On this day 1487, the pretender Lambert Simnel was crowned as King Edward VI in Dublin. The boy was ten years old at the time, and kept up the pretence for nearly a month before the rebels who supported him were defeated at the Battle of Stoke Field.
In August 1485, Henry Tudor took the crown of England under dubious circumstances. During the reign of his predecessor Richard III, the two sons of Edward IV had been held captive in the Tower of London before mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen again. The Princes in the Tower, as the boys have since come to be known, were the true heirs to the throne, and it would have been impossible for Henry Tudor to become King had they been alive.
So it came as no surprise that when he ascended the throne as Henry VII, the new King made no attempts to look for the missing boys. Rather, in order to get rid of any potential claimants to the throne, Henry imprisoned their cousin, the ten year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was the son of George, Duke of Clarence and an heir to the throne. Despite rumours that suggested otherwise, Edward spent the rest of his life in captivity in the Tower of London, before being executed in 1499.
Just under two years after King Henry’s ascension, a priest named Richard Simon noticed a that a young boy called Lambert Simnel bore a resemblance to the two Princes in the Tower. Fancying the chance to run England using the boy as his puppet, Father Simon taught Lambert – who was in fact the son of a tradesman of some sort – the necessary manners and etiquette before presenting him as Prince Richard, the younger son of Edward IV. However, when he got wind of rumours that Edward, Earl of Warwick has died during his imprisonment, Father Simon immediately changed his tack and instead put Lambert Simnel forward as the real Earl, claiming that he had escaped from the Tower.
Since Lambert was closer in age to Edward than he was to Richard, people found the story a lot more plausible, and Father Simon’s claim gained support from a lot of Yorkists, who were determined to overthrow the new King Henry. Simnel was taken down to Ireland, where large numbers still supported the Yorkist cause.
The Lord Deputy of Ireland at the time was the Earl of Kildare. The Earl had disobeyed the King’s orders in the past, and was more than willing to recognise Lambert Simnel, or the “Earl of Warwick”, as the true King of England. Simnel was paraded through the streets on the shoulders of Irishmen, and on 24 May 1487, he was crowned King Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
Following the coronation, Lord Kildare began to gather an army to march to England and overthrow King Henry. He was joined in this effort by John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln, a nephew of Richard III with a claim to the throne himself. Together, they gathered nearly 8,000 men and landed in England to take on the King. By this point, Lambert Simnel was nothing more than a figurehead for a rebellion that had been in the works for months. As James A. Williamson wrote, “He was merely a commonplace tool to be used for important ends, and the attempt to overthrow Henry VII would have taken place had Simnel never existed.”
King Henry, who had been anticipating the attack, had gathered his own men, and on June 16, the two armies clashed at the Battle of Stoke Field. In the end, the King’s army emerged victorious, and John de la Pole was killed, as was the Earl of Kildare’s younger brother. Lord Kildare was pardoned, and wisely refrained from crossing the King’s path again, staying away from subsequent attempts to crown a pretender.
In an incredible act of clemency, King Henry fully pardoned Lambert Simnel. The boy was given a job in the royal kitchens as a spit-turner, and subsequently became a falconer. Nothing much is known about Simnel’s life after 1487, but it is presumed that he was married. He never made another attempt at claiming the throne of England.
Photo credit: DAVID HOLT via Flickr