Buckingham Betrayed by Banister

DESCRIPTION: "You barons bold, marke and behold The thing that I will write." The Duke of Buckingham "flourished" in the reign of Edward IV. Buckingham, scorning Richard III's usurpation, rebels, is defeated, and is betrayed by Banister; Banister goes un-rewarded
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1750 (Percy folio)
KEYWORDS: rebellion nobility royalty betrayal death
1483 - Death of Edward IV. His 12-year-old son is destined to become Edward V, but is set aside by Richard III and Buckingham. Buckingham rebels, is defeated, and is executed
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Hales/Furnival-BishopPercysFolioManuscript, volume II, pp. 253-259, "Buckingam betrayd by Banister" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSPercyFolio}, The Percy Folio, London, British Library MS. Additional 27879, page 270

NOTES [1667 words]: There is no indication that this is traditional, unless you accept the fact that the piece is in the Percy Folio as evidence. But Hales and Furnivall indicate the existence of two other Duke of Buckingham ballads:
- The Life and Death of the Great Duke of Buckingham, who came to an untimely End, for consenting to the deposing of the two gallant young princes, King Edward the Fourth's children. To the tune of Shore's Wife" (i.e. the piece indexed as "Jane Shore"?). It is by Robert Johnson.
- A most sorrowful song, setting forth the miserable end of Banister, who betrayed the Duke of Buckingham, his Lord and Master.
Hales and Furnivall suggest, p. 255, that "Perhaps all three ballads are founded on some common older original." I think this unlikely, but I'm indexing the Percy Folio piece as the reference for that probably unreal original.
What is definitely unreal is the history in this song. Debate as much as you like how guilty Richard III was in the usurpation of 1483 and likely murder of Edward IV and Richard Duke of York (you can find plenty of details in the entry on "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]). What is certain is that there was plenty of blood on the hands of the Duke of Buckingham.
King Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, after a short illness; his death was utterly unexpected, since he was just forty years old (Wagner, p. 82). His heir was a 12-year-old son, Edward V, who was obviously too young to rule in his own right. Edward IV had provided in his will that his younger brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who had always been conspicuously loyal, would be Lord Protector.
"Lord Protector" was an undefined term. It was not a regency. Since Edward V was too young to rule, there was a free-for-all to gain power.
What made this interesting is that all the principals were in different places. The queen mother, the former Elizabeth Woodville, was in London along with the government -- but the new King himself was not there; he was in the Welsh marches, under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. And the Lord Protector, Richard of Gloucester, was in the north.
The Woodvilles planned an immediate coronation and apparently intended to set Richard (and all others except their allies) aside. The coronation was key: "Although obviously too young to rule alone, in need of others to guide him and govern him, constitutionally Edward would be of full age, with no need for a minority council or protectorate" (Hicks, p. 140). And the Woodville faction certainly felt confident in their power; the Marquis of Dorset, Elizabeth Woodville's son by her first marriage and thus the king's older half-brother, declared, "We are so important that even without the king's uncle we can make and enforce our decisions" (Hicks, p. 141). Is it any wonder that the rest of the nobility was concerned?
"The first moves in the struggle for power were initiated by the Woodville group in London during the days immediately following King Edward's death on 9 April 1483. They evidently planned to maintain their position by force if necessary, by seizing the royal treasure in the Tower, putting a fleet to sea under Woodville command, arranging for an early coronation of the young king, bringing him to London at the head of an army controlled by Earl Rivers and his friends, and devising a form of interim government from which the Duke of Gloucester would be largely excluded" (Ross, p. 65).
Rivers of course immediately started out for London with the king and an escort of 2000 men. Richard, with 600 men, arranged to meet him on the way. Rivers, having settled the King in Stony Stratford, in fact rode with a small escort to meet Richard at Northampton. "Richard politely invited the Earl to stay to supper. They could ride together to join the King in the morning.
"During the meal Richard received a second visitor in the person of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. 'Harre Bokingham, as he signed himself, was the joker in the royal pack who played out the tragedy of Richard III. Lineal descendant of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III, he ranked as the first peer of England after Richard and the King's nine-year-old brother Richard Duke of York. He also harboured a deep-seated grudge against the Queen.... No doubt he saw in Richard the instrument of his revenge" (Cheetham, p. 107).
