[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]

It certainly does not seem that on Perkin's appearance in Ireland he had any active supporters outside that country, or that he caused any perturbation in Henry's mind. Foreign princes, whether they regarded him as genuine or as an impostor, would certainly not espouse his cause unless they were at enmity with Henry. Even Charles VIII. made no haste to lend him countenance until it seemed almost certain that there was to be a war with England on a great scale; and he had no hesitation in dismissing the pretender when peace was concluded; while the Spanish sovereigns, though quite ready to intrigue against their Tudor ally, had no intention of committing themselves to an open breach with him. The peace, however, which dismissed Perkin from France, gave him a zealous adherent in the person of Maximilian, who was now filled with a righteous animosity to Henry; and the young lord of the Netherlands, his son Philip, Duke of Burgundy, declared that he had no power to control the Dowager Margaret, dwelling on her own estates. So Perkin made her court his head-quarters - a useful tool for the weaving of Yorkist intrigues. Henry might, if he would, have legitimately founded a casus belli on this attitude, but he preferred to institute a commercial war; from which, however, the English merchants suffered little less than the Flemings.

In 1493 the Emperor died, and was in effect succeeded by the King of the Romans, though his election to the Imperial throne did not take place for some years. Maximilian, however, remained impecunious and inefficient; Charles VIII. was giving his entire attention to his Italian projects; the whole affair of Perkin Warbeck was carried on mainly below the surface on both sides, by a process of mining and counter-mining. Henry was well served by Sir Robert Clifford and others, who wormed themselves into the confidence of the Yorkist plotters, revealing what they learnt to the King. When the time was ripe (January, 1495), Henry's hand fell suddenly on the unsuspecting conspirators in England; whose chiefs, including Sir William Stanley, who was supposed to be one of the King's most trusted supporters, were sent to the block. It was this same Sir William Stanley who, striking in at Bosworth on the side of Henry, had been mainly instrumental in deciding the fortunes of the day; and he had been rewarded with the office of Chamberlain.

[Diplomatic intrigues]

During the two years following the Treaty of Etaples Charles VIII. had early made his peace also with Spain by the treaty of Barcelona and with Maximilian by that of Senlis. The desired provinces, Roussillon and Cerdagne, were restored to Ferdinand and Isabella, who adopted a distant attitude to Henry. The French King, free to follow his own devices, entered Italy towards the close of 1494, marched south without opposition, and was crowned at Naples in February, 1495, the reigning family fleeing before him. So early and important an accession of strength to the French Crown had hardly been anticipated, and the European sovereigns made haste to form a League against France. Spain was desirous of bringing England into the league; but the wayward Maximilian was still determined to support Perkin Warbeck, apparently thinking that by substituting a Yorkist prince for Henry he would secure a more amenable ally.

[1492-95 Ireland]

Meanwhile, Ireland also had been undergoing judicious treatment. Kildare, removed from the Deputy-ship in 1492, came over to England to give an account of himself in the following year. Here he was detained until, in the autumn of 1494, the King appointed a new three-year-old Governor in the person of his second son Henry, whom he also created Duke of York, making Sir Edward Poynings Deputy. Poynings was an experienced and capable soldier, who had been in command before Sluys in the recent campaign; and on his departure for Ireland Kildare went with him. Both the ex-Deputy and the Earl of Ormonde promised to render loyal service; but it was no very long time before Kildare was sent back to England under accusations of treason. We may here anticipate matters by observing that this was the last case of misbehaviour on his part. He won his way once more into the royal favour, and when Poynings left Ireland in 1496 Kildare yet again went back as Deputy, which office he retained for the remainder of Henry's reign, and a portion of his son's also.

It is curious to observe in the turbulent Deputy traits of that audacious humour which we are wont to regard as peculiarly Irish: a characteristic fully appreciated by the English King. When taken to task for burning the Cathedral at Cashel, he is reported to have said that he would not have done so, only the bishop was inside. His casual announcement on a previous occasion that he could not obey the royal summons to England because the country could not get on without him was paralleled either in 1493 or 1495 - it is uncertain which - by his defence against the Bishop of Meath's charges. He said he must be represented by Counsel; the King replied that he might have whom he would. "Give me your hand," quoth the Earl. "Here it is," said the King. "Well," said Kildare, "I can see no better man than you, and by St. Bride I will choose none other." Said the Bishop, "You see what manner of man he is. All Ireland cannot rule him." "Then," said the King, "he must be the man to rule all Ireland."

