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Reign of Henry VII page 3

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Henry returned slowly through Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, and Bristol, and thence to London. During his progress he was numerously attended through each county by the sheriff and the resident nobility and gentry. On Sundays and festivals he was careful to attend divine service in public, and he made good worldly use of these heavenly opportunities. He dictated himself the subject of each sermon preached, which was generally by a bishop, who was ordered, after it, to read to the people the Pope's bull in Henry's favour, and to explain to them its full meaning and bearing. At "Worcester he did not neglect to show his displeasure at the late countenance given to his enemies; but at Bristol he was particularly gracious, consulting with the inhabitants on the causes of the decay of their trade, and promising to cherish their city by the sunshine of his patronage.

Arriving in London on the 5th of June, he there received a distinguished embassy from James III. of Scotland. James entertained a great liking for the English; a fault, as it was considered by his own nobility, so prominent, that it was urged against him as a principal charge when they afterwards pursued him to the death. He had sent a deputation to congratulate Henry on his coronation; he had followed this by fresh envoys, who met him at Nottingham, while in pursuit of the rebels; and now a more formal and dignified embassy arrived to renew the truce which was supposed to expire between the countries at the death of Richard. Both monarchs were most willing to enter into a fresh one for the term of their respective reigns, but the turbulent Scotch nobles insisted on limiting it to three years. A promise, however, was exchanged that it should continue till the death of one of the sovereigns, and that matrimonial alliances should take place.

On the 30th of September the queen was prematurely delivered of a son, who, however, was pronounced a strong and healthy child, and was christened by the name of Arthur, after Prince Arthur of the ancient Britons, from whom Henry pretended to derive his descent. It may be doubted, however, whether the young prince was so strong in constitution as was supposed, for we shall find that he died at about the age of fifteen. Henry, on his return from the north, had not taken up his residence with the queen and his court at Winchester, but had located himself at a convenient distance in the New Forest, where he amused himself with hunting. On the birth of the prince, he attended the christening in the cathedral of that city, which was conducted with great pomp. Many high-flown panegyrics on the infant prince were published by the adulatory writers of the time, in prose and verse, in Latin and English; and Prince Arthur was predicted to become more glorious than the hero of the Round Table, after whom he was named.

But the birth of an heir-apparent tried too severely the temper of the numerous malcontents who still existed. Though Henry had put himself to much trouble, and to some cost, to win over the people of the northern counties, his conduct in general had not been such as to conciliate the enemies of the Lancastrian line. His treatment of his queen, and her friends and party, whatever may be the opinions of some modern writers, had left them greatly mortified and discontented. He had maintained a constantly cold and repressive mien towards the Yorkist party, who, on his marriage with Elizabeth, naturally expected bygones to be bygones, and that they should be admitted to their share of power and office. So far from this, he refused them every benefit and courtesy. They had seen with resentment his selfish attention to the securing of his own claims on the throne, and his silent rejection of those of the Princess of York. They had watched indignantly his long delay before completing his marriage with her; and to this day, though she had brought an heir to the throne, uniting the interests and hopes of both lines, not a movement had been made towards her coronation. This was a position in which no queen-consort had ever been permitted to remain; and the insult was proportionably felt.

But the Yorkist party, though roused to disturb the quiet of the haughty prince, prepared their measures of annoyance with a lack of acumen which was more likely to irritate than overturn. Perhaps they did not want to dethrone him, because that would overturn also the head, and most popular representative of their own party - Elizabeth; especially as she was now the mother of a legitimate prince, capable of uniting all interests. Perhaps they wished rather to show the cold and unforgiving monarch that he was more at their mercy than he supposed, and that they could embitter, if they did not proceed to terminate, his reign. Such, in fact, whether this was their purpose or not, was the character and tendency of the plots and impostures which, for so many years, kept Henry in disquiet and anxiety.

