Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simnel, Lambert

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SIMNEL, LAMBERT (fl. 1487–1525), impostor, was probably born about 1475, the birth-date of Edward, earl of Warwick (1475–1499) [q. v.], whom he personated; his age in 1487 is variously given as ten years (Rolls of Parl. vi. 397) and fifteen (Bacon). It has been suggested (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 390, 506, iv. 212) that Simnel was a nickname given him, from the trade of his father, a baker (‘Simenel’ or ‘Simnel’ = a small cake, cf. Skeat, Etymol. Dict.), but the official account (Rolls of Parl. l. c.) described him in 1487 as ‘oone Lambert Symnell, a child of ten yere of age, sonne to Thomas Symnell, late of Oxforde, joynour.’ In his letter to the pope on 5 July 1487 Henry VII merely calls him ‘quemdam puerum de illegitimo thoro natum’ (Letters and Papers of Henry VII, i. 95, 383). Other authorities represent his father as an organ-builder (Lansd. MS. 159, f. 6) and shoemaker, and the discrepancy between the various accounts suggests that the government and the chroniclers alike were ignorant of his real origin.

According to Polydore Vergil (Hist. Angl. 1555, pp. 569–74), from whom all other accounts are derived, Lambert was ‘a comely youth, and well favoured, not without some extraordinary dignity and grace of aspect,’ and one Richard Simon, an ambitious and unscrupulous priest, conceived the idea of passing him off as one of the princes believed to have been murdered by Richard III in the Tower, and thereby securing an archbishopric for himself. It is highly probable, however, that the Yorkist leaders, Francis, viscount Lovell [q. v.], John De la Pole, earl of Lincoln [q. v.], and perhaps the queen dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, were in the secret. Simon took Lambert to Oxford to educate him for the part; but late in 1486, on a report that Clarence's son, the Earl of Warwick, had escaped from the Tower, Simon changed his plan and took his pupil to Ireland, the stronghold of the Yorkist cause. There he declared Lambert to be Clarence's son, whose life he had saved. Gerald Fitzgerald, eighth earl of Kildare [q. v.], was persuaded of the genuineness of his claims, and Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, the lord chancellor, and Walter Fitzsimons, archbishop of Dublin, followed by most of the prelates and officials, declared in his favour. Their only opponent was Octavian de Palatio, archbishop of Armagh. Negotiations were at once opened with the Yorkist adherents in England and abroad. Margaret of Burgundy recognised Lambert as her nephew, and the contemporary Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet throughout speaks of him as Earl of Warwick (Chroniques, ed. 1828, iii. 151–6). Lovell, then an exile at the Burgundian court, crossed to Ireland, while Margaret herself persuaded her son-in-law Maximilian, king of the Romans, to despatch to the impostor's aid fifteen hundred German mercenaries under Martin Schwartz [q. v.], who landed in Ireland on 5 May.

Meanwhile Henry VII, on 2 Feb. 1486–7, held a council at Sheen, where he determined to confine the queen dowager in a nunnery. He then caused the real Earl of Warwick to be paraded through the streets of London. These proceedings produced no effect in Ireland, and the Earl of Lincoln, who is said to have conversed with the Earl of Warwick on his one day of liberty, went at once to Ireland to maintain the claims of his counterfeit. On 24 May, Whit Sunday, Lambert was crowned in the cathedral at Dublin as Edward VI, John Payne (d. 1506) [q. v.], bishop of Meath, preaching the sermon. Coin was struck and proclamations issued in his name. On 4 June Simon, Lambert, and his supporters crossed to England, landing near Furness in Lancashire, where they were joined by Sir Thomas Broughton and other Yorkists. Marching through Yorkshire, they met the royal forces at Stoke, near Newark, on 16 June. The ensuing battle was stubbornly contested for three hours, mainly owing to the valour of Schwartz and his Germans. Simon and Lambert were both taken prisoners; the former was imprisoned for life, while the latter was contemptuously pardoned, and, according to Polydore Vergil, employed as a scullion in the royal kitchen, and then as a falconer. Subsequently he appears to have been transferred to the service of Sir Thomas Lovell [q. v.], and he is no doubt the ‘Lambert Symnell, yeoman,’ who attended Lovell's funeral in May 1525 (‘Expenses of the Funeral of Sir Thomas Lovell,’ Addit. MS. 12462 f. 10 a). Vergil, whose work was completed in 1534, speaks of him as still living at the time he wrote. The Richard Symnell who was canon of St. Osith's, Essex, on its surrender in 1539 (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xv. 342), was perhaps Lambert's son. No other bearer of the name has been traced.

[The only contemporary references to Lambert appear in the Rolls of Parl. vi. 397, 436, in Henry's letter to Innocent VIII (5 July 1487; printed in Gairdner's Letters and Papers of Henry VII, i. 95), in Innocent's bull (printed in Wilkins's Concilia, iii. 622, and Rymer, xii. 332), in Andrea's Historia, p. 49, and in Jean Molinet's Chroniques, ed. 1828, iii. 151–6. These were all written after his defeat, and Polydore Vergil, from whom the later chroniclers, Hall, Stow, Grafton, Bacon, and others derived their account, was in the service of Henry VII, and would naturally give the official view, whether true or not. But no serious historian has doubted that Lambert was an impostor; even Horace Walpole, in his Historic Doubts, describes his imposture as ‘admitted.’ Asgill's Pretender's Declaration, with some Memoirs of Two Chevaliers St. George, in the Reign of Henry VII, 1713 (2nd edit. 1715), and The History of the Two Impostors, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, by W. S., 1745, are historically worthless. See also Lansd. MS. 159, f. 6; Book of Howth, pp. 188–90; Leland's Collectanea, iv. 208–15; Ware's Annals of Ireland; Gilbert's Viceroys, pp. 425–433; Nouvelle Biogr. Générale; Bagwell's Ire- land under the Tudors; Gairdner's Henry VII (Twelve English Statesmen Series); and Busch's England under the Tudors, i. 34–7, 326, which gives the best modern account.]

A. F. P.