Right, over the last couple of episodes we have slipped away from the chronology, so let us for a short while return to it. What have we talked about en passant though? We’ve seen Henry crowned, and the winners rewarded, including Thomas Stanley, though with care to accommodate the old Edward IV yorkists. We’ve seen Henry and Elizabeth married, and everyone loves a royal marriage, even me I am forced to say.
The first challenge to the new king came swiftly. Obviously, the Yorkists and Tudor haters faced a problem, in that they didn’t have any obvious heirs hanging around in Brittany, but necessity is the mother of invention, so they made one up, pretending that they had one in the Earl of Warwick; who was in fact in the Tower of London under lock and key; the bloke they had was actually really called Lambert Simnel, who was crowned Edward VI in Dublin. The real mover and shaker of the affair was of the de la Pole family, the Earl of Lincoln, who had himself a distant claim to the throne; probably if all had gone according to plan Lambert would quietly have been dropped down a well somewhere, but happily for Lambert it did not come to that. Lincoln had followed the trail marked ‘this way for Tudor haters’ which led to the court of Margaret of Burgundy, Edward IVs sister, who it was said
Pursued Henry with insatiable hatred and firey wrath
So he’d managed to get some support there. And Lincoln managed to make what looked like a reasonable fist of it, capturing the glittering cosmopolis that was Doncaster, but on his way down south he met Henry coming up north. Henry, after parading the real Earl of Warwick around London, had been at Kenilworth; in the panic about the rebellion he had ordered Elizabeth and Margaret both to be brought to him there, since Kenilworth was one of the mightiest strongholds in the royal estate. In June 1487, Henry met the rebels in Nottinghamshire, and in a fiercely fought battle the rebels were firmly trounced, and Lincoln killed. Famously, Henry did not have Simnel dispatched to the boundary, but instead once he’d confessed all, put him to work in the royal kitchens. Obviously having ‘fake pretender and failed King killer’ didn’t mess up his CV, which is an interesting tip for any of you out there looking for that dream job move at the moment, and I believe he went on to be a falconer.
The whole period of panic, which stretched from 1486 into 1487, had another consequence. Now, Margaret has already acquired a strong reputation for looking after her own; we talked some while ago about the St John family, and she managed to get a good marriage for her half brother John Welles to Princess Cecily, a daughter of Edward IV. She also managed to get Richard Pole, son of her half sister Edith Pole, a grand prize too, in the form of marriage to Margaret, daughter of the Duke of Clarence. Now this has been described by Jones and Underwood as a serious political gaffe by Margaret, as the children of this marriage became a threat to the Tudor dynasty under Henry VIII. Tallis defends Margaret, arguing that Margaret could not have foreseen it; to which I think the rather tough idea was that Margaret of Clarence should not have been allowed to marry at all, to avoid the risk completely. I leave that to you to discuss and decide on your attitude to such a thing.
Meanwhile though just as families like these moved forward, the old guard in some cases really lost out, and none more so than the Woodvilles. To be fair much of this was due to death; two of Queen Elizabeth’s uncles, Edward Woodville and Richard Woodville died by 1491; and the Woodville family was largely relegated from major policy making roles. It’d didn’t help also that Elizabeth Woodville, the head of the family in a sense, had also hit the back of the out tray.
It’s an interesting story I think this one. In February 1487, with Lincoln fled to Burgundy and Simnel declared king in Dublin, Elizabeth Woodville was deprived of her estates and retired to Bermondsey Abbey; ironically or meaningfully her estates would form part of her daughter’s marriage portion from Henry. Now the question is – was she pushed or did she jump? It is the sort of situation you imagine Henry and Margaret would have discussed; and of course once upon a time Margaret and Elizabeth had been very thick, plotting and scheming to get rid of Richard III with the help of the Duke of Buckingham. But Elizabeth thereafter had seriously blotted her copy book; she’d got sick of the catering and toilet facilities at Westminster Abbey and rejoined Richard’s court; and I’d recommend a bit of sympathy for her – she had to think of the position of her daughters. But she also tried to get her son the Marquis of Dorset to desert Henry in Brittany and he’d only been stopped by Henry at the last minute; that felt more actively anti Henry.
Now there’s an alternative view that Elizabeth was weary of the world of court politics and chose to retire to Bermondsey; and it’s a powerful argument. It might have well been really quite insufferable for her to see Margaret in her pomp, and being in a convent as a noble woman was not a harsh life – you took your creature comforts with you, just as Eleanor of Aquitaine had done later in life. Again, we really do not know – but I think it perfectly possible that Elizabeth Woodville was one royal queen too many in the Tudor nest. It’s not a brutal amputation – she was soon back to be Godmother for Henry and Elizabeth’s first born; but amputation I suspect it was.
Elizabeth died 5 years later in June 1487 at the age of 55, having become a distant though not entirely absent mother to her daughter the Queen. Her will has been seen as rather pointed; she made no reference to the King or Margaret, and wrote
I have no worldly goods to do the Queen’s Grace my dearest daughter, a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children, according to my heart and mind I beseech Almighty God to bless her Grace
In November 1487, after a suitable delay to make it clear she was not the source of his Legitimacy, Henry graciously allowed his wife Elizabeth of York’s coronation to go ahead where, as we have heard, Margaret trod a nice line between letting her daughter in law have her day, but made very sure she then had her place in the sun at the post match party.
