Reprinted with kind permission by The Richard III Foundation’s publication “The Medelai Gazette.” This talk was taken from its study day by author Ann Wroe on Perkin Warbeck.
“Researching a book” sometimes sounds like hard work. I disagree; or at least, I disagree where medieval history is concerned. There’s nothing so thrilling as settling down to a great big box of warrants, or a tattered old account book, and wondering what surprises lie in store. It’s odd how you can delude yourself that no one has ever looked in this particular box before, no matter how daft that is. And there are also countless moments when some entry in the manuscript, or even some quirk of the pen or the paper, will suddenly catapult you right into some 15th century clerk’s office, or into the presence of the king himself. I well remember, early in my Perkin research, looking at Henry VII’s privy purse expenses. He’s signing his monogram, and you can see his pen running out…but he’s not going to stop and fill it…he’s going to get the last atom of ink out….It was somehow more evocative than any portrait in words.
The character I researched for my last book, hiwever, was more elusive than most. I’m hoping I don’t need to say much about Perkin himself this afternoon; or the Pretender, as I should more properly call him. I’m sure you all know that for eight years, from 1491 to 1499, and probably for some time before that, he claimed to be Richard Duke of York, the younger of the princes in the Tower. He drew much support from various European rulers, tried three times to invade England, and eventually, on surrendering to Henry in 1497, agreed to a confession which stated that he was the son of a boatman from Tournai, in Picardy. Since he went on causing trouble, he was hanged two years later. It’s a brief, glittering, strange life, irresistible to me as a biographer, not least because opinion was for centuries divided as to whether he was the prince or not. I love a mystery, and this is one of the best.
My whole purpose in this research, as many of you know, was to throw this story open again. It wasn‘t to prove that the pretender was the prince. I think that’s important. If I had gone into the research with my mind already made up, I might have deliberately noticed some things and ignored others, and done even more to distort a story which has already been grossly distorted by the laziness of many historians. Nonetheless, the possibility that I might find just one killer fact, the real clue to who this mysterious young man was, was probably what made me research and write.
Consider the difficulty, though. We have, on the one hand, a prince who disappears in the summer of 1483, and on the other a young man, looking like a prince, who pops up from nowhere—or, to be more accurate, from Portugal, in Ireland, in 1491. In between the disappearance and the appearance lie eight empty years. I’ve always thought those years hold the key to who he was. But we don’t know whether he was floating around then as Richard of York, or as a substitute, or in disguise, or as Perkin Warbeck, or who he was. We don’t have a name to trace and, because he was constantly on the move, we don’t have a place to focus on, either. I often felt I was chasing a shadow across Europe. And if it was any consolation, that’s obviously how Henry VII thought, too.
I started this research at school, rather too many years ago. And I began in the usual way, by reading the history books and the learned journals, then proceeding via the footnotes to the printed primary sources, such as the Calendars of State Papers and the Patent Rolls, just looking for any reference I could find to the Pretender or his supporters, to start to piece a picrture together. Inter-library loans could bring the State Papers right to my local library in Surbiton, and then it was just a matter of writing them out and typing them up on my father’s old German typewriter (no photocopiers in those days!). And those were the basic notes I had when I started to work on a proper biography, 30 years later.
What was on these yellowed, fading sheets, daubed all over with felt pen, and was it any use? I had a time-line for the Pretender’s movements, which I had drawn mostly from Polydore Vergil, Henry VII’s tame historian.
Contemporary historians may be very suspect in their opinions, but they’re often pretty good on where things happen, and when. I had several sightings of the Pretender, mostly drawn from ambassadors’ letters in the State Papers of Spain, Venice and Milan; I had details of his clothes and ships and horse, from the Scottish Treasurer’s accounts; I even had a few precious scraps of conversation, from the Burgundian Chronicler Molinet and from the King’s Bench documents recording his so-called “plotting” with Edward Earl of Warwick in the Tower in 1499. (This was in the Third Report of the Public Record Office, published in the 1830s.) In fact, saddest of all, I had the unspoken end of a conversation: Warwick calling through a hole, to the cell below, “How is it with you? Be of good cheer”, and the Pretender’s apparent silence in reply.
