Monday, January 15, 2018

Lambert Simnel and the Blind Poet

by Matt Lewis

One of the most intriguing and confusing stories I read about the possible survival of the Princes in the Tower comes from Bernard Andre, the blind French friar-poet who would act as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and possibly to Henry VIII too. It epitomises the lack of conviction that runs through almost all of the contemporary and near-contemporary sources about the precise fate of the sons of Edward IV.

When writing about the Lambert Simnel Affair of 1487, two years into Henry VII’s reign, André provides an account that is quite shocking, yet which just might make sense of the whole muddled business. Andre begins his explanation of the events by describing how ‘the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people’. On the surface, this is an explicit assertion that both of the boys were dead and is presumably meant to be understood to implicate Richard III. He had earlier written of Richard that ‘After the tyrant, safe in his London stronghold, slew the lords he knew were faithful to his brother, he ordered that his unprotected nephews secretly be dispatched with the sword.’ Referring to news that a coronation of this supposed King Edward of the House of York had taken place in Dublin, André does not refer to the boy as Edward, Earl of Warwick, as the official Tudor version of events has it. The poet specifically states that ‘word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’. This second son would have been Richard, Duke of York, yet everywhere else it is made clear that the boy was named Edward. If he was a son of Edward IV named Edward, then he can only have been claiming to be Edward V.

The story doesn’t end there. André continues to describe the questioning of numerous messengers sent to Ireland to discover the boy's identity. Eventually, one person was sent to conclusively answer the question of who this boy really was. André has frustratingly left a blank space where the name should be, but it is possible it was Roger Machado, a herald trusted by both Edward IV and Henry VII. Whoever he was, André tells us that he ‘claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be’. On this man’s return, André laments that ‘the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he readily answered all the herald’s questions’. So, we are told, a herald who knew Edward IV’s sons was sent to identify the boy in Dublin and returned unable to say he wasn’t Edward IV’s son. He didn’t say that the lad looked nothing like either of the princes. All he could say was that all of his questions were answered satisfactorily, a shocking development that André put down to quick and clever trickery.

In summing up, André confirms that ‘To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him’. André does not describe this boy as claiming to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, but as claiming to be a son of Edward IV named Edward. It’s a brief passage, but it rings so many alarm bells. What if the whole story of an Oxford boy named Lambert Simnel impersonating Edward, Earl of Warwick was a smokescreen? Henry had an Edward, an heir of the House of York, in his custody, so putting out that the boy in Ireland was claiming to be someone imprisoned in the Tower would undermine his attempts to unseat Henry. Warwick was produced at St Paul’s for questioning by former members of the Yorkist court to prove that he really was a prisoner. What if that story was a pretence to whip support from beneath the boy in Ireland by painting his claims as a demonstrable lie, a joke even?

If we allow for a moment that the boy in Dublin might have been claiming to be Edward V, it makes sense of many other snippets of detail. Polydore Vergil, writing twenty years later, described the boy in Ireland as seeking to restore or re-establish himself, using the Latin verb ‘restituere’ to define his efforts. It would be an odd word to apply to Warwick, who had never held the throne in order to be able to restore himself to it. Given Edward V’s lack of a coronation, the desire to crown him in Dublin might also be significant. There is open confusion about the age of the boy later captured at the Battle of Stoke Field, and one account contained within The Heralds’ Memoir refers to the capture of the boy by Robert Bellingham and gives his name as John. Adrien de But even claimed that the boy escaped the field and was taken to Calais by Edmund de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, though de But does identify the boy as the ‘young Duke of Clarence’, referring to Warwick’s father’s title.

There are other interesting connections too. The sudden fall from grace of Elizabeth Woodville and the arrest of Thomas Grey, for example. The official Tudor version of the dowager queen’s removal from public life and her loss of her property was Henry’s outrage that she had endangered her daughters, including his wife, by releasing them to Richard III in 1484. Odd to become so suddenly scandalised three years after the fact and over a year into his own reign. Thomas Grey was supposedly told that if he really were loyal to Henry, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in the Tower to prove it. The timing of both events is highly suggestive that it was related to the emergence of the threat in Ireland. Elizabeth Woodville and Thomas Grey would have absolutely nothing to gain by supporting Edward, Earl of Warwick. Elizabeth was implicated in Warwick’s father’s fall and execution. If anything, placing him on the throne would make the Woodville position weaker. The only thing that can have been preferable to her daughter on the throne beside Henry VII for Elizabeth Woodville would have been one of her sons on it.

John de la Pole’s involvement is equally hard to fathom if the Lambert Simnel Affair had been a plot to place Warwick on the throne. Contrary to what has become popular opinion, Richard III never appointed an heir after the death of his only legitimate son in 1484. Some have claimed Warwick was designated heir, whilst other identify John, Earl of Lincoln as receiving that honour. Some even believe Warwick was initially appointed only to be replaced by Lincoln. None of these is true. Richard III left no instruction regarding who should succeed him, not least because he was planning to remarry and would have hoped for another son and heir. Lincoln would, by most measures, have been Richard III’s heir presumptive until a son arrived to replace him. Warwick was a male line descendant of the House of York, but his father’s attainder legally barred him from the succession. Undoing that impediment would create the sticky and awkward question of his senior claim that Richard himself possessed.

Lincoln therefore held his own claim, senior to that of Warwick, which he appears to have ignored. With Henry VII’s removal of Titulus Regius from the statute books, the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children was reversed. If one or both were still alive, his sons would now possess the most convincing legitimate claim to the throne for the House of York. Warwick had no affinity of his own, having been orphaned at a young age and kept away from any kind of power as a child. Lincoln didn’t really have a swell of support, but he had a legitimate claim unhampered by attainder. The only Yorkist claim better than Lincoln’s was that of the sons of Edward IV. If Lincoln overlooked his own suit in 1487, it only makes sense that he did so for one of the Princes in the Tower.

The fate of the Princes in the Tower ultimately remains a mystery. However, it is a mystery clouded by later Tudor writers and by the unquestioning acceptance of what they wrote. Returning to the source material is critical to stripping away these layers of myth and misdirection, and in this case, it throws up some interesting questions. If you think about it with an open mind and push aside your preconceptions, the Lambert Simnel Affair makes an awful lot more sense as an uprising in favour of Edward V than it does as an attempt to place an imposter Earl of Warwick on the throne. Of course, Henry VII had a vested interest in denying the continued existence of two boys with a better and more popular claim to his crown than he had. Maybe that’s why he ordered that all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487 should be burned. Maybe they referred to something he could never afford to have see the light of day. Maybe they referred to an attempt to return King Edward V to the throne of England. Maybe Henry VII has succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of history.

Pictures Copyright Matt Lewis


Matthew Lewis is the author of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower published by The History Press and available from Amazon and other outlets.


  1. Thanks, Matthew! Another mystery! It must have been frustrating for Henry to get all those claimants turning up saying they were Edward or Richard. Served him right, though. We hear a lot more about Perkin Warbeck than Lambert Simnel, so interesting to read this post.

  2. It's a good reminder about the value of reviewing the source records. Thanks for posting!

  3. Interesting. I can't even remember where I first read that John de la Pole was Richard's heir, but I know I've seen it so many times that I had accepted it as true. Where do you think this originates from if it is not true?