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The Richard III Society

Promoting research into the life and times of Richard III since 1924

Patron: HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO

The Wars of the Roses

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Aftermath: Opposition and Pretenders

Introduction

The battle of Bosworth did not bring long-term peace to England. Those still loyal to the memory of Richard III opposed the new regime and there was unrest during the months following Bosworth.

Persistent rumours of the survival of one or both of the sons of Edward IV circulated the country. In 1487 an invasion championing the claim of Lambert Simnel was defeated but the threat from another pretender Perkin Warbeck dragged on for many years and only concluded with his execution in 1499.

Heavy taxation led to rebellions in 1489 and 1497. It appeared the English had little love for their conqueror king and although the words were written for another monarch, 'uneasy lies the head that wears a crown' they were just as suited to Henry Tudor. Only when his son, another Henry became king - the product of both the houses of Lancaster and York - was there any kind of acceptance for 'the Tudors'.

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Opposition to Henry Tudor after Bosworth

by W.E. Hampton

Although several historians maintain that England quickly accepted the verdict of Bosworth as that of trial by battle, there is in fact much evidence of unrest immediately after Bosworth, and continuing until, and after, Stoke Field. Let us briefly examine some of this evidence.

In September 1485, Robert Throckmorton was appointed Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire (Richard's Sheriff, Richard Boughton, having been killed on his way to Bosworth - either in resisting Henry's forward troops, or perhaps through treachery - an incident strangely ignored) and was replaced in November. He petitioned for a pardon of fines and arrears touching his office, 'which sheriffwik your said liege occupied but by space of one month or full little more, and in stablysshed' that he could not execute his office to the King's profit.1

We have Henry's own testimony. On 17 October 1485, he wrote to Henry Vernon of Haddon (one of Richard's Esquires of the Body) telling of his 'knowledge that certeyne our rebelles and traitours being of litell honour or substance confedered with our auncient ennemyes the Scottes (against their allegiance, etc.) made insurreccion and assemblies in the north portions of our realme, taking Robin of Riddesdale, Jack St Thomalyn at Lath, and Maister Mendall for their capteyns, entending if they be of power the fynall and abversion ... of our realme'. Vernon was urged to come with his attendance and assistance in all haste, the letter being under the King's sign manual.2 Such pseudonyms as 'Maister Mendall' and 'Robin of Redesdale' must have seemed to Henry ominously reminiscent of the forces which overthrew Edward in 1469-70. Was Sir John Conyers involved? Lathes, in the Cleveland district of the North Riding of Yorkshire, was held by Sir John's son, Henry. John Thomlynson (whose sister was married to Edmund, son of Miles Metcalfe) was a beneficiary in the will of Sir John's brother, Christopher, all of which could point to Sir John and his widely spread and influential family. On 25 September Sir John had been one of those ordered to array troops in the north to resist the Scots, with Lord Strange's forces available if required.

Until pardoned in August 1486, a group of Richard's supporters, escaped from Bosworth - Harringtons, Huddlestons, Middletons, Frankes - remained unsubdued on 'Furneys Fells'. Christopher Urswick was sent to James Harrington and others in Hornby Castle, with letters under the Privy Seal, and Milo Childe was sent not only to Sir Richard Tunstall (who was early reconciled to the new order) but to Richard Duckett of Gilthwayterigg, Westmorland, father-in-Iaw of Ralph Brackenbury, Sir Robert's nephew and heir male.3 Several of the Furness Fell 'rebels' died at Stoke Field. Edward Franke survived and continued to work against Henry until1489, when he was reported to have been hanged - or beheaded, according to another report - on Tower Hill.4

Image: To follow (Hornby Castle)

After Bosworth Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was captured and imprisoned5. Soon after 6 December 1485, he was released, and immediately sent to the North by Henry Tudor, who was reluctantly forced to employ him there because of the inability of Lords Strange and Fitzhugh to subdue English rebels who had encouraged the King of Scots to besiege Berwick. Berwick was relieved, but resistance continued west of the Pennines.5

One would like to know if the death, on 28 March 1486, of Lovell's brother-in-law, Sir Brian Stapleton, was connected with these Spring insurrections, which culminated in an attempt by Lovell to seize Henry VII at York. On that occasion Henry Percy is said to have personally saved the King's life, on St. George's Day.6 During the King's visit the earl of Lincoln was reported as wanting to go 'over the walls' to join Robin of Redesdale. Among those willing to assist Lincoln was Sir Thomas Mauleverer, a former retainer of Richard III, who had made him a knight banneret in Scotland in 1482.

