An old oak box…

Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, lived at a time of great turmoil in British history and he was certainly part of that turmoil. Originally allied to King Richard III he seems to have fallen out with him, to the extent that he led a rebellion against him in 1483. One theory is that Stafford had come to hear of Richard’s murder of the princes in the Tower (sons of Edward IV) and was so shocked he turned against his king. However, other versions suggest it was Stafford himself who was responsible for the murder of the two boys.

Whatever the case, Stafford was unsuccessful in his attempt to throw over the King. He was captured by Richard and on 2 November 1483 he was beheaded in the courtyard between the Blue Boar Inn and the Saracen’s Head Inn (both demolished some time ago) in the market-place in Salisbury.

He is apparently buried in St Peter’s Church in Britford, but the tomb there, said to be his, is empty.

Meanwhile, The Salisbury Museum has a certain oak box, said to have been carved from the wood block used at Stafford’s execution.

In which case Stafford was never in the tomb at Britford at all, his skeleton being unearthed at The Saracen’s Head in 1838, together with the box.

There is more confusion, however. An early document suggests Stafford was buried at Greyfriars near present-day St Ann Street, which is more likely for a man of his standing than under the floor of an inn. in addition, there was another mysterious burial at Old Sarum which some say is Stafford.

If so, who was the skeleton, the ghost of which is said to wander Debenhams to this day…? And where is that skeleton now? And why did he have an old oak box?

Thanks to Volunteers Jean and Jane who found the box in their cataloguing and wrapping of social history artefacts, and share the story with us.