Perkin Warbeck

Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of England. Born in Tournay, claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower. From 1492 until his execution in 1499 Warbeck and his followers were a threat to the Tudor establishment. 

Perkin Warbeck recognised as being Richard Duke of York, son of Edward IV

In 1492 Perking Warbeck was in Cork, Ireland, where several Earls announced that he was a son of King Edward IV. This led to Perkin being offered support by King James IV of Scotland, then King Charles VIII of France, before attending the court of Burgundy where he gained favour from the Dowager Duchess Margaret of York.

Warbeck’s backers

Warbeck’s support on the continent was similar to that which had been given to Lambert Simnel. Yorkists accepted him as being Richard Duke of York, son of King Edward IV. He was financially supported, and military aid was given to him.  In July 1495 a military expedition set sail for England with the intention of placing Perkin Warbeck on the throne as King Richard IV. It was a humiliating venture, being unable to establish a beachhead and the invaders being forced to return to their ships and sail in haste for the safety of Ireland.

James IV’s Raid into England

From Ireland he travelled to Scotland. Here, he married Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly. Plans were then formulated for an invasion of England by a combined Scottish and Irish force. A large raid was led by King James IV of Scotland which failed to result in any Englishmen declaring for the pretender. With that, the Scottish king returned home after just three days of campaigning. Warbeck now needed to look for an alternative means of gaining support in England.

Perkin Warbeck and the Siege of Exeter

He did so in Cornwall. Warbeck sailed from Scotland to Ireland, to try and gather support for his cause. From here, he sailed to Cornwall. His ship was stopped by crown officials looking for the pretender. Hidden in a cask, he remained undetected and was able to land in Cornwall. Here, he proclaimed himself to be King Richard IV. In Cornwall Warbeck was able to muster significant support. As he marched into Devon, he had a force estimated to be 3000 strong, a number that is believed to have increased as he lay Siege to Exeter.

At Exeter, Warbeck heard of the approach of an army commanded by the Earl of Devonshire. He and a group of his followers attempted to evade the oncoming force by travelling to Taunton. Here, he was dismayed to hear of a different army marching on him, commanded by Lord Daubeney.

Surrender of Perkin Warbeck at Beaulieu Abbey

Warbeck and a group of horsemen fled to the east. He eventually found his way to Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest, Hampshire, where he sought refuge. The king’s men were soon aware of this and two companies of horsemen were dispatched to sit outside the Abbey. Faced with this, Warbeck surrendered himself to the King’s men. He was taken to London as a prisoner where he was paraded through the streets on 28th November 1497 before being lodged in the Tower of London.

Escape, Capture, Imprisonment in the Tower

Shortly afterwards King Henry VII granted permission for Warbeck to leave the Tower and be placed under house arrest within London. Warbeck and his followers used this as a means to try and escape. Warbeck fled on 9th June 1498, managing to travel as far as the monastery at Syon before once again being discovered and surrendering himself to the king’s men,

This time, there would be no chances taken with the security of the potentially disruptive prisoner. Warbeck was forced to publicly state that he was an imposter, whilst being fixed in stocks on a raised platform, before then being placed in the Tower of London.

Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick executed for plotting

In the Tower of London Perkin Warbeck became involved in a plot to escape. Gaoler’s were bribed into enabling the exchange of messages between high value prisoners, such as Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick. It may well have been a trap set by the Tudor regime. Either way, both Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick were soon caught plotting the escape. It gave the king good cause to place the plotters on trial. On 16th November 1499 Warbeck and some of his followers were condemned to death by a court held at Westminster. It was a sentence that was carried out by hanging at Tyburn on 23rd November 1499. The Earl of Warwick was similarly charged and found guilty of plotting. His sentence was determined on 23rd November and he was executed by beheading at Tower Hill.

Perkin Warbeck, biography from the Dictionary of National Biography

Note: the Dictionary of National Biography is Public Domain in the United Kingdom. A more recent version is available that takes into account research from the past hundred years. It can be found here.

