Elizabeth of York – February 11th, 1466 – 11th February, 1503.

Today marks the anniversary of both the birth and death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s beloved Queen Consort.

The eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville; Elizabeth of York was born in 1466 at the Palace of Westminster. Her childhood sounds as though it was a turbulent affair, with her father having to defend his title many times during the Wars of the Roses.  One of Elizabeth’s lowest ebbs must have been the flight into sanctuary following her father’s defeat, and the brief return of the Lancastrian King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1471. However, this interim was brief and following a decisive Yorkist victory at Battle of Tewkesbury, Elizabeth was once again a Princess Royal.

Upon the death of Edward IV (April, 1483), Elizabeth (along with her numerous siblings) was declared illegitimate by her Uncle – Richard of Gloucester (Richard III).  It was at this time that an alliance between disaffected Yorkists and Lancastrians occurred, and Elizabeth was betrothed to Henry of Richmond (who was still in exile in Brittany).  The pair were eventually married (after quite some delay) following Henry’s victorious return to England, and his defeat of Richard  III at Bosworth (August, 1485).

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

The marriage of Elizabeth and Henry VII was, naturally, a political alliance.  However, it soon becomes clear that there was a genuine and lasting love between the couple.  They had several children (in all, eight were born; only four made it past infancy), and it seems Elizabeth devoted her time to raising them.  Eminent Historian, David Starkey, even puts forward the theory that it was Elizabeth herself who taught her children to read and write (their handwriting being identical). She certainly seemed to oversee the running of the nursery in person – and the children formed the backbone of hers, and Henry’s, lives.

In choosing this domesticity, Elizabeth was able to avoid the rocky and controversial politics of the era, providing a normal, stable background for her children, and a haven for Henry to escape to when he could.  The two seemed to work perfectly together – aided by Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who took on some more onerous tasks of state (allowing more freedom for Elizabeth to simply be the Queen). Contrary to popular belief, however, Elizabeth did receive a lavish coronation, and was an anointed Queen of England.

However, in 1502, Elizabeth and Henry were dealt a severe blow following the death of their eldest son and heir, Arthur Prince of Wales. Arthur had not long since married the Spanish Infanta, Catherine of Aragon – a match that was set to be the making of the dynasty and the start of a new, prosperous future for England as a whole.  Henry was the first to be informed of Arthur’s death, and Elizabeth was the first person he turned to for support and comfort.  She had told him to take comfort in their “fair and goodly” second son, Prince Henry.  Elizabeth also told Henry to take comfort in her – she was still of childbearing age.

In fact, Elizabeth was thirty-six when she fell pregnant for the eighth time.  Quite an advanced age to be giving birth at this time.  She gave birth at the Tower of London, where she had spent her confinement, and it was here that she also died shortly afterwards, on February 11th, 1503. She was just thirty-seven years old.  The deaths of Arthur, Elizabeth and the child (a daughter) she bore, had a devastating effect on Henry VII – he never did fully recover. He isolated himself from Court; grieved deeply and genuinely for a protracted period of time.

s Tomb: Westminster Abbey (Henry VII Lady Chapel)

s Tomb: Westminster Abbey (Henry VII Lady Chapel)

Elizabeth was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. More information here

The Spanish Alliance.

Catherine of Aragon as young woman.

Forgive me for posting this a day late, but yesterday (14th November), saw the anniversary of the wedding of Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Catherine, the Spanish Infanta (daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon).

Negotiations for the marriage were long, complex and drawn out.  Internal affairs threatened the whole process, and pretenders shook the confidence of both Spain and England to the core.  But, King Henry persevered, and the grand alliance was made.  It was worth it, as well.  For a newly established, and seemingly highly vulnerable Dynasty like the Tudor Dynasty, this could only have come as a real shot in the arm in terms of their prestige, and their standing on the European main stage.

As always, neither Catherine nor Arthur had met prior to their wedding at Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  But for two years before hand, they had exchanged letters in Latin – probably coached by Tutors as to exactly what they should say (so, sadly, no longing teen romance there!).  However, following the wedding, Prince Arthur did write to his new father-in-law to thank him for sending Catherine to him, and assuring him of her safe arrival.

Of course, the big question surrounding this couple popped up much later – following the death of the Prince after barely six months of marriage.  Did they, or did they not consummate their union.  I don’t especially want to get drawn into that.  It’s a useless, circular, debate that ultimately leads nowhere.  Arthur boasted to friends that he had; Catherine insisted that they hadn’t.  But for a while, this was the greatest match in Europe. So, a happy anniversary to them!

