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Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)

 

CHAPTER IV

REBELLION OF LAMBERT SIMNEL


MODERN research has added nothing to the slender information given by early writers with regard to that "strange accident of State," the rebellion which took place in the second year of Henry's reign in favour of Lambert Simnel. But the circumstances out of which it arose are clear enough. The king was still "green in his estate." A number of the Yorkist party were still dissatisfied. So much mystery surrounded the fate of the sons of Edward IV. that idle rumours prevailed that one, if not both of them, were still alive. The imprisonment of Warwick in the Tower aroused suspicions that the king would put him to death, and rumours were even spread that he had been actually made away with. It was under these circumstances that Richard Simon, a priest of Oxford, stirred perhaps by some restless spirits behind the scenes, inspired an adventurous boy named Lambert Simnel, whose education doubtless had been entrusted to him by his parents, with the idea of personating a young prince of the Honse of York. The lad was only ten years of age, the son of one Thomas Simnel, described afterwards in an Act of Parliament as "late of Oxford, joiner," but in another document as an organ maker; while the blind poet, Bernard Andre, who lived at the time, was not sure whether the youth claimed a baker or a shoemaker for his father. His origin, therefore, was obscure enough, but he was a bright lad and an apt scholar. He was first encouraged to personate Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes murdered in the Tower; but perhaps owing to the rumour that Warwick had died in prison, it was thought that he could as safely fit himself with the character of the latter personage. And to prevent immediate detection Simon carried his pupil over to Ireland, where he was declared to be the Earl of Warwick, son of the Duke of Clarence, newly escaped from the Tower.

The devotion of the Irish people to the House of York, and their characteristic readiness to acquiesce in impostures without too much inquiry, at once secured for him an enthusiastic reception. It has been supposed that Henry neglected Ireland at the beginning of his reign because he failed to remove the Earl of Kildare, who had been Lord Deputy in the reigns of Edward IV. and Richard III. But evidence exists which shows pretty clearly that he only forbore from policy to attempt what was beyond his strength; for he sent over to Ireland a messenger named John Estrete expressly to invite the earl over to England to confer with him as to the best means of bringing the country completely under English rule; and as this was in reply to a request of the earl himself to be made Deputy for a term of nine or ten years, the king, without committing himself in any way, gave every indication that he was well disposed to consent, but wished, for one thing to see whether the rvenues of Ireland could be made to bear the charge of £1000 a year for the Deputy's salary, or whether that would have to be provided otherwise.

It is not clear, however, that this message reached the earl before Simnel's landing in Ireland. If it did we must suppose that it did not entirely satisfy him. For Kildare took counsel with the nobles and others upon the young man's pretensions, and it was unanimously agreed to support them. The supposed son of Clarence was lodged in Dublin aastle with great honour, proclaimed King of England by the name of Edward VI., and presently (24th May) crowned in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, amid the universal enthusiasm of the populace. Not a sword was drawn in Henry's favour. Bishops, nobles, judges, and high officers of State, all with one consent came to over their allegiance to the pretender.

Nor was this all; for Ireland was but the scene chosen for the development of a widespread conspiracy, the first beginnings of which had not wholly escaped the king's notice. As early as February, just after Candlemas Day, the king had held a Great Council at Sheen, the chief result of which was a very mysterious decision taken about the queen-dowager. That Elizabeth Woodville, when her daughter was actually Queen of England, could have knowingly joined an intrigue to dethrone her husband is hardly credible in itself, and there is no reason to think it true. But she was a most unsteady woman, and her indiscretions may have been such as to serve the enemy's purpose almost as well as any active support she could have given them. Whatever may have been the case, the king thought fit, on due consideration, to deprive her of her jointure lands, which he had only a year before restored to her, leaving her to find a retreat in the Abbey of Bermondsey, where she had a right to claim apartments as King Edward's widow, with a pension of 400 marks, which the king soon after augmented to £400. In that seclusion, from which apparently she only emerged on some special occasions, she passed the few remaining years of her life, a miserable and disappointed woman. Her jointure lands were given by Henry to the queen, her daughter.