The rebellion of Humphrey Stafford his brother Thomas and their adherents Giles and Christopher Wellesbourne, may have been less political than part of the struggle for the inheritance of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon, and a continuation of the feud with the Harcourts. Giles had married the widow of John Harcourt, her daughter Margery being married to Humphrey Wellesbourne. Yet the Staffords were sheltered by John Sante, Abbot of Abingdon, friend of Lovell and of Edward Franke. In February 1486, Henry VII sent his uncle, Jasper Tudor, into Wales 'to see that country'.7 Not even in Wales was Henry's rule everywhere welcome. On 14 October 1486, the keeping of a warren and lands in Marcle 'alias Markeley', and property in Stretton, Herefordshire, were granted to Thomas Acton. These had been seized into the King's hands by reason of the rebellion of Thomas Hunteley 'and his adherence to the rebels of Wales'.8

A brief mention may also be made of Lords Scrope of Bolton and of Masham who in June 1487 made an attack on York. They were imprisoned until 1488 when they were required to remain within a twenty- mile radius of London. There was the Northumbrian, James Lilbourne, who was arrested but escaped early in 1487, and there was also Sir Henry Bodrugan who put up some resistance in Cornwall. All of these 'rebels', we may note, opposed Henry Tudor's regime in the eighteen months between Bosworth and Stoke Field. The resistance did not end there.

Notes and references

  1. William Campbell (ed), Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, Rolls Series, Vol 1, (London 1873), pp 282-3
  2. Henry Kirke, Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon. Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol 42, 1920, p 12
  3. Materials. .., vol. 2, (London 1877), p. 98, 100
  4. Plumpton Correspondence, ed. T Stapleton, Camden Society, (London 1839), letter Ixxi, p 87, citing Collectanea Lelandi, vol 4
  5. MA Hicks, 'Dynastic Change and Northern Society', Northern History, vol 14, (1975), pp 92-3, 96-7 where Dr Hicks also examines the rebellions of 1485, 1486 and 1487, observing that Robin of Redesdale was also involved in Viscount Lovell's insurrections in the Ripon and Middleham areas in 1486
  6. Edward Harrington Fonblanque, The Annals of the House of Percy, Vol I, (1887), p 300, citing Drake's Eboracum
  7. Plumpton Correspondence, p. 50
  8. Calendar of Fine Rolls 1485-1509, pp 60-1

Footnote

The above is probably not an exhaustive list of opposition to Tudor rule. In early May 1486 there were 'riotous attempts to depose the king in London. The malcontents, armed with standards reminiscent of earlier days, met at Westminster on 5 May and then went to Highbury in the parish of Islington to attack lieges of the king.'

This article was first published in The Ricardian in December 1976 and re-published in Richard III: Crown & People edited by James Petre, Gloucester 1985.

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The Rebellion of Humphrey Stafford in 1486

Based on CH Williams' article in English Historical Review, vol 43, 1928, pp. 181-189

Although this rebellion was a dismal failure it is significant for three reasons; as yet another example of resistance to the fledgling Tudor dynasty; an illustration of the king's interest in and influence on the administration of his realm; and it was a landmark incident on the use of sanctuary.