WARBECK, PERKIN (1474–1499), Pretender, has been surmised by one or two writers to have been the person he claimed to be, Richard, Duke of York, the second son of Edward IV. This theory, however, involves, among other difficulties, the supposition that the brother of a queen consort (Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth) was hanged during that queen’s life without any apparent manifestation of feeling on her part or on that of the people. The true history of the impostor was doubtless contained in his own confession, printed and published shortly before his execution, when its truth in almost every particular could be easily verified. He was a native of Tournay, born most probably in 1474, the son of John Osbeck, controller of that town, by his wife Catherine de Faro. The name Osbeck seems only to be a variation of Warbeck, for that of Perkin’s father is found in the archives of Tournay as ‘Jehan de Werbecque,’ son of ‘Diericq de Werbecque,’ and the confession also mentions ‘Diryck Osbeck’ as the Pretender’s grandfather. The same document names other family connections who were prominent citizens of Tournay. Early in his life Perkin’s mother took him to Antwerp, where he remained half a year with a cousin, John Stienbeck, an officer of the town; but owing to the wars in Flanders he returned home probably about 1483. A year later a Tournay merchant named Berlo took him to the mart at Antwerp, where he had a five months’ illness, then removed him to Bergen-op-Zoom, and afterwards put him in service at Middelburg. After some months he went into Portugal, in the company of Sir Edward Brampton’s wife, an adherent of the house of York, and remained a year in that country, in the service of a knight named Peter Vacz de Cogna, who had only one eye. Then, leaving him, he took service with a Breton named Pregent Meno, with whom he sailed to Ireland.

He landed at Cork in 1491, arrayed in fine silk clothing which belonged to his master. Lambert Simnel [q. v.] had been crowned in Dublin four years before as the son of the Duke of Clarence, and the turbulent citizens would have it that Perkin was the same son of Clarence who had been so crowned. This he denied on oath before the mayor; but two other persons then maintained he was a son of Richard III. This also he denied, but, being finally assured of the support of the earls of Desmond and Kildare, he agreed to take upon himself the character of the Duke of York. He was accordingly put in training to speak good English and to act as became a son of Edward IV. On 2 March 1492 James IV of Scotland received letters from him out of Ireland as ‘King Edward’s son.’ But he was immediately afterwards invited to France by Charles VIII, and was there in October 1492, when Henry VII made his brief invasion. On the peace of Étaples, however (3 Nov.), Charles was obliged to dismiss him, and he betook himself to Flanders, where Margaret, duchess dowager of Burgundy [q. v.], received him as her nephew. Under her his education as Duke of York was completed.

In July 1493 Henry VII sent Sir Edward Poynings [q. v.] and William Warham [q. v.] to Philip, archduke of Austria, Maximilian’s son, to remonstrate against such support being given to him in Flanders. The archduke was then a lad of fifteen, and his council answered for him that while he wished to keep on good terms with England, he had no control over what the duchess did within the lands of her dowry. The king replied by a stoppage of trade with Flanders, which produced a riot in London. In November Perkin for a time left the Low Countries, and presented himself to Maximilian, king of the Romans at Vienna, at the funeral of his father, the Emperor Frederic III (Lichnowsky, Geschichte des Hauses Habsburg, vol. viii., Verzeichniss der Urkunden, No. 2000). In the summer of 1494 Maximilian brought him down in his company to the Low Countries again, and recognised him as king of England. Garter king-of-arms was sent over to remonstrate against this, and to declare both to Maximilian and to Margaret that Henry had positive evidence of his being the son of a burgess of Tournay. Garter was not listened to, but, in spite of threats of imprisonment, he proclaimed the fact aloud in the streets of Mechlin, in presence of other heralds. In October Perkin was present at Antwerp when the Archduke Philip took his oath as Duke of Brabant, and he displayed the arms of the house of York on the house in which he stayed (Spalatin, Nachlass, p. 228; Molinet, v. 15, 46).

