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Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)

 

 

CHAPTER VII

PERKIN WARBECK AND HIS FRIENDS


No politician who had marked Henry's progress hitherto could doubt that he had shown remarkable skill and patience in the treatment of very serious difficulties. For a ruler seated on an unsteady throne it was not a very agreeable experience, first to be dragged into war against his will, then to find everything lost that he had been fighting for, and lastly to be deserted by all his allies when about to exact compensation for the loss. But the very fact that he had at length won the game single-handed gave him a position that he had not enjoyed before. He had become really independent of foreign potentates. France had been content to buy his friendship, and he had no need now to pay an exorbitant price for that of Spain. His own subjects, moreover, had been taught a lesson that if they must have war they must pay for it, and that the extent of their indulgence in that pastime might after all be limited. The soldiers whom he had brought before Boulogne had seen the strength of a place which the enemy had received very long notice to fortify against invasion, and they could not but feel the force of the reasons given by their own leaders in the memorial to the king for accepting Charles's terms. For there were now no great vassals of the French Crown, as in former days, to assist England in the invasion; there were no allies ready, even at the eleventh hour, to fulfil their solemn engagements. That the king, under those circumstances, had actually razed some fortresses in Picardy; that he had reduced Sluys and other towns to Maximilian and freed English commerce with the Low Countries from further molestation; and that finally he had drawn a larger tribute from France than any English king had done before -- results like these were by no means insignificant. He had benefited every one of his allies without receiving any aid from them, and he was free from any obligation to prosecute an expensive war in future.

At the same time the result, as we have seen, occasioned naturally enough some disappointments at home, and it was not yet clear to foreign princes that he had come to the end of his difficulties. If he had been able, or even disposed, to repeat the achievements of Henry V. in France, he would have impressed the world differently. He might have drained off some domestic discontent into the favourite channel of martial ardour; and allies like Maximilian would probably have remained firm until he began to meet with serious disaster. But when, instead of conquest, he was content with a mere settlement of expenses; when allies whom he had sufficiently benefited saw that there was nothing more to be got out of him; when subjects who had been heavily taxed saw no return for their money except some security for peace, -- the unquiet spirits at home and abroad began to think they might yet raise up trouble for a king so pacifically inclined. Foreign princes too were naturally lukewarm towards a sovereign who now showed himself independent of them. Ferdinand and Isabella had, as a result of Henry's campaign, got all they wanted out of France; and having for the present no further need of his friendship, were endeavouring now to discover whether Henry could easily sustain the loss of theirs. And in this interesting investigation they were soon afterwards followed by those who were even more in debted to Henry than themselves -- Maximilian, King of the Romans, and his son Philip, Archduke of Austria.

It is really in this light that the encouragement given to Perkin Warbeck by different princes ought to be regarded. A true prince of the House of York no doubt would have been a more valuable piece on the political chess-board; but an impostor was a very useful pawn that might have been exchanged, if successful, for a man of more importance. And it required no particular trouble to set the impostor up. He had already appeared on the scene before Henry's expedition to Boulogne. He had not, as commonly supposed, received an elaborate training from Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, for he had personated the second son of Edward IV. long before he visited her Court. So far as we can tell, his first patrons were not men of mark in the political world at all. It was in the congenial atmosphere of Ireland that he was first started on his adventures; and there seems no great reason to question his own confession that it was the Irish people rather than himself who determined the character he was to personate, though it may be that cunning persons were at the bottom of the plot. He was really a native of Tournay, who, after leading a roving life, had entered the service of a Breton merchant named Pregent Meno, and had gone on a trading voyage to Cork, where he disembarked and showed himself in silk array, having dressed himself up, no doubt, in the cloths in which his master traded. The citizens of Cork were attracted by the appearance of the stranger, who, they had not a doubt, must be some very distinguished person. Was he not the Earl of Warwick? The sympathies of the Irish were always with the House of York, and they had a particular regard for the memory of Warwick's father, the Duke of Clarence, who had been Viceroy and was born at Dublin. Perkin, perhaps not meaning at the outset to attempt a gigantic imposture, denied that he was the Earl of Warwick; yet such was the zeal of his friends to get up a political fiction that he had to deny it before the Mayor of Cork on oath, else his career would have been passed under a different name from that which he ultimately adopted.

If he was not Warwick, his Irish friends then surmised that he must be a bastard son of Richard III. But this too he denied; and his denial was the more readily accepted because it was shrewdly suspected that King Richard's bastard son was in the hands of the King of England. Another theory was therefore devised which could not be refuted in the same manner. The stranger must be Richard, Duke of York, younger son of Edward IV.; and they urged him not to be afraid to assume the character, for they would protect him against the power of the King of England, and they were quite sure the Earls of Desmond and Kildare would support him also. Won by these assurances, Perkin entered on the perilous path which led him ultimately to the scaffold.

