The Queen is the longest-reigning monarch in the country’s history and is the fourth sovereign from the House of Windsor. Since William the Conqueror seized the English throne in 1066, several different noble houses have ruled. One of the most notable, and controversial, was the House of Tudor – formed after Henry VII defeated Richard III of York at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. His victory at Bosworth ended the Wars of the Roses and cemented a new era of English prosperity after years of turmoil. But the early years of his reign were far from plain sailing as he had to fend off two serious rebellions to solidify his power.
The traditional narrative is that Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV and one of the Princes in the Tower, while Lambert Simnel claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick.
But an alternative theory suggests that, rather than claiming to be Warwick, Simnel was in fact claiming to be Edward IV’s eldest son and therefore posed as a dethroned King rather than a sidelined noble.
The Wars of the Roses – fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster in the 15th century – came to a head with Edward IV’s death in 1483.
He left behind two sons – King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury – who have gone down in history as the Princes in the Tower.
Queen’s royal history rewritten as bombshell rebellion theory emerges
Simnel’s rebellion was crushed at the Battle of Stoke Field
Aged just 12 and 9, the brothers were lodged in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard, supposedly in preparation for Edward’s looming coronation.
But Edward and his brother were soon declared illegitimate and Richard ascended the throne, becoming King Richard III.
Richard only ruled for two years, as he was deposed by Henry Tudor, but the fate of the two boys was and still is a mystery.
The scandal surrounding the princes was a problem for Henry and threatened to undermine his authority in the early days of his reign.
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Queen Elizabeth II
To make matters worse, he also had to contend with Edward, Earl of Warwick, as another potential claimant to the throne.
The first significant rebellion Henry faced came in 1487, when Lambert Simnel is said to have masqueraded as Edward, Earl of Warwick and dubbed himself Edward VI – despite Warwick being locked away in the Tower of London at the time.
Simnel capitalised on a rumour that Warwick had escaped from the Tower and gained support from Yorkist loyalists before he was “crowned” in Dublin.
The rebellion was crushed later that year at the Battle of Stoke Field and Simnel lived out the rest of his days as a scullion of the royal household.
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Perkin Warbeck also challenged Henry VII’s rule
King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I went on to define the Tudor dynasty
However, an alternative theory of the rebellion could flip this narrative on its head – and suggest that Simnel was actually posing as Edward V, the elder Prince in the Tower and King of England before Richard III assumed control.
Historian Matthew Lewis wrote on his blog: “I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us.
“I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower.”
Mr Lewis then points out that the narrative we have come to accept could simply be a case of history being written by the victors, noting that the “Tudor government made the attempt a joke”.
Royal line of succession
He writes: “It was a rebellion in favour of a boy who was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower, who indeed was paraded at St Paul’s for the masses and (perhaps more importantly) the nobility to see.”
But, Mr Lewis continues, Henry VII “could not afford” there to be any link to Edward V as such a claim would hugely strengthen the rebellion’s legitimacy.
He adds: “Interestingly, there is virtually nothing contemporary that links it to Warwick either, at least not from outside government circles, and even within the corridors of power, there are intriguing hints that all was not as it appears.”
Mr Lewis’ research points out that “the rebels called their leader King Edward, but no regnal number is ever given”, opening up the possibility that he was claimed to be King Edward V, not King Edward VI.
Furthermore, the first mention of Simnel as Edward VI comes from the Tudor narrative.
Mr Lewis asks: “Is it possible that all references to a regnal number were erased from the record because of the fallout it would cause Henry?
“Certainly, if he claimed to be Edward V, it would be a far more problematical incident for Henry, who was married to Edward’s sister Elizabeth, and whose rise to the throne had relied heavily on Yorkists who would abandon him for Edward V in a heartbeat.”
He then turns to something unique in the Lambert Simnel affair – his coronation in Dublin, noting: “The critical factor here is that Edward V had already been proclaimed king, in 1483 after his father’s death, but had never been crowned.
“A coronation was the missing piece of his kingship. Was the ceremony in Dublin meant to fill this hole, or at least plug the gap?
“The very fact of a coronation makes much more sense if it was for Edward V, a proclaimed but uncrowned king than for Edward VI.”
If Mr Lewis’ premise is correct, it could change the way we see royal history and Simnel’s rebellion – largely written off as an ill-thought-out coup attempt that made little impact.
If, as Mr Lewis suggests, the Simnel rebellion was built on the premise that the pretender was Edward V – the elder Prince in the Tower – it posed a far more serious threat to the stability of Henry’s rule.
It would arguably have been more impactful than Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion of 1499 – for which he was executed alongside the real Earl of Warwick.
Mr Lewis’ theory shows that royal history could be flipped on its head and the traditional narrative might be a result of the Tudor dynasty playing down its fragile foundations.