The one member of the Yorkist royal family who had come through the Wars relatively unscathed, her husband and sons alive and her own long life still with nearly twenty years to run, was Elizabeth duchess of Suffolk. This can partly be put down to her husband, John de la Pole’s, political disinterest, pragmatism and lack of military competence and zeal. As a family, the Suffolks seemed very much to prefer a quiet life of domestic peace.
Her oldest son, John earl of Lincoln, had fought at Bosworth and been pardoned. He ostensibly made his peace with Henry Tudor, but he never quite made his peace with the end of Yorkist rule or the decline of his own political fortunes.
In 1487, a ten year old boy known to us as Lambert Simnel was brought to Lincoln’s attention. He is said to have had a striking resemblance to the duke of York and at first it was planned to pass him off as young Edward V. When it was clear that that wouldn’t work, plans changed and he was launched on the world as Edward earl of Warwick, son of the duke and duchess of Clarence. The real Warwick was in the Tower at the time, but a story about his escape wasn’t difficult to piece together and present to both diehard Yorkists looking for a figurehead and a public as eager for stories of drama and adventure as people are today.
Margaret duchess of Burgundy, always happy to have an opportunity to challenge Henry Tudor and avenge the death of her brother Richard III and the fall of the House of York, supported Lincoln when he brought the boy to Burgundy. She gave him 2,000 Flemish mercenaries and her financial support.
On 4 May, Lincoln and Simnel landed in Dublin and set about recruiting Irish mercenaries. Simnel was crowned Edward VI on 24 May. Lincoln’s army then set sail, landing in Lancashire on 4 June, joined by this time by (amongst others) Francis Lovell.
The 8,000 strong army marched 200 miles in 5 days. Scrope of Bolton, another chancer (who had supported Richard Nevill earl of Warwick in both his Yorkist and Lancastrian incarnations), joined them and led a raid against Clifford near Bramham Moor. It was a heartening victory for the Yorkists.
Held up by three days of skirmishes in Sherwood Forest, Lincoln’s army soon lost the numerical advantage as George Stanley lord Strange was able to use the time to gather reinforcements.
The armies met near the banks of the Trent, Tudor’s forces led by the earl of Oxford. In a fiercely fought three hour battle, the lightly armoured Irish mercenaries bore the brunt and were cut down. All the Yorkist leaders fell in battle except Lovell, who escaped across the Trent and disappeared. His final fate is a mystery. Around 4,000 ‘rebels’ were slain and at least 3,000 of Oxford’s men. Most of the dead, including the earl of Lincoln, were buried on the battlefield.
Simnel was captured after the battle, pardoned and given a job in the royal kitchens.
Lincoln’s death didn’t end the de la Pole’s political activities. Two brothers, who clearly didn’t inherit their parents’ love of the quiet life, presented themselves as heads of the House of York. Edmund (1471-1513), originally allowed to succeed to the Suffolk dukedom but later reduced to an earl, went in search of backing from the Holy Roman Emperor. When his son, Philip of Burgundy, ended up unexpectedly in England after being blown off course, he bought his freedom with the promise to hand over the earl of Suffolk, on the proviso that his life would be spared. In 1513, with Henry VIII now on the throne, that arrangement no longer applied and Suffolk was beheaded.
The youngest brother, Richard, also styling himself head of the House of York, died in 1525 at the battle of Pavia.
Elizabeth duchess of Suffolk died in 1503, her husband in either 1491 or 92. They must have grieved greatly for their oldest son John, but were spared the loss of both Edmund and Richard.
The Battle of Stoke effectively ended all hopes of a Yorkist revival.