[Poynings in Ireland 1494-96]

The government of Poynings was not prolonged, but it was very much to the point. "Poynings' Law," passed by the Parliament assembled at Drogheda in December, 1494, fixed Constitutional procedure for a very long time. Irish Parliaments were to be summoned only with the approval of the King's Council in England, and only after it had also approved the measures which were to be submitted to them by the Irish Deputy and Council. In effect, however, these legislative functions at this time were hardly more limited than those of English Parliaments, which were summoned at the King's pleasure, and only had what might be called "Government Bills" submitted to them. The royal Council was practically in the position of a Cabinet holding office as representing not the parliamentary majority but the King's personal views. The Parliament might discuss and accept or reject, but had not as yet acquired a practical initiative itself. At the same time that this law was passed, a declaratory Act abolished the theory which had grown up at an early stage of the conflict between the White and Red Roses, of regarding Ireland as a country where a rebel in England was a free man: a notion which had greatly facilitated the intrigues of both Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck on Irish soil. Further, besides some enactments for checking feudal customs which tended to disorder, it was ordained that the principal castles should always be under the command of Englishmen. Poynings also endeavoured, by bestowing pensions (on terms) on some of the principal chiefs outside the Pale - such as O'Neill in Ulster and O'Brien in the west - to convert their position into one of semi-official responsibility to the official Government. A basis for the maintenance of law and order having thus been provided, the Irish difficulty was solved for the time when "the man to rule all Ireland," benevolently disposed to a King who had shown that he knew the right way to take him, was restored to the office of Deputy.

[1495 Survey of the situation]

In the early spring, then, of 1495, this was the position of affairs. Perkin Warbeck lay at the court of Margaret of Burgundy; but his plans had been upset by Clifford's information and the punishment of the ringleaders in England. Poynings was in Ireland, and the prospect of keeping that country in reasonable order was unusually promising. Charles VIII. had just made himself master of Naples; and the Spanish sovereigns (who had completed the destruction of the Moorish dominion in Granada some three years earlier) were now occupied in forming with the Pope, Venice, Milan, and Maximilian the Holy League against French aggression; into which they were anxious to draw Henry, whose weight if thrown into the other scale would be of considerable value to France. For the last two years, since the treaty of Barcelona, they had evaded the recognition or reconstruction of any compact with England; but under the changed conditions, while they would not admit that the old engagements were binding, they offered to frame new treaties for Henry's inclusion in the League, at the same time confirming the project of the marriage between their daughter Katharine and the Prince of Wales. Henry, however, was now in a much stronger position at home; and though he desired the Spanish alliance, he had no intention of allowing that bait to seduce him into making himself a cat's-paw. France was offering a counter-inducement in the shape of a marriage with the daughter of the Duke of Bourbon; Henry indicated that while Maximilian was fostering the pretensions of the impostor Warbeck, it was not serious politics to talk of being associated with him in the League. Spain might make promises on Maximilian's behalf, but could not ensure that he would keep them.

[1495 Warbeck attempts invasion]

Time was working in Henry's favour. In July (1495) an expedition sailed from Flanders to place Perkin on the English throne. Maximilian's hopes were high: he bragged to the Venetians that the "Duke of York" would immediately unseat the Tudor, and when he was on the throne, England would be at the beck of the League. The Emperor's impracticability was sufficiently shown by his having procured from Perkin his own recognition as heir, if the pretender should die without issue. The expedition attempted to land at Deal, but the men of Kent assembled in arms, and drove it off with ignominious ease. For once Henry was severe, and put to death no fewer than 150 of Warbeck's followers, who had been taken prisoners. Warbeck himself did not even set foot on the realm he claimed, but made for Ireland where he had first been so warmly welcomed. Here his old supporter Desmond took up his cause again, and Waterford was attacked by sea and land; but there was no general rising, and Poynings had no difficulty in raising the siege. Foiled both in England and Ireland, Perkin now betook himself to Scotland to obtain the help of the young King, James IV.

