Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Mr Warbeck

sherlock head

Sherlock and Watson are on a case. They have time travelled back to the C15th to try and uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ but the trail has gone cold with multiple possibilities and suspects, if they were indeed murdered at all. Sherlock hopes to find new clues about their fate in the legend of Perkin Warbeck.

Rain is falling and a dank mist rising off the river as Sherlock and Watson emerge from the precincts of the Tower and make their way along the web of lanes which lead to the area known as the ‘minories’.

Sherlock wraps his great coat around him to keep out the chill air. Watson looks wary. There are thieves in the shadows and a drunken brawl going on in one of the ale houses nearby.

‘Where now then?’ asks Watson.

‘Deeper into our net of intrigue, Watson.’ Sherlock replies, glancing across at his companion. ‘Sir Thomas More came here to ‘research’ his account of the murder of the princes. He is said to have interviewed people living in the minories and listened to the rumours they spread about the sad fate of the boys. Of course he was just a child when the events occured so he relied on second-hand information from people who serviced the Tower and lived around these streets and from his patron, Cardinal Morton.’

‘Morton was Tudor’s man from early on, wasn’t he? Implicated in the assassination attempt on Richard before he became king and key to Buckingham’s treason, he feld to Tudor and used his influence abroad to spread the rumour of the princes’ murder to anyone who would give it credence.’

‘Yes, hardly an impartial source and one with a vested interest in clearing the way for his master to get the financial backing he needed for his invasion. Henry needed those boys to be thought of as dead by all those he hoped to win to his banner and also so he could marry their sister in the event that he succeeded in his schemes. His later actions as king suggest that he didn’t necessarily believe his own propaganda because he seems to been very unsure about exactly what happened to the boys.’

‘So, why bother with More’s account at all? It’s late and biased and based on rumour.’

‘Indeed. However, the threads of rumour which were woven into the legend of the ‘wicked murdering uncle’ are interwoven with another set of rumours which became the legend of the princes’ escape and re-appearance in the guise of pretenders to the Tudor throne. A visitor to Richard III’s court said that people believed they were still alive in 1484 and the rumours gathered pace after Bosworth.

With no bodies and plenty of opposition to Tudor’s fledgling regime it was inevitable that some would try and produce one of the princes to use as a figurehead for rebellion and the Yorkists did just that with the boy Lambert Simnel with the backing of Richard’s designated Yorkist heir, John de la Pole who was killed fighting against Tudor’s forces at Stoke Field in 1487. Incidentally, if Richard had survived Bosworth, he might have found himself in a similar predicament and facing possible pretenders posing as one of the two princes as no bodies had ever been displayed. Richard was no fool so if he killed them secretly and decided to hope that people would forget over time he was playing a dangerous game because he could never prove that they were, indeed, dead.’

‘Hang on, didn’t Pole raise a rebellion to put Simnel on the throne rather than in his own right? That seems odd as he was fully grown and at least as ‘royal’ as Henry Tudor. Why support a boy pretender who would raise all the old concerns about a minority kingship? As he was prepared to risk his life on the field of battle why not fight to put himself on the throne?’

‘I think it likely that Simnel was just a ploy. Pole may have been feeling his way without committing himself to an outright bid for the throne. He had been reconciled to Tudor after Bosworth but clearly he wasn’t prepared to sit tight and hope that Tudor would leave him alone. If Pole’s rebellion had been successful he may well have planned to step forward and take the throne unless he saw himself as a ‘kingmaker’ for the imprisoned Earl of Warwick, George of Clarence’s son, who might have been released from the Tower if the rebellion had run its course.

Henry Tudor was able to produce Warwick and parade him round the streets to prove he was still breathing which made the rebels look pretty dim.

Simnel was hardly a convincing ‘prince’ anyway despite his training. They tried to pass him off as Edward of Warwick and made up an escape from the Tower but had also considered trying to pass him off as Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes. Tudor put him to use in his kitchens. He was no threat but Pole could have been so Tudor no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when he was safely in the ground and his supporters routed. It shows though that people were willing to believe that one of the princes had survived despite all the rumours circulating that they were definitely dead by Richard’s order.’

