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Story Behind the Story #67:
The Player King, Part One

The Player KingWhen one reads history, one learns about big events and important people, such as the American Revolution, or, say, Napoleon. But if you read the footnotes in those histories you can learn about the individuals who lived in those historical moments. You learn about British prison ships in New York City, where more people died by maltreatment than on the revolutionary battlefields. (Sophia’s War) Or you learn about a tiny skirmish that changed people’s lives (The Fighting Ground). And you learn about a mystery boy in the 15th century who, briefly, became King of England.

It actually happened.

I’m not sure when I came upon this curious—but true—story. It was any number of years ago, but it stuck in my mind.  From time to time I’d do a little research.  There was not much to learn.

The boy, Lambert Simnel—if that was really his name—came out of nowhere, and was put forward by powerful nobles to claim the throne of England—then in possession of King Henry the 7th. Henry had recently taken power after killing King Richard the 3rd. Henry 7 was father to Henry 8, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth.

There is no doubt Lambert really existed, and was crowned king (in Ireland) and led a large army against Henry 7th. At that battle—the Battle of Trent—his army was defeated and he was taken prisoner.

Just how he came to be chosen in the first place is uncertain. One notion is that he looked like the Earl of Warwick, who had (by the standards of the day) a claim on the crown. But the real Earl of Warwick was a prisoner in the Tower of London. What is known of Lambert was mostly written down by people loyal to Henry 7th, and the Tudor dynasty, which he founded. This means even the “known” facts are to be treated with suspicion. Still, there is no doubt, he was a real boy. It all happened.

It was claimed that Lambert was originally a kitchen boy. When he became Henry’s prisoner, he was put to work in a castle kitchen. Thus, he was a kitchen boy, became a king, and then again, a kitchen boy.

Or so it seems.

Because so little is known about Lambert, it was up to me to invent his thoughts, his words, his feelings, as he was swept along. How would a boy—from nowhere—feel about being chosen to become a king and even crowned? Did he want to go along with this plot?  Was he forced to do it?  What was it like for a boy of ten (or twelve) to lead an invasion army into England? As he was taught to be king-like, did he begin to believe he truly was a king? Did he know that his “friends” were really his enemies?  No one knows. I had to invent him. All of him. That said, virtually every character in the book is based on people who really existed.

My writing challenge was to make this story come to life in the person of Lambert, to make a true, but unbelievable story, seem true—if that makes any sense.

There are no footnotes in my novel. I just turned someone else’s footnote into a novel.

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