Another result of the Council just referred to was seen in the flight of one of the noblemen who had taken part in it almost immediately afterwards. This was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who, being the eldest son of the Duke of Suffolk by Elizabeth, sister of Edward IV., had been named as successor to the kingdom by Richard III. not long before Henry's invasion. That he should have been disappointed at Henry's success was of course only natural, and it would seem that the proceedings at the Council convinced him that he was in danger of being arrested as an intriguer. He escaped beyond sea and joined Lord Lovell in Flanders, where he reported that Warwick was in Ireland and that he himself had been privy to his escape, having conferred with him at Sheen just before he left England. This was an excellent foundation for a plot. In Flanders all disaffected Yorkists were sure of sympathy from Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, widow of Charles the Bold, who, being a sister of Edward IV. and also of the Earl of Lincoln's mother, was bent upon the restoration of the House of York, and did everything in her power to encourage intrigues against Henry. And it really seemed that this enterprise, begun through the instrumentality of an impostor, required only a little judicious aid to enable Lincoln to turn Henry off the throne.

Henry meanwhile met the danger first by ordering Warwick to be taken from the Tower one Sunday and conducted through the streets in sight of all the people to St. Paul's; and secondly, by issuing a general pardon for all offences, including treason against himself, on the submission of the offenders. He at the same time caused the coasts to be well watched, not only to prevent further escapes, but to guard against invasion, which was especially apprehended on the eastern coast. For this reason orders were given on the 7th of April to set the beacons in order throughout Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex; and to confirm the loyalty of those counties, the king himself determined to go a progress through them. So having appointed two generals -- his uncle Jasper, Duke of Bedford, and the Earl of Oxford -- in case of any invasion either from Ireland or from Flanders, he left London in the middle of March and passed through Essex and Suffolk into Norfolk. At Bury St. Edmunds he was in formed that the Marquis of Dorset -- alarmed, no doubt, at what had befallen his mother, the queen-dowager -- was coming to his presence to explain his conduct when in France, and deprecate further suspicion; but considering the uncertainties of the time, the king thought it best to send the Earl of Oxford to apprehend him and put him in the Tower, so as "to try his truth and prove his patience." For Henry considered that if he were really loyal, as he actually proved, he would willingly endure so slight an indignity for the sake of his prince, while if he were otherwise it would prevent his doing mischief. Henry kept his Easter at Norwich, and on Easter Monday (16th April) rode from thence to the famous shrine of Walsingham.

After paying his devotions there he turned westward towards the centre of the kingdom. He reached Coventry in less than a week, in time to keep the feast of St. George there, which was done with very special solemnity. Morton, who was now Archbishop of Canterbury, with five other bishops and a host of clergy, solemnly read in the cathedral the Pope's bulls declaring the king's right to the Crown, and that of the queen which was joined to his by marriage; whereupon they "cursed with book, bell, and candle" all who should in any way oppose those rights. Meanwhile the Earl of Lincoln and Lord Lovell, having obtained from the Duchess Margaret a band of 2,000 veteran Germans, under the command of an esperienced captain named Martin Swart, left the Low countries, not to invade the east coast, but to join Simnel in Ireland, and landed in that country on the 5th of May. The king was still at Coventry when he heard the news, attended by most of the southern nobility, rho had been summoned thither to assist him with their counsels. Most of these he at once sent back to their own districts to muster men, but some remained with him and sent orders to their people to be ready whencver summoned. Henry then rode to Kenilworth, and sent the Earl of Ormond to bring the queen and his mother to him there. News next came that the enemy had landed in Lancashire beside Furness Fells. A council of war was held at once, and Oxford, at his own request, vvas given the command of the royal forces.

Being thus compelled to face for a time a renewal of the civil war, Henry determined, for his part at least, to check as far as possible those enormities with which the country had been too familiar during such commotions; and by the advice of Morton, Fox, and others, he issued a very stringent proclamation against robbing churches, ravishing women, or even taking victuals without paying for them at the prices "assized by the clerk of the market," on pain of death. Nor was any man to venture to take a lodging for himself not assigned to him by the king's harbingers, on pain of imprisonment and further punishment at the king's discretion. The strictest discipline was enforced throughout the army; and the stocks and prisons of market towns in the rear of its march were filled with vagrants and offenders against the proclamation. Thus the king and his host advanced in good order to Nottingham, where they were joined by a very large force of the Earl of Derby's men under his son, Lord Strange, and from thence to Newark, near which town, at the village of Stoke, they met and defeated the invaders.

