“The Mayor of Waterford's Letter”


The letter is addressed to the Archbishop of Dublin. It makes the argument for the legitimacy of Henry's claim and ridicules the claim of Lambert, now in the Tower of London. It critisizes the archbishop's silence and asks for reconciliation.

Long description

O thou most noble pastour, chosen by God, Walter, Archbishop of Dublin." The song hopes that the traditional closeness between the people of Dublin and Waterford, "now late broken of thy parte onely," be restored. It claims "that Henry vijth is king" by descent on his mother's side, like Christ, and other kings of England. It claims his marriage to Elizabeth [heir presumptive], "maried both by amiable accord" settles the matter. It recounts his claims, including "bull papall ... affirming theis titles." Of the opposition to Henry "if thow be cause for this perversitie ... We know it not; but certaine we can saie, Thou keepest silence, and said not once nay" The claim of Lambert, "now kept in the Tower of London," is ridiculed. "It is tyme for you to be reconciled ... Correct yourself." "Thinke not in us no malice."


Croker-PopularSongs: The texts of "The Mayor of Waterford's Letter" and "The Praise of Waterford" are included in "the collection of some laborious antiquary about the end of the reign of Elizabeth.... 'Ballad royal,' or rhyme royal, was the name given to the measure in which the ballads or songs about Waterford are written: each verse has seven ten-syllable lines with an a/b/a/b/b/c/c rhyme scheme.

"To the end of his reign Henry [VII] was troubled by Yorkist claimants to the throne and by pretenders... In the autumn of 1486 ... came disturbing news of a pretender, claiming to be the young Warwick, who, it was rumoured, had escaped from the Tower. Lambert Simnel, who had been carefully groomed for this impersonation ...." (Source: "The Tudors" by Neville Williams in _The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England_, ed. Antonia Fraser, University of California Press, 1995, p. 171)

Croker-PopularSongs quotes the prose introduction to "The Mayor of Waterford's Letter." It discusses Lambert, "a boy, an organ-maker's sonne, [who] was crowned at Dublin Kinge of England and Lord of Ireland, in the third yere of Henry the 7." The Mayor of Dublin, the governor Earl of Kildare, and Walter, Archbishop of Dublin, then Lord Chanceler of Ireland, were among Lambert's supporters. Among those loyal to Henry VII was the Mayor of Waterford. He sent messages to other mayors to support Henry. In the end "the counterfeit kinge, with his Erle tutor, Walter, Archbishop of Dublin, and many others, wer taken prisoners, and carried to the towr of London...." The Mayor of Warwicke sent a "metrical letter" to the Archbishop of Dublin on October 20, 1487. Croker says "it does not seem improbable that the mayor's metrical letter was sung before Sir Richard [Edgecombe], upon the occasion of his public entertainment by the city of Waterford." - BS

This immensely complex poem (I doubt it was ever a song) is an argument from history supporting the claims of King Henry VII. It is an argument worthy of a very fancy lawyer with a guilty client: There is a lot of stuff thrown out, most of it completely invalid. This is understandable, for the good and simple reason that Henry's only serious claim to the throne was right of conquest over Richard III (prior to his crowning, his highest title had been Earl of Richmond, and even that was a shadow title: He claimed it, but another was in possession of the Earldom).

Henry was descended from King Edward III (died 1377, more than a century before Henry took the throne in 1485), but it was through Edward's third son John of Gaunt, and the claim ran through the Beaufort family, children of a woman who was not even John's wife when they were born; they had been specifically excluded from the succession. What's more, Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort was still alive when Henry took the throne, so even if his claims were upheld, she, not he, should have been the monarch. (For background on all this, see "The Rose of England" [Child 166] and "The Vicar of Bray." The essential point is that Henry didn't have supporters because he had a claim to the throne; he had supporters because it is human nature to form factions and he was the only faction head left other than Richard III.) Little wonder, then, that he was troubled by pretenders!

But the song refers to events long before the time of Henry VII. Croker has some note on this, but there is a great deal more to be said.

"Henry [VII]... is king, by grace, of England and Fraunce, and lord of Ireland": King Edward III had claimed the title "King of France," and started the Hundred Years' War to back it up, and although England had lost all French soil except Calais by 1453 (an event which in fact helped provoke the Wars of the Roses and eventually led to Henry VII's taking the Kingdom), the English monarch continued to claim the title for centuries.

