By Gordon Smith
The Ricardian, Vol. 10 No.135 (1996)
Introduction: Throughout his reign (1485-1509) Richard III’s supplanter Henry VII was troubled by pretenders to his throne, the most important of whom were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Both are popularly remembered perhaps because their names have a pantomime sound to them, and a pantomime context seems a suitable one for characters whom Henry accused of being not real pretenders but mere impersonators. Nevertheless, there have been some doubts about the imposture of Perkin, although there appear to have been none before now about Lambert. As A.F. Pollard observed, ‘no serious historian has doubted that Lambert was an impostor’.
This observation is supported by the seemingly straightforward traditional story about the impostor Lambert Simnel, who was crowned king in Dublin but defeated at the battle of Stoke in 1487, and pardoned by Henry VII. This story can be recognised in Francis Bacon’s influential history of Henry’s reign, published in 1622, where Lambert first impersonated Richard, Duke of York, the younger son of Edward IV, before changing his imposture to Edward, Earl of Warwick. Bacon and the sixteenth century historians derived their account of the 1487 insurrection mainly from Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia, but Vergil, in his manuscript compiled between 1503 and 1513, said only that Simnel counterfeited Warwick. The impersonation of York derived from a life of Henry VII, written around 1500 by Bernard André, who failed to name Lambert. Bacon’s York-Warwick imitation therefore looks like a conflation of the impostures from André and Vergil. Yet neither of these two chroniclers detailed the change of fraud found in Bacon, and both disagreed with an even earlier chronicle, written by Jean Molinet about 1490! Not only did Molinet fail to name Lambert, but he also regarded the king crowned in Dublin as genuinely Warwick and not an impostor at all.