St Michaels Mount. ‘A Strong Place and Mighty’ wrote Warkworth in his Chronicle. Perkin left Katherine and their son here prior to his march to Exeter. Note the causeway. Thanks to John Starkey @ Flikr for this atmospheric photo.
It may seem prima facie that Katherine was a tragic figure, and perhaps she was for a while, but a further delve into her story and it becomes apparent that this lady was the epitome of a survivor.
Born into Scottish aristocracy around 1474, depending on who her mother was, she was kinswoman to James IV. Her father was George Gordon Second Earl Huntley, described as the ‘most powerful Lord in Scotland below the King himself’. There is some confusion which has long plagued historians as to the identity of her mother, who could have either been Annabella Stewart, a daughter of James I and his English wife Joan Beaufort, or his third wife, Lady Elizabeth Hay, the sister of the Earl of Erroll (1). However the consensus of opinion does seem to be that her mother was Elizabeth Hay. This is of some importance which I shall come to later.
Around the time of Perkin’s arrival in Scotland in November 1495 James paid the enormous sum of £108.17s.6d for fifteen and a quarter ells of crimson satin brocaded with gold and fifteen ells of velvet to be delivered ‘My Lady Huntly in Edinburgh‘ which would appear to have been for a gown suitable for her to meet the young man who was to become her husband, Perkin Warbeck, who as we we know was presenting himself as Richard Duke of York, son to the late Edward IV and one of the “Princes in the Tower’. With her noble linage she was ‘the closest and noblest woman of marriageable age whom James could offer‘ (2). In a time when all ladies of nobility seem to have been routinely described as beautiful it would seem there is this time a fair chance that Katherine was exactly that. No doubt Perkin, for I shall call him that although he may well have been Richard, was totally smitten and perhaps she for him. Certainly there was no procrastinating for the couple were swiftly betrothed and married on the 13 January 1496 with a child being born in September. The wedding sounds as if it were sumptuous with Perkin in an outfit made up from fourteen and a half yards of white damask which had cost £28, his six servants also suitable attired in outfits of damask, his two trumpeters in gowns of tawny cloth and red hose (3). How splendid it all must have been and how promising. What could possibly go wrong?
On 6 July 1497, perhaps having outstayed his welcome, Perkin, Katherine and their small son left Scotland and sailed to Ireland on a ship purchased for them by James aptly named “The Cuckoo”!!? James was not there that day to wish them bon voyage but he had presented Katherine with a goodbye gift of three and a half yards of tawny Rouen cloth for a sea-gown and two and a half yards of black Lille cloth for a cloak. Oh and yes he also paid Perkin the July instalment of his pension early on 27 June (4). James’ relief at the departure of Perkin is almost palpable even five centuries later. After a short stay in Ireland and finding little support they clambered once more upon The Cuckoo and sailed to Cornwall accompanied by one other ship plus a ‘Breton pinnace’ and it is said about 200 men arriving at Whitesand Bay on the 7 September. Cornwall was at that time in a state of high tension after a rebellion, later known as the First Cornish Rebellion, in May 1497 triggered by Henry Tudor’s high taxes had only recently been quelled on the 17th June. Why Perkin should choose to have his wife and child accompany him on such a dangerous enterprise as the invasion of England is rather baffling. But of course perhaps this would merely indicate a scarcity of options open to him. In the event Katherine, and it is thought their son, were left at St Michaels Mount, although they may have moved on to St Buryan, while Perkin marched eastwards heading towards Exeter gathering followers along the way. It was while he was a short ride away from the Devonshire Village of Coldridge it’s possible he had a meeting with John Evans who there is very good reason to believe was actually Edward V incognito.
We can only guess at the extreme fear and stress Katherine suffered while she awaited news of the outcome of her husband’s perilous venture. It was not a long wait as it transpired. After his arrival on the 17 September Perkin was defeated after a valiant but doomed attempt on the gates of Exeter, and was captured after surrendering at Beaulieu Abbey where he had taken sanctuary. On the 5 October Perkin was taken to Henry at Taunton Castle where he confessed to being an imposter (5). Well his choices being rather limited he would have wouldn’t he? A John Bowes of Hythe would be awarded £1 in rewarde for bringing Perkin’s standard to Henry (6).
An interior shot of a room at St Michaels Mount. Did Katherine look out of this very window while awaiting news from her husband? Thank you Lee Sullivan @ Flikr for this photo.