Little is known of the episode but examination of the legal proceedings that followed the events provide a little more detail. Humphrey Stafford together with his younger brother, Thomas, and Richard III's great friend, Francis Lovell, following their master's defeat at Bosworth, left their sanctuary in Colchester. Lovell headed north whilst the brothers went to the west country where they planned to seize Worcester. Stafford established personal contact in the vicinity and sent messages to others. As an attainted man he was unlikely to attract support so he spread the story that Henry had pardoned him and produced forged documents to support his claim. Now, having established himself as the king's 'true liegeman', his plans began to take shape and he spread rumours amongst his new adherents.
St Paul's Church, Culham
Courtesy Roger Sweet
Indictments record stories that Edward, Earl of Warwick, had been set free in Guernsey and transported to Yorkshire and united with Lovell. Other documents record that Lovell had been successful in Yorkshire and that the king was captured. The Staffords successfully entered Worcester, due to the negligence of the authorities to provide an adequate guard. They urged their men to ride north with all speed to 'assist Lovell in the destruction of Henry VII'. All came to nothing. The king on reaching Pontefract on 20 April found that 'rumours were distilling into facts' and sent a force westwards. Richard Burdett warned Stafford of the approaching royalist force and he fled to Bewdley, just missing capture by Thomas Cokesey, and from there to Culham in Oxfordshire.

The brothers' sanctuary, however, was violated on 13 May by John Savage heading a force of sixty men. Humprhey Stafford's defence was based on the sanctuary violation and he was brought to court on 20 June though the case was adjourned until the 28th. The judges did not come to their conclusion easily but 'after indications of the king's desires, the judges came to a decision'. Sanctuary could not be pleaded in cases of treason. A precedent had been set. Stafford was condemned on 5 July to a traitor's death. His younger brother was pardoned.

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Lambert Simnel and the King from Dublin

by Gordon Smith

In the traditional story in Bacon (1622) Lambert Simnel first impersonated Richard, Duke of York, younger son of Edward IV, before changing his imposture to Edward, earl of Warwick, son of the king's brother George, duke of Clarence. Lambert was crowned in Dublin but defeated at the battle of Stoke in 1487, and pardoned by Henry VII. But there are three different identities for the king from Dublin: Molinet's true Warwick, André's false York, and Vergil's false Warwick. Bacon's account conflates André and Vergil, and we do not know who the Irish king's supporters say he was.

Some people did not believe Richard III had murdered his nephews Edward V and York in the Tower of London during his reign (1483-85), and André linked rumours of their survival to the plot to imitate York. A son of Edward IV could have been in Ireland some time. André says the Irish king was the son of a baker or a shoemaker, and, once the conspiracy had started, a rumour was circulated that Edward IV's second son had been crowned in Ireland.

Henry VII, who had supplanted Richard, sent over various messengers, including a herald who failed to trap the pretender on his knowledge of the times of Edward IV. This suggests the pretender was a young man, which would fit his age according to Molinet and Bacon.

It also fits Vergil's mistaken age for Warwick, which is fifteen (actually ten) at the time Richard was slain at Bosworth in August 1485. After the battle Henry VII sent Warwick from Sheriff Hutton to the Tower, where it is rumoured he was murdered. Vergil claimed the rumour prompted Richard Simons, a priest from Oxford, to adopt the impersonation of Warwick for his pupil Lambert Simnel.

In late 1486 Henry VII issued writs for meetings of convocation and of his council at Sheen (Richmond, Surrey) in February 1487. He proclaimed a pardon to those accused of treason and other crimes, hoping to stop the Irish rebellion spreading. Messengers from Ireland had already been sent to supporters of Richard III and to his sister Margaret, duchess of Burgundy. The pardon failed to win over Sir Thomas Broughton of Furness Fells and others, who joined Richard's friend Francis, Lord Lovell, in Flanders.

That he himself 'was with Lord Lovell in Furness Fells' was part of the confession of a priest, William Simons, aged 28, before the convocation of Canterbury at St Paul's cathedral in London on 17 February 1487. He had taken the son of an organ-maker of the University of Oxford with him to Ireland, and there the boy was reputed to be Warwick.

Engraving of Christchurch Catherdral, Dublin
Engraving of Christchurch Catherdral, Dublin
© Geoffrey Wheeler
The supposedly real Warwick was brought publicly from the Tower to the cathedral and 'spoke with many important people.' But he had probably been kept from public gaze, and people might have acknowledged him out of expediency. The exhibition failed to impress Richard III's heir John, Earl of Lincoln, who joined the rebels with Margaret of Burgundy. The English government were asserting that the Irish pretender claimed to be Warwick, but was the pretender himself making such a claim?

