The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  From 1483 onwards rumour had nourished the belief, at home and abroad, that Richard III had murdered his nephews. By January 1486 this belief was accepted as the truth by most people, and Richard's death at Bosworth was seen by his contemporaries as a divine judgement. No Tudor propaganda could have fostered such widespread acceptance of Richard's guilt in the four months after Henry Tudor's

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  accession. The fresh spate of rumours that followed that event was fuelled by stories already circulating before Richard's death. The difference now was that people were no longer afraid to speak the truth.

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  Late in 1485 King Henry rewarded those who had supported him: Morton, who later became Lord Chancellor of England and a cardinal; Stanley, who was created Earl of Derby; Jasper Tudor, who was created Duke of Bedford and married to Buckingham's widow, Katherine Wydville. Dorset, Sir Edward and Richard Wydville were all restored to their lands and honours, and Elizabeth Wydville had her widow's jointure and the rights and privileges of a dowager queen restored to her. The Act of Parliament confiscating her property was repealed, but Henry VII did not immediately return it to her; instead, he granted her an income of £400 per annum from more than seventy manors.

  On 10th December, the day before Parliament went into recess for Christmas, the Commons petitioned the King to unite 'two bloods of high renown' and marry Elizabeth of York without further delay, 'which marriage they hoped God would bless with a progeny of the race of kings for the comfort of the whole realm'. The Lords seconded the request and the King was pleased to consent. A papal dispensation had already been applied for.

  Since Henry's accession Elizabeth had been deferred to as the future Queen of England. On nth December the King gave orders for the wedding preparations, including a great tournament, to be put in hand. It seems likely that Henry and Elizabeth were already sharing a bed: their first child was born eight months after their wedding, seemingly a full-term baby, whose early arrival excited comment.

  In January 1486 the papal legate in England advised the King that the dispensation was on its way and that the marriage might go ahead. The famous union of the red and white roses took place on 18th January at Westminster Abbey amidst great celebrations and rejoicing and a welter of propaganda about the significance of the event. The marriage brought Henry the support of all but the most committed Yorkists as well as the indisputable right to the crown, and the rejoicing of the people at the marriage was proof indeed that few had ever doubted that

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  the new queen was the true representative of the Yorkist line. And great was the King's satisfaction when he received the Pope's dispensation and found that His Holiness had threatened with excommunication any person daring to challenge his title.

  Little is known of the relationship between Henry and Elizabeth. Henry was a faithful husband but apparently reserved and distant. Bacon says 'he showed himself no very indulgent husband towards her, though she was beautiful, gentle and fruitful. But his aversion towards the House of York was so predominant in him as it found place not only in his wars and councils but in his chamber and bed.' This aversion may have had its roots in Henry's awareness of Elizabeth's earlier infatuation with Richard III. She, continues Bacon, 'could do nothing with him. To her he was nothing uxorious. But, if not indulgent, he was companionable and respective, and without personal jealousy.' The Spanish ambassador was of the opinion that the Queen was in need of 'a little love'. He noted that she resented the influence wielded over the King and the royal household by her mother-in-law, the Lady Margaret Beaufort. The Prior of Santa Cruz states that because of this Elizabeth 'suffered under great oppression and led a miserable and cheerless life'. Nevertheless there developed over the years a certain affection between the royal couple, as evinced in 1502 when they consoled each other most movingly after the death of a child.

  Both were good and loving parents. Vergil states they had eight children, four boys and four girls. Only three lived to adulthood: the future Henry VIII, Margaret, who became Queen of Scots, and Mary, who became Queen of France. Arthur was the eldest child, born, says Bacon, 'in the eighth month, as the physicians do prejudge', but 'strong and able'. Fuller, in his Church History, says Arthur was 'partus octomestris, yet vital and vigorous, contrary to all the rules of physicians'. His father created him Prince of Wales and spent many years negotiating a brilliant marriage for him with Katherine of Aragon, daughter of the Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella.

