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You might think that the last night of a condemned traitor would be a rather solitary affair, but you would think wrong, for the last couple of hours have been bustling with people coming and going. In some ways I welcome the commotion; it keeps my mind from the object that lies hard by my lodgings here at the Blue Boar Inn in Salisbury. It is a scaffold, and I will be its first, and probably its last, occupant, for it has been built just for me. Such is the fate of a man who tries to take a king from his throne, and fails.
Yet I do wish that things were more peaceful so I could better gather my thoughts, for what I say in the next world about my life will determine whether I am saved or damned. The best way to explain myself, I suppose, is to start at the beginning.
People who knew all of us say-or said, for there are few of them alive now-that I favor my mother more than my father. I will have to take their word for it, for he died just a month or so after I turned three. I remember a man who bounced me on his shoulders and held me on his lap when I saw him, which was not all that often, and I remember the scar on his right hand, which I would trace wonderingly because it made the hand so different from my mother's, soft and white, and my nurse's, plump and scarred by nothing worse than years of honest labor.
Father's scar was from the battle at St. Albans in May 1455. The battle had been a disastrous one for my family. My mother's father, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, had died there, and his eldest son, Henry, had been hauled away insensible in a cart, more dead than alive. My paternal grandfather, Humphrey, had had his face slashed, and my father too had been badly injured. Worse, the battle had left the Duke of York the ruler of England in all but name, and my family had fought for the House of Lancaster. All of this must have dispirited my parents, and I like to think I cheered them a little when I was born on the fourth day of September of that year and when I was named not Humphrey, the name my father and his father bore, but Henry, after the king for whom they had fought. I do hope indeed I cheered them, for in my eight-and-twenty years in this world I do not think I can say that I have done so for many people.
In the fall of 1458, the pestilence, which in those days still swept through England regularly, paid one of its dreaded visits. It did what the Yorkists had failed to do-kill my father. As I was now the heir to the dukedom of my grandfather, he and my grandmother wished to take custody of me. So to their care I went, once the pestilence had stopped its raging and it was considered safe for me to travel. I was not much upset at the change. The two mainstays of my existence at that time were my nurse and my puppy, and both went with me.
I came to know my grandfather somewhat better than I had my father, being more of an age now to observe what went on around me-and being doted on by my grandparents besides that. (Four of their seven sons had died young, my father had just died, and neither of my surviving uncles, Henry and John, had sons yet. I, therefore, was precious.) Grandfather, Humphrey Stafford, was a good man who tried to do what was best for England and to protect King Henry while trying to reach some sort of accord with the Duke of York. If only he had lived longer for me to profit by his example!
As I settled into my new life with my grandparents, Fortune's Wheel, which had been spinning back and forth with regularity, spun in the direction of Lancaster. As a result, not long before the Christmas of 1459, visitors arrived at my grandparents' Essex manor of Writtle: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and her three youngest children, Margaret, George, and Richard. Cecily was my grandmother's younger sister. Needless to say, she and my Lancastrian grandmother had not been on the warmest of terms as of late, and though we politely referred to her and her children as our guests, it was no social visit the Duchess of York was paying now. The Duke of York was in exile, and his wife had been placed in my grandmother's custody at the order of King Henry.
Since the youngest of the York children, Richard, has proven to be the death of me, I wish I could say there was a sense of doom from the first day of our meeting back at Writtle, but of course there wasn't. I was four at the time, just a month shy of being three years younger than Richard and nearly six years younger than George. My younger brother, Humphrey, who had been born shortly before my father died, was living with my mother. Thus, up until now there had been no other boys in the household except for pages, whose duties kept them to themselves. Naturally, I was delighted by this new company. I tagged along behind the York brothers, did my best to insinuate myself into their games, and tried with all my might to impress them. I am sure they regarded me as a thoroughgoing nuisance-and a Lancastrian nuisance at that. Probably I was an annoyance in another way as well. At the time, neither Richard nor George was a duke or a king's brother; they were simply two younger sons, far less important in the grand scheme of things than their father or their two older brothers, Edward and Edmund, both of whom were earls. Even at my young age, I, on the other hand, knew full well that I would be the next Duke of Buckingham, heir to one of the richest estates in the realm. I probably pointed this out more often than was strictly necessary.
Yes, I must have been completely insufferable.