Perkin Warbeck

Do you know what happened when someone got a little too big for his britches in 15th century England? Of course you do, you watched The Tudors. Unfortunately, Perkin Warbeck failed to get the memo that Tudor monarchs tended to execute first and ask questions later and went ahead and tried to claim the throne for himself, swearing he was the supposed-dead son of King Edward IV. King Henry VII reacted as well as you’d imagine, and Warbeck was executed on November 23, 1499.

The reason Warbeck was able to do what he did was because nobody quite knew (or knows to this day) what happened to the two sons of Edward IV, who vanished while they were being housed in the Tower of London. Warbeck claimed to be the younger son, Richard, Duke of York. Warbeck’s actual history is uncertain; King Henry later claimed he was a Flemish lad from Tournai, and others have surmised he might have actually been an illegitimate son of Edward IV. We do know that he traveled quite a bit in his youth and allegedly learned English while staying in Ireland.

Warbeck first claimed to be the rightful King of England in 1490 at the Burgundian court, where Edward IV’s sister, Margaret, was duchess. She officially recognized the boy as Richard of York, and in 1491 Warbeck headed to Ireland to try and drum up support for his cause. When the support failed to materialize, he returned to the Continent and visited the court of Charles VIII of France, where he stayed for a while, until Charles made friends with the Tudors and kicked Warbeck out. Warbeck returned to Burgundy, where Duchess Margaret tutored him in the ways of the Yorkist court. Henry VII complained about Warbeck to the current duke, Philip of Habsburg, and imposed a trade embargo on Burgundy when Philip refused to send Warbeck away.

Margaret of Burgundy provided the funds that enabled Warbeck to land in Kent in July 1495. His small army was routed almost immediately and he retreated to Ireland. This time, he found a friend in the Earl of Desmond, but when he tried to lay siege to Waterford, he was resisted and took flight to Scotland.

Warbeck received a very warm welcome at the court of James IV of Scotland. He was even permitted to marry James’s cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, in a lavish ceremony that was celebrated with a tournament. Not long after the wedding, James prepared to invade England, with Warbeck at his side. The army crossed the River Tweed on September 21, 1496 but quickly ran out of resources, and the support they’d been counting on in Northumberland never came. With an English army approaching from Newcastle, the Scots and Warbeck quickly retreated. Unwilling to embarrass himself again, James loaded Warbeck onto a ship rather aptly called the Cuckoo and sent him back to Ireland. He then turned around and made peace with England. In Ireland, Warbeck, who really didn’t seem to learn, laid siege to Waterford again and lost. Again. He was forced to flee Ireland and landed in Cornwall in September 1497.

In Cornwall, Warbeck worked off of local resentment of the Tudor monarch and promised to lower taxes. The people bought it, proclaimed him Richard IV, and provided him with an army of 6000 men. Warbeck and his new army marched toward Taunton, and Henry VII sent his chief general to meet them. As soon as he heard he might actually have to fight, Warbeck panicked and abandoned his army. He was captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, and the Cornish army quickly surrendered to Henry VII. Warbeck was sent to the Tower of London after being paraded through the streets on horseback so the people could taunt him.

Warbeck was kept in the Tower for a while, but after an attempted escape, Henry lost his patience entirely. Warbeck was taken to Tyburn, where he was made to read out his confession before being hanged.

And that was the last time anyone tried to kick Henry VII off the throne.

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