Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir


  There also exists in the British Library the “Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England,” dating from 1511, which has tiny circular images of Henry and Elizabeth with seven children, labeled Arthur, Edmund, Henry, Katherine, Margaret, Mary, and Elizabeth. Margaret and Katherine are shown as boys—the other girls wear gable hoods.115 The likelihood is that Vergil got it wrong and there were only three sons of the marriage. Claims by modern historians116 that there were other children who died unnamed in infancy are not substantiated by any contemporary evidence.

  In May 1499, with the portly Puebla standing in for the Infanta, Prince Arthur was married by proxy in a ceremony in the chapel at Tickenhill Palace, his house near Bewdley, Worcestershire. This was “a fair manor place west of the town, standing in a goodly park well wooded” on a hill in the Severn Valley. Originally built in the fourteenth century, it had been enlarged by Edward IV for his son, the Prince of Wales, when the Council of the Marches was established, and Henry VII converted it into a palace for Prince Arthur.117

  It was intimated by the King and Queen to the Spanish ambassador that the ladies Katherine brought with her to England should be “of gentle birth”—for “the English attach great importance to good connections”—and “beautiful, or, at the least, by no means ugly.”118

  From 1499 to 1501, Arthur and Katherine were encouraged to write frequently to each other. They corresponded in Latin in a formal style, no doubt supervised by their elders. Although the young couple had not yet met, they expressed the proper sentiments required by convention. One letter sent by Arthur on October 5, 1499, from Ludlow Castle is typical of how a royal courtship was conducted:

  Most illustrious and most excellent lady, my dearest spouse, I wish you very much health, with my hearty commendations.

  I have read the most sweet letters of your Highness lately given to me, from which I have easily perceived your most entire love to me. Truly, these your letters, traced by your own hand, have so delighted me, and have rendered me so cheerful and jocund, that I fancied I beheld your Highness, and conversed with and embraced my dearest wife. I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. I owe eternal thanks to your excellence that you so lovingly correspond to this, my so ardent love. Let it continue, I entreat, as it has begun; and, like as I cherish your sweet remembrance night and day, so do you preserve my name ever fresh in your breast. And let your coming to me be hastened, that instead of being absent we may be present with each other, and the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit.

  I have done as your illustrious Highness enjoined me in commending you to the most serene lord and lady, the King and Queen, my parents, and in declaring your filial regard toward them, which to them was most pleasing to hear.119

  The expressions in the letter are those of an adult, and it seems unlikely that a thirteen-year-old boy would have written them; probably his words were dictated by his tutors.

  In September, while the King and Queen were away on a progress in Hampshire,120 the celebrated scholar Erasmus, then a guest of fellow humanist William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, was taken to meet their younger children at Eltham. Years later he recalled: “Thomas More paid me a visit, and took me for recreation on a walk to a neighboring country palace, where the royal infants were abiding, Prince Arthur excepted, who had completed his education. The princely children were assembled in the hall and were surrounded by their household, to whom Mountjoy’s servants added themselves. In the middle of the circle stood Prince Henry, then only nine [sic] years old, and already having something of royalty in his demeanor, in which there was a certain dignity combined with a singular courtesy.” A painted terracotta bust by Guido Mazzoni in the Royal Collection, of a chubby-cheeked, mischievous-looking, laughing boy is thought to portray young Henry around this time (ca.1498–1500), and may have been commissioned by Henry VII himself.

  On Prince Henry’s right hand “stood the Princess Margaret, a child of eleven [sic] years, afterward Queen of Scotland. On the other side was the Princess Mary, a little one of four [sic] years of age, engaged in her sports, whilst Edmund, an infant, was held in his nurse’s arms.”121

  Thomas More presented Prince Henry with some Latin verses he had composed especially for him, and that same evening, after they had returned to More’s house, Erasmus received a request from the prince for some verses of his own. “I was angry with More for not having warned me,” he wrote, “especially as the boy sent me a little note, while we were at dinner, to challenge something from my pen.” In fact the great scholar was so overcome with trepidation that it took him three days to come up with something he considered suitable, the Prosopopoeia Britanniae;122 in this, he described the royal children in allegorical terms: the boys were red roses, for vigor, the girls white, for innocence.

