Warbeck, Perkin, 1474?-1499, pretender to the English throne, b. Tournai. He lived in Flanders and later in Portugal and arrived in Ireland in the employ of a silk merchant in 1491. There adherents of the Yorkist party persuaded him to impersonate Richard, duke of York, the younger brother of Edward V of England. As children, the royal brothers had been imprisoned in the Tower of London and subsequently disappeared, presumably murdered. Warbeck's claim was supported by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, by James IV of Scotland, and by Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV (and thus Richard's aunt) and the chief supporter of the Yorkist exiles. Warbeck's attempt to invade England in 1495 failed, and he went to Scotland where he married Catherine Gordon, a cousin of James IV. In 1497 Warbeck landed in Cornwall, proclaimed himself Richard IV, and raised a rebel army. His forces were met by those of Henry VII at Exeter, and the pretender fled. He was captured, admitted the whole story of his adventure, and was imprisoned. In 1499 he was hanged for plotting against the king.

See biographies by J. Gairdner (in his History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third, 1898, repr. 1969) and A. Wroe (2003).

Perkin Warbeck (1474 – 23 November 1499) was a pretender to the English throne during the reign of King Henry VII of England. Traditional belief claims that he was an impostor, 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 Tournai 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.

Since the exact circumstances of Richard of Shrewsbury's death have not been established beyond complete proof of doubt (although most historians believe he did indeed die in 1483), Warbeck's claim gathered some followers whether due to actual belief in his bloodline, or because of the desire to overthrow Henry and reclaim the throne. However, most historical accounts have frequently mentioned that Warbeck cost Henry VII over £13,000, 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 Ireland 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 expelling 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 way of Yorkist court. Henry complained to Archduke Philip, who had assumed control of Burgundy in 1493, about the harboring of Warbeck, but he 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 Vienna, where he was recognised as King Richard IV of England, at the invitation of his 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, Perkin landed at Deal in Kent, 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 Waterford, but, meeting resistance, he fled to Scotland. There he was well received by James IV of Scotland, who would always spring at a chance to annoy England and permitted him to marry his cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon.

In September 1496, Scotland launched an attack on England, but quickly retreated when support from Northumberland failed to materialise. Now wishing to be rid of Perkin, James IV signed the treaty of Ayton which had Perkin 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 one hundred and twenty men on two ships.

Second landing in Cornwall

On 7 September 1497, Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay, near Land's End, in Cornwall 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 in Cornwall. He was declared ‘Richard IV’ on Bodmin Moor and his Cornish army some 6000 strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire where he surrendered. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497 where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army where the ringleaders were executed and others fined. 'Richard’ was imprisoned, first at Taunton, then at the Tower of London, 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 it was he with whom he tried to escape in 1499. Captured once again, on 23 November 1499, Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn, London, where he read out a ‘confession’ and was hanged. He is said to have been badly beaten about the face before his execution to hide his resemblance to the York family.


Perkin reportedly resembled Edward IV in appearance, which has led to speculation that he might have been Edward's illegitimate son. 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.

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.

See also



  • Wroe, Ann. Perkin: A Story of Deception. Vintage: 2004 (ISBN 0-09-944996-X).
  • Guy, John. "Tudor England" p52 et seq.
  • Ashley, Mike (2002). British Kings & Queens. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1104-3. pgs 231 & 232

External links

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