Perkin Warbeck

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Perkin Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck.jpg
Born c. 1474
Tournai, Tournaisis
Died 23 November 1499 (aged 24–25)
Tyburn, Middlesex, England
Throne(s) claimed England
Pretend from 1490
Connection with Claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, son of Edward IV of England
Royal House In the name of the House of York
Father Jehan de Werbecque; claimed to be Edward IV of England
Mother Katherine de Faro; claimed to be Elizabeth Woodville
Spouse Lady Catherine Gordon

Perkin Warbeck (c. 1474 – 23 November 1499) was a pretender to the English throne.

By claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, 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, Warbeck wrote a confession in which he said 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. Dealing with Warbeck cost Henry VII over £13,000, putting a strain on Henry's weak state finances.

Early life

Perkin Warbeck's personal history has been fraught with many unreliable and varying statements.[1] He, himself, said 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).[2] Osbeck, who was married to Warbeck's mother Katherine de Faro, was Flemish and held the occupation of comptroller to the city of Tournai.[3] 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.[4] 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.[4] After his time in the Netherlands, Warbeck yearned to visit other countries and was hired by a Breton merchant.[3] This merchant eventually brought Warbeck to Cork, Ireland in 1491 when he was about seventeen, and there he learnt to speak English.[3] 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."[4] 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.[4]

Claim to the English throne

Warbeck first claimed the English throne at the court of Burgundy in 1490. Warbeck explained his (i.e. Richard of Shrewsbury's) mysterious disappearance, by claiming that his brother Edward V had been murdered, but he had been spared by his brother's (unidentified) killers because of his age and "innocence". However, he had been made to swear an oath not to reveal his true identity for "a certain number of years".[5] From 1483 to 1490 he had lived on the continent of Europe under the protection of Yorkist loyalists, but when his main guardian, Sir Edward Brampton, returned to England, he was left free. He then declared his true identity.[5]

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 - who left England to marry before either of her nephews were born - 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.[6] 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.[7] Spanish ambassadors arrived in Edinburgh, and later Pedro de Ayala was established as a resident ambassador during the crisis. Warbeck married 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.[8] The historian Katie Stevenson suggests the clothing bought for the tournament shows Warbeck fought in a team with the king and four knights.[9] A copy of a love letter in Latin obtained by Pedro de Ayala, is thought to be Warbeck's proposal to Lady Catherine.[10] However, James's biographer Norman Macdougall comments that it is clear that nobody, with the possible exception of Margaret of York, took seriously his claim to be the prince; his marriage to a junior Scots noblewoman was scarcely what might be expected for a potential king of England. [7]

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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,[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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, 2 miles north of Land's End, 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[17] before advancing on Taunton.[18] 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".[19]

Imprisonment and death

Warbeck was initially treated well by Henry. As soon as he confessed to being an impostor, he was released from the Tower of London, and was given accommodation at Henry's court.[5] He was even allowed to be present at royal banquets. He was, however, kept under guard and was not allowed to sleep with his wife, who was living under the protection of the queen.[5] After eighteen months at court, Warbeck tried to escape.[5] He was quickly recaptured. He was then held in the Tower, initially in solitary confinement, and later 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.[20]


Perkin reportedly resembled Edward IV in appearance,[5] 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. Francis Bacon believed he was one of Edward's many illegitimate children.[5] It has also been suggested that he was a son of one of Edward's siblings, either Richard III or Margaret of York, Warbeck's first major sponsor.[5] Some authors, for example Horace Walpole, have even gone as far as to claim that Warbeck actually was Richard, Duke of York, although there is little academic support for this view.

Warbeck in popular culture

Warbeck's story subsequently attracted writers, most notably the dramatist John Ford, who dramatized the story in his play Perkin Warbeck, first performed in the 1630s.

