The Brandon men, father Sir William Brandon and his three sons, William, Robert and Thomas, had been loyal servants to King Edward IV. The king died on 9th April 1483 and his successor was his twelve-year-old son, Edward. However, the new king’s Uncle, Richard of Gloucester had the boy and his younger brother, Richard of York, declared illegitimate due to a precontract his brother had with Lady Eleanor Butler. As the late king’s only legitimate heir, Richard was asked by Parliament to take the throne and he was crowned King on 26th June 1483.
With a new King on the throne, the loyalties of the Brandon men lasted less than a year.
During the summer of 1483 a rebellion was planned against Richard III. Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham had been convinced by Dr John Morton, Bishop of Ely, to switch his allegiance from Richard III to Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian claimant in exile. It should be noted that Dr Morton was an associate of Sir William Brandon and it is highly probable, with the following events, that Morton and Brandon spoke about Brandon’s participation and support in the rebellion. The Brandon men decided that the oldest son William, and his youngest brother Thomas, would join the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion.
The rebellion was set to begin on the 18th of October however rebels in Kent rose early and began to march to London. In response Richard III sent John Howard, Duke of Norfolk to crush the rebels. It was planned that Buckingham and his men would meet up with supporters in the West. The weather was horrid and continual rain caused the rivers Severn and Wye to break their banks, flooding the surrounding lands making it near impossible for Buckingham to progress. With his soldiers beginning to retreat Buckingham knew the cause was lost and he fled. He was betrayed and quickly arrested, beheaded in the market place at Salisbury on the 2nd of November.
At the end of 1483 or early 1484 William and Thomas Brandon left England and headed to Brittany to join Henry Tudor. The actions of the Brandon sons clearly showed that they believed themselves to be in danger. However, on the 28thMarch 1484, a general pardon was granted to William Brandon II.
It is unknown if the pardon was issued before or after William Brandon left England to join Henry Tudor. If it was before and William knew of it, it may be that he did not trust Richard III. Or perhaps it was simply too late and Brandons had no knowledge of the pardon. Either way William Brandon II and his younger brother Thomas had thrown their lot in with Henry Tudor.
Less than a month later, on the 11th April William Brandon II was being referred to as a rebel in government documents. Three months later on the 7th July an act of Attainder was passed on William Brandon II. The act stripped Brandon of all his land, manors, property and wealth, which reverted to the Crown. In addition to this, the act charged Brandon with high treason. If caught his sentence would be death.
While this was happening William’s father, Sir William Brandon fled into sanctuary at Gloucester. Unfortunately, it is unknown what Robert Brandon, the middle son, was doing during this time. Perhaps he was simply laying low, trying to keep out of Richard III’s gaze.
On the 1st of August, after fourteen years of exile, Henry Tudor set sail from France to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from the port of Harfleur accompanied by approximately 2,000 soldiers, one of those being William Brandon II. It is unknown if Thomas Brandon accompanied Henry, there are no records of him over the next few months. If he did not travel with his brother, it may be that he remained in France with William’s wife and newborn son, the future Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.
The fleet landed on the 7th of August at Mill Bay six miles west of Milford Haven located along the Pembrokeshire coastline. Over the next two weeks Henry Tudor and his men marched across England gathering support and soldiers as they went. On the 21st August Henry chose to knight several men who had shown great loyalty to him throughout his time in exile, one of these men was William Brandon II.
The Battle of Bosworth Field took place on the 22nd of August 1485. It is estimated that Henry had an army of between 5 – 8,000 soldiers and Richard III had 12 – 20,000 men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately 6,000 men but they had not yet committed to either side. Sir William Brandon had been chosen to be Henry’s standard-bearer.
The battle was fierce and as the battle continued Richard III, despite being told to flee, saw an opportunity to charge at Henry Tudor. As he and his men surged forward, his aim to bring down Henry, his lance pierced Sir William Brandon II and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ [the Tudor standard] ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’
Sir William Brandon II had given up everything to join Henry Tudor’s cause. Richard III had passed an Act of Attainder upon him, his land, his property and wealth forfeited and his life worthless. He had bid goodbye to his wife and baby son, sailed to England and ultimately given his life fighting for Henry Tudor’s cause.
Richard III and his men continued fighting and it was at this point that William Stanley and his men charged down in support of Henry Tudor and the rival armies clashed. At some point, Richard III was killed.
After Henry was declared victorious, he ordered that all those who had died to be buried, many of those being at the nearby church of St James the Greater, Dadlington. Sir William Brandon II was the only member of nobility on Henry Tudor’s side killed at Bosworth. Unfortunately, the exact location of Brandon’s grave remains unknown.
While the fortunes of the Brandon men had suffered under the reign of Richard III, with William Brandon II losing his life, when Henry VII claimed the throne fortune’s wheel turned upwards for the surviving Brandon men.
Henry VII reappointed Sir William Brandon I to the position of Marshall of the King’s Bench, of which he had been dismissed by Richard III. In addition to this he knighted Robert Brandon in 1487 and Thomas Brandon in 1497. He also trusted all three surviving Brandon men with overseeing various judicial matters across the country.
