The following passage is from The Darlington and Stockton Times
“The rat, the cat and Lovel our dog,
Rule all England under a hog.”
“This seemingly innocuous verse was in fact a searing criticism of those in power at the time it was written in 1484, and was found pinned to the door of St Paul’s Cathedral and other prominent places all over London. The rat was King Richard III’s confidante, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, the cat was Speaker of the Commons William Catesby, and Lovel was Viscount Lovel, who had a reputation for being the king’s ‘lap dog’ or ‘yes man’. King Richard’s emblem was a white boar, hence the reference to a hog.
“The poet was ultimately unmasked and found to be wealthy landowner William Collingbourne, a fierce opponent of the king, and he paid a heavy price for writing those few words as he was put to death for treason.”
Oh well, yet another writer who doesn’t realise that it wasn’t the verse that got Colyngbourne executed, but the treasonous plotting in which he was involved!
Here is the truth. Colyngbourne set himself against Richard III from the outset. He seems to have been caught up in Buckingham’s rebellion, apparently in favour of Henry Tudor. Clearly the fellow preferred a Lancastrian with no claim at all to the throne, to a king who was legally and truly on the throne.
On 10 July, 1483 or 1484, Colyngbourne contacted Richard’s enemies, including Henry Tudor, “to declare unto them that they should very well to return into England with all such power as they might get before the feast of St Luke the Evangelist” (which was 18 October) and “to advise the French king, that negotiations with Richard were useless as the new King meant to make war on France.” He urged Tudor to invade and land at Poole. (Which Tudor did indeed try to do—unsuccessfully—during Buckingham’s Rebellion in October 1483).
Colyngbourne was certainly stirring up dangerous trouble against Richard. His motives aren’t really known. He could simply have been in a miff for having lost positions, including that of being steward of the Wiltshire lands of the king’s mother, the Duchess of York. This position went to Francis Lovell, which probably accounts for the latter’s inclusion in the infamous lampoon.
Whatever Colyngbourne’s reasons, he paid the price of communicating with and encouraging the exiled Henry Tudor to invade Richard’s realm and land at Poole. No king could let this pass without punishment, so Colyngbourne was arrested, tried, (rightly) found guilty and executed on Tower Hill.
Yet even today, writers repeat that it was the verse that cost him his duplicitous life. According to Tudor author Edward Hall, Colyngbourne was executed “for making a small rhyme”. This was a charge that was picked up on by later writers, until Charles Ross corrected it, saying that Hall had carefully suppressed “the fact that the real indictment against him was that he had been encouraging Henry Tudor to land at Poole”.
If I’d been Richard, I’d have condemned such a traitor as well!
Wikipedia gives a fair account of Colynbourne’s activities.