 

Arthur, Prince of Wales (allegedly)

A Man of No Birth: The Rebellion of Lambert Simnel

From the moment Henry, Earl of Richmond, emerged from Bosworth as King Henry VII, he knew he’d only won the battle – not the war itself.  His claim to the throne was undeniably obscure and complicated, and only his marriage to the daughter of King Edward IV, Elizabeth of York, had the potential to stabilise his claim.  But even that, he knew, thanks to Richard III’s Titulus Regius (declaring all Edward IV’s children illegitimate), would not end his woes.  He was also surrounded by those who had a greater claim to the throne than he through other avenues.  Nevertheless, in the immediate aftermath of Bosworth, he seems to have attempted to win the Yorkist’s over.  Not only did he go ahead with the marriage, but he was kind to John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln (whom Richard III had named his heir following the death of Edward of Middleham), and several others had had their lives spared following his victory.  They were not unduly punished for acting in Yorkist favour (Margaret Beaufort even praised a former servant of Richard III for their loyalty – a fact somewhat at odds with popular perception of her as a Yorkist destroying dragon). But Henry was far too intelligent a man to know that this was a cause that couldn’t be killed through kindness alone.

So, given the grim inevitability of rebellions, Henry knew also that more difficult decisions had to be made regarding other claimants; ones too close to his crown for comfort.  One such case was that of Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick.  The son of George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Nevill, he was the nephew of two Yorkist Kings through the paternal side.  As a pre-emptive strike against would-be conspirators who were waiting in the wings, Henry had the boy transported to the Tower where he could be watched and monitored for his own safety. Which is just as well, because less than two years into the reign of Henry VII, Warwick had a double.

Not a lot is known about Lambert Simnel.  G.R Elton states that he was the son of a Joiner or Carpenter from Oxfordshire, and was roughly twelve years old when he was spotted by an ambitious Clergyman, Richard Symonds (described by Elton as: “A man of no birth, but some brains” – which leaves us wondering why he did what he did next).  Simnel was taken from his family (possibly on the promise of a career in the Church), and schooled by Symonds in the ways of the aristocracy.  Originally, he was to impersonate the younger of Edward IV’s sons, Richard of Shrewsbury.  But for some time, rumours had been circulating that Henry VII had secretly killed off the Earl of Warwick (it wouldn’t be the first time that a young heir had been secretly done away with in the Fortress).  So soon, there was a change of plan.  Instead of impersonating one of Edward IV’s unfortunate sons, Simnel was set up as the Earl.

Following very careful coaching, Simnel’s mannerisms, tone of speech and deportment were all ironed out. He was decked out in fine clothes and taught to compose himself with the haughtiness of the ruling classes; and none of the Carpenter’s son remained in him by the time he was taken to Dublin to claim “his” throne.  Once in Ireland, he was in a place safe enough to start rallying troops for an invasion of England.  The Earl of Kildare was chief among the Irish supporters (keen to be rid of English influence on Irish soil – he had his own vested interests in the enterprise).  Co-ordinating the English troops was John de la Pole, earl of Lincoln.  In Europe, the real Edward Plantagenet’s aunt, Margaret of Burgundy, had given her backing (and alongside her was Lord Francis Lovell – an exiled Yorkist).  Between them, they mustered an army of 2000 German mercenaries to take back the Crown.

 

Dublin Cathedral: Where Lambert Simnel was crowned King Edward VI (and where Showtime’s “The Tudors” was filmed, FYI!).

However, Henry had spies everywhere (not without good reason), and had already heard of the brewing rebellion.  Looking back from the distance of over five-hundred years, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about.  It’s clear to us that Simnel was a fake; a puppet being used for the ambitions of others (de la Pole had his own claim to the Crown and was probably just using the boy as a front, and even Symonds the Priest had his eye on the greater glory to be gotten through a puppet King).  But the plot, regardless of its flimsiness, had gained a swell of support for the Yorkist cause, and left Henry’s vulnerabilities horribly exposed.  So, Henry acted swiftly and decisively.  In May, 1487, the real Edward Plantagenet was dressed up in all his finery and paraded through the streets of London for all the people to see, and for all the foreign ambassadors to see and filter back to their European masters (thus letting the rest of the world know that the real Earl was alive and well and living at the Tower).  But, at roughly the same time, Lambert Simnel was at Dublin Cathedral being crowned King Edward VI of England and France, and Lord of Ireland.  Parading the real Earl through the streets was too little, too late. With so much riding on Lambert Simnel, military engagement was now unavoidable.

The battle happened on 16th June, 1487 at Stoke.  Once again, Henry’s troops were outnumbered; once again Henry had the luck of the Devil on his side.  Simnel’s troops were crushed, and even de la Pole was killed in action.  The rest of the disaffected, desperate Yorkists that had flocked to his banner scattered leaving the bewildered Simnel and Symonds to pick up the flack, such as it was.  Realising that Simnel, a mere child, was a front for the ambitions of others, Henry showed him great mercy by appointing him as spit turner in the Palace Kitchens (he rose to the exalted rank of Royal Falconer, and lived to a respectable age).  Symonds, too, was even granted mercy (but was kept under lock and key for life).