In 1499 Thomas Brandon was appointed as Master of the Horse, a position he was reappointed to under the rule of Henry VIII. In January 1503 Sir Thomas was part of a select group of ambassadors sent to meet with Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor in order to discuss the Emperor becoming a member of the elite Order of the Garter. He was also tasked with trying to persuade the Holy Roman Emperor not to support the staunch Yorkist, Edmund de la Pole, 3rdDuke of Suffolk.
In addition to all of this, in April 1507 Sir Thomas Brandon was elected into the Order of the Garter and also appointed as Marshal of the Court of Common Pleas.
The fortunes of the Brandon men suffered greatly under the rule of Richard III. For whatever reason the family became dissatisfied with Richard III. Perhaps they believed he did not deserve to be King, thinking instead the throne should have passed to Edward IV’s son. Or maybe they were simply unhappy with how Richard III sought to rule the country. For whatever reason the Brandon men threw their lot in with Henry Tudor. They had lost their freedom, their land and property and William Brandon II lost his life, but in 1485 their gamble paid off when Henry VII proved victorious at Bosworth. The first Tudor king proved to be a loyal King and lifted the Brandon men back to prominence.
Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in the Brandon family who lived in England during the 14th and 15th centuries. She has previously written a book on the life of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She runs a website and facebook page dedicated to Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.
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Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, and mother of King Henry Vll seems to have earned a poor reputation over time. Often thought of as the cruel and conniving “Lady Margaret The King’s Mother”, she seems the epitome of the rotten mother in law. And she certainly may have been so to her son’s wife, Elizabeth of York. But what was it that made her this way? Her life as a child and a young woman were far from a fairy tale so perhaps understanding what she was forced to endure can provide us with an explanation of why she was so bitter. And perhaps we can form a different opinion of Margaret and look at her as a lady of great strength and perseverance and as a woman who believed in her cause and would pursue that cause with everything she had.
Margaret was born in May of either 1441 or 1443 in Bedfordshire England to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. At the time of her birth, her father had gone to France for a military expedition for King Henry Vl. However, after his return from France, he was banished from court on charges of treason. He died shortly afterwards but it is still unclear if he died of an illness or apparent suicide. Margaret would inherit all of her father’s fortunes as she was his only heir.
However, King Henry Vl would go against John Beaufort’s wishes and grant wardship of Margaret’s lands to William de la Pole, First Duke of Suffolk. De la Pole was a military commander and favorite of The King. While Margaret would remain with her mother, an attempt to marry her to de la Pole’s son was made in early 1444. She was no older than three years. Papal dispensation was granted in 1450 but the marriage was never recognized. Henry VI then granted Margaret’s lands to his own half brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. He also decided Margaret would marry Edmund, who was eleven years older than her.
In November of 1455, the wedding took place and Margaret would become the twelve-year-old bride to the twenty-four-year-old 1st Earl of Richmond. In the 1400s, twelve was the age of consent however it was unusual for the marriage to be consummated before the age of fourteen. Consummation before age fourteen was considered a risk to the health of such a young woman. Margaret was said to be rather small with a petite frame. However, Edmund Tudor felt otherwise and chose to consummate his marriage immediately. One would have to imagine this must have been a terrifying ordeal to such a young girl, but throughout her life, Margaret consistently defended Edmund as her first husband. So perhaps he was kind and treated her well. And perhaps Margaret accepted this as her destiny, to be married off at such a young age. This was also a time of great political unrest as The War of the Roses had broken out and being a Lancastrian, there is a strong suggestion that Edmund Tudor was only interested in an heir. Whatever the situation may be, Margaret was forced to become a woman at a very young age and was able to find the strength within herself to rise up to the challenge.
Margaret’s husband was unfortunately taken in by Yorkists and held prisoner where he would die of the plague in early November of 1456. His thirteen-year-old widow was seven months pregnant and alone. Lady Margaret was taken in by her brother in law, Jasper Tudor where she would give birth to the future King of England on January 28, 1457. However, Margaret’s labor was incredibly difficult, probably due to her small stature. The midwives were concerned that neither Margaret, nor her son Henry, would survive the birth. This must have terrified the young mother, as she would never give birth again.
Mother and son remained at Pembroke Castle until, at the age of two, Henry Tudor went to live with the Yorkist Herbert family in Wales. At age fourteen, he was forced into exile in France. Edward IV, the Yorkist King was on the throne but Margaret’s son Henry Tudor had a legitimate claim as well. Margaret Beaufort’s royal bloodline connected her to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster as well as the great King Edward III. John Beaufort, Henry’s maternal grandfather might have been next in line for the throne after John of Gaunt’s children from his first two marriages. While some may argue that Henry Tudor had no claim, the royal bloodline was indeed there.
Margaret would marry again just a year after her son’s birth. Sir Henry Stafford, second son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham,was Margaret’s husband for more than ten years. While it is believed that they enjoyed a rather harmonious marriage, Sir Henry was killed by injuries received in battle in 1471.
In June of 1472, Margaret would wed yet again, to Thomas Stanley, Lord High Constable and this marriage would allow her to return to the court of Edward IV and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Edward IV was a Yorkist King with a Lancastrian wife and this would prove helpful in Margaret Beaufort’s attempts to put her son on the throne. Edward IV had married Elizabeth Woodville for love and when he died in 1483 from illness, his son Edward was in line to take the throne. But King Edward’s brother Richard took the throne from his nephew. Richard fell into dispute with the Woodville family and feared that the King’s widow, Elizabeth, would turn her son against him.
