Post-classical history


1513–21: A King over the Water

‘But Richard his brother, being an expert and politic man, so craftily conveyed and so wisely ordered himself in this stormy tempest that he was not attrapped, either with net or snare.’

Edward Hall, The Union of the two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancaste and Yorke1

Foreign envoys were charmed by the friendly way Henry VIII gossiped and joked with them, as a flattered Venetian embassy reported in 1515. But roars of laughter and back-slapping were a good way of concealing his real thoughts. Among these was a lasting obsession with murdering Edmund de la Pole’s brother Richard. Frustratingly, royal agents found that they were pursuing a very elusive quarry indeed.

This obscure cousin frightened the king as much as Warbeck had frightened his father. Richard had been in exile since 1500 when he was a youth of about nineteen. Few Englishmen can have set eyes on him, while the tenants and retainers on the old de la Pole lands in East Anglia and the Thames Valley had long ago been given new lords. Yet beyond any question, the king feared Richard, convinced there must still be a strong Yorkist underground, the size of which, characteristically, he overestimated.

Left behind at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1504 as security for the debts of Edmund (not then been caught by Henry VII), in a desperate letter, Richard begged his brother ‘humbly’ [‘ombully’] to send him money.2 In another overwrought letter, he said he was pestered in the streets of Aix, not only by Martyn, landlord at Le Pot, but also by other creditors. The king had written to the burgesses, saying that if they handed him over, he would pay well. People were warning him not to go into the streets because if he was murdered, Henry would pay his killers, although Richard suspected he had been told this to frighten him into returning to England. He swore that if Edmund could get him out of the mess, ‘You will find me your loyal brother, come what may’.3 Two days later, Edmund, who had no means of helping him, told Killingworth that ‘my brother [is] like to be delivered to King Henry, or else to be driven by force to forsake me, or else to be slain in the town of Aachen by the bourgeois’.4 In January 1506 Richard was still writing in the same vein: ‘And here I lie in great pain and poverty for your grace, and no manner of comfort I have of your grace or none other: nor none is coming, so far as I can see. Wherefore I pray God to send me out of this world.’5 After Edmund had been handed over, Richard’s situation seemed hopeless. Almost miraculously, he was saved by the recently appointed Bishop of Liège, Everard de la Marck (later Cardinal de Bouillon), who paid his debts and sent him as far out of Henry’s reach as possible, to the Hungarian court at Buda. Unlike Edmund or Killingworth, the bishop knew how to make the most of the de la Poles’ kinship with the late Queen Anne of Hungary who, as a Foix-Candale, had been the young man’s cousin. Arriving in August 1506, he was warmly welcomed by Ladislas II and given a pension.

The de la Poles’ steward was still at Aix, nominally in Richard’s service, and in August 1506 Thomas Killingworth of London, ‘gentilman’, was offered a full pardon by Henry VII, despite his recent attainder. It stipulated that ‘whenever the King shall please to examine him alone or cause him to be examined by someone of his council upon any matters concerning the King’s Majesty or the security of his realm, he shall declare all.’ What Henry wanted was the steward’s cooperation in identifying and tracking down Yorkists at home and abroad – including Richard de la Pole.6

Killingworth ignored the offer, however. The following month he obtained a passport from Everard de la Mark to stay at Liège and other cities under the bishop’s control, escorted by four servants armed with swords, daggers and lances. He needed a passport so that he could accept Richard’s invitation to visit Hungary, arriving in March 1507. Richard promptly sent him to Constance, where an Imperial Diet was meeting, to ask for the emperor’s protection for the de la Poles.

The steward wrote in dog-Latin to the emperor, begging him to secure Suffolk’s release, mentioning Henry’s offer but swearing he would stay a faithful servant. ‘I await a reply, Lord Caesar.’7 Reminding the Emperor Maximilian of his promise to help Suffolk and his brother, Killingworth says, ‘I have served my said lord duke for 20 years, which is no small period of time.’ He adds, ‘And to serve my said lord duke I have left wife, friends and possessions, which may no doubt look contrary to nature, yet the ill fortune of the said lord duke grieves me.’8 Later, he told Maximilian that the French might try and persuade King Ladislas to hand over Richard to them, for use as a bargaining counter with England. He suggested that Richard might be hidden in some Austrian castle.9

