Perkin Warbeck (circa 1474 – 23 November 1499) was a pretender to the English throne during the reign of King Henry VII of England. By claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV, one of the “Princes in the Tower”, Warbeck was a significant threat to the newly established Tudor dynasty, and gained support outside England.
Henry VII declared Warbeck an impostor and after his capture that he was a Fleming born in Tournai around 1474.
Due to uncertainty as to whether Richard of Shrewsbury had died in the Tower of London or had survived, Warbeck’s claim gathered some followers, whether due to real belief in his identity or because of desire to overthrow Henry and reclaim the throne. Most historical accounts mention that Warbeck cost Henry VII over £13,000, putting a strain on Henry’s weak financial state.
Perkin Warbeck’s personal history has been fraught with many unreliable and varying statements. He himself gave out that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV. After he was captured and interrogated in 1497 under the eye of King Henry VII, another version of his life was published, based on his confession. This confession is considered by many historians to be possibly only partially true as it was procured under duress. According to the confession, Warbeck was born to a man called John Osbeck (also known as Jehan de Werbecque). Osbeck, who was married to Warbeck’s mother Katherine de Faro, was Flemish and held the occupation of comptroller to the city of Tournai. These family ties are backed up by several municipal archives of Tournai which mention most of the people whom Warbeck declared he was related to. He was taken to Antwerp by his mother at around age ten to learn Dutch. From here, he was undertaken by several masters around Antwerp and Middelburg before being employed by a local English merchant named John Strewe for a few months. After his time in the Netherlands, Warbeck yearned to visit other countries and was hired by a Breton merchant. This merchant eventually brought Warbeck to Cork, Ireland in 1491 when he was about seventeen, and it was here that he learnt to speak English. Warbeck then claims that upon seeing him dressed in silk clothes, some of the citizens of Cork who were Yorkists demanded to “[do] him the honour as a member of the Royal House of York.” He said they did this because they were resolved in gaining revenge on the King of England and decided that he would claim to be the younger son of King Edward IV. However, many historians believe that Warbeck lied about the story of how he came to be a pretender in order to cover his tracks and hopefully allow himself to escape the death penalty.
Claim to the English throne
Warbeck first claimed the English throne at the court of Burgundy in 1490.
In 1491, Warbeck landed in Ireland in the hope of gaining support for his claim as Lambert Simnel had four years previously. However, little support was found and he was forced to return to the European mainland. There his fortunes improved. He was first received by Charles VIII of France, but in 1492 was expelled under the terms of the Treaty of Etaples, by which Charles had agreed not to shelter rebels against Henry VII. He was publicly recognized as Richard of Shrewsbury by Margaret of York, the widow of Charles the Bold, the sister of Edward IV and thus the aunt of the Princes in the Tower. Whether Margaret truly believed that the pretender was her nephew Richard, or whether she considered him a fraud but supported him anyway, is unknown, but she tutored him in the ways of the Yorkist court. Henry complained to Philip of Habsburg, Duke of Burgundy, about the harbouring of the pretender, and, since he was ignored, imposed a trade embargo on Burgundy, cutting off important Burgundian trade-links with England. The pretender was also welcomed by various other monarchs and was known in international diplomacy as the Duke of York. At the invitation of Duke Philip’s father, King Maximilian I, in 1493 he attended the funeral of the Emperor Frederick III and was recognised as King Richard IV of England. The pretender also promised that if he died before becoming king, his claim would fall to Maximilian.
First landing in England and support in Scotland
On 3 July 1495, funded by Margaret of Burgundy, Warbeck landed at Deal in Kent, hoping for a show of popular support. Warbeck’s small army was routed and 150 of the pretender’s troops were killed without Warbeck even disembarking. He was forced to retreat almost immediately, this time to Ireland. There he found support from Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, and laid siege to Waterford, but, meeting resistance, he fled to Scotland. Henry pardoned his Irish supporters, remarking drily “I suppose they will crown an ape next”.