  Already, it seems, the future Henry VIII had a commanding and awe-inspiring demeanor, and to have read the verses dedicated to him he would have had to be highly proficient in Latin. Erasmus thought he was. His inscription read: “We have dedicated these verses, like the gift of playthings, to your childhood, and shall be ready with more abundant offerings when your virtues, growing with your age, shall supply more abundant material for poetry.” Erasmus later recalled that Henry “had a vivid and active mind, above measure to execute whatever tasks he undertook. You would say that he was a universal genius.”123

  Erasmus was also much impressed by Lady Guildford, the princesses’ governess, with whom he engaged in two conversations. By November 1501, however, Lady Guildford had returned to the Queen’s service.

  With their daughter due to come to England when she reached fourteen in December, Ferdinand and Isabella had expressed concern at the emergence of yet another pretender, and even though Ralph Wilford had been speedily dealt with, their faith in the security of the English throne was shaken. They had seen over the years how it could be destabilized by imposters and the existence of Yorkist heirs who might yet challenge Henry VII’s title. Now that Warbeck had been discredited, they regarded Warwick as the greatest threat to England’s stability, as he had the strongest claim to the crown and was clearly a focus for malcontents. In the years to come, Katherine of Aragon would say that her marriage to Prince Arthur had been made in blood,124 which implies that it was conditional upon the removal of the hapless Warwick. Fifty years later Warwick’s nephew, Cardinal Reginald Pole (the son of Margaret of Clarence), revealed that King Ferdinand was averse to giving his daughter to one who would not be secure in his own kingdom. The likelihood is that Ferdinand warned Henry VII that while Warwick lived, the Infanta would not be coming to England.

  Henry, like many of his contemporaries, was a superstitious man. In March, still perturbed by the Wilford affair, he heard of a priest who had accurately foretold the deaths of Edward IV and Richard III and summoned him for a consultation. The soothsayer warned him that his life would be in danger all that year, for there were two parties with very different political creeds in the land—those who were loyal to the Tudor dynasty, and those who wanted to see the House of York restored—and that conspiracies against the throne would ensue. A fortnight later Pedro de Ayala reported that the King had aged twenty years in two weeks.125

  Unnerved by the Wilford affair, and aware that Warwick would always remain a threat, Henry probably foresaw no end to the intrigues that had long undermined his security. Fearful as a result of the soothsayer’s warning, he consulted his astrologer, Dr. William Parron, several times. Later that year, Parron observed, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation perish not, for an insurrection cannot occur in any state without the deaths of a great part of the people and the destruction of many great families with their property.” This pragmatic view was shared by the King, and it was probably at this time that he came to the decision that Warwick must be eliminated.

  Yet Warwick had never actually done anything
to justify any legal process against him. Having him secretly murdered in the Tower, like the princes, was clearly not Henry’s way of doing things. The King had experienced what could ensue when an heir to the throne simply disappeared. Moral issues aside, it had to be known that Warwick had died, and the only sure way to remove him and eliminate any future claims of his survival was by the process of law.

  What happened afterward is still surrounded in mystery. We do not know the extent of official involvement—although the evidence suggests it was considerable—or how far the government drove or manipulated events. What was paramount, though, was that Henry secure his crown and safeguard the valuable Spanish alliance. Small wonder that he probably seized the chance to kill two birds with one shot.