  Busily occupied with successive pregnancies and her children, Queen Elizabeth took no part in political life. 'The Queen is beloved because she is powerless,' observed the Spanish ambassador; 'she is kept in subjection by the mother of the King.' This was a deliberate policy of Henry VII, designed to keep Elizabeth from meddling in politics as her mother had done. He endowed her with a mere two-thirds of the

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  estates Elizabeth Wydville had enjoyed, and kept her pitifully short of money, so that she was always in debt and was forced to pawn her plate or borrow funds from her servants. Her household accounts bear witness to the fact that her gowns were repeatedly mended, turned and re-trimmed, and her shoes adorned with cheap tin buckles. Evidence in royal letters shows that Margaret Beaufort even made all the important decisions concerning the royal children. Small wonder that Elizabeth of York chose as her motto the legend 'Humble and Penitent', or that her innate sensuality was dissipated by a passionless marriage, religious observances and charitable works. She had achieved her ambition to become queen, but it is doubtful if she had much joy of it.

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  19. Pretenders

  Henry VII's obvious alarm at the advent of successive pretenders to his throne in the course of his reign is evidence enough that he did not know the details of the Princes' fate. He had believed them to be dead -- but was it just possible that one of them had survived?

  Had Henry been able to parade the Princes through London, as he once did with the Earl of Warwick after the pretender Lambert Simnel had claimed to be Clarence's heir, then he would have effectively crushed all such pretensions. Instead, the King and his advisers spent considerable time and effort in painstakingly tracing the identity of each of these pretenders, of whom the most prominent were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.

  Lambert Simnel's origins are still shrouded in some mystery. Andre says that when the rumours about the Princes flared up again, 'seditious men hatched another novel evil. They maliciously put up a certain boy as the son of Edward IV.' This conspiracy was hatched in the summer of 1486 in the vicinity of Oxford, and was almost certainly the brainchild of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who lived at nearby Ewelme, not far from Minster Lovell, the seat of the fugitive Lord Lovell, who became a party to the conspiracy. Both men had little cause to love Henry VII. It appears that they had made contact with an Oxford priest of lowly birth, one Richard Symonds, who had in his care a boy of about eleven allegedly called Lambert Simnel. The priest had reared and educated the boy and instructed him in courtly manners.

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  Symonds' loyalties were with the children of Edward IV. Vergil hints that he had purposed to 'represent the lad as being born of royal stock' during Richard Ill's reign. Now Symonds conspired with Lincoln and his associates to present Simnel to the English people as the younger of the two Princes, Richard, Duke of York. It is probable, however, that Lincoln's true intention was to seize the crown for himself, as the nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, once the planned coup met with success.

  Simnel was duly coached in his role and prepared to impersonate York. Late in 1486 he was sent to Ireland where many people were sympathetic to the Yorkist cause: for thirty years members of the House of York had served as Lieutenants of Ireland, and their rule had brought benefits to the Irish. At the same time, doubtless prompted by an urgent request from Lincoln, Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of Edward IV and Richard III, began raising money and troops in the Low Countries in support of the conspiracy.

&nb
sp; By early 1487 Henry VII had learned what was happening, but by then Simnel was no longer pretending to be York. He now claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, who was, of course, a prisoner in the Tower. Henry and his advisers rightly regarded Simnel, young as he was, as a dangerous threat to the throne and the security of the realm.

  On 2nd February the Council met to discuss the crisis. Amongst other matters the affairs of Elizabeth Wydville also came under scrutiny and, says Vergil, it was resolved 'that [she] should lose and forfeit all her lands and possessions because she had voluntarily submitted herself and her daughters to the hands of King Richard, whereat there was much wondering' -- understandably, since she had committed this misdemeanour three years before and Henry had made no move against her for eighteen months: indeed, up to now he had behaved towards her with courtesy and respect and had chosen her as a sponsor for Prince Arthur. Certainly her surrender of her daughters to Richard III had been a major setback to Henry Tudor's cause, but she had had no choice at the time. Henry must have known this, and it is likely that the real reason for Elizabeth Wydville's disgrace was something quite different. What this was has been the subject of considerable conjecture.