Killingworth sent a final letter to Maximilian in early summer 1507, saying he owed 53 florins to his landlord at Aix, besides 12 florins to others. ‘I am ill, in the greatest possible want and poverty as I have no money left and do not know where to turn for it except to Your Sacred Majesty.’ He also warned the emperor against Sir Edward Wingfield, who had recently arrived at the imperial court. After a last plea for money Killingworth disappeared, perhaps dying as a beggar on the streets of Aix. (Somehow Henry’s agents got hold of his correspondence.) He had given everything for the Suffolk brothers – they must have possessed some fine qualities to inspire such loyalty.

For young Richard, bred in East Anglia and the Thames Valley, Hungary and its Magyar language were no doubt bewildering – presumably he communicated in French or Latin. Tudor agents soon learned of his arrival and his links with the Foix-Candale: he had become more dangerous, even though he could not be an immediate threat while his brother Edmund resided in the Tower. Henry VII made repeated demands for him to be sent back to England, but by now he was a favourite of King Ladislas, who refused. (Normally, known as ‘King All Right’ by the nobles, he agreed to everything.) De la Pole’s pension was paid until Ladislas’s death in 1516. His protector was also King of Poland and Bohemia, and it is possible that Richard accompanied him to Prague in February 1509, while he probably went to Maximilian’s court at Freiburg – late in 1510 the emperor wrote to Margaret of Savoy (his regent in Flanders), urging her to try and persuade the English king to pardon ‘the young Suffolk’.

It is likely that, by then, Richard was with the French army in Italy. Because of the war between France and Spain, military skill was a sure way to Louis XII’s favour, and Richard may have served under his fire-eating cousin Odet de Foix-Grailly, Vicomte de Lautrec. If so, he experienced some very fierce fighting. Judging from Louis’s later confidence in him, the tough young Englishman had been noticed by the king who realized he was a born soldier. We know for certain that in 1512 he served in Navarre, a little kingdom stretching across the Pyrenees from Béarn to Tudela, with his Foix cousin Katherine III as queen, which had been invaded by Ferdinand of Aragon. Those who fought in the campaign to restore her included some of the period’s most famous soldiers, such as the Chevalier Bayard. They were unsuccessful, however, and within a few weeks it became clear that Katherine had lost all her territories south of the Pyrenees.

When hostilities broke out between France and England the same year, a Venetian reported that Louis XII was planning to restore ‘the son of the deceased sister of the King [Richard III] killed by the late King’, by which he meant Edmund de la Pole, who was still alive.10 He did not mean Richard, as is sometimes supposed, since he could not usurp his elder brother’s right to the throne; to do so would deny the law of succession on which the de la Pole claim was based.11 However, Louis gave Richard a pension of 36,000 crowns and a command. It seems he was in touch with his brother in the Tower. During 1512 a French spy at the English court was said to have brought back letters from the Suffolk family, which may mean messages from Edmund. The following year a Milanese wrote that Edmund de la Pole had been executed for corresponding with Richard about organizing a rebellion.12 About this time, Henry VIII began to worry about the presence in France of ‘our rebel Richard de la Pole’.13

Richard had cut an impressive figure during the Navarrese campaign, forming friendships with the Dauphin François and the Chevalier Bayard, and leading a regiment of landsknechts, freebooters marching to shawms and drums, followed by wives and children, thieves and prostitutes, robbing and raping as they went. Always in a state of semi-mutiny, they were not easy to command, but the White Rose knew how to get the best out of them. ‘Your rebel, Richard de la Pole, was in the said wars, captain of the Almains, where there your said rebel and his company received most hurt and loss of men than any other,’ the English ambassador John Stile reported to Henry VIII in January 1513.14

Richard began calling himself Duke of Suffolk and White Rose in the summer of 1513, after his brother’s death when Louis recognized him as King of England. Although he fought against his countrymen at the siege of Therouanne in July, commanding a force 6,000 strong, a handful of Yorkists joined him. Among these was the ‘Bastard of Stanley’, the son of Henry VII’s chamberlain, whom no one in England dared to employ because he had spent fourteen years in the Tower. Richard gave him a job, as gentleman porter at twenty crowns a year. In January 1514 Cardinal Bainbridge, in Rome, reported that he had arrested two members of his household, one of them being Reginald Chambre formerly of the Calais garrison, for planning to join Richard.15

In February 1514 King Henry bestowed the duchy of Suffolk on his favourite, Charles Brandon. If a gesture of friendship towards an old friend, it was still more an act of spite, even of fear. For by now he had come to appreciate that the latest White Rose was likely to be much more dangerous than his brother Edmund.

