Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon

STAFFORD, HUMPHREY, Earl of Devon (1439–1469), born in 1439, was only son of William Stafford of Hooke, Dorset, and Southwick, Hampshire, by his wife Catherine (d. 1480), daughter of Sir John Chediock. The family came originally from Staffordshire, and was a branch of that to which the Dukes of Buckingham and Barons Stafford belonged. Humphrey’s great-grandfather, Sir Humphrey Stafford (d. 1413), of Hooke and Southwick, was father of Humphrey’s grandfather, also Sir Humphrey Stafford, called ‘of the silver hand,’ and also of John Stafford, archbishop of Canterbury. But the latter’s legitimacy has been questioned, although he is usually described as the earl of Devon’s great-uncle (see pedigree in Hutchins’s Dorset, ii. 179). On his father’s death, 28 Oct. 1449, he succeeded to his estates, being then ten years old, and in 1461 he succeeded to those of his cousin Humphrey, son of Sir John Stafford. He early adopted the Yorkist cause, and fought at the battle of Towton on 29 March 1461, being knighted by Edward IV on the field. Further honours followed in the same year; he was made high steward of the duchy of Cornwall (15 June), constable of Bristol and keeper of Kingswood and Gillingham forests (26 July), and joint-commissioner of array in Dorset, Wiltshire, and Somerset (12 Aug.). From 26 July 1461 to 28 Feb. 1462–3 he was summoned to parliament by writ as Baron Stafford of Southwick, and on 24 April 1464 he was created baron with that title by patent. On 20 Oct. 1462 he was made commissioner of array to raise forces in view of an expected Scottish invasion (Hoare, Wiltshire, vi. 157). On 11 Nov. 1464 he was appointed keeper of Dartmoor, and on 20 March 1464–5 constable of Bridgwater Castle. In the following year he was selected by the bishop of Salisbury to settle the disputes between the citizens of Salisbury (ib. p. 169), and on 8 June following was appointed to deliver the great seal to George Neville [q. v.], archbishop of York (Rymer, Fœdera, xi. 578). In May 1468 he was made commissioner to treat for peace with Francis, duke of Brittany, and on 3 July following was again a commissioner for array. According to Warkworth, early in 1469 he instigated the execution of Henry Courtenay, seventh earl of Devon, hoping to get the earldom for himself (Warkworth, Chron. p. 6). In the same year he was sworn of the privy council, and on 7 May was created Earl of Devon. On 12 July, however, he was one of the ‘ceducious persones’ whose ‘covetous rule and gydynge’ were denounced by the commons in a bill of articles presented by Clarence to the king (printed in Warkworth, Chron. pp. 46–7). In the same month he was sent with seven thousand archers to oppose Robin of Redesdale [q. v.] at Edgecote. He quarrelled, however, with William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke [q. v.], and retired with all his troops (Warkworth, p. 7), with the result that Pembroke was defeated. Edward IV thereupon ordered the sheriffs of Devonshire and Somerset to put him to death as soon as he was captured. He was apprehended by some commoners of Somerset, and beheaded at Bridgwater on 17 Aug. 1469. He was buried in Glastonbury Abbey, and his will was proved on 29 Feb. 1469–70.

By his wife Isabel, daughter of Sir John Bere or Barre, he left no issue. His widow married Sir Thomas Bourchier, son of Henry, first earl of Essex [q. v.], and, dying on 1 March 1488–9, was buried in the parish church at Ware, where there is an inscription to her memory.

He was the last male of his family, and his estates were divided among his coheiresses, but they were seized by his cousin, Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton (d. 1485), who was a favourite of Richard III; helped to defeat his kinsman, Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham [q. v.], in 1483, and was, after the accession of Henry VII, attainted of treason and executed at Tyburn on 17 Nov. 1485 (Campbell, Materials for Henry VII’s Reign). From him descended Sir Edward Stafford [q. v.] [Rolls of Parl. passim; Rymer’s Fœdera, xi. 578, 624, 725; Harl. MS. 6129; Bodleian MS. 1160; Three Fifteenth-Cent. Chron. (Camden Soc.), where he is confused with John Courtenay, earl of Devon, who was killed at Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471; Warkworth’s Chron. (Camden Soc.), pp. 1, 6, 7, 30, 46–8; William of Worcester’s Chron. (Rolls Ser.); Hoare’s Wiltshire, passim; Hutchins’s Dorset, ii. 179–81; Collinson’s Somerset; Burke’s Extinct, Doyle’s and G. E. C[okayne]’s Peerages.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53
Stafford, Humphrey (1439-1469) by Albert Frederick Pollard

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