Monday, 12 December 2011

Mystery People of History – Perkin Warbeck, Prince or Pretender?


Few mysteries of history have fascinated us as much and prompted so much speculation as the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.  Were the two young princes really murdered in their beds, and if so who by and why? Or were they somehow spirited away from the Tower of London in secret and taken to a safe place to live out their lives in obscurity?  Against the chaos and political instability of that period of English history known as the War of the Roses, it is perhaps not surprising then that several figures came forward during the reign of King Henry VII claiming to be one of the lost princes and becoming a focus for rebellion, and one of the most famous of these royal pretenders was a young man know as Perkin Warbeck.

After Henry VII defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and claimed the English throne by right of conquest, his main tasks were to secure his kingdom and win the loyalty of his nobles and people.  He married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter King Edward IV, in an attempt to further legitimise his claim to the English crown and unite the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions, even though to do this he had to overturn the ruling that had declared that she and all her siblings were illegitimate due to their father’s alleged pre-contract of marriage with Lady Eleanor Talbot.  But if Elizabeth of York and her sisters were once again recognised as being the legitimate children of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, then so too were her two brothers, King Edward V and Richard, Duke of York.  Many historians consider that to have overturned this ruling, Henry VII must have believed that the two young princes were indeed already dead, as if either of the two boys were still alive, they had a much greater claim to the throne than Henry himself, and he knew that there were still powerful forces both in England and across Europe who would back a Yorkist claimant to the throne.


Perkin Warbeck

One of these powerful forces was Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of the two dead kings Edward IV and Richard III and the aunt of the Princes in the Tower, and it was at her Court that Perkin Warbeck first came to public attention and claimed the throne of England. It is not known whether Margaret of Burgundy genuinely believed that Perkin Warbeck was her nephew or whether she was fully aware that he was a fraud and groomed him in the ways of the Yorkist Royal Family in order to create a focus of rebellion against Henry VII.  The other major European player to get involved was King Charles VIII of France, and both he and Margaret officially recognised Perkin Warbeck as King Richard IV of England.  For a while Perkin Warbeck was feted across Europe, attending the funeral in Vienna of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III, and gaining the recognition of his successor Maximilian I, spending time at the French Court in 1492 and then residing at the Court of Burgundy. However, in 1492 Charles VIII signed the Treaty of Etaples with England to prevent a threatened invasion of France and part of the treaty was an agreement to expel Perkin Warbeck from French territory.  Warbeck’s presence in Burgundy rattled Henry VII so much that he imposed a trade embargo on Flanders in 1493, even though this would lose England a great deal of revenue.

Perkin Warbeck’s first foray into rebellion against the English crown had been in 1491 when he arrived in the Irish city of Cork, which had long been a Yorkist stronghold. The good people of Cork thought that Warbeck was actually the Earl of Warwick, the son of the hapless George, Duke of Clarence, who had been attainted for treason and executed in the Tower of London after trying the patience of his brother Edward IV one time too many, who was currently being held captive by Henry VII.  Warbeck’s English was apparently not very good, but he managed to deny his being the Earl of Warwick and declare himself as Richard, Duke of York. However, little became of this rebellion and he was forced to return to Europe.







With the support of Margaret of Burgundy, he tried his hand again in 1495 and landed with a small force in Deal on the Kent coast.  His small force was effectively routed and Warbeck was forced to sail on to Ireland without even disembarking onto English soil.  Once in Ireland, he gained the support of the Earl of Desmond and laid siege to the town of Waterford, but was once again unsuccessful.  He fled to the Court of King James IV of Scotland, where he was graciously received, given a pension of £1200 a year and the hand of the Scottish King’s cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, in marriage.  At that time James IV was happy to use any means at his disposal to rile Henry VII, so he encouraged Perkin Warbeck to use his pension for funding for attempting to mount an attack across the English border.  However, Warbeck received no support whatsoever from the English and was forced to retreat back into Scotland.  Henry VII may still at this point in his reign have felt insecure on his throne, but he had set up an effective network of spies and had rooted out and dealt with any English supporters of Perkin Warbeck.  In 1495, Sir William Stanley was tried and executed for treason due to his support of Warbeck and the Yorkist cause, which is ironic in the light of the fact that he was the very same William Stanley who switched sides at the Battle of Bosworth ensuring the defeat of the Yorkist King Richard III. Henry VII’s steward Lord Fitzwalter was also attainted and executed and it seems that they were being informed on by one of their co-conspirators Sir Robert Clifford, who was secretly working for Henry.  Clifford’s reward for his participation in the conspiracy against the crown was not the more usual short trip to the scaffold but a full pardon and a hefty reward.

