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.
This is the first Ann Wroe I've read and I was smitten - although it certainly looked like a heavy history tome (very small print and long paragraphs) I couldn't put it down. Ms Wroe does have quite strong opinions and views but I appreciated her educated take on this wonderful and intriguing story. More than anything though she brought that world of six hundred years ago to vivid life - the smells, the fabrics, the food, the gossip and the wit. Where the tale concerned Perkin's time in Edinburgh I was thoroughly entranced - I know the streets and places she wrote about - I've put my hand on the famous Mons Meg. I was in heaven!
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.
I came to this book as a recommendation from the list of sources at the end of Philippa Gregory's White Princess (the Elizabeth of York story). There is a wealth of detail in this book, but I have or say that a lot of it is of tangential - if no- relevance to the Perkin/Richard story and not only uninteresting but conveyed in a prose style that is unnecessarily wordy and the book could have been 150 pages shorter without any dramatic loss of content or import. What I - and everybody else - wants to know of course is was he (Richard) or wasn't he? Wroe seems to infer pretty strongly throughout that she thinks he wasn't but eventually concludes that it is not proven either way. Parkin/Richard confessed to being a fraud after capture by Henry VII but given the confession was clearly given under duress it is hard to believe in it. While a backstory in Tournai was duly concocted with considerable detail, whilst he was still at large Ferdinand and Isabella offered to produce some parents and a backstory for him in Portugal, an indication that history is always written by the victors and you can't believe a lot of what henry Tudor left us as 'the truth'. even the three people who were present at Perkin/Richard's unveiling after capture all had compelling reason for saying that he wasn't Richard, so their testimony can hardly be believed. The obvious thing for Henry to have done would have been to ask Richard's sister, who just happened to have been his wife and the Queen of England at the time, but her recollections on the subject have not been handed down to us. Having presented us with hundreds of pages of researched historical detail, the book ends oddly with a flight of fancy involving the dead man's soul being broken up, liquefied in hell and ultimately recovered by an angel. No idea what Wroe was on at the time of writing this section but it clearly has no place in a detailed historical analysis. Ultimately an interesting if flawed book. Like a lot of historical romantics I would love to have had proof that Perkin was indeed Richard (or, failing that, definitive proof that he wasn't). It seems that, while the majority still hold that he wasn't, until the bodies of the Princes in the tower are produced, the romantics can continue to dream.
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
Wonderful! Ann Wroe's writing is fluid, engaging and above all, informative. She leads you on, deeper and deeper into the intrigue, plotting, betrayals and machinations of 15th-16th century Europe, and the trials of Henry VII, who spent his entire reign fearing pretenders. Was Perkin Warbeck actually the younger of the "princes in the Tower"? We may never know. If he was a clever imposter, he was VERY clever indeed, because he kept it up for eight long years, during which Henry's never-robust health suffered through the stress. If Perkin was indeed the son of Edward IV, then his claim to the throne was better than Henry's. No wonder the latter had endless sleepless nights. This book weaves the whole story together seamlessly, and is so easy to read that never once have I felt I was labouring through a dry old tome. Far from it. Very entertaining and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
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.
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.