Authors: David Starkey
Here then was a record of Lancastrian loyalism – both personal and familial – that was second only to the earl of Oxford’s. The marriage between Earl Edward’s son and Edward IV’s daughter was thus both a reward, and a renewal of the union of the Roses in the face of Warbeck’s rival appeal to Yorkist sentiment.
Unlike many political unions, the marriage seems to have been happy; certainly it was fruitful. There were three children: Henry, Edward and Margaret. They were brought up in the country near Havering-atte-Bower in Essex. The old royal residence had long been part of the queen’s dower, and under Elizabeth horses were bred on the estate. This may be why Dame Margaret, the wife of Sir Roger Cotton, the
queen’s master of the horse, headed the little nursery that was a miniature version of the establishment for Henry and his sisters across the river at Eltham.
Plenty of clothes were bought for the children, and soap to wash them with. But, despite hygiene and healthy country air, Lord Edward died in infancy in July 1502. News of his death was brought to the queen, who paid for his funeral.
In December 1502 the two surviving children were brought up from Havering to the court in London and settled in their own chamber, which was furnished with additional necessaries like candlesticks and cupboard cloths.
Lord Henry promptly fell sick. With the life of the queen’s only surviving nephew at risk, a surgeon was summoned and paid the substantial sum of 10 shillings ‘for medicines by him ministered upon the Lord Henry Courtenay’.
Usually, sixteenth-century cures were worse than the disease. Nevertheless, the boy survived to play a momentous part in the reign of his cousin and namesake, Henry VIII, as his closest male relation.
Henry had been at most an onlooker at his aunts’ weddings. But a few months later, in May 1495, he was once again the centre of attention at his installation as knight of the Garter. The Garter ceremonies were fixed for Sunday, 17 May. On 4 May the exchequer was instructed to pay 100 marks (
) for the feast. But payment was delayed, as was usual at this period. On the twelfth Henry VII sent an urgent reminder. ‘The day of the said feast is at hand’,
he pointed out to under-treasurer Lytton, when ‘we have appointed our dearest second son the Duke of York to be installed Knight of the Garter’. Further delay in payment was unacceptable, as ‘this matter toucheth so near our honour’.
Once again, as when he had personally marshalled the procession for Henry’s creation as duke, Henry VII was intervening to make sure that his second son entered public life in proper style. The records of the Garter, as the great register of the order known as the ‘Black Book’ notes, are ‘a perfect silence’ for this period. But Henry would have been vested with the robes of the Garter: the kirtle or gown, the mantle and the hood, all of blue velvet lined with white damask; sworn his oath; had the Garter itself buckled round his left leg, and been conducted to his stall in the chapel by the two most senior knights present.
Whether his father the king was there in person or entrusted the installation of his son to deputies is unclear. But the payment on 18 May, the day after the feast, of
to Sir Charles Somerset, the vice-chamberlain and captain of the guard, ‘for offerings and expenses of my Lord Henry, duke of York, at his installation’, probably argues against the king’s own involvement. Two years later white damask was ordered for lining or relining a ‘gown of garter’ for Henry.
Could he have been boy enough to have spilt something on his new robes?
* * *
Less than a month after Henry’s installation, the time for feasting was over as news arrived that Warbeck’s invasion fleet was ready to set sail. Henry VII moved to Woodstock before beginning a progress through the Welsh Marches to Sir William Stanley’s former stronghold of Holt Castle in Denbighshire. There he inspected its treasures, which had been carefully inventoried after Stanley’s fall, and showed himself ready to face down any residual Yorkist sentiment.
None manifested itself. Warbeck’s original aim seems to have been to try to land in East Anglia, in Richard of York’s former duchy of Norfolk, to try to benefit from memories of the young prince. But adverse winds kept him south, and he put troops ashore instead at Deal in Kent. This formed part of Henry’s jurisdiction as lord warden of the Cinque Ports. And it was perhaps their familiarity with Henry that led the men of Kent to take a robustly sceptical attitude to ‘Duke Richard’. First they tricked Warbeck’s landing party into thinking that they supported his cause. Then, having lulled the invaders into dropping their guard, they rained arrows on them, killing many and capturing more.