Now you might be asking yourself what was happening in the relationship between Margaret and her husband Thomas Stanley while all this was going on, with Margaret treading the boards as being, as discussed previously, now the superior in status. We continue to be not very clear about how close the relationship between Stanley and Margaret was; but I am going to push the boat out and say that it remained perfectly amicable, but not a grand passion, and far from the most important relationship in Margaret’s life.
In the early years of the reign, while Stanley had seen his wife declare independence as a femme sole, nonetheless they collaborated. Margaret continued to visit and stay at Lathom and Knowsley, Stanley’s main seats. In 1497, when Stanley’s eldest son Lord Strange died, they worked to set up Stanley’s grandson, the next heir, in marriage to Elizabeth Welles, one of Margaret’s relatives of course – though Elizabeth’s death nixed the idea.
The relationship also survived the next shock to – the treachery of William Stanley, Thomas’s brother in 1495. There’s some background to this of course; in 1490, another pretender had appeared in Ireland to challenge Henry’s throne; his name was Perkin Warbeck, and once again in the absence of proper claimants to the throne, he claimed to be Richard Duke of York, one of the princes in the Tower that might possibly perhaps maybe have been done away with by their uncle. Perkin did not attempt to claim his throne immediately, but he began to build up a list of names of supporters among the disaffected of the English nobility. And one of those was William Stanley. This came as a shock, and Henry struggled to believe it; and we are to believe, and I think certainly true, Thomas knew nothing of it. William had clearly done OK from Henry’s victory at Bosworth, but hardly been showered with goodies and political trust as had Thomas; and as an ambitious man, it had encouraged him to shoot his mouth off to the wrong person. Stanley was executed in February 1495. Warbeck meanwhile found himself support from the perfidious Scot, and set up court with James IVth there to exercise a destablising influence on Henry’s reign.
Nonetheless, Stanley and Margaret continued to work together, and Stanley was a regular visitor to Margaret’s palace at Collyweston, hunting in the surrounding park. But in 1499, Margaret’s priorities became clearer when she took a vow of chastity. Now it seems a reasonably open and shut case – surely you couldn’t have a more obvious rejection; Femme sole, a vow of chastity – come on, hardly the basis for a loving relationship. But its noteworthy that Margaret took her vow of chastity with Stanley’s agreement – and she didn’t really need it. Stanley continued to visit, there is no sign of a rift. But at best, the relationship was formally amicable, there really can’t be any doubt that this was not a grand passion. When Stanley died in 1504, Margaret was not with him; Stanley did not name her as an executor of his will. The forms of mourning were properly observed, and a requiem mass held at Stamford with Stanley’s grandson. But it was the proper observance of forms – Margaret had effectively moved on from this relationship emotionally some time ago.
While this was going on Henry’s search for security continued. With Perkin still being supported by the Scots, and indeed married in Scotland, he had to scotch, arf arf the plotting emanating from Burgundy, and build a network of international allies. In this Henry was by his death really pretty successful. A brief expedition to France, supported by a healthy £1000 contribution from his mother had resulted quickly in a treaty. In April 1497 an embassy to Burgundy had actually delivered the goods of normalised relationships, despite the relentless antipathy of Margaret of Burgundy. Margaret wallowed in the success of this embassy, and exchanged letters with the Earl of Ormonde, the chief negotiator who sent her a gift of gloves which she wrote back were
‘right good, save they were too much for my hand. I think the ladies in that part be great ladies all, and according to their great estate they have great personages
Which was a rather cumbersome joke to suggest Margaret of Burgundy was too grand for her own good? Or as big in frame as her bloated opinion of herself? Or simply a bit of a porker? Anyway, it’s an insult.
Meanwhile, discussions went on with the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand to forge an alliance that would influence English history deeply, though the marriage of Prince Arthur with Princess Catherine of Aragon. Success would surely build the legitimacy, prestige and security of Henry’s England.
Within a couple of months however, further trouble hit the reign with the rebellion in Cornwall; which in itself was partially a result of the insecurity in which Henry VII’s reign still languished; taxes had been raised to allow preparation to be made for any descent by Perkin Warbeck and the Scots, and the result were peasant riots and protests, and a substantial force of rebels marching from Cornwall asking their king for redress, and they got close, all the way to Blackheath just outside London. There they were finally met by the Earl of Oxford and defeated, but it had been once more a close run thing, and Margaret noted the victory jubilantly in her book of hours. Later that very year in September the Cornish were back – Warbeck had made his bid for the throne, encouraged by a James IV beginning to run out of patience. The timing was awful of course, in landing in Cornwall. The force he managed to raise slowly disintegrated, and Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu in Hampshire. Perkins’ fate was harder than Simnel’s; although initially kept at court and treated very well, his presence was too disturbing to the Spanish ambassadors; eventually Perkin was encouraged to try to escape, captured, imprisoned and executed in November 1499.
1499 then came close to giving Henry’s reign and the anxieties of his mother relief at last; and it’s sign was the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur, by proxy, on 19th May 1499. Through this betrothal, Henry and his mother had passed a significant milestone; they had been accepted by a leading European kingdom as stable and important enough to receive the gift of their precious daughter, and to be an ally for the long term. The ship seemed at last to be in the harbour.