Elizabeth of York: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Rebellion

James IV, King of Scots was eager to promote Scottish power in Europe. He had inherited the throne in somewhat dubious circumstances, and was more inclined to the ancient alliance with France than the pro-English stance his father had adopted. Warbeck was a gift to him – ideal for keeping Henry occupied on the border and generally wrong-footed.

Warbeck was obviously a charismatic and plausible candidate for being a prince. James took to him, and treated him royally. He even gave him a distant kinswoman in marriage – Lady Katherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly – much to Warbeck’s delight. This recognition from Scotland was somewhat countered by Henry’s new agreement with Burgundy. Trade was restored on condition that Dowager Duchess Margaret cease to support Warbeck.

James raised an army, with a view to placing Warbeck on the English throne – his price was to be the return of Berwick. The campaign was not notably successful – Warbeck had no stomach for war, to James’ disgust. Henry, determined to get rid of the menace once and for all, requested Parliament to grant a huge tax subsidy to prosecute war with Scotland.

This was to result in the most dangerous threat to Elizabeth and her children of Henry’s reign. The Cornish, depressed by the heavy tax burden, and completely uninterested in Anglo-Scottish warfare, marched on London, led by a lawyer, Thomas Flamank, and a blacksmith, Michael An Gof (named Michael Joseph by the English).

Some 6,000 rebels marched for London. On 5th June, Henry gave Elizabeth a strong escort from Sheen to Eltham to fetch her younger children – Prince Arthur was at Ludlow. Initially, they went to Lady Margaret Beaufort’s house at Coldharbour, but hearing of the rebels’ arrival at Guilford on 13th June, withdrew to the Tower with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Henry himself rode through the counties adjacent to the capital to raise troops whilst the army that had been assembled to march to Scotland under Lord Daubeney was recalled. The Cornish encamped on Blackheath, but were soon faced with the royal army of some 25,000, led by Oxford, Essex and Suffolk, with Henry himself also present. Not surprisingly, the Cornish were routed.

The leaders, Flamank, Joseph and Lord Audley, were executed, but all the others were pardoned. Or at least, they were granted their lives – their goods did not escape so lightly. As soon as the rebels had surrendered, Henry gave thanks at St Paul’s before going to the Tower to fetch Elizabeth and their children. The royal family returned to Sheen.

Henry was a man who learnt from his mistakes. He was naturally disinclined to war, and now sought to reduce the need for taxation by making peace with Scotland. Princess Margaret was offered as a bride for King James. James, already seeing which way the wind blew on Warbeck, had dispatched the pretender with a few ships to Cornwall.

Now that Henry seemed rather more secure on his throne, a proxy marriage was celebrated that July between Prince Arthur and Katharine of Aragon. It took place in front of Elizabeth and Henry at their manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Arthur was eleven – Elizabeth must have hoped that he would not be exposed to the danger of becoming King too early, as her brother had been.

In early September, she was still at Woodstock, where she received two Italian envoys, Andrea Trevisano from the Doge of Venice, and Raimondo de Soncino, representing Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. She met them in the Great Hall, dressed in cloth-of-gold, attended by her mother-in-law and her son. Both David Starkey and Alison Weir assume that the son is Henry, but since the dispatch only refers to the ‘Prince’, it is impossible to be sure. The envoys described Elizabeth as ‘a handsome woman’.

Although diplomatic relations with other countries were advancing, Warbeck was still a problem. In September, a new uprising began in Cornwall, with Warbeck being proclaimed Richard IV. Before long, his supporters were defeated, and Warbeck took refuge at Beaulieu Abbey, en route to Southampton, where he sought to find a ship.

Promised a pardon by Henry, Warbeck surrendered. Brought before Henry and many of the nobles who had served Edward IV, Warbeck confessed to being an imposter. Of course, if he were really Prince Richard, he might have said he was an imposter to improve his chances of a pardon. Following his usual method of minimising physical punishment, Henry hanged very few of the rebels. He retrieved Lady Katherine Warbeck from St Michael’s Mount and forced her husband once again to confess his imposture in front of her, before having him sent to London under guard.

Lady Katherine was sent to Elizabeth, accompanied by suitable ladies, and Henry made generous arrangements for her upkeep. Elizabeth herself had been in East Anglia, visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, during the most recent disturbances. She returned to London, and then travelled on to Sheen, where she received Lady Katherine.

In accordance with his promise to pardon Warbeck if he surrendered, Henry kept him at Sheen, although he was not allowed to sleep with his wife.

When, and even if, Elizabeth met Warbeck is uncertain. There is no direct evidence of them coming face to face, but since Warbeck was kept with the court, it seems likely that they did meet. If Elizabeth recognised him as her brother, she gave no sign of it.

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York

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