Desmond certainly did adhere to him and Kildare as well, though the latter, who was still Lord Deputy (it was not three years, perhaps not more than two, since Sir Richard Edgecombe had taken his fealty), supported him in a manner which enabled him plausibly to disavow it afterwards. Not much seems to have come of the affair in Ireland itself; but the rumour that the Duke of York was still alive was sent abroad to other countries, particularly to France and Scotland. Messengers from Desmond and the reputed son of Edward IV. arrived at the Scotch Court in March 1492, and a little before Henry's invasion of France, Charles VIII. sent over to Ireland Stephen Frion, vvho had lately been Henry VII.'s French secretary, but had deserted or been dismissed his service, to ask the adventurer to come and live in France. Perkin readily accepted the invitation, was received at the French Court as a foreign prince, and had a guard of honour assigned him. A number of disaffected Yorkists also came over from England to join him. But on peace being made, Charles had to dismiss the pretender, who then betook himself to the Low Countries with the Yorkist exiles, he and they being alike sure of a cordial reception from the Lady Margaret, Duchess-dowager of Burgundy -- Henry's Juno, as she was called, from her inveterate hatred and intrigues against him. From her it was only natural that he should receive some training in Court manners, and especially (as it suited her policy to acknowledge him as a nephew) that she should instruct him well in the pedigree and descent of the House of York, which is just what the early writer Polydore Vergil informs us that she did. But the story of the education he received from her has been clearly exaggerated by Lord Bacon and by most historians after him, whose accounts certainly suggest that she told him family secrets, which in her absence from England she had hardly much opportunity of knowing herself.[1]

This open encouragement given abroad to a pretender to the English throne was naturally a trial to Henry's pacific policy. But Juno was in the clouds and could not be got hold of. She was not a sovereign princess, but only a duchess-dowager, living on the lands of her jointure under the protection of her husband's grandson, Philip of Austria. Henry must therefore address his remonstrances to him; and he sent over Sir Edward Poynings, to whose services at Sluys the Flemings were much indebted, and Dr. Warham, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Low Countries with that object. The Archduke Philip was only fifteen years old, and his Council, influenced no doubt partly by Margaret herself, but probably still more by the French party in Flanders, replied that he was anxious to cultivate the best possible terms with England, but that the dowager was free to do as she pleased within her own lands. This practically meant that Henry must look to himself in case any hostile expedition should be secretly fitted out in the Low Countries and land on the English coast. Henry might fairly have answered by a declaration of war with Flanders -- a course to which he was naturally averse, and from which he allowed himself to be dissuaded by the Spanish ambassador. So he only wrote to trusty men to be prepared to serve him at a day's warning for the defence of the kingdom. But he determined at the same time that the unfriendly treatment he had received from the Flemings should be visited on themselves; and since they made him so bad a return for freeing their commerce from molestation, he recalled the merchant adventurers from Antwerp, forbade commercial intercourse with Flanders, and proposed to set up a mart for English cloth at Calais.

The immediate result of course was a great deal of inconvenience to the merchants of England as well as of the Netherlands -- in fact, rather more to the former than to the latter. For it was presently discovered that a set of aliens in the very heart of London -- the merchants of the Hanse, commonly called, from their place of business, the merchants of the Steelyard -- were by their charters exempt from the prohibition, and carried on freely the traffic from which English merchants were excluded. The result was a riot in the city, which was with difficulty appeased; while the pressure put upon the Flemings did not prevent Perkin from receiving shelter and support in the Low Countries for about two years and a half. The attempt to divert English commerce from the Low Countries was hopeless, and the Archduke's Council, conscious that England could not afford to quarrel with Flanders, continued the same irritating policy of pretended friendliness. Maximilian also, who on the death of his father, Frederic, in 1493 had come to be recognised as emperor (though his title strictly was still only King of the Romans), forgetful of repeated benefits at Henry's hands, was quite zealous in favour of the pretender; and Henry knew long before it was launched that an expedition was being prepared in the Low Countries for the invasion of England.