  One might have thought that high-security prisoners like Warwick and Warbeck would be kept isolated from each other lest they bred a further conspiracy together, but this was clearly not the case. On August 2, according to Warwick’s indictment, two gaolers—Thomas Astwood, one of Warbeck’s former supporters who had been pardoned four years earlier, and Robert Cleymound—met with Warwick in his chamber in the Tower and hatched a plot to fire and seize the Tower, thus facilitating his escape to Flanders, whence he would make war upon Henry VII, “assume the royal dignity and make himself King.”126

  Warwick may have been inveigled into colluding in what was nothing less than high treason; or he might, understandably, have leapt at the chance of being revenged upon the King who had so unjustly incarcerated him for fourteen years. Yet he may not fully have understood the enormity of what he thought he was about to do, or had the capacity to see it through. Vergil says that Warwick had been brought up in prison from his cradle, and although that was not strictly true of his earlier years, he had been a captive since 1485, “out of sight of man or beast,” and he was clearly not very bright. It is hard to imagine him seriously contemplating leading an armed rebellion.

  Two days later the conspirators made contact with Warbeck, whose cell—somewhat conveniently—was below Warwick’s, and drew him into the plot. Warwick, he was told, would set him at large and make him King of England—which was glaringly at variance with what Warwick had been promised, but probably no more than an inducement to draw Warbeck into the plot. Given Warbeck’s sorry state the previous year, it could have been predicted that he was now desperate to escape and would seize any chance. Four other gaolers and two other prisoners, Yorkist dissidents, also became involved, as well as two citizens of London. Then suddenly, Cleymound complained that Warbeck had betrayed the conspirators to the King and his council and fled into sanctuary.

  This all suggests that the two prisoners had been enticed into the conspiracy, and that Cleymound was an agent provocateur placed in the Tower. No action was ever taken against him, and it seems suspicious that one of Warbeck’s gaolers was his former adherent, and that Warwick and Warbeck were held close enough to communicate. Warwick is said to have knocked on the floor of his chamber, and even made a hole in it so that the two could speak, and to have sent Warbeck documents and tokens by Cleymound. This is even more suspicious, considering that the whereabouts of Warwick’s chamber in the Tower had until now been a well-kept state secret for fear of rescue attempts. It is unlikely too that Warbeck would have revealed the conspiracy to the council. Probably, the two prisoners were set up, and it is likely that the Earl of Oxford, the Constable of the Tower, and his deputy, John Digby, its lieutenant, were parties to the deception; it is hard to imagine this conspiracy escaping their notice.

  It seems implausible that Elizabeth knew anything of this. There is no official record of Spain’s intervention, and if there was a policy to remove Warwick and Warbeck, it was kept highly secret. Henry and his advisers probably allowed the conspiracy to mature, and awaited their moment.

  On November 12 the doomed plot came to light when John Fineux, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, reported to the council “certain treasons conspired of Edward, naming himself of Warwick, and Perkin, and others within the Tower; which intendeth, as it appeareth by [their] confessions, to have deposed and destroyed the King’s person and his blood. And over that the said Edward intended to have been King, and first to have holpen Perkin to the crown if he had been King Edward’s son, and else to have had it himself.” Already the accused had been examined and it was determined by the judges that they had committed treason “and deserved death,” while the King was demanding what was to be done with them.

  Did Elizabeth tremble at the thought of what might have befallen her husband and her children, or did she grieve for her guileless cousin? Did she suspect, from the sheer improbability of the charges, that Warwick had been led unwittingly into treason? More pertinently, was she startled by the revelation that Warwick had been willing to make Perkin king if he proved to be her brother? If this was true—and it may not have been—then Warwick had remained uncertain that Warbeck really was Richard of York. He had been brought up with the royal children from 1478 to 1483, and so had known York, who was two years older, between the ages of four and nine. If York had survived, he would now be twenty-six. Even if Warwick had seen Perkin in the Tower, he might have found it difficult recognizing the boy in the man—and may not have had the wits to do so. But on the face of it he had not ruled out the possibility that Warbeck was York. If Elizabeth did not know that the whole conspiracy was a fabrication—and it is hard to imagine her colluding in it—then she had cause to wonder.

