Walpole’s Historic Doubts
Having thus disproved the account of the murder, let us now examine whether we can be sure that the murder was committed.
Of all men it was most incumbent on cardinal Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury, to ascertain the fact. To him had the queen entrusted her younger son, and the prelate had pledged himself for his security – unless every step of this history is involved in falsehood. Yet what was the behaviour of the archbishop? He appears not to have made the least inquiry into the reports of the murder of both children; nay, not even after Richard’s death: on the contrary, Bourchier was the very man who placed the crown on the head of the latter; (26) and yet not one historian censures this conduct. Threats and fear could not have dictated this shameless negligence. Everybody knows what was the authority of priests in that age; an archbishop was sacred, a cardinal inviolable. As Bourchier survived Richard, was it not incumbent on him to show, that the duke of York had been assassinated in spite of all his endeavors to save him? What can be argued from the inactivity of Bourchier, but that he did not believe the children were murdered?(27)
Richard’s conduct in a parallel case is a strong presumption that this barbarity was falsely laid to his charge. Edward earl of Warwick, his nephew, and son of the duke of Clarence, was in his power too, and no indifferent rival, if king Edward’s children were bastards. Clarence had been attainted; but so had almost every prince who had aspired to the crown after Richard the Second. Richard duke of York, the father of Edward the Fourth and Richard the Third, was son of Richard earl of Cambridge, beheaded for treason; yet that duke of York held his father’s attainder no bar to his succession. Yet how did Richard the Third treat his nephew and competitor, the young Warwick? John Rous, a zealous Lancastrian and contemporary shall inform us; and will at the same time tell us an important anecdote, maliciously suppressed or ignorantly omitted by all our historians. Richard actually proclaimed him heir to the crown after the death of his own son, and ordered him to be served next to himself and the queen, though he afterwards set him aside and confined him to the castle of Sheriff Hutton.(28) The very next day after the battle of Bosworth, the usurper Richmond was so far from being led aside from attention to his interest by the glare of his new-acquired crown, that he sent for the earl of Warwick from Sheriff Hutton and committed him to the Tower, from whence he never stirred more, falling a sacrifice to the inhuman jealousy of Henry, as his sister, the venerable countess of Salisbury, did afterwards to that of Henry the Eighth. Richard, on the contrary, was very affectionate to his family: instances appear in his treatment of the earls of Warwick and Lincoln. The lady Ann Poole, sister of the latter, Richard had agreed to marry to the prince of Scotland.
The more generous behaviour of Richard to the same young prince (Warwick) ought to be applied to the case of Edward the Fifth, if no proof exists of the murder. But what suspicious words are those of Sir Thomas More, quoted above, and unobserved by all our historians: “Some remained long in doubt,” says he, “whether they (the children) were in his (Richard’s) days destroyed or no.” If they were not destroyed in his days, in whose days were they murdered? Who will tell me that Henry the Seventh did not find, the eldest at least, prisoner in the Tower; and if he did, what was there in Henry’s nature or character to prevent our surmizes going farther?
And here let me lament that two of the greatest men in our annals have prostituted their admirable pens, the one to blacken a great prince, the other to varnish a pitiful tyrant. I mean the two (29) chan- cellors, Sir Thomas More and lord Bacon. The most senseless stories of the mob are converted to history by the former; the latter is still more culpable; he has held up to the admiration of posterity, and what is worse, to the imitation of succeeding princes, a man whose nearest approach to wisdom was mean cunning; and has raised into a legislator, a sanguinary, sordid, and trembling usurper. Henry was a tyrannic husband, and ungrateful master; he cheated as well as oppressed his subjects(30), bartered the honor of the nation for foreign gold, and cut off every branch of the royal family, to ensure possession to his no title. Had he had any title, he could claim it but from his mother, and her he set aside. But of all titles he preferred that of conquest, which, if allowable in a foreign prince, can never be valid in a native, but ought to make him the execration of his countrymen.
There is nothing strained in the supposition of Richard’s sparing his nephew. At least it is certain now, that though he dispossessed, he undoubtedly treated him at first with indulgence, attention, and respect; and though the proof I am going to give must have mortified the friends of the dethroned young prince, yet it shewed great aversion to cruelty, and was an indication that Richard rather assumed the crown for a season, than as meaning to detain it always from his brother’s posterity. It is well known that in the Saxon times nothing was more common in cases of minority than for the uncle to be preferred to the nephew; and though bastardizing his brother’s children was, on this supposition, double dealing; yet I have no doubt but Richard went so far as to insinuate an intention of restoring the crown when young Edward should be of full age. I have three strong proofs of this hypothesis. In the first place Sir Thomas More reports that the duke of Buckingham in his conversations with Morton, after his defection from Richard, told the bishop that the protector’s first proposal had been to take the crown, till Edward his nephew should attain the age of twenty-four years. Morton was certainly com- petent evidence of these discourses, and therefore a credible one; and the idea is confirmed by the two other proofs I alluded to; the second of which is that Richard’s son did not walk at his father’s coronation. Sir Thomas More indeed says that Richard created him prince of Wales on assuming the crown; but this is one of Sir Thomas’s misrepresentations, and is contradicted by fact, for Richard did not create his son prince of Wales till he arrived at York; a circumstance that might lead people to believe that in the interval of the two coronations, the latter of which was celebrated at York, September 8th, the princes were murdered.
