Lambert Simnel was a boy who became the figurehead of a Yorkist attempt to overthrow King Henry VII. It was claimed that he was Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George, Duke of Clarence. If, as was widely believed, the Princes in the Tower had been murdered, Edward would have a claim to the throne via the Yorkist line, not withstanding the need to overturn an attainder on the Duke of Clarence that included his heirs being excluded from succession.
In 1487 leading Yorkists were plotting an attempt to overthrow Henry Tudor. A priest by the name of Richard Simon was one man who welcomed the idea of a Yorkist revival. When a rumour spread that the Earl of Warwick had escaped the Tower of London, Simon saw an opportunity. He travelled to Ireland with Lambert Simnel. There, he persuaded the Earl of Kildare that the boy was Edward. Soon other Irish nobles and members of the clergy accepted that the boy was the son of the Duke of Clarence.
Believing that the child was the son of the Duke of Clarence, and also that the sons of King Edward IV had been murdered, the Irish lords and bishops declared the boy to be the rightful King of England and Lord of Ireland. A coronation ceremony was held at Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin.
Word of the coronation soon reached senior Yorkists on the continent. In Burgundy the Dowager Duchess was Margaret of York, an aunt of Edward Earl of Warwick. She recognised the child as being her nephew. So too did men such as John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and Francis, Viscount Lovell. Whether or not they actually believed that the child was the Earl of Warwick is hard to establish, what is very clear, is that a crowned Yorkist King provided an opportunity to take the fight to the infant Tudor regime whilst it was still possible to draw upon the Yorkist sympathies of several parts of England.
The Dowager Duchess ensured that Burgundy would aid an invasion. Her son-in-law supplied some 1500 mercenaries who. along with exiled Yorkists, sailed to Ireland. Here they planned an invasion of Northern England that would have ‘King Edward’ as its nominal figurehead.
That invasion saw an army containing Swabian mercenaries, experienced Yorkist nobles, and Irish forces ranging from well armed and trained men to hastily levied men who were ill equipped. It landed on the north western coast of England, near Furness. Marching south the Yorkists hoped to draw on support from lands that had been loyal to Richard III. They were to be disappointed, as the hoped for swelling of the ranks never materialised.
As the Yorkists marched south, the Tudor regime readied itself. The two forces eventually met near Stoke in the Midlands. On 5th June 1487 the Tudor army defeated the invading Yorkist force. Most of the Yorkist commanders were killed, or went missing. ‘King Edward VI’ was found, captured, and taken to Henry Tudor.
Henry Tudor pardoned the boy. Now using the name Lambert Simnel, he was given a job in the royal kitchens. As an adult he then became a falconer. To many historians this is because Henry Tudor accepted that Lambert Simnel was a pretender who had simply been used by manipulative Yorkists. It is not universally accepted that he was a pretender though.
Lambert Simnel, biography from the Dictionary of National Biography
Note: the Dictionary of National Biography is Public Domain in the United Kingdom. A more recent version is available that takes into account research from the past hundred years. It can be found here.
SIMNEL, LAMBERT (fl. 1487–1525), impostor, was probably born about 1475, the birth-date of Edward, earl of Warwick (1475–1499) [q. v.], whom he personated; his age in 1487 is variously given as ten years (Rolls of Parl. vi. 397) and fifteen (Bacon). It has been suggested (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 390, 506, iv. 212) that Simnel was a nickname given him, from the trade of his father, a baker (‘Simenel’ or ‘Simnel’ = a small cake, cf. Skeat, Etymol. Dict.), but the official account (Rolls of Parl. l. c.) described him in 1487 as ‘oone Lambert Symnell, a child of ten yere of age, sonne to Thomas Symnell, late of Oxforde, joynour.’ In his letter to the pope on 5 July 1487 Henry VII merely calls him ‘quemdam puerum de illegitimo thoro natum’ (Letters and Papers of Henry VII, i. 95, 383). Other authorities represent his father as an organ-builder (Lansd. MS. 159, f. 6) and shoemaker, and the discrepancy between the various accounts suggests that the government and the chroniclers alike were ignorant of his real origin.