He could still be a son of Edward IV (bastard or feigning), which could explain why Henry VII at the council of Sheen 'retired' Edward IV's queen Elizabeth Woodville to Bermondsey abbey. She had reached an agreement with Richard III in March 1484 that released her daughters, but it might be considered she had previously surrendered her sons Edward V and York. She was later alleged to have taught the pretender his rôle, which would be more convincing if the rôle was one of her sons. After Sheen, when her son Thomas Grey, marquess Dorset, tried to bring his forces to join Henry VII in East Anglia, the king had him arrested for the duration of the rebellion.

Henry was expecting trouble on the east coast from Burgundy, where André claimed the pretender joined Margaret, but Lincoln and Lovell crossed to Ireland with about 2000 mercenaries under Martin Schwartz. The lad was crowned in Dublin cathedral on Ascension Day, 24 May 1487, a parliament met at Drogheda, and coinage was minted. The rebel forces augmented by Irish under Thomas FitzGerald landed close to Furness Fells on 4 June and crossed the Pennines into Yorkshire.

Interior of Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin
Interior of Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin
© Geoffrey Wheeler
They announced 'they had come to restore the boy Edward, recently crowned in Ireland, to the kingdom.' Restoration rather suggests Edward V, deposed by Richard III. Molinet claims York opened its gates, but this is not in the civic records. These mention 'king Edward the sixth' but could have been written later.

Henry had issued a proclamation against rumour-mongers, but did not deny or correct their rumours. His camp was beset by spies, tumults and desertions. The defeat of the rebel army at East Stoke in Nottinghamshire on 16 June 1487 was followed by wholesale slaughter. Irish and English captured on the following two days were hanged, and only the foreigners were dismissed. The fact that André, Molinet, Vergil and Bacon relate different accounts of the pretender in accordance with their own views illustrates that Henry VII initiated no investigation into the rebellion. Vergil notes the pretender and his mentor Richard Simons were granted their lives. The parliament of November 1487 described the pretender in an act of attainder as Lambert Simnel, aged ten, son of Thomas Simnel, late of Oxford, joiner.

Simnel cakes were eaten during Lent, the period after Sheen, and the maiden name of Edward IV's mistress 'Jane' Shore was Elizabeth Lambert. A Lenten pretender (Simnel) who still claimed to be Edward's son (Lambert) suggests the pretender's name was a codename used by the English government. Henry VII seems to have told the pope the boy was illegitimate, and there are several occupations given for his father.

Lambert Simnel in his kitchen
Lambert Simnel in his kitchen
© Geoffrey Wheeler
A person called Lambert Simnel survived in the employ of Henry VII and Sir Thomas Lovell until at least 1525, but the fact that no-one retold his own story suggests Lambert confessed to anything the English government required. And how could Simons have been captured at the battle when he had already made his confession in captivity some four months earlier? The notion there were two brothers William and Richard contradicts Vergil's assertion that the Irish plot was the work of one priest. And how could the pretender be sixteen or seventeen before the battle and only ten after it?

Clearly Lambert cannot be the king from Dublin. In an almost contemporary herald's report of the battle the pretender's real name was John, and he was captured by Robert Bellingham, a king's squire. On 2 September 1487 Bellingham abducted the heiress Margery Beaufitz but after imprisonment still rose in Henry VII's favour. Given the wholesale slaughter, the Irish king was probably killed. Bellingham could have made a battlefield substitution, and seized Margery as his reward.

Some years later the Irish lords on a visit to Henry VII were faced with Lambert Simnel serving them wine. Only the merry Lord of Howth acknowledged him, and was amply rewarded by Henry. The name Lambert Simnel is hardly mentioned even by Irish loyal to Henry. Records relating to 1486-87 were destroyed and a papal bull forbade Irish rebellion against Henry on pain of excommunication. A patent witnessed by Kildare as the king's lieutenant in 'the first year of our reign' seems to date from 1486 and its seal is that of Edward V. In 1493 Henry VII protested to Margaret of Burgundy about another pretender, Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York. Dr William Warham said she had given birth to two children (Lambert and Perkin) aged 180 months. Seemingly the king from Dublin was exactly fifteen when Margaret could have recognised him. Richard III's titulus regius excluded the children of Edward IV from the throne, and its repeal in Henry VII's first parliament in November 1485 legitimised them. The child of Edward IV, born in November 1470 and then exactly fifteen, was Edward V.Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy
Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy


