Warbeck, Perkin

Warbeck, Perkin

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).

The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck: A Romance is an 1830 historical novel by Mary Shelley about the life of Perkin Warbeck.

In this novel, Mary Shelley returned to The Last Man's message that an idealistic political system is impossible without an improvement in human nature. This historical novel, influenced by those of Sir Walter Scott, fictionalises the exploits of Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of King Henry VII who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the second son of King Edward IV. Mary Shelley believed that Warbeck really was Richard and had escaped from the Tower of London. She endows his character with elements of Percy Shelley, portraying him sympathetically as "an angelic essence, incapable of wound", who is led by his sensibility onto the political stage. She seems to have identified herself with Richard's wife, Lady Katherine Gordon, who survives after her husband's death by compromising with his political enemies. Lady Gordon stands for the values of friendship, domesticity and equality; through her, Mary Shelley offers a female alternative to the masculine power politics that destroy Richard as well as the typical historical narrative which only relates those events. Perkin Warbeck was generally well received; the Edinburgh Literary Journal's critic, for example, said it bore "the stamp of a powerful mind". The novel is not now, however, regarded as one of Mary Shelley's most important.



  • Bennett, Betty T. "The Political Philosophy of Mary Shelley's Historical novels: Valperga and Perkin Warbeck". The Evidence of the Imagination. Eds. Donald H. Reiman, Michael C. Jaye, and Betty T. Bennett. New York: New York University Press, 1978.
  • Brewer, William D. " William Godwin, Chivalry, and Mary Shelley's The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck". Papers on Language and Literature 35.2 (Spring 1999): 187-205. Rpt. on bnet.com. Retrieved on 20 February 2008.
  • Bunnell, Charlene E. "All the World's a Stage": Dramatic Sensibility in Mary Shelley's Novels. New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415938635.
  • Garbin, Lidia. "Mary Shelley and Walter Scott: The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck and the Historical Novel". Mary Shelley's Fiction: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Eds. Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Nora Crook. New York: Macmillan; St. Martin's, 2000.
  • Hopkins, Lisa. "The Self and the Monstrous". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein": Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Eds. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
  • Lynch, Deidre. "Historical novelist". The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521007704.
  • Sites, Melissa. "Chivalry and Utopian Domesticity in Mary Shelley's The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck". European Romantic Review 16.5 (2005): 525-43.
  • Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. London: Cardinal, 1987. ISBN 074740138X.
  • Wake, Ann M Frank. "Women in the Active Voice: Recovering Female History in Mary Shelley's Valperga and Perkin Warbeck". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein". Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Ed. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997. ISBN 0836836845.

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