Lambert Simnel and Edward V

This post turned into a way longer piece than I meant, so please bear with it!

When I wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, I posited a theory, one of many alternatives offered. This particular idea has grown on me ever since, and I find myself unable to shake it off. I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel Affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us. I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower. Sounds crazy? Just bear with me.

PitT-006-Hardback-Dust-Jacket-Bookshelf

Why do we think we know that the Yorkist uprising of 1487 favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick? In reality, it is simply because that was the official story of the Tudor government. It made the attempt a joke; a rebellion in favour of a boy who was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower, who indeed was paraded at St Paul’s for the masses and (perhaps more importantly) the nobility to see. There is nothing that links it to Edward V because Henry VII could not afford there to be. Interestingly, there is virtually nothing contemporary that links it to Warwick either, at least not from outside government circles, and even within the corridors of power, there are intriguing hints that all was not as it appears.

There are two types of evidence worthy of consideration. The first is that written down which differs from the official version of events. The second important aspect of the affair is the identities and actions of those involved. Examination of the first body of works throws up some interesting discrepancies. The Heralds’ Memoir offers an account of Henry VII’s campaign and the Battle of Stoke Field which describes the boy taken after the battle, captured by Robert Bellingham, as being named John.

‘And there was taken the lade that his rebelles called King Edwarde (whoos name was in dede John) – by a vaylent and a gentil esquire of the kings howse called Robert Bellingham.’
Heralds’ Memoir, E. Cavell, Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 2009, p117

The role of heralds on the battlefield, although they worked for a master, was traditionally impartial, their purpose being to report on the fighting decide the victor (though it was usually obvious). This herald was an eyewitness to the king’s preparations and to the battle, and he reports that the boy delivered to Henry afterwards was named John. Was this a random boy who took the fall for the plot, perhaps willingly, if doing so came with a job in the royal kitchens? One other thing to note from the herald’s account, which is something that runs throughout the various descriptions of this episode, is the fact that the rebels called their leader King Edward, but no regnal number is ever given. This opens up the possibility that he was claimed to be King Edward V, not King Edward VI.

A regnal number seems to first appear in the York Books. The city received a letter that began ‘By the King’ but offered no regnal number. The letter, asking for assistance that was denied, was transcribed at some point into the city’s records beneath a note that it had been received from the imposter claiming to be King Edward VI (York Civic Records, Vol 6, A. Raine, pp20-1). The question is, was this written in after the official story had taken shape? The writer of the letter offers us no clue by refraining from using a regnal number to describe himself. Is it possible that all references to a regnal number were erased from the record because of the fallout it would cause Henry? Certainly, if he claimed to be Edward V, it would be a far more problematical incident for Henry, who was married to Edward’s sister Elizabeth, and whose rise to the throne had relied heavily on Yorkists who would abandon him for Edward V in a heartbeat. In the Leland-Hearne version of the Heralds’ Memoir, the transcriber felt the need to change this contemporary passage to assert that the boy’s name ‘was indede Lambert’. It is therefore easy to see how the official story was layered over contemporary variants to mask alternative versions.

One more interesting feature unique to the Lambert Simnel Affair is the coronation the boy underwent in Dublin. We are told that they used a;

‘crown they took off the head of our lady of Dam and clapt it on the boy’s head. The mayor of Dublin took the boy in his arms, carried him about the city in procession with great triumph. The clergy went before, the Earl of Kildare, then Governor, then Walter, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor; and the nobility, Council and citizens followed him as their King.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/ireland/1601-3/pp661-687

Clearly, the boy was widely accepted in Ireland, with only Waterford remaining staunchly loyal to Henry VII. Here too, we have no reference to a regnal number that might help clear up the matter of who the boy was claiming to be. The act of a coronation is unusual though. Perkin Warbeck, in all his years claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, never underwent such a ceremony. The critical factor here is that Edward V had already been proclaimed king, in 1483 after his father’s death, but had never been crowned. A coronation was the missing piece of his kingship. Was the ceremony in Dublin meant to fill this hole, or at least plug the gap? In 1216, the young Henry III had been crowned at Gloucester Cathedral because a coronation ceremony was seen as key to firming up his position as king. London was in the hands of the French and rebel barons and was therefore unavailable for the event. He had been forced to borrow a gold circlet from his mother to use as a crown, just as Lambert’s ceremony had used a similar decoration from a statue in a nearby church. The pope had later instructed that Henry should be re-crowned at Westminster by the Archbishop of Canterbury because it was more proper, so there was a precedent for this potential king to have a coronation in Dublin which could then be confirmed at Westminster if his invasion was successful. The very fact of a coronation makes much more sense if it was for Edward V, a proclaimed but uncrowned king than for Edward VI.

Lambert_simnel
Lambert Simnel, carried through Dublin after his coronation

The Heralds’ Memoir account of Robert Bellingham capturing a boy named John who would later become Lambert Simnel – or at least, the account states that this John was the boy the army followed and claimed to be their king – is neither the beginning nor the end of contemporary or near-contemporary confusion about the identity of the nominal leader of this rebellion. We know that Henry VII ordered the burning of all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487, and when Sir Edward Poynings arrived in Ireland shortly after the Lambert Simnel Affair, we cannot know what else was destroyed. Paperwork that might help work out whether the boy claimed to be Edward V or Edward VI is therefore hard to come by and, as with the York Books, when it was written becomes paramount. If it was after the official story took hold, it is bound to say Edward VI. How hard can it be to make ‘V’ become ‘VI’ anyway?

The Annals of Ulster is a chronicle compiled by a contemporary to these events, Cathal Mac Manus Maguire, the Archdeacon of Clogher. He mentions the Lambert Simnel Affair in two passages. The first described the circumstances around the Battle of Bosworth when he wrote that

‘The king of the Saxons, namely, king Richard, was slain in battle and 1500 were slain in that battle and the son of a Welshman, he by whom the battle was given, was made king. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but one young man, who came, on being exiled the year after, to Ireland.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, p299

This would tend to point to Edward, Earl of Warwick if it was believed that the Princes in the Tower were dead, though this is not something the Annals of Ulster does claim. To be fair though, it remains quiet on most Saxon matters that don’t directly impact Ireland. The next passage where this lone son of the House of York is mentioned is in the section covering 1487 and the attempt by Lambert Simnel on Henry VII’s throne.

‘A great fleet of Saxons came to Ireland this year to meet the son of the Duke of York, who was exiled at that time with the earl of Kildare, namely, Gerald, son of Earl Thomas. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but that son of the Duke and he was proclaimed king on the Sunday of the Holy Ghost in the town of Ath-cliath that time. And he went east with the fleet and many of the Irish went with him east, under the brother of the Earl of Kildare, namely, Thomas, son of the Earl and under Edward Plunket, that is, Edward junior.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, pp315-7

This passage is awkward. It still maintains that this scion of the House of York was the last. However, he is described as a son of the Duke of York. If this refers to Warwick, then it must mean a grandson of the Duke of York and is perhaps just a slip. If it does refer to him, it is interesting that the writer describes him being exiled with the Earl of Kildare, because the attainder of Warwick’s father in 1478 expressly charged George with trying to get his son out of the country either to Ireland or Burgundy. It does not state whether he failed or succeeded.

It may also merit consideration that the last Duke of York (assuming this was not a grown son of the (by now, if alive) 13-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, was Edward IV. Why would the writer not refer to Edward IV? As mentioned, the Annals relate little of English affairs, and perhaps it was uncertain whether, under Henry VII, it was acceptable to refer to Yorkist kings. That argument struggles to hold water, though, since the writer has earlier referred to King Richard when discussing the Battle of Bosworth. If the writer uses ‘son of the Duke of York’ to mean a grandson of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, then it might refer to Warwick, Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury (if the latter two were still alive). If he means a son of the last Duke of York, then he means a son of Edward IV. The reference to the last of the line is strongly suggestive that he means Warwick since he was known (in England at least) to be alive, but that would raise a query about Irish support for Perkin Warbeck. If they believed he was another son of the House of York, then they did not know that all but Warwick were dead. It is possible they meant Edward V, as the last hope of the House of York, unaware of the fates of Richard of Shrewsbury and Edward, Earl of Warwick. One thing that can be taken from these passages in that the writer seems convinced that the boy was who he claimed to be. There is no mention of imposture, of Lambert Simnel or of a boy from Oxford.

