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Perkin by Ann Wroe
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Dec 21, 10


This work is an excellent piece of historical research and detection, where the author unlocks many of the mysteries surrounding the emergence of the pretender to the throne, Perkin Warbeck. Wroe reveals that less than a week after placing his youngest nephew in the Tower in June 1483, Richard had their bloodline declared invalid due to the illegitimacy of their parents’ marriage. It was claimed that their father Edward IV had been contracted to marry another noblewoman before choosing a Wydeville as his queen. This decision to remove the Princes from the line of the succession was ratified by Parliament. Contemporary chroniclers became convinced that the young princes had been murdered at some point during the summer or autumn of that year, which were repeated by foreign commentators in early 1484. If one investigates recent Yorkist history, it becomes clear that a pattern of violently removing rivals to the throne is easily discernible. The best illustration of this being the display of the bloodied corpse of Henry VI, possibly at the hands of a younger Richard, on the steps of St Pauls. Wroe discusses the evidence for the murder and reveals some interesting details. Firstly, there is the appointment of a new master joiner and master mason in the Tower in the summer of 1483 for unspecified duties, and then the bestowal of the position of Constable of the Tower on Robert Brackenbury for life, which raised eyebrows at the time. Yet, across Europe other rumours persisted that the princes had been removed abroad, and, interestingly, in January 1485 Sir James Tyrell was paid an enormous sum for services rendered in Flanders. Doubts remain as to the complicity of the Howards, whose acquisition of their Norfolk estates and the accompanying title was dependent on the proclamation of the youngest prince’s illegitimacy. So enthusiastically did they welcome the latter development, that young prince Richard, had been transported to the Tower in a barge paid for by the Howards. The author provides a detailed history of earlier claimants to the throne. Following the death of his own son in April 1484, Richard had declared his heir to be his nephew, the imprisoned Earl ff Warwick, but soon changed his opinion to make his other nephew, the Earl of Lincoln, heir-apparent refuting Warwick as feeble and simple-minded. Despite the latter’s continued imprisonment, in 1486 a pretender to the throne appeared in Ireland, claiming to be the rightful Earl of Warwick. Crowned as Edward VI in Dublin, in recognition of the legitimacy of his murdered cousin’s claim to the throne, in June 1487 he invaded England supported by Irish and German mercenaries. Defeated at the Battle of Stoke, it was revealed that his given name had been Lambert Simnel, who had been trained by an Oxford cleric to take on the guise of the nephew of Richard III, and would end his days in royal service as a falconer. Wroe offers her interpretation of the evidence as to the true nature of Perkin Warbeck. He claimed to be Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and younger son of Edward IV, spared the fate of his elder brother, and secreted aboard. Yet, his signed confession revealed him to be the son of a customs collector, John Osbeck, from Tournai, on the border of France and Burgundy. Christened Piers, he had accompanied the household of Sir Edward Brampton to Portugal in 1487. The latter was an opportunist and traveller, born a Portuguese Jew who had converted to Christianity in England, and serving Edward IV as a merchant in exotic goods. There were doubts as to Brampton’s own legitimacy, and rumours of his escaping to England on a murder charge, and was expert at changing sides and his allegiance for political advantage. In July 1483 he was heavily rewarded for services to the Crown, and given estates in Northamptonshire for his support in squashing the rebellion of Buckingham. Though he fled to Portugal in the aftermath of Bosworth, his future was coloured more by financial opportunity than by Yorkist sympathy. It is interesting to note that Henry VII was aware of events in Lisbon, with payments to spies, including one to Edward Wydeville, uncle of the deceased princes, who made a detour to Lisbon in 1487 en route to fight the Moors in Granada, revealing his unease. The decision for the young pretender to travel to Ireland in the autumn of 1491 can be explained by the existence of strong Yorkist sympathies there, with fond memories persisting of the lieutenancy of the father of Edward IV. The latter had not tried to impose English customs on his Irish subjects as Henry VII now did, and given free rein to the Earls of Desmond and Kildare, who would become the staunch supporters of the claimant to the throne. In his confession, Warbeck would claim that he had served Brampton as a servant, and his arrival in Cork coincided with his being mistaken