The enemy had done well to land in Lancashire, where they knew they could reckon on the aid of Sir Thomas Broughton and get a few English followers to join the ill-assorted crew of Irishmen and Germans who came to support Simnel's pretensions to the English throne. But they had greatly miscalculated in thinking that they would receive much support in England. They had naturally made for York, where the feeling in favour of the House of York had always been strong; but the country was desolate, and Lovell's previous abortive attempt in Yorkshire did not dispose the people in their favour. The hordes of half-savage Irishmen under Lord Thomas Fitzgerald (the Earl of Kildare's brother), and even the well-trained mercenaries under Martin Swart, were calculated rather to arouse disgust and indignation. Meeting with no favourable reception in Yorkshire, they came southwards and endeavoured to surprise Newark; but were met, as we have just said, at Stoke, and utterly routed with great slaughter. The Irish, "after the manner of their country, almost naked," being only armed with darts and skeins, fought bravely, but were cut down in masses. The rest of the host, too, maintained the fight with the obstinacy of desperate men. All the leaders -- Lincoln, Lovell, Swart, and Sir Thomas Broughton -- either died on the field, or at least were not seen alive after it; for as regards Lovell there was a report that he had escaped and lived long after in some secret place, and it is even supposed that his body was discovered as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century in a long-hidden chamber at Minster Lovel in Oxfordshire. Simnel and his tutor, the priest, were taken prisoners, and the former being a mere boy, the king, with great policy, instead of putting him to death, took him into his service as a menial of the royal kitchen. As for the priest, he was placed in lifelong confinement.

Having thus gained the victory, the king went to Lincoln, where he ordered thanksgivings to be made, and then set forth on a progress into the north, causing strict inquiry to be made as he went, by court-martial or otherwise, as to the part taken by any of the inhabitants in befriending the rebels, or even expressing sympathy with them, as some had done by spreading false rumours of the defeat of the royal forces. To check such sympathy in future he imposed fines on those who were but slightly implicated, while the more serious offenders were put to death. He visited York, and went as far as Newcastle, from which place he sent Fox, Bishop of Exeter, and Sir Richard Edgecombe in embassy to James III. of Scotland. The Scotch king, like the English, was at this time peacefully disposed -- more so, it is believed, than most of his own subjects. A three years' truce had already been concluded between the two countries in the preceding year, and the English ambassadors endeavoured to get it extended with a view to a lasting peace, which was to be cemented by three marriages: the first between the Scotch king's second son, James, Marquis of Ormond, and Katharine, the third daughter of Edward IV.; the second between the Scotch king himself and the English queen-dowager, Elizabeth Woodville -- a thing apparently designed on Henry's part to remove the cloud which rested on his mother-in-law, without remitting the penalty she had incurred by her behaviour; and the third between the Duke of Rothesay, heir-apparent to the Scottish throne, and some other one of Edward IV.'s daughters, the question which of them it was to be being left for further consideration. The three matches were agreed to in this form; but the negotiators could only agree to a two months' extension of the truce. All efforts to bring about a permanent peace were for the present ineffectual; and any possibility of the renewal of the three marriage projects was terminated in the following summer by the revolt of the Scottish nobles and the death of James III.

In the autumn Henry returned southward for the long-deferred coronation of his queen, and also to meet his second Parliament. On his way he received at Leicester certain ambassadors from Charles VIII., sent chiefly to explain the French king's attack on the duchy of Britanny -- a thing to which it was rightly suspected that English feeling would be sensitive. He arrived in London on the 3d of November, and was received with triumph like a conqueror. Parliament met on the 9th, and proceeded at once to attaint the leaders of the late rebellion and to pass various severe measures for the punishment of crimes and misdemeanours, one of which was what may almost be considered the institution of the afterwards too notorious Court of Star Chamber. The popular name of this court was derived from the room in which the Privy Council were in the habit of meeting, especially when they met as a court of justice; and the Act simply invested certain members of the Council with a criminal jurisdiction, highly necessary at this time, to restrain a host of abuses which had grown out of the too great power of the nobles. Livery and maintenance especially were the two great evils which, besides lending themselves too readily to a renewal of civil war, placed sheriffs, juries, and the whole administration of justice throughout the country under influences which utterly destroyed their independence. And as the court was chiefly intended to curb the power of the great, care was taken to strengthen its judicial authority by joining with the lords and privy councillors the two chief justices, or two other judges in their place. Parliament also granted a subsidy for the defence of the kingdom.

The queen's coronation took place on Sunday, the 25th of November, and was solemnised with a splendour that atoned for previous tardiness. The processions and festivities connected with it began two days before the coronation day itself, and continued two days after. It was, moreover, intimated that they would have been even further prolonged but for "the great business of the Parliament." It was perhaps important that the measures for restraining the power of the lords, if not already passed, should be passed before Christmas, when the members of either House would naturally expect to be allowed to return, each to his own part of the country. But the really "great business" of this Parliament more probably had reference to the French king's aggression upon Britanny, of which we shall speak more at length in the next chapter; for it was no doubt in view of this and of possible future hostilities that a subsidy of two tenths and fifteenths was voted, besides a pretty considerable tax upon artisans (six and eight pence to be paid by each native artificer, and higher rates upon aliens), which imposts appear to have met with little or no opposition.