Henry Tudor was now in his mid-twenties and the only Lancastrian with royal blood. Many saw Henry as the only one fit to rule. His mother Margaret was one of them. And she had the help of Elizabeth Woodville. When Richard seized power, Elizabeth found sanctuary in Westminster. It was rumoured that the King had locked both of his nephews in the Tower of London in fear that they would steal his crown. Believing both her sons to have died in the tower, Elizabeth joined forces with Margaret Beaufort in a plot to put Henry Tudor in what they believed was his rightful place. These two strong-minded women devised a plan to marry Henry to Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. This would unite the houses of York and Lancaster and give Henry Tudor even more claim to the throne as the people of England would have a Yorkist Queen and a Lancastrian King.
Margaret Beaufort would become the driving force behind bringing Henry Tudor to his crown. She had an affectionate relationship with her son and would send him letters as well as funds to build his army. With the support of the Woodville family, Henry engaged a small French and Scottish force. Henry also had the support of the Welsh people and was able to gather an army of 5000 troops. But some of the most important support he would gain would be that of his stepfather, Thomas Stanley. Stanley had been an early supporter of Richard III but would ultimately end up abandoning him and joining forces with Henry Tudor.
On August 22nd 1485, in the early hours of the morning, Henry Tudor and his army would march into battle and defeat Richard III in what would become known as the Battle of Bosworth. It was Henry’s stepfather himself who placed King Richard’s crown on Henry’s head after he fell from his horse and was killed.
We can imagine the joy Margaret Beaufort must have felt in knowing that her son was finally crowned King of England. She firmly believed that her son should be on the throne and had plotted successfully to put him there.
Margaret Beaufort’s childhood had been one of extraordinary difficulty. She lost her father at a very young age and forced to marry and be widowed several times. It can be understood that Margaret must have felt like all the odds were against her, yet she grew stronger from it. She was the perfect example of the devoted mother who will stop at nothing to help her child. And while this may have proved difficult for her daughter in law, she did continue to remain one of Henry’s closest advisors during his reign. We can assume the bitterness she was known for could have been from a life of constant struggle and the fear that someone would take what was hers; a son on the throne of England.
Margaret must have held the memories of her early marriage and childbirth with her. For when there were talks of her granddaughter’s marriage, Margaret became a strong advocate in assuring that the young girl did not go through the same harrowing experience of childbirth at such a young age. Margaret also played an important part in education during her life as she was the founder of several schools across England. Margaret Beaufort should continue to remain a symbol of strength for many women. She remained steadfast and determined and never lost her faith during a time of turbulent and political unrest.
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.
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.
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 many 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.
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 S.B. Chrimes in 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.
It seems that a lot of the hardback copies of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower are not reaching people after the release on Thursday. I’m told there has been a delay getting copies to the warehouse, but that they are there now and should be shipped early next week.
The Kindle version is available if you like your books electronic, but I know the feel of a hard copy book is irreplaceable to many. I’m sorry that there has been this delay in getting copies to you of a book I’m really keen for everyone to read. By way of an apology, I’m dropping a little extract here from the section dealing with Perkin Warbeck, detailing some of the rising tension in England in 1493-4. I hope you enjoy it until the books begin to drop on doorsteps.
The lack of direct action from Margaret’s pretender does not mean that concern in England was not reaching a thinly veiled peak. On 20 July 1493, Henry VII wrote a letter recorded in Ellis’s Original Letters Vol I to Sir Gilbert Talbot and expressly blamed Margaret for instigating the problems he now faced and tried to dismiss her prince as a ‘boy’, but it also ordered Talbot to be ‘ready to come upon a day’s warning for to do us service of war’ against the threatened invasion of ‘certain aliens, captains of strange nations’. It was all very well for Henry to call this pretender a mere ‘boy’, but Richard, Duke of York would have been nineteen years old by this point, an age at which his father was leading armies and devouring enemies, not only at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross but at the cataclysmic Battle of Towton, the largest battle fought on English soil, which Edward IV won to cement his own position on the throne. Henry would have been all too aware of this so his flippant disregard can only have been a blustering front.
Ellis’s Original Letters Vol II offers further illumination of the concern Henry felt, but needed desperately to hide. This document is a set of instructions given to Clarenceux King of Arms for an embassy to Charles VIII in France. The current holder of the office of Clarenceux King of Arms on 10 August 1494, when these papers were signed by Henry VII at Sheen Palace, was Roger Machado, who had been appointed to the role on 24 January that year. Roger Machado was of Portuguese extraction, which may be important to the tale, and had served Edward IV as Leicester Herald and appears, during the early part of 1485, to have undertaken several journeys on behalf of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, which may have been in relation to Henry Tudor, then in exile and planning his attack, or might equally have related to one or more of Thomas’s half-brothers, the Princes in the Tower, in hiding abroad.