After Warbeck’s failed attempt to enter England, James IV of Scotland gave up on the idea of being a thorn in the side of the English King, and signed the Treaty of Ayton that brought him peace with England and Henry’s daughter Margaret Tudor as a bride. Warbeck was once more expelled and returned again to Ireland to make another attempt at laying siege to the town of Waterford.  This attempt was swiftly defeated and he was chased from Ireland by four English ships.  Left with only a handful of supporters, Perkin Warbeck sailed to Cornwall, where he hoped to capitalise on the discontent still fomenting there after the uprising that had taken place only a few months earlier. The Cornish people welcomed him and declared him King Richard IV on Bodmin Moor.  The support of the Cornish swelled his army by 6000 and he marched on Exeter and then on to Taunton.  Henry sent an army to counter Warbeck’s rebellion, and when Warbeck heard that this force had sighted he fled to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, where he was captured. Henry VII was initially merciful to Perkin Warbeck, allowing him to stay at Court under supervision.  However, he attempted to run away, so was removed to the more secure environment of the Tower of London.  In 1499 he allegedly tried to escape again, this time supposedly in the company of the real Earl of Warwick, and was hanged at Tyburn.




So was Perkin Warbeck really Richard, Duke of York?  It is popularly believed that he was actually a Fleming born in Tournai in around 1474, the son of a French official called John de Werbecque and his wife, Katherine de Faro, and that he had spent his boyhood years working as a servant in several different households. He then became an apprentice for a fleece merchant called Pregent Meno, and it was while he was working for Meno that he first arrived in Ireland and declared himself to be Richard, Duke of York.  Perkin Warbeck also supposedly bore a strong resemblance to the dead Yorkist monarch, Edward IV, and it has been speculated that Warbeck could actually have been Edward’s illegitimate son. But what of Margaret of Burgundy’s support of Perkin Warbeck.  Would she really have supported an imposter as her nephew?  Would she really have wanted a non-royal foreigner on the throne of England, however much she despised Henry VII’s regime?  She declared that she recognised Warbeck as Richard of York because of certain birthmarks on his body and his supposedly detailed knowledge of what life had been like living in the English Royal Household.  In return for Margaret’s support, Warbeck had to promise to return all her lands in England to her that had been confiscated after the Battle of Bosworth when he gained the English crown. But was this enough to make her support an imposter? 

Moreover, if Perkin Warbeck really spoke such poor English and was uneducated, would sophisticated monarchs like Maximilian I and Charles VII even have deigned to let him into their presence, let alone backed him as a pretender to the throne of England? In the 15th century class was all important, and people rarely moved out of the milieu into which they had been born.  There was also a mystique and a reverence surrounding royal blood, and preserving royal bloodlines and family ties was regarded as all important, so encouraging someone who had worked as a servant to make a bid for a crown would have been almost unthinkable.  After all, the real Richard, Duke of York had been excluded from the possibility of ever sitting on the throne of England purely because his father might have made a pre-contract of marriage with another woman before he married Richard’s mother Elizabeth Woodville.

