The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  News of these events came, says Bacon, 'blazing and thundering into England', causing people to take the pretender rather more seriously and to wonder whether the Princes in the Tower had been murdered after all. Many chose to believe that Warbeck was in fact York and attached themselves to his cause. But by July 1493, Henry VII's spies had uncovered Warbeck's true identity, and the King was able to write to Sir Gilbert Talbot that the pretender was just 'another feigned lad, called Perkin Warbeck, born at Tournai in Picardy, which at his first [coming] into Ireland called himself the bastard son of King Richard, and after that the son of the Duke of Clarence, now the second son of our father, King Edward the Fourth, whom God assoil.'

  Armed with this knowledge, Henry made a formal protest to the government of Flanders about harbouring an imposter to his throne, and when this was ignored, he risked England's commercial prosperity by imposing a ban on trade with the Low Countries. At this time English supporters of Warbeck were still making the journey to

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  Flanders to offer him their allegiance. Maximilian ignored Henry's remonstrances and took Warbeck to Vienna with him to represent England at his own father's funeral. After his return to Flanders in 1493, Warbeck crossed to Ireland, intending to use it as a spring-board for an invasion of England. In October 1494, Henry VII sent the redoubtable Sir Edward Poynings to Ireland with instructions to eject the pretender. A month later the King pointedly created his second son Henry, aged three, Duke of York, in a very public ceremony.

  Meanwhile, Henry's agents had discovered and rounded up War-beck's chief supporters in England. Most were arrested late in 1494, but the biggest fish of all, Sir William Stanley, brother of the Earl of Derby, and brother-in-law to the king's mother, was netted in January 1495 and executed the following month. This deprived the pretender of any cohesive support in England.

  By March 1495 Maximilian was beginning to grow weary of his guest, who had been forced to return from Ireland to Flanders, and he urged Warbeck to invade England and take what he claimed was his birthright. That summer, Henry VII had his realm placed on invasion alert, and in July Warbeck's pathetic attempt to land at Deal was foiled by soldiers guarding the coast. After returning for a short while to Flanders, Warbeck attempted Ireland once more, but was driven away by Poynings at Waterford in late July, 1495.

  James IV of Scotland now expressed himself sympathetic to War-beck's cause, glad to have an opportunity of embarrassing Henry VII. In November the pretender took refuge at the Scottish court where he was royally received and given one of the King's kinswomen as his wife, though in February 1496 Maximilian withdrew his support under the terms of a treaty, the 'Magnus Intercursus', he had signed with Henry VII, which restored trade between the two countries.

  By now, Warbeck's credibility had been badly impaired. In 1496 James planned an invasion of England, not so much on Warbeck's behalf but to suit his own ends. In the event, Scots incursion, mounted in September, turned out to be no more than a border raid, over in twenty-four hours. James was disgusted when the squeamish Warbeck expressed outrage over the needless pillaging and destruction of English property, and thereafter made it clear to the pretender that his presence in Scotland was not welcome.

  In June 1497 Henry VII successfully quelled a rebellion by the men of

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  Cornwall against the harsh taxes levied to finance the country's defences against the Scots. To avoid war, Henry instructed his envoys in Scotland to press for Warbeck's extradition, and a day after they did so he was expelled from Scotland with his wife, and sailed to Cork in Ireland. On 7th September, having dodged Poynings' forces, he landed at Cornwall and marched with his supporters on Exeter, gathering an army of yeomen and country folk on the way. Henry VII, learning of his advance, sent a great force against him, following behind himself with reinforcements. On 17th September Warbeck laid siege to Exeter but the city was ably defended by the Earl of Devon, and he was driven off the next day. Three days later he moved to Taunton, where he learned that the royal army was bearing down on him, and, abandoning his ragged force to their fate, he escaped and galloped south for the coast, but was apprehended on 5th October and brought before King Henry.