Henry Tudor sent men to St Michaels Mount – or St Buryan – to bring Katherine to him at Taunton. Henry’s Privy Purse accounts records a payment made to a Robert Southewell for ‘horses, sadells, and other necessarys bought for the conveying of my Lady Kateryn Huntleye, £7.13s.4d.’ There was also ‘To my lady Kateryn Huntleye, £2’ on December 1. It is said he was much captivated by her beauty – ‘much marveled at her beauty and amiable countenance, and sent her to London to the Queen‘ – but whether that is a load of old flannel, as they say in South London, or the truth who knows. It is known that Henry could be taken by the sight of a pretty face as his privy purse accounts bear out – September 5th 1493. ‘To the young damoysell that daunceth £30‘ – really Henry! However and moving on Henry sent Katherine to his wife Elizabeth of York to be taken into her household. What Elizabeth and Katherine made of each other is lost to us. But they must have surely had some interesting and perhaps awkward conversations, these two ladies who may or may not have been sister in laws. Of course this was a clever ploy of Henry’s as no doubt his wife could be trusted to relay anything back to him of interest that Katherine uttered about her husband.
Perkin was taken to London where he and his wife were allowed to meet at times. Their child has disappeared off the radar by this time, who knows where, and as Henry instructed the couple were not to be allowed to have a sexual relationship there were to be no more little Perkies to grow up and upset his heirs. Could this indicate that Henry may have lived with a fear that Perkin was indeed Richard and not a base born pretender? Bernard Andrè a French Augustian friar and blind poet wrote a wordy description, much in the mode of Thomas More’s witterings on Richard III, describing the scene where with Henry present, Perkin and Katherine were brought together for the first time, Perkin ‘confessing’ to her of his duplicity.
Then his wife with a modest and graceful look and singularly beautiful was brought into the kings presence in an untouched state with great blushing and breaking into tears. Henry addressed her ‘most noble lady I grieve too and it pains me very much second only to the slaughter of so many of my subjects that you have been deceived by such a sorry fellow….. because it has pleased God that you should be reduced to this miserable condition by the perfidy and wickedness of this lying scoundrel here’. Katherine had sunk to the floor during Henry’s speech ‘soaked through with a fountain of tears… “. Henry then ordered her husband ‘to repeat to her that same thing he had said to the King..’ Perkin then repeated his ‘confession’ whereupon Katherine sobbed/screamed ‘So after you seduced me as you wanted with all your false stories why did you carry me away from the hearths of my ancestors from home and parents and friends and into enemy hands? Oh wretched me! How many days of grieving, how many worries will this give my most noble parents! Oh that you would never come to our shores. Oh misery… I see nothing before me now but death since my chastity is lost. Alas for me. Why don’t my parents send someone here to punish you? Most wicked man. Are these the sceptres you were promising me we would have. Most accursed man, is this the honour of a king to which you boasted that our glorious line would come? And as for me hopeless and destitute.. what can I hope for? Whom can I trust? With what can I ease my pain I see no hope ahead… Poor Perkin and no doubt at this stage he was rapidly losing the will to live in any case. Addressing Henry Katherine said ‘I would say more but the force of pain and tears chokes off my words..’ and give thanks for that. However as Wroe points out both she and Perkin would have fully been aware of how things would go if he were to fail and such a ‘confession’ would be forthcoming if things went pear shaped which indeed they did. What a dreadful and bitter moment that must been as their hopes and dreams imploded around them. Katherine was indeed up the Swanee without a paddle.
No contemporary portraits of Katherine have survived. However we do have this pencil sketch of Perkin c1560 as well as what is thought could be his portrait from the Valencienne tapestry. Note the blemish above the eye apparent in both these images.
