Books: The Fairytale Prince in a World of Mud, Superstition and Bad Drains ; Enigmatic to the End: Bill Saunders Admires an Engaging Account of the Impostor Who Almost Fooled Them All
Saunders, Bill, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
For most people Perkin Warbeck orbits at the outer edges of the memory, forever twinned with the name Lambert Simnel. Once the names are brought together one remembers: the two impostors, pushed along at the head of rabbles hopeful of reviving the extinct Yorkist claim to the English throne, then held by Henry VII, whose own claim owed more to might than right. This colourful, engaged and engaging book seeks to restore Perkin's claim to significance, if not to the throne itself.
Perkin impersonated Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the little princes thought to have been murdered in the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard III. The imposture was an extraordinary success, and for several years Perkin lived in the courts of Europe, as the Duke of York and rightful claimant to the English crown. Furthermore, says Wroe, as a pawn at least, he played an enormous influence on diplomacy in Western Europe. Who knew the truth while this was going on and who did not? And who was Perkin really? Wroe's return to the original documents shows the answers to these questions are not so easy to supply as everyone thinks.
At the heart of the conspiracy was Margaret of York, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, aunt to the real little Prince Richard, and aunt by marriage to Henry VII, come to that. Margaret was, in theory, a helpless woman, and liked to present herself as such when it suited her. But she wielded family authority through the chequerboard of dynastic alliances which linked the thrones of Europe together, and her dower lands gave her a deep enough purse to run her own secret service. Such women began life as dynastic pawns, married off before puberty, but they matured into formidable queens. When news emerged that little Prince Richard had miraculously appeared in Ireland, Henry immediately suspected that Auntie Meg was stirring the cauldron.
He was right. But how deeply was Margaret involved? The official story was and remains that Perkin was taking the air one afternoon in Cork after a sea voyage, and was mistaken for royalty by the local peasantry because of his extravagant Portuguese dress (he had been serving as a modest court functionary in Portugal). Did Margaret make opportunistic use of a street excitement in remote Ireland? Or had she been cultivating Perkin for much longer, and then introduced him where she knew she would achieve an explosive result?
When he eventually confessed, without torture, Perkin told Henry that Margaret had known he was a fake from the beginning. Naturally enough, however, when Perkin first appeared, the word of an aunt whose nephew was restored to her was given the benefit of the doubt, if not believed. Margaret's authority convinced the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian, and must have influenced James IV of Scotland. Both men were gullible in different ways. Maximilian took a perverse delight in appearing more boorish and stupid than he was, and there was always an element of play and bluff to his many elaborate schemes. …