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The Perkin Warbeck Rebellion occurred in England from 1491 to 1499, during the reign of Henry VII. It was a dynastic rebellion that had the purpose of overthrowing Henry VII.
The rebellion was one of two impostures that Henry VII faced. A cloth merchant’s apprentice, Perkin Warbeck, styled himself as Richard, Duke of York, claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne. He gained a large amount of support, and this rebellion became a considerable threat to Henry VII.
What caused this rebellion, who exactly supported Perkin Warbeck, and how did Henry VII respond to it?
The act of pretending to be someone else to deceive people.
Who exactly was Perkin Warbeck?
The consensus amongst historians is that Warbeck was vain, foolish, and arrogant. David Dunlop calls him a ‘masked comedian’ in his analysis of Warbeck’s rebellion. However, there is still some debate over the extent to which Warbeck was manipulated into becoming a pretender to the throne.
SB Chrimes, a biographer of Henry VII, argues that Warbeck was a puppet of Margaret of Burgundy and Charles VIII, claiming that his appearance in Ireland and sudden rise to power were not coincidental.
After deciding to masquerade as the Duke of York, Perkin Warbeck gained support in Ireland and from some powerful European monarchs.
After failed attempts at invasion in England and Ireland, Warbeck fled to Scotland where he was welcomed by King James IV. He then tried to invade England from the North using a Scottish force, but that too was unsuccessful. Eventually, having lost the support of James IV, Warbeck was captured, imprisoned and finally executed in 1499.
Below is a timeline of the key events of the Warbeck Rebellion.
Perkin Warbeck travelled to Cork, Ireland as an employee of a Breton merchant. The people of Cork suggested he was the Earl of Warwick. Warbeck, however, styled himself as Richard, Duke of York.
Both the real Earl of Warwick and Richard, Duke of York had stronger claims to the throne than Henry VII. Edward IV was King of England from 1461 to 1470; the Earl of Warwick was Edward IV's nephew, and Richard was his son.
Warbeck travelled to France and was received by King Charles VIII. Yorkist sympathisers travelled to Paris to give their support to Warbeck.
Warbeck was received by Margaret of Burgundy, Edward IV and Richard III's sister, who claimed Warbeck as her nephew and trained him to be a prince.
3 November 1492
England and France signed the Treaty of Etaples. As a result of this peace, Charles VIII withdrew his support for Warbeck.
Henry VII suspended trade with Burgundy in response to Margaret of Burgundy’s support of Warbeck.
Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, recognised Perkin Warbeck as King Richard IV of England.
Henry VII imposed economic sanctions on the Holy Roman Empire in retaliation.
Henry VII drew up an Act of Attainder against Sir William Stanley, who supported Warbeck.
An Act of Attainder was a piece of Parliamentary legislation that allowed the Crown to seize property and land as a form of punishment for the nobility who had committed a crime, usually treason.
|3 July 1495|
Warbeck landed at Deal, Kent with an invasion force, but it was a complete failure.
23 July - 3 August 1495
Warbeck attempted to capture the town of Waterford in Ireland but was unsuccessful.
Warbeck sailed to Scotland where King James IV welcomed him, agreed to support him and give him a pension of around £1200 a year.
James IV married Warbeck to his cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon.
James IV and Warbeck crossed the border into England with a small army. The invasion was highly unsuccessful and they returned to Scotland.
Henry VII offered James IV marriage to his daughter Margaret if he stopped supporting Warbeck’s claim.
The Cornish Rebellion occurred.
Henry VII threatened war with James IV if he did not surrender Perkin Warbeck to the English. James IV expelled Warbeck from Scotland. The Truce of Ayton was agreed.
17 September 1497
Perkin Warbeck landed in Cornwall and attempted to take advantage of the unrest there. He laid siege to Exeter using a peasant force but was pushed back.
21 September. 1497
Warbeck sought sanctuary in Beaulieu Abbey.
5 October 1497
Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbey.
After attempting to escape, Warbeck was recaptured and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Margaret of Burgundy sent an official apology to Henry VII for her support of Perkin Warbeck.
23 November 1499
Perkin Warbeck was executed.