‘The French King this year [1514] appointed to Richard de la Pole, traitor of England and banished the realm, 12,000 lanceknights to keep Normandy, and also to enter into England and conquer,’ says Hall.16 Spending so much money on such a large force means that Louis believed that an invasion could succeed, and that he had real respect for the White Rose’s ability as a soldier. Richard took his troops to Normandy, but when they began terrorizing the locals he moved them to St Malo in Brittany. John, Duke of Albany, the Scottish regent who was in France, agreed to welcome them to his own country from where they could invade across the Border. By June everything was ready and it appeared that another battle of Stoke lay ahead. This time the Yorkist army consisted of veteran professional soldiers under a battle-tested commander. All that they would face were inexperienced levies under the Duke of Norfolk (Surrey), whose recent victory at Flodden had been over ill-disciplined and badly led opponents.

Richard was about to sail when suddenly King Louis made peace with Henry VIII. The invasion was abandoned and the White Rose had to leave France. Louis’s solution was to send him to Metz, just over the border, while the Dauphin gave him a large sum of money. Metz was an imperial city within Lorraine so King Louis wrote to its council asking them to welcome Richard. When he arrived there in September 1514 – with sixty horsemen and a guard of honour sent by the Duke of Lorraine – he was made a citizen, and a local gentleman, the Chevalier Baudoiche, lent him an elegant mansion for his residence, a ‘pleasure house’ which was named Passe Temps.

When Louis died early in 1515, Richard’s French pension was confirmed by the new King of France, his old crony the Dauphin – now Francis I. Richard continued to live at Metz, then a beautiful city, where he gathered a small court including musicians who had played for his brother, and who were clothed in a livery of blue and grey. The most interesting was a singer called Petrus Alamire, who was also a music scribe with a highly successful business in Flanders patronized by several European courts. Another old friend of his brother Edmund with whom he re-established contact was a Flemish merchant named Claus Bakker, who became a useful agent for the Yorkist cause.

From Metz Richard could keep an eye on what was happening in northern France, where the English still occupied Therouanne and Tournai. In February 1515, the garrison at Tournai, led by a Davy Appowell, mutinied over arrears of pay, threatening to lynch their commander, old Sir Sampson Norton from Calais. Order was restored by Lord Mountjoy, but there were too many mutineers to punish.17 On 25 February, accompanied only by his cook and a page, Richard had left Metz secretly, riding from dawn to dusk. The agents thought he did so from fear, yet could not explain what he was afraid of.18 Fear seems unlikely, since soon he was back at Metz. As his wild gallop brought him within a day’s ride of Tournai, the answer may be that he had hoped to take command of the mutineers, but that order had been restored before he reached the town.

Just as his father’s agents had done with Perkin, Henry VIII’s spies ferreted out all they could about the new White Rose. Their employer must have been disturbed to learn that Richard was treated as an equal by princes and liked by his troops, and that his Foix-Candale cousins were able to open so many doors for him. More worrying still, was his friendship with King Francis.

Although Henry VIII prided himself on his piety and morality, he had no reservations about a murder, deciding that assassination – quick, discreet, final – was the best way in which to dispose of his rival. A small, folding crossbow (easily hidden in a cloak) should do the job, or a poisoned stiletto, or even a gun: only recently the ‘great’ Earl of Kildare had been killed in an ambush by a bullet from an arquebus. There was a slight problem however, which was finding a reliable assassin.

Sir Edward Poynings and the Earl of Worcester (Lord Chamberlain) were put in charge of the operation, reporting to Wolsey. That men of such high rank were given the task shows the importance Henry set on it. Sir Thomas Spinelly, English ambassador in Flanders, bribed a member of Richard’s household to spy on his master – the singing scribe, Petrus Alamire, who signed his reports with the musical notation ‘La mi re’.

