Perkin Warbeck and sanctuary

[I do like this fanciful 18th century depiction of the abbot welcoming Perkin: they all look so genteel.]

This is one of the most famous of late medieval English sanctuary seekers, the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be a son of Edward IV and thus rightful king over usurper Henry VII. Off and on Warbeck was a big problem for Henry VII in the 1490s; in September 1497, after a major but failed revolt in his name, Warbeck fled with several key supporters, including John Heron, to Beaulieu Abbey and took sanctuary.

Warbeck’s supporter Heron knew the abbot, and it was he, Heron, who presented himself for asylum, along with men he described as his retainers; amongst them was an unidentified Warbeck. The abbot, however, guessed who Warbeck was. Not wanting to risk royal ire, he sent word to Henry VII that the rebel had taken sanctuary at his abbey. Henry sent troops to surround the abbey and negotiations ensued.

The king evidently didn’t want to cause a ruckus by forcibly seizing Warbeck from the abbey, but he really wanted him in custody – so he promised Warbeck and his crew they wouldn’t be executed if they surrendered. Warbeck agreed to exit sanctuary with the reassurances; when he later faced the king, Warbeck fully confessed he was an imposter. Henry fairly successfully minimized the threat Warbeck had posed by parading him around the country while the royal household went on progress.

Warbeck had a rather sad end, escaping a couple more times while trying to renew his cause to take the throne, and finally ending up on the scaffold in 1499.

Great Chronicle of London, 282; I. Arthurson, The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, 189-90. Top image Source.

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