By Susan Higginbotham (Guest Contributor)
“Edward? Good Lord, you did dress him as a girl!”
“Aye . . . He bore his womanhood like a man, you might say.”
Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham (1478-1521), is mainly known today for finding out the hard way that offending Henry VIII could cost someone his head. Less well known is the episode when the five-year-old Edward—dressed as a girl—was hidden from Richard III’s agents.
Edward’s adventures in cross-dressing began in October 1483 when Edward’s father, Henry Stafford, the second Duke of Buckingham, joined the ill-fated uprising against Richard III known as Buckingham’s rebellion. The enterprise proved fatal to Henry, who died on the scaffold at Salisbury. Before he was captured and executed, however, he had entrusted Edward to Richard Delabeare, who had close ties to the Stafford family. Richard Delabeare later married his servant Elizabeth Mors, whose recollection of this episode was found in the Stafford family papers.
With Henry dead, Richard III began searching for Edward, who proved to be elusive, thanks to Elizabeth. She shaved the lad’s forehead and dressed him in a “maiden’s raiment.” At one point when a search party arrived, Elizabeth fled to a park with Edward, sitting with her no doubt squirming charge for four hours until the danger was past. After that, Elizabeth took Edward to Hereford. Edward made the journey as would a young lady of quality: “rydinge behynde Willm ap Symon asyde upon a Pillowe like a gentelwoman ridde in gentelwomans apperell.” Rather sweetly, Elizabeth concluded her story, “And I wisse he was the fearest gentelwoman and the best that ever she hadd in her Daies.”
Nothing more is heard of Edward’s whereabouts during Richard III’s reign, but in Henry VIII’s reign, Edward was noted for his sartorial splendor, such as in 1513, when he appeared in an outfit “full of Spangles, and little Belles of golde, marueylous costly and pleasant to behold.” One wonders if on such occasions, the duke ever thought back to his long-ago disguise in 1483.
Susan Higginbotham’s new novel, The Stolen Crown, set during the Wars of the Roses, tells the story of Edward’s parents, Henry, Duke of Buckingham, and Katherine Woodville. Susan is working on a novel about Margaret of Anjou.
This post first appeared at Wonders & Marvels on 19 March 2010.