Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck

Finding out about people in the 15th century: Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck
Here we shall be looking at two people who may – or may not – have been whom they claimed to be, i.e., Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.

Let us start with Jeremy Potter’s entertaining Pretenders (published in 1986), a book of ‘alternative kings and queens of England from the 11th to the 19th century’. This includes separate chapters on ‘Lambert Simnel, Ireland’s King’ and ‘Prince Perkin’ and also ‘Yorkists, Lancastrians and Henry Tudor’, on the lucky claimant who succeeded.

The most detailed account of Simnel and the Yorkist conspiracy that tried to overthrow Henry Tudor is Michael Bennett’s Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke, published in 1987. Dr. Bennett traces the story of the ten year old boy, son of an Oxford tradesman, who was coached by an ambitious priest to impersonate the Earl of Warwick, Clarence’s son, and was crowned Edward VI in Dublin Cathedral. After the defeat of the conspirators at Stoke Henry decided that ridicule was the best weapon and made Simnel a turnspit in the royal kitchens, later promoting him to falconer. He died in his bed aged 50, a remarkable record for one found guilty of treason against the Tudors.

Briefer accounts of Simnel’s life and the Stoke campaign can be found in the various booklets produced to mark the quincentenary of the battle, notably A Strange Accident of State: Henry VII and the Lambert Simnel Conspiracy by David Beeston and The Battle of Stoke Field by David Roberts, both published in 1987. The other pretender, Perkin Warbeck, was a more serious and long term threat to Henry VII, since he was recognised as ‘Richard Duke of York’ by many of the sovereign rulers of Europe and his continuing existence dominated Henry’s foreign policy until his execution in 1499. His true identity remains a mystery, not resolved at the time, in spite of Henry’s publication of his ‘Confession,’ and still giving rise to speculation five centuries after his death. For such an important figure it is perhaps surprising to find that until recently the most detailed account of his life and career was a seventy page appendix at the end of James Gairdner’s History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (second edtion, 1898), and a handful of articles, mainly following the line taken in his ‘Confession’. However in 1990, the situation was remedied by the publication of Diana Kleyn’s biography Richard of England, the first full scale study of the man known to history as Perkin Warbeck (for a detailed review see Ricardian, No. 114, September 1991). Mrs. Kleyn describes the parallel lives of Richard of York and Perkin Warbeck, then traces Perkin’s travels around Europe and his three attempts to invade England. She includes useful appendices giving English versions of the original documents relating to his story.

A list of the articles about Warbeck can be found on pages 36-7 of the catalogue of papers in the Society’s library and to end on a frivilous note, an example to illustrate the complexities of the identity problem: in 1935 an article entitled ‘Richard Duke of York and Perkin Warbeck’ appeared in Notes and Queries which suggested that Lambert Simnel was really Richard Duke of York and that Warbeck took his place as scullion in the royal kitchens. CH