  The exposure of the conspiracy sealed the fate of both young men. Warbeck was arraigned at Westminster on November 16 and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, the punishment meted out to traitors. Two days later, at London’s Guildhall, eight people including Thomas Astwood were found guilty of conspiring to murder the Marshal of the Tower and free Warwick and Warbeck.

  Warwick himself was tried the next day, November 19, in Westminster Hall. “Because of his innocency,”127 the simple young man pleaded guilty, and was also sentenced to a traitor’s death. Later, Parliament attainted him for treason. We have no way of knowing if Elizabeth believed he had been justly condemned.

  It was customary, in the case of peers of the realm, for the dread sentence handed down to traitors to be commuted by the King to beheading, so it is surprising to learn that Perkin Warbeck, a commoner, suffered only hanging on the public gallows at Tyburn. He certainly was drawn facedown on a hurdle to his execution, “as being not worthy anymore to tread upon the face of the Earth,” but he was spared the full horrors of a traitor’s death. Was there still, in the King’s mind, and perhaps Elizabeth’s too, some question that he might really be of royal blood? Or was Henry merely being merciful because Warbeck had unwittingly helped to send Warwick to a better world? Either way, on the scaffold Warbeck swore on his death that he was not the son of Edward IV, and asked forgiveness of God and the King for his deception. Expecting to face divine judgment within minutes, it is unlikely he was lying.

  On November 29, Warwick, who was only twenty-four, was beheaded on Tower Hill. “It was ordained that the winding ivy of a Plantagenet should kill the true tree itself,” observed Bacon. The King paid for the earl’s remains to be buried in Bisham Priory, Berkshire, near the tomb of his grandfather, Warwick the Kingmaker.128 During the days that followed, Astwood and the other men involved in the plot were put to death. If they were all seduced unwittingly into the conspiracy, then the government had made a ruthless and thorough job of it; but by willingly involving themselves, they nevertheless committed treason.

  Elizabeth and her ladies were left to comfort the popular Katherine Gordon for the loss of her husband. Universally applauded for her loyalty to Warbeck, she stayed on at court in Elizabeth’s service and in 1510 married the first of three more husbands, all gentlemen of Henry VIII’s bedchamber.129

  Henry VII fell ill after the executions, while staying at Wanstead, Essex, and was so poorly that his life was despaired of. But he recovered by the middle of December, and in January 1500, Pedro de Ayala was abl
e to assure Ferdinand and Isabella that “this kingdom is at present so situated as has not been seen for the last five hundred years until now, because there were always brambles and thorns of such a kind that the English had occasion not to remain peacefully in obedience to their king, there being divers heirs of the kingdom. Now it has pleased God that all should be thoroughly and duly purged and cleansed, so that not a doubtful drop of royal blood remains in this kingdom, except the true blood of the King and Queen and, above all, that of the lord Prince Arthur.”130

  15

  “The Spanish Infanta”

  Henry VII was now well established on his throne. His court poet, Pietro Carmeliano, observed that England’s honor was “in such wise now enhanced that all Christian regions pursue unto thee for alliance, confederation, and unity.” In March, having satisfied Ferdinand and Isabella that his crown was secure, the King concluded the treaty with Spain, and within the next two years would make alliances with Scotland, Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire, and Flanders as well.

  On January 11, 1500, Ferdinand and Isabella informed Puebla that Princess Katherine was to come to England “as soon as the Prince of Wales shall have accomplished the fourteenth year of his age,” which would be the following September. But soon afterward Don Juan Manuel, a servant of Philip of Burgundy, told Henry VII that the princess would be sent in the spring, “without waiting for the accomplishment of the fourteenth year of the age of the Prince of Wales, if the state of health of the Queen would permit it.” There is no other hint that Elizabeth was unwell at this time, so possibly there was speculation that she was pregnant again, which proved to be unfounded. Puebla added, “The sums spent in preparation for the reception of the princess are enormous.”

 
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