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Perkin Warbeck (circa 1474 – 23 November 1499) was a pretender to the Englishmarker throne during the reign of King Henry VII of England. Traditional belief claims that he was an imposter, pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV of England, but was in fact a Fleming born in Tournaimarker around 1474. The "Perkin Warbeck" of the traditional tale was claimed to be the son of a French official, John de Werbecque and Katherine de Faro.

As Richard of Shrewsbury's fate in the Tower of Londonmarker was not known for sure (although most historians believe he died in 1483), 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. Most historical accounts mention that Warbeck cost Henry VII over £13,000 (equivalent to £6.4 Million in 2007 values) , putting a strain on Henry’s weak financial state.

Claim to the throne

Warbeck first claimed the English throne at the court of Burgundy in 1490. In 1491, he landed in Irelandmarker in the hope of gaining support for his claim as Lambert Simnel had four years previously. However, little 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 (who later signed the Treaty of Etaples, agreeing not to shelter rebels, therefore being obliged to expel Warbeck) and was officially recognised as Richard of Shrewsbury by Margaret of Burgundy, who was Edward IV's sister and the widow of Charles I, Duke of Burgundy. It is not known whether or not she knew he was a fraud, but she tutored him in the ways of the Yorkist court. Henry complained to Archduke Philip, who had assumed control of Burgundy in 1493, about the harboring of Warbeck, but the Archduke ignored him. So Henry imposed trade embargo on Burgundy, cutting off their important trade links with England. Warbeck was also welcomed by various other monarchs; in 1493, he attended the funeral of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor in Viennamarker, where he was recognised as King Richard IV of England, at the invitation of Frederick III's son Maximilian I. Warbeck also promised that if he died before becoming king, his "claim" would fall to Maximilian.

First landing in England

On 3 July 1495, funded by Margaret of Burgundy, Warbeck landed at Dealmarker in Kentmarker, hoping for a show of popular support. Despite Henry not having unanimous authority over England, 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 the Earl of Desmond and laid siege to Waterfordmarker, but, meeting resistance, he fled to Scotlandmarker. He was well received by James IV of Scotland, who would always spring at a chance to annoy England, and permitted to marry James's own cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon (daughter of George Gordon, the 2nd Earl of Huntly, and his wife, Princess Annabella, the daughter of King James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort).

In September 1496, Scotland launched an attack on England, but quickly retreated when support from Northumberlandmarker failed to materialise. Now wishing to be rid of Warbeck, James IV signed the treaty of Ayton which had Warbeck expelled and so he returned to Waterford in shame. Once again he attempted to lay siege to the city, 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 Baymarker, near Land's Endmarker, in Cornwallmarker hoping to capitalise on the Cornish people's resentment in the aftermath of their uprising only three months earlier. Warbeck proclaimed that he would 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 Moormarker and his Cornish army some 6000 strong entered Exetermarker before advancing on Tauntonmarker. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney, to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonburymarker he panicked and deserted his army. Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbeymarker 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 Londonmarker, where he was "paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens".

Imprisonment and death

Warbeck was held in the Tower alongside a genuine claimant to the throne, Edward, Earl of Warwick, and it was alleged that 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, Londonmarker, where he read out a "confession" and was hanged.


Perkin reportedly resembled Edward IV in appearance, which has led to speculation that he might have been Edward's illegitimate son, or at least some genuine connection with the York family. Some historians have even gone as far as to claim that Warbeck was actually Richard, Duke of York, although this is not the consensus.

Warbeck in popular culture

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

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein, wrote a "romance" on the subject of Warbeck, titled The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck. It was published in London in 1830.

Warbeck is the central character in They Have Their Dreams, a historical novel by Philip Lindsay.

Channel 4 and RDF Media produced a drama about Perkin Warbeck for British television in 2005, Princes in the Tower. It was directed by Justin Hardy and starred Mark Umbers as Warbeck.

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia, USA has 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). Lucas Lovat, a spy in the Court of Henry VII, is the main character, and a subplot of the novel is his indecision as to whether Warbeck is, or is not, Prince Richard.

Oxford-educated comedians Stewart Lee and Richard Herring both make references to Warbeck, and fellow pretender Lambert Simnel in much of their work, both together as Lee And Herring and individually.In their fondness for naming a number of their fictitious characters after real people, Simnel & Warbeck's names have appeared sporadically throughout their material over the years.

The story of Perkin Warbeck 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, Duke of York.

Perkin Warbeck and his wife, Lady Catherine Gordon, are explored from the viewpoint of Elizabeth of York, sister to the princes in the Tower, and queen to Henry VII in Sandra Worth's award-winning novel The King’s Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen (Penguin Group, 2008)[7559]. The novel is the recipient of the Best Historical Biography of the Year Award from the reviewers at the Romantic Times [7560].

In Philippa Gregory's 2009 novel The White Queen, the young Duke of York is sent into hiding in Tournaimarker, Belgium by his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, while a changeling is sent to the Towermarker. While in hiding, the Duke takes on the assumed name Perkin, returning as an eleven year old later in the novel, ready to reclaim his birthright.

See also


  1. Wroe, pp. 148-151.
  2. Cornwall timeline 1497
  3. Philip Payton - (1996) Cornwall, Fowey: Alexander Associates
  4. Channel 4 - Perkin Warbeck


  • Wroe, Ann. Perkin: A Story of Deception. Vintage: 2004 (ISBN 0-09-944996-X).
  • Guy, John. "Tudor England" p52 et seq.
  • pgs 231 & 232

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