Duke of Suffolk Arms
When HENRY VII overthrew RICHARD III and the house of YORK at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, many descendants of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, remained alive to challenge the house of TUDOR and its possession of the throne.
With continuance of their dynasty threatened by their own failure to produce healthy male heirs, Henry VII and his sole surviving son and successor Henry VIII executed many persons of Yorkist blood to eliminate any possibility of a Yorkist restoration. The most dangerous plots during Henry VII’s reign centered on impostors, such as Lambert SIMNEL and Perkin WARBECK, who claimed to be, but in fact were not, members of the house of York. The uncertainty over the fate of EDWARD V and his brother Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, the sons of EDWARD IV who disappeared in the TOWER OF LONDON in 1483, made such impostures particularly effective. After 1485, York’s last direct descendent in the male line was the duke’s grandson, Edward PLANTAGENET, earl of Warwick, the son of George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence. One of Henry VII’s first acts as king was to secure the person of Warwick and confine him in the Tower, where he remained until his execution for treason in 1499.
With Warwick imprisoned, the leading Yorkist heirs were the sons of Edward IV’s sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, John de la POLE, duke of Suffolk. The eldest, John de la POLE, earl of Lincoln, involved himself in the Simnel conspiracy and died at the Battle of STOKE in 1487. In 1499, Lincoln’s younger brother, Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, fled to CALAIS, where he remained for a time with Sir James TYRELL, the governor of one of the Calais fortresses. Suffolk returned to England shortly thereafter and was taken back into favor until 1501, when he and his brother Richard fled to the court of Maximilian I and tried to convince the emperor to fund an attempt on the English throne. Henry arrested a third de la Pole brother, William, and imprisoned him in the Tower, where he stayed until his death in 1539. In 1502, the king also took advantage of Suffolk’s connection with Tyrell to make the rise of any future Yorkist impostors more difficult. Tyrell was an ideal instrument for this purpose; a former servant of Richard III now awaiting execution for his involvement with Suffolk, Tyrell confessed to having murdered the sons of Edward IV in 1483 on Richard’s orders. With his own eldest son, Prince Arthur, having recently died, Henry VII wanted it made clear that the PRINCES IN THE TOWER were dead. Although the confession could be genuine, the circumstances and timing of Tyrell’s revelation cast doubt on the truth of its claims.
Suffolk, meanwhile, was unable to interest a continental monarch in his enterprise and remained safely in the Netherlands until 1506, when Duke Philip of BURGUNDY concluded a treaty with Henry VII that required the duke to cease supporting Henry’s enemies. Suffolk was duly surrendered to the English at Calais and remained in the Tower until 1513 when his brother was recognized as “Richard IV” by Louis XII of FRANCE, an act that prompted Henry VIII to execute Suffolk. Richard de la Pole later served as a soldier in Hungary and in France, and died in 1525 fighting for Francis I at the Battle of Pavia.
In the late 1530s, after the birth of his long awaited male heir, Henry VIII resumed the destruction of the house of York with a series of judicial murders. In 1538, he executed Henry Courtenay, marquis of Exeter, the son of Edward IV’s daughter Katherine, and, in 1541, he eliminated Warwick’s sixty-eight-year-old sister, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. The Countess’s eldest son, Henry Pole, Lord Montague, had also gone to the block in 1538. By his death in 1547, Henry VIII, himself a grandson of Edward IV, had almost fulfilled his openly avowed intention of extinguishing his Yorkist relatives.