George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592 – 1628) was a statesman and royal favourite during the reign of King James I and the early years of the reign of Charles I. He was born into the minor Leicestershire gentry and into a family of Norman descent. (His loose family ties to the French arm of the Villiers family – and in particular to Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order of St John, become important in Tom’s memoir.)
Buckingham enjoyed a spectacular rise to power but, much as he was liked by the king, he was generally unpopular and presided over a series of foreign policy disasters. The marriage he arranged between Charles and the French Roman Catholic princess Henrietta Maria failed to bring about an Anglo-French alliance and angered the Protestant leaning English Parliament by raising the prospect of a Catholic succession.
In June 1627 Buckingham personally took command of an 8,000-man force sent to relieve the port of La Rochelle, a French Protestant (Huguenot) stronghold besieged by French government serving France’s Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Following an abortive four-month campaign under Buckingham’s inept leadership, the English forces withdrew. Parliament tried to force Charles to dismiss Buckingham, but the king remained loyal to his favourite. On 17 August 1628 Buckingham arrived in Portsmouth to organize another expedition to La Rochelle. Five days later he was stabbed to death by John Felton, a disgruntled military officer, as reported in Tom’s memoir. The potential French role in Buckingham’s assassination is explored in Alexandre Dumas’s classic: The Three Musketeers.