"Moses had... commandment, If a man died without issue male": The song links this to the "daughters of Sulphact in Numery 17." Croker correctly refers this to the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27 (also Numbers 26, 37, Joshua 17:3), and wonders about the chapter numbering in earlier Bibles. The easiest explanation is, of course, an error -- or maybe a combination of Numbers 27 with Joshua 17. In the Greek Old Testament, the chapter is still Numbers 27, though the man's name is Salpaad. It's chapter 27 in the Latin Bible also, but the name is "Salphaad," which isn't far from "Sulphact."

"King Henry the First... he passed his traunce without issue male." Henry I of England (reigned 1100-1135), the third and youngest son of William the Conqueror, had dozens of bastard children, but only two legitimate offspring who lived past infancy: Matilda (sometimes called Maud, as in the song) and William of the White Ship. William, his only legitimate son, died in 1120 in the wreck of the ship (see Christopher Brooke, _The Saxon and Norman Kings_, Fontana, 1963, p. 175). At this time, England had no law of primogeniture (until William the Conqueror, the Witan elected the new king, from the royal family of course, and William himself had been succeeded initially by his second son William II Rufus, and then by his third son Henry I, even though the Conqueror's eldest son Robert Curthose was still alive at the time both William Rufus and Henry succeeded. For that matter, William the Conqueror in his lifetime was called "William the Bastard," because he succeeded to the Duchy of Normandy despite being illegitimate). What's more, few thought a woman competent to rule. So when Henry died, there was much debate over the succession. Stephen, the son of William the Conqueror's daugher Adela, was the male heir closest to the conqueror (see Brooke's genealogy of the Norman kings, and Brooke, p. 39).

Stephen (who inherited the title Count of Blois, hence the description "Earle of Bloyes" in the song) proved an absolute disaster; he was too indecisive to rule, especially with many of his barons rallying to Matilda's cause. In theory, he reigned from 1135 to 1154, but there was civil war for much of that time, and in 1153, Matilda's son Henry of Anjou invaded. (The title Henry inherited from his father was Count of Anjou, hence the reference to his "Earldome of Angeoi" in the song.) A peace was patched up in which Henry became Stephen's heir (Brooke, p. 39); he was crowned Henry II in 1154, reigning until 1189. He was called "Fitz Empress" (son of the empress) because his mother Matilda had for a brief time been married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V (who, however, died in 1125, while she was still young. Matilda lived until 1167, so she was still alive when her son became King).

The statement that Henry's "issue raigned King of England... from sonne to sonne" shows this particular item to be a piece of propaganda. Henry was indeed succeeded by his son Richard I (reigned 1189-1199) -- but Richard had no sons (he was probably homosexual), and the throne then passed to Henry's youngest son John (reigned 1199-1216) rather than Henry's grandson Arthur, the child of the son between Richard and John in age. John was succeeded by his son Henry III (1216-1272) , and Henry by his son Edward I (1272-1307), Edward I by his son Edward II (1307-1327), Edward II by his son Edward III (1327-1377) -- but Edward III was succeeded by his grandson Richard II (1377-1399), who was deposed by his cousin Henry IV (1399-1413), who was the grandson of Edward III's third son John of Gaunt even though there were living descendents of Edward's second son Lionel, Duke of Clarence. Henry IV was succeeded by his son Henry V (1413-1422), and Henry V by his son Henry VI (1422-1461).

Henry VI was ineffectual and eventually went insane; his incapacity eventually caused the Wars of the Roses to break out. He was suceeded by Edward IV (1461-1483, minus a brief interruption due to a revolt in 1470-1471), who was the proper heir of Edward III via Lionel, but who -- far from being Henry VI's son -- was his third cousin twice removed. (To be fair, the song may simply be noting that Henry VI was descended from Henry II entirely in the male line, while Edward IV had two female links in the chain. But in fact Edward IV also had a link in direct male line to Edward III; we'll get to that, too.)

