With the ending of many classes I have taken advantage of engaging in deeper research of various questions that have appeared over the past year. One of these was the incident of Ralph Wilford, a pretender to the English throne who raised his head in 1499 during the reign of Henry VII. Such is the absence of information on Wilford, there seems to be dispute on how to spell his name: is it Wilford (as Sir Francis Bacon notes in his 17th Century history), or is it Wulford (as highlighted on the Wikipedia page).
Wilford came into Kent to declare himself the real Earl of Warwick; Warwick himself was locked up in the Tower of London and within his veins ran the strongest royal blood and therefore claim to the English crown. A blood that was stronger than that of any Tudor, which is why Henry had the strong sense to lock Warwick up when coming to power in 1485. However, despite the incarceration, various pretenders popped up claiming to be the Earl, such as Lambert Simnel in 1486-87, and then later Wilford at the end of the 1490s.
Back in the 1480s Henry allowed Lambert Simnel to live on, with the former pretender becoming a hand in the royal kitchens. However, Wilford was not to be as lucky. After his appearance in Kent he was quickly arrested and then executed, with Henry ridding himself of another pretender in a brutal manner. Perhaps the years of dealing with such threats (notably that of another pretender, Perkin Warbeck) had worn away at Henry’s patience. However, other historians – such as Ashdown-Hill – believe that the whole Wilford incident was concocted by Henry to provide him with a platform to act in a brutal manner to those he had imprisoned (which included Warwick as well as Perkin Warbeck). For after ridding himself of Wilford, he later executed both Warwick and Warbeck on trumped up charges.
I’m not entirely sure if I agree with such Ashdown-Hill’s assessment. After all, Henry didn’t need to highlight the significant threats that were arrayed against him. Furthermore, the appearance of yet another pretender in the form of Wilford would have made him look even more weak in the eyes of foreign rulers, notably the Spanish monarchs who Henry was desperate to conclude a marriage pact with. Even the Spanish ambassador noted in March 1499 – after the Wilford incident – that Henry had aged twenty years in a mere two weeks. Perhaps Wilford made him fully realise that he would never be safe from such threats until he acted out in brutally and firmly.
Hopefully I can use the next several weeks to research further into the whole episode. My ultimate aim is to utilise these question marks in the teaching of A-level History next year when covering the modules on the Tudors. I will aim to upload a more detailed and immersive post on Ralph Wilford in the near future.