Henry VII.—The Story of Another Make-Believe Prince
A FEW years after the rebellion of Lambert Simnel there was another which lasted longer and was more serious.
A second handsome boy, even more handsome, gay, and princely than Lambert Simnel, landed in Ireland. He was, he said, Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two little princes who had been smothered in the Tower, by order of their uncle Richard.
It was quite true, he said, that his brother, Edward V., had been killed, but the wicked murderers had not been cruel enough to kill them both, and he had been saved. For seven years he had been wandering about the world from place to place. Now he had come to claim his own again and take the throne from Henry.
This story was not true. The boy's real name was Perkin Warbeck, but, like Lambert Simnel, he had been taught to tell these lies by the enemies of Henry, who hoped in this way to drive him from the throne.
Although the Irish had already been deceived once, they believed Perkin Warbeck, and many people promised to help him. The French king, who was quarrelling with Henry, invited him to come to France. There he was kindly treated, and more help was promised to him. But Henry, who always avoided war when he could, made peace with France. And the French King, although he would not betray Perkin to the English king, sent him out of France.
When he was obliged to leave the French court, Perkin went to Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. This lady was a sister of Edward IV. and she hated Henry VII. so much that she was glad to hurt or annoy him when she could. She had helped Lambert Simnel, and now she welcomed Perkin as her nephew. She said that he was very like his supposed father, Edward IV., and she called him the White Rose of England.
Just as Henry had taken trouble to prove that Lambert Simnel was a false earl, now he took trouble to prove that Perkin was a false prince. He sent spies to the places where Perkin had been born and had lived till now, and made sure that he was really Perkin or Peterkin Warbeck. Then he found the two men who had killed the Princes in the Tower. They confessed to the murder, but they were not punished for it, perhaps because Henry thought they had not been so much to blame as Richard III. who had made them do it.
But in spite of all this, many people believed in Perkin. The king of Scotland—not that King who had been kept prisoner for such a long time in England—believed in him so much that he not only helped him with soldiers, but married him to his cousin, a beautiful lady called Catherine Gordon.
Like Lambert Simnel, Perkin was crowned and his followers called him Richard IV. The rebellion went on for about five years. Battles were fought now and again, but Perkin was never successful. His beautiful wife, Catherine, went everywhere with him. She at least believed in him and loved him.
At last, hearing that the men of Cornwall were angry with the King because he had taxed them too heavily, Perkin decided to try his fortune there. He landed in Cornwall, left his beautiful wife at St. Michael's Mount, where she might be safe, and marched to besiege Exeter. But the people of Exeter were true to the King and would not yield. So Perkin grew tired of besieging a town which would not yield and he marched away to Taunton.
There, hearing that Henry was coming against him with a great army, he took fright and ran away in the night.
Next morning, when Perkin's poor soldier's woke up and found that they had lost their leader, they had no heart to fight. Some of them ran away like Perkin, others gave themselves up, begging the King to forgive them. They were all gathered together in a churchyard at Exeter, their heads and their feet bare and ropes around their necks. King Henry came to a great window and looked down upon them. When the people saw him, they all fell upon their knees begging for pardon.
There were so many of them that the King could not punish all. So he spoke to them and, warning them not to rebel again, said he would forgive them all except the ringleaders who should be put to death.
Then with a great cry of rejoicing and thanks the people threw the ropes from their necks and went to their homes.
Henry sent to St. Michael's Mount for the Lady Catherine, Perkin's beautiful wife and when she was brought before him, blushing and trembling and fearful of the rough soldiers, the King felt so sorry for her that he treated her as a royal guest. He gave her a guard of honour and sent her to London to the court of his Queen Elizabeth.
There she lived for many years, loved and admired for her beauty and her gentleness. She was so lovely that she was called the White Rose of England, the name which the Duchess of Burgundy had given to her cowardly husband.
Meanwhile Perkin had taken sanctuary at a place called Beaulieu. Henry would not seize him while he remained in sanctuary, but he kept such a close watch that Perkin could find no way of escape, and at last gave himself up.
Henry would not see nor speak with Perkin, but made him ride in his train to London. When they arrived there, all the people came out into the streets to see the wonderful man who had pretended to be a prince, and who had made people believe in him for so many years.
Perkin was even more fortunate than Lambert Simnel had been. He was neither put in prison nor was he made a servant. He was allowed to live at court like a gentleman, although there were guards always with him who had orders never to lose sight of him.
Perkin might have spent the rest of his life in peace but he soon grew tired of being watched and one day he managed to run away. But he did not run very far. Henry's soldiers were too quick for him and once more Perkin gave himself up.
This time Henry punished Perkin by putting him into the stocks for two whole days, first at Westminster and then at Cheapside. He also made him read a paper aloud, in which he confessed that the story he had told was not true and that he was not the Duke of York.
In those days people were often punished by being put in the stocks. They had to sit in a very uncomfortable position with their feet through holes in a board. It was uncomfortable and painful also, and was considered a great disgrace. Little boys, and grown up people too, used to hoot and yell at those in the stocks and pelt them with mud, rotten eggs, and other disagreeable things.
After Perkin Warbeck had been in the stocks for two days Henry shut him up in the Tower. There he met the Earl of Warwick—the real earl, not Lambert Simnel.
These two prisoners were allowed to talk together, and soon they formed a plot to kill the Governor of the Tower, and escape. But the plot was found out and that put an end to Perkin Warbeck, for Henry, thinking that he was too dangerous to be allowed to live any longer, ordered his head to be cut off.
The poor Earl of Warwick was also put to death. This was a needless and cruel act, for the earl alone was too simple to harm any one. Indeed he was so ignorant of the world and the things in it, that it was said he did not know the difference between a hen and a goose.
Except for the wars which these pretenders, Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel caused, the reign of Henry VII. was very peaceful. One reason for that was that Henry was greedy, and he knew that wars cost a great deal of money. Once indeed he got money from the people in order to make war against the French, but as soon as he got it he made peace and kept the money for himself. The people were very angry, but Henry as a King was far more powerful than the Plantagenets had ever been and the people had to submit.
One reason why the Tudors were such powerful kings was that, during the Wars of the Roses, nearly all the nobles were killed. The King took all the money and lands which had belonged to these dead nobles, and so he became very rich. Being rich he did not need to ask Parliament for grants of money, so the people became less powerful. Indeed during a great part of Henry's reign he called no Parliament, which shows how much he had of his own way.
About this time two very wonderful things happened which made a great difference throughout the world. One was the discovery of printing. The other was the discovery of America.
Up to the time of Edward IV. books had all been written by hand, and they were so dear that only a few rich people could buy them. But, when a clever man called Caxton brought the art of printing to England, books became cheaper, and people began to think more about learning and less about fighting.
Then Columbus discovered America. That, too, made people think less about fighting, for they gave up quarrelling about little bits of the Old World and turned their thoughts to exploring the wonders of the New World, as Columbus called the land he discovered.