From THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF LONDON, Salon online newsletter: Issue 334
Fellow John Ashdown-Hill, whose genealogical research played such an important role in the identification of Richard III’s remains by matching the king’s mitochondrial DNA to that of direct descendants down the female line, has written another book in which genetics could be used to solve a long-standing mystery. In this case, it concerns the boy who, in 1486, a year after Richard III’s death, claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, son and heir of George, Duke of Clarence, the last surviving male of the house of York. This claimant to the throne was championed by Yorkists in the first serious challenge to the authority of Henry VII, the mystery concerning the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, the sons of Edward IV, simply adding fuel to the fire.
Henry VII’s supporters declared the boy to be an imposter by the name of Lambert Simnel, and most historians (and the author of the ODNB entry for Simnel) have tended to follow the official Tudor line. Even so, as John Ashdown-Hill demonstrates, the evidence is not quite so conclusive. As he unravels the story of the boy’s coronation in Dublin on 24 May 1487 and his attempt to invade England eleven days later, on 4 June, with an army of German mercenaries and Irish infantry, doubts begin to emerge. The story is made more complex by the mixed motives of many of the aristocrats involved, all anxious to scramble to power. What is clear is just how many challenges Henry VII faced to his legitimacy as monarch and with what skill he and his supporters met these potentially serious rebellions.
The author concludes that there are two versions of Simnel’s story: the authorised one, publicised by successive English governments, and the unofficial one, which can be reconstructed from various sources, and that cannot easily be dismissed as fraudulent. As none of the evidence is cut and dried, John suggests that the best way to make the picture clearer is to seek the remains of some of the key protagonists and use DNA analysis to try to work out who they really were.
The Dublin King: the true story of Edward, Earl of Warwick, Lambert Simnel and the ‘Princes in the Tower', by John Ashdown-Hill; ISBN 9780750960342; The History Press, 2015