Katherine seems to have been treated kindly by the Queen while Perkin was taken on Henry’s progresses until on the 9th June 1498 he made his escape. Gunn suggests this may have been with the king’s ‘connivance’. Was this escape plan shared by Katherine? The finale to Perkin’s story drew to a rapid conclusion shortly after when he was discovered at the Charterhouse at Sheen, the Prior begging Henry to spare his life. His end was ignoble, which if he was a true son of Edward IV, albeit illegitimate, is rather disturbing. Shackled he was displayed in stocks set up high on a scaffold made up of wine barrels from whence he was sent to the Tower of London. There he became, conveniently, entangled in a plot with the tragic Edward of Warwick, son of George Duke of Clarence and a true scion of the House of York. This plot was used by Henry as an excuse to kill two birds with one stone and after a trial in the White Hall of Westminster on the 16th November Perkin were found guilty, quelle surprise, and executed. Warwick, found guilty two days later was beheaded but Perkin, his face said to have been bashed in by Spanish Ambassadors who saw him , was drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn where he suffered death by hanging on the 23 November 1499. His body was taken to Austin Friars for burial but his grave already lost in the 16th century when Stow undertook his Survey of London would have been completely obliterated when the church was destroyed in an air raid in 1940.
Photo taken in 1947 of a service being held in the ruins of Austin Friars
What became of Katherine after her husband’s execution? What were her thoughts? Was she in turmoil? Perhaps she was pragmatic. In any case time is a great healer and after Henry’s death in 1509 Katherine went on to marry three more times –
- James Strangeways – Usher of the King’s Chamber. Upon her marriage to Strangeways in 1512 Katherine resigned the grant of Fyfield Manor made to her in 1510 for life. Freshly re-granted to both her and James on condition that she did not go to Scotland or any other foreign country without licence (7)
Fyfield Manor. Home to Katherine and second husband James Strangeways. Also lived here with her last husband Christopher Ashton.
2. Sir Matthew Cradock d.1531. Chancellor of Glamorgan and Steward of Gower. Married almost immediately on the death of Strangeways. Cradock had a double monument built for Katherine and himself in St Mary’s Swansea although Katherine would finally be buried at Fyfield, Berkshire with her fourth and final husband Christopher Ashton. She was noted on the Cradock tomb, which was destroyed during a bombing raid, as ‘Mi Ladi Katerin‘. Referred to Cradock in her will as ‘dear and well beloved husband‘.
The Cradock tomb, St Mary’s Church Swansea after an air raid.
3. Christopher Ashton of Fyfield. Another Usher to the Chamber. Lived at Fyfield Manor. Survived Katherine who having died in 1537 had requested burial in the Parish Church of St. Nicholas Fyfield (7).
Did Katherine herself ever leave any signs that Perkin was indeed the Duke of York OR that she herself had believed him? Wendy Moorhen makes a good point in her article in the Richard III Society publication The Ricardian :
“If Katherine was not the daughter of Annabella Stewart and therefore not related to the family of Edward IV through the Beauforts then the interpretation of her description as Margaret Kyme as ‘my cousin’ in her will is reduced to them being cousins by marriage.“ This could indeed mean that Lady Katherine believed, almost forty years after his execution, that her first husband was the person he claimed to be for so many years, Richard, Duke of York’ (9 )
Lisa Hopkins also writing in the Ricardian in a similar vein points out that in her will dated 1537 Katherine left a bequest to Mistress Margaret Kyme/Keymes whom she terms ‘my cousin‘. This Margaret Kyme was the daughter of Cicely Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville who had disgraced herself by marrying a simple gentleman, Thomas Kyme, after which she lived out her life in virtual exile on the Isle of Wight. One of the possibilities this means is that if Perkin had indeed been Richard Duke of York, then Cicely would have been his sister and thus Margaret Kyme, Cicely’s daughter would thus indeed have been Katherine’s first cousin by marriage (10). If this was the case, and of course we can’t be sure, it would be a clear indication that 38 years after her first husband’s death, Katherine had lived with the belief that her husband had truly been Richard of Shrewsbury Duke of York.
- Lady Katherine Gordon, a Genealogical Puzzle Wendy E A Moorhen. Article in the Ricardian December 1997 pp.191-213
- Perkin, a Story of Deception p.264 Ann Wroe
- Ibid p.269
- Ibid p.313
- Warbeck, Perkin (Pierrechon de Werbecque; alias Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York). S J Gunn Oxford DNB 4 October 2008
- Excerpta Historica:Or Illustrations of English History p.117. Ed.Samuel Bentley
- Parishes: Fyfield British History Online A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4
- Lady Katherine Gordon, a Genealogical Puzzle Wendy E A Moorhen. Article in the Ricardian December 1997 p.207
- Lisa Hopkins. ‘Research Notes and Queries, Lady Katherine Gordon and Margaret Kyme: A Clue to a Question of Identity The Ricardian. vol. I0, March I994, p. I9. See also (1) above.p.208
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like :