After thirty years of war, the Wars of the Roses came to an end in 1485. During the Battle of Bosworth Field (Leicestershire), in which the issue was decided, the gold crown which had, supposedly, fallen from the head of Richard III, was placed on that of Henry Tudor, who, as Henry VII, was the new Welsh master of England’s destiny. In 1489, ambassadors and diplomats from all parts of Europe were in England and, as one of King Matthias’ biographers tells us, the King of Hungary was among those who sent envoys to Henry’s Court. Henry VII was supposed to have made peace with the House of York when he married Elizabeth of York, thus enabling the red and white roses to bloom side by side. At least, this was the Tudor mythology, alongside the naming of Henry’s eldest son and heir as Arthur, symbolising the rising again of the Red Dragon of the ancient King of the Britons. But Henry knew he was far from secure, and it is only with hindsight that 1485 is seen as the key date in the transition from Medieval combat to Early Modern statesmanship. Henry had won the crown by force, not legitimacy, just as his Lancastrian ancestors had, albeit from a usurper, whom many regarded as a tyrant, another myth which Shakespeare later made a part of English staged folklore. At the time, and at any suitable moment in it, Henry knew that the House of York might again seize the throne they still laid claim to. No regular order of succession had been established, and it was might rather than right which would keep the Tudors in contention to establish a dynasty. During the first years of his reign he was disturbed by two insurrections, one headed by the Earl of Lincoln, with Lambert Simnel as its figurehead, and the other headed by Perkin Warbeck.
Following the Wars of the Roses and the final defeat of the Yorkist cause at the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487, the last of the Plantagenets claimants to the throne, Richard de la Pole, sought refuge at the Court of Ladislas II of Hungary (1490-1516). In 1508 the last hope of the Yorkists spent a few months in Buda. This pretender to the throne of England was related to the Queen of Hungary, Ladislas’ wife. His story is but one tragic chapter in the final denouement of the Plantagenets.
Richard’s grandfather, William de la Pole, had been imprisoned in the Tower of London and then exiled by Henry VI. He was murdered on his ship in the Channel and his body was washed ashore near Dover in 1450. His wife, Alice, brought his body home. No doubt embittered by his treatment, she continued to consolidate the family’s estates, perhaps fatefully, by abandoning their Lancastrian connections and building up their Yorkist ones. John de la Pole was grandson of William and Alice, and eldest son of the first Duke of Suffolk, the elder John de la Pole (d. 1491), and Elizabeth Plantagenet of York. He was therefore in direct line to the throne. Elizabeth’s brother was Edward IV, and it was he who made her son John, Earl of Lincoln. Edward had married Elizabeth Woodville, whose two sons, Edward V and Richard Duke of York were imprisoned in the Tower of London when Richard of Gloucester had the Woodville marriage declared illegal, thus enabling him to usurp the young king whose ’protector’ he had been. When Richard III lost his only son, the Earl of Lincoln became ’de facto’ the next Yorkist in line to the throne. Although never clearly declaring him as his successor, Richard gave him the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall, titles reserved for the heir. Lincoln fought for Richard at Bosworth Field, surviving the battle. Following the ’Tudor Takeover’, both Lincoln and his father, Suffolk, at first made peace with Henry VII, who visited them at their manor in Oxfordshire to reassure them of his goodwill towards the family.
However, Lincoln was then introduced to Lambert Simnel, and a plot began to form by which he hoped to secure the throne for the Yorkists, perhaps himself. Simnel bore a striking resemblance to the young Edward, Earl of Warwick. Edward was born (in 1475) as Edward Plantagenet, to George, Duke of Clarence and Lady Isabel Neville, elder daughter of the 16th Earl of Warwick. Richard Neville, ’The Kingmaker’, who had eventually been killed in battle in 1471, had no sons, so Richard III had Neville’s grandson created Earl of Warwick in 1478 and knighted at York in 1483. On seizing the Crown on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485, Henry had re-imprisoned the boy in the Tower, where he had already spent much of his young life, hence the possibility of impersonation.