But though Richard’s son did not walk at his father’s coronation, Edward the Fifth probably did, and this is my third proof. I conceive all the astonishment of my readers at this assertion, and yet it is founded on strongly presumptive evidence. In the (31) coronation roll itself is this amazing entry;
” To Lord Edward, son of the late king Edward the Fourth, for his apparel and array, that is to say, a short gowne made of two yards and three quarters of crymsy clothe of gold, lyned with two yards and ¾ of blac velvet, a long gowne mad of vi yards of crymsyn cloth of gold lynned with six yards of green damask, a shorte gowne made of two yards and ¾ of purpell velvett lyned with two yards and ¾ of green damask, a doublett and a stomacher made of two yards of blac satyn, &c.” besides two foot cloths, a bonet of purple velvet, nine horse harness, and nine saddle houses (housings) of blue velvet, gilt spurs, with many other rich articles, and magnificent apparel for his henchmen or pages.
Let no body tell me that these robes, this magnificence, these trappings for a cavalcade, were for the use of a prisoner. Marvellous as the fact is, there can no longer be any doubt but the deposed young king walked, or it was intended he should walk, at his uncle’s coronation. This precious monument, a terrible reproach to Sir Thomas More and his copyists, who have been silent on so public an event, exists in the great wardrobe; and is in the highest preservation; it is written on vellom, and is bound with the coronation rolls of Henry the Seventh and Eighth. These are written on paper, and are in worse condition; but that of King Richard is uncommonly fair, accurate and ample. It is the account of Peter Courteys keeper of the great wardrobe, and dates from the day of King Edward the Fourth his death, to the feast of the Purification in the February of the following year. Peter Courteys specifies what stuff he found in the wardrobe, what contracts he made for the ensuing coronation, and the deliveries in consequence. The whole is couched in the most minute and regular manner, and is preferable to a thousand vague histories. The concourse of nobility at that ceremony was extraordinarily great: there were present no fewer than three duchesses of Norfolk. Has this the air of a forced and precipitate election? Or does it not indicate a voluntary concurrence of the nobility? No mention being made in the roll of the young duke of York, no robes being ordered for him, it looks extremely as if he was not in Richard’s custody; and strengthens the probability that will appear hereafter, of his being conveyed away.
There is another article, rather curious than decisive of any point of history. One entry is thus; “To the lady Brygitt, oon of the daughters of K. Edward IIIIth, being seeke (sick) in the said wardrobe for to have for her use two long pillows of fustian stuffed with downe, and two pilow beres of Holland cloth.” The only conjecture that can be formed from this passage is, that the lady Bridget, being lodged in the great wardrobe, was not then in sanctuary.
Can it be doubted now but that Richard meant to have it thought that his assumption of the crown was only temporary? But when he proceeds to bastardize his nephew by act of parliament, then it becomes necessary to set him entirely aside: stronger proofs of the bastardy might have come out; and it is reasonable to infer this, for on the death of his own son, when Richard had no longer any reason of family to bar his brother Edward’s children, instead of again calling them to the succession, as he at first pro- jected or gave out he would, he settled the crown on the issue of his sister, Suffolk, declaring her eldest son the earl of Lincoln his successor. That young prince was slain in the battle of Stoke against Henry the Seventh, and his younger brother the earl of Suffolk, who had fled to Flanders, was extorted from the archduke Philip, who by contrary winds had been driven into England. Henry took a solemn oath not to put him to death; but copying David rather than Solomon, he, on his death-bed, recommended it to his son Henry the Eighth to execute Suffolk; and Henry the Eighth was too pious not to obey so scriptural an injunction.
Strange as the fact was of Edward the Fifth walking at his successor’s coronation, I have found an event exactly parallel which happened some years before. It is well known that the famous Joan of Naples was dethroned and murdered by the man she had chosen for her heir, Charles Durazzo. In- gratitude and cruelty were the characteristics of that wretch. He had been brought up and formed by his uncle Louis king of Hungary, who left only two daughters. Mary the eldest succeeded and was declared king; for that warlike nation, who regarded the sex of a word, more than of a person, would not suffer themselves to be governed by the term queen.Durazzo quitted Naples in pursuit of new ingratitude; dethroned king Mary, and obliged her to walk at his coronation; an insult she and her mother soon revenged by having him assassinated.
