Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Defying Henry VIII: Richard de la Pole

It took a lot of nerve to defy King Henry VIII, but the remaining sons of York gave him a run for his money. While Reginald Pole stood up to Henry through intellect and the written word, Richard de la Pole was a soldier worthy to become the ideal sixteenth century king.

Like the Poles, the de la Poles were also cousins to the Tudors. Richard's mother was Edward IV's sister, Elizabeth, and his brother, John, is believed to been named heir of their uncle, Richard III, after his son's death. John de la Pole died in the Battle of Stoke in 1487, an unsuccessful attempt to remove Henry VII from the throne of England. He was survived by three brothers carrying equal amounts of royal blood: Edmund, Richard, and William.

Edmund was the next oldest after John, so he inherited his title, though Henry VII reduced him from duke to Earl of Suffolk. Edmund was betrayed by his Burgundian allies in 1506 and was imprisoned in the Tower of London until executed by Henry VIII in 1513. William was imprisoned alongside him, but lived there until he died in 1539. Richard, however, remained on the Continent. It was his alliance with the French that brought the English king's wrath down on his brother. With Richard out of reach, Edmund was sacrificed to Henry VIII's lust for blood.

Richard de la Pole
Richard learned from the older brothers' failures and worked to build a name for himself in Europe before attempting to gain allies and build an army that could invade England. After all, if John, already in England and with the support of Yorkists relatively close to Henry Tudor's rise, had failed, what hope did Richard have of a successful invasion a quarter of a century later? Edmund had depended upon the support of European leaders and had been turned over to Henry, leaving his remaining followers living in squalor.

The younger de la Pole brother was clever and patient, seeing that leaders of Europe might recognize him as a challenger to the English king but not back it up with cold, hard cash in support. He claimed the family title of Duke of Suffolk and became known as White Rose, although he had not set foot in England since years before Henry VIII became king. Richard wanted to succeed where his brothers had failed, and to do so he would need to convince people that he was a risk worth taking. Those searching for someone to challenge the Tudor tyrant found their man in the shrewd and capable Richard de la Pole.

King Louis XII recognized both Richard's talent as a soldier and the opportunity to rid himself of the Tudor king. He awarded Richard with a pension and large French force to command, making Richard an obvious threat to Henry VIII. Plans to invade England were considered multiple times, but Richard never felt that his chances of success were worth the risk.

Henry attempted to delegitimize Richard's claim by making his friend, Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk in 1514, taking away the de la Pole's ancestral title and giving it to an upstart. In response, Richard accumulated troops and ships with the help of the French king and prepared for invasion. Before it could commence, Henry and Louis made peace, and Richard was sent to Lorraine.

Francis I became king of France in 1515. In the meantime, Richard had grown comfortable in Metz where he was treated like a prince, even sometimes referred to as Richard IV, without having to go through the trouble of attacking England. As he would in later decades with Reginald Pole, Henry sent assassins after Richard de la Pole. They were no more successful than was Henry himself on the field against the French. Henry's actions sent more support Richard's way without any effort on his own part. Francis vowed to assist Richard in claiming the English throne.

Battle of Pavia by Bernard van Orley
Richard evaded assassins as he raised troops and conspired with Francis. Rumors occasionally hounded Henry that Richard would soon attack. In 1522, France and England were again at war. However, a more opportune time to claim England's throne never arrived. Richard discarded plans made with Francis I and the Duke of Albany to invade England in 1523. Instead, he was serving Francis when he was killed at the Battle of Pavia in 1525.

Don't miss the rest of the Defying Henry VIII series!


  1. Nothing I read about Henry VIII ever makes me think better of him. Am intrigued by the fate of poor William, languishing in the Tower for 33 years. How terrible.

    1. I agree. Henry's popularity as a historical figure is interesting to me. People seem to love him for being a cruel tyrant.