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Tag Archives: Chris Hallam

  • A-Z of Exeter by Chris Hallam

    The Great Pretender: Perkin Warbeck and Exeter

    Who on Earth was Perkin Warbeck? Perhaps the question “who wasn’t Perkin Warbeck?” would be more appropriate. Perkin Warbeck (1474-99) was pretty much nobody, but he assumed importance in the late 15th century by pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV and one of the two famous “princes in the Tower”. The “princes” (the oldest of whom was in fact, no longer really a prince but the boy King Edward V) famously went missing and were presumably murdered while under the “protection” of their uncle, who became Richard III in 1483 and who was himself overthrown by Henry Tudor in 1485. In 1497, as part of his campaign to become established as ‘King Richard IV,’ Warbeck (1474-1499) led 5,000 men into Exeter in 1497, shortly before being defeated by Henry VII and ultimately captured and executed.

    The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878.

    Much later, in 1674, under Charles II, two skeletons, later established to have been the right age and size to have been the two princes were discovered in the Tower. Although we can probably safely assume it was them, it is unclear if they were murdered and if so, by whom. As beneficiaries, Richard III or Henry VII (or, to be precise, men acting on their orders) are usually seen as the prime suspects.

    Although he was about the right age to have been Prince Richard, Perkin Warbeck’s claim was always weak. Even if Warbeck had been Prince Richard – and we can now say with confidence, that he definitely wasn’t -  his claim to actually be the rightful King Richard IV was dependent on his own brother, young Edward V having somehow died while he, supposedly although not actually the other prince, had lived.

    The fact that Warbeck successfully caused so much trouble for Henry VII for several years tells us two things: first, that Henry VII’s grasp on power must have been very tenuous indeed during the early years of his reign following his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Second, that Perkin Warbeck must have been a very charismatic, persuasive figure in his own right. There were, of course, no cameras, newspapers or TV then and so the identity of a prospective claimant was harder to verify. But with no real evidence to back him up, it must be assumed, Perkin really have had something about him to persuade so many people to support his cause.

    As it is, like Lambert Simnel before him, Perkin Warbeck will always be remembered as a Pretender to the Throne.

    Chris Hallam's book A-Z of Exeter is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Exeter by Chris Hallam

    1068 and all that: Exeter, Gytha and the Norman Conquest

    Bayeux Tapestry (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    It is one of the most famous years in English history: 1066.

    Like 1936 and (perhaps) 1483, it was to be a year of three kings. In January, just five days into the year, Edward the Confessor, king of England since 1042, died. Harold Godwinson, a leading Saxon nobleman, succeeded him. The new Harold II had acquired a difficult inheritance, however, as he faced almost immediate attack from another Harold, Harald Hardrada of Norway who he managed to defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. However, as we know, King Harold II fared less well in the Battle of Hastings in October. Harold, in truth, probably wasn’t killed by an arrow in the eye as the famous Bayeux Tapestry appears to show but was certainly killed in battle just as Richard the Lionheart and Richard III would be in later years. His rival, William, Duke of Normandy won and was subsequently crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. Thereafter, England succumbed to a long period of Norman rule which, to some extent, has never ended.

    William the Conqueror (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    The above story is famous and mostly true. Edward the Confessor perhaps deserves more blame than has been traditionally attributed to him, for bequeathing England such chaotic situation in the first place. However, what is most questionable about the above account is the last sentence: William the Conqueror’s subsequent conquest of England, after his victory at Hastings, was in fact, much less smooth than the traditional version of events makes it sound.

    Exeter, in Devon, was one area which fiercely resisted William’s rule. Stirred into insurrection by the presence of Harold’s mother, Gytha, Exeter (then known as Escanceaster by the Saxons) openly revolted, refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to William. Angered, William returned from Normandy to deal with the rebels himself.

    A siege ensued, one of many Exeter would endure in the centuries ahead. Ugly scenes followed as William ordered one of the hostages that had been given to him as a sign of good faith to be publicly blinded. But the Normans suffered heavy losses. After nearly two weeks, Exeter surrendered but only on one condition, William would not punish the populace either physically or financially. William, facing rebellion elsewhere, acquiesced. Gytha, incidentally, seems to have been smuggled out just before the Norman king arrived. England, as a whole, didn’t fully come under Norman control until about 1072.

    The gatehouse of Exeter Castle id the oldest Norman castle building in Britain. (Secret Exeter, Amberley Publishing)

    What happened to Exeter next? After the siege, the Normans tore down the houses that stood on the hill at the northernmost parts of the walled city and built Rougemont Castle (Red Hill, because of the colour of the volcanic soil), essentially to keep a watchful eye on Exeter’s potentially restless population. Today, 950 years later, not much more than the castle walls remain. But these walls do include the original Norman gatehouse, widely considered to be one of the finest examples of early Norman architecture still visible in the UK. It is certainly the earliest Norman castle building still in existence, predating the more famous White Tower at the Tower of London by about ten years.

    Ironically, as my colleague Tim Isaac points out in our bestselling new book, Secret Exeter, a flaw in the design of the gatehouse essentially made them useless from the outset. It is this very uselessness which has ensured their survival to this day. Lucky for us!

    Tim Isaac and Chris Hallam's new book Secret Exeter is available for purchase now.

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