The song finally manages to cover Edward IV's descent, noting that Edward was descended from "Leonell" via "the Duke's daughter of Clarence." Lionel's daughter was indeed name Philippa; her son was Roger Mortimer, his daughter Anne Mortimer, her son Richard of York, and Richard's son was Edward IV.

The song draws from the examples of Henry, Stephen, and Edward IV the ironic conclusion that the "female In England shall succeed for fault of the male." This is by contrast to France, where the Salic Law was held to bar succession in the female line (not only were female ruling queens barred, but the royal title could not be transmitted through a woman; see Desmond Seward, _The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453_, Atheneum, 1982, though Seward describes the Salic Law as an after-the-fact discovery). However, these precedents are mostly meaningless, because Stephen and Henry II were elected kings, and Edward IV, while his claim to priority over Henry VI was based on descent from Lionel of Clarence in the female line, was also descended from Edward III's fourth son Edmund of York in the male line, and -- if you treated the Beauforts as illegitimate, as nearly everyone did -- was Henry VI's heir in the male line once Henry's son Edward was disposed of.)

The song then goes on to seemingly claim that Jesus was King of Jerusalem by female line. But there are two genealogies tracing the ancestry of Jesus back to David: One in Matthew 1, the other in Luke 3. These two genealogies cannot be reconciled, leading some to claim that one is a genealogy of Mary -- but this is simply balderdash; both link Jesus to David via Joseph, not Mary.

It is really, really interesting to note that the song eventually, in effect, gives up its claim on behalf of Henry VII, noting that Edward's title "is fallen to our soveraigne ladie, Queene Elizabeth, his [Edward IV's] eldest daughter liniall; To her is com all the whole monarchie." In other words, Elizabeth -- not "the" Elizabeth of a century later, but her grandmother -- is the woman with the real right to the throne. Which lies at the heart of Henry VI's kingship. Keep in mind that, as noted above, Henry's claim in his own right was pitifully weak.

The one thing Henry could do to bolster his claim was to marry into the real Royal Family. Which he did; he married Elizabeth. There was some slight doubt about Elizabeth's legitimacy (which is why Richard III had been able to seize the throne), but there wasn't really much doubt but that she was Edward IV's surviving heir. (And, since all of Henry's children were her offspring, and every monarch of England has been descended from that union, in fact every King of England since has been legitimate heir. It was only Henry VII who had a problem.)

The song goes one to note six supports to Henry's claim: first, "Gode's provision" (hard to prove either way); second, election by the Lords and Commons (meaningless, since parliament was always tossing the crown back and forth during this period); third, Elizabeth's claim to the throne (his single best argument, but it was an argument for her, not him); fourth, right of conquest; fifth, "the old Brittaine storie." Croker is not sure what this refers to; I think it refers to Henry's Welsh ancestry on his father's side; he claimed to be descended from Rhys ap Gruffyd of Deheubarth (see Mike Ashley, _British Kings and Queens_, 2000, originally published as _The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens_, 1998, p. 625), and before that to Cadwallader and maybe even King Arthur (Henry in fact named his oldest son Arthur to support this claim); and finally, Papal sanction (received in 1486, according to Ashley, p. 627 -- but that, again, was easily changed; in all likelihood, if someone overthrew Henry, that someone would quickly earn Papal sanction also).

Thus every one of Henry's claims to the throne cited in the song is rather weak. Everyone knew that Henry had usurped the throne, and had little strength of his own. Even after Bosworth, there were many people with clear prior claims -- a fact which, ironically, would help Henry, since it made it hard for the opposition to coalesce around a particular potential monarch.

Making everyone's problems worse was the matter of The Princes in the Tower (for details on this, see the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]). Edward IV had had two boys, Edward (briefly Edward V in 1483) and Richard, Duke of York. The elder was only twelve when Edward IV died, too young to rule (Edward IV had died while in his early forties), and Edward's brother Richard of Gloucester had convinced the leaders of the realm to set them aside (digging up a claim against their legitimacy to make it look legal).