It would probably have sailed two years earlier than it did but for the difficulty Maximilian commonly found in obtaining supplies; for the pretender could not look for much help from any other quarter. Soon after his arrival in those parts he had written to Queen Isabella of Spain, setting forth his claims as Duke of York, and giving an account of his adventures; but the letter was simply laid aside, docketed by the Spanish Secretary of State as "from Richard, who calls himself King of England." Ferdinand and Isabella were too wise to have anything to do with him. The French king offered Henry the benefit of his navy in case of any hostile attempt against England; but Henry replied that as to the matter of the garçon, as he called him, there was no need of any special precautions -- it was quite well known in England that he was the son of a boatman in Tournay. Henry, no doubt, looked upon his pretensions with very genuine contempt, while foreign princes, friendly and unfriendly, tried to magnify their importance as a possible source of disturbance. But Henry knew that real danger could only come from conspiracy at home in aid of an invasion, and he was sufficiently on his guard against being dispossessed of his throne in the way he had dispossessed King Richard.

But the caution of Henry and the impecuniosity of Maximilian are in themselves scarcely sufficient explanation of the fact that a pretender to the English throne should have lain two and a half years in Flanders, encouraged openly by a Duchess-dowager of Burgundy and secretly by the Archduke Philip's Council, without making any attempt to realise his pretensions. The fact is that European princes were at this time engrossed with matters of much greater consequence. It was during those two years and a half that Charles VIII. had made his famous expedition into Italy, when it was said that his soldiers had come merely with chalk in their hands to mark up their lodgings. At his approach one King of Naples had abdicated, and his successor had been obliged to fly. In fact, he was welcomed every where as the deliverer of Italy, and particularly of Naples, from intolerable tyranny and misgovernment. Yet, unconscious of the cause to which his success was due, he seemed to think himself not a liberator, but a conqueror, and alienated the hearts of the Italians almost as soon as he had won them; with the result that he was nearly locked up in the peninsula by the very same princes who had invited him into it. Chief of these was the scheming Ludovico Maria Sforza, called by the Italians "the Moor," uncle of the Duke of Milan and regent of the duchy, who assured him that Venice would stand neutral, and that the only opposition he had to look for was in seeking to make good his claim to Naples. Before he had gone far this Ludovico had become Duke of Milan himself by the very suspicious death of his nephew, whom he had kept im prisoned at Pavia. But in the following spring the Pope, the Duke of Milan, and the Venetian republic were all Charles's enemies, and had formed a league against him with Maximilian and Ferdinand of Spain.

Neither had Henry in England been indifferent to the affairs of Italy. Far off as he was, he had taken some pains to establish friendly relations with the Arragonese Kings of Naples -- no doubt as a kind of check on France if Charles should not be faithful to his engagements. Just after the treaty of Etaples he had sent the Garter to Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, who became King of Naples by his father's death before Charles VIII.'s invasion. He had also cultivated the most cordial relations with Milan, and had even listened to a proposal for marrying the young Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza to a daughter of Edward IV. and sister of his own queen. If in these matters his policy bore little fruit it was not for want of careful and intelligent watching of the affairs of Italy. "In many things," wrote a Milanese envoy in London to Ludovico Sforza a year or two later, "in many things I know this sovereign to be admirably well informed, but above all because he is most thoroughly acquainted with the affairs of Italy, and receives especial information of every event. He is no less conversant with your own personal attributes and those of your duchy than the King of France; and when the King of France went into Italy the King of England sent with him a herald of his own called Richmond, a sage man who saw everything, until his return. Then the merchants, most especially the Florentines, never cease giving the King of England advices."

It was by this continual watchfulness, studying the world far and near, and keeping himself perfectly in formed at all times of the internal state of other countries as well as his own, and their relations towards each other, that Henry, the most pacific prince that ever reigned, ere long made his value as an ally felt by wise sovereigns over the whole of Europe. But the conviction that he was firmly seated on his throne was by no means even yet universal, and there were sovereigns far from wise, like Maximilian, King of the Romans, whom no sense of past benefits could keep steady in friendship. For Maximilian, having made an advantageous peace with France, with large compensation for past injuries, thought he could do without England any longer; or if he hoped for anything more from that quarter, it would be from England under a new master, such as Margaret of Burgundy would give it. Not that his desertion of Henry was occasioned by any cordiality towards France, for it is clear that Charles VIII. never trusted his friend ship; and having in 1494 married a sister of Ludovico Sforza, he was easily drawn into the league of the Italian powers against Charles in the following year. This ought to have made him anxious once more to cultivate amicable relations with Henry; but instead of doing this he continued his idle support of Perkin Warbeck, persuaded, it would seem, that by this means Henry could be easily driven out and a new sovereign given to England, who would at once begin a war with France. And so sanguine was he in this matter that he would not even listen to his brother-in-law, Ludovico Sforza, who showed him that the opinion in Spain as well as in Italy was that the league against France would be greatly strengthened by Henry's adhesion.