The first attempt was to bring forward a youth as the Earl of Warwick, the son of Clarence, whom Henry was keeping confined in the Tower. So little depth was there in this plot, that at first it was evidently the plan to bring the impostor forward as the Duke of York, the younger of the two princes supposed to be murdered in the Tower. It was given out that though his elder brother had been murdered, the younger had been allowed to escape. Had this story been adhered to, and well acted, it might have raised a most formidable rebellion; but, for some unknown reason, it was as speedily abandoned as adopted, and the Earl of Warwick pitched upon as the preferable impersonation. Nothing, however, could be more absurd, for the true earl being really alive, Henry could at any moment bring him forward. Probably the conspirators might calculate on that, and with the object of compelling Henry to do this, by which they hoped to burden him with the odium of keeping in captivity that innocent victim of his selfishness. This would appear the more credible, because we shall soon find that the queen-dowager herself was mixed up with this plot, who, though she had her own deep reasons for hating Henry, was not so short-sighted a woman as to wish to depose her own daughter and grandson. Hence the original idea was speedily changed, the Earl of Warwick was adopted as the person to be fictitiously brought forward, and the Duke of York was withdrawn to a future occasion, when he was made to appear on the scene with an effect immensely diminished in consequence of his first temporary role.

Towards the close of the year 1486, there appeared at the castle of Dublin a priest of Oxford named Richard Simons, attended by a boy of about fifteen years of age. The boy was of a peculiarly handsome and interesting appearance; and Simons, who was a total stranger in Ireland, presented him to the lord-deputy, the Earl of Kildare, as Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, who, he represented, had fortunately escaped from his dungeon in the Tower of London, and had come to throw himself under the protection of the earl and his friends. Thomas Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, was a zealous Yorkist; his brother was chancellor, and almost all the bishops and officers in the Irish Government had been appointed by Edward IV. or Richard. It is most likely that the lord-deputy and the party were already cognisant of the whole scheme of this agitation; for it is neither likely that Simons the priest should have originated so daring and arduous an enterprise as that of presenting a new claimant for the throne in opposition to the astute and determined Henry Tudor, nor that he should have so particularly singled out Ireland as the opening ground of his operations, and the lord-deputy as his patron and coadjutor. This very selection implied a nice knowledge of political circumstances and parties. Ireland was the weak point in Henry VII.'s administration. Either because he had been too much engaged by his affairs and antagonists at home, or that he feared giving additional and deep-seated offence to the Yorkist party, he had left Ireland and its government very much in the hands in which he found them. This circumstance was thus seized upon, and it was far more likely by the keen eye of a body of influential conspirators than that of an obscure individual.

What sufficiently proved this was, that simultaneously the Earl of Lincoln, of whom we have lately made mention, son to the eldest sister of the two late kings, had disappeared from England and gone over to his aunt Margaret, Duchess-Dowager of Burgundy, Henry's most inveterate enemy. This satisfied the king that the plot which showed itself in Ireland was produced in England, and was fomented by the Yorkist party at large. It was soon found that Simons had been diligently instructing the young pretender, before he produced him in public, in all the arcana of the character he had to support, As we have said, the first pretence was that he was the Duke of York; that was abandoned for causes which, no doubt, appeared sufficient to the secret movers of the machinery. The boy, who was really the son of one Thomas Simnel, a joiner of Oxford, was taught to play his part as a prince, and he soon acquired an address which seemed to testify the nobility of his descent. He could tell a good and plausible story of his life at Sheriff Hutton, his captivity in the Tower, and of the mode of his escape. All this was sufficiently captivating to the lovers of the marvellous, and was zealously fostered by those who had their own objects.

The loyalty of the lord-deputy had been already questionable. Henry had sent him a summons to attend in London, but he evaded that by a petition from the spiritual and temporal peers of Ireland, stating strongly the absolute necessity of Ms presence there. No sooner did Simons present his protege to Kildare, than that nobleman received him without any apparent reluctance to put faith in his story. He asked, indeed, various questions of Simnel, as to his identity and the means by which he had escaped and come into the hands of a priest, himself only twenty-seven years of age. But he was easily satisfied, and, without waiting to ascertain whether the real Earl of Warwick were still in the Tower, he introduced the youth to all his friends as the genuine heir of the Plantagenets. His brother, Lord Fitzgerald, the Chancellor of Ireland, took him by the hand, assembled about him the nobility of the island and the citizens of Dublin, and promised him his protection against all his enemies and the enemies of his family. The people were enthusiastic in his favour. They conducted him in great pomp from his lodgings to the castle of Dublin, where he was attended as a prince, and was there proclaimed King of England and France and Lord of Ireland, by the style of Edward VI.