Early in Richard's reign, the Princes vanished. Literally. Their fate is a complete mystery; we don't know when or how they died, though there seems little doubt that they did. There are some bones which some have thought are theirs -- but the British royal family has refused to dig them up to allow DNA testing. Odds are that the boys were killed by Richard (or, just possibly, by someone in his official family without him knowing about it), but it was done so secretly that, when the time came, Henry VII couldn't prove who did them in; it's even possible he killed them himself. (It seems pretty safe to say that, had they still been alive, Henry would have disposed of them.) But if Henry didn't know where they were, neither did anyone else. Hence the possibility of pretenders.

And all this was in the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses, in which the crown had changed hands seven times (though there were only five kings involved), and every reign had either begun or ended in blood. Henry came to the throne as a result of the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, where Richard III was killed in a death-or-glory charge. That was late enough in the year that there really wasn't time for another revolt in 1485. But early in 1486, Humphrey Stafford and Lord Lovell rebelled. This revolt was quickly suppressed. (See John Gillingham, _The Wars of the Roses_, Louisiana State University, 1981, p. 247.)

The Stafford revolt had quickly run into the Heir Problem caused by the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. To vastly oversimplify, there were four potential Yorkist heirs after Edward IV and Richard III died: The Princes in the Tower, if they were alive; Elizabeth of York, their older sister; the Earl of Warwick, who was the son of Edward and Richard's brother George of Clarence (who was born after Edward but before Richard); and the Earl of Lincoln, the son of Edward and Richard's oldest sister. The problem with the Princes was that they weren't available. Elizabeth was hardly a possible Yorkist heir since she was married to Henry. The Warwick claim was weak; he was alive and his location known (since he was in Henry's custody), but George of Clarence had been attainted and executed for rebelling against his brother Edward. (And, yes, he was guilty, and no, Richard III had nothing to do with the execution!) It was generally held that an act of attainder barred all heirs from the succession; in any case, it was reported -- we don't know how accurately -- that young Warwick was feeble-minded (see Paul Murray Kendall, _Richard the Third_, Norton, 1956, p. 349. Henry VII would eventually solve the Warwick problem by executing the boy.)

John, Earl of Lincoln was in many ways the best candidate -- he was an adult, male, known to be competent, undeniably legitimate, and with no acts of parliament against him. Richard III had in fact appointed him his heir (Kendall, p. 350) after flirting with the idea of Warwick. Unfortunately, Lincoln was also junior in the succession to the Princes, to Elizabeth, and to Warwick, assuming their disabilities were eliminated.

As it turned out, the Stafford rebellion threw its support behind Warwick -- but failed in part because they couldn't get their hands on him (see Desmond Seward, _The Wars of the Roses_, Penguin, 1995, p. 315).

The next attempt, in 1487, did better -- not least because it had, or pretended to have, the actual Warwick. This was the first of two significant imposters to arise against Henry: First Lambert Simnel, then Perkin Warbeck.

Lambert was apparently the creation of an Oxford priest named Richard Simons, who passed him off as Warwick (Gillingham, p. 248); Seward, p. 315, agrees with Croker's notes in calling him an organ-builder's son, from Oxford, and Alison Weir, _The Princes in the Tower_, Ballantine, 1992, p. 235, says he was born around 1475 -- the same year that Warwick was born and a bit more than a year after the birth of Richard of York. She notes, however, that she can find no records of a Simnel family in Oxford (or, indeed, anywhere in England at this time); she suspects that even Lambert's "real" name was a pseudonym. Weir, p. 232, says that the original plan was to have him portray Richard of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, but the decision to have him portray Warwick was made before Lambert had become well-known.

Henry VII answered by bringing out the real Warwick, but it didn't matter; Lambert was a cause to rally. He earned major support: John of Lincoln (who doubtless intended to use Lambert to get rid of Henry and then intended to take charge himself; Weir, p. 232); Gerald Fitzgerald, eighth Earl of Kildare, the of the family which produced most of the Deputy Lieutenants of Ireland (meaning in effect that he was the ruler of English Ireland -- which, to be sure, was by this time only a small strip on the east coast); and Margaret of Burgundy, another sister of Edward and Richard (Gillingham, p. 249).

It was a situation in which Ireland was unusually crucial in English affairs. The old Duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III and grandfather of the Princes in the Tower, had for a time been Lieutenant of Ireland -- and he was unique among Lieutenants in actually doing a good job and treating the Irish fairly; the Irish were firm supporters of the Yorkist dynasty. If Ireland supported a pretender, it meant big trouble for Henry VII; if Ireland rejected the pretender, Henry was probably safe.