The Warbeck Rebellion was a dynastic rebellion. Its purpose was to overthrow Henry VII. This was rooted in the War of the Roses, which had been fought between 1455 and 1485 and ended when Henry VII killed the Yorkist King, Richard III, and took the throne himself. Yorkist supporters were angry about Henry VII's reign and wanted to restore the House of York to the throne. Perkin Warbeck claiming to be a Yorkist heir provided this opportunity.
Those who had remained Yorkist sympathisers after Richard III's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth rallied around Warbeck as their candidate for the throne. Whether they knew he was an imposter or not didn’t matter. What mattered was the Yorkist cause and the goal that Warbeck could help them achieve.
The Princes in the Tower
Edward IV's sons, Edward and Richard - who Warbeck pretended to be - are referred to as the princes in the tower. This is because they mysteriously disappeared after Edward IV's brother, Richard III, placed them in the Tower of London in 1483 when he became King, supposedly for their protection. The princes disappeared and what really happened to them is still unknown. This mystery made it easier for Warbeck to pretend to be one of them.
The threat posed by the rebellion was rooted in its numerous and powerful supporters. Let's find out who supported Warbeck, and why.
James IV had become King of Scotland in 1488. Scotland was always a thorn in England’s side: being on England’s northern border meant that there was always a threat of invasion. It also didn’t help that Scotland was traditionally an ally of France, a powerful country that could pose a real threat to England.
It seems that James IV’s support of Perkin Warbeck was more a means of antagonising England rather than a genuine belief in Warbeck’s claim to the throne.
Margaret of Burgundy was the Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and constant enemy of Henry VII. She had previously offered her support to the imposture of Lambert Simnel in 1487. Again supporting a pretender to the throne, she took Perkin Warbeck under her wing and trained him to be a prince.
After the rebellion failed, she formally apologised to Henry VII for her part in supporting Warbeck. It seems likely that she supported Warbeck for her own personal motives rather than a genuine belief in his claim to the throne.
Charles VIII had become king of France in 1488 and was young and ambitious. Historians believe that he supported the rebellion most likely in an attempt to neutralise England as a threat to France.
He ended up withdrawing his support when England and France signed the Treaty of Etaples in 1492 which guaranteed peace between the two countries and a withdrawal of French support for Warbeck’s cause.
Maximilian I was the King of Austria but was made Holy Roman Emperor in 1493. He was one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe, and Perkin Warbeck gained a powerful ally in him.
He was also Margaret of Burgundy’s nephew, which may have endeared him to Warbeck’s cause a little more, and he recognised Warbeck as King Richard IV. However, difficulties in enforcing control across his Empire meant that Maximilian was not able to keep up his support for Warbeck.
The Warbeck Rebellion was quite a significant threat to Henry VII. Let's look at the type of support Warbeck and the King enjoyed.
Type of Support
Yes, a lot
Had the majority
Had the majority
As the table shows, the Warbeck Rebellion was threatening because of its foreign support. At one point or another during the eight years of the rebellion, Warbeck had support from Scotland, France, Burgundy, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Warbeck’s rebellion ultimately failed because it could not gain much support in England itself. When Warbeck landed at Deal, Kent in 1495, he expected the people to rise up and join him. However, they did no such thing and the invasion was a failure.
Even when he invaded the North of England, the Yorkist heartland, with the help of James IV, the people did not support him.
The King followed a strategic and carefully thought-out approach to defend himself from Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion. He wanted to avoid war and he thought making peace treaties would be more popular and bring more benefits to England than a conflict.
Charles VIII’s support for Perkin Warbeck was very concerning for Henry VII. He needed to find a way to cut off the French support without ruining Anglo-French relations. Henry knew the solution would not be to go to war as it was highly unlikely that England would be able to beat France in a conflict.
Instead, he chose diplomacy. However, he needed to give Charles VIII an incentive to sign an agreement. In October 1492, Henry led a small force across the English Channel and invaded France.
Charles VIII was also fighting a war in Italy at that time. He did not want to have to fight on two fronts, and the Italian campaign was more important to him. As a result, on 3 November 1492, the Treaty of Etaples was signed.
Each king agreed to the following terms:
Peace between England and France.
Peace between England and France.
End of French support for Perkin Warbeck.
The acceptance of French control over Brittany.
Paying a war indemnity of 745,000 gold crowns in annual instalments.
Overall, the Treaty was a huge success for Henry VII.