I do not doubt that the wickedness of Durazzo will be thought a proper parallel to Richard’s. But parallels prove nothing: and a man must be a very poor reasoner who thinks he has an advantage over me, because I dare produce a circumstance that resembles my subject in the case to which it is applied, and leaves my argument just as strong as it was before in every other point. They who the most firmly believe the murder of the two princes, and from what I have said it is plain that they believe it more strongly than the age did in which it was pretended to be committed; urge the disappearance (32) of the princes as a proof of the murder, but that argument vanishes entirely, at least with regard to one of them, if Perkin Warbeck was the true duke of York, as I shall show that it is greatly probable that he was.
With regard to the elder, his disappearance is no kind of proof that he was murdered: he might die in the Tower. The queen pleaded to the archbishop of York that both princes were weak and unhealthy. I have insinuated that it is not impossible that Henry the Seventh might find him alive in the Tower. I mention that as a bare possibility — but we may be very sure that if he did find Edward alive there, he would not have notified his existence, to acquit Richard and hazard his own crown. The cir- cumstances of the murder were evidently false, and invented by Henry to discredit Perkin; and the time of the murder is absolutely a fiction, for it appears by the roll of parliament, which bastardized Edward the Fifth, that he was then (33) alive, which was seven months after the time assigned by More for his murder. If Richard spared him seven months, what could suggest a reason for his murder afterwards? To take him off then was strengthening the plan of the earl of Richmond, who aimed at the crown by marrying Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward the Fourth. As the house of York never rose again, as the reverse of Richard’s fortune deprived him of any friend, and as no contemporaries but Fabian and the author of the Chronicle have written a word on that period, and they, too flighty to inform us, it is impossible to know whether Richard ever took any steps to refute the calumny. But we do know that Fabian only mentions the deaths of the princes as reports, which is proof that Richard never declared their deaths or the death of either, as he would probably have done if he had removed them for his own security. The confessions of Sir Thomas More and lord Bacon that many doubted of the murder, amount to a violent presumption that they were not murdered: and to a proof that their deaths were never declared. No man has ever doubted that Edward the Second, Richard the Second, and Henry the Sixth perished at the times that were given out. Nor Henry the Fourth, nor Edward the Fourth thought it would much help their titles to leave it doubtful whether their competitors existed or not. Observe too, that the chronicle of Croyland, after relating Richard’s second coronation at York, says, it was advised by some in the sanctuary at Westminster to convey abroad some of king Edward’s daughters, “ut si quid dictus masculis humanitus in Turri contigerat, nihilominus per salvandas personas filiarum, regnum aliquando ad veros rediret haeredes.” He says not a word of the princes being murdered, only urges the fears of their friends that it might happen. This was a living witness, very bitter against Richard, who still never accuses him of destroying his nephews, and who speaks of them as living, after the time in which Sir Thomas More, who was not then five years old, declares they were dead. Thus the parliament roll and the chronicle agree, and both contradict More. “Interim & dum haec agerentur (the coronation at York) remanserunt duo predicti Edwardi regis filii sub certa deputata custodia infra Turrim Londoniarum.” These are the express words of the Chronicle, p.567.
As Richard gained the crown by the illegitimacy of his nephews, his causing them to be murdered, would not only have shown that he did not trust to that plea, but would have transferred their claims to their sisters. And I must not be told that his intended marriage with his neice is an answer to my argument; for were that imputation true, which is very problematic, it had nothing to do with the murder of her brothers. And here the comparison and irrefragability of dates puts this matter out of all doubt. It was not until the very close of his reign that Richard is even supposed to have thought of marrying his neice. The deaths of his nephews are dated in July or August 1483. His own son did not die until April 1484, nor his queen till March 1485. He certainly therefore did not mean to strengthen his title by marrying his neice to the disinherison of his own son; and having on the loss of that son, declared his nephew the earl of Lincoln successor, it is plain that he still trusted to the illegitimacy of his brother’s children: and in no case possibly to be put, can it be thought that he wished to give strength to the claim of the princess Elizabeth.
Let us now examine the accusation of his intending to marry that neice: one of the consequences of which intention is a vague suspicion of poisoning his wife. Buck says that the queen was in a lang- uishing condition, and that the physicians declared she could not hold out till April; and he affirms having seen in the earl of Arundel’s library a letter written in passionate strains of love for her uncle by Elizabeth to the duke of Norfolk, in which she expressed doubts that the month of April would never arrive. What is there in this account that looks like poison? Does it not prove that Richard would not hasten the death of his queen? The tales of poisoning for a time certain are now exploded; nor is it in nature to believe that the princess could be impatient to marry him, if she knew or thought that he had murdered her brothers. Historians tell us that the queen took much to heart the death of her son, and never got over it. Had Richard been eager to wed his neice, and had his character been as impetuously wicked as it is represented, he would not have let the forward wait for the slow decay of her rival; nor did he think of it till nine months after the death of his son; which shows it was only to prevent Richmond’s marrying her. His declaring his nephew his successor, implies at the same time no thought of getting rid of his queen, though he did not expect more issue from her: and little as Buck’s authority is regarded, a contemporary writer confirms the probability of this story. The Chronicle of Croyland says, that at (34) the Christmas festival, men were scandalized at seeing the queen and the lady Elizabeth dressed in robes similar and equally royal. I should suppose that Richard learning the projected marriage of Elizabeth and the earl of Richmond, amused the young princess with the hopes of making her his queen; and that Richard feared that alliance, is plain from his sending her to the castle of Sheriff Hutton on the landing of Richmond.
