The Pruning of the White Rose
The rise of the House of York is no less spectacular than the three suns in splendor seen in the sky at Mortimer’s Cross as Edward, son of the late duke of York, went into battle in 1461. What turned out to be a parhelion, soon faded, just as the success of the York dynasty would.
Edward IV was a warrior king, one of the last of his breed. Grasping the crown where his father had failed, he likely believed that his line would sit upon the throne of England for centuries to come as his Plantagenet ancestors had before him. Little did he know that the white rose of York would before long become an endangered species.
Even when Edward died unexpectedly young in 1483, he had little reason to believe that his line was dying out. He was leaving two sons, one who would be named Edward V, and five daughters. Should his own large brood somehow fail, Edward’s siblings could offer up their own progeny. He could not have imagined that within two years his sons, his remaining brother, and a young nephew would all be dead.
And that was just the beginning.
After the death of Richard III in battle in 1485, the Tudor dynasty was born. With the sons of Edward and Richard both dead, only the young earl of Warwick, son of George of Clarence, remained as a legitimate male of the York line. His youth and his father’s attainder made him a less than imposing threat, yet Henry Tudor imprisoned him just in case.
This left the female lines of York to challenge King Henry VII and later his son.
Edward IV’s sons had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. They are known to this day as the Princes in the Tower. Of his remaining daughters, the oldest, Elizabeth, married the new Tudor king, linking the dynasties in hope of peace and unification. That left her four sisters.
Cecily, the next oldest sister, was married three times. Her first marriage produced no children and was annulled. The second, to Viscount Welles, saw the birth and tragic death of two daughters. Cecily’s third marriage was one scandalously made without the king’s permission. Her titles and incomes were lost. If she had children with her third husband, record of them does not exist and they would have been raised in obscurity.
The next sister, Anne, was married into the ambitious Howard family. She and Thomas Howard had no children, though Thomas would have them with his second wife. One of his sons managed to get them both thrown into the Tower for treason near the end of Henry VIII’s life. Thomas survived only because Henry died before he could sign his death warrant.
The fourth daughter of Edward IV was named Catherine. She married William Courtenay and founded a family famous for treason. William was held in the Tower for years during the reign of Henry VII. He was released by Henry VIII, only to die shortly after having his title restored. Their son, Henry Courtenay, was executed as part of the Exeter Conspiracy debacle. His son, Edward Courtenay, was released from the Tower, where he had been since his father’s execution almost fifteen years earlier, by Queen Mary upon her accession. He died a few years later under mysterious circumstances after attempting to get either of the Tudor sisters to marry him.
The lines of Edward IV, besides those already on the throne, had been effectively pruned. That left the children of his siblings, the descendants of Richard, duke of York, who had been the spark that inflamed the Wars of the Roses.
Edward’s brother George had been executed for treason – yes, by order of his own brother. But he left two children behind. One, Edward of Warwick, was executed by Henry VII in order to remove any threat to the Tudor crown and clear the way for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon. George had also left a daughter, Margaret. The remaining York brothers had not left surviving children.
Margaret was not seen to be as much of a threat as her brother was. She was married to Sir Richard Pole, a loyal follower of the new Tudor king. She lived her life quietly enough and became trusted enough to serve Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon, and Princess Mary, until her sons were old enough to be seen as threats. Of four sons, two would especially trouble Henry VIII. The oldest, another Henry, given the title Lord Montague, was also executed in the Exeter Conspiracy, and his young son was never again seen alive outside of the Tower. The other, Reginald Pole, became a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, so enraging Henry VIII with his writing against Henry’s divorces, marriages, and rupturing of the church, that Henry sent assassins after him. Yet, Reginald survived to serve Queen Mary when she struggled to return England to Catholicism.
Those to challenge the Tudor kings the most were the de la Pole brothers. These were the sons of Edward IV’s sister, Elizabeth, duchess of Suffolk. John de la Pole initially accepted Henry VII’s rule, but he betrayed him at Stoke Field where he died in battle in 1487. John would have known that Lambert Simnel was not truly Edward of Warwick, but whether he intended to take the crown for himself or give it to his young cousin is unknown.
With John dead, the torch passed to Edmund de la Pole, who, like his brother, initially appeared content with Tudor rule. Edmund took up his father’s title of duke of Suffolk in 1491, but Henry VII fined him so heavily to inherit his estates that he was impoverished and reduced to an earl. Determined to see his family better placed, Edmund fled to the Continent where he gained the support of Maximilian of Burgundy, whose court had long been the destination of Yorkists in exile. He took his younger brother, Richard, with him.
Edmund was traded back to Henry VII by Philip of Burgundy, ending any hope this de la Pole brother may have had. That left Richard de la Pole at the head of the White Rose faction, but he seemed less than eager to press him claim. Richard enjoyed success as a military commander for the French. By 1513, Henry VIII was threatened enough by Richard’s claim and impressive deeds that he brought Edmund out of his Tower cell and had him executed.
Richard was given support for an invasion, but seemed to prefer the life he had over his chances in England. He died in the Battle of Pavia in 1525, ending the de la Pole claim to the Tudor throne. The White Rose that had flourished so brilliantly had been pruned out of existence.
Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward
Margaret Pole: Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 by Hazel Pierce
Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
About the Author:
Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet dynasty. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognized as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice. It is a Monthly Kindle Deal right now at Amazon UK for only 99p!
The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole, which is on sale right now in the US and UK for $1.99/£1.99. The trilogy will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.
When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.