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Almost immediately after Henry’s unlikely success at Bosworth in August 1485, the highly superstitious King, had to contend with two attempted usurpations by pretenders. Was it that there was indeed a serious threat posed to Henry’s crown, or a mere disruptive nuisance and if there was such a threat did it come from the Pretenders or was there a hidden depth to both situations that actually contemplated Yorkist masterminds pulling the strings behind the scenes of a magnificently staged puppet show?
After Richard III’s unexpected defeat at The Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the newly victorious and young Henry Tudor, took the English crown and alongside it his claim to the English throne. Henry’s usurpation was sealed at his coronation on October 30th 1485. However, Henry’s reign was not an easy one and Henry knew his claim to the throne was not as stable nor as strong as he would have liked it to be. Therefore, Henry took many, sometimes unnecessary, methods to try to secure his position as the King of England.
Henry claimed that he had actually become King on August 21st (a day before The Battle of Bosworth), making those who fought against him traitors and liable to execution. Henry also used bonds and recognises to guarantee the loyalty of English nobles to himself alone. Some nobles were simply exposed to acts of attainder or locked in the Tower of London, whilst others gained respected positions within Henry’s council. These acts merely suggest that Henry was a vulnerable King and rumours of his ‘cursed’ reign only fuelled his insecurity.
Henry’s victory at Bosworth and his usurpation of Richard III, was sure to encourage Yorkist plots against him. The first of these plots came in the winter of 1486.
Curiously Edward, Earl of Warwick a strong heir to the English throne appeared in Ireland. During this time it was unknown, besides rumours, what had happened to the young Prince and so it would have been a clever choice by a pretender to claim to be Edward. Introducing the indeed clever pretender, Lambert Simnel. Simnel was originally the son of Thomas Simnel an Oxfordshire man of unknown profession, Simnel had a striking resemblance to Richard, Duke of York but with rumours circulating about Edward, Earl of Warwick, Simnel claimed to be him. The idea of becoming a pretender was initially pushed upon Simnel by his teacher Richard Symonds. Symonds helped by John de la Pole (an influential yorkist), took Simnel off to Ireland, a yorkist stronghold, where he was presented as Edward VI to the Earl of Kildare newly escaped from the Tower, the Irish happily accepted Symonds story.
Henry had become aware of the plot, back in England and by February 1487, Henry held a council meeting, shortly after Lincoln (de la Pole) fled to Flanders where he joined fellow Yorkist Francis Lovell under the protection of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy (Aunt of Edward, Earl of Warwick). Margaret, sister of Richard III and the late Edward IV, was determined to end Henry’s reign and proved a irritation throughout, she pledged her support to Edward’s cause. Unluckily for Henry, Margaret was a powerful influence in the plot and gave Lincoln and Lovell 2,000 German soldiers, who landed in Ireland on May 5th 1487. Due to Margaret’s support, the Irish still believed the pretender’s claim and that they had indeed the true Edward, Earl of Warwick, following this Simnel was crowned Edward VI in Dublin Cathedral on May 24th 1487.
Roughly a week later Simnel’s army incorporating a mixture of German and Irish troops landed in Lancashire on June 4th 1487 and met Henry’s army at Stoke on June 16th 1487, for what was to become known as ‘The Last Battle of The Wars of The Roses’, it was to be the last ever battle between Yorkists and Lancastrians. Henry’s 12,000 men easily defeated Simnel’s 8,000 rebels and he was captured.
Henry’s sentence to Simnel was a generous one, Simnel was to spend his days as a turnspit in Henry’s kitchen. Later due to his loyalty Simnel was promoted to the King’s Falconer. Henry’s sentence to Simnel was generous on the grounds, that Simnel was merely a pawn in the hands of senior Yorkists. The Earl of Kildare was captured but later released as he was forced to retain his position as Lord Deputy of Ireland, Henry knew he was the only person able to control the people of Ireland. Lincoln was killed on the battlefield and Lovell either escaped or was killed, as he was never seen again. Symonds the fire-starter of the plot was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Bishop’s prison, Henry had to abide by the laws of the Church on the grounds that Symonds was a Priest.
As a deterrent to others Henry attained and confiscated the lands of 28 nobles who fought against him in the Battle of Stoke. Henry never again faced an army composed of his own subjects on English soil. However, the fact that such a ridiculous scheme almost succeeded and a re-enactment of Bosworth was a possibility with Henry in the place of Richard III, suggests that the country was still unsettled and highlights what a fragile grasp Henry had on the crown. It was no coincidence that on November 25th 1487, Henry belatedly crowned Elizabeth (originally a Yorkist) an act meant to unite people’s goodwill and secure the unification of Yorkists and Lancastrians.
