Thursday, 14 August 2008


This tale arose out of me reading The Son of Prophecy: Henry Tudor's Road to Bosworth by David Rees. My copy is a 1985 first edition, which I bought over twenty years ago but didn't read until this summer. The account of Buckingham coming from nowhere to be king-maker and then suddenly changing sides made no sense to me. It provoked me into some historical reconstruction of my own.

Wikipedia aspires to a neutral point of view, and its contributors have done a good job of documenting the period. The Wars of the Roses page is a good starting point; from there you can easily find links to all the historical figures. You won't find Lady Matilda Rose, of course, and if you are struggling to locate Lord Ralph Harris of Walsingham you will find him on this page.

The disadvantage of this neutral point of view is that it is stuck with some unsatisfactory non-explanations. For example, a Lancastrian widow becoming a Yorkist queen is merely "a source of irony". Or, Elizabeth Woodville's behaviour has been "a source of frustration for historians".

Hence the need to consult other points of view.

A traditional anti-Richard III history is Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples. The 15th century is covered in the last section of volume one. Churchill gives lots of details and tells a good story.

For pro-Richard III material, there is the Richard III Society and its American sister site.

My tale is heavily indebted to Gordon Smith's paper on Lambert Simnel and the King from Dublin.

I also appreciated Susan Higginbotham's sturdy defence of Elizabeth Woodville and her unromantic insights.

The format of a mash-up of history with contemporary political resonance, romance and humour is undoubtedly inspired by the BBC's latest version of Robin Hood.

The concluding quotation is the chorus of the song Circumstances from the 1978 Rush album Hemispheres.

Last, but by no means least, I am sure I would never view the world the way I do now but for The Antagonist:

To confront ideas that radically alter our perception of the world is one of life's most unsettling yet liberating experiences.

The final score settled

In 1502, the indefatigable Margaret and Henry finally worked out who had sheltered Edward V and Richard of York. Sir James Tyrrell was tortured into signing a confession that has been the Official Narrative of the Princes in the Tower ever since, and then executed.

Were I limited to the annals of history, my story would end on this sordid note. That would be a poor reward for anyone who has read this far. Fortunately I have one fictional character at my disposal. Lady Matilda Rose accepted a proposal of marriage from Lord Ralph Harris of Walsingham, and they lived happily ever after.

All the same, we take our chances,
Laughed at by time, tricked by circumstances.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
The more that things change, the more they stay the same.


"Perkin Warbeck"

It is perhaps a mercy that Elizabeth did not live to see the re-appearance of her second son, Richard of York.

His uprising was less well organised and after a few skirmishes on the periphery of the kingdom he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Once again, Henry alleged that it was an impostor and his ministry of silly names came up with "Perkin Warbeck" for this one.

Edward son of Clarence was still in the Tower, and the two young men contrived an escape plan. At this, Henry lost patience with acting magnanimously and sent "Warbeck" to the gallows. Edward, who had been detained with no charges laid against him for nearly fifteen years, was beheaded.

The "Warbeck" affair did produce one testimony to the power of conscience. The claims of Richard of York received carefully qualified support from one totally unexpected quarter: William Stanley, to whose actions at Bosworth Field Henry probably owed his crown. For daring to admit even the possibility that "Warbeck" was really Richard of York, Stanley's head was not permitted to remain attached to his body.

Next Chapter

Cruel and unusual punishment

The Royal Council met to discuss what to do about Elizabeth Woodville. It was not clear how much involvement she had, if any, with the attempted restoration of her son Edward V, but Henry thought it safest to assume the worst.

Henry: She must be beheaded.

Oxford: Your majesty, there is no precedent for executing a woman of the nobility.

Henry: Servants follow precedents; masters set precedents.

The king was impervious to his wife's tears for her mother. Lady Margaret Beaufort had a different taste in cruel and unusual punishment from her son, and as her opinion prevailed it was left to three of Henry's children to establish chopping off female heads as a Tudor contribution to sexual equality.

Elizabeth was obliged to take a vow of chastity and spend the remainder of her days in the celibacy of Bermondsey Abbey.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

"Lambert Simnel"

In 1487, the first reports that a rival King had been proclaimed in Dublin were received in London.

