The Beauforts get everywhere during the Wars of the Roses and Tudor history as well, so lets just get the Beaufort link out of the way at the start. Katherine Gordon’s grandma was supposed to be Joan Beaufort who was, of course, the daughter of John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset making John of Gaunt Joan’s granddad…possibly. History being what it is there are other sources, including the coat of arms above Katherine’s monument in Swansea, which identifies clearly in her coat of arms that her mother was actually the third wife of George Gordon, Elizabeth Hay. This removes the Beauforts from the picture entirely but who am I to interrupt a good story not that Lady Katherine Gordon’s story needs spicing up.
Lady Katherine Gordon met Richard,‘Duke of York‘ in 1495, pictured at the start of this post, when he arrived in Scotland having decamped from Ireland where he’d failed to convince the citizens of Waterford of his identity. He’d spent years wandering around Europe garnering support from crowned heads who wanted to irritate Henry VII.
The Duke, who I shall refer to from now on as Warbeck because that’s the name history knows him by (nor am I delving into the depths to investigate whether he might have been the youngest of the two Princes in the Tower), was welcomed with full honours as a prince by King James IV to Stirling Castle.
Apparently Warbeck’s marriage to the beautiful Lady Katherine in January 1496 was a love match but it also meant that James was able to demonstrate to Henry Tudor that he was serous in his support for Warbeck because he’d given him the hand of his cousin. James’ support extended to a raid on behalf of Warbeck. Unfortunately the attack on England only lasted three days on account of the fact that the people of Northumberland did not rise up in support of the so-called Duke of York. After that Warbeck and, sadly for her, his wife began to wear out their welcome at the Scottish court.
The little family; Warbeck, Lady Katherine and their son Richard boarded a boat at Ayr and headed to Ireland where Warbeck met with resounding indifference. He decided to try his luck in Cornwall where the locals were up in arms about Henry VII’s taxes.
When Warbeck invaded Cornwall and marched north to Bodmin and from there to Exeter Lady Katherine initially remained at St Michael’s Mount. As it became apparent that their venture was unlikely to succeed Warbeck moved his wife to St Buryan which was rather bleak but had the benefits of sanctuary.
After Warbeck’s 3000 men had finally melted away and he’d been taken captive Henry VII sent for Katherine. On the morning of October 7th 1497 the Earl of Shrewsbury arrived at St Buryan to find her in mourning. Historians think that she had lost a second child, brother to young Richard who was alive at this time. Henry VII provided her with a complete travelling outfit of black. She travelled slowly to Exeter and from there to Sheen. Polydore Vergil notes that Henry fell in love with Lady Katherine Gordon – how his wife felt about that is not recorded.
Andre’s account of the meeting between Henry, Warbeck and Lady Katherine Gordon spells out that Katherine was to be regarded as the victim of an abduction or rape on account of the deception that had been perpetrated. In Andre’s account Katherine reviles Warbeck and turns to Henry VII as the personification of kingly heroism. From that time on she is referred to as Lady Katherine Huntly. She reverted once more in official documents to being her father’s daughter yet there was no divorce and assorted ambassadors reported that the couple remained a couple even though they were not permitted to cohabit. No doubt Henry had no desire for more little Warbecks to muddy the waters of his security, not to mention his knightly passion for the fair Lady Katherine.
Katherine was sent to live with Elizabeth of York – how strange a meeting that must have been. She was after all married to the man who had claimed to be Elizabeth’s brother. No public or recorded meeting ever took place between Elizabeth and Warbeck. As for Katherine she was descended from kings and held a high place at court. It must have been an odd half-life for Lady Katherine who must also have been mourning her son Richard who came to London with her but who disappears very quickly after that into obscurity. Wroe records that a family on the Gower claim descent from one Richard Perkins, son of Perkin Warbeck. Co-incidentally when Katherine lived in Wales with her third husband she lived eight miles from Reynoldston where it is just possible that her son grew up.
On 23 Nov 1499 Lady Katherine was made a widow when Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn. He’d been convicted of plotting with Edward, Earl of Warwick to burn down the Tower, flee to Flanders and set Warwick up as a claimant to the throne. Katherine continued to live in England. She was no longer a prisoner. Henry not known for his generosity paid for her wardrobe and made her several presents over the years. She was the chief mourner at Elizabeth of York’s funeral in 1503. Henry VIII granted her lands in Berkshire which had once been owned by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln on the proviso she didn’t travel abroad without royal licence. She remained at court. In Scotland the chronicler Adam Bell speculated that Katherine was married to Henry. The reality as Wroe considers must have been much more complicated. In 1510 she became an English citizen.
Katherine married several times although she remained a widow for eleven years after Warbeck’s death. There was James Strangeways; Matthew Craddock – a Welshman so licence had to be granted for her to travel to Wales; finally there was Christopher Ashton. She died in 1537 and is buried in Fyfield Church.
Many of Perkin Warbeck’s confessions survive. It was after all in Henry VII’s best interest that they should exist and evidence suggests that he kept picking at the story of the pretender like a scab that wouldn’t heal. The problem was that he could find no reference to Warbeck before the age of nine. Much more poignant is Perkin’s letter to Lady Katherine:
“Most noble lady, it is not without reason that all turn their eyes to you; that all admire love and obey you. For they see your two-fold virtues by which you are so much distinguished above all other mortals. Whilst on the one hand, they admire your riches and immutable prosperity, which secure to you the nobility of your lineage and the loftiness of your rank, they are, on the other hand, struck by your rather divine than human beauty, and believe that you are not born in our days but descended from Heaven.
All look at your face so bright and serene that it gives splendour to the cloudy sky; all look at your eyes so brilliant as stars which make all pain to be forgotten, and turn despair into delight; all look at your neck which outshines pearls; all look at your fine forehead. Your purple light of youth, your fair hair; in one word at the splendid perfection of your person:—and looking at they cannot choose but admire you; admiring they cannot choose love but you; loving they cannot choose but obey you.
I shall, perhaps, be the happiest of all your admirers, and the happiest man on earth, since I have reason to hope you will think me worthy of your love. If I represent to my mind all your perfections, I am not only compelled to love, to adore and to worship you, but love makes me your slave. Whether I was waking or sleeping I cannot find rest or happiness except in your affection. All my hopes rest in you, and in you alone.
Most noble lady, my soul, look mercifully down upon me your slave, who has ever been devoted to you from the first hour he saw you, Love is not an earthly thing, it is heaven born. Do not think it below yourself to obey love’s dictates. Not only kings, but also gods and goddesses have bent their necks beneath its yoke.
I beseech you most noble lady to accept for ever one who in all things will cheerfully do as your will as long as his days shall last. Farewell, my soul and consolation. You, the brightest ornament in Scotland, farewell, farewell.”
Wroe, Ann. (2003). Perkin A Story of Deception London: Jonathan Cape