The behavior of the queen dowager must also be noticed. She was stripped by her son-in-law Henry of all her possessions, and confined to a monastery, for delivering up her daughters to Richard. Historians too are lavish in their censures on her for consenting to bestow her daughter on the murderer of her sons and brother. But if the murder of her sons is, as we have seen, most uncertain, this solemn charge falls to the ground: and for the deaths of her brother and lord Richard Grey, one of her elder sons, it has already appeared that she imputed them to Hastings. It is much more likely that Richard convinced her he had not murdered her sons, than that she delivered up her daughters to him believing it. The rigour exercised on her by Henry the Seventh on her countenancing Lambert Simnel, evidently set up to try the temper of the nation in favour of some prince of the house of York, is a violent presumption that the queen dowager believed her second son living: and notwithstanding all the endeavors of Henry to discredit Perkin Warbeck, it will remain highly probable that many more who ought to know the truth, believed so likewise; and that fact I shall examine next.
It was in the second year of Henry the Seventh that Lambert Simnel appeared. This youth first personated Richard duke of York, then Edward earl of Warwick; and was undoubtedly an impostor. Lord Bacon owns that it was whispered every-where, that at least one of the children of Edward the Fourth was living. Such whispers prove two things; one, that the murder was very uncertain: the second, that it would have been very dangerous to disprove the murder; Henry being at least as much interested as Richard had been to have the children dead. Richard had set them aside as bastards, and thence had a title to the crown; but Henry was himself the issue of a bastard line, and had no title at all. Faction had set him on the throne, and his match with the supposed heiress of York induced the nation to wink at the defect in his own blood. The children of Clarence and of the duchess of Suffolk were living; so was the young duke of Buckingham, legitimately sprung from the youngest son of Edward the Third; whereas Henry came from the spurious stock of John of Gaunt. Lambert Simnel appeared before Henry had had time to disgust the nation, as he did afterwards, by his tyranny, cruelty, and exactions. But what was most remarkable, the queen dowager tampered in this plot. Is it to be believed, that mere turbulence and a restless spirit could in a year’s time influence that woman to throw the nation again into a civil war and attempt to dethrone her own daughter? And in favour of whom? Of the issue of Clarence, whom she had contributed to have put to death, or in favour of an impostor? There is not common sense in the supposition. No; she certainly knew or believed that Richard, her second son, had escaped and was living, and was glad to overturn the usurper without risking her child. The plot failed, and the queen dowager was shut up, where she remained till her death, “in prison, (35) poverty, and solitude.” The king trumped up a silly accusation of her having delivered her daughters out of sanctuary to king Richard, “which proceeding,” says the noble historian, “being even at that time taxed for rigorous and undue, makes it very probable there was some greater matter against her, which king, upon reason of policie, and to avoid envy, would not publish.” How truth sometimes escapes from the most courtly pens! What interpretation can be put on these words, but that the king found the queen dowager was privy to the escape at least or the existence of her second son, and secured her, lest she should bear testimony to the truth, and foment insurrections in his favour? Lord Bacon adds, “It is likewise no small argument that there was some secret in it; for that the priest Simon himself (who set Lambert to work) after he was taken, was never brought to execution; no, not so much as to publicke triall, but was only shut up close in a dungeon. Adde to this, that after the earl of Lincoln (a principal person of the house of York) was slaine in Stokefield, the king opened himself to some of his councell, that he was sorie for the earl’s death, because by him (he said) he might have known the bottom of his danger.
The earl of Lincoln had been declared heir to the crown by Richard, and therefore certainly did not mean to advance Simnel, an impostor, to it. It will be insinuated, and lord Bacon attributes that motive to him, that the earl of Lincoln hoped to open a way to the crown for himself. It might be so; still that will not account for Henry’s wish, that the earl had been saved. On the contrary, one dangerous com- petitor was removed by his death; and therefore when Henry wanted to have learned the bottom of his danger, it is plain he referred to Richard duke of York, of whose fate he was still in doubt (36). He certainly was; why else was it thought dangerous to visit or see the queen dowager after her imprison- ment, as lord Bacon owns it was? “For that act,” continues he, “the king sustained great obloquie; which nevertheless (besides the reason of state) was somewhat sweetened to him by a great confiscation.” Excellent prince! This is the man in whose favour Richard the Third is represented as a monster!
“For Lambert, the king would not take his life,” continues Henry’s biographer, “both out of magnan- imitie” (a most proper picture of so mean a mind!) “and likewise out of wisdom, thinking that if he suffered death he would be forgotten too soon; but being kept alive, he would be a continual spectacle, and a kind of remedy against the like inchantments of people in time to come.” What! Do lawful princes live in dread of a possibility of phantoms (37) ! Oh! No; but Henry knew what he had to fear; and he hoped by keeping up the memory of Simnel’s imposture, to discredit the true duke of York, as another puppet, when ever he should really appear.
