A pretender is someone who pretends to be someone else in order to have a credible claim to the throne. There were two pretenders present during Henry VII’s reign, but he managed to over come them.
Their names were Lambert Simnel, who was at large for only the year 1487, and Perkin Warbeck, who was on the loose between 1490 and 1498. Many factors contributed to their successes and failures, these factors will be discussed in this essay.Who the pretenders were pretending to be was very important, as it could entirely change the credibility to their claim to the throne.
In fact, to increase the likelihood that they were who they said, both pretenders ended up masquerading as individuals that they didn’t look like. Richard Symmons, a priest, saw that Lambert Simnel looked very similar to Richard of York, so initially, he was impersonated. However, many people believed the two sons of Edward IV to be dead, but here were still many rumours surrounding the whereabouts of the Earl of Warwick, so Symmons decided it would be more advantageous for Simnel to impersonate him. If the public believed he was a serious contender for the throne, then Henry would have to take notice, but if the public believed he was dead, and was therefore a pretender, there would be no chance in him overthrowing the throne.
Many years later, Perkin Warbeck did the complete opposite. When he was seen wearing his master’s silks, many people thought he was he Earl of Warwick. However, he realised that if he impersonated Warwick, Henry could once again show the real Warwick to the public.
So, Warbeck decided to impersonate Richard of York, who was generally thought to be dead, but his death had never been proved. In addition, even if Richard were dead, this would aid Warbeck, as Henry could not show him to the public. Both the pretenders had seriously thought about who would be more a believable person to impersonate at the time. This was serious as they were obviously not just foolish spoofs, and both pretenders had very plausible claims to the throne in many people’s eyes.Support was very important in making a successful pretender. They needed troops, money, recognition and also backing from the general public and nobility, which usually came when there was discontent with the way that things were being governed at the time.
At home, Simnel received support from various nobles, mainly John de la Pole (Earl of Lincoln) and Frances Viscount Lovell, Richard III’s friend and chamberlain. Both of them had fled from England to Flanders, and from there helped to launch the attack. Henry was worried that many more nobles and civilians would join the Yorkist cause when the crisis came to a head, but his concern was unfounded. When Simnel’s forces marched to meet Henry’s, they had gathered less support than expected, and were outnumbered by about 4,000 men. Simnel’s entourage had been too preoccupied with gathering troops and support abroad that they had not given enough thought to the people of England and how they would react.
The leading noble who supported Warbeck was Sir William Stanley, who had made the decisive move in the Battle of Bosworth by fighting for Henry. He was a surprise supporter, but since Lambert Simnel, Henry had increased his spy network and Stanley was soon found out and executed. Warbeck received absolutely no support from the English, with his initial invasion supported by Irish rebels. Then when he was forced to leave Scotland, Warbeck made for Cornwall, as a last hope as there were often rebellions there, and had been one recently.
However, this rebellion had taken place due to the Cornish resenting being taxed for a war against Scotland, which was on Warbeck’s behalf, and he managed to only get a few thousand countrymen.Support at home was one of the most important factors for a successful pretender, and it seems to be the one thing in which both Warbeck and Simnel failed miserably. It was the wrong time for them as the country was weary of civil strife, and reasonably content with Henry VII’s rule. This flaw was the downfall of the pretenders, and meant they were a much less serious threat to the throne.In the form of overseas support, Lambert Simnel got support from Ireland, who would try most things to upset England, in particular, the Earl of Kildaire, who was known to be a strong Yorkist supporter.
Simnel was also later crowned there as King of England, which was extremely significant, as he became the figure head to the undertaking, and was now a solid threat to Henry. Simnel was also given troops to help him when he invaded England. Because of this amount of support, Perkin Warbeck thought he would receive similar treatment when he began his effort to take the crown. However, he only got limited support from the Irish lords, and none at all from the Earl of Kildiare, a very influential figure. His main Irish benefactor was the Earl of Desmond, but this is still very limited.
Both the pretenders got much backing from Margaret of Burgandy, the sister of Richard III and Edward IV, who despised Henry. For Lambert Simnel, Margaret provided 2,000 professional German soldiers, and also Martin Schwarz as a commander, to fight on his behalf, which was a large amount of Simnel’s forces. She also offered a place to stay for English nobles who had turned against the king and fled the country. Margaret offered Perkin Warbeck refuge, and tutored him in the ways of the Yorkist court, which he needed to know thoroughly to pass as Richard. She also acknowledged him as her nephew.Simnel gained no other foreign support, but Warbeck was recognised as Richard of York by Charles VIII of France and also Maxamillion, the Holy Roman Emperor. This made his threat to the throne far more serious as he had recognition all over Europe, and also from Scotland. James IV of Scotland also recognised Warbeck as who he claimed to be.