In January 1488, the Pope would write to the Irish prelates involved in the coronation to censure them for supporting Lambert. They had;

‘adhered to and aided and abetted the enemies and rebels of the said king, and even de facto set up and crowned as king, falsely alleging him to be a son of the late duke of Clarence, a boy of illegitimate birth, whom the said king already had in his hands, thereby committing treason and incurring the said sentences.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-papal-registers/brit-ie/vol14/pp305-309

This was clearly after the official story had taken shape. Henry had told on the archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the bishops of Meath and Kildare in order to have them censured. There are several very interesting slips in this story. In 1526, amongst the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII is a note on Ireland that deviates from the official version of events. The author is not mentioned, unfortunately, but the briefing is a summary of the state of affairs in Ireland over recent decades. The passage relating to the Lambert Simnel Affair tells the king that;

‘Now that the King inherits the titles both of York and Lancaster, he will be better able to look after Ireland. There has been a similar dispute for the rule of Ireland between the Geraldines and the Butlers. The earls of Kildare and Desmond come of one stock, and have always held with the house of York, as was seen in the days of the King’s father, “when an organ-maker’s son (Lambert Simnel), named one of king Edward’s sons, came into Ireland, was by the Geraldines received and crowned king in the city of Dublin, and with him the earl of Kildare’s father sent his brother Thomas with much of his people, who with the earl of Lincoln, Martin Swart and others, gave a field unto the King’s father, where the earl of Kildare’s brother was slain.”’
‘Henry VIII: August 1526, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 1066-1081. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp1066-1081 [accessed 24 July 2018]

The interesting fact here is that Lambert Simnel, while naturally portrayed as a fraud, is described as ‘one of king Edward’s sons’. Given that he was crowned, we are consistently told, King Edward, if he was a son of Edward IV, that makes him Edward V. The passage is in quotation marks, but if it refers to another source, that is not given. It is striking that what appears to be a private briefing for Henry VIII on Irish affairs is allowed to refer to Lambert Simnel as a son of Edward IV, not the son of George, Duke of Clarence as the official story under Henry VII insisted. At least in public. Was something else well known in private?

There is another source, far more contemporary, that throws serious doubt on the story Henry VII wanted and needed everyone to believe. It is all the more interesting because it comes from within Tudor circles. Bernard André was a blind friar-poet who acted as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and may have gone on to teach the future Henry VIII too. He wrote a life of Henry VII which is generally full of praise for his master, but when it comes to the Lambert Simnel Affair, he appears to utterly ignore the official story.

‘While the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people, behold another new scheme that seditious men contrived. To cloak their fiction in a lie, they publicly proclaimed with wicked intent that a certain boy born the son of a miller or cobbler was the son of Edward the Fourth. This audacious claim so overcame them that they dreaded neither God nor man as they plotted their evil design against the king. Then, after they had hatched the fraud among themselves, word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland. When a rumour of this kind had been reported to the king, he shrewdly questioned those messengers about every detail. Specifically, he carefully investigated how the boy was brought there and by whom, where he was educated, where he had lived for such a long time, who his friends were, and many other things of this sort.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, pp44-5

André has already, by this point, assured his readers that Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower. He sticks to the assertion that Lambert was an imposter, but he clearly states that he was claimed to be ‘the son of Edward the Fourth’. He goes to explain that ‘the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’, so something does not add up in his account. He seems to be claiming that Lambert Simnel was set up as Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV, yet all other accounts have the boy claiming to be named Edward. Does Andre have the first and second sons mixed up, or is there another scenario emerging in which Lambert was claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury? This alternative scenario was in circulation as late as 1797, when W. Bristow said that the Irish supported ‘Lambert Simnel (the counterfeit duke of York)’ (The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2, W. Bristow from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol2/pp184-203). Perhaps this is some confusion with Perkin Warbeck, but what we can take from André’s statement here is that he understood the lad in Ireland was being touted as a son of Edward IV, not of the Duke of Clarence.

The friar does not stop there, though. He continues his account be explaining that;

‘Various messengers were sent for a variety of reasons. At last [blank space] was sent across, who claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be. But the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he very readily answered all the herald’s questions. To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, p45

André here asserts that several messengers were sent to Ireland to find out what was going on. Finally, a herald volunteered to go on the basis that he had known Edward IV and his sons and would recognise the boy if he was who he claimed to be. Already, feeling the need to take such a step confirms that Henry VII cannot have known with any certainty that the sons of Edward IV were dead. Even more astoundingly, the herald returned to inform Henry that the boys had answered every question posed of him, and he did not say he did not recognise the boy, or that his looks made it impossible for him to be a son of Edward IV. In fact, he confirms that ‘he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by man prudent men’.

Frustratingly, André leaves a blank space in his manuscript where the name of the herald was surely meant to appear. It has been suggested that this herald might have been Roger Machado, a man of Portuguese extraction who had served Edward IV and Richard III before going on to work as a herald and ambassador, with no small amount of success, for Henry VII. If it were Machado who made the trip, he would have been well placed to examine the boy’s looks and interrogate his knowledge of Edward IV’s times, his family and the like. Perhaps the most interesting fact about Machado about this episode is that he is known to have kept a house in Southampton. On Simnel Street. So, if we are wondering where that name Lambert Simnel came from, we perhaps have a possible explanation.

Several sources seem to very clearly oppose the official story that the uprising of 1487 was in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick and instead insist that it was in the name of one of Edward IV’s sons. Given that it is generally accepted that the lad was crowned King Edward, that would make him Edward V, though it remains possible he was in fact crowned Richard IV and was claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower. Clearly this was a severe issue for Henry VII, and I suspect that the name Edward gave them a splendid get-out-of-jail-free card because it allowed them to undermine the attempt by portraying it as a farcical plot in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was a prisoner in the Tower.

Edward Earl of Warwick
Edward, Earl of Warwick

The other key thing to consider in the events of 1487 are the actions of some of those who might have had a vested interest. In the absence of evidence, which Henry VII would have an interest in suppressing or destroying (we know he destroyed Titulus Regius and the records of the 1487 Irish Parliament – what we don’t know is what else he had destroyed), the actions of these people should be instructive and offer an indication of what they knew, or at least believed. The first of these is Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower. At a council meeting, probably held at Sheen Palace around 3 March 1487, the plot developing in Ireland was on the agenda. Another of the outcomes of this meeting was the removal of all Elizabeth Woodville’s properties, which were granted to her daughter, Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth Woodville was given a small pension and retired to Bermondsey Abbey. It has long been asserted that this was voluntary and had been planned by the former queen, but there is no real evidence to support that idea, and the timing is indeed suspicious. Many subsequent writers have believed that Elizabeth was being dealt with because she was suspected of involvement in the Lambert Simnel Affair (notably argued against by Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, Yale University Press, 1999, p76 n3).

If this was true, the question that must be asked is what Elizabeth Woodville stood to gain from backing an attempt to place Edward, Earl of Warwick on the throne. Nothing. Nothing at all. Her daughter was already queen consort and replacing Henry with her deceased husband’s nephew would hardly improve her position. In fact, it has long been claimed (by Mancini amongst others) that Elizabeth Woodville was at least viewed as implicated in George, Duke of Clarence’s fall and execution. She could hardly have hoped to profit by placing his son on the throne when he may well seek revenge upon her. There is only one circumstance in which Elizabeth Woodville’s position would be improved from having a daughter on the throne as queen consort, and that is having a son on the throne as king. Her involvement in a plot in favour of Warwick makes no sense whatsoever. Her suspected support for a scheme in favour of one of her sons with Edward IV makes perfect sense.

The involvement of the Woodville faction, or at least the suspicion of it, is further evinced by the arrest of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at the same time as his mother was deprived of her property. Thomas was reportedly placed in the Tower, and when he protested that he had done nothing wrong, he was told that if he were really loyal to Henry VII, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in prison. The anecdotal story is a window into some strange Tudor logic, but also the fear that the broader Woodville faction was involved in the plot. The one thing that doesn’t add up is that Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth’s brother, was part of Henry’s army at Stoke Field. He seems to have escaped suspicion, perhaps not believing the story or maybe even ensuring he got there to see the boy for himself.

Another whose actions are hard to comprehend if the plot was in favour of Warwick is John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John was in his mid-twenties by 1487 and was the oldest nephew of Edward IV and Richard III. His mother was their sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. Although his descent was therefore in a female line, the entire claim of the House of York was based on the Mortimer descent in the female line so this cannot have been a bar to his chances of succession. After the death of Richard III’s only legitimate son, Edward of Middleham, it is likely that John would have been considered Richard’s heir presumptive since Warwick was still legally barred from the succession by his father’s attainder. If the Princes in the Tower were dead, and Warwick a prisoner barred from succession, then in 1487, the House of York had a ready-made, adult claimant. John’s younger brothers would go on to claim the throne, interestingly, only after Lambert Simnel had failed and Perkin Warbeck had been executed. The only two people with a better claim to the throne for the House of York in 1487 than John de la Pole were Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury. They had been re-legitimised by Henry VII so that he could marry their sister, thus handing a dangerously popular and legal claim to those two boys in the process. It has long been suggested that Henry’s willingness to do this demonstrates his understanding that the boys were dead, but it is clear, not least from the Perkin Warbeck Affair, that no one knew this for certain. It is more likely that mounting pressure from Henry’s Yorkist support base, which had won him the throne and was keeping him in government, had to be appeased by the completion of his promised marriage, whatever the fallout might be. Failure to complete it would almost certainly have sparked a rebellion.

John clearly overlooked his own perfectly good and perfectly legal claim in 1487. There was no question that he really was John de la Pole, yet he chose, we are told, to follow a fake boy from Oxford who claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, a boy who was legally barred from the succession. What could possibly have led John (and indeed others – Francis Lovell and Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy most significantly) to make that decision? Even if they had succeeded in their invasion and reached the real Warwick in the Tower (if that was the real Warwick – confused yet??), the boy had no natural support or power base to build a kingship on. John actually posed an altogether better option than Warwick. Something made him overlook his own claim, and the only better claim lay with Edward V or Richard, Duke of York.

