MOST Scots, even those who have studied this nation’s history, will tell you that it was England which always interfered in our affairs up to and including the Act of Union of 1707 and a cursory glance at the list of invasions and encroachments on Scotland by the English would seem to confirm that view.

Oliver Cromwell’s conquest and occupation of Scotland in the 1650s, the “Rough Wooing” of the 16th century, Edward Longshanks’s self-serving interference in the Scottish succession debates of the 1290s and his subsequent war on Scotland are just three examples of England trying to dominate this poor wee country – that’s how the narrative goes, doesn’t it?

Remembering that the nation of Scotland came into being in the ninth century with the merger – or conquest – of the Picts by the Scots, and that England really only emerged as a sovereign country a century later, all talk of invasion and counter-invasion before then is useless, as the whole island of Great Britain was split into small sub-kingdoms. The Scots were often too busy fighting among themselves to be bothered warring with the neighbours down south and the same was true of England until William the Conqueror arrived in 1066.

He was the first English king to declare to the Scots that he was overlord of Scotland and King Malcolm III, Canmore himself, had to accept England was the larger nation with a superior military. It was always against the background of claimed overlordship that England meddled with Scotland – you could write that about contemporary Scotland – but it has to be said that we Scots were not often slow to mess with England back in the day.

King David I was involved in English politics up to his neck before and during his reign from 1124-53, his armies invading England on several occasions and winning and losing battles there.

William Wallace famously got as far as York after the victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297, while Robert the Bruce invaded England several times after Bannockburn, and subsequent kings of Scots used military, political and religious means to keep England at bay, while the Scottish Borders reivers carried out countless merciless raids into England. Yet one of the greatest Scottish interferences in English affairs barely gets a mention in most histories of Scotland, probably because the involvement of King James IV with Perkin Warbeck did not reflect well on a popular king usually hailed as the finest of the Stewart dynasty and a true Renaissance prince.

We will never know what really inspired James to champion the cause of Warbeck, the pretender to the throne of King Henry VII and an unscrupulous imposter who was shown to be such even in his own lifetime. It was a huge piece of effrontery by James to even have Warbeck at his court, but it might also have been a piece of political genius given what emerged – a “union” with England from which King Charles III can trace his royal lineage.

Warbeck’s story in Scotland actually began with the birth of a son, Richard, to England’s King Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville in 1473. As second son of the monarch Richard, known as Richard of Shrewsbury after his birthplace, was named Duke of York with his elder brother Edward the heir presumptive. When Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, his son became Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, became the heir presumptive.

The National: Perkin Warbeck (c1474-1499) Flemish impostor; professed to be Richard, Duke of York, second of Edward IV's sons Perkin Warbeck (c1474-1499) Flemish impostor; professed to be Richard, Duke of York, second of Edward IV's sons (Image: unknown)

Their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has come down through history and Shakespeare as a nasty piece of work and it is difficult to say otherwise given that he became regent for the young king and forced the regency council to declare his own brother’s marriage to be bigamous, thus making young Edward and Richard illegitimate.

Richard of Gloucester became Richard III of England and his two young nephews disappeared from their imprisonment in the Tower of London – no-one can say even now with certainty what happened to the Princes in the Tower but they are presumed to have been murdered.

Richard III met his bloody end for want of a horse at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, after which Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, of the House of Lancaster became King Henry VII. In marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, he united the factions of the Wars of the Roses and began the Tudor dynasty.

The Yorkists still harboured dreams of regaining the throne and took their chance when a young man of about 17 or 18 appeared in Cork in Ireland, employed by a merchant from Brittany. Calling himself Perkin Warbeck, this fine-looking, well-dressed youth was highly intelligent and learned English quickly. He was soon being acclaimed as someone special by the citizens of Cork, and Warbeck himself later said it was the local Yorkists who decided to announce that he was none other than Richard of Shrewsbury, one of the lost Princes in the Tower.

A year earlier in France, however, Warbeck had claimed to be Prince Richard and the real King of England as his “brother” Edward V had been murdered by assassins who spared him because of his age and his innocence – or so Warbeck said.

The idea of a Yorkist pretender to the English throne was nothing new – Lambert Simnel had been the figurehead of a Yorkist rebellion four years earlier but was really an imposter pretending to be the Earl of Warwick. The boy was just 10 when he was “crowned” as King Edward VI in Dublin, then the centre of Yorkist sympathisers. After Henry VII’s forces annihilated the Yorkist rebels at the Battle of Stoke Field, the king pardoned Simnel who later became a falconer at the court.