Among all those primary source notes, in those early days, the most useful for this particular story seemed to be the Calendars of State Papers. The Italian and Spanish ambassadors who were billetted in London (quite a new development in those days) wrote newsy letters home, and they’re a great source for historians, though you have to bear in mind not only the interests of the rulers who were receiving these bulletins, but the interests of Henry in what the envoys were told and what they were allowed to see. They certainly weren’t allowed to see Perkin very often, though their rulers were most eager for news of him, so that they could decide which way to jump politically (and that in itself is interesting). I also didn’t realise, until much later, that a “Calendar” means an abbreviation or a synopsis; what had been printed in the 19th century ws sometimes only a taster of what those ambassadorial reports contained. But I’ll come back to that.
By the time I’d wound up my teenage research and put it in the attic, I’d spent perhaps three or four years on this mission. And I didn’t have much to show for it. Considering that are dealing with a young man moving in the full glare of publicity through the courts of Europe, there are hardly any sightings of him at all, and only those few snatches of his conversation. We have only four or five glimpses of him in what might be called his glory days, when Margaret of York and Maximilian were actively sponsoring him. They show a young prince effortlessly parading on the international stage, dressed in gold, processing at Mass, sitting at the top table, replying with carefully tailored arrogance to Henry’s ambassadors. Beyond that, we have two letters, a will and a proclamation. From one of these letters, and the proclamation, we can tell that his English was considerably better than Henry’s was, lyrical and musical, and that his writing was neat, well-formed and almost as good as a clerk’s. These things show that, if he was not an English prince, an enormous amount of care had gone into the contriving of him. But I can only sigh over the number of letters for which we have indirect evidence, and which have disappeared.
So I had things he had done and said, but I didn’t yet have many clues as to who he WAS. Now I had to go really deep, and try to get to the source. I had to try and reconstruct those empty years from 1483 to 1491; I had to hope that these would lead me back to his childhood; and meanwhile I had to look absolutely everywhere for clues as to who people thought he was, and how he himself appeared, in his brief career in the world.
At least there was an obvious place to start. Henry VII, we know, managed to extract a confession from the Pretender, supposedly the story of his life. Or rather, to be more precise, he managed to get him to sign a confession that had already been drawn up for him when he surrendered to Henry at Taunton, in October 1497. This has always been the key document in this case; Ian Arthurson’s book actually starts with it, as though it settles the argument. Well, it doesn’t settle the argument for me, not least because it was extracted in custody. Journalists can’t accept stuff like that on its face, and historians shouldn’t either. It was obvious that I had to take this document apart.
I therefore needed to get my hands on it; the real thing, if I could. So where was it? Bernard André, Henry’s poet laureate, says it was printed; the Milanese ambassador to England said it was produced in numbers of copies to be distributed everywhere. But there’s no sign of that. In fact, no original copy survives. What we have is one English version, reproduced in the London Chronicle and then recopied by Fabyan later in the 16th century, and a French version, again copied into registers that were kept in the archives of Tournai and Courtrai in modern Belgium.
There’s an interesting story about that French version. I came across it only because I kept finding, in modern Belgian articles about the Pretender, bits and pieces about him that were not in the English histories. In one article, for example, Perkin learned to play the manicordium, a stringed instrument played with a plectrum, and went to Latin school. Where on earth was that from? It was not in the English confession. But James Gairdner, in his monograph on Perkin Warbeck of 1868, mentions the existence of a French version of the confession, and so I wrote to the Courtrai archives.
What happened next is typical of the sudden surprises and kindnesses you find all the time when you do research. The archivist at Courtrai sent me a photocopy of the French confession, and with it copies of three other documents: a letter of Henry VII describing Perkin’s capture, a letter of Perkin supposedly to his mother, and a letter from Giles Daubeney, Henry’s steward, describing the capture of the Pretender’s wife in Cornwall. All these had been sent over from England at the same time, in October 1497. That letter of Daubeney’s had never been translated or even seen in England. And I had been sent it out of the blue. I hadn’t even paid for it!
Other historians haven’t bothered to look at the French version of the confession, assuming they know all they need to know, but they’re wrong. To begin with, the very differences tell us that there were two distinct versions of the Pretender’s childhood around. In one, he wanders round the fairs of Europe; in the other he goes to grammar schol and learns music for years in Tournai. Obviously his history was not fixed. Someone was inventing it, or at least playing with it. All the Courtrai documents were also written in the same sort of French—north-eastern dialect—and with no difference between a letter from an English king and one addressed by a lost son to a boatman’s wife. Their French, and their expressions, had been standardised before they were sent over. So this was one big propaganda package that was being sent to Courtrai and Tournai, and it’s probable that the Pretender had nothing much to do with any of it. In the famous “letter to his mother”, for example, not only does he get his own name wrong, and her name wrong, and her address wrong, but the whole letter is written like a piece of business correspondence, without the least sense of courtesy or emotion due to a mother after 12 years away. In fact, the contemporary Courtrai copyist calls it a “report”. If Henry is prepared to go to the length of concocting a false letter to a mother, what else may he be prepared to do?
