Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Belated Buckingham Blog Post, With Help From the Bard

November 2, 1483:

SCENE I. Salisbury. An open place.

Enter the Sheriff, and BUCKINGHAM, with halberds, led to execution


Will not King Richard let me speak with him?


No, my good lord; therefore be patient.


Hastings, and Edward's children, Rivers, Grey,
Holy King Henry, and thy fair son Edward,
Vaughan, and all that have miscarried
By underhand corrupted foul injustice,
If that your moody discontented souls
Do through the clouds behold this present hour,
Even for revenge mock my destruction!
This is All-Souls' day, fellows, is it not?


It is, my lord.


Why, then All-Souls' day is my body's doomsday.
This is the day that, in King Edward's time,
I wish't might fall on me, when I was found
False to his children or his wife's allies
This is the day wherein I wish'd to fall
By the false faith of him I trusted most;
This, this All-Souls' day to my fearful soul
Is the determined respite of my wrongs:
That high All-Seer that I dallied with
Hath turn'd my feigned prayer on my head
And given in earnest what I begg'd in jest.
Thus doth he force the swords of wicked men
To turn their own points on their masters' bosoms:
Now Margaret's curse is fallen upon my head;
'When he,' quoth she, 'shall split thy heart with sorrow,
Remember Margaret was a prophetess.'
Come, sirs, convey me to the block of shame;
Wrong hath but wrong, and blame the due of blame.


(Shakespeare extract courtesy of MIT's Shakespeare site.)

As recent historians, especially Louise Gill, have pointed out, "Buckingham's Rebellion" is a misnomer, because Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was a latecomer to the uprising that bears his name. It began as a plan by southerners, many with close ties to the court of Edward IV, to restore Edward V to the throne and changed to a conspiracy to place Henry Tudor on the throne after rumors began that Edward V and his younger brother were dead. Two of the more highly placed conspirators, Bishop Morton and Margaret Beaufort, were in a position to influence Buckingham, Morton being his prisoner at Brecon and Margaret Beaufort being his aunt by marriage. Indeed, it is Morton who is supposed to have converted Buckingham to the rebel cause.

One of the great mysteries of Richard III's reign is why Buckingham, who had so famously helped Richard III gain the throne just months before and who had reaped huge rewards as a result, suddenly turned against his king. Was he simply doing what he had intended to do from the start? Was he angry because Richard III had denied him some request? Was he horrified at the supposed deaths of the Princes in the Tower? Was he trying to cover up his own guilt? Had he decided to aim at the crown for himself? Was he switching sides in the belief that Richard III was bound to fall and that it would behoove him to be on the winning side? Was he mentally unstable? No one knows. Buckingham begged for an audience with Richard III before his execution, but Richard refused the request. That's a pity, because Buckingham might have revealed his motives. (Then again, maybe not.) Buckingham's son later claimed that his father had been carrying a knife with which he planned to kill the king, but Buckingham's son was a young boy and nowhere near his father at the time, so any information he had would be secondhand at best.

Whatever Buckingham's motivations, his intervention may have doomed the rising, for Buckingham was unable to command the loyalty of his own Welsh tenants, one of whom betrayed him to the king. Indeed, his participation may have scared off some potential allies, given his former close ties to Richard III and his lack of popularity in the region.

Ill-fated as it was for Buckingham, however, the rebellion was not the end of Richard III's troubles, but only the beginning. On October 30, 1485, just short of two years after Buckingham's death at Salisbury, the survivors of the rebellion would gather for Henry VII's coronation.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Indeed, it is Morton who is supposed to have converted Buckingham to the rebel cause.

Was this Morton perchance young and handsome? *insert somewhat wicked grin* Morton at Buckingham's mercy, a bondage game gone wrong ....

Ok, I better stop here. :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

He was up there in years, actually--but who knows? Things might have gotten lonely there in Brecon.