter; upon which, being struck with extreme terror at his approach, Peter Courteney, bishop of Exeter, as well as Thomas, marquis of Dorset, and various other nobles of the adjacent country, who had taken part in the rebellion, repaired to the sea-side; and those among them who could find ships in readiness, embarked, and at length arrived at the wished-for shores of Brittany. Others, for a time trusting to the fidelity of friends, and concealing themselves in secret spots, afterwards betook themselves to the protection of holy places. One most noble knights of the city perished, Thomas Saint Leger by name, to save a his life very large sums of money were offered; but all in vain, for he underwent his sentence of capital punishment.

Croyland Chronicle

Further reading on Buckingham’s Rebellion

Matt Lewis – author, presenter and Chair of the Richard III Society, Matt has a detailed post on his blog about why the revolt is named after the Duke of Buckingham.

Bad Blood‘ – Chapter 7 of ‘A Glimpse of Richard III’ by Matt Lewis can be read online at erenow.

Buckingham’s Rebellion and the Vaughan’s – from the the personal Web site of Dr. Peter Hancock, Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor and head of the MIT² laboratory at the University of Central Florida

Image Credits

Featured Image: Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, finds the River Severn swollen after heavy rain, blocking his way to join a rebellion against Richard III of England. From James William Edmund Doyle – Doyle, James William Edmund (1864) “Richard III” in A Chronicle of England: B.C. 55 – A.D. 1485London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, pp. p. 448. Via Wikimedia.


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