Warbeck was well received by James IV of Scotland who realised that his presence gave him international leverage. As Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were negotiating an alliance with Henry VII, James IV knew that Spain would help him in his struggles with England, in order to prevent the situation escalating into war with France. Spanish ambassadors arrived in Edinburgh, and later Pedro de Ayala was established as a resident ambassador during the crisis. Warbeck was permitted to marry James’s distant cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, a daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. The marriage was celebrated in Edinburgh with a tournament. James gave Warbeck clothes for the wedding and armour covered with purple silk. The historian Katie Stevenson suggests the clothing bought for the tournament shows Warbeck fought in a team with the king and four knights. A copy of a love letter in Latin obtained by Pedro de Ayala, is thought to be Warbeck’s proposal to Lady Catherine.
In September 1496, James IV prepared to invade England with Warbeck. A red, gold and silver banner was made for Warbeck as the Duke of York; James’s armour was gilded and painted; and the royal artillery was prepared. John Ramsay of Balmain (who called himself Lord Bothwell) described the events for Henry VII. He saw Roderic de Lalanne, a Flemish knight arrive with two little ships and 60 German soldiers and meet James IV and talk to Warbeck. In Edinburgh Castle Ramsay saw two great French guns called ‘curtalds,’ 10 falconets or little serpentines, and 30 iron breech loading ‘cart guns’ with 16 close-carts or wagons for the munitions. He estimated the invasion force would last only 4 to 5 days in England before it ran out of provisions. He suggested, from the safety of Berwick upon Tweed, that the Scots could be vanquished by a modest English force attacking from north and south in a pincer movement.
The Scottish host assembled near Edinburgh and James IV and Warbeck offered prayers at Holyrood Abbey on the 14 September, and on the next day at St Triduana’s Chapel and Our Lady Kirk of Restalrig. On 19 September the Scottish army was at Ellem and on 21 September 1496 they crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream. Miners set to work to demolish the tower of Hetoune (Castle Heaton) on 24 September, but the army quickly retreated when resources were expended, and hoped-for support for Perkin Warbeck in Northumberland failed to materialise. According to an English record, the Scots penetrated four miles into England with royal banner displayed, and destroyed 3 or 4 little towers (or Bastle houses). They left on 25 September 1496 when an English army commanded by Lord Neville approached from Newcastle. When news of this invasion reached Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, on 21 October 1496, he wrote to his ambassador in Spain, to request the Spanish monarchs make peace between England and Scotland. The peace mission was entrusted to Pedro de Ayala.[
Later, wishing to be rid of Warbeck, James IV provided a ship called the Cuckoo and a hired crew under a Breton captain which returned Perkin to Waterford in shame in July 1497. James IV made peace with England by signing the Treaty of Ayton at St Dionysius’s Church in Ayton in Berwickshire. Once again Perkin attempted to lay siege to Waterford, but this time his effort lasted only eleven days before he was forced to flee Ireland, chased by four English ships. According to some sources, by this time he was left with only 120 men on two ships.
Second landing in Cornwall
On 7 September 1497, Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay, west of Plymouth, in Cornwall hoping to capitalise on the Cornish people’s resentment in the aftermath of their uprising only three months earlier. Warbeck proclaimed that he could put a stop to extortionate taxes levied to help fight a war against Scotland and was warmly welcomed. He was declared “Richard IV” on Bodmin Moor and his Cornish army some 6000 strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles Daubeney, 1st Baron Daubeney, to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King’s scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire where he surrendered. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497, where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined. Warbeck was imprisoned, first at Taunton, then at the Tower of London, where he was “paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens”.
Imprisonment and death
Warbeck was held in the Tower alongside Edward, Earl of Warwick; the two tried to escape in 1499. Captured once again, on 23 November 1499, Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn, London, where he read out a confession and was hanged.
Perkin reportedly resembled Edward IV in appearance, which has led to speculation that he might have been Edward’s illegitimate son, or at least had some genuine connection with the York family. Some authors, for example Horace Walpole, have even gone as far as to claim that Warbeck actually was Richard, Duke of York, although this is not the consensus.