  Henry was remarkably lenient with Warbeck. He sent him to London, extracted a confession from him without resorting to torture, and initially placed him in the Tower. After a short time he allowed him to live under guard at court, but not to sleep with his wife, who lived under the Queen's protection. Warbeck was at court for eighteen months, but by June 1498 the silken chains that bound him had begun to chafe and he tried to escape. He was caught within hours, and this time Henry VII was not so forbearing. He had Warbeck placed in close confinement in the Tower, cut off from the light of day. Men who saw him a year later were shocked at how the experience had aged him.

  Yet still it did not sap his penchant for intrigue. In a cell near him the Earl of Warwick lived out his dreary existence. It seems almost certain that in August 1499 an agent provocateur was planted amongst the gaolers by the government to lure both Warbeck and Warwick into conspiracy, with a view to annihilating two threats to the security of the realm. Why else should Warwick, who had been kept so solitary and close that it was rumoured he was dead be housed in close proximity to the perilous Warbeck and allowed to communicate with him?

  The government's ploy worked: the two prisoners plotted to escape and overthrow the King. On 12th November, 1499, the Council were told of this and ordered the arrest of both men. Four days later Warbeck was tried and condemned to death. Warwick was arraigned and sentenced on 19th November. Of him, it was said by Vergil that he

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  could not tell a goose from a capon, and it was believed by many that he had not had the wits to resist being led into the conspiracy, nor had he had any treasonous intent.

  Warbeck was executed on 23rd November, 1499, at Tyburn, after publicly swearing that he was not the son of Edward IV. His scaffold confession was afterwards printed and widely circulated by order of the King. Warwick was beheaded on Tower Hill a few days later, although most people believed him innocent. His death was deemed necessary, not so much because of his involvement with Warbeck, but because Ferdinand of Aragon was refusing to allow his daughter Katherine to come to England while he lived, a potential threat to the crown. The deaths of Warwick and Warbeck certainly removed the worst menaces to Henry VII's security. There were no more imposters after 1499.

  The fact that Perkin Warbeck managed to maintain his imposture for so long has, over the years, led many writers to assert that he was indeed Richard of York, or at least a scion of the House of York. 'This,' wrote Bacon, 'was a finer counterfeit stone than Lambert Simnel. He was a youth of fine favour and shape. He had been from his childhood such a wanderer it was hard to hunt out his nest and parents.' Bacon felt sure that some hushed-up scandal was attached to Warbeck's birth; he had learned that Edward IV had stood godfather to the son of a converted Jew, and assumed that this son was really the King's bastard, fostered on a Jewish family. The truth of the matter was that the King had stood godfather to the Jewish Sir Edward Brampton on his conversion to the Christian faith, and Sir Edward was later Warbeck's employer. On the false assumption that Warbeck was Edward IV's bastard, Bacon wrote: 'It was ordained that the winding ivy of a Plantagenet should kill the true tree itself

  What impressed people about Warbeck were his dignity, his regal bearing, his knowledge of court matters and of the royal house. His acceptance by a succession of European crowned heads led many to believe that he must indeed be York, or at least a bastard of the house of York. His appearance seemed to confirm this: a drawing of him survives in the French manuscript known as the 'Receuil d'Arras' and shows a young man with long fair hair, a minor squint or cast in one eye and features bearing a strong resemblance to those of Edward IV. In 1497 the Venetian ambassador saw Warbeck at Henry VII's court and described him as a 'well-favoured young man, 23 years old', thus

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  placin
g his birthdate around 1473-4 . York was born in August 1473. But the Milanese ambassador thought him 'not handsome; indeed, his left eye rather lacks lustre, but he is intelligent and well-spoken'. His attributes were all, alas, skin deep, for while he was clever enough to maintain his imposture for several years, when it came to prosecuting his claims he showed himself inept and cowardly, faults that would bring about his ruin.