He fits André's rumour about a son of Edward IV in Ireland, and Henry VII's government could have spread a counter-rumour of his younger brother York being crowned to discourage support for Edward V. Forced to admit his name was Edward, it claimed in February 1487 the pretender was Edward, Earl of Warwick, but its codename Lambert Simnel suggests a son of Edward IV. The pretender died at the battle of Stoke in June, and the boy John was substituted as the impostor Lambert Simnel. Henry was almost completely successful in suppressing any evidence that might conflict with his version of events.

The conclusion that the king from Dublin was Edward V fits events of the rebellion of 1486-87. It also explains differences in the narratives of Molinet, André and Vergil, and in their candidates for the pretender. This conclusion is only a possibility, of course. But were the impostures of Simnel and Warbeck invented by Henry VII? If so, the sons of Edward IV could have survived Richard III to challenge the pretender who replaced him.

[This article was based on Gordon Smith's article published in The Ricardian in 1996, see below.]

Further Reading

  • Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke by Michael Bennett, Gloucester 1987
  • 'Lambert Simnel and the king from Dublin' by Gordon Smith. The Ricardian, December 1996
  • 'Lambert Simnel: a Dublin mystery' by Canon AE Stokes. From Newsletter of the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. Vol 6. No 2. May 1987. Who was Lambert Simnel, crowned as Edward VI of England in Christ Church Cathedral – a brief account.

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The Yorkshire Rebellion of 1489

This rebellion is remembered primarily for the murder of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, on 28 April 1489. It took place during a period when there were no Yorkist leaders or figureheads. Simnel was exposed as a pretender, the earl of Lincoln was dead and the earl of Warwick a minor. This rebellion was not a Yorkist uprising but a protest against the heavy taxation imposed by Henry VII.Alnwick Castle, seat of the earls of Northumberland
Alnwick Castle, seat of the earls of Northumberland


Parliament had voted a tax of two tenths and fifteenths which would be payable within two years. The second instalment of the fifteenth became overdue and the king was determined to have his money. On 20 April 1489 a conventicle was held at Ayton and the members, led by Robert Chambre, resolved to march towards Thirsk in protest against the tax. On the 24th the earl heard of their intentions and he arranged to meet his retainers there three days later, who were advised to be prepared to use force. On 28 April Northumberland met with the rebels, who numbered about 700, at his home at Cocklodge in South Kilvington where he became the only fatal casualty of the rebellion. Ironically Northumberland had sought to be a 'good lord' to the Yorkshire men and had interceded with the king to reduce the tax burden but this would not be considered by the king and the earl had to prosecute the king's demands. Conversely the commons only saw in the earl the king's man and exacted their revenge.

On 5 May new recruits to the cause were summoned to Allerton Moor and Gatherley Moor in Gilling and by mid-May a new leader emerged in the person of Sir John Egremont. The rebel forces combined and marched towards Doncaster but then turned northwards towards York. Their numbers had now swelled to 5,000 and on 15 May they stormed the city. Their success was short-lived and two days later the rebels fled, presumably on hearing of the imminent arrival of the earl of Surrey. Beverley Minster where the earl of Northumberland was buried, his signature and Garter Stall plate
Beverley Minster where the earl of Northumberland
was buried, his signature and Garter Stall plate
© Geoffrey Wheeler
Meanwhile the king decided to take command of matters himself although the danger had now passed. With thirteen peers he travelled to York where the trials took place of the ringleaders. Only four were executed. In total there were just sixty-six indictments.

Professor Michael Hicks has commented 'in 1489 Henry achieved his objective, making no allowances and apparently securing payment in full from Yorkshire … however unattractive, however difficult to apply, an uncompromising rigour was apparently a genuine alternative to conciliation when employed with his consistency'.