As for the English confession, that was still a mystery. I kept expecting to come across some mastercopy as I searched in the English archives, but I never found one. This is odd in itself, because you would think that a document so vital to Henry would have been carefully preserved in its original, and that a document that was allegedly printed and sent all round the country would occasionally turn up somewhere. It doesn’t, and this suggests to me that, far from being publicised, the confession was deliberately suppressed in England—almost as if the king was ashamed of it. And I think he was.
Henry was no fool. He may have had the Tournai details all ready for the confession as early as 1493, but he was never satisfied with them. He said he didn’t like what was probably this evidence when Charles VIII of France sent it to him. He refused two offers to have the boy’s parents sent over (from both France and Spain, which shows you how genuine that offer was—and if you look at the draft letter from Ferdinand and Isabella, which is in the Spanish archives, you can see that the secretary crossed out that thought not very long after they’d had it. It’s great to see scheming minds actually at work.). Confronting Perkin with his alleged parents would have been a great publicity coup, as both Charles VIII and the Spanish sovereigns pointed out. But Henry ignored the Warbecks, or Werbecques, for the good reason that they didn’t fit. And he kept quiet about the confession because it contained not one, but several, dubious stories. Just how dubious was only to emerge, however, when I went to Tournai.
It was the Tournai evidence, in all its minutiae, that convinced James Gairdner in the 1860s that the confession must be true. He had a large advantage over me here, because he—or people working for him—could search through the Tournai archives. I couldn’t, because they were completely destroyed by German bombing in 1943. I knew this before I went, but I had that little flicker of hope—the same flicker that makes you think, yes, that next box will contain the key to the whole mystery!—that just a few scraps of paper might have escaped the inferno.
Alas, they hadn’t. And when I got to Tournai, having taken the very slow train that chugs eastwards from Lille, I also found the archives were shut; not because it was Tuesday (since working in the French archives, I know the evil ways of continental archivists) but “à l’improviste”, or because the staff felt like it. Rather disconsolately, I took myself off to the public library to see if I could rustle up anything there; and yes, they had the entire set of transcriptions of the town accounts that were made by local historians in the 19th century. Thank goodness for them; where would we be without them?
Town accounts are a favourite source of mine. I did my thesis largely from the accounts of the town of Rodez, in south-west France. They usually include not only revenues and expenses but council deliberations, tax lists, lists for keeping watch on the walls, and so on. And there’s no better way of checking the status of a family than seeing how often they appear, where they live, and what they’re doing.
And the Tournai accounts showed me that some very wrong assumptions have been made on the basis of the Pretender’s confession.. True, some of the names in it are there, but their jobs and their relationships are not as the confession gives them. More to the point, the Werbecques don’t crop up anywhere. This doesn’t mean they didn’t exist; we have other records for them, in the shape of a will and in cases brought before the bishop’s court. But their absence from the consular accounts does show that they were not, as historians often like to assume, a family of any importance in the town. Jehan Werbecque, “Perkin’s” supposed father, was doing nothing in public life, not even watch duty, and almost all male householders of any repute were taking part in that. Besides, as I could tell from the watch rotas, the district where Jehan lived was decidedly the worst in town. (The worst part of town is always listed last—it’s where all the industry and effluent tend to collect, just inside or just outside the walls.) All the harder to believe, therefore, that a boy of such extraordinary elegance and presence should have come from such a background.
As it happened, I had already discovered something else about Jehan Werbecque. Gairdner had found one conviction for grievous bodily harm in Tournai, and I had found another. This discovery was another of those completely fortuitous things that make research such a joy. It was mentioned in a footnote in volume 4 of Chastelain’s History of the Dukes of Burgundy. I didn’t really have much reason to be reading Chastelain anyway; had it not been for my longing to immerse myself completely in late 15th century literature, I wouldn’t have been doing so. The footnote in Chastelain mentioned that Philip the Good in 1462 had pardoned one Jehan Werbecque of Beveren, sparing him from death. But Jehan had still been banished from the town for attacking a man with a beer mug, and had gone to Tournai therefore with a criminal cloud already over him. The original document, as Chastellain kindly told me, was still in the Brussels archive. I looked it up when I was there, and found it so sadly mouldered away since Chastellain’s day that I could read only a few words more of it. So I was extremely grateful to him that he’d bothered to give so much of it. And, though it was quite a detour from his own research, it was rather important to mine, for it proved that Jehan Werbecque was a bad lot. One criminal conviction may be carelessness; two is a career, and it convinced me of two things. First, there was no possible chance that a king, such as Edward IV, would have consorted with a family like this and left a bastard behind; and, second, there was a high likelihood that a child of this family might have been sent away to be brought up more safely somewhere else. That’s quite a lot to get out of a footnote found by chance!