There is no witness to what happened next. But Cheetham, p. 108, suggests "Buckingham's later career will show that he was ambitious, conceited and reckless. He was also an accomplished and persuasive speaker. He must now have pointed out to Richard the danger of pursuing the prudent course of action he had so far undertaken. Once Rivers had delivered the King to his mother in London and set a crown on his head, only a civil war could unseat the Woodvilles.... If they were to act, it must be now.
"At dawn on 40 April Richard ordered the arrest of RIvers" (Cheetham, p. 108). Hicks, who disapproved of Richard very strongly, says, "What Richard actually did, with the support of Buckingham, was to anticipate the impending crisis by a pre-emptive strike against the Wydevilles" (Hicks, p. 142). The two Dukes then took possession of Edward V. Eventually Richard set Edward V aside and was crowned himself as Richard III (again, see the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]). Edward V and his brother soon disappeared.
Richard's rewards to Buckingham were immense; Buckingham became one of the richest landowners in English history: "first the three men who had made [Richard's] usurpation possible received their rewards. Buckingham had the lion's share: he was appointed Constable and Great Chamberlain of England. In addition recognized his long-standing claim to a large part of the de Bohun inheritance, with an annual income of over £700" (Cheetham, p. 129. £700 was roughly equivalent to the income from another earldom).
Despite all this, Buckingham within months was plotting rebellion, aligning himself with the forces trying to overthrow Richard and put Henry Tudor on the throne. This is very hard to explain. "Perhaps Buckingham really hoped to win the throne for himself, using Henry Tudor as a pawn in the game.... Yet if he were moved by such vaunting ambition, why then did he abandon it in favour of supporting Henry Tudor? Richard had already given the duke as much as any subject could hope for, and he could scarcely have expected more from Henry Tudor, who was still a largely unknown and unpredictable personality" (Ross, pp. 114-115). Ross guesses that perhaps Buckingham thought that Richard would be overthrown and Buckingham wanted to be on the winning side. But the rebellion had no chance without him; indeed, even with him, it was a fizzle ("By 25 November the king was back in London, less than six weeks since he had first heard news of the rebellion"; Ross, p. 117).
"Buckingham's rebellion makes no sense unless it is assumed that his earlier support of Richard's cause was, all along, part of a grand design to clear his own path to the throne" (Cheetham, p. 136 -- Buckingham could argue that his claim to the throne was senior to Tudor's; at minimum, his claim was in legitimate line and Tudor's was illegitimate).
"Drenched by the rains and harassed by the guerillas, Buckingham's retainers lost heart and melted away as they struggled across the Welsh borders into Herefordshire.... Sick with fear, the Duke himself deserted what was left of his following. He disguised himself as a commoner and took refuge in the Shropshire cottage of one of his servants, Ralph Bannaster of Wem. For Master Ralph the chief attraction of his guest lay in the £1,000 reward the King had set on his head, and he promptly betrayed the Duke to the local sheriff" (Cheetham, p. 139). "Buckingham, tried and sentenced by the Vice-Constable, Sir Ralph Asheton, was beheaded in Salisbury market place on Sunday, 2 November" (Cheetham, pp. 139-140). At that, it was easier that the standard traitor's death of hanging, drawing, and quartering.
This version of the tale is clearly the one that underlies this song. It isn't the only account of what happened, though. The Croyland Chronicle, written probably in 1486 and certainly the work of an insider in Richard's council, recorded, "Finding that he [i.e. Buckingham] 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" (Lander, pp. 186-187).
Bottom line: We don't really know who planned the events of 1483 -- whether Richard or Buckingham proposed capturing the king, and whether Richard or Buckingham proposed the usurpation; whether Richard, or Buckingham, or the next king, Henry VII, had the princes executed. At the time, although most people naturally blamed Richard, there were quite a few contemporaries who suspected, or were open to, the idea that Buckingham ordered the murders (Hicks, p. 182). What we do know is that Buckingham was in all this up to his neck. He was as guilty as Richard -- and he was a double-crosser. The rough outline of the facts in this piece are correct, but the emphasis is utterly wrong -- I don't recall ever seeing a modern historian who did not think that Buckingham richly deserved what he got. But, of course, after Richard III was overthrown, any enemy of Richard was suddenly viewed in a better light; one suspects that there were several attempts to rehabilitate Buckingham's memory. - RBW
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