Perkin Warbeck

Perkin Warbeck appeared in 1491 claiming to be Richard, the younger of the Princes in the Tower. He was accepted as such by royalty including  Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy who was aunt to the real Richard. His facial features were said to resemble those of Edward IV, his putative father, and his manners were as expected of royalty.

If he was who he claimed to be, and if his older brother were dead, he would have been the rightful king of England as Richard IV. Warbeck was entertained as such by Charles, King of France, Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor, and by James IV of Scotland. James IV even gave his cousin Catherine Gordon to Warbeck in marriage in 1495, although within two years James refused to back Warbeck’s claim to the English throne.

Henry VII was clearly very worried by the possible existence of either of the Princes in the Tower. Lambert Simnel had been easily discredited since the real Edward of Warwick was in the Tower of London, but this new pretender was of a different order of challenge. Henry made strenuous efforts to track down Perkin Warbeck. In 1493, by the Treaty of Etaples, Charles of France agreed not to support any pretenders to the English throne. Warbeck at this time was being maintained by Charles at the castle at Amboise, and therefore had to make a hasty retreat to safety at Maximilian’s court as, by the above treaty, Charles was to hand Warbeck over to Henry VII at once.

In retaliation for Maximilian’s recognition of Warbeck’s claim to the English throne, Henry VII opened economic warfare with the Holy Roman Emperor and English merchants were forbidden to trade with Antwerp and the Low Countries.

Perkin Warbeck made several attempts to invade England with the support of Irish and Scottish troops and, after a country-wide search, was captured by Henry at Taunton in 1497. Henry had him beaten up so badly that he was unrecognisable. Interestingly he was never allowed to meet his alleged sister Elizabeth with whom he grew up and who might have been able to settle the question of his identity. He was persuaded to confess to Henry that he was not really Richard and was then treated more as a guest than a prisoner. However, he absconded and was recaptured in June 1498. He was then confined in the Tower with Edward, 17th Earl of Warwick who was a Yorkist candidate for the throne. It is not known if they plotted together against the king or not, but both Warbeck and Warwick were executed in 1499. This may have been part of Henry VII’s policy to encourage Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain to allow their daughter Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur by eliminating any rival claimants to the throne of England.

To this day opinion is divided on the question whether Perkin Warbeck was an imposter or if he really was Richard of Shrewsbury.


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