Like all great historical mysteries, we shall never probably really know the truth about Perkin Warbeck.  Perkin Warbeck made a confession before his execution that gave his parentage and early history, some of which has been backed up by documentary evidence.  But was he forced into this confession by Henry VII, who would have been very eager to ensure that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that that Perkin Warbeck was an imposter and not a Yorkist prince? Most likely he was just an apprentice from Flanders, who by chance bore an uncanny resemblance to a dead king and was in the right place at the right time, but there is always the chance, however slight, that he really was Richard of York and that he had been spirited away from his imprisonment in England and brought to Europe for safety.

Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain



Famous Royal Mistresses – Prinny and Mrs Fitzherbert


When is a famous royal mistress not a royal mistress? When perhaps, like Mrs Fitzherbert, she may actually have been a royal wife? The British Royal Family has been much in the news recently, with the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton having just taken place at Westminster Abbey, but members of our Royal Family have throughout history found themselves the centre of attention, written about in newspapers and pamphlets and even finding themselves in the centre of a scandal. One royal who was no stranger to scandal was George, Prince of Wales, the son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, who went on to become Prince Regent and then King George IV. Known to his friends as ‘Prinny’, Prince George led a decadent life at the head of a group of beaus and dandies known as the Carlton House Set, spending his days gambling, drinking, decorating his houses and running up a huge amount of debt. When he was a young man, George was handsome and a great favourite with the ladies, but as he grew older the ravages of his lifestyle caused him to become bloated and pile on the weight, prompting Beau Brummell to utter his famous caustic remark ‘Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?’  Prince George also enjoyed an extensive and varied love life and had many mistresses throughout his life, but perhaps he ever only truly loved one of them?

Mrs Fitzherbert


The lady in question is known to history as Mrs Fitzherbert, although she was born Maria Ann Smythe on 26th July 1756.  She was the eldest child of William Smythe and Mary Ann Errington, who were Roman Catholics and well-connected with the British aristocracy, as her mother was a half-sister of the Earl of Sefton. She was sent to Paris for her education, but was married at the age of 18 to Edward Weld, a wealthy Catholic landowner who was 16 years her senior. Unfortunately for the young Maria, her new husband was thrown from a horse only three months after their wedding, without having yet made a new will. This left the young widow in dire financial straits and in desperate need of a new husband to support her, so three years later she wed another older man, Thomas Fitzherbert of Swynnerton in Staffordshire. This time she was ten years younger than her spouse, and the couple had one son who tragically died very young. She was widowed again on 7th May 1781, but this time she was more fortunate in the inheritance stakes as she gained a smart house in Park Street, Mayfair and a healthy annual income.

When she came out of mourning, Mrs Fitzherbert was sponsored into the glittering whirl of London Society by her uncle Lord Sefton and her half-brother Henry Errington. She was now a very eligible young widow, and probably had many suitors. But in the spring of 1784 she was introduced to the very cream of this Society, when Maria Fitzherbert caught the eye of the 22 year old Prince of Wales when she attended the opera in the company of Lord Sefton. Although, at 27, Mrs Fitzherbert was older than Prince George, the impressionable young prince was smitten and immediately began to pursue her. Rumours soon started flying around Polite Society that Mrs Fitzherbert was the Prince’s latest mistress. The pair seemed to be genuinely in love, and in July 1784 her besotted prince offered her a ring as a gift. The ring was initially refused, but Mrs Fitzherbert finally accepted the gift, after Prince George threatened to commit suicide. The ecstatic Prince believed that this acceptance of his ring meant that Maria Fitzherbert had agreed to marry him,  and knowing that marrying the Prince would be nigh on impossible she escaped to Europe.  Maria Fitzherbert’s whereabouts were eventually traced, and she returned to London in December 1785. It was at this point that the couple underwent a secret marriage ceremony in the drawing room of Mrs Fitzherbert’s house in Park Street.





