An Heir’s Breath Away

Richard de la Pole, also known by his moniker the White Rose, was a Yorkist claimant to the English throne and a definite thorn in the side of Henry VIII.

Richard de la Pole

His claim to the crown was more valid than that of Henry VII’s, since (unlike the Tudors) the de la Poles were descended from a legitimate Plantagenet union. His maternal grandfather was Richard of York, who was the great-grandson of Edward III the father of Edward IV and Richard III. In fact, de la Pole’s eldest brother had been Richard III’s heir until the last Plantagenet king had been killed at Bosworth Field.

Although few people really remember him, Richard de la Pole was a serious danger to the Tudor monarchy. Henry was so worried by the de la Pole family’s connections to the crown that he had  Richard’s brother Edmund summarily beheaded in 1513. Richard’s other brother, William, wasn’t executed … but he was held prisoner in the Tower of London for thirty seven years and there is no telling if his death in 1539 was natural or done under the king’s covert orders.

Henry was right to be nervous about the threat the de la Poles posed to his throne; the White Rose had the backing of the French and thus the possible means of overthrowing the king with military force. The Yorkist scion came within a whisker of invading England from Brittany in 1514, and had plans for an invasion in 1523. It is little wonder that when Henry heard of the White’s Rose’s death at the hands of Charles V’s troops in the Battle of Pavia, the king ordered the Te Deum sung in churches throughout the land as a sign of his profound thanksgiving.

The existence of the de la Poles, as well as other men as legitimately able to declare that they had the right to rule the kingdom, shines a softer light on Henry’s yearning for a male heir of his own. The Tudor throne was shakier than we tend to think of it as having been.

Richard’s father was, ironically, the first husband of Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. If the betrothal between John de la Pole and Margaret Beaufort had not been voided, would there have been a Richard IV?

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