George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 1592-1628

Powerful courtier and royal favourite who was held responsible for many of  the grievances of  the early reign of King Charles the First

Portait of George Villiers, Duke of BuckinghamGeorge Villiers was a courtier who became a favourite of King James I. The King became infatuated with him and made him Viscount in 1616, Earl in 1617, Marquis in 1618 and Duke of Buckingham in 1623. Outmanoeuvring his rivals the Howards, Villiers was appointed Lord High Admiral in 1619. He manipulated the lovestruck King James to gain unprecedented control over royal patronage, rewarding himself and his family generously. He married his relations into the most important families in England. His own marriage was to Lady Catherine Manners, only daughter of the wealthy Earl of Rutland.

Buckingham accompanied Prince Charles (later Charles I) to Madrid in 1623 in an attempt to arrange a marriage between the Prince and the Infanta Maria, sister of Philip IV of Spain. It was during this journey that Buckingham transferred his main loyalty from King James to Prince Charles, and that Charles came to rely heavily on Buckingham's advice and support. The Spanish Match was extremely unpopular with English Protestants and ended in humiliation for Buckingham and Charles when negotiations broke down. They returned to England determined to wage war on Spain in retaliation, thus undoing all King James' efforts to maintain peace. Charles and Buckingham largely directed foreign policy during the last two years of James' reign.

Buckingham remained in favour when Charles I succeeded James to the throne of the Three Kingdoms in 1625. He made himself unpopular with Parliament by negotiating Charles' marriage to the Catholic princess Henrietta Maria of France and compounded his unpopularity by his monopoly of royal favour and patronage. Buckingham was held responsible for the failure of Count Mansfeld's expedition to recover the Palatinate and for the mismanaged attack on Cadiz in 1625. The Parliaments of 1625 and 1626 threatened Buckingham with impeachment, but King Charles dissolved them prematurely rather than allow his favourite to come to trial.

In 1627, Buckingham personally led an expedition to relieve the Huguenots of La Rochelle who were threatened by the forces of King Louis XIII of France. Through a combination of bad management and misfortune, the expedition failed disastrously. Although Buckingham had become intensely unpopular, King Charles continued to support him. In August 1628, Buckingham was at Portsmouth preparing another expedition to La Rochelle when he was attacked and stabbed to death by John Felton, a discontented army officer.

Villiers was succeeded as second duke of Buckingham by his eldest son, also called George Villiers, who served the Royalist cause during the civil wars.


S.R. Gardiner , George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham, DNB 1899