Who was Perkin Warbeck?

 

ch23_WarbekOfficial record, complete with supporting evidence, states that Warbeck was a pretender to the English throne, the son of a customs‘ officer from Tournai in Belgium who was taken up by Yorkists when his resemblance to the younger of the missing princes in the Tower, Richard Duke of York, was noticed during a visit to Ireland.

 

He was the apprentice of Pregent Meno, a Breton merchant and when he arrived in Cork in 1491 his princely looks and manners were spotted whilst modeling the silks that his master was selling.

Perkin’s first stop in Europe in 1491 was at the court of Margaret of Burgundy where the aunt of the princes in the Tower recognized Perkin as her younger nephew. She claimed to recognize him from his knowledge of life in the Royal Household and from birthmarks. Perkin said that he should have been murdered but that the would be killer took pity on him.  Whether she believed that Perkin was Richard is another matter entirely. The ‘diabolic duchess’ as the Tudor chroniclers labeled her offered sanctuary to erstwhile Yorkists and funded a variety of pretenders to the crown. So depending on the version of history you wish to believe she was either an aunt grateful for the return of her lost nephew or a hater of Henry VII grooming young Perkin for the role of a lifetime.

 

Perkin became a royal pain in Henry VII’s neck with a grand tour of Europe including a visit to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor and King James IV of Scotland touting for support.  All of Henry VII’s treaties include a clause whereby the other country agrees not to support Yorkist claimants to the throne.  Perkin’s journey around Europe culminated in a disastrous invasion of England via Ireland when he’d worn out his welcome at the court of James IV of Scotland in 1497.

There was little in the way of a popular uprising.  Warbeck was forced to take sanctuary in Beaulieu Abbey and then to surrender.  For a year Henry VII treated Warbeck almost like a guest, although he did have to sleep in Henry’s wardrobe ( a whole room rather than a cupboard)  when the court was travelling and nearly burned to death on one occasion in an accidental fire.

Then in June 1498 Warbeck attempted to escape to claim sanctuary in Sheen.  His freedom didn’t last long.  He was put in the stocks at Westminster and Cheapside.  From there he was sent to the Tower.  Early in 1499 another pretender sprouted and the Spanish refused to send Catherine of Aragon to England until all Yorkist would-be kings were removed from the equation.

Edward, earl of Warwick (son of George duke of Clarence- the one who drowned in a vat of Malmsey) and Warbeck were placed in adjoining rooms.  Their gaoler was an ex-rebel.  Before long both Warbeck and Warwick were plotting to burn down the Tower, to escape abroad and to set Warwick up as a Yorkist king.  Unsurprisingly, they were both found guilty of treason and executed.  Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn whilst Warwick had his head chopped off – a reminder that Warbeck was a common man rather than a prince.

 

So who was Perkin?

There are a number of theories:

  1. Richard, Duke of York Given the existing primary evidence it is unlikely that Perkin was Richard, Duke of York. Ian Arthurson’s text looks at Perkin’s impact upon Henry VII as well as evaluating the evidence.  Having said that there’s sufficient circumstantial evidence not to entirely dismiss the idea out of hand.
  • Elizabeth of York never met with Perkin Warbeck in public. If he was an imposter surely there would have been no risk in this?
  • Warbeck demonstrated such musicality that Henry VII’s court musician was jealous. The real Richard of York was noted for his musical skills as a child.
  • Even Polydore Vergil, Henry VII’s official historian acknowledged that popular rumour said that the princes had been spirited away to a ‘secret land.’
  • Would King James IV of Scotland really have allowed his cousin Katherine Gordon to marry someone he believed to be a pretender or unknown provenance?

 

2.    Perkin Warbeck was the son of a Tournai Customs official

Perkin’s confession of 5th October 1497 confirmed that he was the son of John de Werbecque and his wife, Katherine de Faro. Henry spent rather a lot of time and money finding out every last dreg of information about Warbeck. The existence of the Werbecques can be confirmed in the Tournai archives.

  • Henry himself was never satisfied with the evidence. He kept picking at the information as recorded by the sums of money paid out and recorded in his accounts books.
  • One of the difficulties was that Henry could never find out anything about Perkin’s childhood below the age of nine.
  • Warbeck’s confession was made and recorded with Henry VII in a position of power over Warbeck’s life. Henry needed a ‘feigned lad’ not the rightful heir to the throne.

3.    Historians have hypothesised that Warbeck was the illegitimate son of Edward IV. There is no evidence for this other than the fact that Edward IV had many mistresses and one night stands as well as several illegitimate children including Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle who served as a cupbearer in Elizabeth of York’s household.  This would account for Warbeck’s looks and musical skills.

4.   Other historians have suggested that Warbeck was actually the illegitimate son of Margaret of Burgundy.

A final twist in Perkin’s tale

Warbeck spent time in Portugal in the service of Edward Brampton. Brampton was not an Englishman as the name would suggest but a Portugese Jew called Duarte Brandão who converted to Christianity. He was also a suspected murderer and a loyal supporter of his nominal godfather King Edward IV and then of Richard III. Did Brampton groom him for the role of prince? Or did Brampton secure a safe hiding place for the youngest son of the English king who’d elevated him from fugitive to wealthy man?

Evidence for Warbeck having Plantagenet blood of any description in his veins is lacking.  It is entirely based upon speculation.  Speculation is not history but it is a good story.