‘So, wasn’t Perkin Warbeck just another fortune-seeker? He posed as Richard of York too, went to Ireland to raise support from old Yorkist loyalists as Simnel’s supporters had done and made up a similar story of being taken from his imprisonment by unknown hands and set free.’

‘That’s what we have to establish Watson. Perkin would seem to be cut from the same cloth but for the fact that he seemed to convince so many that he really was Richard, Duke of York. We have to weigh the evidence and decide whether it was possible that one of the princes survived and whether Perkin could indeed have been a son of Edward IV, even if he wasn’t Richard of York.’

‘You think he could have been a bastard son of Edward’s?’

‘It’s a possibility along with all the others. Edward was known for his way with the ladies. He had other illegitimate children but they were acknowledged publically. It seems unlikely that the mother of any such child would not come forward and seek a place for their child during Edward’s lifetime but Perkin certainly was said to look very like Edward IV.’

‘Come on, Sherlock, you of all people can’t seriously believe that Perkin’s portrait was anything other than a propaganda image, made to look like Edward by the artist who was no doubt paid well for his pains. Also people have said that the portrait looks nothing like Edward IV around the eyes with those arched brows and hooded lids?!’

‘No, but they do look very like Elizabeth Woodville’s eyes. Don’t forget his mother in his looks Watson and very clever on the part of the artist to include such a detail considering she was dead by this time and he may never have seen her in the flesh when she was alive!’

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‘You’re right though that people see what they want to see. It is perfectly possible that he looked enough like one of the princes to convince some and had been schooled in details of their lives by emigree Yorkists. His connection with Edward Brampton and his wife might account for some of that.

Clearly Margaret of York was prepared to back anyone who might cause Henry Tudor discomfort. She backed the Simnel rebellion too. No wonder Tudor called her ‘the diabolical Duchess’, good title, don’t you think?’

‘We need to make a pleat in the fabric of time Watson, find a ship to the low countries and pay this Duchess a visit!’

Due to the conventions of poetic licence allowed to fictional characters with contacts in high places and the ability to time travel, Sherlock is able to sail for the court of Margaret of York and arrive just as Perkin Warbeck is brought to meet his ‘aunt’ in the flesh.

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Margaret of Burgundy

Malines Palace, Belgium:

Sherlock and Watson watch as Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III dictates a letter to Queen Isabella in Spain about her first meeting with Warbeck:

“Tandem ipse Dux Eboracensis ex Francia ad me advenit… (At last the Duke of York came to me out of France)… I recognised him as easily as if I had seen him yesterday or the day before…not just with one sign but with so many and so particular that not one person in ten, in a hundred or even in a thousand might be found who would have marks of the same kind…I gazed on this only male remnant of our family and I embraced him as my only nephew and my only son…”

Sherlock leans over to Watson and whispers in his ear.

‘These ‘marks she refers to’ are said to be three special marks on Warbeck’s skin which were known to intimate associates of Richard, Duke of York and he was willing to show anyone who asked him to prove his identity. She also claimed that he recalled memories of her visit to London in 148o and little details of private moments which they had shared during this time.’

‘Well, he certainly looks the part’ replied Watson who was slightly taken aback by the appearance of the young man who sat beside his ‘aunt’ and smiled sadly as she dictated her letter. At nineteen, Perkin was a handsome figure with polite manners, who held himself like a prince and could speak fluently about his claim to be England’s true heir.

Several of Edward IV’s old attendants came to scrutinise the young man, men who had known the old king intimately and for many years like Sir Robert Chamberlain and Sir Gilbert Debenham who shared his exile in 1470-1 and his old doctor Thomas Ward. Robert Clifford, who had jousted at Richard of Shrewsbury’s wedding celebrations, took one look at Perkin and fell to his knees, convinced that his prince had returned from the dead.

