Loose Ends

What happened with Henry and the Pretender?

In 1499, after living under house arrest in King Henry VII’s court for eighteen months, the pretender Perkin Warbeck tried to escape again. Henry’s men quickly recaptured him and threw him back in the Tower. At first they placed him in solitary confinement. But then the king softened and allowed the fraud to reside in rooms with Edward, the Earl of Warwick.

Warwick had been in prison since he was ten years old. King Henry had placed him there upon the death of King Richard III in 1485 because he, Warwick, was another potential claimant to the throne of England. Chronicler Edward Hall wrote that Warwick was imprisoned for so long “out of all company of men, and sight of beasts” that he “could not discern a Goose from a Capon.”In other words, Warwick, who was by then twenty-four years old, had lost his mind.

With the help of four servants of a Lieutenant Sir John Digby, Warbeck and Warwick escaped. The whole thing may have been staged by King Henry, who did not want to break his promise about sparing the Pretender’s life, but who also needed to get rid of Warwick and Warbeck so that he, Henry, could marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon as a legitimate heir to the throne.

Perkin Warbeck was tried for treason on November 16 and executed on November 23, 1499. His head joined the lineup of traitors spanning the London Bridge. Warbeck’s wife had been living in Westminster for so long that Henry had become fond of her. Listed as the White Rose in the Privy Council’s purse ledger. Henry’s treasurer gave her a yearly stipend and paid many of her expenses until she married a knight, Sir Edward Craddock. The White Rose is buried with Sir Craddock in St. Mary’s Church, Swansea.(1)

On the same day Warbeck was executed, Henry’s son Arthur was betrothed to Catherina, Princess of Aragon.

Edward, the Earl of Warwick was beheaded for treason on November 28, 1499. He was the last in the legitimate male line of the House of Plantagenet.

Pietro Martire, the friend and biographer to Christopher Columbus and Sebastian Cabot, as well as a poet, scholar and chaplain from Milan, got credit for first using the term New World [Orbe Novo].

1507 – Finding Prester John

We also want to tell you what happened to Pedro of Corvilhã, the Portuguese emissary who got stuck in Abyssinia in 1490, and what he was finally able to communicate to the western world about the eastern Christians. Seventeen years after he arrived in east Africa, and after the Portuguese had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese took control of Socotra, an island just east of Ethiopia and south of Yemen that was still occupied by Christians.

From their new base on Socotra, the Portuguese sent more envoys to their Christian allies in Ethiopia. Eleni, the Queen of Ethiopia, decided to solicit their help pushing back the Muslims who were still trying to take control of her country. She sent her own envoy named Mateus [Matthew] to Portugal to meet with King Manoel I. Mateus returned to Ethiopia in 1520 with a Portuguese embassy and a Catholic priest named Father Álvares. Father Álvares would write an important book called A True Relation of the Lands of Prester John of the Indies [La Verdadeira Informação das Terras do Preste João das Indias]], in which he quoted Pedro da Covilhã. Covilhã would stay in Ethiopia the rest of his life, but he had conveyed his adventures and experiences since 1490 to Father Álvares.

Before it was published, the book was sent to Pope Julius II, giving Western Europe access to Covilhã’s first-hand description of Ethiopia. Italian historian Giovanni Battista Ramusio quoted Pedro da Covilhã’s testimony in a collection of first hand accounts titled Navigationi et Viaggi [Navigations and Travels], which Ramusio wrote in 1550. [He also included the accounts of Marco Polo, Niccolò Da Conti, and Ferdinand Magellan.] Shakespeare used Prester John as a character in Much Ado About Nothing, which he wrote in 1598 And forever after, Western Europe referred to the leader of the Ethiopians as Prester John – a habit that the Ethiopians would spend centuries trying to break.


  1. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Edited by Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D., historiographer to the Royal Historical Society; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; and corresponding member of the Historical and Genealogical Society of New England. Vol. I, Second Edition, Printed by McFarlane and Erskine, for the Society, St. James Square, London, 1875

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