Post-classical history


The Third ‘Prince in the Tower’

In August 1485, following the death of Richard III, the official Earl of Warwick found himself one of the obvious Yorkist claimants to the throne. Indeed, if Richard himself had made some statement about the succession prior to the battle, Warwick may have been the next rightful Yorkist king. What is more, as we saw in Chapter 4, Warwick may also have been the most valid Lancastrian claimant to the English throne. It is not surprising, therefore, that, as we have seen, Henry VII acted quickly to remove the official Earl of Warwick from Sheriff Hutton to London. There the official Warwick remained for the rest of his life. And except for his brief public appearance at St Paul’s in 1487 – which was designed to expose the alleged fraudulence of the Dublin King – Warwick was rarely seen by outsiders.

A second Warwick plot had followed: Ralph Wilford – ‘the new maumet’. Thus, attention was clearly focussed on Warwick as one of the main Yorkist rivals to Henry VII. However, it has been suggested that, despite his very promising lineage, the official Warwick may have been personally unsuitable for the role of sovereign:

A number of historians have claimed that Warwick was mentally retarded. As Hazel Pierce points out, however, this surmise is based entirely on a statement by the chronicler Edward Hall that Warwick had been kept imprisoned for so long ‘out of all company of men, and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a Goose from a Capon.’ It seems likely that Hall simply meant that long imprisonment had made Warwick naive and unworldly.1

At all events, matters came to a head in 1499, when the Yorkist pretender known as Perkin Warbeck (who had also been imprisoned in the Tower in 1498), was accused of having plotted to free both himself and Warwick. As for the latter, he was also alleged to have conspired to depose Henry VII. As a result, in November 1499 both young prisoners were tried and executed. The official Earl of Warwick met his death at Tower Hill on Thursday, 28 November 1499. Robert Fabyan described the event as follows:


The Tower of London in the fifteenth century. Here the alleged Earl of Warwick spent the greater part of his life.


In thys yere, the xvi. day of Nouember [Saturday], was areyned in the Whyte Halle at Westmynster, the forenamed Parkyn [Perkin], &. iii. other; the whych Parkyn and one lohn Awatyr, were put shortly after in execucion at Tyborne. And soone after was the erle of Warwyke put to deth at the Towre Hylle, & one Blewet & Astwood at Tyborne.2

On Thursday, 21 November 1499, John Pullein wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton:

Sir, so it was þat Parkin Warbek & other iij were arreyned Satterday next before the making herof [Saturday, 16 November] in þe Whitehall at Westmynster for ther offences, afore Sir John Sygly [sic, Sely], knight marshall, & Sir John Trobilfeild [sic, Turbervile], and ther they all were attended, & judgement given þat they shold be drawn on hirdills from þe Tower, thowout London to þe Tyburne, & ther to be hanged & cut down quicke, & ther bowels to be taken out & burned; ther heads to be stricke of, & [burned deleted] quartred, ther heads and quarters to be disposed at the kings pleasure; & on Munday next after [Monday, 18 November] at þe Gildalle in London, wher þe iudges & many other knights commysioners to inquer and determayn all offences and trespasses: & theder from the Tower was brought viij persones which were indited, & parte of them confessed themselfe gyltie, & other parte were arreyned, & as yet they be not iuged.3 I thinke the shall haue iudgement this next Fryday [Friday, 22 November]. Sir, this present day [Thursday, 21 November] was new barresses made in Westmynster Hall, & thether was brought therle of Warwik & arrened afore therle of Oxford, being the kings greate comyssioner, & afore other lords, bycause he is a pere of the realme … & ther therle of Warwek confessed thenditments that were layd to his charge, and like iudgment was given of him as is afore rehersed.4

On 23 November 1499, Perkin Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn. There he read out a confession and was hanged. The Earl of Warwick was executed by beheading on Tower Hill five days later, on Thursday, 28 November 1499.

A more detailed account of the executions – and also of the fate of the two dead bodies – is preserved in the Great Chronicle of London. This reports:

Upon the Thursday next ensuing [21 November 1499] was In The Grete halle of westmynstir areygnyd the fforenamyd Erle of warwyk being of the age of xxiiij yerys or thereabowth, upon whom satt ffor Juge Therle of Oxynford undyr a cloth of astate, where wtouth any processe of the lawe The said Erle of warwyke for Tresons by hym there confessed & doon, submyttid hym unto the kyngis grace & mercy whereafftyr he was there adjugid to be drawyn hangid & quartered, and afftir coveyed again to the Towyr.

And upon Satirdaye ffoluyng being the day of seynt Clement & the xxiij day of Novembre was drawn from the Tower unto Tybourn with oon John a watyr soom tyme mayer of Corff as before is said, at which place of execution was ordeynyd a small Scaffold whereupon þe said perkyn being [&] standing, shewid there unto the people being of an huge multitude, the specialte of his former confession, and took It there upon his deth that he nevyr was the poersoon which he was namyd nor any thing of that blood, But a stranger born lyke wyse as beforn he had shewid, and that he namyd hym sylf to be the second sone of kyng Edward was by the meane of þe said John a watyr there present & other as before tyme he had trwly sheyd, afftyr which confession & fforegyffnesse axid of the kyngis grace & all other that he had offendyd unto, he there upon the Galowis took hid deth paciently, and with hym also the said John a watyr, whoos bodyes were afftyr smyttyn doun and theyr hedis there strykyn of & carried to london bridge & there pygth upon two polys, and theyr bodyes afftyr conveyed unto the ffrere augustynys & there buryed.