‘People believe what they want to believe though,’ muttered Watson, ‘he looks the part, he has Margaret’s protection and is accepted by Maximillian and the French king, the Scots will welcome him with open arms because it suits their political agenda but it doesn’t prove anything, does it?’

Sherlock remains silent, assessing the figure before him.

‘What about the involvement of Sir William Stanley in all this?’ questioned Watson. ‘The Stanley’s are knee-deep in intrigue throughout this period. They help Tudor to the throne and then William starts getting twitchy about the lands that Richard III granted to him and seems to want more from Tudor than he is willing to give and then gets mixed up with Perkin. I know they liked to keep a foot in both camps but Perkin was still a long-shot at this point. They could have at least waited until he had achieved a military victory before trying to make a connection. It all seems unnecessarily risky for a family who were famed for sitting it out ’til the last minute to see which way the wind was blowing.’

‘Indeed, Clifford was the go between and Stanley promised to back Perkin with military force. It seems strange that Tudor shouldn’t buy his loyalty as he often used bribes to turn people away from their support of Perkin. Perhaps he was waiting to see what William would do, letting him get tangled in his own web before moving in. Tudor certainly had an extensive spy network and remained very well-informed of intrigues at his own court.’

‘Stanley paid for his dabbling though. Beheaded despite being the brother of the king’s step-father for no more than stating that he wouldn’t fight a son of King Edward which wasn’t quite the same as clearly saying he believed Perkin to be that son.’

‘Tudor had to send a clear message that treason would be stamped out. Many others were also executed at the same time; some without trial. Three beheaded on Tower Hill, three hanged and cut down at Tyburn, twenty-four merchants seized as they tried to escape to Perkin and hanged. Five clergymen sentenced to hang, drawing and quartering but fined instead due to their holy orders. Clifford got off very lightly which may suggest that he was Tudor’s agent all along. Perhaps Stanley walked into a trap set by his king to test his loyalty?’

‘People were clearly risking a great deal to believe in Perkin by this point though. You would have to really want to find a resurrected Yorkist prince to end on the gallows like that.’ Do you really think they would face a traitor’s death unless they were pretty convinced he really was Richard of York?’

henry

‘The devil is in the detail, Watson, we need to look for clues in the little things…his spoken English, his hand writing… something that would give him away.’

‘Perkin spoke French at Margaret’s court but his English was also very good. He was eloquent and well-spoken according to contemporary sources and what we’ve observed. His hand writing was elegant and refined which would have taken many years of painstaking endeavour to hone to such a level if he had been the son of a bargeman. He signed his name in the same way as any well-educated noble might in England with a ‘v’ shaped ‘R’, trailing ‘y’ and loop on the final ‘d’. The signature remained consistent though it grew bolder over time. Nothing trips him up here. If anything it seems to confirm that he was given a very good education at some point before he emerged as the lost Duke of York.’

Skipping over time Sherlock and Watson follow him to Scotland where he is again, perhaps unsurprisingly greeted with open arms as a thorn in the side of their Tudor adversary. Sherlock examines a letter written by Nicholas Astley, dictated to him by Perkin on October 1496. The phrasing is graceful; reminiscent of the style of Anthony, Lord Rivers, the princes’ maternal uncle and supervisor of their royal education. It echoes the style of his proclamation to the English People a few weeks before. Extraordinary efforts for a fake. Then there was the love letter from Perkin to Lady Catherine Gordon. Anyone could have drafted that but Sherlock has to grudgingly admit that, as these things went, it was a fine piece and deserving of a prince to a high born lady.

Lady Catherine was quite a catch; the closet available kinswoman to the Scottish king. Would King James really have given her in marriage to a bargeman’s son just to boost his chances of invading England? He would have risked polluting the royal bloodline forever and the likelihood of intermarrying with it again before too long given the history of marriage alliances between the two kingdoms. Sherlock is pondering this when Watson cuts across his thoughts.