An article written by ME James suggests that the king may have been complicit in the death of Northumberland, or was at least relieved at the removal of the powerful earl. Whether readers support this conspiracy theory or not one outcome was that the previously powerful Percy family were effectively side-lined from governing the region for the next forty years.

Further Reading

  • 'The Yorkshire Rebellion of 1489 Reconsidered' by MA Hicks. Northern History, vol 22 1986. Studies the causes and course of the rebellion.
  • 'The Murder at Cocklodge 28 April 1489' by ME James. Durham University Journal, vol 57 1964-5. Was this a tax revolt with Yorkist overtones or a plot encouraged by Henry VII to rid himself of an overmighty subject?
  • Kings in the North by Alexander Rose, London 2002. A history of the Percy family up to and including the death of the 4th Earl of Northumberland at Cocklodge in 1489.

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Perkin Warbeck

by Dr Ann Wroe

Perkin Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck
The Yorkist Pretender known as 'Perkin Warbeck' was the most dangerous threat Henry VII ever faced. He was dangerous for three reasons: first, the breadth and depth of his foreign support; second, the persistence of his campaign, which was not thoroughly suppressed until, after eight years, he was executed; and third, the fact that Henry – despite his boasts to the contrary – never knew for certain whether or not the young man's claims were true.

He claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the princes in the Tower: not murdered, as his 'brother', Edward V had been, but spared by the tender-hearted killer and spirited abroad. The story was thin and implausible, but not impossible. When he surrendered to Henry VII at Taunton, in October 1497, he put his signature to a confession that stated that he was, in fact a Fleming, 'Piers Osbeck', the son of a Tournai boatman. That name was false, and the young man's connnection with the real Werbecque family of Tournai was never properly established; Henry, in fact, refused to do so. The mystery remains.

The Pretender's first public appearance in his Yorkist-prince persona was in Ireland, in 1491. He was about 17, strikingly elegant and handsome. He had arrived in Cork in fine clothes, ready to be received as a claimant to the English throne, though whether his exact identity had been fixed by then is as obscure as the rest of his history. He had come from Portugal, where he had spent the past four years, and where he was known already as 'the White Rose'. Before that, he had been in Flanders. He had left on the finest ship of the Portuguese fleet and under the protection of Edward Brampton, a Portuguese merchant-swashbuckler and old servant of Edward IV, whose influence at various times was crucial to the young man's success – or instrumental in his failure. There is no need to give credence to the story, contained in his 'confession', that the Pretender was literally kidnapped off the quayside at Cork and made to play a prince. The plot was already advanced when he arrived, thanks partly to the efforts of two old Yorkist servants – John Atwater, the mayor of Cork, and John Taylor the elder, a land-manager-turned-refugee – and largely to the machinations of Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, the sister of Edward IV. Henry knew early that these were the people to blame. By the time the young man arrived in Cork, he had already been spying on him for four years.

After Ireland, the Pretender's career advanced fairly swiftly. In the summer of 1492 Charles VIII invited him to France, keeping him there in honour until Charles concluded the Treaty of Etaples with Henry that November. The Pretender then moved to Malines in Brabant, to Margaret of York, who (as Henry and his historians thought) had probably been his secret protector for many years already. Margaret provided the young man with an honour guard, palaces to live in, a coinage and most important, an introduction to her stepson-in-law, Maximilian, King of the Romans, the most important ruler in Europe. Maximilian and 'York' met in Vienna in November 1493, and instantly became friends. A small fleet was assembled slowly with Imperial and Burgundian funds, preparing to invade England at some point in 1495.

Emperor Maximilian who supported the 'duke of York'
Emperor Maximilian who supported the 'duke of York'
© Geoffrey Wheeler
Meanwhile, attempts were made to prepare the ground in England itself. The Pretender sent out letters to various Yorkists of standing, and drew some of them over to Malines to see him. Many were convinced, and Yorkist networks up and down England were partly reactivated. But, in general, the country was weary and reluctant to revive the Wars of the Roses. Besides, it was not yet clear what the new Pretender amounted to, or how strong he was. The men around him were never impressive and – unlike Lambert Simnel – he himself was often the main figurehead, leader and strategist, to disastrous effect.

