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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Probably the best historical biography I've ever read, bar none, and the fact that it's about a figure as shadowy and mysterious as Perkin Warbeck/Richard, Duke of York only makes it more impressive. The book really brings the medieval world to life through Wroe's wonderful writing - she doesn't just write about what people did, what they ate, what they wore, but how they would have thought and felt. She never comes down to a side as to whether 'Perkin' really was the son of Edward IV or a boatman from Tournai, which in my opinion makes this a better book, because it is impossible to know. Any historian who claims otherwise is deluded. Was Perkin really one of the Princes in the Tower? We'll never know, but I like to think that maybe he was.
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on 4 November 2007
Ann Wroe has written a fabulous book, bringing to life the personalities and politics of the Middle Ages, and given the relative lack of primary sources at her disposal, has done well to flesh out this story to the extent that she has. As mentioned in other reviews here, she is to be congratulated on her extensive use of contemporary European sources which show a very different view of the Pretender to the usual English sources.

Engish sources were sure of the Warbeck story from as early as 1493, but Europeans were far less sure, and Wroe shows European monarchs such as Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian and Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella referring to Richard as the Duke or even as the King of England until a late date - and in Maximillian's case, until the end of his life. Whilst various European rulers certainly had political reasons for supporting a pretender, and may have known that this one was an imposter, their correspondence gives no clue of such knowledge; at times there was doubt and uncertainty as to whether he was Richard of York but they also had doubts that he was Perkin Warbeck. And in the case of Maximillian, Wroe shows him attempting to intevene to save Richard's life long after any political advantage could possibly have been gained from it - not something the Holy Roman Emperor would generally do for boatmen's sons from Tournai.

Wroe is also excellent at sorting the surviving documents and references into the possibly / probably accurate and those constructed or amended for propaganda and political purposes and is good at emphasising the likely sub texts in all of these, including Perkin's Confession which she demonstates to have been, at the very least, amended by other parties

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to know more about a great story and interesting footnote to English history. But be warned - Wroe, probably wisely, does not attempt to come to a conclusion about Perkin Warbeck's identity despite some sources (such as Wikipedia) stating that she thinks Warbeck actually was Richard of York. Rather , Wroe shows that even now we can't be sure who he was - and perhaps its not important.

