Punishments for the Pretenders

In fifteenth century England, following the War of the Roses, two “pretenders” challenged the newly-crowned Henry VII for the English throne: Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. These men posed as Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, respectively. Both Edward and Richard were legitimate heirs to the crown, whose power intrigued Simnel and Warbeck.[1] Ian Arthurson notes that it is not clear what happened later in their lives, but we do know that Simnel and Warbeck were not treated as brutally as other traitors by the Tudor dynasty. The men were initially made servants, and then continued on to have their own careers. Thus, the questions remains: Why, after having pretended to be of royal blood and challenging Henry VII, were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck not put to death? Pretending to be legitimate heirs to the royal crown would appear a form of treason. So, why were they only made into servants and not put to death for their wrongdoings? Continue reading

Elizabeth of York: The Absent Queen of Shakespeare’s Richard III

In his longest historical play Richard III, William Shakespeare examines the events leading up to Richard’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the birth of the Tudor Dynasty. Although this history certainly contains some historical truth, its function as a literary work necessarily requires the examination of the accuracy of Shakespeare’s portrayals of the individuals about whom he wrote. One should be wary of regarding Richard III as the purely cold-hearted and manipulative murderer of Shakespeare’s account, and Shakespeare’s decision to omit the character of Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII and the forebear of the Tudor line, should not be considered an indication of her insignificant role in the events detailed in the play. Shakespeare’s depiction of Elizabeth warrants consideration even though she does not figure as a character in the play, and close inspection of the text raises questions regarding Shakespeare’s depiction of Elizabeth’s staunch unwillingness to marry Richard, the desperate attempts on her mother’s part to prevent this marriage, and the unitive power of her marriage to Henry. Continue reading