STAFFORD FAMILY. This famous English house was founded in England by Robert, a younger brother of Ralf de Tosny (Toeni), of a noble Norman house, who was standardbearer of the duchy. Robert received, like his elder brother, at the Conquest a great fief which extended into seven counties and became known as Robert de Stafford from his residence at Stafford Castle. The military service due from the fief was no less than sixty knights, as is proved by his grandson Robert's return in 1166. With this Robert's son the male line became extinct, and his sister's husband, Hervey Bagot, one of his knightly tenants, succeeded to the fief in her right (1194): their descendant Edmund de Stafford (that surname having been assumed) was summoned as a baron in 1299. His son, Ralph, a warrior like his father, attained fame in the French wars. He conducted the brilliant defence of Aiguillon against the host of France, fought at Crecy and in the siege of Calais. Chosen a Knight of the Garter at the foundation of the order, he was further created earl of Stafford in 1351.
His son Hugh, who succeeded as 2nd earl in 1372, served in the French wars. From 1376 he became prominent in politics, probably through his marriage to a daughter of the earl of Warwick, being one of the four lords on the committee in the Good Parliament, and also serving on the committee that controlled Richard II., 1378-1380. He was friendly, however, with that king, and was with him on his Scottish* expedition in 1385. He died next year on pilgrimage at Rhodes. The marriage of his son, Thomas, the 3rd earl, in 1392 to the daughter and eventual heiress of Thomas, duke of Buckingham (son of Edward III.), by a coheiress of the great house of Bohun, proved a decisive turning-point in the history of the Staffords; for, although he died childless, this great lady, styled " countess of Stafford, Buckingham, Hereford and Northampton " in her will, married in 1398 his brother Edmund, the 5th earl, who obtained, in addition to her great possessions, her ancestors' office of lord high constable in 1403, but was slain the same year at Shrewsbury, commanding the van of the king's host. Their son, Humphrey (1402-1460), the first Stafford duke of Buckingham, was placed by his descent and his possessions in the front rank of the English nobility.
The Staffords fell.from their pinnacle of greatness, which had aroused the jealousy of the Crown, by the attainder of Henry the 2nd duke in 1483, but were completely restored for the time, on the triumph of Henry VII. in 1486, when Edward, the 3rd duke (1478-1521), regained the title and estates. Under Henry VIII. his great position, fortified by his relationship to the Percys, Howards and Nevilles, made him a natural leader of the old nobility, while his recovery of the ancestral office of lord high constable in 1509 increased his prestige. He had not sufficient force of character to take an active part in politics, but the king's easily roused suspicions were excited by private accusations in 1521, and, after a nominal trial by his peers, he was beheaded on the 17th of May 1521, a subsequent act (1523) confirming his attainder. His fate, even under such a king, made a great sensation, exciting sympathy at home, and moving the emperor Charles V. to say that a butcher's dog (Wolsey) had pulled down the noblest buck in England. It is noteworthy that the 2nd and 3rd dukes were both beheaded, while the 1st duke fell in the Wars of the Roses.
Henry (1501-1563), the son of the last duke, was granted by the Crown some of his father's manors for his support, and, espousing the Protestant cause (though married to a daughter of Margaret, countess of Salisbury and sister of Cardinal Pole), was restored in blood on Edward VI. 's accession and declared Lord Stafford, as a new creation, by act of parliament. His second surviving son, Thomas, eventually assumed the royal arms, on the ground of his lofty descent, sailed from Dieppe with two ships in April 1557, landed at Scarborough, seized the castle, and proclaimed himself protector. He was captured and executed for high treason. His father's new barony, in 1637, passed to a cadet in humble circumstances, who was called on, as a pauper, to surrender it to the king, which he did (illegally, it is now held) in 1639. The king thereupon bestowed it on Mary Stafford (the heir general of the line) and her husband, William Howard, in whose descendants it is now vested. Roger, who had surrendered the title, died in 1640, the last heir male, apparently, of the main line of this historic house.