[Success of Henry's diplomacy]

The affair showed conclusively how small was the danger in England of a Yorkist rising in favour of the pretender - a fact very fully recognised by Ferdinand and Isabella, though Maximilian clung pertinaciously to his protégé. Moreover, the position of the League was somewhat precarious, since both Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and the Venetians, were suspected with justice of readiness to make their own terms with France. It was more than ever necessary to bring Henry into the combination; and Henry, still diplomatically suave, was less than ever prepared to accept conditions which would fetter him inconveniently. He would not commit himself to make war on France except at his own time; and Maximilian must definitely and conclusively repudiate Warbeck. At last in July, 1496, the new League was concluded. Henry's diplomacy achieved a distinct triumph. His alliance had been won, but only on his own terms; all he wished to secure had been secured. The Spanish sovereigns were so far from feeling that they could make a tool of him that they were in considerable trepidation lest he should still throw them over if a tolerably legitimate excuse offered, and were anxious to do all they could to conciliate him without betraying the full extent of their fears. Henry had already, in February, terminated the commercial war with the Flemings by the treaty with Philip known as the Intercursus Magnus, which included a proviso against the admission into Philip's territories of rebels against the English King.

[1496 Warbeck and the King of Scots]

When Perkin Warbeck made his way to Scotland the young King of that country was already fully informed as to the nature of his claims. James, when a boy of sixteen, had taken part in the rebellion headed by Douglas Earl of Angus, in which his father the late King had been overthrown at Sauchie Burn and murdered after the battle. He was now twenty-four years of age, of brilliant parts, no mean scholar, an admirable athlete, and ambitious to raise the name of Scotland among the nations. His weakness lay mainly in a boyish impulsiveness, which often caused him to mar well-laid plans on the spur of the moment, and in an exaggerated fondness for chivalric ideas more appropriate to a knight-errant than to a king or a leader of armies. Perkin appealed to him as early as 1492; and before the pretender's expedition sailed, Tyrconnel, chief of the O'Donnells of the north-west of Ireland, presented himself in Scotland to renew the appeal. The antagonism of Scottish feeling to the ruling powers in England was chronic. There was a treaty of peace between England and Scotland, but the unfailing turbulence of the borders kept each country constantly provided with a tolerable excuse for accusing the other of having broken its engagements. James was well within his rights in receiving the claimant; of the justice of whose title he evidently persuaded himself, since he bestowed a kinswoman of his own upon him in marriage, Lady Katharine Gordon. In the summer of 1496 he was making active preparations for an incursion into England on Warbeck's behalf; largely influenced no doubt by the promise that, should it prove successful, Berwick, which had been finally ceded to England fourteen years before, was to be once more surrendered to the Scots. The astute Henry turned all this to account, by impressing on the Spanish and Venetian agents the urgent necessity laid on him to abstain from military operations against France while Scotland was so threatening.

[Sidenote 1: A Scottish incursion (Sept.)] [Sidenote 2: 1497]

James did in fact raid the North of England in September; but the incursion was a raid and nothing more. Perkin, to the surprise and even contempt both of Scots and English, protested against the sanguinary methods of border warfare, on behalf of the people whom he aspired to rule over. But the people themselves would have none of him. The expedition withdrew without having produced even the semblance of a Yorkist rising. After that, James no longer felt eager to plunge into a war on behalf of the pretender: but was inclined to retain him as a political asset. When, in the following year (1497), Charles VIII. - with a precisely similar object in view - offered him a considerable sum if he would send his guest over to France, the Scots King declined. In July, however, Perkin sailed from Scotland, apparently with intent to try Ireland again, where Kildare was once more Deputy. Henry had utilised the raid to obtain the recommendation of a large grant and loans from the Great Council forthwith; Parliament, which was called for January (1497), ratifying the grant as a subsidy. The raising of the loans had, however, been proceeded with, without waiting.

[The Cornish rising]

The defence of England against invading Scots was a matter of much importance to the northern counties, but lacked personal interest in Cornwall. Year after year the King had been receiving subsidies to arm for impending wars, borrowing, and levying benevolences. When a hostile France was the excuse, the population might murmur but was quite as willing to pay as could reasonably be expected. But the Scots had never invaded Cornwall, and the Cornishmen felt that it was time to protest. They would march to London - peaceably, of course - to demand according to custom the removal of the King's evil counsellors; Morton and Bray, to wit, who probably used their influence in reality to mitigate rather than intensify the royal demands. The insurgent leaders were a blacksmith, Joseph, and a lawyer, Flamock - appropriate chiefs for working men trying honestly enough to formulate what they had been led to regard as a grievance of what we should now call an unconstitutional character. With bills and bows, some thousands of them started on their march; preserving their peaceable character, till at Taunton the appearance of a commissioner for collecting the tax proved too much for their self-restraint, and the man was killed. A little later they were joined by Lord Audley, who became their leader. They expected the men of Kent, who of old had risen under Wat Tyler and again under Jack Cade, to take up the cause: but Kent did not recognise the similarity of the present conditions and gave them no welcome.

