For our summer vacation this year, my husband and I decided to explore the British Isles – to visit some of our favourite places – Dublin being one of them – we spent a very happy week there some years ago and promised ourselves then that we would return one day – and we did this year – taking in some of the places we missed on our last visit.
On our second day there, I found myself standing in front of Christchurch Cathedral. As I explored this ancient church, the foundation of which goes back to the year 1030, when the Viking King Sitruic Silkenbeard built the first church on this site. I recalled that on the 24th May 1487 this was the scene of the coronation of a young boy – who was the figurehead for the Yorkist Rebellion against Henry Tudor that ended with the Battle of Stoke Field – the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. This boy was to become known as Lambert Simnel but his real identity is to this day, the source of debate and controversy.
History (or should I say the Tudor propaganda machine) would have us believe that this was a farcical plot in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence the brother of Edward IV and Richard III – a youngster who was already imprisoned by Henry Tudor in the Tower of London. In his attempt to ridicule the rebellion Henry Tudor publicly paraded the poor lad at St Paul’s Cathedral. There can be little doubt that the Yorkists knew of young Warwick’s imprisonment – would they then have exposed their cause to immediate debunking? Furthermore, around that time at her Court in Mechlin, Margaret of Burgundy (elder sister of Edward and Richard) had under her protection another youngster whom she recognised as the son of her brother Clarence. Allegedly this boy was brought up in Ireland.
There exists a rather intriguing story that Clarence, convinced that Elizabeth Woodville had poisoned his wife and newly born son, made arrangements to smuggle his remaining children, Edward and Margaret, out of the country. A contemporary chronicle – The Annuls of Ulster, describe a young man exiled with the Earl of Kildare. Notably the Attainder against Clarence in 1478 charges him with trying to get his son out of the country – either to Ireland or Burgundy. Did he succeed after all? Serious doubt is cast on the Tudor assertion that the boy crowned in Dublin was a fraud also comes from within their own circle of supporters. Friar Bernard Andre – Tutor to Prince Arthur – writes in his ‘Life of Henry VII, ‘that the boy was widely accepted in Ireland by prudent men. So strong was this belief that many chose to even die for him.’ He also states that Henry Tudor sent a Herald who had served the Courts of both Edward IV and Richard who had returned to inform him that the boy had readily answered all questions posed to him. And then there was the boy captured at the Battle of Stoke Field. The Herald’s memoir (heralds were traditionally impartial – they reported on the fighting and decided on the victor – although this would of course be obvious) records that the boy delivered to Henry Tudor was actually named John (whoos name is in dede John).
Did the rebels manage to spirit young Edward/Lambert away to safety when defeat became obvious? Or was he killed in the fighting? Or was John another imposter, a random boy prepared to co-operate with Henry’s claims for a secure job in his kitchens?
One final interesting fact to emerge in the aftermath of the Battle of Stoke is that in 1489 Henry hosted the Irish Nobility in London in order to reassert his authority with the Irish. At dinner he had Lambert/John serve them wine. Not one of them recognised him – the boy supposedly taken prisoner at Stoke Field. They had to be told that the person serving them was the boy whose coronation they had all attended only two years earlier. Did Henry’s action backfire on him? Was this not the boy whom they had crowned as their king. Was that boy to re-emerge a few laters as Perkin Warbeck?