Gateway to the Classics: Stories From English History, Book II by Alfred J. Church
Stories From English History, Book II by  Alfred J. Church

True Or False?

I have to tell in this chapter two strange stories, so strange that we cannot be sure that we know the truth about them even now.

King Henry was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury on November 7 in the same year in which he had conquered Richard; about two months afterwards he married Elizabeth of York, and in the September of 1486 he had a son born to him. The son was christened by a name dear to the Welshmen who had fought so bravely for him at Bosworth—Arthur.


Marriage of Henry VII. With Elizabeth.

But now a new kind of trouble began. News was brought to London that a lad who claimed to be Earl of Warwick had landed in Ireland in charge of a certain priest of Oxford. Soon it was reported that he had been proclaimed King at Dublin, under the title of Edward VI. The real Earl of Warwick was in the Tower. Henry brought him out, and had him taken through London, where any one that chose might speak to him. As he had been at Court in King Richard's time, there must have been many who knew him. It seems clear that the boy in Ireland was not what he pretended to be. Indeed, it was afterwards found out that he was one Lambert Simnel, son of a Thomas Simnel, who was a carpenter. He was tall and handsome, and had been taught to tell the story of how he had escaped from the Tower, and to behave as a Prince should. Indeed, he was more like a Prince than the poor boy whom Henry kept in the Tower. But it was easy to prove that he was not the Earl of Warwick; and even if he had been, he had not the least right to be King of England. Yet a powerful nobleman, the Earl of Lincoln, took up his cause. He went over to Burgundy, where his aunt, Edward IV.'s sister, was Duchess, enlisted by her help two thousand soldiers under a certain soldier of fortune (a "soldier of fortune" was a man who would fight for any prince or city that was willing to pay him), Martin Swartz by name, and then landed in Ireland. He caused "Edward VI" to be crowned, and then crossed over to England, taking with him as many Irish as he could collect and Martin Swartz's soldiers. Some English friends of the House of York joined him. Henry meanwhile had marched from London. The two armies met at Stoke-on-Trent; Lord Lincoln, with Martin Swartz and his chief Irish allies, fell on the field of battle. One of the few leaders that escaped was Lord Lovel. He was not killed nor taken prisoner, but he was not heard of again. Two hundred years afterwards a secret chamber was found in the house of Minster Lovel (where the Lords of Lovel lived), and in it the skeleton of a man seated at a table. The pretended king, who was with the army, was taken prisoner. He confessed that he had told a false story. The King pardoned him, and gave him a place in the royal kitchen. Afterwards he was promoted. "Lambert is still alive," says a chronicler who wrote in the latter part of Henry's reign, "and has been made Keeper of the Hawks, after turning the spit for a while in the royal kitchen."

Five years afterwards Henry had to meet a more serious danger of the same kind. A handsome young man, with very good manners, landed from a Portuguese ship at Cork. He gave out that he was Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two Princes said to have been murdered by Richard III., and that he had escaped from the Tower. We do not know any more of his story, how he had escaped, and where he had been living meanwhile. However, many of the citizens of Cork were satisfied that he was what he claimed to be, and some of the Irish nobles also acknowledged him. Before long the King of France invited him to visit him. The young man went, and was well received. A bodyguard was given him, and a number of English exiles offered him their services. He did not, however, stop long in France. When Henry consented to sign a treaty about which he had been making some difficulties, the King commanded the young man at once to leave the country. He had been only making use of him to hasten the business which he wanted to get finished.

The Pretender, as we may call him, now went to Burgundy, to the same Duchess who had shown herself so ready to the friends of the false Earl of Warwick. She received him in an affectionate way, declaring that she was sure of his being really her nephew. For some time he was content to stay safely where he was. But the people of the country had very good reason to be dissatisfied. The Flemish merchants—Flanders, i.e. the country now known as Holland and Belgium, was part of the possessions of the Duke of Burgundy—lost a great part of their trade, for Henry, angry that a man who claimed his kingdom was so well received in Burgundy, would not allow them to have dealings with England. Accordingly the Pretender felt that he must do something. He landed at Deal, but was beaten back, after losing most of his companions. He then went to Ireland, and with the help of some friends of the House of York, besieged Waterford. But the Lord Deputy who ruled Ireland in the name of the King's second son, Henry, Duke of York, got together some soldiers, and put him and his followers to flight. He was glad to get back to his friend the Duchess of Burgundy.

