Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Impostor Who Claimed the Crown of Henry VII


[THERE were several insurrections against the rule of Henry; and at different times two young men appeared who claimed the throne. The story of one of these, named Perkin War-beck, is told in the following selection.
The Editor. ]

ALL of a sudden there appeared at Cork, in a vessel arriving from Portugal, a young man of excellent abilities, of very handsome appearance and most winning manners, who declared himself to be Richard, Duke of York, the second son of King Edward IV. "Oh," said some, even of those ready Irish believers, "but surely that young prince was murdered by his uncle in the Tower!"—"It is  supposed so," said the engaging young man; "and my brother was killed in that gloomy prison; but I escaped—it don't matter how, at present—and have been wandering about the world for seven long years." This explanation being quite satisfactory to numbers of the Irish people, they began again to shout and to hurrah, and to drink his health, and to make the noisy and thirsty demonstrations all over again. And the big chieftain in Dublin began to look out for another coronation, and another young king to be carried home on his back.

Now, King Henry being then on bad terms with France, the French king, Charles VIII, saw that, by pretending to believe in the handsome young man, he could trouble his enemy sorely. So, he invited him over to the French court, and appointed him a bodyguard, and treated him in all respects as if he really were the Duke of York. Peace, however, being soon concluded between the two kings, the pretended duke was turned adrift, and wandered for protection to the Duchess of Burgundy. She, of ter feigning to inquire into the reality of his claims, declared him to be the very picture of her dear departed brother; gave him a bodyguard at her court, of thirty halberdiers; and called him by the sounding name of the White Rose of England.

The leading members of the White Rose party in England sent over an agent, named Sir Robert Clifford, to ascertain whether the White Rose's claims were good: the king also sent over his agents to inquire into the Rose's history. The White Roses declared the young man to be really the Duke of York; the king declared him to be Perkin Warbeck, the son of a merchant of the city of Tournay, who had acquired his knowledge of England, its language and manners, from the English merchants who traded in Flanders; it was also stated by the royal agents that he had been in the service of Lady Brompton, the wife of an exiled English nobleman, and that the Duchess of Burgundy had caused him to be trained and taught, expressly for this deception. The king then required the Archduke Philip—who was the sovereign of Burgundy—to banish this new pretender, or to deliver him up; but, as the archduke replied that he could not control the duchess in her own land, the king, in revenge, took the market of English cloth away from Antwerp, and prevented all commercial intercourse between the two countries.

He also, by arts and bribes, prevailed on. Sir Robert Clifford to betray his employers; and he, denouncing several famous English noblemen as being secretly the friends of Perkin Warbeck, the king had three of the foremost executed at once. Whether he pardoned the remainder because they were poor, I do not know; but it is only too probable that he refused to pardon one famous nobleman, against whom the same Clifford soon afterwards informed separately, because he was rich. This was no other than Sir William Stanley, who had saved the king's life at the battle of Bosworth Field. It is very doubtful whether his treason amounted to much more than his having said that, if he were sure the young man was the Duke of York, he would not take arms against him. Whatever he had done he admitted, like an honorable spirit; and he lost his head for it, and the covetous king gained all his wealth.

Perkin Warbeck kept quiet for three years; but, as the Flemings began to complain heavily of the loss of their trade by the stoppage of the Antwerp market on his account, and as it was not unlikely that they might even go so far as to take his life, or give him up, he found it necessary to do something. Accordingly, he made a desperate sally, and landed, with only a few hundred men, on the coast of Deal. But he was soon glad to get back to the place from whence he came; for the country people rose against his followers, killed a great many, and took a hundred, and fifty prisoners: who were all driven to London, tied together with ropes, like a team of cattle. Every one of them was hanged on some part or other of the seashore; in order, that if any more men should come over with Perkin Warbeck, they might see the bodies as a warning before they landed.

Then the wary king, by making a treaty of commerce with the Flemings, drove Perkin Warbeck out of that country; and, by completely gaining over the Irish to his side, deprived him of that asylum, too. He wandered away to Scotland, and told his story at that court. King James IV of Scotland, who was no friend to King Henry and had no reason to be (for King Henry had bribed his Scotch lords to betray him more than once; but had never succeeded in his plots), gave him a great reception, called him his cousin, and gave him in marriage the Lady Catherine Gordon, a beautiful and charming creature related to the royal house of Stuart.

Alarmed by this successful reappearance of the pretender, the king still undermined, and bought, and bribed, and kept his doings and Perkin Warbeck's story in the dark, when he might, one would imagine, have rendered the matter clear to all England. But, for all this bribing of the Scotch lords at the Scotch king's court, he could not procure the pretender to be delivered up to him. James, though not very particular in many respects, would not betray him; and the ever-busy Duchess of Burgundy so provided him with arms, and good soldiers, and with money besides, that he had soon a little army of fifteen hundred men of various nations. With these, and aided by the Scottish king in person, he crossed the border into England, and made a proclamation to the people, in which he called the king "Henry Tudor"; offered large rewards to any who should take or distress him; and announced himself as King Richard IV, come to receive the homage of his faithful subjects. His faithful subjects, however, cared nothing for him, and hated his faithful troops: who, being of different nations, quarreled also among themselves. Worse than this, if worse were possible, they began to plunder the country; upon which the White Rose said, that he would rather lose his rights than gain them through the miseries of the English people. The Scottish king made a jest of his scruples; but they and their whole force went back again without fighting a battle.