Perhaps the story is better read as a conflict between 2 constructed identities - the Richard, Duke of York identity constructed by disaffected Yorkists and the Perkin Warbeck identity constructed by Henry VII and his supporters. Probably he was neither of these people but Wroe shows why it was that the Perkin identity became accepted, depite its flaws, and how close he came to reaching the tipping point of being accepted as Richard of York.
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on 8 August 2003
If you think you know the story of Perkin Warbeck read this book. If you don't know Perkin's story, read this book. Dr Wroe's prose floats beautifully, and her knowldge astounds. Source material from all over Europe is given, much of it never previously related by Anglo-centric English historians, and the true European dimension of the question of the death of the Plantagenet dynasty is brought to the fore. At the centre of it is this poor, deluded boy, a pawn in many people's games, who probably did not know by the end of it whether he was the son of the king of England or a boatman from Flanders. All he knew was that he had to pretend to be the person his supporters wanted him to be, the person whom his enemies would kill. That we should come to sympathise with a man who is constantly dismissed by historians as a political fake is a triumph. Historians should heed the fact that a character can emerge from the shadows of professional disparagement, and stand proud in what is, simply, a fantastic story.
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on 5 October 2004
While the Stuart 'pretenders' later in history - especially Bonnie Prince Charlie - are studied by many, the Plantagenet pretenders, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck are consigned as names in history.
Ann Wroe's book should go a long way to changing that - although sometimes her themes of appearance and image in early Tudor times drag slightly, and her attitude to whether Perkin is Richard, Duke of York, wavers a little during the book, this is still a fascinating account.
It takes a little while to get going, and while broadly following chronological order is simple and straightforward, it means you have a while to wait before much actually happens. But the attitudes of the monarchs of Europe, Perkin/Richard's marriage and his relations with Henry VII are fascinating.
A little shorter, and a little more focused, plus a bit more decisiveness on Wroe's part as to who she believes the 'White Rose', as he was called, to be, and this book could be perfect.
Still, a wonderful book for anyone interested in the period
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on 20 April 2012
In terms of an academic piece of historical research this work cannot be faulted. The thing that left me somewhat disappointed after reading 473 pages was that I was none the wiser as to whether young Perkin was real or fake. It was a bit like reading a Sherlock Holmes novel and finishing the final chapter without understanding who the perpetrator of the crime was.
This does not detract from a very well researched book with lots of reference to original sources. Ann Wroe really gets into the mind of Henry Tudor and we see how he operates; paranoia about the threat that Perkin poses, yes, but also how cautious and canny he is about his ensnarement and downfall. It's amazing to think how much trouble a commoner caused a king.
My main purpose in buying the book was to understand the role that Sir Robert Clifford played in this plot and in that, the author goes into great detail. The only observation I would make is that she falls into the trap of many historians, and misunderstands why he was prepared to be implicated and then reconciled. The answer is quite simple, Cliiford wanted to wreak revenge on his family's sworn enemy, Sir William Stanley, and he brings about his downfall in a dramatic and masterful fashion.
In my opinion, for what it is worth, I think Perkin was the son of a Flemish boatman and not the long-lost Richard, Duke of York. But whoever he was, he certainly caused many a sleepless night for the newly crowned Tudor monarch, and Ann Wroe conveys that with aplomb.
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on 2 March 2012
The author of this book has clearly researched the topic to the Nth degree, and the result is a very informed in-depth study. Personally I found the style of writing to be slightly obscure and sometimes tangental. This is entirely subjective, and others will find the reading of this book extremely lyrical. I did find some of the explanations somewhat meandering and requiring one's own imagination to elicit the substance of the point being made, however this is probably because I require a more simple style of writing. It is after all, a matter of preference.

Above all, I recommend the reader not to try reading this after having 'had a few', as none of it will make any sense. You have been warned.

Oh, and Ms Wroe is a superb painter of the imaginary picture which is probably where this book's strength lies. A very worthwhile if challenging read.
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on 23 August 2004
I admit I bought the book with no great hopes for it - was there anything useful to be written about this man? After all, we 'did' both Pretenders in 'O' level history in about 20 seconds flat. They have been cruelly yoked together as a kind of comic double-act.
The latter, Perkin Warbeck, has cause both to thank and curse Anne Wroe. He's alive on the page again, but once more he's merely a tool. His struggles to become a bigger chunk in the cesspit of revenge, greed, fear and paranoia that passed for politics in the late Middle Ages are merely an excuse for Wroe to explore some big themes - identity, symbol & display, value and worth. It's more than a history book, though. Wry, funny, insightful and at times profound, it doesn't neglect the grubby, unpleasant little details, bizarre practices or untimely deaths that make history so enjoyable.
It deserves a wider readership than it's currently getting.
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on 21 February 2015
A beautifully written account, filled with details of the period and evocative of the culture of the time.
I am still not convinced I know who "Perkin Warbeck" was.
I recommend the book to those who read serious history.
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on 17 August 2014
This is the most frustrating historically 'factual' book I have ever read!! It annoyed me so much at the first attempt that I had to stop after only about 1/5 of the way through. I'm now trying again, (about 1/3 of the way through), but I am not enjoying it at all & speed read some sections! Ms Woe's personal positioning, (Richard was a fake; the princes were dead), and her favoured relevant character in this story, (Henry VII), shines through virtually from the start & prejudices her writing. Objectivity doesn't even seem to have been attempted, which is so disappointing. She does not satisfactorily address why 'conspirators' would select Edward IV's 2nd son, rather than his 1st son, which would have been a more obvious choice for their 'puppet'. There are many salient factors that do not support her positioning which are either unsatisfactorily dismissed or glossed over. Passages laboriously presented to support Ms Wroe's beliefs are often unconvincing, sometimes patronising, and frustrating for an objective reader; the holes are so obvious. The complete omission of footnotes to demonstrate to the reader where she obtained her material is most unusual in this type of 'factual' writing & does not help the reader to distinguish whether her hypotheses are based on her opinions, or contemporary, (or future), writing. Had she presented a balanced argument, both for and against Richard's validity, the read would be much more satisfying. Ms Wroe is also incredibly self-indulgent in this book, demonstrating her knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, (Arthurian legend & the bible, to name but two), which she fully exploits, padding out the book with irrelevances. (I wish she had stuck to the subject and written a shorter book!) She is very fond of stating what was going on in characters' heads, with no apology or explanation, drifting into the realms of fictional writing. She frequently, (although not exclusively), quotes from various writers/chroniclers, without properly explaining their currency, (or lack of it), to the events they were writing about, or the biases, extant at the time, that would have affected their work. Thankfully, she does not cite More, at least, not yet!! The most serious omission so far is that she does not explore Henry's motivation for his behaviour, which is central to Richard's story, (although the reader can deduce some of this from his marrying Elizabeth to, in my view, try & validate his usurption of the throne & his desperate attempts to convince the world of his personal right to rule). For Henry to succeed as ruler, Richard not only had to be publicised as fake, he had to die, and Henry energetically set about making sure both objectives were achieved in a politically acceptable manner.

