As I’ve noted on some previous posts, the Tudor period is a big focus of my teaching. A-level students study the AQA module ‘The Tudors’ which covers a wide range, from the very start at Bosworth in 1485 right through to Elizabeth’s death in 1603. This month they completed a mock exam comprising two questions (an extract question of interpretations of historians, and a traditional essay question). Whilst marking through the mocks I decided to type up exemplar responses, and so here is my attempt at a question which asked the student to compare the popular rebellions of Henry VII’s reign with the Yorkist threats/pretenders.
‘The popular rebellions faced by Henry VII gave him more problems than the threats posed by pretenders to the throne.’ Assess the validity of this view.
During his twenty-four year reign Henry VII faced a high number of threats and rebellions, ranging from the popular rebellions that voiced complaints about his taxation policies, to the Yorkist plots that were intent on dethroning him and ending the Tudor name. This response will focus on two popular rebellions (the Yorkshire Rebellion of 1489 and the Cornish Rebellion of 1497), as well as the two most serious pretenders (Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck). The evidence shows that although both types of threats had levels of seriousness, the pretenders were the biggest threat due to their intent on taking the English throne.
Firstly, the popular rebellions faced by Henry VII presented several problems. Both the Yorkshire Rebellion and the Cornish Rebellion were big protests about his taxation policies, and the gathering of thousands shows that the king did not have full control of his kingdom at this points. The Yorkshire Rebellion further highlights Henry’s lack of control in the north of the kingdom (a Yorkist hotspot), especially with the rebels murdering his chosen lieutenant for the region, the Earl of Northumberland. Although the rebels – under the leadership of Sir John Egremont – were halted in the north, thereby ending the rebellion, it was at significant cost to Henry in terms of assembling and sending an army under the Earl of Surrey. Furthermore, the main cause for the rebellion – against Henry’s wish to obtain taxation – thwarted the king’s foreign policy ambitions in terms of dealing with the Breton Crisis. In the end, he had to be content with collecting a quarter of the intended £100,000.
Similarly, the Cornish Rebellion was in reaction to grievances against taxation; this time, for Henry’s intended Scottish war to deal with the quarrelsome James IV. Furthermore, the Cornish were particularly annoyed at the closure of their stannary tin-mining parliament in 1496. Unlike the Yorkshire Rebellion, the Cornish managed to gather together to march across the entirety of the south of the kingdom (from Cornwall to Blackheath, outside of London). This highlights a lack of control in the south, for although key nobles did not join the Cornish (only a minor noble, Lord Audley, did so), nobody was prepared to halt their advance. Ultimately, the Cornish were suppressed by military force, and like the Yorkshire rebellion they did not pose a physical threat. However, both highlight the lack of Henry’s control in the far-flung reaches of the kingdom.
There is more evidence to suggest that the pretenders were the far greater threat to Henry VII. During his reign he had to face several threats that wanted to fully depose him, the chief ones being the Lambert Simnel rebellion (1486-87) and Perkin Warbeck in the 1490s. Both of these pretenders (Simnel pretending to be the imprisoned Earl of Warwick; Warbeck pretending to be Richard, one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’) obtained considerable foreign support. For example, Simnel was back by Margaret of Burgundy (a strong Yorkist supporter), and his invasion force in 1487 comprised of Irish warriors and Swiss mercenaries (headed by Martin Schwartz). Warbeck trumped this in terms of longevity: he managed to secure support from the French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Irish, and the Scottish.
Behind these pretenders were the Yorkists, principally in the form of Margaret of Burgundy (sister to Richard III and Edward IV), and the De La Pole family. This shows that their intent – and resources – was far greater than the Yorkshire and Cornish tax-based rebels. These resources provided Simnel with a platform to fully invade England, where he met Henry VII in the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487. Although Henry was victorious, and managed to murder John de la Pole (as well as sparring Simnel, who was humiliating used as a servant in the royal kitchens), the battle itself was evenly matched. Henry would have been concerned, especially considering the experience at the Battle of Bosworth two years earlier, when the actions of some of Richard’s supposed supporters – the Stanleys – completely transformed the outcome of the battle. Although Warbeck never offered on the same level as the Battle of Stoke Field – due to being easily repelled in Kent in 1495 and captured in the south-west in 1497 – his constant ability to outfox Henry would have provided considerable concern. More importantly was Warbeck’s conspiring with those at the heart of government, principally that of Sir William Stanley (who was executed for treason in 1495).
In conclusion, both types of rebellion presented clear problems to Henry. However, the popular rebellions were dealt with through manageable military intervention, and their biggest problem was providing Henry with monetary setbacks. By comparison, the pretenders were intent on removing Henry from the throne and ending the Tudor dynasty; their resources dwarfed those of the tax based rebellions, and Henry lived in constant fear that all of his plans to secure the dynasty would be thrown in jeopardy at any moment. Henry had to show considerable more skill – in dealing with foreign monarchs in the form of treaties (such as Etaples in 1492 and Ayton in 1497) – to put an end to the support of the pretenders.