for the young prince, where events had soon lost control. Such claims conflict with the regal manner in which he arrived and was welcomed to Cork. Moreover, Henry certainly was already aware of the inherent danger of this young man, as from the moment he arrived in Ireland he was tracked by the Tudor regime’s network of spies, while garrisons in the south-west and Ireland itself were put on alert. Henry maintained that he always knew that the main figure in the creation of the pretence was Margaret of York, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, whose court became a haven for political refugees after Bosworth, and who knew Brampton personally. Her support, aside from famial loyalty, was motivated financially, not having received all her dowry from Edward IV, and needing her rights to export wool from England restored, which had been a lucrative source of income for her. She undoubtedly committed herself to the cause, openly declaring in 1490 that her nephew, the presumed murdered Richard, Duke of York, was very much alive. Though she never committed her support to paper, and sought the support of more powerful European rulers. This would be enthusiastically offered by Charles VIII of France, given Henry’s open support to his former protector’s daughter in Brittany against French territorial aspirations. Thus, Warbeck would be transported to Ireland aboard a ship provided by Charles, and he maintained interest in his pawn against English interests as a bargaining chip. His importance cannot be more clearly revealed than the fact that when the political situation during the course of 1492 became increasingly difficult for Warbeck to remain in Ireland, he was welcomed by Charles to his court as a 'cousin'. However, the limitations of his usefulness soon became apparent to the pretender, in that no military support would be provided for an invasion,and with the peace agreement between Charles and Henry in November 1492, he became increasingly concerned that he had served his purpose and would be handed over as part of the terms of their rapprochement. In fact, in a codicil to their peace agreement, both parties agreed in December not to harbour or support any rebels to their respective thrones. Therefore, Warbeck fled to Burgundy, probably with a 'nod' from Charles, and Margaret brought him to the attention of the newly crowned Emperor, Maximilian I. The latter had dynastic ambitions to recover territories in the west lost since the heyday of Charlemagne, and in return for his support, in January 1495 it was agreed that should this Richard die childless, he would accrue rights to the throne of England. The author provides excellent details as to how Henry set about derailing support for this continental pretender. With regards to domestic support, Henry utilised his agents to infiltrate the pretender's entourage, and also granting pardons in return for providing names and further information.The prime example of the latter concerned Sir Robert Clifford, who joined the pretender at the Burgundian court in 1493. Having been an ardent Yorkist supporter, after the defeat at Bosworth he had switched allegiance and served Henry in securing the Scottish border, together with fighting to defend his throne at Stoke. Yet, Clifford would be the man who would approach Sir William Stanley to support the claim of the arisen from the grave Richard, Duke of York. It has been argued that he did so as a double agent working on behalf of the Crown, but the truth is that he probably wavered at the offer of a royal pardon, returning to London in December 1494 and providing information leading to the arrest of his England-based co-conspirators. Chief among the latter was Stanley – the brother-in-law to Henry’s own mother whose support of the Tudor cause wavered before both Bosworth and Stoke, and having crowned Henry himself on the battlefield at Bosworth. Though Henry made pretence of astonishment at this discovery, he had had doubts over Stanley’s loyalty for a couple of years, and the latter was executed in February 1495. The other weapon Henry used against the conspiracy was financial – the threats of a financial embargo against Burgundy, which was heavily dependent on the import of English wool. Despite Margaret’s influence, real power in the kingdom laid with Philip the Fair, son of Maximilian. However, his father still held on to the pretender despite the best efforts Ferdinand and Isabella to persuade the Emperor to come to terms with Henry, anxious at French conquests in Italy after Charles’ invasion in 1494. Their proposal of a marriage between their daughter Juana and Philip the Fair of Burgundy was part of this same policy of creating a common front against French ambitions. Though the arrests and executions of early 1495 set back the invasion plans, Maximilian continued to finance these while maintaining the build-up of ships and troops in Dutch ports was merely to accompany his attempt to remove the pretender from his concern. The