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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two Sides to Every Story: Perkin Warbeck v. Richard, Duke of York

Perkin Warbeck v. Richard, Duke of York

This is to be the first post of what may become a regular feature here at The Maiden’s Court; depending on how this one goes of course. In her new book, The Pale Rose of England, Sandra Worth tells the story of Richard, Duke of York (believed by the Tudors to be Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the throne) from his own perspective as well as that of his wife, Lady Catherine Gordon. It was a real hot button topic at the time as to whether this person was really the young Richard, Duke of York, the prince thought to be lost during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, or if he was Perkin Warbeck, and imposter who was trying to take the throne in Richard’s name. We still don’t know today whether this man was the real thing or an imposter and there are people who believe on both sides of the issue.

Here I want to take a little bit of time and lay out both sides of the issue and allow you to make your own decision as to where you stand. As of yet there is not a definitive answer and there may never be one, so why not discuss it and speculate. I encourage you to post what you think in the comments section at the end of this post and share your ideas.

Perkin Warbeck, Pretender

Author Unknown, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Warbeck began his quest for the throne of England on the European continent. Here he visited many of the royal courts: Burgundy (where Margaret of Burgundy was the sister to King Edward IV, making her the aunt of Richard, Duke of York), France (meeting with Charles VIII), Vienna (meeting with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian). Margaret of Burgundy officially recognized him as Richard of Shrewsbury. He had strong support of Maximilian – even lending his claim to the throne to him if he should die before becoming king. He was also officially recognized as King Richard IV. He then moved on to Scotland, where he was well received by James IV. While there, he married Lady Catherine Gordon (a close relative of James IV). Warbeck is said to have had a striking resemblance to Edward IV and Elizabeth of York. After his army was defeated at Taunton and surrendering to Henry VII’s army – Perkin was held at the Tower of London. He made a confession, under the scrutiny of King Henry VII, indicating that he was Perkin Warbeck, son of a man by the name of Werbecque, from Tournai, and that he was not the real Richard, son of King Edward IV.

Richard, Duke of York, Heir to the Throne of England
John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Richard was the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and was one of the two boys imprisoned in the Tower by King Richard III – after being declared illegitimate. It is believed that both of the boys were murdered sometime during the reign of Richard III, but there is no conclusive proof.

Is it possible that one of these boys did somehow escape from the Tower only to later turn up and try to get back the throne that was rightly his and to be called a pretender by Henry VII who didn’t want to lose his throne? Was Perkin Warbeck really just a nobody following on the coattails of Lambert Simnel (who was a pretender to the throne impersonating the Earl of Warwick)? Could that many crowned heads of Europe really have been fooled into believing in the story of this young man, including his aunt, if he wasn’t the Duke of York – or did they all go along with it to try and be rid of Henry VII?

What do you think and what is the piece of evidence that really convinces you?

Also today as part of the HFBRT event you can check out:
A guest post by Sandra Worth at Hist-Fic Chick
A review of Pale Rose of England at Historically Obsessed
A giveaway for the book at Historical-Fiction.com

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Love this new series you're thinking about starting Heather:) I'm personally still torn about these guys...I kinda like the idea of one of the princes actually escaping. Truth is that if things hadn't turned out the way it did, English history would be entirely different without those feisty Tudors -that's for sure. Great post- Thanks!

  2. I have to agree with Lucy had it not been for the Tudors there would have been so many monumental events that did not happen, including Anne Boleyn. But on the other hand in my heart I believe Perkin was Richard. I think the biggest part for me was that Henry VII beat him beyond recognition before his execution. I believe he was hiding his looks so the masses would not freak out that he was executing a man with an uncanny resemblance to Edward. Plus the fact that he never let Elizabeth near him and the conflicting statements are fragmented on Henry's end. I think if Perkin had the backing of some of the most powerful rulers in that time period that they really must have believed it was Richard too, why else would they back him then? What gauls me is the whole Catherine of Aragon wedding to Aurthur, if it was not him then why would Isabella and Ferdinand require that Perkin and Warwick be put to death before they would proceed with the wedding? Fishy to me and always has been. Wonderful post Heather it was much enjoyable.

  3. Lucy - Thanks! The world would definately be very different if we didn't have the Tudors!

    Lizzy - I have to agree with you, in my heart I really do feel like he might very well have been the prince. There really are so many things that were done that seem like overboard if he was just a pretender. And really, how could all of those people be wrong.

  4. I am not knowledgeable enough on the subject to be able to decide one way or another. english history is so fraught with intrigue, murder, deceit, and lies, it is often hard to discern what the truth is. Just reading Lizzy's comment in addition to your post, I have more questions than ever.