That appearance did not happen till some years afterwards, and in Henry’s eleventh year. Lord Bacon has taken infinite pains to prove a second imposture; and yet owns, “that the king’s manner of shewing things by pieces and darke lights, hath so muffled it, that it hath left it almost a mysterie to this day.” What has he left a mystery? And what did he try to muffle? Not the imposture, but the truth. Had so politic a man any interest to leave the matter doubtful? Did he try to leave it so? On the contrary, his diligence to detect the imposture was prodigious. Did he publish his narrative to obscure or elucidate the transaction? Was it his manner to muffle any point that he could not clear up, especially when it behoved him to have it cleared? When Lambert Simnel first personated the earl of Warwaick, did not Henry exhibit that poor prince on a Sunday throughout all the principal streets of London? Was he not conducted to Paul’s cross, and openly examined by the nobility? “which did in effect marre the pageant in Ireland.” Was not Lambert himself taken into Henry’s service, and kept in his court for the same purpose? In short, what did Henry ever muffle and disguise but the truth? And why was his whole conduct so different in the cases of Lambert and Perkin, if their cases were not totally different? No doubt remains on the former; the gross falsehoods and contradictions in which Henry’s account of the latter is involved, make it evident that he himself could never detect the imposture of the latter, if it was one. Dates, which every historian has neglected, again come to our aid, and cannot be controverted.
Richard duke of York was born in 1474. Perkin Warbeck was not heard of before 1495, when duke Richard would have been Twenty-one. Margaret of York, duchess dowager of Burgundy, and sister of Edward the Fourth, is said by lord Bacon to have been the Juno who persecuted the pious Aeneas, Henry, and set up this phantom against him. She it was, say the historians, and says lord Bacon, p. 115, “who informed Perkin 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 his 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. As for the times while he was in the Tower, and the manner of his brother’s death, and his own escape, she knew they were things that verie few could controle: and therefore taught him only to tell a smooth and likely tale of those matters, warning him not to vary from it.” Indeed! Margaret must in truth have been a Juno, a divine power, if she could give all these instructions to purpose. This passage is so very important, the whole story depends so much upon it, that if I can show the utter impossibility of its being true, Perkin will remain the true duke of York for anything we can prove to the contrary; and for Henry, Sir Thomas More, lord Bacon, and their copyists, it will be impossible to give any longer credit to their narratives.
I have said that duke Richard was born in 1474. Unfortunately his aunt Margaret was married out of England in 1467, seven years before he was born, and never returned thither. Was not she singularly capable of describing to Perkin, her nephew, whom she had never seen? How well informed was she of the times of his childhood, and of all passages relating to his brother and sisters! Oh! But she had English refugees about her. She must have had many, and those of most intimate connection with the court, if she and they together could compose a tolerable story for Perkin, that was to take in the most minute passages of so many years (8). Who informed Margaret, that she might inform Perkin, of what passed in sanctuary? Ay: and who told her of what passed in the Tower? Let the warmest asserter of the imposture answer that question, and I will give up all I have said in this work; yes, all. Forest was dead, and the supposed priest; Sir James Tirrel , and Dighton, were in Henry’s hands. Had they trumpeted about the story of their own guilt and infamy, till Henry, after Perkin’s appearance, found it necessary to publish it? Sir James Tirrel and Dighton had certainly never gone to the court of Burgundy to make a merit with Margaret of having murdered her nephews. How came she to know accurately and authentically a tale which no mortal else knew? Did Perkin or did he not correspond in his narrative with Tirrel and Dighton? If he did, how was it possible for him to know it? If he did not, is it morally credible that Henry would not have made those variations public? If Edward the Fifth was murdered; and the duke of York saved, Perkin could know it by being the latter. If he did not know it, what was so obvious as his detection? We must allow Perkin to be the true duke of York, or give up the whole story of Tirrel and Dighton. When Henry had Perkin, Tirrel, and Dighton, in his power, he had nothing to do but confront them, and the imposture was detected. It would not have been sufficient that Margaret had enjoined him to tell a smooth and likely tale of those matters. A man does not tell a likely tale, nor was a likely tale enough, of matters of which he is totally ignorant.
Still farther: why was Perkin never confronted with the queen dowager, with Henry’s own queen, and with the princesses, her sisters? Why were they never asked, Is this your son? Is this your brother? Was Henry afraid to trust their natural emotions? Yet “he himself” says lord Bacon, p. 186, “saw him sometimes out of window, or in passage.” This implies that the queen and princesses never did see him; and yet they surely were the persons who could best detect the counterfeit, if he had been one. Had the young man made a voluntary, coherent, and credible confession, no other evidence of his imposture would be wanted; but failing that, we cannot help asking, Why the obvious means of detection were not employed? Those means having been omitted, our suspicions remain in full force.