The next conspiracy against Henry VII was to last for nearly ten years and caused the King much angst. In 1491, a young servant of a Breton merchant was wondering the streets of Cork in Ireland, displaying his master’s fine products. He bore a striking resemblance to Edward, Earl of Warwick, however denying he was the Earl of Warwick he ‘changed’ into Richard, Duke of York. The young prince Richard was the younger son of Edward IV who had supposedly been murdered in the Tower of London, along with his elder brother Edward.
Consequently began the adventures of Perkin Warbeck.
Originally, it was thought that Warbeck came from Tournai in Flanders. It was likely that he had already been ‘discovered’ by Margaret of Burgundy and she had decided to send the young man to Ireland, always a centre for Yorkist plots. It was a difficult time for Henry with his poor relations with Scotland and France and the developing situation within Brittany and so Warbeck’s supporters believed it to be the ideal time to try and overthrow the King.
Warbeck’s apperance was manipulated by himself and most importantly helped by leading Yorkists. Warbeck received some support in Ireland but it was not enough to give him a safe base. By 1492 Warbeck had found his first protector in Charles VIII of France. However the Treaty of Etaples put an end to this phase of the impostor’s career and he along with his band of followers took refuge in Burgundy, in the safety of his ‘aunt’ Margaret of Burgundy. Henry took decisive action and stopped all trade with Flanders , even though it threatened England’s vital cloth trade. Warbeck found an even more powerful and influential backer in Maximilian (leader of the Holy Roman Empire), however Maximilian lacked the vital resources and money to fit out a proper invasion force for Warbeck. Further pressure was taken from Henry as the King of France needed peace on his northern borders with England, as it went to war on Italy. The most devastating supporter of Warbeck for Henry however came from within his very own royal court itself, in the form of Sir William Stanley, Henry’s Lord Chamberlain. Stanley made the destructive comment; “I would not stand in the way if Warbeck was Richard IV.”
By 1495, Warbeck had once again found a supportive figurehead in Scotland’s King, James IV. Warbeck received a pension and was married to James IV’s cousin Katherine of Gordon. These actions offended Henry and added a sense of doubt to the proposed marriage alliance between England and Spain. In January 1496, James IV launched a massive border raid into England, but with Warbeck receiving no support, the raid quickly withdrew. Realising that he could no longer depend on Scottish support, Warbeck tried his luck once again in Ireland, however with the Earl of Kildare swearing his loyalty to Henry, there was no support for Warbeck. He departed on his last desperate adventure in 1497, he had heard of the unsettling cornish rebellion in the south-west and hoped to exploit the situation, however Warbeck’s poorly-led and ill-equipped army was intercepted at Exeter.
Warbeck left his army to fend for itself and fled to the safety of Beaulieu Abbey near Southampton. It did not last and Warbeck was soon persuaded into giving himself up and made a full confession. In return for this act of confession, Henry treated Warbeck well and allowed him, along with his wife to remain at court. In 1498 Warbeck tried to escape but was recaptured and this time Henry was not so merciful, the pretender was publicly humiliated and locked in the Tower of London. Once in the Tower, it was not long until Warbeck along with the Earl of Warwick were plotting their escape. In 1499 Warbeck was hanged and a few days later the Earl of Warwick was proven guilty of treason and executed.
In conlusion, although Lambert Simnel nor Perkin Warbeck ever did have a real claim to the throne, the threat they posed was indeed a strong one, they challenged Henry at a time when he was new to kingship and were used as puppets pulled by the strings held in the hands of the leading Yorkists, to question Henry’s right to rule. The weakness of his claim to the throne and the usurpation of Richard III left Henry vunerable to attack, when Henry himself was insecure and wary of his own claim to the throne. Warbeck especially proved a threat to Henry, as he was supported abroad, this was bad timing for Henry as Warbeck provided doubt for the foreign policies Henry was trying to secure, with influential countries, such as Spain. On the other hand, Henry dealt well with the situation once in his control quickly and took decisive action on the pretenders, as Anderson observed; “, it is noticeable that when Warbeck appeared, his support was principally from outside England and his two attempts to invade both failed miserably”. T
his shows that Henry was capable of establishing himself and the monarchy, by the time the Pretenders attacked. Also, as Guy explains; “The most important revolt in Henry VII’s reign, the Cornish uprising of 1497, was not dynastic.” Therefore displaying the fact that Henry had other factors to take into consideration when discussing the threat to his crown, rather than simply the threat posed by pretenders to the throne. The Cornish uprising was caused by Henry himself and so proved that Henry needed to focus on his own leadership skills and gaining support from the people within England would be his next difficult but cope able challenge.