  • Friedrich Schiller wrote a plan and a few scenes for a play about Warbeck; he never finished the play because he gave priority to other works, such as Maria Stuart and Wilhelm Tell.[21][22]
  • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein, wrote a romance on the subject of Warbeck, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, published in London in 1830.
  • Lord Alfred Douglas wrote a poem about Perkin Warbeck in 1893 or 1894. It is included in the Collected Poems of Lord Alfred Douglas published in 1928.
  • In Dorothy L. Sayers's mystery novel Have His Carcase, Lord Peter Wimsey discovers that the murderers lured the victim to his death by playing on his secret belief that he was the hereditary Tsar of Russia, based on his great-great-grandmother's purported morganatic marriage to Nicholas I; when Harriet Vane points out that even if this was true, the man would not be the next in line to the throne, Peter remarks that genealogy has a way of making people believe what they want to believe, saying he knows a "draper's assistant" in Leeds who earnestly believes he will be crowned King of England as soon as he can find the record of his ancestor's marriage to Perkin Warbeck; the fact that Warbeck's claim to the throne was ultimately invalidated, and that the Tudor dynasty he laid claim to has since been replaced by others, doesn't faze him in the least.
  • Warbeck is the central character in Philip Lindsay's historical novel They Have Their Dreams.
  • Warbeck features in Robert Hume's Ruling Ambition
  • In 2005 Channel 4 and RDF Media produced a drama entitled Princes in the Tower about the interrogation of Warbeck, starring Mark Umbers. Warbeck almost convinces Henry VII that he really is Richard, Duke of York. Warbeck "remembers" that Henry's mother Margaret Beaufort poisoned his brother Edward V, after which Richard III spirited him away to safety. Warbeck succeeds in alienating king Henry from his mother and wife, who now believes Warbeck to be her lost brother. Margaret then shows Warbeck two young men in chains, who she presents as the real princes, locked up for years in isolation and now completely insane. She says Henry knows nothing about them. She forces Warbeck to confess he is an imposter to save the life of his son by Lady Catherine Gordon. Warbeck confesses and is hanged. In the final scene Margaret is seen overseeing the burial of a piece of regal clothing with two skeletons, while, in voice-over, Thomas More, whose secret account of the events is supposed to be the drama's source, describes how lucky he has been under Henry VIII.
  • In the 1972 BBC television series The Shadow of the Tower, Warbeck was portrayed by British actor Richard Warwick.
  • The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia, produced a comedy entitled The Brats of Clarence, written specifically for the ASC 'Blackfriars' stage by Paul Menzer. The play tracks the progress of Perkin Warbeck from the Scottish court towards London to claim his birthright as heir to the throne.
  • Warbeck and his wife are characters in the novel The Crimson Crown by Edith Layton (1990). The main character is Lucas Lovat, a spy in the Court of Henry VII, and a subplot of the novel is his indecision as to whether Warbeck is, or is not, Prince Richard.
  • English comedians Stewart Lee and Richard Herring both make references to Warbeck, and fellow pretender Lambert Simnel in much of their work, both as Lee and Herring and individually. Simnel & Warbeck's names have appeared sporadically throughout their material over the years.
  • Warbeck's story is retold through the eyes of Grace Plantagenet in The King's Grace, by Anne Easter Smith (2009). Grace, an illegitimate daughter of Edward IV, attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the man who claims to be her half-brother Richard.
  • In Philippa Gregory's 2009 novel The White Queen, the young Duke of York is sent into hiding by his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, while a changeling is sent to the Tower. In the fifth novel of Gregory's The Cousins' War series, The White Princess, a mysterious pretender appears, claiming to be Richard. King Henry Tudor invents an elaborate false history to justify denial of the pretender's claims, giving him the name Perkin Warbeck (among others). Although the novel never answers the question, Gregory states in the epilogue that she believes Warbeck's claim was genuine.
  • A public house in Taunton is named after Warbeck, a cafe and shop in Fife.
  • In the video game Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Warbeck's name can be seen in the opening memory on a list of British Templars.

See also



  1. Gairdner, James, p. 263
  2. Gairdner, James, p. 266
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ure, Peter, ed., p. lxxxviii
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Gairdner, James, p. 267
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Weir, Alison, The Princes in the Tower, Vintage, 2008, p.238-40.
  6. Wroe, p. 148-151.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Macdougall, Norman, James IV, Tuckwell (1997), 123-124, 136, 140-141.
  8. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 1 (1877), 257, 262-264.
  9. Stevenson, Katie, Chivalry in Scotland, CUP/Boydell (2006), 84.
  10. Calendar State Papers Spain, vol. 1 (1862), no.119 & fn.
  11. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 1, (1877), 292-296.
  12. Pinkerton, John, History of Scotland, vol.2 (1791), 438-441, Ramsay to Henry VII, 8 Sept. 1496.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 1, (1877), 299-300, 296.
  14. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 1, (1877), 299-300
  15. Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, 1357-1509, vol. 4, HM Register House, Edinburgh (1888), no. 35, pp. 418-9, (there dated as if '1497'): David Dunlop (1991), 108-9 & fn., quotes another version, and cites four more, noting mistaken date in Bain (1888).
  16. Calendar State Papers Milan", (1912), no. 514.
  17. Cornwall timeline 1497
  18. Philip Payton - (1996) Cornwall, Fowey: Alexander Associates
  19. "Perkin Warbeck". Channel 4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "The Execution of Perkin Warbeck", History Today, Issue 11, 1999. Accessed 20 October 2013
  21. Benno von Wiese: Friedrich Schiller. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1959, p. 781-786.
  22. Friedrich Schiller - Nachlass - II. Warbeck.


  • Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, 1357-1509, vol. 4, HM Register House, Edinburgh (1888)
  • Dunlop, David, 'The 'Masked Comedian': Perkin Warbeck's Adventures in Scotland and England from 1495 to 1497,' Scottish Historical Review, vol. 70, no. 90, (Oct. 1991), 97-128.
  • Gairdner, James. "History of the life and reign of Richard the Third : to which is added the story of Perkin Warbeck. From original documents, by James Gairdner". New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1968.
  • Ford, John, ed. Ure, Peter. "The chronicle history of Perkin Warbeck: a strange truth". London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1968.
  • Wroe, Ann. Perkin: A Story of Deception. Vintage: 2004 (ISBN 0-09-944996-X).
  • Guy, John. "Tudor England" p52 et seq.
  • Ashley, Mike (2002). British Kings & Queens. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1104-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> pgs 231 & 232.
  • Busch, Wilhelm, "England Under the Tudors," 1892. P 440-441.

External links