  Warbeck, posing as York, was ever ready to recount the tale of what had happened to him in the Tower. In the autumn of 1493 he described this in a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, in which he declared that he was indeed the son of Edward IV, that his name was Richard Plantagenet, and that he had been secretly spared by the murderers of his brother, Edward V. He was careful not to accuse either Richard III or Henry VII of the murder. Once his brother was dead, he said, he had been entrusted 'to a gentleman who had received orders to destroy him but who, taking pity on his innocence, had preserved his life and made him swear on the sacrament not to disclose for a certain number of years his birth and lineage'. From 1483-91 he had lived abroad in a variety of places and been in the care of two guardians, until one died and the other -- Sir Edward Brampton -- returned to England, leaving him at a loose end in Portugal. It was at this point that he went to Ireland and was recognised as the long-lost Duke of York. How the Irish recognised York, who had spent his life until the murder in England and was not well-known even there, is not satisfactorily explained.

  This unsubstantiated account received short shrift from the Spanish sovereigns, who did not believe it, as is proved by a note to that effect written on the letter. Nevertheless, other monarchs did recognise Warbeck as York, affirming they had seen birthmarks that satisfied them of his identity.

  The possibility that Yorkist blood did flow in Warbeck's veins cannot be discounted, although the evidence for it is tenuous. Recognition by other princes was not proof of his identity, since they undoubtedly found it to their advantage politically to acknowledge his claim, given the fact that all of them, at one time or other, desired to embarrass Henry VII.

  It is hardly conceivable that Warbeck could have been York. He, himself denied it with his dying breath, and his earlier account of his

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  escape from his brother's murderers does not bear close scrutiny. Nor is it likely that he was a bastard son of Edward IV conceived during the King's exile in the Low Countries in 1470-71 and fostered with the Warbeck family, as Margaret of Burgundy, in 1498, and Warbeck himself, in 1497 and 1499, admitted that he was not the son of Edward IV. The future Richard III was also in exile in Flanders in 1470-71 -- he could conceivably have fathered Warbeck, who claimed first of all to be his bastard son.

  The Calendar of State Papers in the archives of the Spanish government states that the Archduke Maximilian alleged in later years that Warbeck was actually the bastard son of Margaret of Burgundy by the Bishop of Cambrai. In 1492 Margaret had done her utmost to convince 'all that he was indeed Richard, son of her brother Edward'. She would have been able to do this with plausible conviction in the knowledge that the boy was of Plantagenet blood, and it is true that the people of Flanders and many others believed her. But in 1498, when Margaret learned that Warbeck had sworn that she knew as well as himself that he was not the son of King Edward, the Duchess wrote in secret to Henry VII and craved his pardon for having supported the pretender, whom she now acknowledged an imposter. Her emissary was the Bishop of Cambrai, who, by a series of diplomatic manoeuvres, managed to negotiate a reconciliation. During his visit he asked to see Warbeck, who was by then a prisoner in the Tower, and was appalled at the change in the young man, who might have been his son.

  In his confession of 1497, Warbeck himself declared he was the son of John Warbeck, or Osbeck, and Katherine de Faro, his wife, both converted Jews living in Tournai where John was a minor official. When Peter (or Peterkin, as he was known) was small, the family had lived for a time in London, where John Warbeck earned a living by supplying carpets to the royal court, by means of which employment he may have gained information that his son would later find useful.

  In 1484-5, according to his confession, Warbeck was sent to Antwerp to learn Flemish. After war forced him to return home to Tournai for a time, he went back to Antwerp to look after the market stall of a local merchant, but was struck down by illness for five months. His career as a salesman then continued until the summer of 1487, when he agreed to escort the wife of Sir Edward Brampton, a prominent Yorkist exile, to Portugal. He stayed there a year in the

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  service of a knight before leaving of his own accord to see the world. A few months later he entered the employ of a Breton merchant called Pregent Meno. Meno dealt in luxury fabrics and Warbeck's job was to model these for customers. This was how he came to be in Ireland in 1488-9. Shortly afterwards, the plot to impersonate Warwick was hatched.

  By his own admission, Warbeck was not Richard of York. Margaret of Burgundy admitted he was not the son of Edward IV. He could, conceivably, have been her bastard son or Richard Ill's. But most probably he was the son of John and Katherine Warbeck of Tournai, a man of straw used by unscrupulous men for their own ends.

