Book Corner: Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders by Nathen Amin

On 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor emerged from the Battle of Bosworth victorious. His disparate army vanquished the forces of Richard III and, according to Shakespeare over a century later, brought ‘smooth-faced peace, with smiling aplenty and fair prosperous days’ back to England. Yet, all was not well early in the Tudor reign. Despite later attempts to portray Henry VII as single-handedly uniting a war-torn England after three decades of conflict, the kingdom was anything but settled. Nor could it be after a tumultuous two-year period that had witnessed the untimely death of one king, the mysterious disappearance of another, and the brutal slaughter of a third on the battlefield. For the first time in one compelling and comprehensive account, Nathen Amin looks at the myriad of shadowy conspiracies and murky plots which sought to depose the Tudor usurper early in his reign, with particular emphasis on the three pretenders whose causes were fervently advanced by Yorkist dissidents ‒ Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck, and Edward, Earl of Warwick. Just how close did the Tudors come to overthrow long before the myth of their greatness had taken hold on our public consciousness?

Nathen Amin has surpassed himself. The House of Beaufort was a brilliant book, but Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick, is even better. looking into the threats and challenges faced by Henry’s fledgling Tudor dynasty, Nathen tells the story of the pretenders who would steal Henry’s crown, either in their own name, or in the name of those they claimed to be.

I have been waiting for this book for a long time! Delayed by Covid, the anticipation only became greater. So, when it finally arrived, I could not wait to dive in. And I was not disappointed. Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick is a much-needed investigation into the various pretenders that Henry VII faced during his time on the throne. Focusing on fact, rather than fiction, it takes the reader on a chronological journey through the reign of henry VII, presenting each pretender as they appeared in the timeline.

As you would expect, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck take up a fair amount of the discussion. But there are others, not least Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George Duke of Clarence, who I had not even considered as a pretender until this book. Although I understand the reasoning behind identifying young Warwick as a pretender, I do see him more as a pawn to the machinations of others, than a man capable of claiming the throne – and holding on to it. Nathen Amin makes a good argument to him being a pretender, but equally points out that Warwick, beyond his ancestry and title, was little threat to the first Tudor king.

An enormous amount of research has gone into this book – and it shows. Nathen Amin has carefully and meticulously followed the trails of the pretenders, from their humble origins to the moment they made a play for the throne – and beyond. Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick also turns the spotlight on those who engineered or assisted these acts of defiance and resistance, analysing the actions and motives of the pretenders’ supporters, both practical and political, from rebellious Yorkist sympathisers to the crowned heads of Europe.

In a frantic attempt to persuade their hesitant peers to join their cause, the Staffords started spreading false rumours in the locality that their attainders had been overturned, even producing forged letters patent and claiming Henry had pardoned them of all offences. They also announced that Lovell had captured the king at York, and such a disingenuous strategy soon paid some dividend, for the Staffords started to amass a small band of adherents who had no qualms about openly plotting Henry’s death. The rebels even started championing the name of Warwick in public, alluding to the young Yorkist prince held in the Tower of London. It was unquestionably treasonous activity, and all were partaking in a deadly game against overwhelming odds.

The employment of the Warwick name was likely connected to another minor plot uncovered a few miles north of London in early May 1486, adding to the king’s growing burden, in which several conspirators armed themselves with ploughs, rakes and woolsacks and attempted to assault some members of the royal household. Although the basic weapons suggest the revolt was poorly planned and trivial in comparison to similar uprisings, the insurgents involved did provocatively wave a ragged staff banner, a well-known heraldic device associated with previous generations of Warwick earls, including the present incumbent’s grandfather Richard Neville, the 16th Earl, better remembered as ‘the Kingmaker’ for his tireless scheming during the earlier phases of the Wars of the Roses. It certainly wasn’t escaping the attention of some disaffected Yorkist diehards that there was still a prince of Yorkist blood known to be alive, albeit confined within the walls of the Tower.

Momentarily boosted by a slight upturn in support, the Staffords were even able to briefly enter Worcester after the town guard proved embarrassingly lax in their defence of their gateways, a dereliction of duty which earned the bailiff and commonalty the severe displeasure of their irritated sovereign. Nonetheless, the rebel efforts proved in vain

The famous Shakespeare phrase ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ (from Henry IV) certainly rang true for Henry VII and Nathen Amin demonstrates how the first Tudor king’s throne was plagued by threats from pretenders with differing levels of credibility. Certainly, Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick presented the greatest threats, but Amin demonstrates how Henry could not be complacent against any challengers, no matter how unfeasible their claim. While the author mentions the Princes in the Tower, and discusses their likely fate, he does not let himself get distracted by the arguments into that fate. Rather, he concentrates on the opportunities offered by the uncertainty surrounding what happened to them, and how the various pretenders played on this to serve their own ends – or the ends of those pulling the strings.

Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick by Nathen Amin is a thoughtful examination of the challenges that Henry VII faced during his reign. It is also thought-provoking. It will make you think about your own views on the subjects it touches on, from the possibility that Warbeck was Richard, Duke of York, to the murder – or not – of the Princes in the Tower, and to the legitimacy of the rule of Henry VII himself. Nathen Amin’s conclusions are thoroughly and comprehensively argued, leaving the reader to re-examine their own previously conclusions and convictions. While it presents Henry VII in a positive light, the book does not shy away from offering criticism where it is merited, nor does it vilify Richard III.

Nathen Amin has produced a balanced, thoughtful examination of the pretenders who threatened Henry VII’s throne. Going back to the primary evidence, he has carefully and meticulously peeled away the rumours, innuendos and propaganda to present his findings in engaging, accessible prose.

Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick an essential addition to every War of the Roses library. It also serves as an engaging and entertaining read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the fates of the Princes in the Tower, the establishment of the Tudor dynasty and the numerous threats that Henry VII had to face in order to establish that dynasty.

About the author:

Nathen Amin is an author from Carmarthenshire, West Wales, who focuses on the fifteenth century and the reign of Henry VII. He wrote ‘Tudor Wales’ in 2014 and ‘York Pubs’ in 2016, followed in 2017 by the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, ‘The House of Beaufort’, an Amazon #1 bestseller.

Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck and Warwick is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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