Overall, Simnel had been an abysmal failure.  The only support he got was from the most desperate of old-guard Yorkists and an Irish earl who would do anything to rid his country of the English.   His disguise was all too easily lifted by the parading of the real Earl (who was also left in the Tower, but suffered no ill effects of the rebellion that was led in his name).  The biggest shock to Henry must have been the involvement of his own mother-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville (described by Elton as “meddlesome and interfering”), who would – as a result – end her days in the Nunnery at Bermondsey.  But despite the failure, Henry’s vulnerabilities had been painfully exposed.  He had been jeopardised by a child with an ambitious handler and a few desperate enemies.  It shook Henry, and given a few quirks of fate, could have ended disastrously for him.  As a result, it’s not something that we should dismiss when studying Henry’s reign and the events that made him the sort of King he became.

There is one more point to conclude this post.  Although Henry was blissfully unaware of it, Simnel was successful in just one respect: how not to be a Pretender.  People were watching, learning and waiting for the chance to strike again against Henry, and a much bigger threat to his Crown was lurking just across the sea.

 

Henry VII and the Death of Prince Arthur.

 

 

So, I’m back and I’m blogging again! Apologies for letting this blog slide over the last several months – but life and work have kept me busy elsewhere. However, an article came to my attention recently that left me scratching my head. Not so long ago, the grave of Prince Arthur was re-discovered in Worcester Cathedral. His remains were discreetly examined in such a way as to not disturb them and some strange conclusions seem to have resulted. That is what I want to look at here.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

 

According to one of those involved in the case, there is evidence of “foul play”, and goes on to imply rather strongly that Henry VII had regarded his elder son as sickly, and could clearly see that his younger son, Henry Duke of York, would make a much better King. Therefore, Prince Arthur was packed off to Ludlow with a skinful of poison to sort the problem out.
 
First of all, what evidence is there to suggest that Arthur had been sickly all his life? There isn’t any, and is more of an assumption. If he had been sickly, wouldn’t medical bills, treatments and lengthy periods of convalescence be recorded in contemporary chronicles? From the evidence we have, Arthur was in perfectly normal health up until his sudden death in April, 1501.
 
If Henry VII could easily see that his Duke of York would make a far better King, then why did he invest every hope in Arthur, and arrange a grand marital alliance for him? If he was going to poison Arthur, would he not have at least waited until after Ferdinand had paid up the rest of Catherine’s dowry? Why would he kill any of his children at all? Like a lot of parents, Henry actually seemed rather fond of his children!
 
The Tudor Dynasty was new. Henry had just established a relative peace and stability on a hitherto fractious nation that was rent with Dynastic feuding. He needed, above all, set his grip firmly into the government and take root as the new King, with a new Dynasty, that would be the advent of a whole new era. For that, he needed heirs. So why on earth would he then poison one (even if he did fancy the other’s chances more – of which there is no evidence that he did)?
 
Following Prince Arthur’s death; Henry was devastated. Both he, and Elizabeth of York, were said to be inconsolable. If Arthur had be poisoned by his father, would Henry not have been rubbing his hands with glee at a job well done? The reality is that his new Dynasty was left horribly weakened by the loss of the child in whom all hope for the future had been invested. He was left with just one small son to carry that burden, and life in the sixteenth century could be all too brief. Killing one precious son just doesn’t make sense. Not on a personal level, a political level, or a dynastic level. It simply did not happen. Whatever it was that killed Prince Arthur, it was natural and it caused his family incalculable devastation.
 
I would normally have this, which is so obviously a conspiracy theory, slide. It’s senseless on a number of levels. However, not only is the theory to be found in the original article I was linked to, but in Prince Arthur’s Wikipedia entry. It seems to be taking hold, and someone needs to debunk it quickly before poor Henry VII is down forever as a killer of his own son!
 

The Offending Wiki Article Here!

 

Original Article Here!

 

 

 

On This Day…

On this day, 21st April, 1509; Henry VII died following a long illness. He siezed the crown following the Battle of Bosworth in August, 1485, and his turbulent reign had lasted for just under twenty-five years. He was succeeded by his second son, King Henry VIII, and his reign (to put it mildly), was a rather eventful one, during which the Tudor’s really stamped their mark on English history.

Henry VII was interred alongside his wife, Elizabeth of York, in his own Lady Chapel, at Westminster Abbey. Their tomb is topped with a magnificent bronze effigy that still stands to this day. Well worth a visit!

 

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York: Tomb effigy.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

On this day, April 2nd, 1501; the eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York died at Ludlow from what was possibly sweating sickness. His death was sudden, unexpected, and left the royal family devastated.

Born at Winchester (legendary seat of Camelot), in 1486, Henry VII had been extraordinarily proud of his eldest son and heir. At the time of his death, he had not long married Catherine of Aragon, Spanish infanta. The union was meant to cement an alliance between Britain and Spain and manoevure the English onto the European mainstage.

Following the death of Arthur, Henry duke of York became heir to his father’s crown, and would eventuall rule as King Henry VIII.

 

Arthur, Prince of Wales.