I started this book undecided as to Richard's validity but the more I read, and the more Ms Wroe tries to convince the reader that he was a fake, the more I am convinced of the opposite! The arguments against are so weak, the opposite is more likely to be true, although, sadly, not explored in this book. I will try & finish this book in the waning hope that Ms Wroe might redeem herself, (in which case I will amend this review), but I cannot envisage reading anything by this author again!
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VINE VOICEon 3 January 2010
The rightful king of England, a lost prince or just a boy trained to be a prince? Ann Wroe`s book leads us deep into the world of the end of the 15th century, when England passed from the unruly times of War of the Roses into the hands of the Tudors. All know about the Princes in the Tower and their fate. Having read the history of the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII, I was of course aware that his rule was challenged but I did regard the "Perkin episode" rather as a footnote. Ann Wroe however points out that this was a rather serious challenge to the King and his not so stable rule, involving extensively foreign rulers and diplomatic plots, absorbing the King`s engergy, money and military forces. It was interesting to see how this man - whoever he might have been - manage in a short time to gain - sometimes only for a short period - the support of the rulers of France, Burgundy, Scotland and the King of the Romans. All these distinguished rulers seemed to believe that this man was indeed the Duke of York, Edward`s IV second son who disappeared in the Tower of London.This reminds me often of the story of Anna Anderson who claimed to be the Grandduchess Anastasia inspite of the fact that she obviously she was not. As with her in the 20th century it seem that this man was what other wished him to be - and that indeed he became. Nevertheless, it is still puzzling that a boy from Touraine could have tranformed himself into a prince and convince fellow princes that he was indeed the lost duke of York. But so did Anna Anderson. Ann Wroe describes a facinating story and tries to put that into the context of the 15th century by explaining the symbolism of the time.However, I have to admit that sometimes she does too much of that and the story suffers from it. Less is sometimes more! Still some questions remain unanswered: if Margaret of York, the duchess of Burgundy and the real prince`s aunt trained the boy to be a prince, could she really have wished for a nobody to be king of England, at a time where the blood royal was something very special, something devine and the gap between nobility and commoners very deep? And what about Elisabeth of York, the sister of the real prince, but Queen Consort of Henry VII and mother of the heirs to the throne? What was her attitude? Here Ann Wroe keeps silent. Here less is not more! All in all I can only recommend this book. It is "heavy reading" but worthwhile. It gives the reader still the opportunity to form its own opinion. And that I appreciate very much.
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