I have become increasingly convinced that the Lambert Simnel Affair as history has recorded it is a lie. The claim that Edward, Earl of Warwick was claimed to be the figurehead by the rebels cannot be evidenced, and even Tudor sources point to a claim that he was one or other of the Princes in the Tower. I suspect that the invasion was in favour of, and was perhaps led by, Edward V, who would have been 16 years old by early 1487. The use of the name Edward was seized upon by the fledgeling Tudor government to make a mockery of the plot by claiming that it favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick, a boy who was barred from the succession, had no personal support and was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower of London. It was a clever sleight of hand that has stuck well. I suspect that the coronation in Dublin was seen as a missing piece of the jigsaw of Edward V’s kingship. Much like Henry III’s, it was a temporary stopgap to give credence to his planned invasion and could be confirmed later at Westminster Abbey. Messengers sent to Ireland, according to André, reported back that the lad was a son of Edward IV, and that fact makes sense of the suspected involvement of Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey. It also accounts for John de la Pole setting aside his own claim and backing this plan.

The herald’s report from the Battle of Stoke Field that a boy named John was captured might well be accurate. Why would a herald lie and undermine his office to oppose the official version of events? Even if this is accepted, it leaves several questions unanswered (and unanswerable). Was the ‘John’ taken at the battle really the figurehead of this invasion or a boy amongst the army or its train who made a convenient ‘Lambert’ for Henry? If he was really Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury, was he the same person then placed in the royal kitchens? That would seem unlikely, but he could have been switched with another boy, glad of the security of a job in royal service. Edward or Richard might then have been found a new, secret identity, or killed. The figurehead of the invasion might have been killed amidst the slaughter of Stoke Field, an outcome that would have worked for Henry if he was one of the Princes, and he had a boy to pass off as Lambert. Alternatively, this figurehead may have escaped. Adrien de But claims he was whisked to Calais and onto the continent to safety by Edmund de la Pole, younger brother of John. Did he slip into obscurity, or re-emerge a few years later as Perkin Warbeck?

The Book of Howth, a record of one of the Irish families prominent at the time (though the surviving manuscript copy belonged to the contemporary Lord’s grandson, so precisely when it was compiled is not clear) and it too offers an interesting insight into the aftermath of Stoke Field. In 1489, Henry VII hosted the Irish nobility at a feast in London designed to reassert his authority and improve relations with Ireland. It is here that the Book of Howth credits Henry with the famous quip that ‘My Masters of Ireland, you will crown apes at length’ as a jab at their willingness to use an imposter against him. The passage also refers to an incident during the feast, meant by Henry as a joke, but which may have backfired.

‘This same day at dinner, whereas these Lords of Ireland was at Court, a gentleman came where as they was at dinner, and told them that their new King Lambarte Symenell brought them wine to drink, and drank to them all. None would have taken the cup out of his hands, but bade the great Devil of Hell him take before that ever they saw him.’
reproduced in The Dublin King, J. Ashdown-Hill, The History Press, 2015, p156

The implication that can be drawn from the passage is that the Irish lords had to be told that the person serving their wine to them was the boy whose coronation most of them had attended two years earlier. No one had recognised the lad, presumably the one taken prisoner at Stoke Field – perhaps Robert Bellingham’s John – as the boy crowned in Ireland. Did they feign not to recognise him? Did the servant drift around the room utterly unnoticed? Or did Henry’s prank backfire when it became apparent that this was not the boy they had lauded as their king? Perhaps Henry knew he was not, but wanted to force the Irish lords to acknowledge that their plot had failed and was over.

After writing a book about the Princes in the Tower, the most commonly asked question has been what I think happened to them both. I have always tended to believe Perkin Warbeck could really have been Richard of Shrewsbury, and nothing in researching the book has altered that belief, though obviously it cannot yet be proven either way definitively. The Lambert Simnel Affair has tended to slip by as a joke, and I wonder whether that wasn’t the very design of the Tudor government. If pressed, I would suggest now that the Lambert Simnel Affair was an uprising in favour of one of the Princes in the Tower, most likely a 16-year-old Edward V. I accept that it remains beyond proof, but I think it is a worthy addition to discussions of what might have happened.

Edward V St Lawrence
King Edward V

 

 

 

The Fate of the House of York

Pinpointing the beginning and end of the Wars of the Roses has always been problematical. One thing is certain. On 22nd August 1485, the House of York lost its grip on power, but it was far from destroyed, and the infant Tudor regime was not as secure as it was to lead the world to believe. York persisted; and Henry VII was to find himself haunted and in need of a new kind of solution.

As early as Easter 1486 a Yorkist uprising threatened Henry’s fragile grip on power. Francis, Viscount Lovell, erstwhile friend of King Richard III, and the Stafford Brothers, Sir Humphrey and Thomas, tried to kindle revolt. Lovell attempted to raise the north as Henry approached on his progress and the Staffords cultivated support from their power base in the south of the Midlands.

The Stafford brothers managed to enter, seize and hold Worcester, but the north stuttered in the king’s presence and Lovell was forced to flee. As Henry stormed southward, the Staffords fled Worcester to sanctuary in Culham, from which Henry had them dragged forcibly by Sir John Savage. This incident led to Henry procuring the Pope’s approval for the removal of the right of sanctuary in treason cases. Sir Humphrey was hanged, Thomas was bound to good behaviour and Lovell fled to the court of Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III who was to become a magnet for Yorkist hopes.

What had been missing from this early attempted revolt was a figurehead. The rebellion was nominally in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, the young son of George, Duke of Clarence, nephew of Edward IV and Richard III. Warwick, though, was under Henry’s control in the Tower of London and this lack of a figurehead was to prove a death blow to the revolt.

The following year, an attempt was made to correct this flaw. Lord Lovell landed at Furness with a large force of professional Swiss mercenaries, paid for by Margaret of Burgundy, an army of Irish kerns supplied by the Earl of Kildare, reflecting lingering Yorkist affection in the Pale of Ireland that was to buck Tudor rule for many years, and two Yorkist figureheads.

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln was the eldest nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, son of their sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. John was approaching his mid twenties and had been working in the Council of the North under his uncle Richard. He may have been named Richard’s heir following the death of the Prince of Wales and was the senior male Yorkist in terms of age.

A portrait, believed to be of Richard de la Pole
A portrait, believed to be of Richard de la Pole
The second figure was Edward, Earl of Warwick. The twelve year old senior male-line Yorkist heir who was safely tucked up in the Tower of London. This boy had been crowned King Edward VI in a lavish ceremony in Dublin before the invading army left Ireland. This rebellion not only had a figurehead, but noble support and even a spare.

The invaders were met on their landing by a handful of loyal Yorkist gentry and they headed for safe ground, marching toward York to recruit more support, but the sight of the bare chested, bare legged Irish kerns disconcerted the authorities of York, who closed their gates to the rebels. Turning south, the large army was forced to seek a confrontation with Henry without further help.

The king, no doubt slightly bemused by the appearance of the boy he thought he had locked up safely, paraded Edward, Earl of Warwick through London before mustering an army to meet the rebels at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16th June 1487. Henry’s army was around 12,000 strong and led by the Earl of Oxford, who had led Henry’s own invading army at Bosworth. Lincoln had around 8,000 men. King Henry remained at the rear of the battle with his uncle Jasper keeping an escape route open for him. He was not to need it.

The battle was close for some time, with some of Oxford’s men fleeing the field, until the tide turned. Around half the Yorkist army was slain, with the Irish warriors taking the brunt of the losses, though the Swiss mercenary leader Colonel Martin Schwartz was amongst the casualties and appears on the memorial that marks the location of the battle. Lincoln was also killed during the fighting. Lord Lovell was injured and last spied crossing the Trent as he fled. He was never seen nor heard of again and vanishes from the historical record. In spite of a wealth of speculation, a safe passage through Scotland, which may or may not have been collected, and a mysterious story of a skeleton bricked up at the Lovell manor of Minster Lovell, his fate is unknown.

Monument at the site of the Battle of Stoke Field
Monument at the site of the Battle of Stoke Field
The boy was captured and Henry ‘discovered’ that he was, in fact, an Oxfordshire boy named Lambert Simnell. Holding him up as an innocent pawn of the bitter Yorkists, Henry pardoned the boy, famously putting him to work in the royal kitchens as a spit boy. Lambert was last heard of as a royal falconer to Henry VIII in the mid 1520’s. His true identity remains a matter of doubt and discussion to this day. Dr John Ashdown-Hill’s next book may prove very interesting as he examines Lambert’s story more closely.

Small plots were continually uncovered by Henry VII’s busy network of spies. Men like Abbot Sant, Edward Franke and Thomas Rothwell are forgotten, but kept the fires of Yorkist hope alive, and kept Henry VII dancing on hot coals. The Yorkist threat seemed at least quietened, if not yet quite destroyed. John de la Pole had four remaining brothers, though one was in holy orders and was never to impact upon the political scene. John’s younger brother inherited the Dukedom of Suffolk on their father’s death in 1491, though in 1493 Henry VII downgraded the title to that of an Earl; something of a slap in the face to a family no longer posing a present threat but perhaps a hint that all was not as rosy as the Tudor iconography would like us to believe.

