Around the time that Christopher Columbus was preparing for the voyage that would change the history of the world forever, a young stranger appeared in Cork, swaggering around the streets dressed from head to toe in the finest silks.
With his plummy accent and aristocratic bearing, many suggested, including the Mayor and members of the City Council, that he was the living incarnation of the missing heir to the English Throne, Prince Richard, Duke of York. Such declarations would have dire consequences for all concerned. Pat Poland recalls the events surrounding this strange period in Irish and English history.
The re-burial in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015 of the remains of King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings of England, served to prompt renewed interest in a long-forgotten episode in the story of these islands.
In 1483 King Edward IV died, leaving an ‘heir and a spare’ to the throne, the Princes Edward (12) and Richard (9). Shortly before his demise, the king had named his brother, Richard, as Lord Protector. The young Prince Edward would become King Edward V.
Ostensibly, to prepare for the forthcoming coronation, Richard had the two young boys transferred to the Tower of London, then the principal royal residence in the city. For a while, the two children were seen playing around the castle grounds, but then their appearances became fewer and fewer.
After the summer of 1483, there were no further sightings of them. It was as if they had disappeared from the face of the earth. There were whisperings that they were murdered on the orders of their uncle, Richard, a contention given credence, without the slightest evidence, by William Shakespeare, writing during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, whose dynasty had deposed the Plantagenets.
Richard of York, Lord Protector, was crowned King Richard III on 3 July 1483 but was soon challenged for the throne by Henry Tudor of Lancaster. The so-called ‘War of the Roses’ (the logo of the House of York was a white rose, while that of the House of Lancaster was a red rose) came to a head at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 which saw the 32-year-old Richard being slaughtered.
He was the last king of the House of York, the last king of England to die in battle, and the last of the Anglo-Norman Plantagenet dynasty which had ruled since the succession of King Henry II (invited to send a task force to Ireland by Diarmuid MacMurrough) in 1154. His death is regarded by many historians as marking the end of the Middle Ages in these islands. Henry Tudor now became King Henry VII.
Some years into Henry’s reign, there were rumours throughout the realm that Prince Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the little boys in the Tower, had somehow survived. It had not been the first time that such murmurings abounded.
In 1487, one Lambert Simnel had claimed to be Prince Richard but later admitted to being an imposter. King Henry, who appears to have been a tolerant man, forgave him and gave him a job as a ‘spit roaster’ in the royal kitchens.
However, this was an altogether different matter. Now the claimant came with the endorsement of Duchess Margaret of Burgundy, the aunt of the disappeared princes, and it was said that he had been presented at the courts of the King of France and of the Holy Roman Emperor whose approval he had received.
His name was Perkin Warbeck and he arrived in Cork City in the autumn of 1492.