So Tournai had told me a great deal—not from high documents of state, but from things like tax lists and statements of bargemen’s expenses. (And incidentally, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost the only honest document you will find is a warrant for payment or a note of an expense; everything else can be slanted and falsified, or is just high-sounding bombast, but “Pay Bloggs two-and-sixpence” probably means what it says—unless poor Bloggs never got his two-and-sixpence, and under Henry VII that happens quite a lot. ) “Follow the money” is a good motto to have. But going to Tournai hadn’t quite sorted out the question of whether my hero had had any physical connection with the town. Interestingly enough, Tournai makes nothing at all of him: no plaque, no street name, not even a passing mention in the guides. And that in itself may be significant, of course.
Tournai also showed me how important it is always to check against the source. Other historians may well have been there before, but they won’t be looking for the same things—or, worse, they may be wilfully ignoring evidence that doesn’t suit them. One discovery of mine in the National Archive was rather interesting on that score. I’ll tell the story of it quickly.
Henry showed many strange, even baffling, courtesies to the Pretender once he had him in his power. Ambassadors round the court thought he was still treating him as a prince. Did he, in fact, think this young man was the Duke of York? One document certainly suggests that, if nothing else, he was hedging his bets about him. In fact, it’s three documents, because it’s a set of expenses from Henry’s campaign in the West Country in pursuit of the Pretender, and these were kept in triplicate on pieces of paper and parchment that were not in the ordinary privy-puse expenses book. (I told you he was careful.) In each of these occurs a cash payment of £7 made to “The Duke of York”.
When I first read this, no alarm bells rang at all; it so patently couldn’t mean Perkin, who is mentioned as “Piers Osbeck” in the same accounts, that I paid it no attention. Then, some weeks later, walking down Jermyn Street, I suddenly thought: Then who on earth does Henry mean? Not his little son Henry, who of course then held the title of Duke of York; he’s not with him in the West, and besides, you don’t give £7 to a six-year-old, especially not if you are Henry VII. Little Henry was not paid cash directly for five more years. Gradually, I came to think—and still think—that Henry meant the Pretender, and that he had one name for him in public and another in private. I can’t prove it; I just sense it. Sometimes sensors, or instinct, are the only instruments you can use in your research. And if Henry could write this, four years after saying that “everyone knew” his rival was really Perkin Warbeck, how much was the Perkin Warbeck story worth?
It was not too difficult, by looking very carefully at primary sources, to cast a lot of doubt on the official case for calling this young man “Perkin Warbeck”. It was still proving impossible, though, to say who he was. I got very excited when Cliff Davies at Wadham put me on to the testimony given by Sir Edward Brampton to Spanish investigators at Setubal, in Portugal, in April 1496. No one but Cliff had noticed this before, because it was included in the Spanish version of the Calendar of Spanish State Papers, and Bergenroth in his very fine English version of them seemed not to have come across it—or to have decided to leave it out.
Brampton in his evidence describes the life of the young Perkin Warbeck, but its not the one we know: no wandering round with merchants, no kidnapping in Ireland. Instead we have Piers, a discontented, restless, rather vain boy, a music scholar in Tournai, who suddenly on impulse runs away from his teacher, hitches a lift with Brampton to Portugal and then, on the way back, decides to have a bit of fun by playing a prince in Ireland, and finds that the people flock after him. It’s a great story; but of course it’s probably not true. We know that Brampton was a great tale-spinner, and the Setubal testimony is quite eloquent in that respect, since it’s clear that the old rogue talks on and on, and it’s plainly very hard to shut him up.