Henry's agents had already thoroughly infiltrated the Pretender's 'court' at Malines, and at the end of December 1494 Sir Robert Clifford, an officer of Edward IV's and a confidant of the Pretender's, was persuaded to reveal all he knew for a payment of £500. Possibly, he had been a double-agent all along. Among the names he revealed was that of Henry's own chamberlain, Sir William Stanley, who had vaguely expressed a willingness to back the Pretender if he knew him to be genuine. This was treason enough, and Henry, though shocked and reluctant, made an example of Stanley and other chief conspirators by executing them. By the spring of 1495 the conspiracy had been broken in England, and was never to revive. The Pretender's invasion in July, with 14 small boats, was a pointless episode that ended in wholesale slaughter on the beach at Deal, while the young man himself sailed swiftly away.

Margaret of York
Margaret of York
© Geoffrey Wheeler
After a few forays in Ireland, he made for Scotland. James IV had been in touch with him for some years, and gave the Pretender a hearty welcome. Here, as elsewhere, the Pretender tapped into a readiness, even an eagerness, among European rulers to make life hell for Henry VII and to settle old scores; but also, as elsewhere, he charmed his hosts into sponsorship that went as far as love for him. James IV – though he knew no better than anyone else who the Pretender really was – showed his disposition to believe in him by giving him his kinswoman, Lady Katherine Gordon, in marriage. The marriage, which appears to have been a love-match, certainly produced one son and probably a second, miscarried or still-born, in the two short years in which the Pretender and Katherine were allowed to live together as man and wife.

Together, James and 'York' invaded Northumberland in September 1496. The Pretender, sickened by the bloodshed, fled after two days. As a result, James cooled somewhat towards him, but kept him honourably and expensively in Scotland for ten more months. In July 1497, however, with Henry's armies marching against him, James sent the Pretender away by sea, intending him to invade England from the south-west. This the young man eventually did, turning down an offer to go instead to Spain as Ferdinand and Isabella's pensioner. This decision sealed his fate, and showed to what degree he had now embraced 'Richard's' cause as his own, whether or not it was.

St Buryan's church where the pretender's wife, Lady Katherine, took sanctuary.
St Buryan's church where the pretender's wife,
Lady Katherine, took sanctuary.
The Cornish campaign began with deceptive success. Some 8,000 Cornishmen in this discontented corner of England joined the Pretender's force. They besieged Exeter, in Devon, but failed to take the city, and after marching to Taunton the Pretender panicked and fled. He was forcibly extracted from sanctuary in Beaulieu and taken back to Taunton, where he agreed to the confession that had already been drawn up for him.

That confession, with other pieces of propaganda such as a plainly spurious 'letter to his mother', was distributed in the Low Countries but left hardly any trace in England. It had no effect on the Pretender's European allies, who continued to support him and love him as before: both Maximilian and James IV suspended their diplomacy with England while they made various efforts to release the Pretender from custody, or to smooth the way for his eventual return. It also had little effect on the Pretender's closest English supporters who, although they had been pardoned by Henry in 1497, started plotting again on their prince's behalf two years later.

As for Henry – still having no idea who his prisoner really was – he took him into his court 'at liberty' and treated him like a captured nobleman, to the astonishment of contemporaries. He was allowed to see his wife, though not to sleep with her, to avoid the risk of prolonging his claim. Only when the Pretender tried to escape, in June 1498, was he put into close confinement in the Tower. A combination of spontaneous and engineered plotting inside and outside the Tower, involving the imprisoned earl of Warwick, the last truly authenticated Yorkist heir, as well as the Pretender, eventually persuaded Henry to execute both of them.

The Pretender was hanged and beheaded – for high treason, an impossibility if he was a Fleming – at Tyburn on 23 November 1499. On the scaffold he denied that he was the second son of Edward IV 'or anything of that blood'. Such words were so vital to Henry that they may have been extorted from him; or they may have been true. What is incontestable is that he played the part of an English prince, completely plausibly and without mistakes, for six years in public, and continued in private to insist on his claim right up to his execution. History still reserves the final verdict on him.