Having gone along with the deception at first, or perhaps because they planned the whole thing, the Yorkists now made Perkin Warbeck the centre of their attention. He returned to the continent but King Charles VIII of France expelled him after Henry VIII complained and threatened to invade.

Warbeck now went to the court of Margaret of Burgundy, widow of Charles the Bald, Duke of Burgundy, and she began to teach him the politics of the Yorkist court and tutored him in deportment and oratory. Given arms and troops by Margaret, in July 1495, Warbeck landed at Deal in Kent and proclaimed himself Richard, Duke of York, and rightful king of England. The locals did not even let him off his ship as they pounced on Warbeck’s troops, killing a reported 150 of them.

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Warbeck fled to Ireland but failed in a siege of Waterford, before he sailed to Scotland. Now his fate lay in the hands of King James IV who probably knew that Warbeck was an imposter but decided to go along with the ruse. Until then, James had not enjoyed the best of relations with Henry VII and was very much allied to France through the renewal of the Auld Alliance, so Warbeck fitted neatly into James’s scheming against Henry.

Thus it was that James received Warbeck with due honours and, as young men of roughly the same age, they appear to have become friendly, even though Warbeck was demanding the one thing that James was reluctant to grant – an army to invade England.

Enter at this point the person who I consider to be the real victim of Perkin Warbeck, Lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly and related to the king. Then in her early 20s and considered to be a society beauty, Warbeck saw her at court and fell for her. In turn King James reasoned it might be useful to have Warbeck officially connected to the Scottish aristocracy and so he gave her to Warbeck as a wife.

Incredibly, in the Spanish state archives to this day survives a letter from Warbeck to Lady Gordon obtained by the Spanish ambassador Pedro de Ayala.

Warbeck wrote: “Most noble lady, it is not without reason that all turn their eyes to you; that all admire, love and obey you. For they see your two-fold virtues by which you are so much distinguished above all other mortals.

“Whilst on the one hand, they admire your riches and immutable prosperity, which secure to you the nobility of your lineage and the loftiness of your rank, they are, on the other hand, struck by your rather divine than human beauty, and believe that you are not born in our days but descended from Heaven.

“All look at your face so bright and serene that it gives splendour to the cloudy sky; all look at your eyes so brilliant as stars which make all pain to be forgotten, and turn despair into delight; all look at your neck which outshines pearls; all look at your fine forehead.

“Your purple light of youth, your fair hair; in one word at the splendid perfection of your person – and looking at they cannot choose but admire you; admiring they cannot choose love but you; loving they cannot choose but obey you.

“I shall, perhaps, be the happiest of all your admirers, and the happiest man on Earth, since I have reason to hope you will think me worthy of your love. If I represent to my mind all your perfections, I am not only compelled to love, to adore and to worship you, but love makes me your slave. Whether I was waking or sleeping I cannot find rest or happiness except in your affection. All my hopes rest in you, and in you alone.

“Most noble lady, my soul, look mercifully down upon me your slave, who has ever been devoted to you from the first hour he saw you. Love is not an earthly thing, it is heaven born. Do not think it below yourself to obey love’s dictates. Not only kings, but also gods and goddesses have bent their necks beneath its yoke.

“I beseech you most noble lady to accept for ever one who in all things will cheerfully do as your will as long as his days shall last. Farewell, my soul and consolation. You, the brightest ornament in Scotland, farewell, farewell.”

Our modern sentiments would react with a “yeuch” but back then this was prose of the highest form, and Catherine duly became Mrs Warbeck. They may have had a child, but if so it did not survive infancy.

In September 1496, James finally put together an army and invaded England ostensibly to support Warbeck’s claim and though they only went as far south as Northumberland and burned a few villages, the invasion by the Scots forced Henry VII to declare war on Scotland. James’s army went south again in 1497, but by that time Henry had his own problems with rebels in Devon and Cornwall and Ambassador Ayala was asked to broach a peace treaty with James IV.

By now he had begun to doubt openly that his guest Warbeck was who he claimed to be and he sent the imposter and his wife Lady Gordon south to see if Warbeck could raise his own troops in the rebellious south-west.

He could not and was captured, and though Henry was inclined to treat him reasonably at first, after Warbeck tried and failed to escape from the Tower of London, he was executed at Tyburn on November 23, 1499. The strange story of the imposter and the King of Scots was at an end.

Lady Catherine Gordon became a lady-in-waiting to Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth and, judging by the gifts the king gave her, she might have been more than a friend to him.

As a result of the Warbeck imbroglio, Scotland and England signed a peace treaty which included Henry giving the hand of his daughter Margaret Tudor to James IV. King Charles III is descended from them.