The mid-1490’s saw the next serious threat to Henry from a Yorkist cause that refused to die. A new Pretender emerged on the Continent, perhaps under the tutelage of Margaret of Burgundy. Known to history as Perkin Warbeck, he presented himself to the courts of Europe as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, younger son of Edward IV and one of the infamous Princes in the Tower. Much has been written elsewhere about Warbeck and I shall not delve too deeply into that part of the story here.

Suffice it to say that Perkin gained a great deal of support, which perhaps had less to do with his true identity than with European leaders’ desire to destabilise the English king. By now, most of them owed Henry huge sums of money so had a financial interest in seeing him squirm a little. It is in the face of this threat that Henry VII took a radical step, the context of which is often overlooked.

Now, aged three and a half, Henry’s second son and namesake was propelled from the obscurity of his mother’s household onto the fraught playing field of politics. On All Saints Day 1494, as Warbeck proved an increasing nuisance and men of Cornwall marched on London, Henry was elaborately, conspicuously and pointedly created Duke of York at Westminster, being made a Knight of the Bath at the same time. This was a clear antidote to Warbeck’s assertion to entitlement to the support of the House of York. In an ancient echo of Tony Blair’s tactics twenty years ago, to prove that there is nothing new under the sun, Henry set about sculpting a New House of York to eclipse the memory of the Old. I’ve tried to arrive at a clever parallel between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the Tudor father and son, but kept hearing the Steptoe and Son theme tune in my head instead, so I gave up on that idea.

It also served to remind those clinging to hope that the cause of the Princes, Edward V and the old Duke of York, was dead, politically certainly, though it carried with it the connotation of physical demise too. Furthermore, it marked York, as it still does today, as very clearly second string, a subservient house.

Henry even looked like his grandfather. He was his mother’s son, the embodiment of the House of York. The old look with a new feel. Perhaps this physical similarity was the father of the idea.

If we look at those who surrounded Henry as Duke of York it is clear what his father was trying to do. If we leap ahead to look at those who joined Henry in the lists of a tournament shortly after his coronation, as mentioned in a previous blog, as a young king, it was an advertisement and affirmation of his Yorkist credentials. The effect is clear to see. Charles Brandon, one of Henry’s closest friends, later his brother-in-law and Duke of Suffolk, was the son of Sir William Brandon, who had died at Bosworth whilst carrying Henry Tudor’s standard. Sir William had been Edward IV’s Master of the Horse. He had abandoned the House of York under Richard III, under something of a criminal cloud according to the Paston Letters, but his Yorkist credentials were impeccable. The Howard family were mainstays of Henry’s rule but were old Yorkists. John Howard had died at Bosworth fighting for Richard III. His son, Thomas, who was to become second Duke, had fought at Bosworth for Richard but survived. Now, he was suddenly of use and was placed with the young Duke of York. Henry Bourchier, 2nd Earl of Essex was descended from Edward III but was also a nephew of Elizabeth Woodville. William Courtenay, Earl of Devon was married to Catherine of York, sixth daughter of Edward IV, and Arthur Plantagenet was an illegitimate son of Edward IV who was to become very close to his nephew, Henry VIII.

This was Henry VII’s clear step onto the front foot in response to the emergence of a serious threat from the House of York. He simply created a new one. Anyone deemed safe enough was placed around the new Duke to add an air of credibility to the new establishment. A side effect of this was that later betrayals by the House of York were to be viewed by Henry VIII as personal attacks and betrayals, which perhaps exaggerated and magnified his response to those threats.

Warbeck turned out to be a prolonged threat. He wasn’t captured until 1497, when he ‘confessed’ to being an imposter. In 1499, Warbeck was almost certainly used by Henry VII to entrap Edward, Earl of Warwick, now 24. The two were caught plotting to escape the Tower and executed. Warwick was the last of the legitimate male line of York and his removal was a requirement of Catherine of Aragon’s marriage to Arthur, something she was later to believe had cursed her. Judicial murder struck off two thorns with one axe.

Henry VII, having secured the marriage of his heir Arthur to Catherine, now resurrected another Yorkist tradition. It is striking the extent to which he reached back in his attempts to move forward. Just as Edward IV had sent his son to Ludlow to preside over a court of his own as Prince of Wales, so Arthur was despatched to demonstrate the new regime’s solid link to the past. The Tudors were new, but rooted in an old stability. Tony Blair was turning 500 year old tricks in the 1990’s.

Still, though, the petals of the Tudor rose were not without pests. Just before Arthur and Catherine’s wedding, Edmund and Richard de la Pole, younger brothers of John, fled to the court of Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor. Earlier, Sir Robert Curzon had told Maximilian that England was fed up with Henry’s “murders and tyrannies”, proposing Edmund as a rival claimant. Maximilian responded that he would do all that he could to see “one of Edward’s blood” returned to the throne. Doubtless this encouragement reached Edmund and Richard and directed their flight.

The brother they left behind, Sir William de la Pole, was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London in spite of his failure to join his brothers. For allowing Edmund to pass through Calais, Sir James Tyrell was ordered to submit to arrest. Calais was besieged when he refused until a promise of safe passage to an audience with the king caused him and his son to emerge, only for that assurance to evaporate as they were roughly taken into custody. Tyrell was tortured in the Tower for news on Edmund, though there is no record that he was ever even asked about the fate of the Princes in the Tower, nor that he confessed to arranging their murder.

Edmund began to call himself The White Rose, Duke of Suffolk and openly proclaimed his right to the throne. He found support from King John of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Chronicle of the Grey Friars records that on 22nd February 1502 “was Sir Edmund de la Pole pronounced accursed at St Paul’s Cross, at the sermon before noon”.

Things got worse for the new dynasty. On 2nd April 1502 Prince Arthur died. It is possible that the panic this fostered drove the trials on 2nd May 1502 of Sir James Tyrell, Sir John Wyndham and others. Tyrell and Wyndham were beheaded on Tower Hill, with several others hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn for their support of the de la Poles. It is also feasible that this same panic caused Henry to suggest to an ambassador that he was considering claiming Tyrell had confessed to the murder of the Princes. The ambassador apparently advised strongly against it and the matter was taken no further, but it is telling that at a time of crisis for the House of Tudor, it was the House of York that was perceived as the very real threat. The Princes again became an issue. Henry again avoided publically stating that they were dead. This remains odd to me, but is another story altogether.

In 1504, the threat Henry felt from The White Rose was again in evidence. He signed a trade treaty with the Hanseatic League so detrimental to English merchants that the only reason he could possibly have agreed was the provision that they offer no support or refuge to Edmund de la Pole. Edmund, though, was finding Maximilian’s means did not match his promises and support and money were beginning to dry up.

Also in 1504, John Flamank reported to the king a discussion that had taken place in Calais amongst several of the leading figures of the town. They reportedly spoke of what would happen after Henry’s death, Flamank reporting that they said “the king’s grace is but a weak man and sickly, not likely to be long lived … Some of them spoke of my lord of Buckingham, saying that he was a noble man and would be a royal ruler. Others there were that spoke, he said, likewise of your traitor, Edmund de la Pole, but none of them, he said, spoke of my lord prince.” The “my lord prince” in question was Henry VIII, and his father was surely disturbed that he was overlooked at a discussion of the succession. It did not bode well for Tudor security.

Matters took a turn in Henry’s favour in January 1506 by sheer luck. Maximilian’s son, Archduke Philip, ruler of Burgundy, heir to the Hapsburg empire and the Holy Roman Emperor title was shipwrecked on England’s south coast by a storm en route to see his wife, the heiress to the Spanish throne. This was a prize catch for which Henry had an important use in mind. Virgil wrote that Henry was “scarcely able to believe his luck when he realized that divine providence had given him the means of getting his hands on Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who had been the leader of the conspiracy against him a few years previously”.

Philip was forced to sign a treaty resolving the current trade disputes in England’s favour, but was also required to give up Edmund de la Pole, and Henry made it clear that Philip would not leave England until Edmund was in the king’s custody. Edmund was collected from Mechlen and delivered to Calais, apparently on the promise that he would not be harmed, but that he would be fully pardoned and restored to his lands. Edmund, though, was bundled off to the Tower.

Henry VII died on 21st April 1509. For Henry VIII’s coronation, John Skelton wrote “The Rose both White and Red \ In one Rose now doth grow”. Edward Hall called the new king the “flower and very heir of both said lineages”. But the White Rose had not yet been properly reconciled. On 30th April 1509, to celebrate his coronation, Henry issued a general pardon that had been provided for in his father’s will, which excluded just 80 people. Top of the list was Edmund de la Pole, followed by his brothers Richard, who was still at large on the continent, and William, still languishing in the Tower.

In 1513, as Henry prepared to invade France, Louis XII offered Richard de la Pole support. Fearing the resurgence of the White Rose threat, Henry took advantage of Edmund’s outstanding attainder to have him quietly executed on Tower Green on 4th May 1513, just before leaving for France and in spite of his father’s promise the Edmund would not be harmed.

