Edward Stafford is the Duke of Buckingham in The Tudors, making him the second most powerful English noble after the King, and one of the few people who challenges King Henry's claim to the throne in favor of himself (though historically, he never did so, even though he was beheaded for treason). He is usually referred to simply as 'Buckingham' or 'Your Grace'. Stafford's mother was the sister of Elizabeth Woodville (Queen of England by her marriage to Edward IV and Henry's grandmother); his father supported House Lancaster during the War of the Roses and was executed for treason under the rule of Richard III of York, though Stafford himself went into hiding. After the battle of Bosworth Field, and the victory of Henry VII (the current Henry's father) Stafford was restored to his titles. However, his resentment towards the House of York apparently continued into the Tudor line, as Henry VIII was a descendant of the House of York through his mother. Thus, in the series, Buckingham decides to usurp Henry and claim the Throne himself, as he is also a descendant of the Plantagenet dynasty.
Although his plot against the King costs Buckingham his life early in the series, it also helps spark Henry's paranoia over the survival of his Tudor dynasty, which in turn leads to his subsequent annulment of his marriage, his various remarriages, and the English Reformation. Buckingham is played by English actor Steve Waddington in the first two episodes of Season One, a brief but significant character.
Buckingham first appears at the start of the first episode at Henry's court, agreeing with Henry and the other nobles that England should go to war with France. However, Buckingham later shows great bitterness when observing a feast at Whitehall Palace. It is revealed that he is a descendant of Edward III making him a potential heir to the throne through the Plantagenet Line. Buckingham's ally, the Duke of Norfolk, warns him it is treason to speak that way, but Buckingham arrogantly expresses his contempt for the King's favorites- many of them are common-born and have risen on talent rather than nobility, such as Anthony Knivert, Charles Brandon, William Compton, and the King's teacher/friend Thomas More. Buckingham, like most of the nobility, has a particular hatred for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the King's corrupt first minister and derisively refers to him as a "butcher's son" (demeaning his low origins).
During a jousting tournament, Buckingham casually unhorses ten knights in a row and wins accord before King Henry himself challenges him; Buckingham gladly takes the challenge, but is promptly knocked off his horse himself, to his humiliation.
Henry is not especially hostile towards Buckingham, but extremely paranoid of him. Charles, Anthony and William openly return the Duke's hatred, and Charles even makes a bet with Henry that he can seduce Buckingham's daughter Anne Stafford. When Buckingham catches them together in the midst of a sexual encounter, he threatens to kill Brandon for 'deflowering her' and taking her honor, but Charles- despite having a sword at his throat- calmly and smugly tells him it was consensual and that 'another man was here before me' before he leaves, infuriating the Duke and causing him to hit his daughter across the face. Buckingham's rage boils even higher when Henry- amused that Charles won his bet- refuses to punish Charles on the grounds that, since she did not claim Charles raped her, he committed no crime. Thomas More and Wolsey warn Henry that it is unwise to make an enemy of someone as powerful- and popular among the nobility-as Buckingham, even if he's arrogant and stupid.
However, Buckingham has already impulsively made up his mind to seize the throne, and begins recruiting potential supporters among the nobles. He approaches the Ambassador to France, Thomas Boleyn (brother-in-law to Norfolk) reasoning that he is from a very old noble house that has been sidelined, but Boleyn quickly brushes him off, saying that no-one wants to return to the awful days of civil war and 'The king is the king'. However, he pauses when Buckingham brings up their mutual hatred for Cardinal Wolsey. Boleyn continues to attend Buckingham's secret meetings, trying to gage whether the people will swing for Henry or Buckingham; he witnesses Buckingham detailing a plan to assassinate Henry and Wolsey, after the King returns from his summit in France. the Duke publicly spreads a rumor that, as Henry has no male legitimate children, Buckingham should rightfully succeed him on the throne.
In episode two, Buckingham's treachery unfolds after the summit; Boleyn admits privately that he was appalled by Henry's immature behavior at the summit and would prefer to see a greater man on the throne, seeming to take Buckingham's side. However, Boleyn has secretly already betrayed Buckingham's plot to Wolsey and the King, hoping to curry their favor and save Norfolk from being branded a traitor. Thus, Henry has no illusions when Buckingham begins borrowing money and raising armed men to 'protect himself on progress'. He invites Buckingham for New Year's Eve, and they have a tense stare-down; Buckingham, not realizing Henry knows his plans, visibly considers carrying out his assassination plot here, but declines because he has not yet gathered his full entourage. This hesitation swiftly dooms his one slim chance to win the throne; not long after leaving Whitehall, he is arrested by Anthony Knivert and William Compton on suspicion of treason. Buckingham, knowing he will be tried by a council of his peers, confidently predicts "there's no lord in England who'll ever find me guilty!"
Wolsey, despite being Buckingham's enemy, privately urges the King to find Buckingham guilty of some lesser offence than treason, reasoning that the Duke would thus be humiliated and disgraced, but his allies would not harbor vengeance against Henry. Henry, however, has already made up his mind to keep his power through fear more than popularity. He puts Buckingham's ally, Norfolk, in charge of the peer council. Norfolk seems inclined to let Buckingham off, but he is approached by Charles Brandon before the trial, who shows him a signet ring from King Henry (an heirloom of Norfolk's father, who was executed by Henry VII) and subtly threatens the inheritance and life of Norfolk's son.
As the supremely confident Buckingham is led into the courtroom, Norfolk considers his options, then hesitantly pronounces the Duke guilty. Completely shocked, Buckingham turns towards Wolsey as he is dragged out of the room, bellowing "It's all YOUR DOING!" He is thrown in a cell in the Tower of London, containing an ornate clock he gave to Henry on New Year's Eve. The next morning he is dragged to his execution by beheading, which is a humiliating affair.
Although Buckingham's swift fall scared the nobility into line, Henry remained extremely paranoid; other members of the Plantagenet dynasty were still alive, and could threaten the Succession of his daughter Princess Mary Tudor. This started his quest for a legitimate male heir, which in turn led to most of the major events of the series. Another legacy Buckingham left was that the nobility blamed Wolsey for his fall more than Henry (though Wolsey had in fact urged Henry not to kill him) and this in turn led to Wolsey's bitter end at the conclusion of Season One.
Historically, despite Henry's suspicion of Buckingham (and Buckingham's genuine dislike of both the King and Wolsey) there is no basis for Buckingham's plot to assassinate the King, as depicted in the series. Nor was Buckingham dragged to his execution in a humiliating manner; he faced the axe with relative dignity. Buckingham's children remained well-off and well-connected at court; his daughter Elizabeth Stafford was married to Buckingham's former ally, the Duke of Norfolk
- Sir Thomas More: (advising King Henry) "Careful about Buckingham, Harry. He may be stupid, but he's richer than you are- and he can call upon a private army. Not even your father crossed him."
- "If you betray me, Boleyn, I'll feed your body to me dogs."
- "I'm a direct descendant of Edward the Confessor- this is my crown and my court, not his crown or his court!"
- "You violated my daughter!... You son of a whore!"
- "It's all YOUR DOING! YOUR DOING!" (to Wolsey)