Soon an assassin was hired, a petty Flemish nobleman called Percheval de Matte. Stalking his quarry, he sent in detailed reports on the White Rose’s activities: how he exercised his horses in the fields outside Metz with the local gentry, hunting the hare in all weathers, how he was nearly arrested over a huge debt to a German lord but rescued by a loan from a prince of Lorraine.19 Despite all this impressive intelligence work, Matte made no attempt to kill Richard so Poynings engaged another professional cuthroat, a soldier called Captain Symonde Francoyse, yet he, too, failed to deliver.20

In February 1516 the French authorities caught an English desperado, Robert Latimer, who confessed to being sent by King Henry to assassinate Richard. Widely reported, the incident did more than reveal Henry’s readiness to commit murder. It showed all Europe how terrified he was of a rival whom in public he pretended to despise.

These attempts on the White Rose’s life should be seen against a background of growing hostility between France and England. In 1515 Francis I had won a stunning victory over the Swiss at Marignano, conquering the duchy of Milan which then became part of France. Although Maximilian and his grandson, the new Habsburg King of Spain (the future Emperor Charles V), were horrified, Henry VIII’s attempts to humble the French resulted in nothing but a waste of English money: he was betrayed or let down in turn by the Swiss and Charles V. The new situation enhanced Richard de la Pole’s standing as pretender.

Evidence of support for the Yorkist cause emerged at Tournai in February 1516 when a leader of the recent mutiny, John Packman, was brought back to England after being caught in Flanders. He had been with the White Rose or people close to him. Questioned by Lord Mountjoy, Packman said that Richard was in touch with East Anglian merchants – men from Suffolk and Norfolk, who remembered when the de la Poles were the region’s leading magnates. Packman added that Richard had gone to meet the Black Band, a regiment of German landsknechts in French service led by Robert de la Marck, known as the ‘Devil’, who was a kinsman of his old friend the Bishop of Liège. A few months later, Packman was duly hanged and gutted as a traitor – more for his Yorkism than for mutiny.21

There were rumours early in 1516 that the White Rose was preparing to invade, with not only French backing but also Spanish, Scottish and Danish. (His agent Claus Bakker was at the court of the new King of Denmark, Christian II.) When Francis I came back from Italy in March he invited Richard to visit him. Derick van Reydt, Richard’s steward, told the banker Leonardo Frescobaldi, how warmly his master had been received by the French king and queen, and by Francis’s mother, Louise of Savoy – when Richard complained of his fate, Francis promised to help him regain his throne and gave him money.22 Reports of this sort made uncomfortable reading for King Henry.

In June 1516 Sir Thomas Spinelly paid sixty gold florins to Jacques de Eesebeke, for services ‘in the matter of Blancherose’. Jacques found lodgings overlooking Richard de la Pole’s mansion at Metz, and kept him under surveillance, sending reports to Sir Thomas that must have made Tudor hair stand on end when forwarded to the king. Eesebeke described Richard riding a mule, with Francis I riding pillion behind and swearing to help him gain the English throne, and how Francis had said that a ‘Marquis’ (the Margrave of Brandenburg?) was eager to aid the Yorkist cause. Four French thugs paid 4,000 gold crowns by ‘Blancherose’ were coming to England to set fire to Henry’s palace and murder him, said Eesbeke – he knew this from a man in Richard’s confidence. Also, Anthony Spynell, a ‘marvellous great enemy’ of the king, was receiving a salary from the French to spy on him.23 As Sir Thomas Spinelly had a relative called Anthony – possibly the same person – this item may have embarrassed him.