In this instance, Henry VII’s instructions remain in full. The first part of the instructions order Machado to let Charles VIII know that his emissary, Messire George le Grec, had been afflicted by gout on his way to England but that Charles’ messages had been received from an esquire, Thomyn le Fevre, who had travelled in le Grec’s stead. Henry wished Charles to know that he had received the news that an embassy from Charles to Maximilian had returned to Paris with confirmation that the Holy Roman Emperor meant to do all in his power to assist Margaret’s pretender and that Maximilian had travelled to Flanders to help champion that cause. Charles appears to have sent Henry an offer of assistance, despite his own efforts to raise an army to assault Naples. France would lay the fleets of Brittany and Normandy at Henry’s disposal on the sole condition that he met the costs of running them whilst they served him and Charles, in line with his agreement at the Peace of Étaples, had ordered that none of his subjects should join or aid the pretender’s efforts. Henry thanked Charles for this offer, but said that he would not need to avail himself of it because the ‘garçon’ was of so little importance that Henry was not at all concerned by him. This, of course, was not true, as the king’s letter to Gilbert Talbot attests. Henry, though, needed to maintain a calm appearance above the surface as his legs beat furiously below the water, against a strengthening tide. The instructions, written in French and containing parts that cannot be clearly read, continue;
‘And in regard to the said garcon the King makes no account of him, nor of all his . . . . , because he cannot be hurt or annoyed by him; for there is no nobleman, gentleman, or person of any condition in the realm of England, who does not well know that it is a manifest and evident imposture, similar to the other which the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy made, when she sent Martin Swart over to England. And it is notorious, that the said garcon is of no consanguinity or kin to the late king Edward, but is a native of the town of Tournay, and son of a boatman (batellier), who is named Werbec, as the King is certainly assured, as well by those who are acquainted with his life and habits, as by some others his companions, who are at present with the King ; and others still are beyond the sea, who have been brought up with him in their youth, who have publicly declared at length how . . . [a few words are wanting] the king of the Romans. And therefore the subjects of the King necessarily hold him in great derision, and not without reason. And if it should so be, that the king of the Romans should have the intention to give him assistance to invade England, (which the King can scarcely believe, seeing that it is derogatory to the honor of any prince to encourage such an impostor) he will neither gain honor or profit by such an undertaking. And the King is very sure that the said king of the Romans, and the nobility about him, are well aware of the imposition, and that he only does it on account of the displeasure he feels at the treaty made by the King with his said brother and cousin, the king of France.’
Here we have Henry’s riposte to Richard’s pretension; the king claims that the youth is a native of Tournay, the son of a boatman and that his true name is Werbec, though it is unclear whether this is offered as the imposter’s forename or the family name of his father. Henry asserts that he has a wealth of creditable information confirming this and that Maximilian knows he is supporting an imposter, rather than a genuine pretender. This accusation is important for the very reason Henry points out. It should be considered beneath a prince of any nation to undermine the authority innate in royalty by holding up a known impostor, and a commoner from a foreign land to boot, against a fellow prince, whatever their personal quarrels may be. Supporting a legitimate potential alternative was fair game and an important political tool, but to cause a common man to be treated as royalty, allowed to wear royal cloth of gold and be hailed as a rightful king was not something any prince should, or would, do lightly, not least for the harm it would do to their own exalted position. From the descriptions provided earlier, Maximilian does not seem likely to take such an unwise step simply to help the step-mother of his deceased wife keep a personal feud alive. It is possible that Maximilian took the inadvisable step as an expedient to keep Margaret onside and harness her popularity in Burgundy for his son’s benefit, or that he turned a blind eye to the possibility that Richard was not Margaret’s nephew, at least not the one he claimed to be. One explanation for the family likeness is that this Richard was an illegitimate son of Edward IV, though a child from Edward’s exile in Burgundy in 1470-1 would appear too old and one fathered during his 1475 invasion of France too young to pass off as Richard, Duke of York, born in 1473. It is possible that another illegitimate child was sent to Margaret to be raised in comfort, away from the glare of Elizabeth Woodville, and that Margaret now saw in him the perfect chance, but such an illegitimate child is undocumented and no contemporary is recorded to have made such a suggestion.
Henry went on to offer his mediation in the dispute over Naples, since he and Charles VIII were now firm friends and the King of Naples was also on good terms with Henry, being a knight of the English Order of the Garter. Machado was, if asked about the state of domestic affairs, to assure Charles that England was more peaceful now than at any time in living memory, though Ireland remained something of a lost sheep that the king was resolved to bring back into the fold. In this way, any further input from Ireland into current problems could be written off as typical Irish troublemaking. Henry expressed his intention to send an army to quell the ‘Wild Irish’ and bring firmer order back to the Pale, where the English writ at least nominally ran. The last instruction to Machado was to thank the King of France for his assurance that if the King of Scotland were to launch an attack on England, Charles would neither condone nor offer any support to the action.