And upon the Thursday ffoluyng or the xxviij day of November was the fforenamyd Erle of warwyk browgth owth of the Towyr betwene ij servauntis of the marshall of that place, and at the uttyr [outer] Gate delyverd unto the Shyrevys, by whoos officers he was ffrom thens ladd unto the scaffold & there byhedid, afftyr which excecucion doon the Corps of hym with the hede was layd In to a Coffyn & then born again Into the Towyr, which excecucion was doon abowth iij of the clok at afftyr noune upon whoos sawle & all Crysten Jhesu have mercy, The which Corps & hede was upon the day ffoluyng conveyed by watyr unto Byrsam beside wyndyssore and there eneterid with his auncetours.5


Plan of the Austin Friars’ nave as it was prior to its destruction in 1940.

As we have seen, the execution of Perkin Warbeck and of the official Earl of Warwick may have been part of Henry VII’s process of clearing the ground for the royal marriage of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon: a marriage which was finally solemnised in 1501. The remains of the official Earl of Warwick were interred at Bisham Priory Church.6 This had been the traditional burial place of the Montagu earls of Salisbury, from whom Warwick was descended, via his mother, Isabel, Duchess of Clarence. At that time, Bisham Priory was a house of Augustinian Canons, which had been founded in 1337 by the first Earl of Salisbury:7

Within the walls of this convent were interred William, Earl of Salisbury, son of the founder, who distinguished himself at the battle of Poitiers; John, Earl of Salisbury, who, confederating against King Henry IV, was slain at Cirencester in 1401; Thomas, Earl of Salisbury, the famous hero of Henry V‘s reign, who lost his life at the Siege of Orleans in 1428; Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who was beheaded at Pontefract in 1460, for his adherence to the House of York; Richard Neville, the great Earl of Warwick & Salisbury, and his brother John, Marquis of Montague, who both fell at the Battle of Barnet in 1470; and the unfortunate Prince Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of the Duke of Clarence, who, bred from his cradle in prison, was beheaded in 1499 for attempting to taste the sweets of liberty. Most of the above-mentioned illustrious characters had splendid monuments in the conventual church; but these were all destroyed after the dissolution of the abbey, without regard to the rank or famed exploits of the deceased – not even excepting the tomb of Salisbury, ‘the mirror of all martial men, who in thirteen battles overcame and first trained Henry V to the wars.’8

As we have seen, it was in 1499, following his execution on Tower Hill, that the body of the young man, who – in theory at least – was the last living male descendant of all those noble lords, was brought to Bisham Priory to join the bones of his forebears. His funeral was paid for by the king. The Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VII record, for 8 December 1499, ‘Payd for the buriell of therle of Warwic by iiij bills, £12. 18s. 2d’.9

Sadly, nothing now remains of Bisham Priory Church. There is therefore no immediate prospect of recovering the remains of the official Edward, Earl of Warwick. This is a pity. My earlier research established the mitochondrial DNA sequence of Richard III and his siblings in 2004, and also offered evidence of where that king’s remains might be found. It was as a direct result of that research that the excavation of the Leicester Greyfriars site took place in 2012, resulting in the recovery of Richard III’s remains, and in their subsequent identification using the mtDNA evidence.10 Perhaps one day similar archaeology may recover the remains of the official Earl of Warwick. If his bones could be found, it could be possible to compare his DNA – and particularly his Y-chromosome – with that of the genuine Earl of Warwick’s uncle, Richard III.

Such a study could potentially prove – or disprove – whether the official Earl of Warwick really was the son of Richard III’s brother George, Duke of Clarence. Since we have no precise information concerning the burial place of the remains of Lambert Simnel, testing the DNA of the remains of the official Earl of Warwick, executed in 1499 by Henry VII, would probably be the only direct way in which ‘dead’ DNA research might shed new light on the mystery surrounding the identity of the Dublin King. However, there are also theoretically some possibilities for ‘live’ DNA research, and these will be summarised in the final chapter.

As for the victim known as Perkin Warbeck, his head was displayed on London Bridge, and eventually it probably fell into the Thames. But, as reported in the Great Chronicle of London his headless corpse joined that of many other executed individuals, for it was buried somewhere in the Church of the Austin Friars in Old Broad Street – most probably in the nave. Despite Henry VIII’s subsequent dissolution of England’s religious houses, the nave of the Austin Friars Church in London survived intact for another 440 years. For most of that time it was known as the capital’s ‘Dutch Church’. Unfortunately, however, in 1940 the building was destroyed by German bombing. As a result there is now little or no prospect of recovering the remains of Richard of England, or of testing his DNA in an attempt to clarify the real identity of Perkin Warbeck.




Calendar of Patent Rolls


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Parliament Rolls of Medieval England

  1,_17th_Earl_of_Warwick, accessed December 2013, citing H. Pierce, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473–1541, University of Wales Press, 2009, p. 23.

  2.  H. Ellis, ed., Robert Fabyan, New Chronicles of England and France, London 1811, p. 687.

  3.  As referenced in the original text: ‘They were found guilty of a plot to slay the marshal of the Tower and release the earl of Warwick 18 Nov. R.L. Storey believes the whole episode was engineered by the king, The Reign of Henry VII (1968), 87.’

  4.  Kirby, Plumpton Letters and Papers, p. 135, no. 142.

  5.  Thomas, Great Chronicle, pp. 291–2.

  6.  Bisham Priory was not an abbey at the time of Warwick’s burial. It only (and very briefly) became an abbey later. The Augustinian priory was dissolved on 5 July 1537, but six months later, on 18 December, it was refounded as a Benedictine abbey.

  7, accessed August 2013.

  8, accessed August 2013.

  9.  S. Bentley, ed., Excerpta Historica, London 1831, p. 123.

10.  See Ashdown-Hill, Last Days of Richard III; also P. Langley and M. Jones, The King’s Grave: The search for Richard III, London 2013.

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