No less sensational information was received by Wolsey in autumn 1516 from Alamire. He had been with Richard in Germany when his employer received a message from his steward Derick van Reydt, to say that King Francis wanted him to bring as many troops as he could find to France. Officially, these were reinforcements for the French garrison in Italy, but Alamire suspected they might be used to invade England, as Derick had confided in him at the Frankfurt fair, ‘Now is the time that [the] White Rose, Duke of Suffolk, has longed for’. Alamire claimed he had done his best to dissuade his employer from invading, saying they had insufficient money and recalling what had happened to Perkin and Lincoln. ‘Alamire, you tell me strange things,’ had been the reaction of Richard, who added that if he asked King Henry for a pardon, as Alamire suggested, not only was he unlikely to get one but the request would cost him King Francis’s friendship.24

In November the musician reported that Sir George Neville, his master’s ‘ancient friend … formerly Admiral of the English Sea’, had joined the White Rose at Metz and was travelling with him to France. Two unknown Yorkists had visited Metz and given money to Richard before going home. Alamire also said his employer was planning to ship troops to Scotland.25 He did not mention that there was another English knight at Metz, in Richard’s household, Sir William Pounder.

It was hard for Henry’s spies to keep track of Richard as he was always on the move, secretly meeting King Francis in Paris, raising troops in Germany or Switzerland, visiting Italy, or staying with Robert de la Marck. Once again they tried to kill him. In February 1517 the Earl of Worcester arrived at Tournai to coordinate operations and in the same month, English agents persuaded Sir William Pounder to desert the White Rose. Coming to Tournai, he surrendered to Worcester, saying he had been imprisoned by Richard for refusing to join him. He told all he knew in return for a pardon. While he confirmed that the White Rose was visiting Paris for discussions with Francis I (always at night), revealed details of French troop movements and identified a French spy working in England, Sir William’s defection did little to alter the situation.26

In spring 1517 Alamire reported that Christian of Denmark had offered Richard 20,000 troops. He also said an Englishman had come with letters ‘from some lords in England’, but that de la Pole was suspicious and would not give him a written answer. The singer added that Thomas Stanley had been despatched to England to discover the truth about the letters, although he had not got much further than the coast.27 This was a lie because Richard and Stanley had by now parted company, and Alamire was a double agent, who regularly sent in false information.

Angry at not being paid his wages as gentleman porter, the Bastard of Stanley had begun spying for Henry. One night Richard burst into his room with some servants, shouting, ‘Thou false traitor! Long hast thou been a spy in my company – thou shalt before thou depart show who sent thee hither!’ The servants bound his two great toes together with a cord which they twisted, ordering him to confess. It broke and while they were looking for another cord he escaped, finding refuge in a nearby friary. Stanley then approached Dr Cuthbert Tunstall, who was at Bruges on a diplomatic mission, offering information about the White Rose in return for a pardon and a safe conduct home. He claimed that Robert Latimer, arrested after being sent to England by Richard to contact Yorkist sympathizers, had lied about his mission. (Latimer was the assassin hired by Henry in 1516.)

Despite spending so much money on spies and informers, it became abundantly clear that King Henry’s agents were unable to eliminate the White Rose. Wolsey, in overall charge of the operation, realized that he had failed dismally. He needed to find a means of placating his master, something that would distract him. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

18. 1513–21: A King over the Water

1. Hall, op. cit., p. 495.

2. LP Hen VII, op. cit., vol. I, p. 258.

3. Ibid., pp. 273–5.

4. Ibid., p. 276.

5. Ibid., p. 53.

6. CPR Hen VII, 1494–1509, op. cit., p. 468.

7. LP Hen VII, vol. I, p. 307.

8. Ibid., pp. 315–20.

9. Ibid., p. 321.

10. CSP Ven, op. cit., vol. II, 172.

11. It looks as though the date of Richard’s birth was earlier than has generally been assumed and that William, not Richard, was the youngest of the de la Pole brothers. Humphrey and Geoffrey, both clerics, died before 1513.

12. LP Hen VIII, op. cit., vol. I (i), 2072.

13. Ibid., 1315.

14. Ibid., 1575.

15. Ibid., 4691.

16. Hall, p. 569.

17. LP Hen VIII, op. cit., vol. II (i), 147, 325.

18. LP Hen VIII, op. cit., vol. III (i), appendix to preface (ccccxl).

19. LP Hen VIII, vol. II (i), 1163.

20. Ibid., 742, 809, 1239.

21. Ibid., 1894.

22. Ibid., 2113.

23. Ibid., 1973, 2081.

24. Ibid., 2419.

25. Ibid., 2673.

26. Ibid., 2926, 3043.

27. LP Hen VIII, op. cit., vol. II (ii), appendix 39.

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