See biographies by J. Gairdner (in his History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third, 1898, repr. 1969) and A. Wroe (2003).
(born 1474?, Tournai, Flanders—died Nov. 23, 1499, London, Eng.) Flemish impostor, pretender to the throne of Henry VII. The son of a local official in Flanders, while working as a servant in Ireland in 1491, he was misidentified as royalty while dressed in his master's rich silks and was soon persuaded to impersonate Richard, duke of York, who was presumed to have been murdered with his brother in the Tower of London in 1483. Encouraged by several monarchs and other Yorkist enemies in both England and Europe, he gathered forces and supporters on the continent for an invasion. After abortive attempts in 1495 and 1496, he landed in Cornwall in 1497 but was captured and hanged when he tried to escape.
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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.