Warbeck watched from his ships, powerless to help and not – it seemed – very eager to try. He sailed off to the west, eventually landing near Waterford in Ireland.
Here too Henry was nominally in command. The lord lieutenancy, or viceroyalty, of Ireland had formed part of Richard of Shrewsbury’s galaxy of offices and titles. Henry had duly followed in Richard’s footsteps and been appointed
lord lieutenant in September 1494, with, once again, Sir Edward Poynings as his deputy. Poynings had left for Ireland immediately, with a mission to bring it under direct English rule. The cowed Irish parliament passed the necessary legislation, known as ‘Poynings’ Laws’, readily enough. Enforcing them was another matter, and the deputy soon faced a major revolt.
Warbeck, naturally, was trying to fish in these troubled waters. But even here he failed. After his repulse from Waterford he vanishes from view for two months, lurking we know not where. Then, in November 1495, he reappeared at the court of James IV of Scotland.
There a new phase of the pretender’s career began. James IV wanted to recover Berwick from England. He wanted to make a noise in Europe and be recognized as a major power.
Warbeck, he decided, offered the means.
‘Richard IV’ was received at Stirling Castle on 20 November with royal honours. He was married to Lady Catherine Gordon, the king’s remote cousin by marriage. And he was given Falkland Palace as his residence and base for his following of 1,400 armed retainers.
In September 1496 the king and would-be king launched a joint invasion of England. But the north, where the earl of Surrey commanded the border, held firm, and first Warbeck then James IV withdrew to Scotland.
* * *
Meanwhile, Henry VII was trying to win James IV from his attachment by fair means and foul. First he offered him the hand of Henry’s elder sister, Margaret. But the incursion into England by Warbeck and James was a provocation too far, and in 1497 Henry VII decided to launch a counter-invasion. Taxation was voted, preparations got under way and a massive army was assembled to crush the Scots.
But at this moment events suddenly turned in Warbeck’s favour. The Cornish saw no reason why they should pay taxation to fight distant Scotland, and rose in revolt. They were joined by the men of Somerset and beyond. Still worse, with the king’s army mustering in the midlands to fight the Scots, there was nothing to stop the Cornish rebels when they decided to march on London.
In the face of the sudden crisis, Henry’s father and mother went in opposite directions. On 5 June the king left Sheen and rode to Aylesbury and beyond to shadow the advance of the rebels on London from the west. On the sixth the queen entered London with ‘my lord duke of York her second son’ and stayed at The Coldharbour, Lady Margaret Beaufort’s town-house in Thames Street. She remained there almost a week, till Monday the twelfth, when news came that the rebels had entered Arthur’s former nursery-town of Farnham.
Henry and his mother promptly decamped to the Tower, where they remained as the rebels and the royal troops, never more than a few miles apart, advanced round the south of the City.
For five days Henry’s dukedom and his father’s crown hung in the balance. He probably enjoyed his short stay in the Tower: there were battlements to explore and big guns to touch gingerly. It was a paradise for a small boy, and the experience may have laid the foundations for his lifelong interest in fortifications and ordnance. But for his mother these were uneasy days in a place of uneasy memories. Perhaps she told her son about them. If so, he would have found them more fascinating than the Tower and its armaments – and much more frightening.
This was the third time that Elizabeth of York, still only thirty-one years old, had taken refuge in London as the battle for the crown raged round about. The first occasion was in 1470, when her father, Edward IV, had been temporarily driven from his kingdom and Elizabeth, aged four, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had first sought the protection of the Tower, and then, as Edward IV’s situation became hopeless, the spiritual safety of the sanctuary at Westminster. Then, after Edward’s premature death in 1483, mother and daughter fled first to the Tower and then to the sanctuary once more as Richard of Gloucester cut a dreadful swathe through their family.
Now she was a refugee in the Tower again. Would it be the sanctuary next? Or worse? And what of Henry? Was he to follow in the footsteps of Richard of Shrewsbury for one last, terrible time?