Henry VIII identified himself strongly with Henry V, in tapestry, in art and in his continental ambition. Almost a hundred years after the Agincourt campaign, Henry was trying to emulate the great warrior king. As Henry V prepared to leave in 1415, he was faced with a threat of rebellion known as The Southampton Plot. Richard of Conisburgh, Earl of Cambridge, the grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III, was a ringleader and was executed just before Henry V set sail. Perhaps Henry VIII sought to replicate the Agincourt campaign no precisely that he believed he required a Yorkist sacrifice to ensure success. Or maybe it simply marks the level of the threat of the White Rose that persisted.

But Henry VIII had left a lose end that Henry V had not. A White Rose in exile.

Richard de la Pole now styled himself The White Rose and Duke of Suffolk. Louis recognised him as King of England. In his mid-30’s, Richard was a natural soldier and was proving his military worth to Louis in Italy in an attempt to win further aid. In 1514, Louis provided Richard with vast sums of money and a huge army. John, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland agreed to take Richard to Scotland to launch his invasion. All was set. Just as Richard was about to sail, Louis signed a peace treaty with Henry and the attack was called off.

When Louis died in 1515, Richard’s close friend the Dauphin became Francis I. Henry seems to be have been genuinely concerned. He set Thomas Wolsey to oversee Sir Edward Poynings and the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Worcester, tasking them with arranging the assassination of Richard de la Pole. That men of such standing were appointed to this task is a mark of the threat that Henry perceived.

Percheval de Matte, Captain Symonde Francoyse and Robert Latimer are all recorded as being hired to complete the task. All failed, and for a decade Richard evaded Henry’s agents, moving frequently and attracting Yorkist stragglers to his court in exile.

On 25 February 1525, Richard commanded the right wing of Francis’s French army at the Battle of Pavia in Italy. The French army was crushed by that of the Holy Roman Emperor. Francis was captured and Richard was killed. When news reached Henry, bonfires blazed throughout London and a Te Deum was celebrated at St Paul’s. It’s hard to know whether Henry was more excited that Francis was a prisoner and his kingdom exposed or that Richard de la Pole, The White Rose, was dead.

The final chapter of the de la Pole threat closed in 1538. Sir William de la Pole died, still a prisoner in the Tower. His 37 year incarceration remains the longest stay in the Tower’s history.

Another branch of the still broad Yorkist family proved to be the most persistent thorn in the Tudor side. Edward, Earl of Warwick had a sister, Margaret. Shortly after Henry VII came to power she was married to a cousin of the new king, Sir Richard Pole, to neutralise her as a focus for disaffection. Sir Richard died before Henry VII did, but Henry VIII, perhaps encouraged by a guilty Catherine of Aragorn, restored Margaret to power shortly after his coronation. She was created Countess of Salisbury, one of her parents’ titles, in her own right, became a lady in waiting to Catherine and an outspoken supporter of Princess Mary. Margaret had four sons, who were men by the time Richard de la Pole was killed at Pavia in 1525. One of her daughters, Ursula, was married to the son of the Duke of Buckingham, whose fall in 1521 had cast a shadow of suspicion over the Poles.

Reginald Pole was Margaret’s second son, born in 1500 at Stourton Castle near Stourbridge. From an early age he was drawn to the church and Henry VIII contributed toward the cost of the young man’s education, perhaps happy to see some White Rose blood soak away into the clergy. When Reginald was 21, Henry encouraged and subsidised his six year period of study at Padua in Italy, where he met and befriended Erasmus. After his return to England in 1527, appointments and patronage denoted great royal favour.

After the death of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, Reginald was offered the Archbishopric of York, but refused it. In a private audience with Henry, he argued eloquently and firmly against the divorce from Catherine of Aragon, causing Henry to storm out, slamming the door behind him. In 1532, Reginald left England, a decision that perhaps saved him from the fate of More and other critics of the King’s Great Matter. In 1535, he was again in Padua, where he received a letter from Henry asking for his opinion on the divorce again, clearly hoping that Reginald’s growing influence in Rome could serve the English king. There is a fascinating series of exchanges recorded in the state papers, with Henry eagerly nudging Reginald for his response and Pole asking Henry to bear with him just a little longer. It is uncertain whether Reginald had not yet finished writing, wrestling with his conscience or plucking up courage.

It took Reginald a year to reply. That was because he sent back not a letter, but a book. Known as De Unitate – A Defence of the Church’s Unity, it was written for Henry’s eyes only and was very definitely not what he had been hoping for. De Unitate tore apart Henry’s argument for the divorce, but then continued on to condemn a quarter of a century of poor rule and wasteful policies. Lord Montague, Reginald’s oldest brother, wrote to him slamming the danger he had placed the rest of the family in and Margaret wrote to her son of “a terrible message” that Henry had sent her.

In 1537 Reginald was created a Cardinal so that he could visit England as a Papal Legate. Significantly, he was never ordained as a priest because Papist plots began to revolve around marrying Reginald to Princess Mary to unite the White Rose and the Tudor Rose and restore England to Roman Catholicism. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, apparently did not view Reginald as a valid candidate for the throne of England, referring to him as “El Ingles que esta en Venicia,” “the Englishman who stays in Venice”. Charles had his own idea of marrying Princess Mary to Don Luis, the infante of Portugal, and placing him on Henry’s throne.

Pope Paul III, though, had identified Pole as the man to achieve his end. He was given 10,000 ducats to recruit men in Flanders and Germany with the aim of kindling revolt in England. Under the guise of a peaceful visit as Papal Legate, Pole was to spark rebellion, marry Princess Mary and take Henry’s throne. Bergenroth wrote that “The “soldier of the true faith,” the pretender to the hand of the Princess Mary, and the candidate for the English crown was therefore made a cardinal in appearance, the Pope taking care that he should not enter even the lowest degree of holy orders, and content himself with having the tonsure shaved on his head.”

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Cardinal Reginald Pole
In France, Francis I was only put off from supporting Pole by his own desire to snatch a chuck of England for himself.

One thing is perfectly clear. By the mid 1530’s, England was viewed as fair game. The throne was up for grabs. The only question was who would succeed in the smash and grab of Henry VIII’s failing kingdom.

Reginald did not get to England and by the end of 1537, Henry was advertising a reward of 100,000 gold crowns to anyone who brought Reginald to him, dead or alive.

During the following year, the White Rose faction in England appeared to throw caution to the wind. Henry Courtenay, the Marquess of Exeter, a grandson of Edward IV was only outdone in his criticism of the newly emerging England by Henry Pole, Lord Montague, who said that “the King and his whole issue stand accursed”. On 29th August 1538 Geoffrey Pole, Margaret’s third son, was suddenly arrested. He was, by turns, interrogated, threatened with the rack and offered a pardon to provide the “right” answers. After his first interrogation, Geoffrey tried to commit suicide in his cell in the Tower by stabbing himself with a knife, but failed to do enough damage.

On 4th November Exeter and Montague were arrested. Montague was tried on 2nd December and Exeter on 3rd. Both pleaded not guilty, but both surely knew that it would make no difference. When found guilty and condemned to death, Montague told the court “I have lived in prison these last six years”.

Montague, Exeter and Sir Edward Neville were beheaded on Tower Hill. Two priest and a sailor who had been accused of carrying messages to Reginald, were amongst others hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn on the same day for their part in the affair. On 28th December, Geoffrey again attempted suicide, only to fail once more. Released the following year, he fled to Flanders, no doubt haunted by his experiences and the guilt of delivering his brother to the executioner’s block. The Exeter Conspiracy was almost certainly a figment of Henry VIII’s paranoiac fear but the king reacted savagely and it demonstrated the consuming fear he still had of the White Rose faction.

In February 1539, Henry wrote to Charles V that he had only narrowly escaped a plot to murder him, his son and his daughters and to place Exeter on the throne. At around the same time, Reginald arrived in Toledo for an audience with Charles to ask his backing for a Papal plot to invade England. Charles tactfully declined to help. A few months later, Countess Margaret was included in an attainder passed against those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy.

In the autumn of 1539, there was a further shock when Countess Margaret, aged 65, was suddenly arrested and taken to the Tower without even a change of clothing. Her grandson, Montague’s son Henry, was also incarcerated there at the time. She remained in the Tower until 1541. In an echo of 1415 and of 1513, Henry had crushed a rebellion in the north and was planning to visit James V of Scotland. Before leaving, he had several prisoners executed, adding, apparently at the last minute, Countess Margaret Pole to the list. She was awoken early in the morning on 27th May and told that she would be executed at 7am. Bemused, she walked to the block and knelt. The inexperienced executioner slammed the axe into her shoulder, taking half a dozen more blows to complete his task. If anyone is unclear precisely why Henry VIII’s procurement of the skilled French executioner who dispatched Anne Boleyn was considered a mercy, it was because this was the likely and not infrequent alternative. The 67 year old Countess later became a Catholic saint for her martyrdom and these words were found carved into the wall of her cell:

For traitors on the block should die;

I am no traitor, no, not I!

My faithfulness stands fast and so,

Towards the block I shall not go!