‘Ok, none of this proves either way if the princes were either both killed, or one killed and the other spirited away. For everyone who believes one version of events there was someone else who thought the opposite and everyone is motivated by their own desires and interests. We’re getting nowhere with this Holmes. I said we should have left well alone. I never wanted to time travel in the first place and your reputation will be in shreds when we fail to discover what happened to the princes. I don’t think there is any way of knowing!’

‘That may be the case Watson but we have to follow the scent to the end of the trail. If Perkin was a fake then his story about his brother being killed but himself being spared is a fabrication. If it was true then it proves that someone murdered Edward Vth but we still don’t know who. The man sent to kill them both could have been Tyrrel or Buckingham’s agent. Still unlikely that they would kill the elder and spare the younger no matter how sweet and innocent he was unless they saw value in him as a pawn for later on. Less likely to be on the orders of Lady Margaret Beaufort or Tudor himself whilst in exile because both of them needed both princes to die, just possibly could have been if Lord Stanley was behind it, they did like to hedge their bets after all and could have been a useful pawn to hold in case things didn’t work out with his step-son but he would certainly have been playing a very long game…hmmmm… (Sherlock paces back and forth, fingers drawn together against his lips)

…then we have Perkin’s spectacularly poor showing in military matters, the failed invasion in Kent, the disastrous Scots border raid…falling out with King James and his horror at Scots behaviour towards English peasants. He seems so unworldly, almost like a Henry VI, clearly not like the Yorkist kings at all but then if he missed his knight’s training perhaps he lacked the skills and experience. Tudor was no warrior king either due to his years of exile. If Perkin was motivated by the promise of riches and position would he have been so distraught by the fate of a few English peasants who happened to be in the way? There’s something about it that almost rings true.’

‘You’re driving yourself mad, Holmes. We can’t solve this one. Even when Perkin gets caught and paraded round the streets and ends up in the Tower, you can’t take his confession at face value. He gets details wrong about his family, where he lived, he could have been tortured into it. We’ll never know. Time to give it up and come home.’

Sherlock refuses to look at Watson. It’s got under his skin. He senses that somewhere out there is a piece of evidence that will unlock the mystery, if only it could be him who finds it…

 

 

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3 Responses to “Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Mr Warbeck”

  1. giaconda Says:

    Reblogged this on murreyandblue.

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  2. Lady of Winchester Says:

    Its strange how people make so much of Warbeck, and yet he was not the only rumoured royal survivor. There were people claiming to be Richard II as late as 1416 if I recall.

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  3. Lady of Winchester Says:

    I’m inclined to think the possible resemblance to Edward IV/Elizabeth Woodville might not be such compelling evidence after all.
    I recall recently seeing a portrait of the Young Henry VIII recently on a book cover, and it suddenly struck me there was more then a passing resemblance to Henry VI. I was not looking for any resembance, I was not expectng it. Sadly I cannot attach the images here, but there really seems to be something in the eyes, and the shape of the face and chin.
    In hindsight, I suppose it should not be such a shock- Henry was his great Uncle after all (half-Uncle if we’re going to be technical). Also, his great grandmother Cecily Neville was the first cousin of Henry V.

    On a strictly genetic level, should we make so much out of resemblances between Medieval aristocratic and noble families. Intermarriage between cousins of varying degrees and other relatives was so common that sometimes peole were related several times over.
    We know today that such intermarriage, if its continued over enough generations, reduces the gene pool, and can cause genetic problems, but it would also result in resemblances between even supposedly distant family members.

    Thus, there may have been many people in the English upper classes who resembled Edward IV, and even Elizabeth Woodville considering all her siblings. It does not ‘prove’ they were sons and daughters, and I’m certainly not going to start suggesting Henry Tudor or Elizabeth of York were actually illigitimate children of Henry VI.

    As Watson says, people will believe what they want, and read into it what they want. I’m suprised Sherlock doesn’t take it more seriously- throughout human history people have been taken in my some crazy things. If people want to believe something enough, they will be convinced of its truth.

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