So why was there so much secrecy surrounding this wedding? It was because under English law the marriage was regarded as invalid. This was because George was the Prince of Wales and the 1689 Bill of Rights stated that any heir to the throne who married a Roman Catholic would be lose their place in the succession and the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 required that the King’s consent had to be obtained before one of his children could wed. As Mrs Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic and it was highly unlikely that King George III would give consent to his eldest son and heir marrying a Catholic widow, the couple can have been only too aware that it was unlikely that their marriage would ever be recognised by the Royal Family and legitimised. We may never know why the couple took the risk of getting married in secret, but there were rumours flying around Society at the time that Mrs Fitzherbert was pregnant, and being a Roman Catholic may well have been deeply worried about having a child out of wedlock. It must be remembered that before she met the Prince of Wales, Maria Fitzherbert had led the life of a very respectable woman and had a high standing in the Society of which she was a part. In fact, they had to approach three different clergymen before they found one who would perform the ceremony, and it was one of the Prince of Wales’s own chaplains, the Reverend Robert Burt who finally agreed. There has been speculation that Reverend Burt only agreed because the Prince had agreed to pay off his debts or even got him out of debtor’s prison, but there is no real evidence to support this, and Burt came from an affluent family who had made their fortune in the West Indies.



The rumours continued to fly about the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert, but they lived together as a married couple until 1794. It was Prinny’s extravagance and decadent lifestyle that was to be their undoing as he had reached a point where he was unable to discharge his debts. He had already once been financially bailed out by his father, the King, and so to ensure that he stayed in his father’s good books, Prince George finally agreed to marry a foreign, protestant princess called Caroline of Brunswick. To complicate matter further, in 1794 George started a romantic liaison with Frances Villiers, the Countess of Jersey, who was strongly counselling him to marry Princess Caroline and get rid of his mountain of debts. Lady Jersey was very keen on retaining her status as his royal mistress, and felt that Caroline of Brunswick was much less of a threat to her position than Mrs Fitzherbert, a lady who he had been in love with for nearly a decade. The question has to be did Prince George really believe that he was already married, and if so was he worried and unhappy that in some people’s eyes he was committing bigamy by marrying another woman? Although how do you divorce someone that you may or may not be legally married to? When the Prince broke off his relationship with her, Maria Fitzherbert fled first to Margate, and then to Marble Hill in Twickenham, ending up in Ealing in the October of 1795.

It is quite safe to say that the Prince’s marriage to Caroline of Brunswick was a disaster, and by 1799 Prinny was once more back in the arms of Mrs Fitzherbert. They lived together in Brighton until around 1807 where Mrs Fitzherbert owned a house called Steine House that had been designed for her by the architect William Porden, and the Prince was building his fantastical piece of Eastern architecture, the Brighton Pavilion. The couple seemed to have had a shaky relationship for the next two years, but it seems that they had finally parted forever by 1811, the Prince having embarked on what would be a 12 year long affair with the somewhat curvaceous Lady Hertford.

Mrs Fitzherbert continued to live quietly in Brighton in Steine House until her death in 1837, and she was buried in the Roman Catholic church of St John the Baptist in the Kemp Town area of the town. One of the big questions asked about Mrs Fitzherbert was whether or not she ever bore the Prince of Wales any children? There were those rumours of her pregnancy at the time of her morganatic marriage, and many people believe that James Ord, who was born in 1786, was that child. James Ord was taken to the United States and became a Jesuit priest there, but left the order to first join the US Navy and then the US Infantry. However, In Maria Fitzherbert’s will there is no mention of a son, but in the second codicil she does make references to ‘two dear children’ who were Mary Ann Smythe and Mary Dawson-Damer. Mary Ann Smythe became Mary Ann Stafford-Jerningham after her marriage and was nominally a niece of Mrs Fitzherbert, and Mary Ann Dawson-Damer was known as the daughter of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and his wife Lady Anna Horatia Waldegrave. The Seymour’s son was one of the executors of Mrs Fitzherbert’s will and received a minor bequest from her, and his father has been a lifelong friend and confidant of the Prince of Wales. However, until concrete historical evidence comes to light, the question of whether Mrs Fitzherbert had any natural children with the Prince Regent will remain unanswered. The two women mentioned in her will may well just have been children that she had been very attached to and felt motherly towards, and we perhaps may never know the truth about James Ord either.

