If you read history—as I do for the stories—it is more often than not populated by big people, kings, queens, generals, senators and presidents. Such people do alter history, sometimes for the better, or worse. But embedded in such tales are countless—if only passing—references to others, small folk.
Such is the story of Lambert Simnel, as told in The Player King, my most recent book.
I am not certain how I became interested in King Richard III, (1452-1485) of England. Shakespeare’s play, perhaps. Maybe Laurence Olivier’s fine film version of the play. Or was it my librarian colleague, who always wore a white boar lapel button, the white boar being King Richard’s insignia? This librarian was a passionate defender of King Richard III, five hundred years after his death. Why?
I went on to read Josephine Tey’s smart detective novel (1951) Daughter of Time, in which a modern detective tries to solve the many mysteries of Richard III’s life and death.
Moving on, I read other books about the time, including some about Richard III’s conqueror, Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty.
Henry VII—known as “The Winter King”—was a usurper, his crown constantly challenged. One of those who challenged him early on was a boy named Lambert Simnel—if that truly was his name.
Read the histories of the time, and he is barely mentioned. Indeed, just last week I saw a documentary about Henry VII and Lambert was not even cited. But Lambert—a boy—was crowned King of England (in Dublin, Ireland) and led a large invasion army into England, only to be defeated at the Battle Of Trent, the last battle of the War of the Roses. I noticed Lambert in a footnote.
Very little is known about Lambert Simnel. Where did he come from? How did he come to be crowned king? What happened to him after the battle? Certain facts are known—he did exist—but the boy…. Just who was he? What did he think of all that happened to him?
That’s what I have tried to write in The Player King. Strictly speaking, the title should have been The Player Kings. There is more than one false king in the book.
The challenge was to write about something which is well known—except the central player, the player king—the boy known as Lambert Simnel.
The truth is, foot notes are the foot soldiers of history.