Nor Make one step, as you shall see;

Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!

Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547. His son, Edward VI died on 6th July 1553 aged just 15. In November 1554, with Queen Mary installed, Reginald Pole returned to England as Papal Legate, becoming Mary’s Archbishop of Canterbury with the Catholic restoration.

On 17th November 1558, Reginald died, aged 58, on the very same day as Queen Mary, so did not live to see Elizabeth return Protestantism to England, but the White Rose threat outlasted Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. The influence of the threat, real or imagined, is perhaps as easy to overstate as it is to understate. One strand of the House of York survived quietly until today, leading from a daughter of Edward IV to Michael Ibsen, never having rocked the boat. It is certain, though, that the House of York’s threat to the throne, which perhaps saw its birth in Ludlow in 1459, did not end at Bosworth, nor even at Stoke Field. It ended quietly, in a bed, nearly 75 years after the Tudor dawn. The neat 30 year Wars of the Roses was a Tudor construct to draw a veil over generations of failure to rid themselves of shadows cast by the House of York. Henry VIII created England as a European super power by sleight of hand. The Tudor’s security was similarly a sleight of hand, a grand trick played as much upon themselves as the nation to hide desperate fears that haunted them for three quarters of a century.

For lots more detail on these events, I recommend Desmond Seward’s The Last White Rose.

Matt has written a history of the Wars of the Roses looking at the key players in the civil war which is available via Amberley Publishing and can be found on Amazon. His latest book Medieval Britain in 100 Facts can also be found there.

Matthew Lewis is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

The Richard III Podcast – Introduction

This introductory episode of the Richard III Podcast offers an overview of the life of King Richard III upon which future episodes will expand.

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

What If Richard III Did It?

What if we suppose that King Richard III did, in fact, order the killing of his nephews, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Let us suspend arguments about his previous character and the events that surrounded him in 1483 and presume him guilty of the killing of the Princes in the Tower. Controversial, I know, but since no one can currently prove him guilty or innocent, the argument is moot. It makes for fascinating debates and it never ceases to amaze me the passions it rouses, but without the sudden discovery of a lost cache of documents or perhaps Richard III’s diary (imagine the questions that might answer!), we will never be able to shed any more light on this mystery than has kept it gloomily illuminated for over 500 years.

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

This impasse provides an opportunity that I think receives less examination than it merits. If we were to presume that King Richard III had the boys killed, can his actions be justified? Clearly, by modern standards, no. But this did not take place in modern times. By the standards of his time, can any justification be offered if Richard III did order their deaths? If so, it takes some of the heat out of the debate about whether he did it or not.

The first thing to mention is that there is no evidence that medieval people would have been any less repulsed by the killing of children than we are now. Murder was still murder. It was a crime. Children were just as precious to our ancestors as they are to us. Richard III’s time was more brutal and death more common place perhaps but the murder of children was no less revolting then than it is now. By this measure, there can never be any excuse for Richard if he killed the Princes in the Tower in 1483, aged 12 and 9 (or 10, depending upon when it happened).

These were not, however, ordinary children. They were political beings. In this period of English history, ravaged by war and rivalries, this alters the landscape a little. Can this help to explain King Richard’s ‘actions’? It cannot be doubted that recent history would have warned Richard against allowing a child to sit upon the throne. Edward III’s grandson Richard II had ascended to the throne aged 10 in 1377. His father, the Black Prince, had died the year before Edward III and Richard’s powerful uncles, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York were apparently not trusted. A regency was avoided and a system of continual councils put in place to assist the king during his minority. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 saw the 14 year old Richard emerge onto the political stage for the first time. He agreed terms with the rebels only to go back on his word and hunt them down. The harsh response was initially applauded by his nobles but it set a precedent that would see Richard descend into a period of tyranny, surrounded by unpopular advisors until, in 1399, he was relieved of his crown by his cousin, Henry Bollingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, who became King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. In 1400, amid plots to restore Richard, he was killed, possibly starved to death in his prison at Pontefract Castle. He could not be allowed to continue to live.

King Richard II
King Richard II

Henry IV’s own grandson was to provide the next lesson at the expense of the peace of a nation. Henry IV’s son, the mighty Henry V of Agincourt renown, died on campaign in 1422 aged 35, leaving his nine month old son, Henry VI, to take the throne amid raging wars in France. This time, with the prospect of well over a decade of royal minority, the new king’s uncles were vital to his security. John, Duke of Bedford acted as regent of France and
oversaw the wars there with some success, eventually defeating Joan of Arc and halting French resurgence. In England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester acted as his nephew’s Protector. Henry VI was declared of age in 1437. In 1441 Humphrey’s wife was arrested for sorcery and he was forced to retire from public life. In 1447 he was himself arrested and died in prison 3 days later. He may have suffered a stroke but there were whispered rumours that he had been poisoned.

Henry VI’s rule was to see the loss of all English territory in France apart from Calais and the eruption of the divisive and brutal Wars of the Roses. He surrounded himself with advisors that proved deeply unpopular and grew to be a weak and ineffectual king. Edward IV took his crown for the House of York and despite a brief reclaiming of his throne, once Henry’s only son was dead, Henry himself had met his end within the Tower of London. His continued existence could also no longer be tolerated.

If Richard sought a lesson from this period, it was that pretty clear.

Child kings did not bode well, not least for Protectors who were Dukes of Gloucester…..

When we look at Richard’s conduct in 1483, it must be against the backdrop of these events and all that they meant for England, because that is the only way in which Richard could have viewed them. The country had seen two changes in the ruling family in less than a century, both brought about by the failings of kings who had come to the throne as children. A third such event was potentially imminent and it was Richard’s family who stood to lose everything. No one could really be sure where a threat might come from. The Tudor family in exile, other vestiges of Lancastrian blood in Portugal or Spain. Louis XI, the Spider King, still ruled in France and may chose to seize upon any weakness he spied across the channel.

Personally, Richard’s position was precarious too. Edward IV had entailed his Neville inheritance, acquired through his wife Anne Neville, to male issue of the body of George Neville, Duke of Bedford. George had been disinherited to make way for Richard and this was meant as a mechanism for his protection. If the line failed, Richard’s interests would revert to life interests in the lands and titles so that he would be significantly weakened and his son would have no inheritance. Having spent so long so far north, Richard barely knew his nephew. He had been appointed Protector of the Realm for a boy he did not know and who did not know him. All of young Edward V’s ties and bonds were to his mother’s family who had raised him at Ludlow Castle. There is no real record of conflict between Richard and the Woodville’s before the summer of 1483 but their hold over the new king would have been a cause for concern to Richard if he was to act as Protector. Edward IV’s Chamberlain Lord Hastings had sent word to Richard even before he left the north that Elizabeth Woodville was planning to have her son crowned quickly in order to exclude Richard. Elizabeth’s son from her first marriage, Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, was supposedly boasting that their family could rule without Richard, such was their grasp on power. What was he supposed to make of this situation?

Shortly after his arrival in London, word reached Richard that George Neville had died aged 22 without issue. His personal power base was significantly weakened at precisely the time he would need it the most. How could he act as Protector from a position of weakness? The next issue to rear its head was the legitimacy of Edward V. This was either a genuine concern that was allowed to reach Richard’s ear because of the death of Edward IV, or Richard concocted the story that his brother was already married when he secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville. Either way, the outcome was the same; Richard claimed the throne for himself. This was either an act of duty, of self-preserving or of self-advancement. That is a debate that will rage on too, but the purposes of this discussion it is not important. Even the latter views, though, perhaps becomes a little more understandable.

King Richard III
King Richard III

The reality is that Richard was no longer Duke of Gloucester. He was now King Richard III. What had recent history taught him about this position? The greatest danger to him now was a rival. What sat within the royal apartments of the Tower of London? Two rivals. How must they be dealt with? Only one option was available. The one taken be Henry IV and by Richard’s own brother, Edward IV. If he allowed the boys to survive, they would always be a source of unrest and rebellion, a focus for disaffection and an opportunity for opposition to his rule. Richard’s personal security was now tied up with that of the country. Any threat to him was a threat to the national stability for which he was now responsible and vice versa. Any such threat must be dealt with. There was only one way to deal once and for all with this issue. If this was what Richard came to believe, then he was to be proven right when, at the end of the summer of 1483, there were reports of an attempt to free the boys and then the Duke of Buckingham rebelled, initially on the pretence of returning Edward V to the throne.

Is the peace and stability of a nation worth the lives of two princes?

Can such a sacrifice be measured?

Probably not, but in Richard’s world, it was kill or be killed.

The Wars of the Roses erupted when he was 3 years old. He knew no other world and perhaps saw this as a justifiable sacrifice to secure a lasting peace. A means to an end, an end that may, given time, justify those terrible means. He was not to be given that time and so many truths are lost to history, clouded in myth and legend, that all that is left is supposition fuelled by passion.

So, if Richard III did order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, should he have been demonised for 500 years on the basis of that one act? Was it so far beyond the pale that it cannot be deemed necessary or acceptable in the context of the times, even if we cannot condone such an act today? It is true that are no real parallels to draw with it, but there are a few near contemporary instances that bear examination.

