The 'Exeter Conspiracy' of 1538: The Extermination of the White Rose

In 1538, believing his kingdom to be under threat, Henry VIII brutally settled scores dating back to the dynastic conflicts of the 15th century, as Desmond Seward explains.

By the late 1530s Henry VIII’s insecurity verged on paranoia, despite the fact that Richard de la Pole, the last man to challenge him openly for the throne, had been dead for ten years. Possible brain damage after a fall in a tournament and the rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace contributed to Henry’s malaise; while the birth of a son made him fear that, should he die, the boy might vanish like Edward V. He saw enemies everywhere. ‘The king told me a long time ago he wants to exterminate the House of Montague that belongs to the White Rose, the Pole family, of which the cardinal is a member’, the French envoy reported. ‘So far I don’t know what he means to do about the Marquess [of Exeter, Henry Courtenay]’, he added. ‘It looks as if he is searching for any excuse he can find to destroy them.’

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