eventual landing near deal in Kent in July 1495 was a disaster, with the local populace turning on the rebels and killing around 150 of them on the beach, while another 160 were captured and sent to London in chains. The truth is probably that Henry had engineered this timing and landing spot through his infiltrators and led the pretender into a trap. Warbeck himself escaped with a skeleton fleet to Ireland, while this defeat eventually led to the dashing of Maximilian’s hopes and support, with the creation of the Holy League in September 1495 which included the Emperor and Henry amongst its ranks. Moreover, a trade agreement between Henry and Philip the Fair signed in early 1496 stipulated the ending of Margaret’s support to the rebels or punishment by loss of estates. In Ireland, the rebels joined forces with the Earl of Desmond, overlord of the south-west, who had begun a siege of Waterford to time in conjunction with the Deal landing. Kildare’s allegiance to the Crown having by this time been secured by royal pardon and his eldest son held in wardship as surety of his loyalty. The shipwreck of the pretender further up the coast and away from the action led to the failure to ignite rebellion, which in turn led Warbeck to seek refuge with a further supporter of his claim, James IV of Scotland. The latter was keen to lend his weight behind any campaign against Henry, as the latter was a staunch supporter of the Scottish rebels who denounced the rebellion of 1488 which had ousted James III in favour of his son. In addition, James sought to recapture Berwick and secure his borders, while cutting an influential figure on the European theatre. Henry was aware of the refuge lent to Yorkist sympathisers at James’ court, and the frequent sailings between Scotland and Flanders, as well as logistical support to the Deal invasion. Their previous collaboration can be attested to by the immediate marriage of Warbeck to Lady Katherine Gordon, daughter of the most influential noble in Scotland, and part of the Huntley clan. So assured were the latter in negotiations for titles and estates, that their willingness to agree to such a marriage with a wanderer and exile suggests influence from James himself. Their marriage in January 1496 certainly formed an unbreakable bond between the pretender and the Scottish monarch, as did their youthful recklessness and gullibility. To offset this threat, Henry had been pursuing the marriage of James to his own daughter Margaret, while James eagerly sought the pretender’s agreement to an invasion of England. The allies disagreed as to the nature of such an invasion, with James envisioning a border raid rather than a prolonged war, and that Richard would continue south with his English supporters. When the eventual invasion took place in September 1496, the obvious lack of groundswell support, due to fear of the presence of Scottish and German troops, led the former to revert to their usual pillage and disorder. Such behaviour led to a fierce disagreement between Richard and James, with the former returning to Edinburgh, while the latter continued to sack and burn till the arrival of a stronger English force. This abject failure still led to Henry’s declaration of war on Scotland, lest James relinquish the pretender, but the Scottish king continued his obstinate opposition, while Warbeck sought a future haven. During this time Warbeck had produced an heir so such foreign protection was now a necessity, but this desire clashed with the realpolitik which was governing affairs on the continent, where unity of purpose had to remain to counter French conquest. Support in Ireland had now dissipated with the oath of loyalty sworn by Desmond in March 1496, while domestic Yorkist sympathy had been decimated by the executions of 1495. The pressure on James to surrender Warbeck became relentless, while the Spanish devised a scheme to entice him to Spain where he would be pensioned off, thereby removing a dangerous obstacle to their marriage plans. Yet Richard departed Scotland in July 1497, with evidence suggesting that he had the west of England as his intended destination, while James would invade from north – tied to the pretender by such strong bonds, he could not abandon his support. It is unsure how Richard landed at Cork, but what is clear is that his former allies there now quickly encircled him to capture him for Henry. Although he was spirited away, Henry’s network of informers assured him of the pretender’s intended destination of Cornwall. The latter region, having already rebelled against Henry’s taxation and finance policies, had invited the pretender to be their figurehead. Tragically for Warbeck, his dreams of eventual glory, blinded him to the true potential of the Cornish revolt, having been smuggled out of Ireland aboard a Spanish ship and rejected the offer of safe conduct to the Spanish court. Unbelievably, having had his passage stopped by an English ship searching for him, and been hidden within a wine