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One of London’s earliest imposters….?

Well, once again we have the painting of the two Princes in the Tower by Sir John Everett Millais. They look like frightened little angels, which, of course, is the traditional view of them. Nasty Uncle Richard, etc. etc. But it has never been proved that Richard did anything to them. He might even have had them taken away to safety. We will never know, and neither, it seems, did Henry VII, whose reign was blighted by fears of the return of one or both of them. And, of course, Yorkists claimants to his stolen throne did indeed turn up to make his usurper’s life difficult. The most important of these was “Perkin Warbeck”, who may or may not have been Prince Richard of York, as Ashdown-Hill’s research may answer for us soon.

Anyway, the paragraphs below are the relevant section of this article, in which Perkin is labelled as a ‘brass-necked imposter’, along with four other similar, um, frauds. Whether Perkin was an imposter or brass-necked is, as ever, in the eye of the beholder.

“….One of London’s earliest imposters emerged from the confusion surrounding what would become one of the city’s most enduring mysteries. Uncertainty has always existed over the fate of King Edward IV’s sons Edward and Richard, or the ‘Princes in the Tower’. They’d been next in line to the throne until their uncle, Richard III, declared them illegitimate and made himself king instead.

“….The boys had been living in the Tower of London but were never seen again after the summer of 1483, and it was often speculated that they had been murdered at Richard’s instructions. However, some believed it was plausible that one or both had escaped and gone into hiding elsewhere, and several years later, one person sought to capitalise on the belief in the possibility of a secret royal survivor.

“….A man named Perkin Warbeck emerged in 1490 (sic), claiming to be the younger son, Richard, and that his brother had been murdered, forcing him to go undercover for his own safety. Warbeck made a claim to the English throne and managed to convince some members of European royalty of his identity, including the future Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. However, his various armed attempts to progress his claim in England did not meet with success, and he was eventually captured and handed over to Henry VII in 1497.

“….Ironically, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London itself, only being released when he confessed he was not actually one of the Princes in the Tower after all. While he was still allowed to attend the royal court, he remained under guard, which led him to make a number of escape attempts. He was eventually recaptured and locked up in the Tower again, before being executed at Tyburn in 1499….”

Brat Farrar

Josephine Tey’s novel Brat Farrar is widely perceived as having been based on the Victorian Tichborne case where a well-upholstered Australia-based butcher’s son posed as the missing claimant to a baronetcy. Arthur Orton/ Castro persuaded Roger Tichborne’s mother that he was the heir to the title, but very few others and lost his court casesbratfarrar.

In a book serialised by BBC1 in 1986, in their classic “Sunday teatime literature slot”, Tey makes some of the Ashby family circumstances different and introduces an interesting psychological feature: Simon knows that Farrar cannot be his elder twin, Patrick, because … but we won’t spoil the ending for those who have not yet read it. This frequently occurs in great literature and Rattigan, for example, plays with the facts of George Archer-Shee’s postal order problems at Dartmouth Naval College in The Winslow Boy.

Is Tey implying something more? We all know that she also wrote The Daughter of Time, in which she employs the device of a fictional mid-C20 policeman to explore the facts about the “Princes”. Is Brat Farrar, written two years earlier, a previous attempt at this objective. Is Patrick actually the younger “Prince” (or a combination of both) and is Simon his, or their, brother-in-law? It is more than sixty years too late to ask Tey but perhaps she wrote about it somewhere, privately.

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