The Mischief-Maker

James IV: Using Perkin Warbeck to Embarrass Henry VII

Chapter 6 : From Strategy to Action

There seems to have been a strategy in place before Perkin arrived in Scotland because, once he was there, events moved quickly. James was always a man for the grand gesture and he intended the world to know that 'Prince Richard of England' was now in his care. So he proceeded to do what no other European monarch had done before; he provided Perkin with a wife.

Lady Katherine Gordon was not just any well-born Scottish lady but the daughter of the earl of Huntly, one of the country's leading aristocrats, and, on her mother's side, a distant relative of the king himself. Does this marriage suggest that James really believed in the identity of his guest? Not necessarily.

Even if he suspected that his cousin's husband was a complete fraud, what did it matter if he, James, succeeded in replacing Henry VII with this rediscovered duke of York? In the event of such an outcome, James might expect effectively to govern the whole of the British Isles. If Katherine's father had misgivings, he kept them to himself.

It should also be remembered that marriage in fifteenth century Scotland was a rather fluid arrangement. The Catholic Church did not normally sanction divorce but marriages among the Scottish nobility were often ended with the agreement of both parties. James IV himself would later take Janet Kennedy as mistress and have several children with her, though she had already been both the wife and mistress of different men. If things did not work out, Lady Katherine might expect to find another husband.

Rather touchingly, Perkin and Lady Katherine fell in love. She was viewed as something of a beauty and remained a loyal wife throughout the long saga of his deception. James IV had every reason to be pleased with the marriage that took place in Edinburgh in early 1496. He had successfully mounted a propaganda coup that was a direct challenge to the Tudor dynasty.

Not that Henry VII was publicly aggrieved by this calculated insult to his own family and security. In the spring of 1496 he gave instructions to his diplomats going to France that, if asked about James IV's support for 'the garçon', as he contemptuously branded Perkin, they were to say:

'that the king cares nothing about it and that it is the least of his troubles.For the said King of Scotland is unable to injure him in any manner whatever, except, perhaps, in making him spend his money in vain.'