This article is by Stephen Lark, a Ricardian friends from Ipswich, Suffolk. We thank Stephen for making it available to us. It was first published in the Journal of the American Branch of the Richard III Society, Ricardian Register, Vol.43, No.2 (June 2012).
Thomas Stafford was executed on this day in 1557.
This is the story of Richard’s controversial and, consequently, short-lived great great nephew. Genealogical tables can be included, showing his Clarence and Stafford descent, also his relationships with the Hastings family (William, Lord Hastings, and the Earls of Huntingdon).
He is of particular interest as the first proven legitimate Yorkist to initiate a rebellion against the Tudor regime and I feel passionately that he does not deserve his present relative obscurity. I shall attempt to answer some of the mysteries surrounding his life and actions.
Thomas Stafford was born between 1530 and 1533, in about 1531, according to the original DNB, or 1533 in the new edition. At this time, four of Henry VIII’s key advisers (Cromwell, More, Cranmer and the recently deceased Wolsey) all bore the forename Thomas, which may explain his parents’ choice.
His father was Henry Stafford, only son of Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Eleanor Percy. His mother was Ursula Pole, only daughter of Sir Richard Pole and Lady Margaret Plantagenet (daughter of George, Duke of Clarence). Thomas’ parents married in February 1519, expecting to succeed to the Duchy but this did not happen because Edward was executed in 1521 for “treasonable utterances”.
He is supposed to have said that, were the King to die childless, he would seek the throne and to have consulted a fortune-teller about this. Burke’s says that he was executed “for his vanity and loquacity”. Shakespeare, in Henry VIII portrays him as a plotter, as did the recent ITV film.
His attainder was reversed soon afterwards and Henry was recreated Baron Stafford in 1548.
Thomas was the ninth of fourteen children born to Henry and Ursula Stafford during a 44-year marriage. Many of these, as was usual, died in infancy, including Henry, the eldest. Another Henry was, the eldest surviving son and became the 2nd Baron; Edward became the 3rd Baron and progenitor of the senior branch ever since; Richard was the father of Roger (Froyde) Stafford (an old man deprived of the title under Charles I, for his poverty, after it had passed to him on the initial failure of Edward’s male line).
Dorothy married Sir William Stafford of Grafton (a very distant cousin whose grandfather Sir Humphrey Stafford had been executed in 1486), becoming the mother of William Stafford (1554-1612), a later rebel. For further Stafford genealogy, see Robinson or the author’s Stafford Line (Mid-Anglia Group, 2004). The Buckingham and Grafton lines separated some time in the thirteenth century but Sir William and Dorothy’s marriage partially reunited them.
During Thomas’ childhood, his paternal aunt, Margaret Stafford (Lady Bulmer), was executed with her husband (1537) for their part in the “Pilgrimage of Grace”, his maternal grandmother and uncle (Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1541) and Henry Pole, Baron Montagu (1539)) both beheaded.
He grew up knowing that his father’s family was one of the oldest in England, his earliest known ancestors being born in the tenth century and, also being of Beaufort stock, were closely related to the Tudor monarchs. His mother’s father was of Lancastrian stock and her mother, as daughter of the Duke of Clarence, was of the Yorkist royal line.
He would also have become aware how dangerous this combination of ancestry could be.
Little is known of his education but Thomas toured Europe in the early fifties, including Paris (1550), Rome (where he was to visit his uncle, Cardinal Reginald Pole), Venice (where he stayed until summer 1553) and Poland, where King Sigismund Augustus received him, writing to Queen Mary to suggest that the young man be restored to his grandfather’s Duchy, although his brother, Henry, was alive and was knighted in 1553.
In Rome, Cardinal Pole tried to re-convert Stafford to Catholicism. In Venice, Stafford was permitted to view the jewels of St. Mark and the armoury halls; furthermore he and two servants were permitted to carry arms.
Thomas returned to join the Wyatt conspiracy (probably under Henry of Suffolk in the Midlands), being briefly imprisoned in the Fleet – at the same time, Stafford’s cousin, Francis of Huntingdon, and his son, Lord Henry Hastings, were detained in the Tower. He then developed a violent objection to Mary’s Spanish marriage although it is not known whether, like Edward Courtenay (12th Earl of Devon), he considered himself as an alternative suitor.
He declared that she had forfeited the throne, thereby ignoring the claims of Princess Elizabeth, Mary Stuart as a descendant of Margaret Tudor, any remaining descendants of Henry VII’s daughter Mary (i.e. Lady Catherine Grey) and his own brother, Sir Henry.
