Lambert Simnel presented Henry VII with the first major challenge of his reign. Lambert Simnel, a boy of ten, was used by others to reassert the House of York’s claim to the throne. For Henry VII the problem was simple: if he failed to assert himself at the first opportunity he had to do so, then the probability was that Henry would fall from power. For the king it was all or nothing.
The first initial problem Henry had was one he inherited from Richard III – the Princes in the Tower. While there was even the slightest doubt that these two boys were dead those who supported the Yorkists always had a chance of rallying around someone to challenge Henry VII. The first of these people was Lambert Simnel.
Richard Symonds was a priest from Oxford. One of his pupils was Lambert Simnel who had a striking similarity to the sons of Edward IV – the Princes in the Tower. Simnel’s father was an organ maker. Symonds, a Yorkist, first decided to pass off Simnel as Richard of York, the younger of the two boys but then decided to pass him off as the Earl of Warwick. Symonds took Simnel to Ireland as it had been a centre of Yorkist support. The Lord Lieutenant there, the Earl of Kildare, proclaimed Simnel as King Edward VI. The pretender to the throne received support from the Duchess of Burgundy – the daughter of Edward IV. She sent a force of 2000 German soldiers/mercenaries to Ireland commanded by Martin Schwarz – a talented military leader. Backed by this force, the Irish became more confident and actually crowned Simnel king in Dublin in May 1487.
While on paper the challenge seemed absurd, it was one that Henry VII had to deal with especially when the Earl of Lincoln rallied to the cause and fled via Flanders to Ireland also in May 1487. If Henry lost control of his senior nobility, his chance of remaining king was limited and at the very least the War of the Roses would restart. Lincoln was a senior nobleman and he had to be dealt with.
Henry had an unusual approach to what was potentially a serious problem. Not knowing how many of the nobles supported Lincoln, Henry pardoned known rebels such as Thomas Broughton. The logic behind this was to get the former rebels onto his side. Was this successful?
On June 4th, 1487, Lincoln and his army landed at Furness in Lancashire. He marched across the Pennines and then south. However, Lincoln did not receive as much support as he had anticipated. The locals were suspicious of the Irish soldiers who accompanied Lincoln and did not rally to his cause. They were equally as concerned about another civil war starting with all the dislocation to life that would have caused. Henry was prepared for Lincoln and the two armies met just outside of Newark at East Stoke on June 16th 1487.
Lincoln’s army stood at 8,000 while Henry could call on 12,000 men. The battle lasted for three hours. In the initial stages Lincoln’s force held the upper hand as the German soldiers who were with Schwarz proved effective. However, the king’s army held firm and at the end Lincoln, Schwarz, Broughton (who had not accepted his pardon) and the leader of the Irish, Thomas Geraldine, were killed. Over half of Lincoln’s force was killed.
Richard Symonds was arrested and sentenced to life in a bishop’s prison. Simnel was given a position in the king’s kitchen as Henry recognised that he was not the cause of the invasion but a mere pawn in a very dangerous game. Simnel was later given the post of king’s falconer in recognition of how well he had worked. Those nobles who had supported Lincoln were not as generously treated. Twenty eight of them were attainted and had their estates confiscated. This served a dual purpose. It sent a clear message that anyone who betrayed the king would be severely dealt with. It also enhanced Henry’s wealth as all attainted land and estates became the property of the king.