When Henry received this news, he hastened to do what he ought to have done long before. He took the Earl of Warwick out of the Tower, conducted him publicly to St. Paul's, so that all might see him, and all who desired it were allowed to approach him, and converse with him. The nobility and gentry were personally introduced to him, and the king then took him with him to Sheen, where he held his court, and gave familiar access to all those who had seen or known him before. By this politic act he completely satisfied the people of England, who laughed at the impostor in Ireland; but the Irish, on the contrary, declared that Henry's Warwick was the impostor, and theirs the real one.

To consult on the best measures for defeating this plot, Henry called a great council at Sheen; but at its breaking up, the public were thrown into still greater surprise and perplexity by the king, who, instead of offering to crown the queen, seized her mother, the queen-dowager, confiscated her property, and consigned her to the custody of the monks of Bermondsey. The reason assigned was, that the queen-dowager, in the last reign, had promised her daughter to Henry, and then put her into the hands of Richard. Such a reason, if really put forward, was a simple absurdity, because since then Elizabeth Wydville had been living at court as the queen-mother, in all public honour. The real cause was undoubtedly connected with the business in hand - the Simnel conspiracy. This has been treated as highly improbable, seeing that it would have been an act of madness in the queen-dowager to dethrone Henry, with whom must fall her own daughter, her grandson, the heir-apparent, and the fortunes of the whole family. But on the supposition which we have ventured to suggest, that there was no real intention to dethrone Henry, but by showing him the insecurity of his position to compel him to act more generously to the members of the York party, what was so natural as the conduct of this lady? She had been all her life a woman fond of state intrigues, restless and ambitious, and especially zealous in promoting her family and friends. Here she saw the king the cold and settled enemy of all those friends and that party. Though he had married her daughter, he had done it with the utmost reluctance, if not the most marked aversion. He had delayed the marriage; had never associated the queen in his public life; and still left her uncrowned, though the mother of the heir of England. For herself, though he

tolerated her at her daughter's court, he had deprived her of her dowry, or rather, neglected to restore it to her, and allowed her a paltry pittance out of his own coffers. All these circumstances were likely to gall the sensitive and proud mind of the widow of Edward IV., and to render her willing to engage in anything which might mortify her oppressor, though her own son-in-law, while it stopped short of ruining him, and yet compelled him to a more honourable course of treatment.

That something like this was really the truth appears the more probable because Elizabeth Wydville never again resumed her position at Henry's court, and died in poverty and neglect. What has been advanced, that, of her own free choice, she retired from court, and to the convent of Bermondsey, where, it is represented, she had a sort of right of retreat, is far from being in keeping with the character of Elizabeth Wydville; and we may rest assured that she would never have suddenly quitted the court of her daughter, and the proud position of queen-mother, unless there had been some urgent reason not originating in her own will. She was sent there now, at this crisis, as the result of a council on the plot of the Yorkists, and she never again, except on a rare and casual visit, returned. That speaks for itself. And, after all, her conduct was little less strange than that of Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of Edward IV., the aunt of Elizabeth the queen, who, with an openness and promptness which no one has ever questioned, supported both this plot and the subsequent still more formidable one of Perkin Warbeck. The secrets of royal houses are such as continually contradict all our ordinary reasonings, and baffle all ideas which are based on the general principles of social life. Not only was the queen-dowager put into confinement, but her son, the Marquis of Dorset, brother to the queen, uncle to the heir-apparent, was arrested and committed to the Tower. If the conduct of the queen was contrary to belief in engaging in such a conspiracy, certainly that of Dorset was scarcely less so. This is the opinion of the great Lord Bacon, who had certainly much better means of knowing the truth than writers of our time, and whose powerful mind penetrated far below the surfaces of things. Speaking of Simons, he says: - "It cannot be but that some great person, that knew particularly and familiarly Edward Plantagenet, had a hand in the business, from whom the priest might take his aim. That which is most probable out of the preceding and subsequent acts is, that it was the queen-dowager from whom this action had the principal source and motion; for certain it is that she was a busy, negotiating woman, and in her withdrawing-chamber had the fortunate conspiracy for the king against Richard III. been hatched, which the king knew, and remembered, perhaps, but too well; and was at this time extremely discontented with the king, thinking her daughter - as the king handled the matter - not advanced but depressed; and none could hold the book so well to prompt and instruct this stage-play as she could."

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