  Bacon says that Elizabeth was 'at this time extremely discontent with the King, thinking her daughters not advanced but depressed'. This attitude may have communicated itself to Henry VII who, ever suspicious,

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  became convinced that the Queen Dowager was plotting against him, or was even involved in the Simnel conspiracy. As Bacon observed, 'None could hold the book so well to prompt and instruct this stage play as she could.' Yet there is no evidence that Elizabeth Wydville was an accomplice in the Simnel rebellion. She was hardly likely to espouse the cause of the son of Clarence or take any action that might prejudice her daughter's position or the future of her grandson.

  On 20th February Parliament declared her estates forfeit and granted Elizabeth Wydville a pension of 400 marks per annum. Later that spring warrants were issued to officers of the Royal Exchequer to pay all issues from the confiscated estates to Elizabeth of York. In this we may perceive the real reason why Henry VII had disparaged his mother-in-law: while she was enjoying the revenues from properties normally used to dower a queen consort, his wife was being deprived of the property appertaining to her estate. Henry had no intention of supporting two queens, and by depriving Elizabeth Wydville of her lands he rid himself at a stroke of this inconvenience. He had also deprived the Queen Dowager of funds she might use against him. That he had his suspicions about the Wydvilles is confirmed by his imprisonment of Dorset in the Tower until after the rebellion. His later treatment of Elizabeth Wydville is evidence that he had probably believed her to have been culpable.

  Having learned that she was deprived of her estates and the income from them, Elizabeth had no choice but to retire to a nunnery. Around 12th February 1487 she moved to Bermondsey Abbey, a fourteenth-century foundation long favoured by royal ladies. A beautiful, peaceful place, the abbey had elegant gardens and commanded a site on the Surrey shore of the Thames opposite the Tower of London. From its windows the ageing Queen could see across the river to the fortress wherein lay, she believed, the bodies of her sons. At Bermondsey she was assigned apartments once reserved for the use of the earls of Gloucester, and registered as a boarder.

  Some revisionists have asserted that Elizabeth was 'banished' to Bermondsey -- though there is nothing to suggest that she went there under duress -- because she had discovered that Henry had been responsible for the murder of the Princes; it is said he wanted to silence her. Bacon alleges that during her retirement it was hazardous for any

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  person to see or speak with her, but the circumstances of her life at Bermondsey from 1487 until her death give these assertions the lie. In no sense was Elizabeth a prisoner. Henry VII continued to refer to her as his 'right dear mother' and she visited court from time to time. In 1489 she was present when the Queen bore a daughter, Margaret, and afterwards she helped Elizabeth of York host a reception for foreign ambassadors. In 1490 her pension was increased to £400 per annum, and over the years she was given various grants by the Exchequer, such as payment for Christmas sundries and wines. Elizabeth Wydville died at Bermondsey, with her daughters round her, on 8th June, 1492, and was buried beside Edward IV in St George's Chapel, Windsor.

  Henry's spies soon discovered the truth about Lambert Simnel's identity and he was proclaimed an imposter on 17th February, 1487. A few days later Lincoln fled in secret to Margaret of Burgundy in Flanders. On 29th February Henry had Warwick paraded through London, to demonstrate the falsity of Simnel's claim. After high mass at St Paul's, Warwick was allowed to converse with courtiers who had known him before being returned to the Tower. In March, Henry mobilised his forces in preparation for an invasion.

  Many people were nevertheless duped by Simnel's supporters into believing in him. Some, of course, found it politically desirable to acknowledge his claims -- Lincoln was one of them. By Whitsun 1487, when Lincoln landed in Ireland with an army provided by his aunt, there was panic in England at the prospect of another dynastic war. The Earl publicly recognised Simnel as his cousin Warwick, and played a prominent part when the boy was crowned 'Edward VI' in Dublin Cathedral on 24th May. Early in June, the rebel forces, led by Lincoln, crossed to England, but on 16th June they were massacred by Henry VII's army at the bloody Battle of Stoke. Lincoln was killed, and Simnel was taken prisoner. Lovell disappeared; over 200 years later a skeleton thought to be his was found sitting at a desk in a walled-up room at Minster Lovell.