When Henry VII took the throne after Bosworth in 1485 there was a claimant of the male line of the House of York still alive. Edward, Earl of Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III. He was 10 years old in 1485. As the prime threat to Henry he was placed in the Tower of London where he was kept, without trial or opportunity for release, until 1499 when he was implicated in an alleged plot with Perkin Warbeck to escape his prison. At his trial, he pleaded guilty and he was executed. It has been suggested that Warwick was framed to create a pretence for his execution as part of Henry VII’s negotiations to marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon because her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, would not tolerate the continued existence of one who possessed a better claim to the throne than Arthur and who was a real and viable potential source of opposition. Henry effectively kept Warwick imprisoned from the age of 10 only to execute him when he was 24. He never had any hope. He was kept as a fatted calf and offered in sacrifice for the security of the Tudor dynasty. Is that really any worse than the colder but more pragmatic approach of killing him immediately?

George’s other child, Margaret, survived into the reign of Henry VIII. She was married to a Tudor loyalist and had several children who eventually came to be viewed as a threat to Henry VIII. In 1539 her son Henry was executed and Margaret was imprisoned. In 1541 she too was executed at the age of 67, her inexperienced executioner taking eleven blows in total to kill her. This is viewed as a low point of Henry VIII rule. He was probably concerned at his own failing health and his son’s young age and was seeking to eradicate any potential threat. Does this justify the execution of an elderly lady on very flimsy evidence?

In Ecclesiastes 10:16, Solomon offers the lament “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!” Whilst this is probably not meant to speak to the age of the ruler but rather their approach, ability and outlook, and the advisors with which they surround themselves, the message applies to this situation. Child kings before had fallen foul of unpopular advisors – Richard II had Robert de Vere, Henry VI relied on William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and then successive Beaufort Dukes of Somerset. Was this the likely road down which Edward V would have taken the country, ruled by his jealously sneered upon Woodville relatives? And what of Richard once his duties as Protector had been discharged? Was he to be consigned to the political wilderness with no influence and no inheritance to leave for his son? History cautioned him that once he was no longer needed, a king, possibly falling back under the influence of his mother, would struggle to tolerate the continued existence of a man who had once exercised kingly power.

So I would ask the question again. Assuming that Richard III did in fact order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the Princes in the Tower, can the act be excused or accepted as a necessary evil?

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

 

The Murder of The Princes in the Tower
The Murder of The Princes in the Tower

Happy Birthday King Richard III!

The 2nd October 2013 marks the 561st anniversary of the birth of one of England’s most controversial monarchs, King Richard III.

Richard III Facial Reconstruction
Richard III Facial Reconstruction

On the throne for just 2 years, he has spent more than half a millennium dividing opinion and is still doing just that today, perhaps more than ever. With a judicial review of the decision to reinter his remains at Leicester Cathedral due to take place on 26th November, I wonder what King Richard might make of all of the controversy surrounding him on his birthday.

Do you know what?

I think he’d quite like it.

Here’s why.

Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and as king, was no stranger to controversy and can often be found courting it. The first glimpse of this can be seen in his dealing with the feud between the Stanley and Harrington families. I have written a separate blog about this dispute entitled ‘Hornby Castle – The Price of Power’ so I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that Richard took a side and made it very clear that he was doing so. When Lord Stanley sought to blast the Harringtons out of Hornby Castle with his immense canon Mile Ende, the 17 year old Richard can be found issuing a warrant on 26th March 1470 signed ‘at Hornby’. He had clearly placed himself in the way of Stanley’s ambitions to defend a family I think he viewed as far more loyal and more deserving of his brother the king’s rewards.

Hornby Castle
Hornby Castle

When the Earl of Warwick rebelled, Edward IV was forced into exile in Burgundy. He boarded a ship at Lynn on the Norfolk coast for an uncertain future. With him, amongst others, was his youngest brother Richard. The date that they took ship is recorded as 2nd October 1470. Richard’s 18th birthday. I don’t think that he would have hesitated a moment to sail with his brother though it seems likely his mentor Warwick and the brother to whom he was probably much closer, George, were on the other side and staying may have seemed an easy option at the time.

When Edward IV invaded France in 1475 there was no fighting. Edward signed Louis XI’s Treaty of Picquigny which effectively bought off the English king and his nobles with hefty bribes, termed pensions by Edward, who was keen to put a positive spin on the campaign. A few dissented from the Treaty. Richard, Duke of Gloucester was amongst them. Louis had a private interview with Richard before he left France and gave him gifts. He doubtless used the opportunity to measure this intractable young man. What did he find? When Edward had been keen to accept Louis peace terms, Richard argued that, in spite of Burgundy’s failure to provide the promised aid, they had enough of an army to defeat the French in the field. Then, if he still wished, Edward could negotiate a better peace from a position of power and return to England having achieved martial glory. I suspect Louis, The Universal Spider King, found a man willing, even keen, to fight for what he believed in. Fiercely loyal to his friends and prone to seeing things in black and white, right and wrong, with no room for shading or half measures.

1482 saw Richard handed command of a campaign against Scotland that Edward IV lacked the drive to pursue personally. As well as retaking the strategically vital border town of Berwick for the final time, the campaign saw Richard marching his army all the way to Edinburgh without the loss of a single man. This was in part due to the meltdown of Scottish internal politics, but Richard gave orders that his men were not to sack the city and so it was. He controlled his army so completely that there was no looting or unruly behaviour whilst he occupied Edinburgh before withdrawing to England having achieved his aim. Edward IV wrote to Pope Sixtus IV after this Scottish campaign with unrestrained praise for his brother; ‘Thank God, the giver of all good gifts, for the support received from our most loving brother, whose success is so proven that he alone would suffice to chastise the whole kingdom of Scotland. This year we appointed our very dear brother Richard Duke of Gloucester to command the same army which we ourselves intended to have led last year, had not adverse turmoil hindered us.’ Of Richard’s control and mercy, Edward wrote; ‘The noble band of victors, however, spared the supplicant and prostrate citizens, the churches, and not only the widows, orphans, and minors, but all persons found there unarmed.’ The temptation, and the popular choice, would surely have been to allow his men to run riot in Edinburgh in vengeance for years of border raids to enrich themselves and blow off steam, but Richard opted for honour and strict control instead.

In 1483 Richard acted (rightly or wrongly) decisively and definitively when he took the throne. If he truly believed his nephews were technically illegitimate, then that left no option but for him to take the throne. If he really feared a Woodville takeover to his own exclusion, then he felt that left him no option but to seize power, and so he did it. If it was the opportunity he had awaited for so long then he grabbed it with both hands and would not let go. The easy option? Well, that might have been to dissolve back into the north and defend his power base, from his power base, and hope for the best. Taking the throne, whatever the real reason he did it, was not the easy option.

Then, of course, there is the greatest controversy that surrounds his name, even to this day. What to do with his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. The rebellion at the end of the summer of 1483 involving the Duke of Buckingham surely provided Richard with the perfect opportunity, if he wished the boys dead, to blame Buckingham, mourn them and move on. He could join the nation in sorrow, even apologise that he had failed to protect them from a snake in the bedchamber and the problem would be over with. He would know what was coming in terms of a public outpouring of sorrow and would be able to manage it. This was not the path that King Richard chose. Silence was far from the easy option. It allowed rumour to ferment and grow. Uncertainty was no friend to a mediaeval king. Why,then, did King Richard choose silence? Was it because he didn’t see why he should explain himself? Or perhaps because there was no murder to report and he simply wanted the boys to melt into forgotten obscurity; safe, but no threat. But that’s a whole different story!

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

It certainly was not the case that Richard was in the habit of keeping silent on big issues. When rumours began to grow at the beginning of 1485, as his wife of over ten years suffered from failing health, that he was poisoning her to speed her to her grave so that he could marry his (now legally illegitimate) niece, Richard did not hold his tongue. After taking the advice of Sir William Catesby and Sir Richard Ratcliffe, the king addressed the great and good of London to deny the foul rumour that he was causing the death of his wife. The easy road at such an emotionally fraught time might have been to ignore the nonsense and hope it went away. Richard chose rather to confront the matter head on and set the record straight.

Richard was not a man to shy away from controversy or confrontation.

Bosworth is the perfect, tragic demonstration of that. When Richard heard of Tudor’s landing whilst at Nottingham he was supposedly elated and keen to march on the impudent invader immediately. Some have attributed this reaction to a nervous overcompensation but I think that this is to apply hindsight to the matter. Richard would surely have been confident that he would win. Why mess about? Let’s get it over and done with now!

On the field at Bosworth, Richard led the famous, thundering charge of his household knights across the battlefield to attack Tudor himself. It is understood that Richard saw a chance to end the matter once and for all. No prolonged chase. No fleeing and regrouping for either side. It would end that morning, one way or another. We know how it did end, but this is a final demonstration of his willingness to confront issues head on, to throw himself in the way of harm for what he believed in and not to take the easy path. At the very end, offered the chance to escape the field on a horse a squire offered, Richard refused to be chased away. He refused to cower. He refused to back down from the fight. He stood, prepared to die, his spirit unbroken even as his body was crushed.

