PERKIN WARBECK AND THE ASSAULTS ON THE GATES OF EXETER

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This is thought to be a portrait of Perkin Warbeck/Richard Duke of York from the Tournament Tapestry at Valenciennes

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Perkin Warbeck.  Pencil sketch c1560.  Note the eye blemish in both portraits.

Following on from my earlier post and the high likelihood that John Evans ,who lies buried in Coldridge Church Devon,  was indeed Edward V,  has led me to wonder did he ever meet Perkin Warbeck who  claimed to have been his brother, the youngest ‘Prince in the Tower’  Richard Duke of York.   Warbeck’s story is very well covered elsewhere, and I will only be focusing on the events of late 1497, the  Second Cornish Rebellion  and a window in time where it is possible that Warbeck met John Evans.  The one opportunity would have arisen  after  Warbeck’s  arrival  at Whitesand Bay near Land’s End, Cornwall on 7 September from Ireland on ‘2 ships and a Breton pinnace.’   Attainders would later  say that he came with a ‘a great multitude and number‘ while Raimondo Soncino, Milanese Ambassador to England ‘thought they amounted to 80 savage Irishmen‘ who arrived on ‘fishing boats‘.(1)  For some baffling reason, Warbeck chose to bring with him his wife, Lady Katherine Gordon or Kateryn Huntleye as she was called in Henry VIIs Privy Purse Expenses  and their almost one year old child, as you do when you embark on a perilous invasion of a country (2).  However common sense must have prevailed as both she and the child were sent to safety at St Michaels Mount then, according to Wroe perhaps to St Buryan, to await the outcome.

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St Michael’s Mount and the Causeway. Photograph © Richard Bowden/Shutterstock

Notwithstanding the defeat of the Cornish rebels at Blackheath on the 17th June  – known as the First Cornish Rebellion and sparked off by Henry Tudor’s heavy taxation –  Warbeck raised his standard at Penzance and begun his march eastwards gathering followers described as ‘undisciplined’ along the way. 

What was his route and did it take him close to Coldridge?  Bodmin is mentioned where his following had grown to three thousand.  Crossed the River Tamar at Launceston and entered Devon.  Crossed Dartmoor and thus to Exeter, the north Gate to be precise, his followers now amounting to nearly eight thousand men arriving on 17 September, St Lambert’s day.    It’s interesting to note that  Coldridge would have been as the crow flies just a little over 18 miles to Exeter.  Surely it’s inconceivable that John Evans/Edward V would not have made a short journey to meet up with this young man who claimed to be his brother and who was now being addressed in some quarters as King Richard IV?

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John Evan’s effigy in Coldridge church.  Depicted wearing chainmail beneath his robe.  

It should be remembered that the Edward V and Richard Duke of York as children would not have had the chance to bond.  Edward grew up in Ludlow, in the Welsh Marches and the younger brother Richard grew up with his sisters in Westminster and probably Greenwich Palace where their mother Elizabeth Wydeville appears to have had a royal nursery.   A few short weeks were spent together in the Tower of London in  the summer of 1483 and then no doubt the brothers were speedily separated after failed rescue attempts forced Richard III’s hand.   However casting that aside it’s not hard to envisage that John Evans/Edward V would have for whatever reason been, perhaps  enthusiastically, interested in having a meeting with his possible brother.     This creates a number of  intriguing scenarios.

Working on the hypothesis that John Evans was Edward V –

  1.  Did John Evans on meeting Warbeck/Richard of York and ascertaining  that Warbeck was the genuine article perceive that his younger brother’s intention was to gain the throne from himself and not to put his older brother on the throne?  Did a row ensue?
  2. Did John Evans realise that Warbeck was a fake and thus turn around and leave him to it?
  3. Or did John Evans on meeting his genuine brother after such a length of time, realise that it was too risky to throw his lot in with him for some reason.  Perhaps he was underwhelmed by Warbeck’s followers, quickly perceiving that the enterprise was doomed to  fail? Henry Tudor made the comment ‘on Monday last,  the 18th day of September, there was not one gentleman‘ (3).
  4. Was John Evans comfortable with his life, living incognito as well as wealthy, and having no wish to risk losing it all plus the danger it would put his wife and children in not to mention Thomas Grey his half brother?
  5. Did a quarrel erupt? Noblemen of that time, even those living incognito,  were well known for their massive egos and were prone to throwing their toys out of their prams at any given time – picture Richard Neville aka Warwick the Kingmaker.   Did John Evans and his brother not hit it off  for some reason lost to us now resulting in  John Evans turning  around and riding back to Coldridge in a fit of pique?
  6. There is no indications that John Evans took part in the attempted storming of Exeter but might he have?  Could he possibly have taken part and perceiving it was going disastrously wrong made his escape? Alternatively did they meet betwixt Coldridge and Exeter – a meeting that amounted to nothing?

