Died At Age: 25
Born Country: Belgium
Born in: Tournai, Belgium
Famous as: Pretender to English Throne
Died on: November 23, 1499
place of death: Tyburn, Middlesex, England
Cause of Death: Execution
Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the English throne, who surfaced in Great Britain during the reign of King Henry VII of England. Born in Flanders, he possibly lost his parents around the age of ten or twelve. Thereafter, he started working as a servant under various employers, eventually landing in the Irish city of Cork with a Breton silk merchant at the age of seventeen. Here, he was taken as an aristocrat and eventually persuaded by the King’s Yorkist enemies to impersonate as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, who had mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London at the age of ten. Thereafter, he was sent to Europe, where he was recognized as the true claimant of the English throne, eventually returning to Great Britain to make his claim. But after a few unsuccessful ventures, he was captured by the English force and made to sign a confession before being executed by hanging. The little that we know about him comes from this confession.
Childhood & Early Life
Perkin Warbeck was born as Pierrechon de Werbecque in the year of 1474 in Tournai, now a municipality of Belgium. But at that time, it was a part of the County of Flanders.
His father, John Osbeck, also known as Jehan de Werbecque, was a Flemish burgess, possibly the comptroller to the city. According to some sources, his mother’s name was Katherine de Faro while other sources mention her as Nicaise Farou. Born into a upper-middle class family, he led a comfortable childhood.
In 1484, possibly because of Flemish revolt, he left Tournai with his mother, moving first to Antwerp, where his cousin was an ‘official’. Here, he is said to have lived for six months, thereafter returning to Tournai for one year. There is no mention of his parents after this period.
Possibly in 1485-1486, he returned to Antwerp with a Tournai merchant called Berlo, remaining with him for next five months. Thereafter, he started working under various employers in places like Bergen op Zoom, and Middelburg before moving to Portugal with Lady Margaret Beaumont in early 1487.
In Portugal, he initially found employment with the royal councilor and explorer Pero Vacz de Cogna. Working under him for one year, he soon became familiar with court life.
In 1488, he was employed by a Breton silk merchant called Pregent Meno (Pierre Jean Meno), who made him learn English. In 1491, Warbeck accompanied his master to Cork, a city located in south-west of Ireland.
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In Cork, Perkin Warbeck started moving around in his master’s silk clothes, possibly as an advertisement of his wares. However, seeing this handsome lad in rich clothes, many people took him to be the son of the murdered Duke of Clarence. He denied this, taking oath before the mayor of Cork.
They next declared him to be natural son of Richard III and when he denied this, they asserted that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Born as the second son of King Edward IV of England, the duke had mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London.
Although he first refuted all these assertions, he was tempted in the end. He finally relented when important Yorkists like John Atwater, the former mayor of Cork and John Taylor, an English exile, assured him that if he made the claim, they would support him.
It is possible that people like John Taylor and John Atwater knew that he was not Richard of Shrewsbury. They were more likely driven by a wish to take revenge on the King of England and once again set up the House of York on the English throne.
Once he agreed to impersonate, Warbeck was taken to Duchess of Burgundy, at that time living in Netherland. As the daughter of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, she was the aunt of Richard of Shrewsbury. She immediately accepted Warbeck as her nephew and began to train him.
Under her tutelage, Warbeck learnt everything about the family history, especially about his pretended parents, Edward IV and his queen. By 1493, the news that Richard of Shrewsbury was alive and had been accepted by Duchess of Burgundy, reached England. Shortly, many important people started crediting the story.
Claim to English Throne
In 1490, once his tuition was complete, Warbeck put his claim on the English throne, declaring that while his brother was murdered, his life had been spared. Finally on 3 July 1495, he landed at the Kentish city of Deal with a small number of troops, hired by the Duchess of Burgundy, hoping for popular support.
Contrary to his expectation, his troops were attacked by supporters of King Henry VII and in the ensuing Battle of Deal, Warbeck’s small army was routed and Warbeck was driven off without him ever disembarking from his ship. Eventually he left for Ireland.
In Ireland, he received support from Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, eventually launching seize at Waterford. But meeting resistance, he fled to Scotland where he received support from James IV, the King of Scotland.
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Marriage & First Assault on England
It is not known exactly when, but while living in Scotland, Perkin Warbeck got married to Lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. The wedding was celebrated in Edinburgh with the blessings of King James IV.
In September 1496, he set out to wage war against England with the help of the King of Scotland, offering prayer at Holyrood Abbey on 14 September. On 19 September they were at Ellem, crossing the River Tweed at Coldstream on 21 September.
They had gone four miles inside England before an English army under the command of Lord Neville approached from Newcastle. Hearing this, they beat a hasty retreat and returned to Scotland by 25 September 1496.
In 1497, a peace process between England and Scotland was launched. Since presence of Warbeck was a hindrance to the process, King James IV had him shipped to Waterord, possibly in July.
On 7 September 1497, Perkin Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay in Cornwall, hoping to take advantage of the local population’s resentment against the English. Here, a 6000 strong Cornish army gathered around him. He was also declared as Richard IV.
As soon as the news of Warbeck being declared Richard IV reached King Henry VII, he sent his chief general, Giles Daubeney, 1st Baron Daubeney, to subdue the Cornish army. When Warbeck heard that the King’s army had reached Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his men.
Capture & Death
Perkin Warbeck was captured from Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire and kept at the Tower of London. Initially he was treated well and once he confessed of being an imposter, he was given accommodation at the royal court while his wife was placed in the household of the English queen.
After one and half years at the royal court, he tried to escape; but was quickly recaptured. Thereafter, he was imprisoned at the Tower of London.
In 1499, he tried to escape for a second time. Captured once again, he was taken to Tyburn, where he was made to read out a confession that he was not a Plantagenet and hanged to death on 23 November 1499.