* * *
At times, indeed, it was a close-run thing. The Cornish rebels swept across southern England, and not until they had reached Blackheath, within a mile or two of the royal nursery at Eltham, was Henry VII ready to give them battle. But the waiting game had paid off. Splits appeared among the Cornish, and the rebels were crushed on 17 June.
Henry VII entered the Tower in triumph, not chains, later that day and was reunited with his wife and second son.
A month later, Henry VII, together with the whole royal family, including Arthur, moved to Woodstock – partly for recreation in the magnificent park, and partly to hold a watching brief on Warbeck and his reaction to the Cornish revolt.
While they were there they were visited by the Venetian ambassador, Andrea Trevisan. First he had audience with the king, who received him ‘leaning against a tall gilt chair, covered with cloth-of-gold’ and with ‘the prince, his eldest son, by name Arthur’ at his side. Then Trevisan paid a courtesy visit on Elizabeth of York. She was standing ‘at the end of a hall, dressed in cloth-of-gold; on one side of her was the king’s mother, on the other her son the prince’.
And ‘her son the prince’, the Italian original makes clear, was Henry, duke of York.
In other words, even when they were under the same roof, Arthur and Henry preserved their distinctive upbringings: Arthur was identified with his father, whom he would
succeed; Henry, as always, with his mother, whose family ‘name’ he bore as duke of York.
Meanwhile, James IV of Scotland, who was tiring of ‘Richard’, Henry’s rival duke of York, encouraged Warbeck to take advantage of the confusion in England by mounting another invasion. Warbeck sailed with his wife in July, gathered reinforcements from Ireland and landed in Cornwall. About 3,000 followers joined him, and he besieged Exeter.
As in the summer, the king and queen separated. The king marched west to relieve Exeter, which was ably defended by the earl of Devon. Meanwhile, Elizabeth of York, once again accompanied by Henry, found safety under guise of going on pilgrimage to Walsingham in the far north of Norfolk.
The precaution proved unnecessary. On hearing of the king’s approach, Warbeck abandoned his followers and fled into sanctuary. He was promised his life, and he surrendered. ‘This day came Perkin Warbeck,’ the king’s account book noted triumphantly on 5 October. The Tudors’ throne was secure, and young Henry’s dukedom safe.
One of the king’s first acts was to send a messenger post-haste to his second son to tell him the tidings and bring him
‘for certain considerations’.
LP Hen. VII
. M. K. Jones and M. G. Underwood,
The King’s Mother
(Cambridge, 1992), 113–14; L. T. Smith, ed.,
The Itinerary of
, 5 vols (1906–08) V, 31.
. K. Mertz,
The English Noble Household
, 1250–1600 (Oxford, 1988), 216–17; TNA: E 404/82 (warrants dated 17 February 1496 and 13 December 1497); E 404/83 (warrant dated 14 December 1498).
CPR Henry VII
II (1494–1509), 126, 39, 243, 303; warrants cited in n. 41 above; W. Nelson,
John Skelton, Laureate
(New York, 1939), 74.
. BL: Cotton MS Vitellius B XII, fo. 109.
. Condon, ‘Itinerary’; Bentley,
VI, 479, 511–12.
. GEC IX, 610–20.
. GEC IX, 619 n. d and e.
PPE Elizabeth of York
, 17, 99 and see below.
. GEC IV, 328–30.
PPE Elizabeth of York
, 79, 189, index ‘Cotton’.
. Ibid., 32, 75, 103.
. Ibid., 77, 79.
. Ibid., 88.
I, 236; II, 41; TNA: E 404/81/4 (warrant dated 12 May 1495).
, 103; TNA: E 101/414/8, fo. 34.
, 275–6, 443n.
. CSP Ven. I, 754; TNA: PRO 31/14/121. I am most grateful to Dr Adrian Ailes for checking the latter on my behalf.
, 114; TNA: E 36/126, fo. 37r. I am most grateful to Dr Sean Cunningham for checking the latter on my behalf. He also agrees that it is inconceivable that ‘the duke of York’ refers to anyone but Henry.