Lambert Simnel was the son of an Oxford carpenter. Henry’s enemies had proclaimed him as Edward Plantagenet, escaped from the Tower. The Yorkists rallied around him, and when they felt strong enough, they recruited an army to support his claim. However, early in 1487, when he first heard of the plot, all Henry VII had to do was to produce the real Earl of Warwick. As the Plantagenet heir, Warwick would have possessed a stronger claim to the throne than both Henry and Lincoln, and was only prevented from acceding to the throne by the act of attainder by which Richard had usurped it. With Richard deposed, Lincoln knew that Parliament could easily be persuaded to change its mind and reinstate the boy’s claim, or Henry would be forced to disclose that Edward V and Richard Duke of York were no longer alive. Lincoln may have known this himself, especially if they had died on the orders of Richard III, since he had been Richard’s heir. To scotch the rumours of Warwick’s escape from the Tower, put about by Lincoln’s supporters, Henry had the boy paraded through the streets of London, but Lincoln had already fled before Henry could force him to recognise the real Earl or reveal his treachery. Some historians have suggested that this shows that Lincoln was intending to take the throne for himself. He raised an army of German mercenaries in Burgundy, with the help of Margaret, the sister of Edward IV, and landed in Ireland. Margaret then declared Simnel to be her nephew and Lincoln told of how he had personally rescued the boy from the Tower. He was proclaimed and crowned in Dublin, by its Archbishop, as Edward VI, at the end of May 1487. Having acquired Irish troops, led by Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, Lincoln landed in Lancashire on 4th June and marched his troops to York, covering two hundred miles in five days. However, the city, normally a Yorkist stronghold, refused to yield to him, perhaps because they did not wish to be governed by a king, even a Yorkist, who depended on German and Irish mercenaries. Gathering troops on the way from Coventry to Nottingham, the Tudor king met Lincoln’s forces on their way to Newark. Although the Germans under the command of Martin Schwartz fought with great valour, Fitzgerald, Lincoln and Schwartz were all killed, together with over four thousand of their men, at the Battle of Stoke on 16th June, 1487.
Despite the fact that the last surviving legitimate male Plantagenet claimant to the throne, the Earl of Warwick, had died on the scaffold in 1499, the de la Poles did not give up their claim to the throne. Lincoln had two younger brothers, Edmund and Richard. Both laid claim to the throne and both had a strong following at home, and could count on support from abroad. Suffolk died and was succeeded by his second son Edmund, in 1491. He was demoted to the rank of earl by Henry VII and fled abroad in 1501, prompting the seizure of his estates. He sought to enforce what he saw as his rightful claim with the aid of the Emperor Maximillian,making his way to the Tyrol to visit the Emperor, who at first showed great readiness to support him. Later on, however, he became reconciled with Henry, and concluded a treaty with Henry in which he undertook not to support the pretender in exchange for ten thousand pounds. Meanwhile, Edmund had gone to Aachen, where he was followed by his brother Richard. Financial troubles weighed heavily on the two brothers, despite the considerable sum allowed them by Maximillian to settle their debts. Formally attainted in 1504, after various adventures Edmund was captured by Henry in 1506 and was sent to the Tower. He was not immediately executed, for Henry had given pledges to the King of France for his safety. Although Louis had repeatedly given aid to Henry’s enemies, he was so powerful that the King of England had to respect his wishes. So long as Henry VII lived, Edmund was safe, but when Henry VIII succeeded him and Richard attempted, with the aid of France, to raise a rebellion against the second Tudor king, Edmund was executed in 1513.
Even then, Plantagenet resistance did not come to an end. Richard had fled with Edmund to the continent and joined his brother in Aachen in 1504, where they had lived in poverty, constantly harassed by Edmund’s creditors following his attainder. Richard, however, managed to secure the protection of Erard de la Marck, Bishop of Liege, who delivered him from his straitened and dangerous circumstances. It was at this point, following his brother’s arrest, that he went to Hungary, where he lived for a time at the Court of Ladislas II. This must have been because of his ties of kinship with the Royal Family of Hungary. Ladislas II’s consort, Anna, was related to the King of France and also to the de la Pole family. When the plan of his marriage to Anna was first broached, Ladislas thought she was an English princess, which by right she may have been, had the Plantagenets been restored to the throne. This belief was also held by those who were misled by the Queen of Hungary’s relationship with the de la Poles. Indeed, the English ambassador, Salisbury, had been present at Anna’s coronation at Székesfehérvár. Henry VII must have been worried by the presence of Richard de la Pole, the last pretender, in Buda, as he sent an envoy to Ladislas, asking him to surrender Richard. This Ladislas refused to do, instead lending financial aid to his English guest.
