Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Extraordinary Death of the Duke of Buckingham, Part 2

For Part One check here.

It seems that Buckingham is untouchable. Clearly protected by the king, Buckingham heads off to Portsmouth to start organizing another sea-going venture. It is here though that events take a turn for the unexpected.

What he does not appreciate is the degree of anger amongst the navy’s sailors. One in particular, the 40 year old John Felton is particularly aggrieved. He is owed 80 pounds in back pay and is angry about having been passed over for promotion twice. Parliament issuing an Act of Grievances is the final spur for him to set in motion his own solution for dealing with Buckingham, murder. Before leaving home Felton writes and sews into his hatband two apologies for his planned murder. In them, he insists that he has acted as a patriot, a gentleman and a soldier. 

Felton finds Buckingham in Captain Mason's Greyhound Inn house on the morning of 23 August 1628. As Buckingham leaves the breakfast room, John Felton appears suddenly, leaps forward and manages to stab him in the breast. In a scarcely audible voice Buckingham mumbles "The villain hath killed me!" pulls the dagger out of the wound, lurches forward a few paces, collapses in the hall, with blood gushing from the wound and from his mouth and dies.

In the confusion that immediately follows the stabbing, Felton makes his way through the building and into the kitchen area. At the point of successfully escaping he thinks he will be celebrated as a hero so he returns to the scene of the murder and gives himself up.

News of his death provokes markedly different reactions. When Charles I hears it he retires to his room stricken with grief. However when Buckingham’s funeral is held at Westminster Abbey several soldiers have to form an armed guard to protect the coffin from the cheering crowds who are glad to hear of his demise.

As for John Felton the authorities feel unsure of his motives and want to know if he is part of a wider conspiracy. He is taken under armed guard from Portsmouth to the Tower of London, where he is repeatedly interrogated, possibly under torture, about his motives and accomplices. For three months the authorities attempt to uncover the conspiracy they are sure lie behind the Duke’s murder, but the Felton insists he acted alone. The King asks for torture to be used but is refused. By late November, the investigation is over and Felton is put on trial for Buckingham’s murder. He is soon convicted and sentenced to death. Two days later, at Tyburn on 28th October 1628 he is put before the gallows and perhaps because he seeks remission he confesses before a crowd of onlookers, and openly repents his crime. It makes no difference and he is hanged.

Afterwards his body is cut down, carried to Portsmouth and then strung up again to rot in chains. This is a mistake. Large numbers treat his body with respect as Portsmouth is a sailing community and many have suffered loss at the hands of Buckingham. This explains how a victim is seen as a villain and a murderer as a hero.