But Henry was in no such danger as Maximilian and the Yorkist refugees in Flanders fondly hoped. It is an old mistake that he had any difficulty in ascertaining who Perkin really was, or troubled himself to hunt out evidences of the murder of the princes. The circumstances of the latter story were still shrouded in darkness; but he had clearly informed Sir Gilbert Talbot about Perkin's pedigree as early as July 1493. Still, he could not obtain the delivery of the pretender, and he affected to take no notice of the conspiracy; so that it really ripened and came to maturity before he appeared to act at all. But he was none the less quite awake to all that was going on. "He chose," as Bacon says, "to work by countermine." Sir Robert alifford and William Barley went over to the Duchess Margaret as disaffected Yorkists, and getting into the very heart of the conspiracy, re vealed all the details, receiving a full pardon on their return. We must not, perhaps, be too sure of what Bacon only mentions as "a strange tradition," that he received secret intelligence even from the confessors and chaplains of great men, and to give the better credit to his own spies abroad, had them solemnly "cursed" (or excommunicated) by their names at St. Paul's "amongst the beadroll of the king's enemies." But there is no doubt the Yorkist intriguers were lulled into false security, from which they were suddenly aroused by the arrest of Lord Fitzwalter, Sir Simon Mountford, and others, of whom the principal leaders were speedily sent to the block. Most appalling of all was the arrest and execution of Sir William Stanley, Henry's own chamberlain, to whom he really owed his Crown, if not his life at Bosworth. The degree of his complicity in the intrigue has never been ascertained. But it was essential to show that treason in a trusted adviser was a far more serious matter than treason in other persons; and a certain family tie between him and the king (for his brother, the Earl of Derby, had married Henry's mother, the Countess of Richmond) perhaps only made his punishment a more imperious necessity.

The Duchess of Burgundy had really lost on Henry VII.'s accession a considerable amount of property in England, granted to her by the liberality of her brother, Edward IV., and she exacted an engagement from her pretended nephew that he would restore it as soon as he had recovered the kingdom. The compact was witnessed on the 10th of December 1494 by Sir Robert Clifford, who immediately afterwards (about Christmas, Fabyan tells us) returned to England, revealed the whole details of the conspiracy, and impeached Sir William Stanley. The arrests and executions which followed must have considerably disconcerted a design which apparently was just on the eve of execution. But in July following an expedition for the invasion of England actually sailed; and a very pitiful affair it turned out to be -- not for want of aid from Maximilian, who seems to have been, by his own account, at very serious expense to fit it out. The fleet appeared off Deal, and a portion of Perkin's followers disembarked, when the people of the district rose in arms, killed and captured a good number of them, and drove the rest back to their ships. Perkin had no mind to land himself, but sailed away to try his fortunes again in Ireland, where he had made such a favourable impression at the first.

Now, it might have been politic enough, from Warbeck's own point of view, to betake himself to an island over which Henry had not yet succeeded in establishing his authority on anything like a secure basis. But it was a rather humiliating result of two years' preparation for the invasion of England that, after having a fleet equipped for him for the very purpose, the adventurer had not dared to set foot in the country himself. Maximilian, who had taken so great a part in fitting out the expedition, had been absurdly bragging to the Venetian ambassador that the Duke of York, as he called him, would very soon conquer England, and then, in fulfilment of the most solemn promises, turn his arms against the King of France. How he received the news of the unsuccessful attempt at Deal we are not informed; but even two months later he was still feeding himself with delusive hopes of the ultimate success of an enterprise which had made such an unpromising commencement. Very different was the view of a shrewd observer like Ferdinand, whose friendship for Henry, never more than lukewarm, being founded solely on considerations of policy, was carefully watching the turn of events for future guidance. To him the fiasco at Deal was pretty decisive -- not so much of the pretensions of Perkin Warbeck, which he never seems to have credited, as of the utter impossibility of Henry's enemies dealing a serious blow at him with such a slender and ineffective weapon. "We now tell you," he wrote to his ambassador in England, "that as for the affair of him who calls himself duke, we hold it for a jest."

It was really little more even in the country to which Warbeck had now withdrawn himself. For Ireland, though still a considerable problem to Henry, was not quite such a convenient playground for his enemies as it had been at the beginning of his reign. How it be came gradually more obedient to his rule we shall show hereafter. Suffice it to say that at this time Kildare was no longer Deputy. He had been attainted by an Irish Parliament for disloyal conduct and sent prisoner to England. The Earl of Desmond, however, was still at large in Munster, and to him Perkin at once repaired. Between them they laid siege to the loyal town of Waterford -- the only place in Ireland which had held out for the king against Lambert Simnel, -- Perkin's little fleet blockading the harbour, while his Irish allies shut in the town on the land side. The citizens, however, discharged volleys of artillery against the ships, and in eleven days Warbeck was compelled to raise the siege, leaving more than one vessel in their hands. There seems to have been nothing more left for him to do in Ireland, and he accordingly proceeded to Scotland.