A separate instruction was added to the end, after the main set had been signed, giving Machado authority to show evidence to the King of France that Maximilian knew the pretender he supported was a fake and that his sole motive was anger at the peace now being enjoyed between England and France. Henry expressed a firm belief that he could reach terms with Maximilian if he wished to, but said that he would not for as long as Maximilian continued on his present course, trusting that England and France together could comfortably overcome any storm opposition to the Holy Roman Emperor might bring their way. Early the following year, Machado, having returned from this embassy, was sent back to France with fresh instruction drawn up at Greenwich on 30 December 1494. Henry reminded Charles that the French king had promised to send an envoy to discuss the state of affairs in both their countries but that none had arrived. Machado was therefore returning to France with news that Henry was in fine health and as beloved by his people as any of his predecessors had ever been. All was well in Ireland, where the men of power had submitted to Henry’s Lieutenant.
The final instruction to Machado (who, as well as holding the office of Clarenceux King of Arms was Richmond Herald) was ‘Item, in case that the said brother and cousin of the King, or others about him, should speak at all touching the king of the Romans, and the garçon who is in Flanders, the said Richmond may reply as he did on his former journey. And he shall say, that the King fears them not, because they are in capable of hurting or doing him injury. And it appears each day more and more to every person who the said garçon is, and from what place he came.’ It seems that Machado was briefed with a response to be used only if the matter to the pretender was raised by the King of France or any of his ministers. The response was to be repeated as it had been before; Henry was not afraid, but in sending Machado back so quickly on the pretence of a delay in Charles’ envoy arriving, Henry betrays a strong sense of concern. He protests too much and perhaps wanted a trusted, experienced pair of eyes at the French court again to make sure that Charles was not double-dealing. The constant reference to Richard as a boy smacks of bluster, an attempt to depict smooth confidence where none really existed. All was not, as Henry tried to make out, quiet in England and this second embassy by Machado was in response to shocking events at home.
Historical opinion often moves in circles on certain topics. Sometimes it’s a slow process and sometimes it happens quickly. The White Queen series stirred up the latent and under-examined but long-standing theory linking Margaret Beaufort to the disappearance and murder of the Princes in the Tower. In short order, the increased attention drew an onslaught of opinion denouncing the theory as impossible, implausible nonsense. The memes below offer a sample of the abuse drawn by the idea. So is this theory really devoid of merit?
Criminal investigations will frequently look for three elements when trying to establish if someone is a suspect; motive, means and opportunity. Richard III is quite rightly attributed with all three, though his precise motive is open to debate. There are other suspects, but if we concentrate on Margaret Beaufort, can any component be reasonably established for her, accepting that beyond a reasonable doubt is outside the realms of current knowledge?
Motive is often denied, since removing the Princes left too many other obstacles in her way to be a realistic attempt at getting her son onto the throne. The facts would tend to give the lie to this view though since her son ended up on the throne and as figurehead for a failed invasion in October 1483. At some point between Edward IV’s death in April 1483 and the rebellion of October 1483 the idea of Henry Tudor as a viable alternative to Richard III was birthed and grew. It cannot be considered beyond the bounds of possibility that the thought occurred to his mother early in the tumultuous events of that summer. It is known that Lady Stanley, as she was then, was in the process of negotiating her son’s return to England with Edward IV in talks that included the possibility of marrying him to one of Edward’s daughters (though probably not Elizabeth). A minority government, with all of its inherent insecurity, was unlikely to see those plans followed through for some time and when Richard became king in his nephew’s place there was also no sign of further talks on this matter. Margaret had come so close to securing her son’s return only to have the hope she nurtured snatched away at the last moment. Would she accept that circumstance willingly? It is true that she had endured the separation for years to that point, but having come so close must have made her more desperate for a reunion with Henry.
It might have become clear to Margaret that her son was not going to be allowed to return peacefully at any time soon and that an invasion was the only chance of getting him back. The aftermath of Richard III’s assumption of power presented an opportunity that the last ten years of Yorkist security had not for the pursuit of Margaret’s desire to have her son back by reigniting dormant Lancastrian sympathy and marrying it to the portion of Yorkist supporters unwilling to follow Richard III. It perhaps bears consideration that if Richard killed the princes with the motive of securing his position, he failed. If Margaret had it done to further her son’s prospects of a return, she succeeded. That fact proves nothing, of course, but it is food for thought.
As to means, this is every bit as contentious as the motive aspect. I have seen it argued that Margaret was a disgraced and punished nobody, married to an unimportant minor nobleman. This is rubbish. Margaret’s property was seized and given to her husband, but only after the October rebellion that aimed to put her son on the throne. A part of the reason that Margaret had been able to make three (if we ignore the first to John de la Pole as she did) good matches was that she was an immensely wealthy woman who controlled, or offered her husband control of, vast estates and income. The reason that she was deprived of her property after the rebellion was precisely that she had funded much of it, sending cash to her son in Brittany and then France. She had the means to orchestrate an invasion from within England, so why would access to the princes be beyond her? Far from being a woman restrained by sanctions, in the summer of 1483 Margaret could hardly have been closer to the centre of power. Perhaps Richard III felt the need to court or pacify the Stanleys, because at the joint coronation on 6th July, Margaret carried Queen Anne’s train, walking ahead of Richard’s own sister, the Duchess of Suffolk. Her husband, Thomas, Lord Stanley walked only a couple of places behind the king, bearing the mace of the Lord High Constable, a great office of state previously held by Richard himself and placed in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham, but which Thomas Stanley would acquire after the October rebellion.