Richard III's Cavalry Charge at Bosworth Re-enactment 2013
Richard III’s Cavalry Charge at Bosworth Re-enactment 2013

The arguments over his final resting place rumble on with no sign of diminishing in passion. E-petitions are closing with large numbers signing to show their adherence. Some are becoming increasingly vehement and angry as they fight for his bones. Most seem to feel it is a real shame that it has descended into such an undignified tug of war over the mortal remains of an anointed King of England. I thought that too. Then I thought something else.

Now, on the 561st anniversary of his birth at Fotheringhay Castle, 550 years after his time at Middleham in the Earl of Warwick’s household, 541 years after the founding of the Council of the North which he ran for his brother from Middleham for a decade, 528 years after his death at Bosworth, hasty burial at Greyfriars, Leicester and York’s recording that “King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us…was piteously slain and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie”, 1 year after his bones were dug up and examined, I have one question.

What would Richard make of all the controversy surrounding him?

I think he would smile to himself.

I think that he would think it was right and proper for people to fight for what they want and believe in (within the bounds of acceptable modern behaviour – no dragging canons the length of the country please!).

I think he would be quite pleased that over half a millennium after his death people are still talking about him.

To all sides, to Leicester, to York, to those who want to press their point, to those who think we should show more dignity, to all who love him and to those who hate him, I think he would say:

“Stand strong and true for that which you believe in. Do not be silenced.”

And I don’t think he would hesitate a moment to tell us where he really believes he should be buried.

Which is, of course, …………

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

 

 

The Kingmakers

On 14th July 1471, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, was killed at the Battle of Barnet. It brought to an end the career of a man who was, in his day, the most powerful non-royal noble in the kingdom. Initially loyal to King Henry VI, Warwick began to support the Duke of York following a dispute with the Duke of Somerset. He had control of the garrison at Calais which made him a formidable force. The Calais force was the only standing army in England at the time, the only retained force of trained soldiers in the country. And they were Warwick’s men. When the Duke of York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield, Warwick continued to support his house and was instrumental in seeing Edward IV take the throne from the hapless Henry VI.

Warwick was now the king’s right hand man. Power and offices flowed to him. He began to negotiate a French alliance to be sealed by Edward’s marriage to a French princess. At Council on day, Warwick’s world began to crumble. Imagine the scene as he proudly reported the progress of his negotiations and the almost concluded wedding arrangements, only for Edward to casually announce, in his “Oh, did I forget to mention…” way, that he was already married. He had married a widow considered below him who brought with her children and relatives who were later to prove divisive at Edward’s court. By the standards of his day, the slight upon Warwick’s honour was considerable and he did not take it well. He had lost face before the Council and before the French and he was not the kind of man to allow this to pass.

Richard Neville Earl of Warwick

As tension between the king and his greatest subject grew the threat of a return to civil war gripped the country. Warwick sought out Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife and, after over half an hour on his knees before her, she agreed to allow him to help place Henry back upon the throne. No doubt Warwick saw an opportunity to control Henry in a way he could never control Edward. Warwick recruited Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence to his cause, but his other brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had been raised in Warwick’s household, refused to betray his king. Warwick had two daughters. The eldest he married to George in spite of Edward’s prohibition. The youngest he wed to Henry VI’s son and heir. One way or another, Warwick would have his grandchild upon the throne.

Henry VI emerged from the Tower of London, blinking, bewildered and suddenly king again. Eighteen months later, Edward had regrouped and retook his throne. Barnet was the first engagement in the process and Warwick met his end there aged 42. He was later referred to as The Kingmaker for the way in which he appeared to pick and choose who would be king. This perhaps overstates his achievements on this front. He aided Edward in seizing he throne and then helped Henry regain it, but could not help him retain it, a fact that cost Henry his life when Edward returned to London.

This made me wonder: Who were the other Kingmakers and is there one I would consider The Kingmaker ahead of Warwick? There is, and I fear that I may have to apologise to some for my conclusion, so I shall put it off for a while.

Kingmakers go back a fair way, a most had one thing in common. The first that strikes me is the Empress Matilda, who was deprived of the throne that her father Henry I left to her only to fight for years and years until she saw her son, Henry II on the throne. Without a doubt Matilda’s drive and commitment made her son king. Perhaps she accepted that England was not ready for a female king but she had a son for whom she won a kingdom. Henry’s own wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, would also try to select the next king, encouraging Richard to seek power sooner rather than later as Henry preferred their youngest son, John. Eleanor assisted Richard’s revolts and was imprisoned for long periods by her husband. In the end, though, she got her way and Richard  I followed Henry as king.

Isabella of France was wife to one king, Edward II, but saw to it that her son became King Edward III before his father was dead. She led the rebellion that saw her husband abdicate in favour of their son and is rumoured to have arranged her husband’s death to ensure that he stayed out of the way.

There is also Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. With her husband weak and frequently unstable, even descending into prolonged periods of catatonia, she was left to fight to keep him on the throne. She opposed York when he was made Protector of the Realm, perhaps fearing that his eye may be caught by the glinting gold of the Crown. She denied the need for a Protector and when Henry agreed to make York his heir in preference to his own son, she was outraged. It was Margaret that championed the Lancastrian cause throughout the Wars of the Roses as she sought to preserve her son’s inheritance. When Warwick dismayed, it was to Margaret that he turned, it was to Margaret that he paid homage in order to secure her support to return her husband to the throne and her son to his inheritance. After Warwick’s death, Margaret continued until, shortly after Barnet, she lost her son at the Battle of Tewkesbury and her husband when Edward regained his grip. She had played a part in Henry’s re-adaption every bit as much as Warwick.

In each of these cases, the Kingmaker was a woman, a wife and mother. They have each been viewed somewhat harshly, dubbed the She Wolves of history because although English law did not forbid female succession as French Salic Law did, the exercise of power by a woman was considered unseemly and was not something the great men of the time could easily come to terms with. However, Warwick’s achievement was in switching kings at his will. Can anyone match that? I think so.

Thomas, Lord Stanley, as I have discussed in previous posts, made a career during the Wars of the Roses of backing the winner. And he got very rich doing it. At various times he used the immense retinue that he could call upon to support Lancaster or York depending upon how the wind blew. He got rich under Edward IV and then Richard III. At Bosworth, he was presented with two options as he looked down upon the field of battle. His king demanded that he do his duty. His step-son begged his assistance to win the throne. He eventually came down on the side of his step-son. The legend goes that it was Lord Stanley who placed the crown upon Henry’s head after it had been knocked from Richard’s. He certainly prospered under the new regime. His family still hold the title Earl of Derby that he gained for his part in Henry’s victory. He had played the game under Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII and won, often appearing to turn the tide and always wooed for his apparent ability to do so. Yet this was probably done more in the interest of self preservation and family gain than a real concern for who was upon the throne. Stanley though is a definite contender for Kingmaker.

And so I can put it off no longer. There is one I would consider the ultimate Kingmaker. There is one whose dedication saw a dynastic change that shaped England. I doubt any Ricardian will thank me for this, but the accolade must go to Lady Margaret Beaufort. As the other She Wolves had done she fought for her son. Margaret was married to the half-brother of King Henry VI and bore a son to Edmund Tudor, who died before the child was born. Margaret was only thirteen when her son was born at Pembroke Castle on a cold, stormy night. She married twice more but bore no more children. Physicians believed that the birth of Henry caused irreparable damage that prevented her from carrying more children. Protected by Edmund’s brother Jasper, she weathered the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses until the Lancastrian cause was lost. When Henry was fourteen, his uncle Jasper whisked him away to Brittany and into exile where he remained for a further fourteen years. Margaret sought tirelessly to see Henry returned but Edward IV was happy to keep the vague Lancastrian blood in Henry’s veins at arm’s length. Richard III appeared to think likewise until Henry tried to invade in autumn 1483. It was named Buckingham’s rebellion, but its intention was clearly stated. To put Henry Tudor on the throne. That invasion failed and Margaret was attainted for her conspiracy, placed in the custody of her current husband, who happened to be Lord Stanley. She does not appear to have ceased working. Tudor swore to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, to unite Lancaster and York and heal the old wounds.

Margaret Beaufort

In 1485 he invaded in earnest at met Richard at Bosworth. When his mother’s husband finally joined the battle on his side, Henry won the day, against all expectations. A twenty eight year old Welshman who had been in exile for half his life and whose only slim royal claim was based upon his mother’s descent from John of Gaunt, son of Edward III (a branch specifically precluded from succession when they were legitimised after John married the mother of his illegitimate children), was now king of England. The Plantagenets had reigned for over three hundred years but this was the beginning of Tudor England. There can be little doubt who Henry owed his throne to. Margaret Beaufort had dedicated her life to the son that the House of York had kept her separate from. She took her revenge and her son took the throne. Margaret, then, was not just Kingmaker, but the maker of a dynasty. The mother of Tudor England, grandmother to Henry VIII and great-grandmother to Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. The Stuarts traced their lineage back through Henry VII to Margaret. Her Kingmaking was not fit of pique. It was the culmination of her life’s work. She may not have placed and replaced monarchs at will, but she unseated a dynasty and founded the most famous one in English history.

So, who is your Kingmaker?

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.