Meanwhile secret conspiracies were formed in England in his favour. Henry, to learn the extent of these, sent spies over to Flanders, and offered pardons to Sir Robert Clifford and William Barley, two of the refugees who were among the leaders of the movement. Clifford at once accepted his pardon, and, coming over to England, received a reward of 500l. for supplying full information; but Barley deferred his submission to Henry for two years longer. Suddenly a number of Perkin’s adherents in England were arrested, including Lord Fitzwalters, Sir Simon Mountford, and William Worsley, dean of St. Paul’s, of whom the laymen were put to death. Clifford further accused Sir William Stanley [q. v.], to whose action at Bosworth Field Henry was indebted for his crown, and he, too, after trial was beheaded.

The Duchess Margaret, besides being animated against Henry by the feelings natural to a prominent member of the house of York, had lost on his accession all the revenues granted to her by Edward IV on her marriage. These her feigned nephew, by a deed dated 10 Dec. 1494, engaged to restore to her when he should get possession of his kingdom; and Maximilian, on similar frail securities, lent him pecuniary assistance for his expedition. Nor would Maximilian, notwithstanding a contemptuous refusal of the regents of Tyrol to contribute to the enterprise, admit that he had been deceived, and when the expedition actually sailed in July 1495 he was sanguine that the young man would obtain possession of England, and soon after turn his arms against France. As a matter of fact, Warbeck’s little fleet appeared off Deal and landed a small body of men on 3 July, but his adherents were attacked by the country people with hearty good will, and 150 of them were slain and eighty taken prisoners. After this disastrous loss the adventurer sailed to Ireland and laid siege to Waterford, but after eleven days was compelled to withdraw, one of his vessels being captured by the loyal citizens.

He then sailed to Scotland, where James IV received him at Stirling in November, and gave him in marriage his own cousin, Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly. Measures were planned for invading England, and Warbeck wrote as Duke of York to the Earl of Desmond in Ireland to send forces into Scotland in his aid (Ware, Antiquities of Ireland, ed. 1664, pp. 33, 46). In September 1496 an ambassador of the French king offered James a hundred thousand crowns to send him to France. That same month, after much preparation, James made a raid into Northumberland on his account, but returned in three days. For, though the Pretender had issued a proclamation as king, no Englishmen joined him; the Scots were not to be withheld from practising the barbarities of border warfare, and Warbeck, it is said, only excited ridicule by entreating James to spare those whom he called his subjects. He remained in Scotland till July 1497, when he embarked with his wife, and apparently more than one child whom he already had by her, at Ayr, in a Breton merchant vessel, whose captain was under engagement to land him in England for some new attempt. The renowned seamen Andrew and Robert Barton accompanied him in their own vessels. The rebels in Cornwall had invited him to land in those parts; but he first visited Cork on 26 July, and remained in Ireland more than a month. This time, however, he got no support in that country either from Kildare or Desmond, the former being now lord-deputy, and the loyal citizens of Waterford not only wrote to inform the king of his designs, but fitted out vessels at their own cost which nearly captured him at sea in crossing to Cornwall. He and a small company made the crossing in three ships, and the one in which he himself was, a Biscayan, was actually boarded. The commander of the boarding party showed the king’s letters offering two thousand nobles for his surrender, which was only right, he said, considering the alliance between England and Spain. But the captain denied all knowledge of his being on board, though he was actually hidden in a cask, and the ship was allowed to proceed on its voyage.

He landed at Whitesand Bay in Cornwall, proclaimed himself Richard IV, as he had done in Northumberland, and at Bodmin found himself at the head of a body reckoned at three thousand men, which more than doubled as he went on. He laid siege to Exeter, but on the approach of the Earl of Devonshire and other gentlemen of the county withdrew to Taunton. Learning that Lord Daubeney was at Glastonbury in full march against him, he stole away from Taunton at midnight (21 Sept.) with sixty horsemen, whom apparently he soon left behind, and rode on himself with three companions to Beaulieu in Hampshire, where they took sanctuary. Two companies of horse presently surrounded the place, and Perkin and his two friends surrendered to the king’s mercy. He was brought back to Taunton, where the king himself had now arrived, on 5 Oct., and, having been promised his life, made a full confession of his imposture. His followers had everywhere submitted. Henry went on to Exeter and despatched horsemen to St. Michael’s Mount, where Warbeck had left his wife, to bring her to him; after seeing her, and making her husband confess his imposture once more in her presence, Henry sent her with an escort to his queen, assuring her of his desire to treat her like a sister.