Does all of this power and influence translate into the means to secure access to the princes for someone tasked with killing them? The denial of this relies on two more long-standing fallacies. The first is that the princes were thrown into a deep dark dungeon and treated as prisoners. There is simply no evidence of this. They were moved from the royal apartments where Edward V had been preparing for his coronation, as tradition dictated, because those apartments were in turn required for Richard and Anne to prepare for theirs. There is talk in contemporary accounts of them being withdrawn into the castle and seen less and less, but they were seen, exercising, shooting their bows and playing after Richard’s coronation – not languishing in a dank dungeon somewhere. Their servants were removed and replaced, most likely not because those servants were loyal to Edward V but to the Woodvilles, particularly Anthony, who Richard had arrested for treason and whose sister, the dowager queen, had fled into sanctuary and was refusing to talk to the government, even before Richard was asked to take the throne. None of this would necessarily prevent access to them being secured by a woman so close to the court that she had just carried the queen’s train at the coronation and not associated with the Woodvilles.
The other great misconception is that the Tower of London was a locked and bolted prison, a dark place with a sinister character. That was not true until the Tudor era, when palaces further along the Thames were preferred and the Tower earned its brutal reputation. The Tower was a functioning royal palace, a busy and bustling place where the Royal Treasury was frequently housed, Council meetings held and military provisions stockpiled. There must have been a steady stream of deliveries of food and goods as well as a standing staff to run the Treasury and the other more permanent functions of the Tower so that even when the royal household wasn’t in residence to swell the numbers further, it would hardly have been a deserted place impossible to access, even without the influence then wielded by Lord and Lady Stanley.
Opportunity is closely linked to the conditions above. If we accept that the princes were not closely guarded prisoners hidden deep within the bowels of the Tower, that in the summer of 1483 Lord and Lady Stanley were riding high in royal favour and were yet to attract suspicion and that access to the Tower, whilst perhaps not wide open to every resident of London, was not impossible in a working palace with regular comings and goings for people of such influence as Lady Stanley, then opportunity becomes easy to establish.
There is a clear indicator that Margaret Beaufort’s work on her son’s behalf in the late summer of 1483 was advanced, ran deep, was secret and relied on the death of the Princes in the Tower. It was Margaret who opened up a clandestine line of communication to Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Margaret used her physician Lewis Caerleon, who posed as Elizabeth’s physician, to pass messages between the two women. That is how Margaret secured Elizabeth’s agreement that their children should marry and together they should promote Henry Tudor’s prospects of taking the throne. For Elizabeth to agree to this, she must have believed her sons were dead and their cause lost, so that marrying her daughter to Henry Tudor represented the only course open to her out of sanctuary and back to power. Given that no one, contemporary or otherwise, knows for certain the fate of the Princes in the Tower, how could Elizabeth, from the isolated seclusion of sanctuary, have got news so definite that she gave up on her sons? The obvious answer is from Margaret Beaufort, via Dr Caerleon. If it was part of her plan to pass this story to Elizabeth to improve her son’s cause, then their murder was part of her thinking and she just might have planned to organise it too.
I don’t know that Margaret Beaufort was involved in the fate of the Princes in the Tower, but it is clear that she exploited the idea of their murder to further her son’s cause. Buckingham is as strong a suspect and Richard III must remain prime suspect (if we believe there was a murder at all, which is another matter). My point here is that all of those who sneer at the notion that Margaret Beaufort could have been involved are, in my opinion, wrong. Margaret had motive, means and opportunity, and that makes her a suspect.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The fate of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, is one of the most enduring and passionately debated unsolved mysteries of English history. This episode looks at the development of the story of Richard’s guilt and wonders whether Shakespeare’s play is a major red herring.
Having considered in a previous post what it might mean if King Richard III had killed his nephews, it is worth considering what he actually stood to gain from committing the deed. Many will insist that clearing a path to the throne was motive enough, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.
The document by which Richard’s title was presented, later to be accepted by Parliament, was Titulus Regius. The Parliament Rolls of January 1484 recall that the document was presented to Richard “on behalf and in the name of the three estates of this realm of England, that is, the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons”. However, the Rolls note that as Parliament was not officially in session at the time “various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people” as to the legitimacy of the document. To correct this, the document was read before Parliament and enrolled as an Act of Parliament to remove this confusion. In spite of the best efforts of Henry VII to have all copies of the documents destroyed, it has remained for us to examine.
The petition refers to the misrule of England of late, particularly since “the ungracious feigned marriage, as all England has reason to say”, between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, “lately and for many years previously calling herself queen of England”. The bill details Edward IV’s supposed pre-contract of marriage to Eleanor Butler, a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, stating “If all that is true, as in very truth it is, it clearly appears and follows that during his life the said King Edward and the said Elizabeth lived together sinfully and damnably in adultery, contrary to the law of God and of his church”, adding also that “it clearly appears and follows that all the issue and children of the said King Edward are bastards, and unable to inherit or claim anything by inheritance, by the law and custom of England”. The first important matter of note here is the reference to “all the issue and children”. This was not aimed specifically at the title of Edward V or his brother, but included his sisters as well as any other known bastards of Edward IV.