Of the junior lines the most important was that known as Stafford of Hooke (Co. Dorset), which had branched off from the parent stem at a very early date. Sir John Stafford of this line married his kinswoman, a daughter of the 1st earl of Stafford. From their younger son, Ralf, descended the Staffords of Grafton and other families; the elder, who fought in the French wars, was grandfather of John (Stafford), archbishop of Canterbury. This prelate came to the front under Henry VI., becoming treasurer (1422), bishop of Bath and Wells (1425), and lord chancellor (1432-1450). Archbishop from 1443 to his death in 1452, he steered an even course between parties as a moderate man and useful official. His elder brother obtained Hooke by marriage, and left two sons, of whom the younger was grandfather of Humphrey Stafford, who succeeded to Hooke, fought for Edward IV. at Towton, and was summoned as Lord Stafford of South wick in July 1461, and was advanced to the earldom of Devon on the 7th of May 1469, after the execution of the Courtenay earl, which he is said to have intrigued for. Failing to support the earl of Pembroke against the rebels a few months later, he was responsible for their victory, for which he Vas arrested and beheaded (Aug. 17). With him ended the Staffords of Hooke.
Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton (of their cadet line) was an active supporter of Richard III., and was executed for high treason by Henry VII. in 1485. From him descended Sir Edward Stafford (whose mother was a daughter of Henry, Lord Stafford), an Elizabethan diplomatist, who was appointed resident ambassador to France in 1583, a post which he held with success to 1590, sitting afterwards in parliament for Stafford, and dying in 1605. His brother William (1554-1612) was concerned in some obscure plots under Elizabeth.
Another offshoot from the main line was that of the Staffords of Clifton (Co. Stafford) , founded by Sir Richard, younger brother of the 1st earl of Stafford, who was closely associated with him in French warfare and negotiation, fought, like him, at Crecy, and acted as seneschal of Gascony (1361-1362). Clifton came to him in marriage with a Camville heiress, and he was summoned as a baron in 1371. His eldest surviving son, Edmund (1344- 1419), a churchman, became bishop of Exeter in 1395, and was lord chancellor from 1396 to 1399. He lost the office on Henry IV. 's accession, but held it again from 1401 to 1403. He then devoted himself to his diocese till his death in 1419. His patronage of learning is commemorated by Exeter College, Oxford. The male line of the Staffords of Clifton ended about 1445.
Of younger sons of the main line who attained peerage rank Sir Hugh Stafford, K.G., a son of the 2nd earl, was summoned as a baron from 1411 to 1413 (probably in right of his wife, a Bourchier heiress), but died childless in 1420. John, a son of the 1st duke of Buckingham, received the garter and an earldom of Wiltshire (1470), which became extinct with his son in 1499, but was revived in 1510 for Henry Stafford, K. G., a son of the 2nd duke, who, however, died childless in 1523.
The Staffords made illustrious marriages from the day of the 1st earl; a son of the 1st duke married the mother of Henry VII. The badge of the family was " the Stafford knot," at one time as famous as " the ragged staff " of the earls of Warwick.
See Dugdale, Baronage (1675), vol. i.; G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage; Wrottesley, History of the Family of Bagot (1908) and Crecy and Calais (1898). The important Stafford MSS. in Lord Bagot's possession are calendared in the 4th Report on Historical MSS., and the Salt Arch. Soc.'s collections for the history of Staffordshire are valuable for early records. Harcourt's His Grace the Steward and the Trial of Peers (1907) should also be consulted. The bishop of Exeter's Register was edited by Hingeston- Randolph in 1886. Papers relating to the two Baronies of Stafford (1807), and Campbell's The Stafford Peerage (1818) are useful for the pedigree, and there are collections fora history of the family in Add. MSS. (Brit. Mus.) 14,409; 19,150. (J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)