Margaret of York
‘This Lady Margaret … invented and practised all mischiefs, displeasures and damages that she could devise against the King of England. And further in her fury and frantic mood … she wrought all the ways possible how to suck his blood and compass his destruction.’ Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke 
Less than ten years earlier, there had been seven male members of the House of York. Now, only one was still alive – Warwick. Nobody resented this more than the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. In the words of Polydore Vergil:
Margaret knew perfectly well the House of York had been destroyed by her brother Richard, yet … hating Henry [VII] with a truly insatiable hatred as she did, burning with unquenchable rage, she could never resist any scheme that might somehow do harm to the man who was the head of the rival family. Predictably, even if she thought their plan unlikely to gain much support (as turned out to be the case), when contacted by a group who had recently begun plotting against Henry she not only promised its agents she would help but took pains to put discontented English noblemen in touch with them.
When Lord Lovell reached Burgundy, he made Margaret keener than ever to bring down Henry Tudor. The hopes of the duchess and Lovell rested on a young man whom Richard III had formally recognized as heir to the throne after the death of his only son. This was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. A hundred and fifty years earlier, John’s direct ancestor had been a Hull merchant known as ‘atte Pool’ (gentrified into ‘de la Pole’), but his grandfather became Duke of Suffolk, while his father married Elizabeth Plantagenet, one of the Duke of York’s daughters and a sister of King Richard.
Lincoln’s father, John, Duke of Suffolk, was an ineffectual nonentity who took no part in politics but stayed on his estates, his only claims to distinction being his rank and his high-born wife, with whom he sired at least seven sons. Yet at least he had managed to survive the upheavals of the last thirty years. His funeral effigy, along with that of his duchess, may still be seen at the splendid church that stands next to their castle at Wingfield in Suffolk, a heavily fortified fourteenth-century manor house. Among the wealthiest magnates in the kingdom, the de la Poles owned land all over East Anglia and throughout the Thames valley, where their principal residence was a long since vanished mansion at Ewelme near Wallingford. They also had a family ‘inn’ or town house in London, in the parish of St Lawrence, Pulteney.
Ewelme had been acquired by the de la Poles in 1434, the duke’s father having married its heiress who was Chaucer’s granddaughter. Among many other powerful connections, through the marriage of a de la Pole girl they were related to the great French family of Foix, kings of Navarre and co-rulers of Andorra. In England the Foix were earls of Kendal – Gallicized as ‘Candale’. (In the not too distant future this link with the Foix-Candale was going to save the life of a de la Pole on the run from the Tudors.)
John de la Pole was born about 1462. We do not know very much about him but from his short career it is clear enough that he was tough, devious and self-controlled. He did not need to be reminded of his Plantagenet blood. In 1475 he had been created a Knight of the Bath with his cousins, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York – the future ‘Princes in the Tower’, while in 1476 he attended the reburial of his grandfather the Duke of York at Fotheringay, an occasion of dazzling splendour, where the mourners included Edward IV with the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester. In 1478 he was at the young Duke of York’s wedding to the heiress of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk, and in 1480 he took a leading role at the christening of King Edward’s youngest daughter Bridget at Eltham Palace. He was constantly at the Yorkist court, with his wife Margaret FitzAlan, a daughter of Lord Maltravers – heir to the Earl of Arundel.
Lincoln and his father had each played prominent roles in Richard III’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1483, Suffolk bearing the sceptre while Lincoln himself bore the orb. They could have made no more public demonstration of their support for the new king. John went on progress with Richard after the coronation, while later he was rewarded with a substantial number of confiscated estates for ‘good service’ in putting down the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion. After the death of Richard’s only son in 1484, the late king had not only recognized John, Earl of Lincoln as heir presumptive to the throne, but appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and President of the Council of the North. Although Richard was a widower who hoped to remarry and beget another son and heir, in the meantime he saw Lincoln as one of the props of his regime. Obviously, he had complete trust in his young nephew, who spent a good deal of time with him.
At first it was thought that Lincoln had died with Richard III on Bosworth Field. However, he managed to survive, hastening to make peace with the man who had stolen his inheritance and despite being deprived of his great offices attended Henry VII’s coronation, riding in the royal procession, and accompanied Henry on his northern progress, which left London on 9 March 1486. In consequence, he was in York at the end of April during Lord Lovell’s abortive coup.
Despite this show of loyalty, the earl had secretly helped the Staffords and Lovell to escape from Colchester. While at York he was visited in his lodgings by rebels from Middleham and for a moment even considered joining them before deciding that Lovell’s desperate attempt was bound to fail. He continued to dissemble, riding south with the royal progress on the return to London. Because of Lincoln’s claim to the throne Henry watched him closely but was inclined to believe in his loyalty because of his deferential manner. Lincoln was present at the baptism of Henry’s eldest son, Prince Arthur, on 20 September 1486, then went to Greenwich at the start of November for the feast of All Hallows. After this, he left court to go back to his estates where he spent Advent and kept the twelve days of Christmas.
It is more than likely that he was already in touch with Lord Lovell, whom he must have known for years. Lovell had been his father’s ward after the Earl of Warwick’s death in 1471, while he could scarcely have avoided seeing him at King Richard’s court. Lincoln may also have been in contact with Margaret of Burgundy.
He returned to the capital for a Privy Council that Henry had summoned urgently at the royal palace of Sheen. When it met on 2 February 1487, it was told that a serious plot had been discovered, supported by people of high rank, and that a rising was imminent. The earl sat calmly through the discussions without betraying his involvement.
Someone who may perhaps have encouraged him to join and recover his inheritance was his mother. Apart from the odd reference in contemporary legal documents – and her aloof marble effigy in Wingfield church – we know nothing about the Duchess of Suffolk. Nevertheless, the third anonymous writer who contributed to the continuation of the Croyland Chronicle says specifically that ‘King Edward’s sister Elizabeth’ longed for Henry VII’s overthrow and joined the conspiracy, but gives no further details. While it is plausible that a Plantagenet such as the duchess should have resented the upstart Tudor, we have no other information about her involvement.
The first solid evidence of insurrection appears in a writ of 8 February 1487 for the arrest of ‘Henry Bodrugan, Knight, and John Be[au]mont and others, who have withdrawn themselves into private places in those counties and stir up sedition and rebellion’. The counties were Devon and Cornwall. In the event, Sir Richard Edgecombe, the Sheriff of Devon to whom the writ was sent, had little difficulty in preventing any local disturbances. However, Bodrugan and Beaumont evaded all attempts to capture them, and no one knew their whereabouts.
Alarming news arrived of trouble in Ireland, where the House of York was remembered warmly. Towards the end of 1486 or the start of 1487 a young priest from Oxford named Richard Simonds had arrived in Dublin. He was accompanied by a young boy, Lambert Simnel, the son of an Oxford joiner (or, possibly, organ-builder), whom he had abducted from his parents and was hoping to pass off as the Earl of Warwick. ‘This crafty and subtle priest brought up his scholar with princely behaviour and manners [and] literature, declaring to this child what lineage he was of and progeny,’ says The Book of Howth. The lords of the Irish Pale were completely taken in, accepting that the boy really was Warwick.