  The King's victory at Stoke was seen by his contemporaries as reaffirmation by the Almighty of the divine judgement made manifest at Bosworth. It left him in a much stronger position and he could afford to be merciful to the hapless boy who had been at the centre of

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  the conspiracy. Simnel was put to work in the royal kitchens and later promoted to be the King's falconer, dying in 1525.

  Who was Lambert Simnel? Born around 1475, he was described in Lincoln's attainder as the son of an Oxford joiner and organ-maker called Thomas Simnel. Henry VII, in a letter to the Pope, claimed he was illegitimate. However, there is no trace in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English records of anyone by the name of Simnel, except for Richard Simnel, a canon of St Osyth's Priory, Essex, in the reign of Henry VIII who was probably Lambert's son. An account of the Battle of Stoke was written in 1487-9 by one of Henry VII's heralds: in the original manuscript, now in the British Library, reference is made to the pretender 'whose name was indeed John'. In a later transcription by the antiquarian John Leland that name has been changed to 'Lambert'. It seems likely that the boy's real name was not Lambert Simnel and that that name was chosen as a pseudonym, probably to find favour with the people of Flanders, one of whose favourite saints was St Lambert, whose reliquary in Liege Cathedral had been a gift from the late Duke of Burgundy, Margaret of York's husband. There is no reason to believe that 'Simnel' had any genetic connection with the royal family, nor that he was any other than 'common in all respects', as he himself admitted under interrogation.

  One person who was certainly involved in the Simnel conspiracy, and suffered for it, was Bishop Stillington. He was apprehended and questioned in March 1487 but, despite not being charged with any crime, was kept under house arrest at Windsor Castle until his death in May 1491 to keep him from further mischief.

  After Stoke, Henry VII set about consolidating his position. He had his queen crowned at last -- her first pregnancy and then the rebellion had obliged him to defer this, much to his subjects' annoyance. In March 1488 he opened negotiations with Spain for the marriage of Katherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur, an alliance that would considerably increase the standing of the Tudor dynasty in Europe. But Henry was still by no means secure on his throne at this date: there is evidence that from 1488 onwards disaffected Yorkists were conspiring against him. In 1489, just as the marriage alliance with Spain was being successfully concl
uded, Henry began to be troubled by a new wave of rumours -- probably originating with these Yorkist malcontents -- that one of the Princes in the Tower still lived. Henry did not know it then

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  but this was the opening fanfare for yet another pretender.

  This second, more serious, conspiracy probably originated with Margaret of Burgundy. In the autumn of 1491 a young man called Perkin Warbeck appeared in Ireland, calling himself the Earl of Warwick. But almost immediately, on the advice of prominent White Rose loyalists, he changed his identity to that of Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower. The pro-Yorkist Irish soon rallied to support him.

  News of this new imposture caused Henry VII the greatest concern. 'This lad who calls himself Plantagenet', as he referred to Warbeck, with his strong White Rose backing, posed a serious threat to the crown as more and more Yorkist partisans offered him their loyalty. In time, Warbeck would secure the recognition of most of the princes of Europe, which made him even more of a danger. In March 1492 he was welcomed as a visiting sovereign at the French court and lorded it there for several months. But in November, when England and France signed the Treaty of Etaples, Charles VIII undertook not to grant political asylum to any more pretenders to the English crown. Warbeck fled to Flanders where Margaret of Burgundy wholeheartedly acknowledged him as her long-lost nephew and feted him as the rightful King of England. Her stepson-in-law, the Archduke Maximilian, ruler of the Low Countries, followed suit.

 
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