Most interesting of all, however, to me, is the proof this gives that going back to the source, back to the original language, is always worth it. It turns up treasures. One of the best moments in research is to stumble on something good which, because it’s in a foreign language, has been disregarded. It’s amazing what snippets and insights can be found in Molinet, or in Bernard André. The extraordinary claim, for example, that the Pretender was brought up in England and at the court of Edward IV lies hidden in André’s Latin, and those historians who bother to read him dismiss it as silly and fantastic; but only think what this implies about how good the Pretender’s English was, and how convincing his stories of the court. Imagine Henry VII reading such stuff in his privy chamber! For it was written precisely for him to read there. Even works of propaganda like André’s have much to tell us, if we use them with proper caution. Besides, these men are thrillingly close to what they are describing. I can’t tell you how good it is to translate some unfamiliar word out of Latin or German and find a whole picture, a whole scene, suddenly summoned up before you.
I found several telling details, too, this way. For example, if you read the Milanese ambassador’s account of meeting the Pretender at Henry’s court in 1497 in the printed and translated Calendar of State Papers, you will see that he calls him “well-favoured”. But go to the source, and the word is “gentile”, which means “noble”; and you’ll also find that, after this, the ambassador starts calling the Pretender the Duke of York again. Or go to the account by de Puebla, the Spanish ambassador, of meeting the Pretender after he’s been committed to the Tower in June 1498. He describes him as “desfigurada”. Bergenroth in the State Papers translates this as “changed”. But it means disfigured; his face has been smashed, so that he doesn’t look like Richard any more. What a wealth of information can lie in a single word!
Before too long, I’d developed two golden rules of historical research. One was “Trust no one”, an the other was “Look everywhere”. This implied a lot of travel, if I was to do it properly. This young man went all over the place. I took single weeks off work to go to Paris, Lille and Belgium. I took my holidays in Scotland and Cornwall. In all those places, I saved
Time by checking before I went in the Institurte if Historical research in Senate House in london, to see what documents were actually there and to take down their catalogue numbers. This meant that the moment I got to some strange plave, I could iummediately order what Iwanted to see. But I still reeget that I didn’t have time to browse mnore. I would order up a volume I knew would be useful0—but how many others might have been? I’m still haunted by them. Thney rdeproach me.
I should also have gone to other pleaces. Lisbon, Madrid,Vienna, Innsbruck. Nuremburg, Milan and Venice all had traces of the Pretender. Here I worked by proxy. I’m lucky enough to work at The Economist as my day-job, and I made unscrupulous use of my colleagues who speak other languages—German, Spanish, Italian—to write to archives all over Europe asking for copies of documents. The response was extraordinary. The archives always sent them, and never once charged. I think the trick was to approach them in their own language. If I found new calendars of documents were coming out, I wrote to the editors. And this was how I found out about the Pretender’s son.
It’s worth digressing on this point, because it shows how random and serendipitous historical research can be. I’d been sent 100 pages of photocopies of a new calendar of Maximilian’s documents by a professor in Graz: astonishing, prodigal kindness once again, and once again without charge. It was all in German, of course. I had no idea what I would find there. But there, in one entry, was a reference to the Duke of York’s “one year old son”. I went to the footnote; the words came from a document originally in Italian, reporting a conversation between Maximilian and the papal legate in November 1497. It was in the Bibiloteca Marciana in Venice. I wrote to Venice and asked for a copy, hoping of course that the original might have more details, such as the baby’s name. It didn’t, but the find was still wonderful. It was the first solid evidence of a child, where before there had been only rumours and speculation. And it was a find right out of the blue.
Another such find came from Portugal. I knew now, thanks to those rediscovered Setubal testimonies, that the Pretender had been at the Portuguese court not for one year, as the confession said, but four years. I therefore dived into things Portuguese. There seemed to be no documents left that were directly relevant to him, but through a Portuguese friend I managed to pick up copies of the 15th-century chronicles of Rui de Pina and Garcia de Resende—unobtainable in England—and volumes of 15th-century poetry, for poetry competitions were the main entertainment at the court. And there, in the anthologies of court poetry, I found not only a poem by the Pretender’s guardian—a mournful, fatalistic little villanelle—but a poem remembering the “White Rose” at the court, and lamenting his fate at Henry’s hands.
Now, if he was already the “White Rose” in Portugal, his career as a Yorkist prince had started long before Ireland; perhaps even in 1487, when we know he left Flanders, and perhaps, of course, even in the cradle. And I understood two things clearly now: that Henry’s huge interest in Portugal between 1488 and 1491, and his complete indifference to it at any other time, was for a reason; and that the story of the “kidnapping” of an innocent Flemish boy on the quayside at Cork in 1491, and his forcing into imposture, which almost all historians still trot out as fact, was so much rubbish. Yet if any one had told me before I began that I would be able to track this young man’s footsteps through Portuguese poetry, I would never have believed them.