  Significantly, none of the pretenders in Henry VII's time -- and Simnel and Warbeck were by no means the only ones -- ever claimed to be Edward V. This was not so much because rumour had long proclaimed him to be dead, but because he was too well-known both at court and in London to be successfully impersonated. York was not well-known at all, and was a far safer target for imposters.

  After the execution of Warbeck, no-one else claimed to be one of the Princes. Henry VII's summary justice had ensured that, and even if it had not, the King would soon have been able to deal with such persons speedily and effectively, for in 1502 Henry discovered the truth about the fate of the Princes.

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  20. Tyrell's Confession

  Sir James Tyrell was in France when Bosworth was fought. Henry VII, on his accession, deprived him of his offices and Welsh estates, but restored them in February 1486, by which time Tyrell had crossed from Calais to offer the new King his allegiance.

  He fared much better than most of those who had faithfully served Richard III. In the summer of 1486 the King, of his own volition, ordered two pardons to be issued to Tyrell; there is no evidence that these related to the murder of the Princes, as has sometimes been suggested, and they were probably concerned with his misplaced loyalty to Richard III. In July Tyrell was reappointed Governor of Guisnes in the Pale of Calais and left England, having accepted lands in France in lieu of his Welsh estates.

  He remained in Guisnes for sixteen years, rendering faithful service to the King. He served as Henry's emissary on several diplomatic missions to the courts of Europe, and was created a Knight of the Body, a royal councillor and Constable of Guisnes. He visited England on occasion and took part in a tournament held in 1494 in celebration of Prince Henry's creation as Duke of York. Tyrell also refused to become involved with any pretender, and was praised by the King for his faithfulness.

  But in the summer of 1501, Tyrell stepped out of line. The late John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who had died fighting at Stoke in 1487, was the eldest of several sons born to Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of Edward IV and widow of the Duke of Suffolk. Lincoln's next brother,

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  Edmund, was allowed by Henry VII to inherit the earldom of Suffolk but not the dukedom, because he had not the means to support it, and this rankled. The new Earl was a hot-headed, impetuous fool with grand designs on the throne of England, and in July 1501 he went voluntarily into exile in Flanders with his brother Richard, hoping to obtain support for their cause from Maximilian. On their way they visited Sir James Tyrell, who had probably known them as children during Richard Ill's reign and earlier and he unwisely offered them assistance.

  Sir Richard Nanfan, Deputy Lieutenant of Calais, found out what Tyrell had done and that he had done it in the full knowledge that Suffolk was planning to o
verthrow Henry VII. This was treason of the first order and Nanfan duly reported what he knew to the Council in London, though Henry VII at first refused to believe it and others accused Nanfan of maliciously seeking to do Tyrell harm. However, when Sir Robert Curzon, described by Vergil as an agent of the King, laid before the Council information which corroborated Nanfan's allegations, Henry had to accept that Tyrell was guilty, and not only Tyrell, because there was now evidence that Lord William Courtenay (husband of the Queen's sister Katherine), William de la Pole (Suffolk's brother) and others were involved. The King suspected a far-reaching conspiracy against him, and in October 1501 ordered the arrest of all concerned, who were then publicly proclaimed traitors. Suffolk and his brother Richard were out of reach: Suffolk was not arrested until he was extradited to England in 1506, and not executed until 1513, and Richard de la Pole remained abroad, a thorn in the side of the Tudors until he was killed at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. But William de la Pole was incarcerated in the Tower and remained there, in relative comfort, until his death thirty-eight years later. Other conspirators, including Courtenay, were also imprisoned. A luckless few were executed.

  Early in 1502 Henry VII, angry because Tyrell was still at liberty in Guisnes Castle, insisted that he be apprehended without delay. Tyrell refused to surrender to the King's officers and began to prepare the castle for a siege as the Calais garrison, loyal to Henry VII, took up its position outside the walls. Then Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Privy Seal, asked to speak with Tyrell, and was admitted to the castle, where he promised him, in the King's name, a safe-conduct

 
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