Henry, who thus neglected every means of confounding the impostor, took every step he would have done, if convinced that Perkin was the true duke of York. His utmost industry was exerted in sifting to the bottom of the plot, in learning who was engaged in the conspiracy, and in detaching the chief supporters. It is said, though not affirmatively, that to procure confidence to his spies, he caused them to be solemnly cursed at Paul’s cross. Certain it is, that, by their information, he came to the knowledge, not of the imposture, but of what rather tended to prove that Perkin was a genuine Plantagenet: I mean, such a list of great men actually in his court and in trust about his person, that no wonder he was seriously alarmed. Sir Robert Clifford (39), who had fled to Margaret, wrote to England, that he was positive that the claimant was the very identical duke of York, son of Edward the Fourth, whom he had so often seen, and was perfectly acquainted with. This man, Clifford, was bribed back to Henry’s service; and what was the consequence? He accused Sir William Stanley, lord Chamberlain, the very man who had set the crown on Henry’s head in Bosworth field, and own brother to the earl of Derby, the then actual husband of Henry’s mother, of being in the conspiracy? This was indeed essential for Henry to know; but what did it proclaim to the nation? What could stagger the allegiance of such trust and such connections, but the firm persuasion that Perkin was the true duke of York? A spirit of faction and disgust has even in later times hurried men into treasonable combinations; but however Sir William Stanley might be dissatisfied, as not thinking him- self adequately rewarded, yet is it credible that he should risk such favour, such riches, as lord Bacon allows he possessed, on the wild bottom of a Flemish counterfeit? The lord Fitzwalter and other great men suffered in the same cause; and which is remarkable, the first was executed at Calais – another presumption that Henry would not venture to have his evidence made public. And the strongest presumption of all is, that not one of the sufferers is pretended to have recanted; they all died then in the persuasion that they had engaged in a righteous cause. When peers, knights of the garter, privy councellors, suffer death, from conviction of a matter of which they were proper judges (for which of them but must know their late master’s son?) it would be rash indeed in us to affirm that they laid down their lives for an imposture, and died with a lie in their mouths.
What can be said against king James of Scotland, who bestowed a lady of his own blood in marriage on Perkin? At war with Henry, James would naturally support his rival, whether genuine or supposititious. He and Charles the Eighth both gave him aid and both gave him up, as the wind of their interest shifted about. Recent instances of such conduct have been seen; but what prince has gone so far as to stake his belief in a doubtful cause, by sacrificing princess of his own blood in confirm- ation of it?
But it is needless to multiply presumptions. Henry’s conduct and the narrative (40) he published, are sufficient to stagger every impartial reader. Lord Bacon confesses the king did himself no good by the publication of that narrative, and that mankind was astonished to find no mention in it of the duchess Margaret’s machinations. But how could lord Bacon stop there? Why did he not conjecture that there was no proof of that tale? What interest had Henry to manage a widow of Burgundy? He had applied to the archduke Philip to banish Perkin: Philip replied, he had no power over the lands of the duchess’s dowry. It is therefore most credible that the duchess had supported Perkin, on the persuasion he was her nephew; and Henry not being able to prove the reports he had spread of her having trained up an impostor, chose to drop all mention of Margaret, because nothing was so natural as her supporting the heir of her house. On the contrary, in Perkin’s confession, as it was called, and though which preserved by Grafton, was suppressed by lord Bacon, not only as repugnant to his lord- ship’s account, but to common sense, Perkin affirms that “having sailed to Lisbon in a ship with the lady Brampton, who, lord Bacon says, was sent by Margaret to conduct him thither, and from thence having resorted to Ireland, it was at Cork that they of the town first threaped upon him that he was the son of the duke of Clarence; and others afterwards, that he was the duke of York.” But the contradictions both in lord Bacon’s account, and in Henry’s narrative, are irreconcileable and insurmountable: the former solves the likeness (41), which is allowing the likeness of Perkin to Edward the Fourth, by supposing that the king had an intrigue with his mother; of which he gives this silly relation: that Perkin Warbeck, whose surname it seems was Peter Ofbeck, was son of a Flemish converted Jew (of which Hebrew extraction Perkin says not a (42) word in his confession) who with his wife Katherine de Faro come to London on business; and she producing a son, king Edward, in consideration of the conversion, or intrigue, stood godfather to the child and gave him the name of Peter. Can one help laughing at being told that a king called Edward gave the name of Peter to his godson? But of this transfretation and christening Perkin, in his supposed confession, says not a word, nor pretends to have ever set foot in England, till he landed there in pursuit of the crown; and yet an English birth and some stay, though in his very childhood, was a better way of accounting for the purity of his accent, than either of the preposterous tales produced by lord Bacon or by Henry. The former says, that Perkin, roving up and down between Antwerp and Tournay and other towns, and living much in English company, had the English tongue perfect. Henry was so afraid of not ascertaining a good foundation of Perkin’s English accent, that he makes him learn the language twice over (43). “Being sent with a merchant of Turney, called Berlo, to the mart of Antwerp, the said Berlo set me,” says Perkin, “to borde in a skinner’s house, that dwelled beside the house of the English nation. And after this the said Berlo set me with a merchant of Middleborough to service for (44) to learne the language, with whom I dwelled from Christmas to Easter, and then I went into Portyngale.” One does not learn any language very perfectly and with good, nay, undistinguishable accent, between Christmas and Easter; but here let us pause. If this account was true, the other relating to the duchess Margaret was false; and then how came Perkin by so accurate a knowledge of the English court, that he did not faulter, nor could be detected in his tale? If the confession was not true, it remains that it was trumped up by Henry, and then Perkin must be allowed the true duke of York.
