Lambert Simnel, The Baker’s Boy Who Pretended To Be A King by Talbot Baines Reed

Story type: Literature

A scene of unwonted excitement was being enacted in Dublin. The streets were thronged with people, the houses were gay with flags, soldiers lined the paths, and nobles in their grand carriages went by in procession. The common folk shouted till they were hoarse, and pressed forward on every hand towards the great church of the city, to witness the ceremony which was taking place there.

Whence was all this excitement? How came the Irish capital into such a state of festivity and holiday-making? The story is a short one and a strange.

Some weeks before, a man in the dress of a priest, accompanied by a good-looking boy, had landed in Dublin, and made his way to the residence of the governor of the place, with whom he sought an interview. On being admitted, he much astonished that nobleman by the tale he told.

It was well known that Richard the Third had during his lifetime shut up in prison the young Earl of Warwick, his nephew, whose title to the crown was better than his own. The cruel uncle, who seemed unable to endure the presence of any of those whom he had so basely robbed of their inheritance, had already, as is well known, murdered those other two nephews whose claims were most prominent and unmistakable. The young Earl of Warwick, however, was allowed to keep his life, but remained a close prisoner in a castle in Yorkshire.

When Henry the Seventh took the crown from Richard and became king, he was by no means disposed to liberate a prince who was clearly nearer to the throne than himself. So he had him removed from Yorkshire to the Tower of London, where he remained almost forgotten amid the bustle of coronation festivities of the new king.

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Now the story told by the priest was that this prince had succeeded in escaping from the Tower, and indeed was none other than the lad who now stood at his side, having made his way to Ireland in the company of his tutor and friend, to beg the aid of the Governor of Dublin in an effort to recover his lawful inheritance.

The Earl of Kildare (that was the governor’s name) looked in astonishment from one to the other, and bade them repeat their story, asking the boy many questions about his childhood and the companions of his youth, which the latter answered so glibly and unhesitatingly that the foolish governor was fully persuaded this was no other than the rightful King of England.

He caused the lad to be treated with all the honour due to royalty; he gave him a guard of soldiers, he showed him to the populace, who welcomed him with enthusiasm, and he set to work to organise an army which should follow to enforce his claim to the throne of England.

The boy took all this sudden glory in a half-bewildered manner, but adhered so correctly to his plausible story that none of those generous Irish folk doubted that he was any other than the disinherited prince he professed to be.

Had they only known that the youth about whom they were so enthusiastic was no better than a baker’s son, named Lambert Simnel, they might have been less pleased.

Well, in due time it was decided to crown the new king with all honour. And this was the occasion about which, as we have seen, Dublin was in such a state of festivity and holiday.

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The boy was conducted with great pomp to church, amid the shouts of the people, and there crowned with a diadem taken from a statue of the Virgin Mary. Afterwards, according to custom, he was borne on the shoulders of a huge Irish chieftain back to the castle, where he lived as a king for some time.

All this while the real Earl of Warwick was safe in the Tower, and now when the rumour of Lambert Simnel’s doings in Ireland reached King Henry, he had him brought out from his prison and exhibited in public, so that every one might be convinced of the imposture of the boy who set himself up to be the same person.

But though the people of England were thus kept from being deceived, as the Irish had been, there were a good many of them who heartily disliked King Henry, and were ready to join in any movement against him, irrespective of right or wrong. The consequence was, Lambert Simnel–or rather the people who instigated him in his falsehood–found they might count on a fair amount of support even from those who discredited their story; and this encouraged them to attempt an invasion of England, and venture their scheme on the field of battle. So, with a force of about 8,000 men, they landed in Lancashire. There is no need to tell the result of this expedition. After many disappointments occasioned by the reluctance of the people to join them, they encountered the king’s army near Newark, and after a desperate battle were defeated, and lost all their leaders. Lambert Simnel and the priest were taken prisoners, and for a time there was an end of this silly attempt to deceive the nation.

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In the following years of Henry’s reign, any one entering the royal kitchens might have observed a boy, meanly dressed, following his occupation as a turnspit; and that boy, had he felt disposed to give you his history, would have told you how once upon a time he was crowned a king, and lived in a palace, how nobles bowed the knee before him, and troops fought at his bidding. He would have told how people had hailed him as King Edward of England, and rushed along beside his carriage, eager to catch so much as a glance from his eye. And then he would go on to tell how all this was because designing men had put into his head foolish ambitions, and taught him to repeat a likely-looking story. And if one had questioned him further, doubtless he would have confessed that he was happier far now as a humble turnspit than ever he had been as a sham king, and would have warned one sadly that cheats never prosper, however successful they may seem for a time; and that contentment with one’s lot, humble though it be, brings with it rewards infinitely greater than riches or power wrongly acquired.

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