Perkin Warbeck

Perkin Warbeck was born in Tournai in about 1474. According to his biographer, S. J. Gunn: "His parents can be identified as Jehan de Werbecque and Nicaise Farou, members of Tournai's prosperous class of leading artisans, small merchants, and civic officials. Warbeck's early experiences were cosmopolitan. In 1484–7 he was in Antwerp, Bergen op Zoom, and Middelburg, completing his education by learning Flemish and working for merchants, probably in the cloth trade. In April–May 1487 he moved on to the Portuguese court in the company of Lady Margaret Beaumont, wife of the Anglo-Portuguese Jewish convert courtier and international trader Sir Edward Brampton. At Lisbon he took service with the royal councillor and explorer Pero Vaz de Cunha, then in 1488 with a Breton merchant, Pregent Meno." (1)

While visiting Cork in December 1491 he was persuaded to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, second son of Edward IV, who had disappeared eight years earlier together with his elder brother, Edward. In 1492 King Charles VIII of France began funding his campaign. This included being sent to Vienna to meet Emperor Maximilian. He gave his support to Perkin Warbeck but spies in the Maximilian's court told Henry VII about the conspiracy. As a result, several people in England were arrested and executed. (2)

In July 1495 Warbeck landed some of his men at Deal. They were quickly rounded up by the Sheriff of Kent and so Warbeck decided to return to Ireland. (3) However, on 20th November 1495 he went to see King James IV of Scotland in Stirling Castle. On 13th January 1496 James arranged for him to marry him to Lady Katherine Gordon, a distant royal relative. He also provided funding for Warbeck's 1,400 supporters. When Henry VII heard what was happening he began to plan an invasion of Scotland. (4)

Henry VII decided he would need to impose a new tax to pay the cost of raising an army. The people of Cornwall objected to paying taxes for war against Scotland and began a march on London. By 13th June, 1496, the Cornishmen, said to number 15,000, were at Guildford. The army of 8,000 that was being prepared against Scotland had to be rapidly diverted to protect London. On 16th June the rebel army reached Blackheath. When they saw Henry's large army, said to now number 25,000, some of them deserted. (5)

Henry VII sent a force of archers and cavalry round the back of the rebels. According to Francis Bacon: "The Cornish, being ill-armed and ill-led and without horse or artillery, were with no great difficulty cut in pieces and put to flight." A large number of the rebels were killed. Some of its leaders were hanged, drawn and quartered. He then proceeded to fine all those involved in the rebellion. It is claimed this raised £14,699. Bacon commented: "The less blood he drew, the more he took of treasure." (6)

Perkin Warbeck decided to take advantage on the Cornish rebellion by landing in Whitesand Bay on 7th September. He quickly recruited 8,000 Cornishmen but they were unsuccessful in taking Exeter. They retreated to Taunton but with news that Henry's army was marching into Cornwall, on 21st September, Warbeck escaped and sought sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey. However, he was captured and was brought before Henry at Taunton Castle on 5th October. Warbeck was taken to London where he was repeatedly paraded through the city. (7)

Warbeck managed to escape but he was soon recaptured and on 18th June, 1499, he was sent to the Tower of London for life. The following year he became entangled in another plot. "Exactly what part he played in the conspiracy, and in its betrayal to the king on 3 August, is hard to establish, but Henry and his council resolved to punish all the principal participants." (8) Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on 23rd November 1499.

Primary Sources

(1) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985)

In 1491 the Yorkist chose Perkin Warbeck, the son of a Tournai Customs officer, to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, the brother of Edward V and one of the Princes in the Tower. Warbeck learnt his part well, and was accepted by the King of France and by Edward IV's sister, Margaret of Burgundy - who both had good reasons for intriguing against the new King of England. In July 1495 Warbeck appeared off Deal and landed a number of men, while prudently remaining on board himself. The invaders were quickly rounded up by the sheriff of Kent, so Warbeck sailed off first to Ireland and then to Scotland to try his luck. James IV of Scotland, who was suspicious of English power, welcomed the self-styled Duke of York, and in September 1496 a Scottish army poured across the border and invaded the northern counties. Warbeck, who was with the troops, called upon "his" subjects to rise against the Tudor usurper, but they showed remarkably little inclination to do so. The Scots, who could not plunge deep into England without support from the English, turned their attack into a raiding expedition and returned home. Warbeck had no choice but to go with them.

A year later he tried his fortunes in Cornwall, where the inhabitants had just risen against Henry VII because of his demands for taxation. But although a large number of men came in to join Warbeck, he could not capture Exeter, the key to the west country, and as success eluded him his followers slipped away. In the end he abandoned the struggle and his ambitions, and threw himself on Henry's mercy. Henry kept him in prison for two years, until another impostor appeared, claiming to be the Earl of Warwick. The King realised that he would have no peace while the Yorkist claimants remained alive, since their mere existence encouraged rebellion. In November 1499, therefore, Warwick and Warbeck, the real earl and the false duke, were both tried for treason, condemned and executed.

(2) S. J. Gunn, Perkin Warbeck : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

Brought before Henry and his nobles at Taunton Castle on 5 October, Warbeck confessed his imposture. His wife, whom he had left in sanctuary at St Buryan, was entrusted to the care of Queen Elizabeth. Meanwhile Warbeck was repeatedly paraded through the city on Henry's return to London, and then accompanied the king on his progresses until 9 June 1498, when he escaped, perhaps with the king's connivance. He was soon found, in the Charterhouse at Sheen, twice displayed in the stocks atop a scaffold of empty wine barrels, and on 18 June locked up in shackles in the Tower of London for life. There, in the summer of 1499, he became entangled in his last plot, an attempt by sympathizers in London to free his fellow prisoner Edward, earl of Warwick, and himself, and to place one of them on the throne. Exactly what part he played in the conspiracy, and in its betrayal to the king on 3 August, is hard to establish, but Henry and his council resolved to punish all the principal participants. Warbeck was tried on 16 November in the White Hall of the Palace of Westminster together with Taylor and Atwater, who had been recovered from France and Ireland; all were condemned. On 23 November 1499, after one final confession that he was no Plantagenet, Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn.

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(1) S. J. Gunn, Perkin Warbeck : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Ann Wroe, Perkin: A Story of Deception (2004) pages 148-151

(2) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 2

(4) S. J. Gunn, Perkin Warbeck : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(5) S. J. Gunn, Henry VII : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(6) Anthony Fletcher, Tudor Rebellions (1974) pages 11 and 12

(7) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 2

(8) S. J. Gunn, Perkin Warbeck : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)