From the time of his first appearance as Duke of York the Scots had been interested in his pretensions. He had written to James IV. as he did to other sovereigns for support, and apparently to him before others. James had certainly assisted the expedition in which he made his abortive attempt at Deal, and was reported at that time to have sent ships and men to do him service. For any enterprise against England the adventurer and his pretensions offered an admirable pretext, and on his arrival he was received by James with all the honour due to a foreign prince. His wardrobe was plentifully furnished at the expense of the Scottish king, and messengers were despatched all over the kingdom with letters of "wappin schawing" to array the lieges for military service. But nearly a year seems to have elapsed after his first arrival in Scotland before he actually crossed the Border at the head of a small force in order to make good his pretended right; and when he did so the attempt was so utterly futile that it must have been a complete disappointment, not only to the Scots but to many who looked on from a distance, like the Venetian agents in England, who seem to have been fully persuaded that Henry was in real dread of being driven from his kingdom. It is not improbable that they derived this impression from Henry himself, who doubtless had reasons of his own for magnifying to them the difficulties by which he was surrounded.

It was in September 1496 that this invasion took place. Henry, indeed, seems to have endeavoured to avert it by negotiation, for he had that very month commissioned Bishop Fox and others to treat for the marriage of the Scotch king to his daughter Margaret. But James apparently believed that by means of Perkin he could recover Berwick from the English, and negotiate under more favourable conditions. He had got together a body of 1400 men of different nationalities, who mustered at Ellam Kirk and crossed the Borders with him and the pretender at their head. But there was nothing in the enterprise except the foreign element in the invading army to distinguish it from any other Border raid. There was a good deal of ravage and burning and killing; but there was no sign whatever that any English people were disposed to join the invaders, and within three days the host had returned once more within Scottish territory. Perkin, it is said, was soon weary of the sight of cruelty and devastation committed by his Scotch allies, and begged King James to be a little more merciful to those whom he affected to call his subjects. Nothing, however, was so clear as that the alleged subjects cared very little for him who claimed their allegiance.

James is commonly represented as having been convinced by this experience that Perkin was an impostor. But whatever may have been his real opinion, he had pledged himself too deeply to Perkin's cause to admit that he had been imposed on. The pretender had actually during his stay in Scotland been allowed to take a wife from among the best blood of the Scotch nobility, and had in fact become related to James himself by his marriage with Katharine Gordon. Moreover, he still possessed value in the eyes of some sovereigns, for the French ambassador had been offering James 100,000 crowns if he would send him again into France. Not that Charles really believed in his pretensions, for he had not long before sent over to England a document, attested by his Council, showing that the young man's parentage was quite well known in France, and had offered to send over his father and mother for better evidence of the truth. But things had altered somewhat since then, for Henry had joined the league of European powers to keep the French out of Italy; and Charles conceived that, if he could but get hold of the young man again, he could still make use of him to keep the King of England in order.

James, however, had no notion of selling his guest to any power, friendly or otherwise, and Warbeck remained under his protection for nearly another year. But James most probably saw that he must come to an arrangement with England in the long run, and did not wish to be compelled to surrender him by treaty. So in July 1497 Warbeck with his wife embarked at Ayr, with a small fleet under the command of the Scottish captains, Andrew and Robert Barton; and he once more bent his course to Ireland. On the 26th of July he landed at aork, where he had been encouraged to look for some support. But Kildare, who had been reappointed as Deputy, was not willing immediately to offend again; so he got little encouragement, and soon determined to sail for Cornwall to escape being taken prisoner. The reasons which led him to direct his course thither rather than elsewhere will appear hereafter, with the sequel of his adventures. But we must, in the first place, deal with some other subjects.

 

[1] "Then she informed him of all the circumstances and particulars that concerned the person of Richard, Duke of York, which he was to act; describing unto him the personages, lineaments, and features of the king and queen, his pretended parents, and of his brother and sisters and divers others that were nearest him in childhood, together with all passages, some secret, some common that were fit for a child's memory, until the death of King Edward. Then she added the particulars of the time from the king's death until he and his brother were committed to the Tower, as well during the time he was abroad as while he was in sanctuary."- Bacon's Henry VII. Margaret of Burgundy paid a visit to England in 1480, but she had no special knowledge of the tragic history of the year 1483.