The issue of the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, and his sister Margaret was dealt with by the recollection that “by the three estates of this realm assembled in a parliament held at Westminster in the seventeenth year of the reign of the said King Edward IV , he then being in possession of the crown and royal estate, by an act made in the same parliament, George, duke of Clarence, brother to the said King Edward, now dead, was convicted and attainted of high treason”. The effect of George’s attainder was that “all the issue of the said George was and is disabled and barred from all right and claim to the crown and royal dignity of this realm”.
The effect of all this, some will maintain to Richard’s delight, was that “there is no other person living, except you, who by right may claim the said crown and royal dignity by way of inheritance”. The Parliament Rolls then record that “This bill was conveyed to the commons of the realm of England being in the said parliament; to which bill the same commons gave their assent in these words: A cest bille les comenz sount assentuz. (To this bill the commons are agreed.)”
Richard was king and his title was indisputable. Or was it? This is the real crux of the issue regarding the Princes in the Tower. If Richard’s title was beyond challenge, the boys posed little threat. Yes, a few may risk the treachery of treason, but the threat of the fate that awaited failure should put off most. When Henry Tudor won the crown at Bosworth, he dated his rule from the day before the battle to allow those who fought for Richard to be convicted of treason. A travesty of justice, but an effective way of dealing with their threat. Henry knew what Richard must have also known; that which had been won could be lost; that which had been handed to them could as easily be snatched away and given to another. Henry’s title was far from incontrovertible and so was Richard’s. As Parliament had granted him his title, so it could be granted to another, or back to Edward V. The last twenty years had demonstrated as much clearly.
So, in spite of being declared illegitimate, it is entirely conceivable that the Princes in the Tower were viewed as a potential threat to Richard’s rule. There were several possible solutions to this problem, only one of which, the most extreme, was to have them murdered. What would Richard actually gain from doing away with a 12 year old boy and his 9 year old brother? The usual answer is the easy one. Removing the boys would eliminate the threat of a revival of the cause of Edward V. But that is not the whole picture.
Edward had never been crowned, though he still holds the title King Edward V. He was not a king anointed by God as Henry VI had been when he was displaced. There was familial loyalty, but by recognising him as a bastard in Parliament, the lord spiritual and temporal and the commons renounced that loyalty. Officially at least. There is also another consideration.
Salic Law was the system in France that prevented inheritance by the female line of any family. It was a clear and established legal principle. No such law existed in England. It is true that primogeniture traditionally meant that the oldest male inherited, but there was nothing to prevent female inheritance. Plenty of titles were held at this time by well known lords jure uxoris – by right of his wife. The famous Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, only held that earldom by right of his wife Anne de Beauchamp. Anne’s brother Henry died with only one daughter, another Anne. When she died childless, the title passed to his sister Anne as 16th Countess. Warwick’s title was not truly his.
It can also be acknowledged that there was a history in England of shying away from female rule. Matilda had suffered from the perception that women should not rule men and more recently Margaret of Anjou’s attempts to secure power for herself during her husband’s incapacity had pushed men into the arms of Richard, Duke of York. In contrast to this, Henry Tudor was to claim the throne and have himself crowned King Henry VII before he married Elizabeth of York precisely because he knew her title to the throne was better than his and he did not want to restore the House of York to act as a consort to the Queen. He wanted the crown for himself.
So, the real question is this; were the other royal children really any less of a threat than Edward V and Richard, Duke of York? The answer is plain. How did Henry VII recruit disaffected Edwardian Yorkist support? By promising to marry Elizabeth of York, the oldest daughter of King Edward IV. It was the promise of a union with the House of York that bought Henry his throne because men clearly identified Elizabeth as the rightful heir in her brothers’ absence. That was precisely the reason Henry was careful to have himself crowned in his own right, not that of his intended wife. Parliament eventually petitioned Henry to honour his pledge and he was forced to accept that there was no way to maintain his position without doing so. Whether he liked it or not, because he would not claim the crown by right of conquest, he was effectively king jure uxoris.
This situation did not suddenly surface just before Bosworth, either. On Christmas Day 1483, Henry Tudor swore an oath at Rennes Cathedral to marry Elizabeth in return for the support of those men gathered around him in seeking the throne. Elizabeth was now a very real threat in the way that her brother might have been. If Richard had ordered the murders of the two boys just a few months earlier, the natural course of action now was to finish the job and do away with Edward IV’s daughters too, robbing Tudor of the allegiance of those who had made oaths to him by removing the possibility of a union. If Richard did not care about two boys, why care about five girls languishing in sanctuary?
Yet this did not happen. In March 1484, less than three months after Henry Tudor’s oath, Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters emerged from sanctuary and came to Richard’s court as part of his family. He had sworn a public oath to protect them and to find them suitable marriages. This episode is a crucial part of the story but remains as elusive as so many others. It is often asked how Elizabeth Woodville could possibly have handed her daughters into the care of a man who had murdered her sons. Would his promise really be enough if she believed he had done away with her sons? Of course, it is also argued that Richard may well have shown her proof either that he was not responsible for the boys’ death or even that they weren’t dead at all. There is a Tyrell family story that Sir James Tyrell hosted Elizabeth and her daughters at his family home at Gipping Hall when she met her sons on frequent visits arranged by Richard. It has been argued that Elizabeth had little option but to come out of an indefinite sanctuary, but I would have thought remaining there was preferable to risking the lives of her remaining children, particularly if Henry Tudor was intending to rescue them.