Further Reading

  • The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499 by Ian Arthurson, Stroud 1994
  • Richard of England by Diana Kleyn reprint 2013

About the author

Ann Wroe is an editor with a leading British publication. She is the author of several books including Pontius Pilate and Perkin: A Story of Deception, Jonathan Cape 2003 (hbk), Vintage 2004 (pbk).

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The Cornish Uprisings of 1497

In his parliament of 1497 Henry VII, who needed money for an impending war with Scotland, was granted two fifteenths and tenths but asked for an additional amount of £120,000 to be ratified. The collection of part of the taxes, however, was to take a new form with specially appointed commissioners assessing an individual's contributions. No doubt the entire country was outraged with this innovation but an incident in west Cornwall exploded into a full-scale rebellion. The local leaders, Michael Joseph, a smith, and Thomas Flamank, were supported by clergy and local gentry and in May they swept eastwards and reached Exeter unopposed. They then moved into Somerset where they gained the support of a nobleman, John Touchet, Lord Audley, who became the leader. Rebellion now affected Taunton, Devizes, Dorchester and Winchester and by early June the Wells, Bath and Bristol area. The number of rebels has been estimated between 15,000 and 40,000.Henry VII
Henry VII.


Audley took part of the rebel army to Wallingford, possibly with a view to attacking London from the north whilst the remainder moved towards the capital via Farnham and then Guildford and by mid-June arrived at Blackheath.

Meanwhile the royalist forces were gathered, notably under Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who was charged to defend Staines Bridge against any attack by Audley; and Giles, Lord Daubeney, and the veteran captain, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who defeated the rebels at Blackheath on 17 June. The rebel casualities amounted to a thousand or so and the remainder of the army fled. The three leaders were captured and executed.

Although it was successfully suppressed, for almost a month a vast swathe of southern and western England was in the rebels' control and the speed with which they advanced on the capital and posed a threat to the government was a salutary lesson for Henry. Ostensibly the rebellion was a protest against taxation and the king's councillors who were behind it, John Morton, Oliver King, Reginald Bray, Richard Fox and Thomas Lovell. It has been argued, however, that the rebellion was not just about taxes but that it was politically motivated and the leaders seeking a Yorkist readeption, thus re-opening the Wars of the Roses. The pretenders wife, Lady Katherine, was taken from the Mount to meet with Henry VII at Exeter
The pretenders wife, Lady Katherine, was taken
from the Mount to meet with Henry VII at Exeter.
There were two candidates for such a readeption – the earl of Warwick, a prisoner of Henry VII, and the pretender, the duke of York, aka Perkin Warbeck.

News of the rebellion reached the pretender, either before he sailed from Scotland on 6 July or while he was in Ireland and he made the decision to sail for England. He landed at White Sands Bay, Cornwall, on 7 September. After leaving his wife at St Michael's Mount, the pretender proceeded to Bodmin where he declared himself King Richard IV. The erstwhile rebels now reformed and rallied to his standard. He gathered an initial force of perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 men, which quickly swelled to around 8,000. The king's representative in the county, the earl of Devon, retreated to Exeter and the pretender followed, briefly besieging the town before moving eastwards towards Taunton. With the earl of Devon behind him, the royalist forces under Giles, Lord Daubeney, marching from the east and a fleet under the command of Robert, Lord Willoughby de Broke, in the vicinity of Plymouth, the pretender was trapped. Remains of the Cloisters at Beaulieu
Remains of the Cloisters at Beaulieu.
On the night of the 20th he fled his army and made for Beaulieu Abbey where he was captured. Resistance in the west country was now at end.

Ironically one of the last acts of the rebels was to punish the king's tax collector, John Oby, whose greed and corruption had sparked off the rebellion five months earlier. A pirate known as John the Rover, who espoused the pretender's cause, captured Oby whom he 'dysmembrid' in the marketplace at Taunton before fleeing the town.

Further Reading

  • The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499 by Ian Arthurson, Stroud 1994
  • Henry VII by S.B. Chrimes, London 1972
  • Perkin: A story of deception by Ann Wroe, London 2003

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