But the gross contradiction of all follows: “It was in Ireland,” says Perkin, in this very narrative and confession, “that against my will they made me to learne English, and taught me what I should do and say.” Amazing! What forced him to learn English, after, as he says himself in the very same page, he had learnt it at Antwerp! What an impudence was there in royal power to dare to obtrude such stuff on the world! Yet this confession, as it is called, was the poor young man forced to read at his execution – no doubt in dread of worse torture. Mr. Hume, though he questions it, owns that it was believed by torture to have been drawn from him. What matters how it was obtained, or whether ever obtained; it could not be true: and as Henry could put together no more plausible account, commiseration will shed a tear over a hapless youth, sacrificed to the fury and jealousy of an usurper, and in all probability the victim of a tyrant, who has made the world believe that the duke of York, executed by his own orders, had been previously murdered by his predecessor (45).
I have thus, I flatter myself, from the discovery of new authorities, from the comparison of dates, from fair consequences and arguments, and without straining or wresting probability, proved all I intended to prove; not an hypothesis of Richard’s universal innocence, but this assertion with which I set out, that we have no reasons, no authority for believing by far the greater part of the crimes charged on him. I have convicted historians of partiality, absurdities, contradictions, and falsehoods; and though I have destroyed their credit, I have ventured to establish no peremptory conclusion of my own. What did really happen in so dark a period, it would be rash to affirm. The coronation and parliament rolls have ascertained a few facts, either totally unknown, or misrepresented by historians. Time may bring other monuments to light (46): but one thing is sure, that should any man hereafter presume to repeat the same improbable tale on no better grounds that it has been hitherto urged, he must shut his eyes against conviction, and prefer ridiculous tradition to the skepticism due most points of history, and to none more than to that in question.
I have little more to say, and only on what regards the person of Richard and the story of Jane Shore; but having run counter to a very valuable modern historian and friend of my own, I must both make some apology for him, and for myself for disagreeing with him. When Mr. Hume published his reigns of Edward the Fifth, Richard the Third, and Henry the Seventh, the coronation roll had not come to light. The stream of historians concurred to make him take this portion of our story for granted. Buck had been given up as an advancer of paradoxes, and nobody but Carte had dared to controvert the popular belief. Mr Hume treats Carte’s doubts as whimsical: I wonder, he did; he, who having so closely examined our history, had discovered how very fallible many of its authorities are. Mr. Hume himself had ventured to contest both the flattering picture drawn of Edward the First, and those ignominious portraits of Edward the Second and Richard the Second. He had discovered from the Foedera, that Edward the Fourth, while said universally to be prisoner to archbishop Nevil, was at full liberty and doing acts of royal power. Why was it whimsical in Carte to exercise the same spirit of criticism? Mr. Hume could not but know how much the characters of princes are liable to be flattered or misrepresented. It is of little importance to the world, to Mr. Hume, or to me, whether Richard’s story is fairly told or not: and in this amicable discussion I have no fear of offending him by disagreeing with him. His abilities and sagacity do not rest on the shortest reign in our annals. I shall therefore attempt to give answers to the questions on which he pins the credibility due to the history of Richard.
