Lambert Simnel

Lambert Simnel—the False Earl of Warwick

After the downfall of the Plantagenet dynasty, and the accession of Henry VII. to the English throne, the evident favour shown by the king to the Lancastrian party greatly provoked the adherents of the House of York, and led some of the malcontents to devise one of the most extraordinary impostures recorded in history.

An ambitious Oxford priest, named Richard Simon, had among his pupils a handsome youth, fifteen years of age, named Lambert Simnel. This lad, who was the son of a baker, and, according to Lord Bacon, was possessed of "very pregnant parts," was selected to disturb the usurper's government, by appearing as a pretender to his crown. At first it was the intention of the conspirators that he should personate Richard, duke of York, the second son of Edward IV., who was supposed to have escaped from the assassins of the Tower, and to be concealed somewhere in England. Accordingly, the monk Simon, who was the tool of higher persons, carefully instructed young Simnel in the rôle  which he was to play, and in a short time had rendered him thoroughly proficient in his part. But just as the plot was ripe for execution a rumour spread abroad that Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, and only male heir of the House of York, had effected his escape from the Tower, and the plan of the imposture was changed. Simnel was set to learn another lesson, and in a very brief time had acquired a vast amount of information respecting the private life of the royal family, and the adventures of the Earl of Warwick. When he was accounted thoroughly proficient, he was despatched to Ireland in the company of Simon—the expectation of the plotters being that the imposition would be less likely to be detected on the other side of the channel, and that the English settlers in Ireland, who were known to be attached to the Yorkist cause, would support his pretensions.

These anticipations were amply fulfilled. On his arrival in the island, Simnel at once presented himself to the Earl of Kildare, then viceroy, and claimed his protection as the unfortunate Warwick. The credulous nobleman listened to his story, and repeated it to others of the nobility, who in time diffused it throughout all ranks of society. Everywhere the escape of the Plantagenet was received with satisfaction, and at last the people of Dublin unanimously tendered their allegiance to the pretender, as the rightful heir to the throne. Their homage was of course accepted, and Simnel was solemnly crowned (May 24, 1487), with a crown taken from an effigy of the Virgin Mary, in Christ Church Cathedral. After the coronation, he was publicly proclaimed king, and, as Speed tells us, "was carried to the castle on tall men's shoulders, that he might be seen and known." With the exception of the Butlers of Ormond, a few of the prelates, and the inhabitants of Waterford, the whole island followed the example of the capital, and not a voice was raised in protest, or a sword drawn in favour of King Henry. Ireland was in revolt.

When news of these proceedings reached London, Henry summoned the peers and bishops, and devised measures for the punishment of his secret enemies and the maintenance of his authority. His first act was to proclaim a free pardon to all his former opponents; his next, to lead the real Earl of Warwick in procession from the Tower to St. Paul's, and thence to the palace of Shene, where the nobility and gentry had daily opportunities of meeting him and conversing with him. Suspecting, not without cause, that the Queen-Dowager was implicated in the conspiracy, Henry seized her lands and revenues, and shut her up in the Convent of Bermondsey. But he failed to reach the active agents; and although the English people were satisfied that the Earl of Warwick was still a prisoner, the Irish persisted in their revolt, and declared that the person who had been shown to the public at St. Paul's was a counterfeit. By the orders of the Government a strict watch was kept at the English ports, that fugitives, malcontents, or suspected persons might not pass over into Ireland or Flanders; and a thousand pounds reward was offered to any one who would present the State with the body of the sham Plantagenet.

Meanwhile John, earl of Lincoln, whom Richard had declared heir to the throne, and whom Henry had treated with favour, took the side of the pretender, and having established a correspondence with Sir Thomas Broughton of Lancashire, proceeded to the court of Margaret, dowager-duchess of Burgundy—a woman described by Lord Bacon as "possessing the spirit of a man and the malice of a woman," and whose great aim it was to see the sovereignty of England once more held by the house of which she was a member. She readily consented to abet the sham Earl of Warwick, and furnished Lincoln and Lord Lovel with a body of 2000 German veterans, commanded by an able officer named Martin Schwartz. The countenance given to the movement by persons of such high rank, and the accession of this military force, greatly raised the courage of Simnel's Irish adherents, and led them to conceive the project of invading England, where they believed the spirit of disaffection to be as general as it was in their own island.

The news of the intended invasion came early to the ears of King Henry, who promptly prepared to resist it. Having always felt or affected great devotion, after mustering his army, he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, famous for miracles, and there offered up prayers for success and for the overthrow of his enemies. Being informed that Simnel and his gathering had landed at Foudrey, in Lancashire, the king advanced to Coventry to meet them. The rebels had anticipated that the disaffected provinces of the north would rise and join them, but in this they were disappointed; for the cautious northerners were not only convinced of Simnel's imposture, but were afraid of the king's strength, and were averse to league themselves with a horde of Irishmen and Germans. The Earl of Lincoln, therefore, who commanded the invading force, finding no hopes but in victory, determined to bring the matter to a speedy decision. The hostile armies met at Stoke, in Nottinghamshire, and after a hardly-contested day, the victory remained with the king. Lincoln, Broughton, and Schwartz perished on the field of battle, with four thousand of their followers. As Lord Lovel was never more heard of, it was supposed that he shared the same fate. Lambert Simnel, with his tutor the monk Simon, were taken prisoners. The latter, as an ecclesiastic, escaped the doom he merited, and, not being tried at law, was only committed to close custody for the rest of his life. As for Simnel, when he was questioned, he revealed his real parentage; and being deemed too contemptible to be an object either of apprehension or resentment, Henry pardoned him, and made him first a scullion in the royal kitchen, and afterwards promoted him to the lofty position of a falconer.