According to a note in the diary of Marino Sanuto, the ‘White Rose’ arrived in Buda on 6 October 1506, and we know of a letter dated 14 April 1507 addressed to the Bishop of Liege from Richard. From these two documents, we know that Richard must have been in Hungary for at least six months. However, few details are known of his sojourn. We know that Thomas Killingworth, the loyal steward of the de la Pole family had settled Edmund’s financial matters in the Tyro and also attended to Richard’s affairs in Buda. It seems that Richard left Buda in 1507, first for Austria and then for France. In 1512, when England was again at war with France, When Edmund was beheaded in 1513, Richard took the title of Earl of Suffolk and from that time on openly laid claim to the throne of England. King Louis XII formally recognised Richard as the legitimate King of England, at Lyons, supporting his cause with men and money. In 1519 he sent Richard to Prague to plead on his behalf, in vain, to the young King Louis II of Hungary, and he also made preparations for an invasion of England in 1522-23, during another Anglo-French war. However, the invasion did not happen and Richard never set foot in England again. On 24 February 1525, he was killed at the Battle of Pavia, fighting for the French King. There is a picture of him still preserved in Oxford bearing the inscription Le Duc de Susfoc dit Blanche Rose.
Two further thorny White roses remained for the Tudors to deal with. Lady Katherine Gordon was Perkin Warbeck’s impoverished widow and a kinswoman of James IV of Scotland, who had been killed at the Battle of Flodden Field. Warbeck had pretended to be Edward, Duke of York, and was joined by many malcontents. He even received support from the King of Scotland, his relative, but was captured after a short time by Henry VII. He was imprisoned in the Tower and, when news of a fresh conspiracy reached Henry, he was hanged. Lady Catherine was granted permission to live at one of the confiscated Oxfordshire manors of the Pole family until death, provided that she did not visit Scotland or any other foreign country without licence. After Warbeck, she married three times more. She was known as The White Rose of York and Scotland, and died at the Oxfordshire manor in 1537, where she is buried together with her last husband.
The fact that all these pretenders managed to attract such powerful followings at home and abroad show how fragile the Tudor royal dynasty really was, descended through the illegitimate child of John of Gaunt. Indeed, Henry VIII’s paranoia of the Plantagenets led him to carry on a vindictive campaign against the Pole family after Cardinal Reginald Pole, the son of the Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole, penned a stinging attack against the King’s divorce, from exile in Italy. This resulted in the execution of one of his brothers in 1539 and the suicide of the other. Margaret, the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, was an old woman in 1541, once the governess to Mary Tudor, whose mother’s betrothal to Arthur, Prince of Wales, had caused the execution of her brother, Edward Plantagenet, the rival claimant to the throne. Despite this, she became a loyal Tudor courtier. However, because she was a Neville, she was accused of complicity in the Northern Rebellion, and sent to the Tower without trial. From there she was executed in May, after ten or eleven blows of the axe. When Mary became Queen, her son became the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. She herself was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. The extent of the reconciliation achieved by the end of the turbulent Tudor period is shown by the close friendship between Margaret’s granddaughter and Elizabeth I. However, descendants and relatives of the Poles continued to be implicated in, and executed for, plots against both Elizabeth and James I, the most significant being the Winter brothers in the 1605 ‘Gunpowder Plot’ and Midland Rebellion of the leading Catholic gentry.
As for Hungary, Wladislas II’s refusal to hand over Richard Plantagenet in 1506 was undoubtedly a factor in the refusal of the Tudors to lend support to Louis II in his fateful hour of need twenty years later.
Most of the evidence for these articles on British-Hungarian history comes from the research of Sándor Fest (1883-1944) and his papers published in From Saint Margaret of Scotland to the Bards of Wales: Anglo-Hungarian Historical and Literary Contacts (Universitas Kiadó, 2000). Fest was educated at the Eötvös College of Budapest University and became the first professor of English Studies at Budapest University in 1938. He was a pioneer in the study of Anglo-Hungarian historical and literary contacts, and generally promoted the cause of English studies in Hungarian higher education in the inter-war years. In doing so, he was swimming against the pro-German cultural tide which was beginning to swamp Hungary.
Most of the material for this volume had to be collected from scholarly publications and papers, some of them written in English, which are largely unavailable today.
In my recent articles on ‘the Bohemian Connection’, as well as this one, I have included material from my own researches, published online, into the Golafre/ Golliver/ Gulliver family, whose ‘fortunes’ were linked to the Plantagenets and Lancastrians from Richard II to the Earl of Lincoln, John de la Pole, the elder brother of Edmund and Richard de la Pole, who was killed in battle at Stoke Field in 1487. According to the DNB, Lincoln’s second wife was a member of the Golafre family.