Buckingham’s Rebellion

   Buckingham’s Rebellion is the name given to a series of uprisings that occurred in England in the autumn of 1483 in reaction to RICHARD III’s seizure of his nephew’s throne, to the disappearance of that nephew and his brother, and to the growing belief that both boys were dead.
   Buckingham’s Rebellion comprised two independently organized conspiracies against Richard III that, despite some incompatibilities of purpose, joined together to achieve their shared goal of overthrowing the king. The first conspiracy was planned and led by Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, heretofore Richard’s chief ally. The exact reasons for Buckingham’s desertion of the king he had helped to make are unclear. The traditional reason, used by William Shakespeare in his play RICHARD III, is the king’s refusal to keep a promise to restore to Buckingham certain lands to which he had a claim. Most modern historians discount this theory, for Richard restored the lands in question in July 1483. More likely theories are that Buckingham, aware of the ruthless methods Richard was willing to use to hold power, and perhaps aware of the fate of EDWARD V and his brother, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, feared that Richard would turn on him whenever it suited the king’s purposes. Buckingham may also have been driven by ambition, for along with Richard III and the exiled Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), the duke was one of only three surviving adult males of the royal house of PLANTAGENET. If Richard were eliminated, the throne would be Buckingham’s.
   Hatched probably at Brecon Castle in August and September 1483, the duke’s plot was encouraged by Bishop John MORTON, who had been arrested by Richard and placed in Buckingham’s custody. In his HISTORY OF KING RICHARD III, Sir Thomas More claimed that Morton persuaded the duke to betray Richard, but in his ANGLICA HISTORIA, the Tudor historian Polydore Vergil stated that Buckingham first suggested rebellion to the bishop, who initially suspected that the suggestion was a ruse to entrap him.However, once convinced of Buckingham’s sincerity, Morton readily cooperated. Morton probably put Buckingham in contact with Margaret BEAUFORT, the mother of Richmond, and with Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE, the widow of EDWARD IV and the mother of the missing princes. The two women were the central figures in a conspiracy that was forming around former Lancastrians, adherents of the WOODVILLE FAMILY, and former servants of Edward IV. Assuming that Queen Elizabeth’s sons were dead, these plotters planned to overthrow Richard in favor of Richmond, who would then marry ELIZABETH OFYORK, eldest daughter of Edward IV, and thereby unite the houses of LANCASTER and YORK.
   On 24 September, Buckingham wrote to Richmond, then in BRITTANY, inviting the earl to join his uprising, which would begin on 18 October. The duke did not acknowledge Richmond’s claim to the Crown, nor did he speak of the proposed marriage with Elizabeth of York. Although later Tudor writers claimed that Buckingham supported the effort to make Richmond king, it is more likely that he sought the throne for himself. In September 1483, he was probably interested only in gaining the support of the pro-Richmond forces in overthrowing the king and was willing to leave the question of who was to be Richard’s successor until later. In any event, a series of connections were soon established between the principal figures in both plots. The Welsh physician Lewis Caerleon was the main contact between Margaret Beaufort and Queen Elizabeth, while Reginald BRAY, a servant of Margaret’s who was known to Buckingham, kept the Beaufort-Woodville conspirators apprised of what the duke and Morton were planning. To inform her son of events in England, Margaret had planned to send the priest Christopher URSWICK to Brittany, but instead later dispatched Hugh Conway (a servant of her husband, Henry STANLEY, Lord Stanley) to Richmond with a large sum of money raised by Margaret in LONDON.
   Thanks to spies and the premature outbreak of rebellion in southern England, Richard was aware of Buckingham’s betrayal by 11 October. While the king hastily gathered an army, Buckingham marshaled his forces in WALES, and various gentlemen attached to the Beaufort-Woodville conspiracy led uprisings in their home counties. Hampered by the disloyalty of his Welsh RETAINERS, who were unwilling to rebel against a Yorkist king, and attacked by Welsh royalists, Buckingham was on the run by late October. Most of the other uprisings were also quickly suppressed, their leaders fleeing to Brittany to join Richmond. Betrayed by an old servant with whom he had sought shelter, Buckingham was in custody by 31 October. Taken to Salisbury by Richard’s servant, Sir James TYRELL, the duke was executed there on 2 November.
   Richmond, meanwhile, did not leave Brittany until about 31 October. Given ships, money, and men by Duke FRANCIS II, the earl anchored off Plymouth harbor in the first week of November, his fleet having been scattered by storms. Unsure of what success Buckingham might have enjoyed, Richmond sent a boat to reconnoitre the coast, which was lined by Richard’s men, who urged Richmond to land by claiming to be followers of Buckingham. Exercising a lifesaving caution, Richmond refused to come ashore until he had more certain news. When word arrived of Buckingham’s execution, the earl and his flotilla recrossed the Channel, landing in FRANCE in mid-November. Although seeming to harm Richmond’s prospects, Buckingham’s Rebellion revealed the breadth of the opposition to Richard III, destroyed the rival claim of Buckingham, and created a large and talented group of exiles around Richmond in Brittany—such men as Morton, Urswick, Bray, and many former servants of Edward IV. By 1485, Richmond was ready to try again to win the throne.
   Further Reading: Gill, Louise, Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999); Horrox, Rosemary, Richard III: A Study in Service (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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