[The suppression (June)]

Meantime, Henry had not been idle; but he saw that the insurgents were not rousing the country as they progressed, and therefore he judged that the further they were drawn away from their own country the better. Except for a slight skirmish at Guildford, the Cornishmen were not actively interfered with till they encamped on Blackheath. Then, on June 17th, the royal forces proceeded to envelop them. Some two thousand were slain on the field. Audley, the lawyer, and the blacksmith, were put to death as traitors; the rest were pardoned, as having been not so much rebels as victims of demagogic arts.

[Warbeck's final failure (Sept.)]

The policy of leniency was not entirely successful, for the Cornishmen imagined it merely meant that the King recognised the impossibility of dealing sternly with every one who thought as they did. Warbeck, now in Ireland, where he was not finding the sympathy for which he had hoped, received messages to the effect that if he came to Cornwall he would find plenty of supporters. He came promptly, with a scanty following enough; but only a few thousand men joined him. He marched on Exeter, but that loyal town stoutly refused to admit him, and his attempts to carry gates and walls failed completely. Royal troops were on the march: the gentlemen of Devon, headed by the Earl, were up for the King. Perkin marched to Taunton, and then fled by night to take sanctuary at Beaulieu in Hampshire, where he was surrounded, and very soon submitted himself to the King's clemency.

[The Scottish truce]

In the meantime the Scottish King, though his sentiments towards Perkin had sensibly cooled, had no intention of leaving him in the lurch, and had advanced on Norham Castle very shortly after his protégé had sailed for Ireland. The Earl of Surrey, however, who commanded in the north, was well prepared, and very soon took the field with twenty thousand men. James was obliged to withdraw, and though he challenged the Earl to single combat with Berwick as the stake, Surrey replied that Berwick was not his property but his master's, and he must regretfully decline the proposed method of arbitrament. He advanced over the border, making some captures and doing considerable damage; but after a week, commissariat difficulties made him retire in turn. In September Perkin's Cornish rising collapsed, and a seven years' treaty was entered upon between the two countries.

[The end of Perkin Warbeck 1497-99]

Towards the pretender and his followers, the King behaved with his usual leniency. A few leaders only were put to death; other penalties were reserved. Warbeck was compelled publicly to read at Exeter and later in London a confession of the true story of his own origin and that of the conspiracy; and was then relegated to not very strict confinement under surveillance. His supporters were allowed to purchase their pardon by heavy fines, which satisfactorily aided in the replenishment of the royal treasury.

The end of the pretender's story may be told in anticipation. It was ignominious and less creditable in its accompanying circumstances to Henry. In the summer of the next year, 1498, Perkin tried to escape, was promptly recaptured, set in the stocks, and required to read his confession publicly both in Westminster and London. He was then placed in strict confinement in the Tower, where the luckless Warwick had been kept a prisoner for thirteen years. The son of Clarence, still little more than a boy, was the only figure-head left for Yorkist malcontents. Another attempt to impersonate him by a youth named Ralph Wilford was nipped in the bud at the beginning of 1499; but Henry's nerve seems to have been seriously shaken by it, and probably he now began to make up his mind to get rid of his kinsman. Then some kind of conspiracy was concocted, in which both Warbeck and Warwick were involved; on 23rd November, 1499, Perkin was hanged, and five days later Warwick was beheaded, dying as he had lived a victim to his name; suffering for no treason or wrong-doing of his own, but simply because he was the nephew of Edward IV.

[1498 The situation]

When the year 1497 closed, the preliminaries of a Scottish peace had been agreed upon; Perkin Warbeck was a prisoner: and the French King had already found his position in Italy untenable, and agreed to evacuate Naples and surrender the crown. His death and the accession of the Duke of Orleans as Lewis XII. in April of the next year further altered the face of international politics, already changing with the final collapse of Warbeck and his disappearance as a pawn in the game.