So to the world, Mrs Fitzherbert, may have been nothing more than another famous royal mistress, but I think that she sincerely believed that she was the true wife of the Prince of Wales. And although Prinny left her to make a marriage of convenience with a foreign princess, and enjoyed several other mistresses during his lifetime, it does seem that Mrs Fitzherbert was the woman who held his heart and whom he loved until his dying day. After his death in 1830, it was discovered that the recently deceased monarch had kept all of the love letters and correspondence that had passed back and forth between him and his beloved Mrs Fitzherbert, but, unfortunately for us, these undoubtedly fascinating documents were then destroyed. The new king was William IV, a brother of George, who offered Mrs Fitzherbert a dukedom when he came to the throne, to compensate her for all of the trials and tribulations that she had suffered at the hands of his sibling. Maria Fitzherbert turned this honour down stating that ‘she had borne through life the name of Mrs Fitzherbert; that she had never disgraced it, and did not wish to change it’. This was a lady who had done what she did for love and not to gain money or fancy titles; she just wanted to live her life as the beloved wife of her prince.

Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain




Thursday, 8 December 2011

Paneb – An Ancient Egyptian Bad Boy?

Have you ever heard of Paneb, the notorious Ancient Egyptian bad boy? These days we hear horror stories on the news all too often about people who commit murder, violence, and theft and display general bad behaviour. But would it be any comfort to you to know that these stories are nothing new, and that even in a small worker’s village in Ancient Egypt there was one of these rascally characters living and, for a while at least, flourishing?

This ancient Egyptian villain of our story was a man called Paneb, and he was born in the workman’s village of Deir el-Medina around 1244 BC during the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. Deir el-Medina was a unique community set in a hollow of the cliffs on the west bank of the Nile at ancient Thebes, peopled by the workmen who cut and decorated the magnificent tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings and their families.

Our bad boy Paneb was one of these workman, and he would have worked long hours in the dark, hot, stuffy conditions of the pharaoh’s tomb.  Paneb had been raised in the home of his adopted father Neferhotep, who had also generously provided Paneb with his education. At Deir el-Medina, jobs were passed down from father to son, and Paneb succeeded to Neferhotep’s coveted position as one of the two foremen of the gangs of workmen in the Valley of the Kings. Paneb, however, was not the type of guy who would repay these kindnesses with the respect and consideration due to his adopted father.


Deir el-Medina - Own Image


However, before we go on any further with Paneb’s tale of debauchery and criminal behaviour, we have to ask how come we know so much about an ordinary ancient Egyptian workman? Well we know so much about Paneb’s dubious career because of a remarkable papyrus, the Papyrus Salt 124, which is now housed in the British Museum.

Papyrus Salt 124 was probably initially found at Deir el-Medina and it arrived in the British Museum from the collection of the early 19th century collector and Egyptologist, Henry Salt, who had obtained it in the Luxor area.  Putting an exact date on the papyrus is problematical, although a clue comes from a later recorded event where one of Paneb’s descendants in year 29 of the pharaoh Ramses III referred to Paneb’s trial taking place during the time of the Vizier Hori.

However, Hori fulfilled the office of Vizier from the reign of the pharaoh Siptah through to the reign of Ramses III, a period of many years.  The first translation of the papyrus was not released until 1870, when it was published by Fran├žois Chabas with a short summary, and the first translation into English was in 1929 by Jaroslav Cerny. Papyrus Salt 124 is in the form of a letter to the Vizier of the day, Hori, and consists of  a list of accusations against Paneb all designed to let the Vizier know that Paneb was not fit to hold the post of foreman in the Valley of the Kings. The letter was written by a scribe called Amenakht, who, as he was Paneb’s adoptive father’s brother and believed that the post of foreman should have been his, was not what we might have called an uninterested and unbiased party.