barrel, Warbeck could not gauge the level of threat which existed. Landing near Land’s End in September 1497 Warbeck was received with adulation and captured St Michael’s Mount where he left his wife and son. However, the rebellion had already lost momentum by the time of his arrival and James had lost patience and had launched a pre-emptive strike before the pretender had landed on English soil. Failing in his own siege of Exeter, he retreated east to Taunton into the path of the oncoming Tudor forces. Desertions quickly followed before his own flight to the coast on the eve of battle. With no means of escaping to sea, he took refuge with his family at Beaulieu monastery, before finally giving himself up to the offer of royal clemency at the end of September. Henry had earlier expressed his wish to capture the pretender alive, curious to meet this individual he had spent so much money and effort to defend himself against. Guaranteed escape from a death sentence should he confess to his true identity, the child-like twenty three year-old appeared to unburden himself of responsibility he previously, begrudgingly had accepted. Wroe reveals that, accordingly, at his confession Warbeck was asked by Henry if he recognised any of the noblemen present to which he responded no. The coterie of figures present consisted of those he should have been familiar with given the real identity of Richard, Duke of York. Moreover, the pretender had always commented to his European backers that upon meeting Henry he would reveal the birthmark which would attest to his princely identity, but nothing of the sort took place. Henry even took the opportunity to have Warbeck confess his real identity to his wife – Katherine’s reputed beauty had been known to Henry for years and he felt compassionate towards her as he considered her social rank and honour had been tainted by the deception. Though she pretended to be aghast at this discovery, she had known for some time what capture would mean in terms of the discovery of the true identity of her husband. There still remains the possibility that she had been so forewarned that this would be Henry’s strategy, that she may have still firmly believed her husband to be Richard, Duke of York. The author also suggests that the detailed nature of the confession indicates its veracity, with any mistakes due to the years of wandering Warbeck had to endure. This confession, obtained in Exeter, was all-important to Henry, as, unlike the Simnel affair, he had no living, breathing prince to prove the deception. In unraveling the truth behind the conspiracy, Henry was supported by information emanating from France, desperate to obtain an ally in their isolation against the Holy League. Henry’s clemency surprised all his European rivals as they expected a summary execution, but there were several underlying reasons for his merciful treatment of Warbeck. The first was that Warbeck had relinquished his sanctuary in the monastery on a promise of his safety; while secondly, it was the duty of a lord to show mercy, especially given Henry’s precedent in pardoning Simnel. It appears that Warbeck was paraded at court in the company of captured Indians from the New World, together with a bearded woman and a giantess from Flanders, till his midnight escape in June 1498 from an open window. The motives for such an escape appear nonsensical as he now put at risk the king’s clemency, but his character was one of a runaway all his life. The truth may be that this was a further case of entrapment by the king, for whom the pretender had become an embarrassment, and who was still in the throes of bargaining the marriage agreement for Catherine of Aragon to marry his eldest son Arthur, which still swayed on the security of his realm. Upon his capture, Warbeck was sent to the Tower, and was not seen for over twelve months before the emergence of a plot in August 1499. This plot centered on two prison wardens in charge of Warbeck and Warwick seizing and blowing up the Tower and escaping abroad with Henry’s treasury. These funds would then pay for a rebellion to place one of their charges on the English throne. Both Warbeck and Warwick knew of the plot but were so bewildered and demoralised that they assented to any suggestion their jailors made. Warbeck was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered in November 1499, while Warwick’s sentence was commuted to beheading in deference to his rank. Warbeck’s wife Katherine remained in service to the queen till the latter’s death in 1503 but remained at court, probably as Henry’s lover. His son disappeared into obscurity, though there are claims he was raised as one Richard Perkins in South Wales.
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Andrea Willers I have enjoyed your comment more than the book. I have always thought that lady Katherine was probably a reluctant trophy mistress. She was never allowed to marry until Henry VII had died.


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