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The Perfect Prince: The Mystery of Perkin Warbeck and His Quest for the Throne of England Hardcover – October 21, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many readers who know the English War of the Roses through the plays of Shakespeare will be interested in the coda Wroe offers to that history: several years into the reign of Henry VII, a young man called Perkin Warbeck claimed to be one of the sons of Edward IV, consigned as boys to the Tower of London and supposedly murdered by order of their uncle, Richard III. Invading England with support from both commoners and princes, Warbeck challenged the legitimacy of the first Tudor king. Wroe nicely evokes the ephemera of image and manners that, along with lineage, enabled a prince to rule. Holding out the barest of possibilities that Warbeck was indeed who he said he was, she recreates the shifting sands of identity that confounded his contemporaries. Prominent figures, including Margaret of York and James IV of Scotland, encouraged the young man based not so much on their belief in his story as on how well it fit their own diplomatic ambitions. Contemporary narratives of lost princes and the desire for leadership made Warbeck's claims reasonable to others. In the end, his successes indicate that the Tudor dynasty was initially no more secure than its predecessors, while his ultimate defeat all but ended the conflicting royal claims that had torn England apart in the previous century. Wroe (Pontius Pilate), a senior editor at the Economist, occasionally digresses in the rich cultural and political context of her story, but amateurs of English history will find a highly readable and fascinating new story among names and events they already know.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

History readers probably close their books when Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Bosworth Field during England's War of the Roses, but the dynastic struggle had a bizarre coda that Wroe rescues from obscurity. She recounts the odyssey of a young man who in the 1490s took in hand the Yorkist pretensions to the throne. He said he was Richard Plantagenet, displaced by Richard III as heir to Edward IV. Trouble was, little Richard hadn't been seen since big Richard clapped him into the Tower of London in 1483. But on the scaffold in 1499, the man who had comported himself with princely dignity cleansed his soul and confessed himself a fraud from Flanders. Wroe pins down documentable truth and also envelops her readers into credulity about "Prince Richard," engendered from rumor, superstition, and faith in fortune's favor that gained him supporters among Cornwall peasants and continental potentates. In a compulsively readable way, Wroe imaginatively draws back the arras to discern the mysterious corners of history. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (October 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060337
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,397,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Too many petty details were brought out in the book, too tedious at times in some sections.
lordhoot
So I recommend this book to students of royal and/or English history and to anyone who enjoys a fine, well told tale of mystery and intrigue.
John D. Cofield
She begins to tell us one thing, then sidetracks us as if to say, "Oh, but I forgot to tell you about this first."
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed The Perfect Prince for several reasons. First, it covers a fascinating period of English and European history, the late 1400s when the Europeans were beginning to stretch beyond their own borders into other continents like Africa and the Americas. At the same time the European nation states were in the final stages of coalescence, so that terms like "England" and "France" were beginning to have more than just rough geographical meanings. Secondly, I liked this book for its detailed coverage of the mystery of the vanished Princes and whether or not Perkin Warbeck was actually Richard, Duke of York. This is one of the oldest European historical mysteries, but it is just as intriguing as more modern conundrums, such as what happened to the Dauphin in 1793 or to two of the last Tsar's children in 1918. Thirdly, this book is beautifully written, with fine psychological insights into Perkin himself, King Henry VII, Margaret of Burgundy, and numerous others who tend to be considered mere names in dry as dust annals.