The country being now pacified, the king went up to London, taking with him Perkin, who was paraded through the streets (28 Nov.) as an object of derision, and lodged in the Tower. Soon afterwards, however, he was released and kept in the king’s court, with no restraint upon his liberty except that he was carefully watched. In 1498, however, on 9 June, he made an attempt to escape, but he got no further than the monastery of Syon, and surrendered once more on pardon. On Friday, 15 June, he was placed in the stocks on a scaffolding reared on barrels at Westminster Hall, and on Monday following underwent similar treatment in Cheapside, where he repeated his confession, and after five hours’ exposure was conveyed to the Tower. The whole story of his imposture, written and read by himself, was printed by the king’s command.

Next year (1499) he made an attempt to corrupt his keepers, who with a show of yielding brought him into communication with other prisoners, and among them with the unhappy Earl of Warwick, the only real source of the king’s anxieties. A very absurd plot was formed to seize the Tower; which being revealed, Perkin and his friend John à Water, mayor of Cork, and two others were condemned to death at Westminster on Saturday, 16 Nov. On the Monday following eight other prisoners in the Tower were indicted for the plot at the Guildhall. On Thursday, the 21st, Warwick was tried and received judgment on his own confession; and on Saturday, the 23rd, Perkin and John à Water were taken to Tyburn and hanged, both confessing their misdeeds and asking the king’s forgiveness.

Perkin’s widow, deeply humiliated, had reason to feel grateful for the king’s kindness. She resumed her maiden name of Gordon, and was treated at court according to her birth. She not only received a pension, but her wardrobe expenses were defrayed by the king, and occasional payments were made to her besides. In January 1503 she was among the company assembled at Richmond to witness the betrothal of the king’s daughter Margaret to James IV. She seems to have remained unmarried about eleven years, and received from Henry VIII a grant of lands in Berkshire, which had belonged to the attainted Earl of Lincoln, on condition that she should not go out of England, either to Scotland or elsewhere, without royal license. She then married James Strangways, gentleman usher of the king’s chamber, and got a new grant of the same lands to her and her husband in survivorship. On 23 June 1517, Strangways being then dead, she got a further grant of Lincoln’s lands in Berkshire on the same condition as before. A month later she had become the wife of Matthias (or Matthew) Cradock, and obtained leave to dwell with her husband in Wales. He was a gentleman of Glamorganshire, afterwards knighted, who had fitted out and furnished with men a vessel for the French war of 1513. He died in 1531, and she again married Christopher Ashton, another gentleman usher of the chamber, with whom she lived at Fyfield in Berkshire, one of the manors granted to herself. She died in 1537, and is buried in the chancel of the parish church of Fyfield, in a tomb still called ‘Lady Gordon’s monument,’ though it is curious that a very fine tomb, also still existing, was built by her former husband, Sir Matthew Cradock, for herself and him, in Swansea church, with their effigies upon it.

[Memorials of Henry VII, and Letters and Papers of Richard III and Henry VII, both in Rolls Ser.; Polydori Virgilii Anglica Historia; Hall’s and Fabyan’s Chronicles; Cott. MS., Vitellius A. xvi.; Archæologia, vol. xxvii.; Charles Smith’s Ancient and Present State of Cork, also his Ancient and Present State of Waterford; Ryland’s History of Waterford; the Paston Letters; Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc.); Calendar of Carew MSS. (with Book of Howth); Cal., Spanish, vol. i.; Cal., Venetian, vol. i.; Baga de Secretis in Dep.-Keeper’s Third Report, App. ii. 216–18; Dickson’s Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. i., Bain’s Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, vol. iv., and Burnett’s Rotuli Scaccarii, vols. x. and xi., these last three belonging to Register House Series; Excerpta Historica; Gairdner’s Story of Perkin Warbeck appended to his Richard III, 1898; Ulmann’s Maximilian I; Busch’s England under the Tudors.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Warbeck, Perkin by James Gairdner

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