Perhaps we should also be asking the opposite question. If Richard had murdered his nephews, the greatest, most immediate threat to his rule was now Henry Tudor, who had attempted one invasion already and would surely try again soon. He was drawing support to him based upon his promise to marry Elizabeth, a woman who was now in Richard’s hands. If he had murdered her brothers, surely he would have no qualms about killing her and her sisters now. He had promised not to, but if he was a murdering monster, what would that promise really be worth, especially against the opportunity to secure his position further? Killing Elizabeth would not be enough – Tudor could simply transfer his oath to Cecily. The others were too young, but in time they would become the same threat. Why not simply dispose of the whole lot right away? That would be the natural response if Richard were an evil schemer.
But the girls lived. Richard fulfilled his promise, at least until his death the following year. Perhaps he would have survived longer had he been the brutal murderer many cannot see past. Mind you, that would still not be enough.
George, Duke of Clarence had a son, Edward, Earl of Warwick and a daughter, Margaret. In the absence of other Yorkist possibilities, they may have become a threat. The Edwardians who were drifting away from Richard may have focussed on Edward as the heir of York in spite of his father’s treason. Margaret might even have become a focus for Tudor if Edward IV’s daughters were all gone. No. They would have to go too. Yet it was Henry VII who was to judicially murder Edward, Earl of Warwick and it was Henry VIII who finally succumbed to paranoia and executed Margaret when she was an elderly lady of 67.
The early Tudors would also feel the threat from Richard’s other nephews, the de la Pole sons of his sister Elizabeth. They carried the cause of the White Rose into the reign of Henry VIII, so were legitimate threats, but John was killed at the Battle of Stoke in 1486, Edmund was imprisoned by Henry VII, handed over on the promise that he would not be executed, and was beheaded in 1513 by Henry VIII, who did not feel his father’s promise bound him. Richard was killed at the Battle of Pavia in Italy, news that Henry VIII enthusiastically celebrated, having been unable to catch him, and William was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1501 and remained there until his death 37 years later. He remains the longest serving prisoner in the history of the Tower.
So, Richard did not kill any of these people. We know this for a fact, in spite of the often potential and even very real threat that they posed to him. Why, then, is it so easy to believe that he murdered the Princes in the Tower? Two out of at least nine, if not more, threats? Why do far less than half a job if securing the throne is your only concern?
The other suspects? Well, these tend to all orbit the cause of Henry Tudor. If they were murdered in 1483, it is possible that it was part of a plot to subvert Richard’s rule by casting the shadow of guilt over him.
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was a cousin to Richard and had helped to propel him to the throne. In spite of this, and the rewards that followed, Buckingham apparently wrote to Henry Tudor in exile imploring him to invade to free the sons of Edward IV, quickly altering the purpose of the invasion to seeing Tudor crowned king because there were rumours that the boys were dead. Did Buckingham start these rumours in spite of knowing them to be false? Did Buckingham, with all of his power and influence, arrange the boy’s death and invite an invasion to allow Richard and Tudor to destroy each other, clearing his own path to the throne? His blood was royal and he possessed a claim stronger than Tudor’s. The Stafford line was descended from the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, son of Edward III. Buckingham’s mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund, Duke of Somerset, and so a cousin of Henry Tudor’s mother. The rebellion’s failure cost him his life and cast a long shadow over his son, who was to fall foul of Henry VIII’s early suspicious nature.
Margaret Beaufort, Tudor’s mother, was married to Thomas, Lord Stanley who was Richard’s Lord High Constable after Buckingham’s fall. This role effectively gave Stanley the keys to the Tower. Was the prospect of seeing a grateful step son on the throne enough to drive the murder of two young boys? It was certainly enough to betray his king on the field of battle at Bosworth, though this seems a risky move for a man famed for walking the fine line of self serving loyalty. Perhaps his wife was more driven and convinced him, or had the deed done herself. She was a staunch Lancastrian who had seen Henry VI killed, his son lost in battle to the Yorkists, her own family, particularly anyone brave enough to bear the title Duke of Somerset, decimated by the bitter Wars of the Roses. Was this revenge, then? She had opportunity and motive, as did Stanley and Buckingham. And, lest we forget, Richard himself.
Unless, as I continually return to, they did not die at all. Elizabeth Woodville may have emerged from sanctuary on the promise of contact with her sons, safely secreted in Richard’s old stomping grounds in the north among men he knew he could trust. Away from court, brought up as his illegitimate nephews. Or perhaps they were quietly installed at the Burgundian court of their aunt, Richard’s sister Margaret, travelling to Gipping Hall to visit their mother under the trusted supervision of Sir James Tyrell.
The frustrating thing is that we may never know the truth, but the possibilities beyond Richard killing two young boys, members of his own family, must bear thinking about, if only so that we consider the whole realm of potential fates. If your final assessment is still that Richard was still the most likely suspect to have had the boys murdered, then I am happy for you to reach that conclusion. He probably is the most reasonable suspect, but too much still does not make sense.
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.
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.
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.
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?