According to Polydore Vergil (Hist. Angl. 1555, pp. 569–74), from whom all other accounts are derived, Lambert was ‘a comely youth, and well favoured, not without some extraordinary dignity and grace of aspect,’ and one Richard Simon, an ambitious and unscrupulous priest, conceived the idea of passing him off as one of the princes believed to have been murdered by Richard III in the Tower, and thereby securing an archbishopric for himself. It is highly probable, however, that the Yorkist leaders, Francis, viscount Lovell [q. v.], John De la Pole, earl of Lincoln [q. v.], and perhaps the queen dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, were in the secret. Simon took Lambert to Oxford to educate him for the part; but late in 1486, on a report that Clarence’s son, the Earl of Warwick, had escaped from the Tower, Simon changed his plan and took his pupil to Ireland, the stronghold of the Yorkist cause. There he declared Lambert to be Clarence’s son, whose life he had saved. Gerald Fitzgerald, eighth earl of Kildare [q. v.], was persuaded of the genuineness of his claims, and Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, the lord chancellor, and Walter Fitzsimons, archbishop of Dublin, followed by most of the prelates and officials, declared in his favour. Their only opponent was Octavian de Palatio, archbishop of Armagh. Negotiations were at once opened with the Yorkist adherents in England and abroad. Margaret of Burgundy recognised Lambert as her nephew, and the contemporary Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet throughout speaks of him as Earl of Warwick (Chroniques, ed. 1828, iii. 151–6). Lovell, then an exile at the Burgundian court, crossed to Ireland, while Margaret herself persuaded her son-in-law Maximilian, king of the Romans, to despatch to the impostor’s aid fifteen hundred German mercenaries under Martin Schwartz [q. v.], who landed in Ireland on 5 May.
Meanwhile Henry VII, on 2 Feb. 1486–7, held a council at Sheen, where he determined to confine the queen dowager in a nunnery. He then caused the real Earl of Warwick to be paraded through the streets of London. These proceedings produced no effect in Ireland, and the Earl of Lincoln, who is said to have conversed with the Earl of Warwick on his one day of liberty, went at once to Ireland to maintain the claims of his counterfeit. On 24 May, Whit Sunday, Lambert was crowned in the cathedral at Dublin as Edward VI, John Payne (d. 1506) [q. v.], bishop of Meath, preaching the sermon. Coin was struck and proclamations issued in his name. On 4 June Simon, Lambert, and his supporters crossed to England, landing near Furness in Lancashire, where they were joined by Sir Thomas Broughton and other Yorkists. Marching through Yorkshire, they met the royal forces at Stoke, near Newark, on 16 June. The ensuing battle was stubbornly contested for three hours, mainly owing to the valour of Schwartz and his Germans. Simon and Lambert were both taken prisoners; the former was imprisoned for life, while the latter was contemptuously pardoned, and, according to Polydore Vergil, employed as a scullion in the royal kitchen, and then as a falconer. Subsequently he appears to have been transferred to the service of Sir Thomas Lovell [q. v.], and he is no doubt the ‘Lambert Symnell, yeoman,’ who attended Lovell’s funeral in May 1525 (‘Expenses of the Funeral of Sir Thomas Lovell,’ Addit. MS. 12462 f. 10 a). Vergil, whose work was completed in 1534, speaks of him as still living at the time he wrote. The Richard Symnell who was canon of St. Osith’s, Essex, on its surrender in 1539 (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xv. 342), was perhaps Lambert’s son. No other bearer of the name has been traced.[The only contemporary references to Lambert appear in the Rolls of Parl. vi. 397, 436, in Henry’s letter to Innocent VIII (5 July 1487; printed in Gairdner’s Letters and Papers of Henry VII, i. 95), in Innocent’s bull (printed in Wilkins’s Concilia, iii. 622, and Rymer, xii. 332), in Andrea’s Historia, p. 49, and in Jean Molinet’s Chroniques, ed. 1828, iii. 151–6. These were all written after his defeat, and Polydore Vergil, from whom the later chroniclers, Hall, Stow, Grafton, Bacon, and others derived their account, was in the service of Henry VII, and would naturally give the official view, whether true or not. But no serious historian has doubted that Lambert was an impostor; even Horace Walpole, in his Historic Doubts, describes his imposture as ‘admitted.’ Asgill’s Pretender’s Declaration, with some Memoirs of Two Chevaliers St. George, in the Reign of Henry VII, 1713 (2nd edit. 1715), and The History of the Two Impostors, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, by W. S., 1745, are historically worthless. See also Lansd. MS. 159, f. 6; Book of Howth, pp. 188–90; Leland’s Collectanea, iv. 208–15; Ware’s Annals of Ireland; Gilbert’s Viceroys, pp. 425–433; Nouvelle Biogr. Générale; Bagwell’s Ire- land under the Tudors; Gairdner’s Henry VII (Twelve English Statesmen Series); and Busch’s England under the Tudors, i. 34–7, 326, which gives the best modern account.]
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 52
Simnel, Lambert by Albert Frederick Pollard