He gave Warbeck his cousin to marry, which meant he was legitimately part of the Scottish royal family, and an even more serious threat to Henry. James also gave Warbeck troops for an invasion of England. Although Warbeck received much support, it all came at different times, and there was not enough support from just one person to complete his mission. Even though Simnel had a smaller support basis, all events happened in a very short period, and therefore made him much more dangerous.Henry’s reactions to the pretenders meant they were less of a threat. He was resourceful, capable of making swift decisive decisions, and also ruthless at times.
In the case of Lambert Simnel, Henry’s reactions are fairly reasonable. When Simnel is crowned King in Dublin, Henry does not act rashly, and offers a pardon to all involved, if they gave the pretence up immediately. However this is ignored, so he produces the real Earl of Warwick from the tower and paraded him around London, but still they did not end. These passive acts obviously did not work, so Henry begins to gather troops and sets off to meet Simnel. There is a 3 hour-long battle, but in the ends Henry wins.
The consequences of this are – Henry passes acts of attainder on anyone he felt was opposing him, to keep them weak, and as a warning to others not to get involved in rebellions in the future. Henry also improved his spy network so it could not happen again.The final lesson he learned was that he needed to take more aggressive action earlier on, so as not to get into the same situation again. These points were all very effective in destroying Perkin Warbeck’s attempt to topple the throne. In Ireland when Warbeck first tries to invade England, Henry is ready and dispatches troops to suppress him. This meant that Warbeck moved onto France, but Henry then signs the Treaty of Etaples with Charles VIII, agreeing not to harbour rebels, so he has to move on again, this time to Burgandy. Here, Henry risks the English economy by placing a trade ban on Burgandy, one of his main trade links at the time, and refuses to lift it until Warbeck has left. Warbeck leaves Maxamillion, his next stop, on his own terms, as the Holy Roman Emperor didn’t have sufficient funds to support him in a war.
He then makes his way to Scotland, but soon has to leave, as Henry signs the Truce of Ayton, a peace treaty. Finally, Henry uses force to capture Warbeck in southern England. Because of the lessons learnt from Simnel’s escapades, Warbeck hardly comes close to a successful rebellion, and was at a major disadvantage, being the second to try and over throw the throne.
Even though the points made beforehand show whether the pretenders were a serious threat to the throne or not, the general situation at the time also needs to be considered, whether Henry over-reacted, or if there was a true danger. Lambert Simnel’s rebellion was generally confined to Britain, so there was not a great worry for Henry that the rest of Europe would become involved. However, there was a worry that 2 of Henry’s trusted nobles felt that they could fight against him. This was even more dangerous because of their motives, de la Pole was Richard III’s named heir, and hoped that when Henry was overthrown, he would have a chance at becoming king himself. Lovell was one of Richard’s most trusted advisors, and obviously wanted to avenge his death. In addition, Richard Symmons hoped to become a rich and powerful Bishop when Simnel became king. These ulterior motives made Simnel a far more serious threat to the throne.
Perkin Warbeck was not such a risk as all of his support came at different times, but he did have support from all over Europe. There was no other distraction at the time, so all eyes were on the difficulties in England. This meant Henry was in a weak position, and susceptible to a foreign invasion. Luckily he was saved from this problem, when Charles III invaded Italy. Warbeck also threatened a marriage agreement with Henry’s heir Arthur, Prince of Wales. Again this was resolved when a truce with Scotland was arranged. There were also difficulties with traitors in the nobility, but improved spy networks meant this problem was not as serious as before. The final worry with Warbeck was that he was at large for eight years.
This meant Henry was more inclined to risk more to capture him. Simnel was more a threat in this instance, as Henry had never dealt with this kind of problem before, and problems with Warbeck were resolved more effectively and quickly.Overall, the two pretenders were potentially serious threats to Henry, they had many forms of support, and their claims seemed legitimate to most.
However, because of Henry’s quick and decisive reactions, and his willingness to learn from previous experiences, he managed to hold his position as king and make England stable once again. If the social situation had been different, if there was public discontent towards Henry, then both the pretenders would have had a far better chance in succeeding, as their main downfall was in not gaining enough support from the general public. Simnel was a more serious threat to the throne as he had the element of surprise and speed – Henry had never encountered a pretender before, and all of his support came quickly, and at the right time.