The worst consequence of this attempt was that a rising took place among the people of Cornwall, who considered themselves too heavily taxed to meet the charges of the expected war. Stimulated by Flammock, a lawyer, and Joseph, a blacksmith, and joined by Lord Audley and some other country gentlemen, they marched on all the way to Deptford Bridge, where they fought a battle with the king's army. They were defeated— though the Cornishmen fought with great bravery—and the lord was beheaded, and the lawyer and the blacksmith were hanged, drawn, and quartered. The rest were pardoned. The king, who believed every man to be as avaricious as himself, and thought that money could settle anything, allowed them to make bargains for their liberty with the soldiers who had taken them.

Perkin Warbeck, doomed to wander up and down, and never to find rest anywhere,—a sad fate: almost a sufficient punishment for an imposture, which he seems in time to have half believed himself,—lost his Scottish refuge through a truce being made between the two kings; and found himself, once more, without a country before him in which he could lay his head. But James (always honorable and true to him, alike when he melted down his plate, and even the great gold chain he had been used to wear, to pay soldiers in his cause; and now, when that cause was lost and hopeless) did not conclude the treaty until he had safely departed out of the Scottish dominions. He, and his beautiful wife, who was faithful to him under all reverses, and left her state and home to follow his poor fortunes, were put aboard ship with everything necessary for their comfort and protection, and sailed for Ireland.

But the Irish people had had enough of counterfeit Earls of Warwick and Dukes of York, for one while; and would give the White Rose no aid. So the White Rose—encircled by thorns indeed—resolved to go with his beautiful wife to Cornwall as a forlorn resource, and see what might be made of the Cornishmen, who had risen so valiantly a little while before, and who had fought so bravely at Deptford Bridge.

To Whitsand Bay, in Cornwall, accordingly, came Perkin Warbeck and his wife; and the lovely lady he shut up for safety in the Castle of St. Michael's Mount, and then marched into Devonshire at the head of three thousand Cornishmen. These were increased to six thousand by the time of his arrival in Exeter; but, there the people made a stout resistance, and he went on to Taunton, where he came in sight of the king's army. The stout Cornishmen, although they were few in number, and badly armed, were so bold that they never thought of retreating; but bravely looked forward to a battle on the morrow. Unhappily for them, the man who was possessed of so many engaging qualities, and who attracted so many people to his side when he had nothing else with which to tempt them, was not as brave as they. In the night, when the two armies lay opposite to each other, he mounted a swift horse and fled. When morning dawned, the poor confiding Cornishmen, discovering that they had no leader, surrendered to the king's power. Some of them were hanged, and the rest were pardoned and went miserably home.

Before the king pursued Perkin Warbeck to the sanctuary of Beaulieu, in the New Forest, where it was soon known that he had taken refuge, he sent a body of horsemen to St. Michael's Mount to seize his wife. She was soon taken and brought as a captive before the king. But she was so beautiful and so good and so devoted to the man in whom she believed that the king regarded her with compassion, treated her with great respect, and placed her at court, near the queen's person. And many years after Perkin Warbeck was no more, and when his strange story had become like a nursery tale, she was called the White Rose, by the people, in remembrance of her beauty.

The sanctuary at Beaulieu was soon surrounded by the king's men; and the king, pursuing his usual dark, artful ways, sent pretended friends to Perkin Warbeck to persuade him to come out and surrender himself. This he soon did; the king, having taken a good look at the man of whom he had heard so much,—from behind a screen,—directed him to be well mounted, and to ride behind him at a little distance, guarded, but not bound in any way. So they entered London with the king's favorite show—a procession; and some of the people hooted as the pretender rode slowly through the streets to the Tower; but the greater part were quiet, and very curious to see him. From the Tower he was taken to the Palace at Westminster, and there lodged like a gentleman, though closely watched. He was examined every now and then as to his imposture; but the king was so secret in all he did that even then he gave it a consequence which it cannot be supposed to have in itself deserved.

At last Perkin Warbeck ran away, and took refuge in another sanctuary near Richmond, in Surrey. From this he was again persuaded to deliver himself up; and being conveyed to London, he stood in the stocks for a whole day, outside Westminster Hall, and there read a paper purporting to be his full confession, and relating his history as the king's agents had originally described it. He was then shut up in the Tower again, in the company of the Earl of Warwick, who had now been there for fourteen years: ever since his removal out of Yorkshire, except when the king had had him at court, and had shown him to the people, to prove the imposture of the baker's boy. It is but too probable, when we consider the crafty character of Henry VII, that these two were brought together for a cruel purpose. A plot was soon discovered between them and the keepers, to murder the governor, get possession of the keys, and proclaim Perkin Warbeck as King Richard IV. That there was some such plot is likely; that they were tempted into it is at least as likely; that the unfortunate Earl of Warwick—last male of the Plantagenet line—was too unused to the world, and too ignorant and simple to know much about it, whatever it was, is perfectly certain; and that it was the king's interest to get rid of him is no less so. He was beheaded on Tower Hill, and Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn.

by Charles Dickens

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