Arthurson, Ian. (2009) The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491-1499  Stroud:The History Press

Wroe, Ann. (2003). Perkin A Story of Deception London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

 

 

Lady Katherine Gordon – Mrs Perkin Warbeck

ch23_Warbek.jpgThe 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 

 

 

 

The End of Elizabeth Woodville

 

elizabeth woodville

Henry VII’s year didn’t get off to a good start in 1487.  A priest from Oxford turned up in Dublin with a young lad in tow.  Depending upon the source you read the lad, Lambert Simnel, was to be passed off either as Richard, Duke of York – the younger of the two princes in the tower or as Edward, Earl of Warwick who was very much alive and well but in Henry’s custody.  Unsurprsingly Henry VII summoned a council meeting.  What happened next so far as Elizabeth Woodville, dowager queen of England, mother-in-law of Henry VII and mother of Elizabeth of York, Edward V and Richard of York  is open to debate.  Its a certainty that she was deprived of her dower lands which were given to Elizabeth of York.  Elizabeth Woodville was packed up and sent off to the Abbey at Bermondsey where she remained for the next five years until she died.

Polydore Vergil in his official history said that she was sent there by Henry VII as punishment for having made her peace with Richard III in 1484 – when she came out of sanctuary having received written guarantees that no harm would come either to her or to her daughters.  If this is the case then Henry must have found out something about Elizabeth Woodville that made him very cross indeed to have delivered such a belated relegation to the ‘naughty step’.  Certainly there hadn’t been any problem when the doting granny was allowed to be Prince Arthur’s godmother in September 1486.

Franics Bacon, taking his lead from Vergil, writing in 1622 suggested that she was up to her neck in the Lambert Simnel conspiracy arguing that Simond, the priest, couldn’t have known how to train the young impostor.  Therefore someone must have been in the background pulling the necessary strings.

So it cannot be, but that some great person, that knew particularly and familiarly, Edward Plantagenet, had a hand in the business, from whom the priest might take aim. That which is most probable, out of the precedent and subsequent acts, is, that it was the Queen Dowager from whom this action principally originated. For, certain it is that she was a busy, negotiating woman, and in her withdrawing chamber had the fortunate conspiracy for the king against King Richard III. been batched, which the king knew, and remembered perhaps but too well, and was at this time extremely discontent with the king, thinking her daughter, as the king handled the matter, not advanced, but depressed; and none could hold the book so well to prompt and instruct this stage play as she could.

 

Bacon may have had a point but he does ignore the fact that if Elizabeth was plotting against her son-in-law then she was also plotting to turf her daughter off the throne and endanger her new grandson.  This then, surely, would raise the question that maybe she believed that rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick that she thought that the young man was her son Richard of York – the chronicles of the time can’t make their mind up about which Plantagenet sprig Simnel started off as which further muddies the water.  Of course, all that aside, may be Henry didn’t trust Elizabeth’s son from her first marriage Lord Grey.  In any event since there’s no evidence its all rather circumstantial.

Henry VII had good cause for his paranoia whether Elizabeth Woodville was innocent or not. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln was in London by Henry’s side at the beginning of 1487.  It was he who met with Edward, Earl of Warwick when he was paraded through London and then fetched to Sheen.  He stated categorically that the unfortunate young man was the son of George, Duke of Clarence.  It didn’t stop him sneaking away a few days later in order to join the Yorkists.  By the time of the Battle of Stoke in June that year Henry was demanding that John be taken alive as he wanted to know who else had been conspiring against him.  Perhaps unsurprisingly John de la Pole did not survive the battle.

As for Elizabeth Woodville,  she appeared at court from time to time and she was allowed visitors in Bermondsey. In 1490 she received an annuity and at Christmas 1491 she received a prettily worded Christmas gift of 50 marks from Henry VII. She was even considered as a bride for King James III of Scotland (d. 1488), an unlikely match for Henry VII to make if he believed that Elizabeth had been plotting against him. Henry wasn’t that silly – but there again Elizabeth Woodville didn’t end her days having been queen of two countries either.

We are left with a further option that Elizabeth chose, voluntarily or with a hefty shove from Margaret Beaufort perhaps (but that’s another story), to end her days at Bermondsey, a perfectly respectable decision for a dowager queen in her twilight years.  Historians have observed that she’d rented a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey in 1486 so perhaps she simply chose to retreat further from the heart of politics; perhaps Westminster held too many memories.

She died in June 1492 and was buried without fanfare next to Edward IV in Windsor having left a will that reflected how far she’d moved away from the world she’d once inhabited,  “I have no wordely goodes to do the Quene’s Grace, my derest doughter, a pleaser with, nether to reward any of my children, according to my hart and mynde, I besech Almyghty Gode to blisse here Grace, with all her noble issue, and with as good hart and mynde as is to me possible, I geve her Grace my blessing, and all the forsaide my children.”  She goes on to request that her “small stuff” and other goods be used to settle any outstanding debts.

So ended the life of the woman who’d created chaos when Edward IV married for love, broke with convention and irritated the Kingmaker.  Before him, the only other monarch or royal heir to marry for love was the Black Prince; after Edward IV and rather more frequently – Henry VIII.  The Stuarts all married diplomatically but not necessarily with any more success.

Elizabeth Woodville was not of a suitable status, she was not a diplomatic asset and when she arrived at court she also come with a huge extended family who upset the balance of power and snaffled all the best marriages but she remains the consort that anyone with an interest in English History can name – apart from those unfortunate ladies of her grandson’s choosing.

 

Baldwin David, (2002) Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower.  Stroud: The History Press