    TWO SIDES is definitely a good addition to your blog. I hope you keep it.

  5. Librarypat - English history does seem to be full of situations where it is hard for us now to figure out what happened. It is great fodder for speculation and discussion tho! Thanks for the great words about this post - I will have to think on what the next topic will be...

  6. He might have been an illegitimate son of edward 1v or of a cousin of his, or he might have been really Richard who knows,Perkin might have just been a pathological liar.

    1. I agree, he could have been any of those things.

  7. A few facts are being missed here.

    1) That Perkin Warbeck spoke English but poorly when he was first acclaimed in Ireland.
    2) That originally he was touted as the Earl of Warwick and then as a bastard of Richard III before he settled into being Richard, Duke of York.
    3) That his rebellions failed ever to gain much local English support. (Of course the English people could well have been just damn tired of war and weren't about to embark willingly again on long years of constant battle for yet someone else who wanted to make himself king.)
    4) That the persons he himself named in his confessions as his Flemish parents do in fact exist in historical records in Tournai.

    Do I think he was Richard of York? No. I think, like Lambert Simnel, he was a convenient stooge used by old-style Yorkists to try and upset the Tudor applecart.

    1. Thanks for the information. I never intended to lay out every detail that exists on both sides, just sort of a summary of the general opinion of the two sides. I don't necessarily think Warbeck was Richard, but I do think that it was an interesting strategy that did have some legs at the time.

    2. I don't think any of the four points makes a conclusive argument. Having fluently learned a second language, French, in France, and having spoken only French for a mere three months while living in Paris, I was surprised at how hard it was to come back and speak English fluently! It would surprise me not at all that his English was considered "poor."

      But I guess the one thing that I keep in the forefront of my mind is the fact that the victor writes the history books. Define "poor." Who said it? This is impossible to judge 500 years later.

      As to the second point, in an era of communication existing as currency only of the wealthy -- and as a possibility because of his extensive network of spies, belonging mostly to Henry VII -- and it being slow and unreliable, it would -- again -- surprise me not one wit that there perhaps there was confusion as to his identity. I don't know who "touted" him as one name, another or the last. I'd have to have more info, but the claim falls far short of proving anything to my mind.

      Point three, I believe that it's very likely that the cousins war had dragged on long enough that people were pretty much done. It's just so hard to say! They'd been decimated by Henry's system of taxes and fines. One might argue that they might have risen up eagerly for a true prince of York, but...again, uncertainty.

      And lastly, in an era lacking documentation of birth, the fact that the persons he named in his confession as his parents really existed prove nothing. Had there been a plan in place for hiding an endangered prince, a family could easily be procured to care for the boy. There's just too much wiggle room to "prove" that they truly were his parents. Besides...who took his confession, not to mention coerced it (the interrogation methods of the day were particularly brutal [nod to understatement])? Oh! That's right! The "victor," Henry Tudor!

      Not to be flip, but there remains serious doubts in my mind. I think it is perfectly reasonable that Perkin Warbuck was, in fact, Richard of York.

    3. Great comments Nicole! I think there is a lot to be said about communication at the time. With less access to resources, more difficult communication, etc it would be much easier to try to pass someone off as another than it would be these days. They didn't have things like DNA tests to be certain. Very much appreciate the comments - I love having discussion.

  8. I have two theory's, one being that Perkin was one of Edwards illegitimate sons,that was raised by his mother. Who then married the boat man.. Or the other theory is that Perkin was really Richard the lost prince. And Henry tortured him and forced him to say that he was an imposter.. To keep his wife safe. And I personally think he was...

  9. I feelnin my heart that he was Richard, I like to beleive it was him, but poor Elizabeth, of course she had to deny him.

  10. Yo creo que era un impostor. Mencionan el hecho de que Perkin hablaba mal el inglés y alguien aquí comento que es lo normal cuando aprendes un segundo idioma (el comentario decía que cuando él o ella aprendió francés se le dificultó el inglés) lo cual no pasa con tu idioma natal, así vivas 20 años en un país donde hablan otro idioma, el natal nunca se olvida. Segundo, el respaldo de los gobernantes europeos no prueba nada (a mi parecer), ¿quiénes eran esos gobernantes? James de Escocia, Carlos de Francia y Margarita de York, gente que tenía mucho interés en el trono de Inglaterra. Tercero, bien podría haber sido un hijo ilegítimo de Eduardo IV, al que no le faltaban bastardos.


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