So I recommend this book to students of royal and/or English history and to anyone who enjoys a fine, well told tale of mystery and intrigue.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James T. Currie on December 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I first heard the story of the little princes when I was taking an undergraduate course in English history many years ago, and I really wanted them to have escaped death. Apparently, many people in late fifteenth century England hoped the same thing, even to the point of risking lives and fortunes to support someone who claimed to be one of the princes. Alas, as Ann Wroe recounts so well in her excellent book on the subject, it was all a charade. Regardless of the disappointment when one discovers that Perkin Warbeck was only a pretender and that the princes actually died in the Tower, it is such a pleasure to encounter a book that rises above the commonplace and takes one to another time in such fine fashion that even after 500+ pages the reader is left wanting more. This is a first-rate mystery that Ms. Wroe, whose writing skills have obviously been honed through her many years at The Economist, has turned into a tour of late fifteenth century England. The story is a compelling one of intrigue and treachery and betrayal, and Ms. Wroe has told it with elegance and wit. Hers is a book that I savored, only too sorry when it came to an end. Drawing upon her background as a historian of the medieval age, Ms. Wroe has presented us with a tour de force, a detailed journey through an age that is so far removed from our own that we might be talking about a different planet. This was a time when kings and princes and dukes and knights plotted and counter-plotted and Machiavelli was not just a name to be remembered in a "Jeopardy" contest, but an actual practitioner of the art of political intrigue. This is a book for those who want detail, for Ms. Wroe has looted and pillaged through every relevant archive and has brought to bear an enormous amount of scholarship.Read more ›
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was so bemused by the vigorous attacks here, and such a fan of Pontius Pilate, that I put The Perfect Prince at the head of my reading list, jumping over a few long-waiting candidates, just to see what the problem was.
In a word, I haven't the vaguest.
I didn't find the book difficult to follow at all, and it rewards readers' attention with a wealth of fascinating detail that matches the drama of the story.
I don't care to speculate as to whether the intense hostility is motivated by short attention spans or the pique that some people inevitably display when a book they don't care for is praised, but I found Prince to be a rare, cherishable pleasure.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With respect to the above gentleman from Pennsylvania, I believe it is, I cannot quite credit that we read the same book. To my mind, Perkin is a majestic work of investigative, scholarly history. Wroe writes with verve and elegance about the closing of the medieval period and the opening out of the new world; it is no coincidence we find Perkin first of all in Portugal, among the adventurers and chancers who were to characterise his ascent. The mystery of Perkin naturally lends itself to speculation and Wroe lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions. I am still making up my own mind as to his identity (if not to his character). Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the book is that, eager to unravel the mystery, I lugged the hefty hardback version of it around Afghanistan through the autumn. The battered survivor (the tome that is) is still doing the rounds in Kabul, where intelligent reading is much in demand.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on July 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ann Wroe has written a brilliantly rich history of one of the great mysteries of Europe. As with Anastasia Romanov, alleged to have escaped a Chekist firing squad, so too was Richard IV alleged to have escaped from the Tower of London and the clutches of his uncle Richard III (of Shakespeare's play.) Between 1491 - 1497, a young man claiming to be rightful heir to the English throne (and threatening the position of Henry VII) was recognized by many royal houses in Europe, married an aristocratic Scot, and gathered a veritable army of supporters. What Wroe explores isn't so much whether this person really was Richard IV, but if he was not, how did he manage to bamboozle so many into believing he was?

Wroe does not definitively state that the man claimed by so many to be Richard IV was, in fact, a lowly born son of a boatman from Flanders (as claimed by the Tudors.) That Richard and Edward died in the Tower is almost certain. The beauty and strength of _The Perfect Prince_ is the variety of sources used in examining why would people - including several members of the ruling houses of Europe - believe that Richard IV escaped? Because most of the extant documents surrounding this controversey are from Henry VII's court (which of course had a vested interest in destroying the credibility of the "imposter") Wroe is forced to examine the subtle nuances of early 16th century life: manners, dress, poetry, art and language. These are all part of the historical tapestry she uses in determining who this person was and how he pulled off what apparently was a charade for six years. Undoubtedly (given the 2 and 3 star reviews) the amount of detail is overwhelming - and I can empathize, as it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. The patient reader, however is rewarded by gaining a depth of understanding of the early modern European mind that is unusual in most narrative histories. Recommended for the serious student of history.
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