But he was not to be allowed to stop long with her. A treaty was made between Henry and the Duke of Burgundy, and one of the points in it was that neither Prince should allow an enemy of the other to remain within his dominions. The Pretender had now to leave, but he found a friend in Scotland, where King James acknowledged him to be the son of Edward IV., and gave him in marriage a noble Scotch lady, a cousin of his own, Lady Catherine Gordon. Twice the Scottish King helped to invade England. There were always plenty of people on the Borders and elsewhere who were ready to take part in an invasion of England. But these expeditions did him no kind of good, and when the English army invaded Scotland in turn, the King and his people grew tired of the whole matter. At last a regular peace was concluded between the two countries by the mediation of the Spanish ambassador. After that the Pretender had to go. He first went to Ireland, but the nobles who had helped him before would have nothing more to do with him. Then he sailed to Cornwall. The Cornishmen, who had already rebelled against some new taxes which the King had demanded from them, joined him in considerable numbers, and he marched to Exeter, which city he in vain tried to take. Then he moved on to Taunton. But when the King's army approached he lost heart, and taking horse, rode with sixty companions to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. There he took sanctuary. Growing weary of being shut up in this place, and being promised his life, he came out and threw himself on the King's mercy. Henry took him up to London, and made him ride in his train through the city. After this he was allowed to live within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, not kept in custody, but closely watched. From time to time he was questioned about his past history. After six months he managed to escape, but finding that he could not get away from England, gave himself up to the Prior of the monastery of Shene (near Richmond). The King again spared his life, but put him for a day in the stocks at Cheapside. He was also obliged to make a confession of his real name and birth in front of Westminster Hall, and again at Cheapside. This done, he was sent to the Tower.

In the Tower he made friends with the young Earl of Warwick, and contrived—so at least it was said—another plot. Four of the warders of the Tower were to murder the Governor, and then carry the Pretender and the Earl to some safe place outside England, where the one was to be proclaimed as Richard IV., while the other was to call to arms the friends of his father, the Duke of Clarence, and his grandfather the King-maker. This exhausted King Henry's patience.

The Pretender was tried, not for his share in this last plot, but for having made war upon the King. Of course he was found guilty. A few days afterwards, having declared on the word of a dying man that his confession was true, he was executed. Even the poor young Earl of Warwick was put to death; he pleaded guilty to a charge of treason, and was beheaded on Tower Hill.

And now who was this man whom I have called the "Pretender"? According to his own confession he was the son of a Jew of the town of Tournay, who settled for a time in London, and then returned to Tournay; his real name was Warbeck, Perkin being shortened from Peterkin, or "Little Peter." The Duchess of Burgundy had seen how like he was to Edward IV., and being always on the lookout for ways of doing harm to Henry VII., had contrived the plot. But there are some very strange things about the story. The young man was not in the least like what you would expect him to be if it were true. He was very handsome, had noble manners, and a way of winning the hearts of all with whom he had to do. And then, though we can understand why the Duchess of Burgundy should have taken up his cause, it is hard to see why James of Scotland did so. Altogether the matter must be left in doubt, though it is not at all likely that he was really Richard, Duke of York. Perhaps he was a son of Edward IV., born before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

NOTE.—When the Pretender landed in Cornwall he put his wife, Lady Catharine, in the Castle of Michael's Mount (near Penzance). She surrendered to Henry, who was kind to her, and made her a lady-in-waiting to his wife. On account of her beauty she was called "The White Rose," a name which the Duchess of Burgundy had once given to her husband. After his death she married a certain Sir Matthew Craddock. Husband and wife lie buried in Swansea Church. Their daughter married William Herbert, first Earl of Pembroke.

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