Michael Bennett’s 1987 work is a supreme achievement when it comes to better understanding the early years of Henry VII’s reign, a period typically given short shrift by most historians. Considered by many to the be ultimate authority when it comes to the events of 1487, Bennett’s research is the most thorough and insightful that you will come across. Often passed over in favor of the later, more infamous Warbeck conspiracy, the rebellion and subsequent battle described in these pages put a definitive stop to the War of the Roses and ultimately determined the course of the nation in the years following.
Lambert Simnel, a 10-year old boy of uncertain origin or name (Lambert Simnel was most likely an alias) was groomed to impersonate first Richard, Duke of York (Edward IV’s son) but was later put forward as Edward, Earl of Warwick (Edward IV’s nephew). The Anglo-Irish politics of the era being what they were and with the strong financial backing of Edward IV’s sister, Margaret of Burgundy, disaffected Yorkists (even those who had pledged their loyalty to the Tudor regime), flocked to his banner, crowning the boy King Edward VI in Dublin in May. Led by the earl of Kildare, the earl of Lincoln (another nephew of Edward IV), and Viscount Lovell, the rebels amassed a large force of mercenaries and set out to invade England and put young Simnel on Henry VII’s throne. Banking on local support after landing in the northwest of England in June, the rebels moved with remarkable speed into the heart of the country.
What the Tudor regime knew and when they knew it will probably never be known. In fact, precisely how, when, and why events unfolded as they did remain unclear today. Many things remain mysterious: why the Earl of Warwick was impersonated (the only York prince still alive in the Tower at the time by most accounts) when the (most likely deceased) sons of Edward IV would have been a stronger symbol to attract additional support? Who was Lambert Simnel really and how was he groomed to be an impersonator? Although they were loyal Yorkists, why did the Irish fall so thoroughly for a contender with so few credentials? And when did the earl of Lincoln (the true heir to the house of York) join the rebellion and why did he do so when it would have made more sense for him, rather than Warwick, to succeed to the throne?
Facing the first real threat to his rule, however, Henry VII mobilized his forces and prepared to defend his throne. Meeting just south of Newark, the rebels met with the well organized mass of the royal army, a force over twice their size. The outcome of the battle and Henry’s course after the fact decided the country’s fate for the next few centuries.
Meticulously researched, no where else can this level of detail be found about the Simnel rebellion of 1487. Bennett provides clear evidence as to why this “lesser” rebellion was the key turning point in the king’s reign and how much this rebellion shaped not only Henry VII’s reign and the whole Tudor dynasty, but also the country’s focus as it changed from civil war to a more lawful existence at home and a more powerful position abroad.