CHAPTER II. HENRY VII (ii), 1492-99 - PERKIN WARBECK

[Ireland, 1485]

Before entering upon the career of Perkin Warbeck, we must give somewhat closer attention to the affairs of the sister island, to which reference has already been made in connexion with the Simnel revolt. Ireland had never been really brought under English dominion. Within the district known as the English Pale, there was some sort of control, extending even less effectively over the province of Leinster, and beyond that practically ceasing altogether, except in a few coast towns; the Norman barons who had settled there having so to speak turned Irish, and even in some cases having translated their names into Celtic forms. The most powerful of the nobles at this time were the Geraldines, at whose head were the Earls of Kildare and of Desmond, and the Butlers whose chief was the Earl of Ormonde. But the primacy belonged to Kildare, who moreover had stood high in favour with the House of York. It had been the practice for the English kings to appoint a nominal absentee governor, whose functions were discharged by a Deputy; and Kildare was Deputy under both Edward IV. and Richard.

[1487-92 The Earl of Kildare]

Henry, on his accession, had seen that the one chance of keeping the country in any degree quiet lay in securing Kildare's allegiance and support; and proposals for his continuation in the office of Deputy had been under discussion when Lambert Simnel was hailed as King and crowned, with the open support not only of Kildare but of nearly all the barons and bishops. It did not suit Henry's policy to attempt punishment under these conditions; he preferred conciliation; and after Stoke, Kildare was retained as Deputy, when he and Simuel's principal adherents had sworn loyalty. In 1490 Henry had found it necessary to reprimand Kildare for sundry breaches of the law, commanding his presence in England within ten months. Kildare made no move, but at the end of the ten months wrote to say that he could not possibly come over, as the state of the country made his presence there imperative. The letter was written in the name of the Council, and signed by fifteen of its members. This was backed by another letter from Desmond and other nobles in the south-west, declaring that they had persuaded the Deputy that the peace of Ireland quite forbade his departure.

Probably it was much about this period - that is, some time in 1491 - that a new claimant to Henry's throne (Perkin Warbeck) appeared in the south-west of Ireland, declaring himself to be that Richard Duke of York who was reported to have been murdered in the Tower along with his brother Edward V. Desmond espoused his cause, while Kildare and others coquetted with him. Agents from Desmond and the pretender visited the court of the young King of Scots James IV., in March, 1492, and in the summer Charles VIII., whose territories Henry was then ostentatiously preparing to invade, invited the young man over to France where he was received as the rightful King of England. The conclusion of peace, however, at the end of the year, made it necessary for the French King to withdraw his countenance from Henry's enemies; and the pretender retired to the congenial atmosphere of the court of Margaret of Burgundy. In the meantime Kildare, whose complicity with Desmond it had become impossible entirely to ignore, had been deprived of his office, and a new Deputy appointed.

[Sidenote 1: 1491 Perkin Warbeck's appearance] [Sidenote 2: Riddle of his imposture]

The self-styled Richard of York is known to history as Perkin Warbeck. The account of his early career subsequently given to the world in his own confession is generally accepted as genuine. The son of a Tournai boatman, he served during his boyhood under half a dozen different masters in three or four Netherland cities and in Lisbon. At the age of seventeen he took service with one Prégent Meno, a Breton merchant, and incidentally appeared at Cork where he paraded in costly array. Such was the effect of his appearance and bearing that the citizens of Cork declared he must be a Plantagenet. Taxed with being in reality either the Earl of Warwick or an illegitimate son of Richard III., he swore he was nothing of the kind; but his admirers declared that in that case he could only be Richard of York, who had somehow been saved from sharing his brother's fate in the Tower. Perkin found himself unable to resist such importunity, accepted the dignity thrust upon him, and set himself to learn his part. The partisans of the White Rose had shown in the case of Lambert Simnel their preference for even a palpable impostor bearing their badge, as compared with the objectionable Tudor; and a genuine Duke of York would have the advantage of a claim stronger even than that of his sister Elizabeth, Henry's queen. Perkin, however, must have acted up to his part with no little skill to have maintained himself as a plausible impostor up to the time when Margaret of Burgundy received him - even though he met no one in whose interest it was to pose him with inconvenient questions. So apt a pupil would then have had little difficulty in assimilating the instructions of Margaret; and, after a couple of years' training with her, in at least supporting his role with plausibility. That Perkin himself told this story is not very conclusive, since the confession was produced under circumstances quite compatible with the whole thing having been dictated to him; yet difficult as it is to believe, it is less incredible than the alternative - that he was the real duke, who had been smuggled out of the Tower eight years before he was produced, and kept in concealment all through the interval, even while the Yorkist leaders had been reduced to setting up a supposititious Earl of Warwick for a figurehead.

[1492-95 Perkin and Margaret of Burgundy]