Scotland’s support of Perkin Warbeck was probably the most concerning for Henry VII. But since he didn’t want to go to war, he chose to make a peace treaty with James IV.
In 1497, they agreed upon the Truce of Ayton. James IV agreed to the treaty because his confidence in Perkin Warbeck was declining.
The terms of the Truce were as follows:
Peace between England and Scotland.
Peace between England and Scotland.
Marriage to Princess Margaret.
Marriage of James IV to Princess Margaret (Henry’s daughter).
End of Scottish support for Perkin Warbeck.
Overall, this was another great success for Henry VII!
In 1497, a tax rebellion broke out in Cornwall. Parliament had agreed on a tax to finance the campaign against Perkin Warbeck and James IV. The people of Cornwall rebelled because they did not think it was fair that they were paying for a war that was happening in the north of England.
On 7 September 1497, Perkin Warbeck landed in Cornwall after the rebellion had been put down and intended to exploit the Cornish unrest for his own gain. He attempted to lay siege to the city of Exeter using a peasant force, but he was easily defeated.
This was the final straw for Perkin Warbeck. After the siege failed, he fled to Beaulieu Abbey to seek sanctuary. He was eventually forced to surrender to the King’s forces.
Initially, Henry VII allowed Perkin Warbeck to remain at his court after his surrender. However, he tried to flee the country in June 1498 and was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
In 1499, Perkin Warbeck was accused of conspiring with the Earl of Warwick to escape the Tower and overthrow Henry VII and sentenced to death. It is unclear whether this actually happened. A more likely scenario is that Henry realised that he would not be safe until Warbeck was dead.
In addition, Ferdinand of Aragon had complained to Henry that there were too many pretenders still alive in England. Henry VII was desperate to secure a match between his son and heir, Prince Arthur, and Ferdinand’s daughter Catherine of Aragon, so it is likely this was a major reason why he eventually executed Perkin Warbeck.
The imposture of Perkin Warbeck was one of the most significant challenges Henry VII faced during his reign.
Additionally, Henry VII’s response to the rebellion provides key details about the nature of his foreign policy. Henry VII was careful and strategic in the way he dealt with foreign threats. He preferred to make peace over war and always tried to do what would be most beneficial to England.
He aimed to secure as many benefits as he could with the smallest expense of resources possible.
Strategic marriage pacts and agreements for money are two particular features of Henry VII's foreign policy. There are examples of this in the Warbeck Rebellion: the marriage of his daughter Margaret to James IV and the 750,000 crown war indemnity he gained from the French.
These were repeated throughout his foreign policy. In particular, the Treaty of Medina del Campo (1489) secured the marriage of Henry’s son Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon.
The Warbeck Rebellion was a dynastic rebellion. It was an attempt to restore the house of York to the English throne.
Henry VII dealt with the Warbeck Rebellion strategically and carefully. He made treaties with both James IV of Scotland and Charles VIII of France to end their support for Warbeck.
Equally, the rebellion failed because it lacked support from the English people and much of the nobility.
The Warbeck Rebellion aimed to restore the house of York to the throne of England.
Warbeck invaded England three times. He landed at Deal, Kent in 1495, and invaded the north of England with James IV in September 1496 and Cornwall in 1497.
The Warbeck Rebellion was a failure. Perkin Warbeck and his supporters failed to gain the support they needed and all his attempts at invasion failed. He did not come close to securing the English throne.
When was the Perkin Warbeck Rebellion?
Who did Perkin Warbeck pretend to be?
Richard, Duke of York
Which European rulers did Warbeck enjoy support from?
Margaret of Burgundy, James IV of Scotland, Charles VIII of France, and Maximilian I - Holy Roman Emperor
What type of support did Henry VII enjoy?
Domestic and noble
Why was Scottish support of the rebellion a threat to Henry VII?
It bordered with England, and so was very convenient as a location from which to invade.
Which country did Henry VII sign the Treaty of Etaples with?
Who did James IV marry as part of the Truce of Ayton?
Henry's daughter Princess Margaret
At what abbey was Warbeck captured?
What was the significance of the Cornish Rebellion?
Warbeck attempted to use the unrest for his cause but the siege of Exeter he carried out with the Cornish peasants failed. After this siege, he fled to Beaulieu Abbey.
In what year was Warbeck executed?
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