The questions are these. 1. Had not the queen-mother and the other heads of the York party been fully assured of the death of both the young princes, would they have agreed to call over the earl of Richmond, the head of the Lancastrian party, and marry him to the princess Elizabeth? — I answer, that when the queen-mother could recall that consent, and send to her son the marquis Dorset to quit Richmond, assuring him of king Richard’s favour to him and her house, it is impossible to say what so weak and ambitious a woman would not do. She wanted to have some one of her children on the throne, in order to recover her own power. She first engaged her daughter to Richmond and then to Richard. She might not know what was become of her sons; and yet that is no proof they were murdered. They were out of her power, whatever was become of them; and she was impatient to rule. If she was fully assured of their deaths, could Henry, after he came to the crown and had married her daughter, be uncertain of it? I have shown that both Sir Thomas More and lord Bacon own it remained uncertain, and that Henry’s account could not be true. As to the heads of the Yorkists (47); how does it appear they concurred in the projected match? Indeed who were the heads of that party? Margaret duchess of Burgundy, Elizabeth duchess of Suffolk and her children; did they ever concur in that match? Did not they to the end endeavor to defeat and overturn it? I hope Mr. Hume will not call bishop Morton, the duke of Buckingham, and Margaret countess of Richmond, chiefs of the Yorkists. 2. The story told constantly by Perkin of his escape is utterly incredible, that those who were sent to murder his brother, took pity on him and granted him his liberty. – Answer. We do not know but from Henry’s narrative and the Lancastrian historians that Perkin gave this account (48). I am not authorized to believe he did, because I find no authority for the murder of the elder brother; and if there was, why is it utterly incredible that the younger brother should have been spared? 3. What became of him during the course of seven years from his supposed death till his appearance in 1491? — Answer. Does uncertainty of where a man has been, prove his non-identity when he appears again? When Mr. Hume will answer half the questions in this work, I will tell him where Perkin was during those seven years. 4. Why was not the queen-mother, the duchess of Burgundy, and the other friends of the family applied to, during that time, for his support and education? — Answer. Who knows that they were not applied to? The probability is, that they were. The queen’s dabbling in the affair of Simnel indicates that she knew her son was alive. And when the duchess of Burgundy is accused of setting Perkin to work, it is amazing that she should be quoted as knowing nothing about him. 5. Though the duchess of Burgundy at last acknowledged him for her nephew, she had lost all pretense to authority by her former acknowledgement and support of Lambert Simnel, an avowed impostor. – Answer. Mr. Hume here makes an unwary consession by distinguishing between Lambert Simnel, an avowed impostor, and Perkin, whose imposture was problematic. But if he was a true prince, the duchess could only forfeit credit for herself, not for him: nor would her preparing the way for her nephew, by first playing off and feeling the ground by a counterfeit, be an imputation on her, but rather a proof of her wisdom and tenderness. Impostors are easily detected; as Simnel was. All Henry’s art and power could never verify the cheat of Perkin; and if the latter was astonishing adroit, the king was ridiculously clumsy. 6. Perkin himself confessed his imposture more than once, and read his confession to the people, and renewed his confession at the foot of the gibbet on which he was executed. – Answer. I have shown that this confession was such an awkward forgery that lord Bacon did not dare adhere to quote or adhere to it, but invented a new story, more specious, but equally inconsistent with probability. 7. After Henry the Eighth’s accession, the titles of the houses of York and Lancaster were fully confounded, and there was no longer any necessity for defending Henry the Seventh and his title; yet all the historians of that time, when the events were recent, some of these historians, such as Sir Thomas More, of the highest authority, agree in treating Perkin as an impostor. — Answer. When Sir Thomas More wrote, Henry the Seventh was still alive; that argument therefore falls entirely to the ground: but there was great necessity, I will not say to defend, but even to palliate the titles of both Henry the Seventh and Henry the Eighth. The former, all the world agrees now, had no title (49): the latter had none from his father, and a very defective one from his mother. If she had any right, it could only be after her brothers; and it is not to be supposed that so jealous a tyrant as Henry the Eighth would suffer it to be said that his father and mother enjoyed the throne to the prejudice of that mother’s surviving brother, in whose blood the father had imbrued his hands. The murder therefore was to be fixed on Richard the Third, who was to be supposed to have usurped the throne, by murdering, and not, as really was the case, by bastardizing his nephews. If they were illegitimate, so was their sister; and if she was, what title had she conveyed to her son Henry the Eighth? No wonder that both Henrys were jealous of the earl of Suffolk, whom one bequeathed to slaughter, and the other executed; for if the children of Edward the Fourth were spurious, and those of Clarence attainted, the right of the house of York was vested in the duchess of Suffolk and her descendants. The massacre of the children of Clarence and the duchess of Suffolk show what Henry the Eighth thought of the titles both of his father and mother (50). But, says Mr. Hume, all the historians of that time agree in treating Perkin as an impostor. I have shown from their own mouths that they all doubted of it. The reader must judge between us. But Mr. Hume selects Sir Thomas More as the highest authority; I have proved that he was the lowest — but not in the case of Perkin, for Sir Thomas More’s history does not go so low; yet happening to mention him, he says, the man, commonly called Perkin Warbeck, was, as well with the princes as the people, held to be the younger son of Edward the Fourth; and that the deaths of the young king Edward and of Richard his brother had come so far in question, as some are yet in doubt, whether they were destroyed or no in the days of king Richard. Sir Thomas adhered to the affirmative, relying as I have shown on very bad authorities. But what is a stronger argument ad hominem, I can prove that Mr. Hume did not think Sir Thomas More good authority; no, Mr. Hume was a fairer and more impartial judge: at the very time he quotes Sir Thomas More, he tacitly rejects his authority; for Mr. Hume, agreeably to truth, specifies the lady Eleanor Butler as the person to whom king Edward was contracted, and not Elizabeth Lucy, as it stands in Sir Thomas More. An attempt to vindicate Richard will probably no longer be thought whimsical, when so very acute reasoner as Mr. Hume could find no better foundation than these seven queries on which to rest his condemnation.
Special thanks to Society member Janet Trimbath for keyboarding this electronic edition.