Domestic peace was now tolerably secure; but it remained a question how to deal with Ireland -- a country which had lent itself so readily to the designs of English faction and foreign intrigue. It was out of the question to punish a rebellion in which practically the whole country was implicated; and apparently for some months the king was content to allow the ridiculous failure of the expedition in Simnel's favour to impress its own moral upon the Irish people. At last, in the middle of the following year, Sir Richard Edgecombe was sent over to Ireland with a commission to receive the fealty of all who were willing to acknowledge King Henry, and to grant ample pardons for the past.

A sturdy Cornishman, well used to adventure in the preceding reign, when it is said he had narrowly escaped with his life by flinging his bonnet in the water and making his pursuers think that he was drowned, Sir Richard must have been prepared for a dangerous enterprise. He sailed from Mount's Bay in Cornwall on the 23d of June 1488, and, after some time lost in the pursuit of pirates, reached Kinsale on the 27th. Here he took the allegiance of Lord Thomas of Barry, and landing at the request of Lord Courcy, who did fealty for the barony of Kinsale, had the keys of the town delivered to him. He then sailed to Waterford, a town which had always preserved its loyalty (it was there, or in neighbouring harbours, that English expeditions had always landed), and was conducted by the mayor over the walls and fortifications. The mayor also informed him of the disposition of the people, especially of the great men, and besought his protection against their old enemy, the Earl of Kildare, for whom they knew he had a pardon from the king. Sir Richard assured him that the city's interests would be protected, and sailing northward, after a rough passage anchored off Lambay Island, and sent a messenger to Dublin to inquire the disposition of the country. Word was brought back to him that the Earl of Kildare had gone on pilgrimage for a few days, on which Sir Richard landed at Malahide, and was conducted up to Dublin by the Bishop of Meath, a prelate who had taken an active part in Simnel's coronation but was now anxious to show his loyalty. Sir Richard took up his quarters in the Black Friars, where he awaited the arrival of Kildare, and meanwhile re ceived the submission of the Archbishop of Dublin and Rowland Fitzeustace, the Treasurer of Ireland, two other of Simnel's late adherents. At length Kildare arrived with 200 horse at St. Thomas's Court, just outside the walls of Dublin, where Sir Richard delivered to him a message from the king. He desired time to consult about it with the lords of the Irish Council, who were not then with him, and retired to his Castle of Maynooth.

Next day, which was a Sunday, the 13th of July, Sir Richard got the Bishop of Meath to publish at Christ Church Cathedral the Pope's bull of excommunication, and the readiness with which absolution might be ob ained with the king's free pardon on submission. On the Monday, at the earl's special entreaty, he visited him at Maynooth, and obtained from him a promise to conform in future to the king's pleasure. He failed, however, to obtain from him any securities for good behaviour, which Sir Richard continually insisted on, both at Maynooth and afterwards again at Dublin. Both the earl and other lords were liberal in promises to be the king's true subjects; but, rather than give the bonds required, said they would become Irish every man. At last, hearing a report of the death of the King of Scots, which he feared might be the cause of further trouble, Sir Richard was content to take their oaths upon the sacrament as sufficient security for their loyalty; and after many objections and attempts at evasion they were ultimately sworn at St. Thomas's on the 21st of July, and absolved from the papal curse. Sir Richard then put a collar of the king's livery about the Earl of Kildare's neck, which he wore publicly in the city.

Sir Richard next visited Drogheda and Trim, and took the homage of both those towns; then returning to Dublin, took the fealties of a number of other gentlemen. He refused, however, notwithstanding the urgent solicitations of Kildare, to take the fealties of Justice Plunket and the Prior of Kilmainham, two of the chief promoters of Simnel's rebellion, who, in expectation of the king's pardon, thought little of their past offences, till at last, after much intercession, he admitted Plunket to favour. But he put Dublin Castle in the keeping of a loyal subject, whom the Prior of Kilmainham had for two years and more kept out of the office of constable, and embarked at Dalkey on the 30th of July on his return to England.

He had at least got the chief men in Ireland to recognise once more the king's authority and the duty of obedience. But the government of the country had to be left in the hands of those who had most actively promoted rebellion, and it scarcely required a prophet to foresee that in any future trouble Ireland would again take a leading part.