And most of Ireland supported Lambert. The Archbishop of Dublin was actually responsible for crowning him "Edward VI" (Seward, p. 316). Hence this song.

Waterford had a strong tradition of loyalty to the crown (a loyalty which had earned it significant privileges), and it stayed loyal to Henry VII, trying to convince the Yorkist Archbishop to come back to the fold -- a not-very-successful quest, obviously. (In fact, it was in many ways a really dumb idea; after all, it was the Tudors who finally really conquered Ireland. And when Henry VIII turned England Protestant, Waterford stayed even more staunchly Catholic than the rest of Ireland, and suffered for it.)

The song argues that an English king could not be crowned in Ireland, but while Ireland had never produced a monarch, English kings *had* been crowned away from Westminster -- e.g. Henry III was crowned at Gloucester (Ashley, p. 531), and Edward IV, although formally crowned at Westminster, had made himself king well before that. Indeed, Henry VII had picked up Richard III's crown at Bosworth. Nor had the Archbishop of Canterbury always been responsible for the coronation; Aldred, Archbishop of York, had crowned William the Conqueror (see Eric Linklater, _The Conquest of England_, Doubleday, 1966, p. 225).

Lambert eventually sailed from Ireland to Lancashire and took an army south (Gillingham, p. 250). We know very little about the resulting Battle of Stoke (June 15, 1487), except that, in the end, Henry VII's forces won; Lincoln was killed and Lambert captured (Gillingham, p. 252). Henry, who rarely showed much evidence of humanity, in this case was merciful and sent Lambert to work in the kitchens (Gillingham, p. 253).

Stoke was the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, though hardly the end of opposition to Henry VII. The people of Northumberland murdered their earl Henry Percy for failing to support Richard III at Bosworth (Kendall, pp. 458-459; contrary to the lies Shakespeare told, Richard III was very popular in the north of England, where he had ruled a sort of palatinate in the final years of Edward IV's reign). Henry VII himself executed Sir William Stanley, the man who had won the Battle of Bosworth for him by killing Richard III! (Kendrick, p. 457; Weir, p 236). He even went so far as to seize the property of his mother-in-law Elizabeth Woodville (Weir, pp. 232-233, who notes the strangeness of the idea of Elizabeth plotting against her own daughter, while noting a theory that she believed Henry VII, not Richard III, had killed her sons. But Weir thinks, and I tend to agree, that Elizabeth did not plot against Henry; Henry degraded her just to get his hands on her money).

And then there came Pretender #2, Perkin Warbeck, who (after some indecision about which member of the Yorkist dynasty to impersonate) decided that he was Richard of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower. He proclaimed himself in 1491, and managed to get the support of Margaret of Burgundy and others. But by this time, Henry had quite a spy network built; Perkin aroused a lot of interest, but never managed to mount a real invasion; he landed in Cornwall with a few hundred men (Weir, p. 238), but ended up in Henry's custody, tried to escape, and was executed in 1499 (Seward, pp. 320-323). Warwick was executed soon after (Weir, p. 239). Presumably that was after this piece was written; for the story of Warbeck, see "The Praise of Waterford." - RBW

Historical references

  • 1485-1509: Reign of Henry VII (associated with Elizabeth of York until her death in 1503)
  • 1487 - Battle of Stoke. Defeat of the forces supporting Lambert Simbel

Cross references


  1. Croker-PopularSongs, pp. 293-312, "The Mayor of Waterford's Letter" (1 text)
  2. ADDITIONAL: Thomas Kinsella, _The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse_ (Oxford, 1989), pp. 130-131, "A Letter Sent by the Mayor and Inhabitants of Waterford unto Walter, archbishop of the Citie of Dublin, the Mayor and Citizens of the same, in the time of their Rebellion" (1 text, excerpted from Croker)
  3. BI, CrPS293


Author: John Butler (Mayor of Waterford), James Rice, Wm Lyncolle (source: manuscript quoted by Croker-PopularSongs)
Earliest date: 1487 (quoted in Dr Smith's _History of Waterford_, according to Croker-PopularSongs)