It is fair to say that Amenakht did not hold back when it came to his accusations against Paneb, and the papyrus mentions murder, adultery, tomb robbing and general debauchery.  So whatever the truth is about these accusations, it is clear that he had managed to very badly rub Amenakht up the wrong way. Paneb was a married man and had produced at least ten children with his wife the Lady Wabet, but according to Amenakht’s accusations, this did not stop Paneb from committing adultery and even violating women of the village against their will.

One of the bitterest accusations in the papyrus is that Paneb had violated the Lady Yemyemwah against her will on top of a wall, which was very unwise of Paneb if it was true, as this lady was Amenakht’s sister. He also managed to fit in a very lengthy affair with a lady of the village called Hunro, who herself had gone through three different husbands in this time.  One of Paneb’s sons, who was called Aapakhte, was almost as disreputable as his father and even got involved in some of his exploits with the ladies.

Drunkenness and fighting were apparently a way of life for Paneb, and he reputedly managed one night to scrap with and injure nine successive men. Before his adoptive father Neferhotep was killed, Paneb had himself chased him and threatened to kill him. Neferhotep was murdered on the orders of a shadowy figure called ‘Msy’.  It is not really known who this ‘Msy’ was, but it could have been an ephemeral Pharaoh called Amenmesse or one of his agents.

By this time the area around the ancient city of Thebes was very unsettled, with the Pharaoh Seti II fighting for dominance in the region with Amenmesse, although evidence shows that Amenmesse did gain control over Thebes for several years during Seti II’s reign. Whether Paneb was involved in this incident is not known, but it was alleged that Paneb had bribed the Vizier Pra’emhab with a gift of five of Neferhotep’s servants in order to persuade him to give him Neferhotep’s job as foreman.

 Paneb also seemed to have had a very casual attitude towards other people’s time and property, even if the property belonged to pharaoh himself.  When he was promoted to foreman he was working on the tomb of Seti II, and one of the accusations in the papyrus was that he stole stone from the tomb and had the workmen use this stone to build pillars in his own tomb at Deir el-Medina.

He also allegedly took a chariot cover, a statue, and some fine oil, incense and wine that belonged to pharaoh. In the Valley of the Kings the tools used by the workers were very valuable, but that did not deter Paneb from taking them and even breaking one before he could return it. It seemed as though he used the workmen as his own personal workforce, as he made them build a plaited bed for him and also made their wives weave clothes for him.

Paneb was also accused of tomb robbing, which was regarded as a very serious crime because to disturb the eternal rest of a pharaoh was regarded as sacrilege. His rebellious act of sitting on the sarcophagus of Seti II, would have been seen as a hugely disrespectful act. Among the objects that he purloined from tombs supposedly included a mummified goose from the tomb of one of Ramses II’s daughters and a bed and other funerary articles from the tomb of a fellow worker called Nakhtmin.

No one is really sure what happened to Paneb in the end. Soon after these accusations were made against him, Paneb and his son Aapakhte disappear from the records of the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina. Some experts believe that he was executed for his crimes, as there is an ostraca dating from year 5 of Ramses III which refers to the ‘killing of the chief’.

This chief could well have been Paneb, but as there is no name mentioned on the ostraca, it may not have been him. Also this would have meant that Paneb would have been around 67 when he was executed, which was a very great age for an ordinary Ancient Egyptian worker. Paneb is also known from his damaged tomb in the cliffs at Deir el-Medina and also from a carved offering table that would have once stood at the entrance of his tomb, so that his descendants could make their offerings to their deceased ancestor.





So do you think that Paneb was really as bad as he was portrayed by the obviously bitter and resentful Amenakht? Or was he just a bit of character, who liked a bit of drunken debauchery and petty crime, which made it easy to make all those accusations stick?  Unless some further evidence is unearthed from the sands of Egypt, we shall probably never really know, but Paneb’s story shows that despite the passage of the years and our advanced technology, we are not so different from those Ancient Egyptians, and that human nature never really changes.