So it went: one strange, intriguing little find after another. Each one added to the picture. And talking of pictures, I ought to mention the most obvious one, the famous portrait of the Pretender. I couldn’t leave this out of my research. I fact I can’t tell you how many hours I spent gazing at it, trying to make it speak to me, trying to make it tell me the truth. He’s a prince here, patently, and his face proclaims it as well as his clothes and that listening, benevolent pose. But, when all’s said, it is a pose. The gaze is distant, the eyes look away, and all is perfectly perfumed and pleated and arranged. It’s also possible that any resemblances to Edward IV, or marks of the prince—like the mark under his left eye, apparently—have been deliberately emphasised. There are things to be learned even from the rather primitive portraits of these years; think how much, for example, has been read into Richard IIIs’s nervous fiddling with the ring on his finger. But in the end I could learn very little from this.
I looked too at his handwriting. It’s very good handwriting for a prince; almost too good, perhaps betraying a clerkly rather than a royal education. At first, his signature seems a bit cramped and cautious. But by 1496 it’s flowing and confident; he’s grown into the role. I actually consulted a friend who is a graphologist to see if I could learn any more from it. She thought that despite the appearance of confidence, he was very insecure—taking several pen-strokes to make the letter “o”, for example. So that, too—even allowing for my suspicions about graphology—added a few intriguing details to the character I was trying to assemble.
But where was he? Could I ever find him—the actual person he was? Well, I did make one discovery which seemed, to me, a possible solution to the mystery. This was the finding in the Brussels archives of a little boy, exactly the same age as Richard Duke of York, who was adopted and brought up by Margaret of York at her palace of Binche, in Hainault. To me, this little boy explains almost everything in this story, including the psychological reactions of Margaret, and Henry, and the Pretender himself.
I knew the little boy existed before I went to Brussels. I’d found a reference to him, again quite randomly, in a catalogue for an exhibition of Margaret of York’s books in Malibu, in California. (Even the New World can come in useful to unpick the mysteries of the old!) What I didn’t have was any connection between him and the Pretender. And it’s true that the connection is still too tenuous to make it certain; but the finding of it still remains, for me, one of the best and most moving moments I’ve ever experienced in an archive.
The Brussels archives are really like no others I’ve encountered. They let you use biros there, and you can eat, too, though preferably not over your papers. The document handler, who was Flemish, would not talk to the document orderer, who was French, and he used to sit sulking and smoking in the corner. Great atmosphere!
And my discovery happened out of the blue on one of those days when you seem to have got to the end of the line. I was reading through page after page of plumbing and carpentry expenses, in one continuous block of script. Margaret of York was always changing her mind in these years: putting windows in, taking walls down, remodelling rooms time after time. It was probably a sign of her deep anxiety about the prospects of the young man she had set in motion to win the throne of England. But as a seeker of that young man, I was beginning to feel that these pages and pages of roof-beams and lead piping were not the place to find him. And I was completely wrong. Because this is where I found that, in 1496, Margaret decided to set up the room under the chapel at Binche as a shrine, with a traverse screen, new latticed windows and a papal candle in a special stand; and she renamed it la chambre de Richart, ‘Richard’s room’. And this was also the room in which her adopted child had lived, years before, when Margaret had kept him at the palace.
Very seldom do archive entries cause a real shock to the heart. This name, Richard, was a foreign one in these accounts, and the two mentions of it attached to this room were its only appearance in the Binche archives. It seemed to me that it could only refer to the ‘Richard’, Margaret’s great hope, who was then at the court of Scotland, preparing to invade England ‑‑or to his little son, also apparently called Richard, who was born that year. And surely that particular room was dedicated to him because, in times past, it had been his? Here at last seemed to be the connection I’d been looking for.
For the rest of the day, ‘Richard’s room’ dinned in my head like a bell that would not stop. As I said, it may not be the answer; he may, we must never forget, have really been the prince. But at that point, in gloomy rain-soaked Brussels in November, this seemed like the real Eureka moment all researchers dream of.
Was it? Could I actually tie this child to the son of a Tournai criminal, sent away for safety? Or to a bastard of Edward IV’s, sent over to comfort Margaret in her widowhood? As soon as I got back to England I dived into Edward IV’s warrants for issues, his payment slips, in the National Archive to see what I could find. But historical research is never going to be as easy and neat as that. I found some intriguing movements of ships and men between England and Flanders in 1478, but I still can’t say what they mean. The mystery of Perkin Warbeck remains. And all I can realistically hope for is that I may have added some substance to the shadow.