In 1487, the first big rebellion against Henry VII took place. Known to history as the "Lambert Simnel Rebellion", it was led mainly by Francis Lovell, Viscount Lovell, and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Though others were involved in organising the rebellion, these two men were generally seen as the instigators of it in contemporary sources, a point of view shared by most modern historians.

Though their most famous undertaking, the rebellion was not the first time the two men worked together. Their connection went back to their adolescence and childhood, respectively, and seems that have been a close and fruitful one.

The tomb effigies of John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Elizabeth Plantagenet, Duchess of Suffolk. (Courtesy of Deben Dave under Creative Commons, Lovell our Dogge, Amberley Publishing)

Lord Lovell was born in September 1456, the Earl of Lincoln probably at the end of 1461. Their paths would not cross, however, until summer 1471, when Lord Lovell`s wardship was granted to the Earl`s parents, John and Elizabeth de la Pole, Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Lovell was then not quite fifteen years of age, Lincoln some months away from his tenth birthday. Due to this age difference, it seems unlikely they would have already formed a connection at the time, but even so, they would have got to know each other and their families. Lovell stayed the Suffolks` ward until he came of age in 1477, and lived in their household for five years. It is probable that during that time, with Lovell growing up as Lincoln`s older foster brother, they started to become closer. However, while this is likely, it is but speculation; the first time we know of them actually working together happened only over a decade after they first met. This was not due to Lincoln`s youth, but rather because of Lovell`s apparent disinterest in becoming involved in national politics. In the late 1470s Lincoln began being active in the government by his uncle, Edward IV. Lovell was not given a part in the government, but all was to change when Edward died at the age of only forty in April 1483. A succession crisis followed his death, a power struggle between the relatives of the dowager queen Elizabeth and Edward`s younger brother Richard of Gloucester. Neither Lovell nor Lincoln seemed to be involved in this struggle.

Richard III, Francis’s cousin by marriage and closest friend. (Courtesy of the British Library, Lovell our Dogge, Amberley Publishing)

However, when Lincoln`s uncle Richard emerged victorious from this crisis and took the throne as Richard III, both were to profit. Both men were close to Richard, and both were favoured by him, though interestingly, neither of them was ever accused of supporting him for greed or gain, as most others of Richard`s supporters were in later years. After Richard III`s accession, Lovell`s and Lincoln`s names are found together in sources. Both stayed most of their time at court, both were trusted by the new king, which meant both of them were given an important part in his government. Both Lovell and Lincoln were involved in quelling the rebellion against Richard in autumn 1483, which both of them were richly rewarded for. However, though both of them became more important men under Richard, it is unlikely either of them ever expected the heights to which Lincoln would rise, unexpectedly, when Richard III`s only legitimate son, Lincoln`s cousin, Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484, leaving the king without an heir of the body. As the oldest son of Richard`s older sister, Lincoln was the next heir male to the Yorkist claim, and therefore became heir to the throne. Over the next few months, Richard acknowledged this by giving him several of the duties and positions usually reserved for the king`s heir.

Minster Lovell Hall, the manor in which Francis and his sisters were born, and in which he spent the first eight years of his life. As an adult, Francis had the manor renovated. (Courtesy of Hugh Llewelyn under Creative Commons, Lovell our Dogge, Amberley Publishing)

At around the time Lincoln would have begun informally taking over these duties, a foreign visitor to Richard`s court, Nicholas von Popplau, noted that as Richard`s personal friends and important men in his government, Lovell and Lincoln were expected to entertain visitors, and to sit together during banquets. Whatever their personal opinion of one another were, certainly they would have become used in that time to working together effectively.

Sadly for both of them, this was not to last. Famously, only a bit over a year after the death of his son, Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth, and his victorious opponent Henry Tudor took the throne as Henry VII. On the face of it, Lovell`s and Lincoln`s took different paths at that point. Lovell refused to accept Henry VII as king, and was attainted for this. Lincoln, on the other hand, chose to accept the new king and eventually months swore fealty to him. However, it seems that Lincoln`s decision was a feint. Though on the face of it loyal to the new king, when Lovell began a rebellion in early 1486, Lincoln was involved. When Lovell`s plans were betrayed to the king, it seems to have been Lincoln who send a warning to Lovell. Not only that, there is evidence he was actively involved in the rebellion. In 1487, a witness reported him meeting with rebels in York during Henry VII`s 1486 progress, while Lovell`s rebellion was still on-going, and openly stating his hope they would win. Despite this, Henry VII seemed unaware of Lincoln`s true loyalties, so that the earl could pass on further information to Lovell after his rebellion failed and he went into hiding. He could also save rebels from being executed, as Henry VII put him in charge of finding and trying rebels. Lincoln, unlike Lovell, seems to have succeeded well at hiding his true thoughts, and he was not suspected at any point, even after Henry VII received information that Lovell had left England for Burgundy. The dowager duchess of Burgundy, Margaret of York, was Richard III`s sister, and was prepared to help Lovell rebel again.

Middleham Castle, which was a central location in the Wars of the Roses. It belonged to Richard, Earl of Warwick in the 1460s, and later to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Francis lived in the keep from 1465 to 1469, under the Earl of Warwick’s tutelage. Since his own manor of Bedale was very nearby, it is likely Francis often visited Richard of Gloucester in Middleham Castle in the 1470s. (Courtesy of Amanda Slater under Creative Commons, Lovell our Dogge, Amberley Publishing)

Lincoln was still present on the first day of the meeting Henry VII called to discuss how to best react to the rebellion, then abruptly left court to join Margaret and Lord Lovell in Burgundy, doubtlessly bringing a lot of useful information about Henry`s plans to counteract the rebellion with him. Together with the help of Dowager Duchess Margaret, who spent the money they needed for mercenaries and other necessities, they planned their rebellion. Traditionally, it is claimed Lincoln brought a low-born pretender with him to pass off as Edward, Earl of Warwick, but this is almost certainly untrue, as it would mean that Henry VII`s government heard of this and who they intended to pass him off as, and reacted suitably to it within two weeks of Lincoln`s departure. Within only three months, Lovell, Lincoln and Dowager Duchess Margaret had organised their rebellion. The pretender, whoever he really was and whoever he said he was, was crowned in Dublin, in Lovell`s and Lincoln`s presence. A Parliament was held in his name, then his forces went to England, led by Lovell and Lincoln. It was Lincoln`s first military campaign, which might explain why the not very military minded but experienced Lord Lovell took over the fighting that happened immediately afterwards, while Lincoln tried to convince others to join their cause. However, their paths met again on 16 June, when their rebellion culminated in battle. It was their last undertaking together. The battle was lost for them, Lincoln died. Lovell survived, but his fate afterwards is unknown. It seems unlikely he did not long outlive the man who had, in turn, been his foster brother, fellow courtier and co-conspirator.

Michèle Schindler's book Lovell our Dogge is available for purchase now.