Lady Matilda Rose, now working in the private sector as a royal pundit, immediately put the word out on the grapevine that it was someone impersonating Richard of York, younger brother of Edward V.

When later reports named the rival King as Edward, Henry Tudor was ready. He had imprisoned Edward, son of Clarence, in the Tower from the start of his reign, even though Edward posed no real threat as he was barred from the throne by his father's attainder. The story was propagated that the claimant in Dublin was Edward, son of Clarence. Henry allowed his prisoner a rare excursion to St Paul's Cathedral. Everyone saw that the real son of Clarence was in London, and concluded that the one in Dublin was an impostor.

As Henry well knew, the Dublin pretender was actually Edward V. From Ireland, Edward brought a substantial army which fought its way through Lancashire, Yorkshire and Sherwood Forest as far south as the river Trent. At Stoke Field near Newark, forces loyal to Henry finally overcame it. Edward was killed, but Henry had something different for public consumption. He alleged that the impostor had been captured alive and spared. A young lad was presented with a well prepared back story and the distinctive name of "Lambert Simnel". Elizabeth Lambert was the real name of "Jane Shore", so "Lambert" had useful connotations of illegitimacy. "Simnel", the time of year, was an unknown surname so instantly memorable. It also commenced the long tradition of associating conspiracy theories with fruitcakes. Henry displayed his magnanimity by appointing "Simnel" to the position of royal spit turner, and kept the legend in the public consciousness by subsequently promoting him to royal falconer.

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The new regime

The new regime soon asserted itself. Henry repealed Richard's law so that his wife to be Elizabeth of York was legitimate again. When it was pointed out that this would also legitimate her brothers, he ordered that the repealed law should not be read out, to avoid drawing attention to them. When it was pointed that there was no precedent for this, he replied that the rules of the game had changed.

Elizabeth, nursing her secret grief, made the most of things for her daughter's sake. Lady Margaret Beaufort wasted no opportunity to put her in her place. Lady Margaret had established that her position was only half a pace behind the King; Elizabeth must always be at least a full pace behind. Even so, Lady Margaret was not completely satisfied with her dominance. The two young princes were lurking in the background somewhere, and she and Henry would have to be ready for them.

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Bosworth Field

Richard was trying to set his army in battle array at Bosworth Field. Brave Norfolk was happy to command the leading forces, but Northumberland was insisting on staying in the rear. The Stanleys were still on the sidelines. Richard knew that William was a lost cause, but he sent an ultimatum to Lord Stanley to join him immediately or Lord Strange would die. Stanley replied cheekily that he had many more sons, sending Richard into a rage. He summoned block, axeman and priest and turned upon young Strange.

Richard: You told me your uncle William would not support me, but why did you lie to me about your father? Confess your lies, and I may yet show mercy.

Strange: Your majesty, I did not lie and I cannot lie. I truly believed that my father was loyal to you.

Checked by the courage of the youth, and perhaps recalling his hastiness with Hastings, Richard relented.

Richard: If God grants me victory this day, I swear to you that I will be a better father to you than Lord Stanley has ever been.

The priest asked whether he should say mass before the battle. Richard declined the offer on the grounds that if his cause was good God would uphold it anyway, and if his cause was bad they had no right to ask for God's blessing, a reply exhibiting the folly of exalting reason above revelation. Elizabeth, we may be confident, was not neglecting her prayers.

The battle commenced. Norfolk and his men gave everything, but they were no match for his opposite number Oxford, and were slaughtered. Northumberland's idea of a rearguard position appeared to be somewhere in Northamptonshire. There was nothing for it but for Richard and his men to attack Tudor directly. The best axeman in England set to work. Quickly he cut down Sir William Brandon, Tudor's standard bearer. Next he unhorsed Sir John Cheyney, a man mountain who was one of Tudor's fiercest warriors. Richard was close to his objective and yelled at Tudor, who was merely watching the proceedings, to fight like a man.

Tudor took the view that heroism was for romantic fools. He glanced across to William Stanley, who set his forces upon Richard's. Richard's peloton defended their king stoutly, but one by one they were hacked away by Stanley's overwhelming numbers until Richard was left exposed. Down he went, never to rise.

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