That there have been few historians who have described Sir Thomas Vaughan’s career in detail is a serious omission. Thomas Vaughan is best remembered as chamberlain to Edward V when he was Prince of Wales. He, along with Rivers and Grey, was arrested by Richard and Buckingham during the coup at Stony Stratford on April 30, 1483, and executed at Pontefract Castle on June 25, 1483.
It is common knowledge that William Hastings, Richard’s first victim, was a Yorkist loyalist with many years of service to Edward IV and to the Yorkist party; Hastings was with Edward at Mortimer’s Cross in February 1461. But are we as aware of Thomas Vaughan’s lengthy service to the House of York? As early as 1458, his name appeared on the Bill of Attainder that Henry VI’s government had drawn up against the Duke of York, his sons, and their supporters.
Before the Duke of York’s death on December 30, 1460, Thomas Vaughan had served as foreign ambassador for the Yorkist cause. After the Duke’s death, he continued this service to the Duke’s son Edward. Edward at this time was 18 years old and still Earl of March; in a short time, he would be Edward IV. At one point, having conducted Edward’s business, Thomas Vaughan was captured by the French while attempting to sail from Antwerp to Ireland. He and his comrades were held for ransom for many months. During those months, Queen Margaret of Anjou, the vengeful wife of Henry VI, negotiated with King Charles VII of France and twice requested that she be allowed to pay the ransom and given the Yorkist prisoners. Had that happened, he and his companions surely would have been executed for their service to the Duke of York and his family.
Once Edward became King, he obtained the release of Vaughan and the others from their French captivity, but Vaughan was hardly set free when Edward called upon him to approach the new King of France, Louis XI, who gave Vaughan a safe conduct through France and a suite of 30 people. In October 1462, Vaughan was one of three who went to the Duke of Burgundy to arrange a treaty. When the Burgundian ambassador visited England, Vaughan was his escort. Vaughan continued to be useful in France. To gain English good will, Louis XI gave Vaughan a large sum of money to distribute to some Englishmen who had been robbed by a group of Frenchmen, a tribute to the wily King’s trust in his integrity.
One of Thomas Vaughan’s more difficult diplomatic assignments was negotiating a treaty with Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy. He spent years working to achieve Edward’s goals in this regard, while Edward IV struggled with his cousin Warwick, who preferred a treaty with France. Even after Burgundy and England agreed to a truce, and the barriers to trade between the two lands were removed, Vaughan worked to negotiate a marriage between Edward IV’s sister Margaret and Charles. He was there in Flanders to welcome Margaret’s bridal party. When Charles made his brother-in-law Edward IV a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Sir Thomas was the one whom Charles charged to instruct Edward about the ordinances of the order. When Edward returned the favor to Charles, Sir Thomas was among those who went to Burgundy to see to Charles’ induction into the Order of the Garter.
Through 1469, Thomas Vaughan served the Yorkist cause as Edward’s diplomat, where he was “particularly skillful in difficult diplomatic undertakings.” In the Summer of 1471, however, Sir Thomas’ career with the Yorkist family took an entirely different course. On Friday, November 2, 1470, Edward IV’s long-awaited son was born in the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, while he and his followers were in exile in Flanders. In the Spring of 1471, however, Edward IV did what no other deposed monarch of England has ever been able to do: He won back his Crown and triumphed over his enemies. The Summer of 1471 was undoubtedly a happy one for Edward. On June 26, 1471, his infant son Edward, who was now almost 8 months old, was made Prince of Wales. On July 3, 1471, in Parliament, the temporal and spiritual lords took an oath recognizing baby Edward as the heir to “the Crowns and Realms of England and of France, and Lordship of Ireland.” Officers were then appointed to the baby Prince’s household. Thomas Millyng, the Abbot of Westminster, who was already the baby’s godfather, was made Chancellor to the Prince; Lord Dacre was made Steward; and Thomas Vaughan was made Chamberlain because it was only fitting that a Welshman with so faithful a record of service to the Yorkist cause should have this office.
Baby Edward was also made Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester. Then, Millyng, Dacre and Vaughan, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, George of Clarence, Richard of Gloucester, Anthony Woodville, William Hastings, John Alcock, and others were chosen to administer the Prince’s affairs until he reached his majority.
Edward IV must have thought quite highly of Thomas Vaughan, because, not only was he given the honor of being the Prince’s chamberlain, but he was one of the few people whom Edward exempted from his sumptuary laws.
One of Vaughan’s responsibilities was to hold the baby Prince during state occasions. Annette Joelson in England’s Princes of Wales remarks that “wherever King Edward went, Sir Thomas had to go, carrying the infant in his arms.” When Lord Gruethreys, the man who had hosted Edward during his exile in Flanders, visited England in September 1472, one of the honors paid to him was a welcome from the Baby Prince, now almost two years old, who was presented by his devoted chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan.
Even though Vaughan was kept busy with the Prince’s affairs, Edward IV still occasionally called upon him for diplomatic duties. In September 1471, Vaughan was appointed to greet the visiting French ambassador. When Edward IV encountered his final, and perhaps most personally devastating, blow in foreign policy in December 1482, Sir Thomas Vaughan was called upon to smooth the troubled waters created when King Louis XI of France betrayed his confidence with Edward IV, broke off the treaty between them, and negotiated with Edward’s Burgundian ally Maximillian of Hapsburg.
Nothing could be done to completely repair that rip in Edward IV’s foreign policy before his death on April 9, 1483. By that time, Sir Thomas Vaughan had returned home to Ludlow, where he was once again attending to the Prince. When young Edward was called upon to go to London for his crowning, Sir Thomas Vaughan went with him. The story of what occurred on April 30, 1483, at Northampton and Stony Stratford, is better known than Vaughan’s long years of service to the House of York. On June 25, 1483, Thomas Vaughan was beheaded at Pontefract Castle, along with Anthony Woodville, the Earl Rivers, and Sir Richard Grey, King Edward V’s half-brother. Legend has it that before he died, this old Welshman, being by that time in his late 50s or early 60’s, spoke his last piece, declaring that Richard of Gloucester was the person about whom a prophecy was made, saying that someone with the letter “G” in his name would be the ruin of Edward IV’s children. One source says that the bodies of all three men were then buried in a common grave, but Elizabeth Jenkins says in The Princes in the Tower, that Vaughan had a tomb in Westminster Abbey that has since vanished, and he who reported seeing it said that the epitaph written upon the tomb was “Aymer et Attender” — To Love and To Wait Upon.
* Sources: Scofield, Cora, The Life and Reign of King Edward the Fourth (1924), Joelson, Annette, England’s Princes of Wales (1966), Jenkins, Elizabeth, The Princes in the Tower (1975)