Please feel free to add any other possible scenarios to the above.   I think it was Sir Thomas More  who said you might as well shoot too far as to shoot too short – well if he didn’t say it he should have!

Despite ‘King Richard’s’ promise to the citizens of Exeter that he would make their city like ‘another London‘  the gates were closed to him. The attacks on Exeter’s North and East  gates failed, despite valiant attempts by Warbeck,  repelled by the doughty  citizens who amongst other thing were eager to prove their loyalty to Henry Tudor after the Cornish rebellion earlier in the year.     The attempts to take Exeter and its  defence are well told in Perkin a Story of Deception by Ann Wroe.  A further good account can be found  here Devon Perspectives which covers both Cornish rebellions and Warbeck/Richard’s flight to Beaulieu Abbey, where he took sanctuary.  The rest is history.

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Medieval Exeter.   The North Gate can be seen to the left.  From a map c1587.

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The North Gate from outside the city. Courtesy Devon Library Services

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East Gate from the Exterior.  Steel line engraving by C J Sprake 1831.  The gate was demolished in 1784.

  1. Perkin, a Story of Deception p.324 Ann Wroe
  2. Excerpta Historica: or, Illustrations of English History p.115. Samuel Bentley.
  3. Perkin, a Story of Deception p.337 Ann Wroe

If you liked this story you might be interested in

A Portrait of Edward V and Possible Resting Place

Sir William Stanley – Turncoat of Loyalist?

Dr Argentine – Physician to the Princes in the Tower

The Privy Purse Accounts of Henry VII

The Ancient Gates of Old London

15 thoughts on “PERKIN WARBECK AND THE ASSAULTS ON THE GATES OF EXETER

  1. A fascinating extension to the Edward V/John Evans/Coldridge theory – many thanks. My thoughts are that perhaps as in Scenario 4 (comfortable with a quiet life) John Evans, if he was in fact Edward V, had also actually taken on board and accepted the “bigamous marriage” of his parents and the illegitimacy of himself and his siblings? That he accepted that neither he nor “Richard IV” would be legitimate kings in the sight of God? A bird in the hand… a quiet life, contact with his family via Thomas Grey, a certain position in society – who needs the hassle of kingship, struggle and warfare…?

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  2. Could the reason John Evans was knighted be because he ‘kept his head down’? I’m sure that Thomas Grey would have persuaded John Evans, in some way or other, to keep out of joining in the rebellion.

    I’ve read somewhere that Thomas Grey had been on the panel in Feb.1495 when William Stanley was indicted for treason which, together with Stanley’s execution a week later would be a stark reminder of what would probably happen to anyone who Henry no longer trusted, even if related to him by marriage! Henry was already extremely suspicious of Thomas Grey’s absolute loyalty having made him sign, in 1492, an indenture with severe penalties being incurred if he committed treason and again in 1496 before they set off together on the expedition to France in 1497.

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    1. Good point Vicky. JE being knighted is the weak point in the story. Although when I was researching him I come across him being addressed as ‘Sir”, including by Hicks, there is afaik no evidence to prove that he was knighted. I did think hard about including it in my post because it’s not clear. This is frustrating as its a crucial point. As we know if he had been knighted then he would have been known about by HVII which means he would have been staying at Coldridge with the king’s knowledge and some agreement met – such as ‘keeping his head down’ and also the fact he was the queen’s brother probably taken into account. However if he was not knighted then his id was hidden even from Henry. I am going to ask the gentleman who is leading the Finding the Princes project in Devon to clarify this question and I will post his reply on here when I get it. Watch this space. Re Thomas Grey having a hand in persuading JE to stay out of the rebellion yes I agree thats a strong possibility even to save his own neck. Bearing in mind JE would have been around 22 at the time of the rebellion he may well have been up to taking advice, depending on course on what he was like personality wise. Its all intriguing isn’t it? Thanks for your interest in my blog Eileen.

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    2. Vicky I have ascertained that although John Evans was in a ‘knightly class’ there is no mention of him in the list of knights at the time.

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