On his release, Thomas travelled to Fontainebleau, residence of Cardinal Pole, who refused to meet him again, embarrassed at his objection to Mary’s choice of husband, moving on to the Low Countries to mix in extreme Protestant circles, which emphasised his belief that he was destined for greater things.
He had a seal made, consisting of the undifferenced royal arms, tantamount to claiming the throne and, therefore, a treasonable act. Thomas fell out with many of his fellow exiles, such as his brother-in-law Sir William Stafford (Hicks calls him Sir Robert), attempting to assassinate Sir William Pickering (April 1554) and, after further imprisonment in Rouen (1556), left for Dieppe.
After his restoration, Edward IV granted Scarborough Castle to the Duke of Gloucester who visited it in 1484. Perkin Warbeck promised it to his “aunt”, Margaret of Burgundy. Robert Aske led a siege during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 but troops led by Sir Ralph Evers withstood it. The castle was located in the Catholic north-east of England, accessible by sea but easily defensible.
Thomas Stafford and his band of thirty-five men sailed in two ships from Dieppe on 18 April (Easter Sunday), landed on the Yorkshire coast, sailed up to the undefended Scarborough Castle on 25 April and took the garrison completely by surprise. He warned that the Spanish marriage would enslave the English people, that Scarborough and other castles would be ceded to the Spanish, proclaimed himself Lord Protector and announced his intention to reclaim his grandfather’s title (a pretext employed by Henry of Bolingbroke in 1399, Richard of York in 1460 and Edmund of Suffolk in 1502).
The keep of Scarborough Castle (photograph by Stephen Montgomery, obtained through Wikimedia Commons)
However, the rebellion failed to gather momentum and the local militia acted swiftly. Under Henry Neville, Earl of Westmorland (Thomas’ uncle), they retook the castle. Many of the rebels (who included four Scots) were summarily hanged (hence the phrase “Scarborough warning”, meaning none at all) and others were executed across Yorkshire. Thomas was taken to London and tried for treason, beheaded at Tower Hill on 28 May and buried at St. Peter ad Vincula. With the other executed rebels, he was attainted. Two of his party were pardoned.
The DNB (both editions) says that he was drawn, hanged and quartered but, his father having been restored to the Barony nine years earlier, this seems unlikely. John Strype (1643-1737) confirms that Stafford was beheaded, his work being re-published in 1822, names many of the co-conspirators and includes both Stafford’s and Mary’s proclamations: “May 28: Stafford was beheaded on Tower Hill”.
As a consequence of the rebellion, Queen Mary declared war on France, during which the French took Calais, England’s last possession on the continent.
Five years later, Elizabeth almost died from smallpox. Lord Henry Hastings (now the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon), together with Lady Catherine Grey, was on the shortlist of successors considered by Parliament – a Yorkist heir who would have inherited the throne peaceably and went on to serve Elizabeth at the highest level for twenty-three years.
Early sources claimed that the Scarborough raid had official French backing because Thomas was a continental Protestant and England’s Catholic Queen was married to a Spaniard. According to Hicks, this is unlikely, as Henri II would have wished to avoid provoking an Anglo-Spanish alliance. Other theories, such as Thomas as a “stalking horse” or victim of Tudor provocation, are also rejected; indeed the reports you may read can be taken at face value.
Both DNB editions, Burke’s and the Complete Peerage all claim that Thomas had a surviving elder brother. His parents’ first son, Henry, died very young and Thomas’ other brother by that name (later the second Baron) seems to have been born by 1527 and Edward (3rd Baron) in 1536. These three “standard sources” do not correspond perfectly and interpretation is important.
There is a little scope for confusion but, having exchanged e-mail with Professor Hicks during which he summarised one of his sources (1534 pedigree: British Library MS 6672 f.193), Thomas’ position in the family has probably been finalised. However, he claimed on several occasions to have been born before Sir Henry. This seems to be analogous to the Lancastrian fantasy (of Henry III’s sons) that formed the basis to their claim.
Dictionary of National Biography (Entry by A.F. Pollard, 1897).
New Dictionary of National Biography (Entry by Michael Hicks, 2004).
The Staffords (J.M. Robinson, 2002).
The Earlier Tudors (J.D. Mackie, 1952).
The Tower of London: The Official Illustrated History (Edward Impey & Geoffrey Parnell).
Elizabeth I: A Study of Power and Intellect (Paul Johnson, 1974)
Ecclesiastica Memoria (John Strype, volume 3 part 2, 67-9, 513-9, 1721-33).
Tags: Stafford, Tudors, Yorkists