School Trip Friday(ish) – St Michael’s Mount and Perkin Warbeck

Many people use the word ‘journey’ to describe something very personal to them which has been life changing (and possibly life-enhancing). Maybe a ‘spiritual journey’ or an ‘emotional journey’ on their way to the top as a world-class Olympic champion? My own journey has far less lofty aspirations: mine is to provide my vulnerable child, who has severe learning difficulties, the correct education he so desperately needs. A year ago this month, I decided that we had to do ‘something’ to stop the downward emotional and mental spiral of our small child who was struggling, and failing spectacularly, in mainstream education. So we withdrew him from school and, after failing to convince our local education authority as to the extent of his needs, took to the Courts to get them to provide protection for his educational needs. Sadly, having won the legal battle to convince my local education authority that he requires a Statement of Special Educational Needs, the war continues with the grown-ups still fighting through the courts for the precise education he so desperately needs. In the meantime, my son continues to be ‘home educated’ and so continues the massive spiritual, emotional and physical ‘journey’ for him and me. (It is totally beyond my understanding why I have to go to the law of this land to get the education that my child so desperately needs – isn’t that a basic human right in our so-called progressive country?)

My own ‘journey’ is to be my child’s legal advocate, educational tutor and mentor. Me? Someone with nearly 30 years of experience of the hustle and bustle of the corporate IT world but zero experience of teaching children. Me: now tasked with organising the legal battle, along with personally tutoring one small vulnerable child, and, more importantly, arranging much more competent specialist tutoring than myself.  But there are some considerable pluses to this ‘journey’. Now, my eyes and ears are more alert and more receptive to the sights and sounds of life. Mine are the ears and eyes which are the conduit to teach my child about life and the universe: anything and everything.

In the first week of March, during a beautiful balmy English Spring-time, my ‘journey’ became one that is physical as we once more headed for the hills and arrived in Cornwall for a week of rest, relaxation and tuition. Last term, our quest was to search out Romans at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. This term, our quest is to search out the dark ages and then onto medieval kings and queens. Our appetite was already wetted with watching every single programme on the recent discovery of the mortal remains of Richard III.  We came to Cornwall expecting to find the far distant voices of King Arthur at Tintagel but didn’t expect the echoes of Richard III and Henry VII in the furthest tips of Cornwall.

Our journey across this, one of the most beautiful counties of England, included early-modern stories of smugglers, Revenue Men, and Wreckers, along with modern-day stories of the sacrifice of the heroic lifeboat men of Penlee and Mousehole. It therefore seemed appropriate that we spent Tuesday 5th March 2013, St Piran’s Day, the patron Saint of Cornwall, walking through that most iconic of Cornish lands, St Michael’s Mount.

St Piran's Day - St Michael's Mount5 March 2013, the Cornish flag on St Piran’s Day, St Michael’s Mount

What can be more enticing to a small child who can barely read and write then the legends and stories of this magical isle? Tales of seven foot giant skeletons found buried under the church’s staircase… The legend of Jack the giant killer: the giant whose heart still vigorously beats in the chests of today’s young children who pause for a moment to tread on his  heart which is buried within the very pathway to the top of the Mount…

And there on the foreshore of St Michael’s Mount and the causeway to the island was lurking the Tudor story of Perkin Warbeck.  The second of the Tudor Pretenders.

Perkin Warbeck, the Tudor PretenderPerkin Warbeck, the second Tudor Pretender, born circa 1474, executed 1499

Perkin Warkbeck who pretended to be one of the Princes in the Tower.  The long-dead brother of the long-since murdered Edward V, in 1490 Perkin Warbeck proclaimed himself to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York: the Yorkist king of England, Richard IV.  A claim that was championed by no less than Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and, therefore, aunt to the real Princes in the Tower: Edward V and Richard.  After much adventuring and political championing throughout the Continent, Perkin Warbeck finally landed by sea in Cornwall in September 1497 and took occupation of St Michael’s Mount. After refortifying the Mount’s castle, he left his beautiful wife, Lady Catherine Gordon, on the Mount for safety. From St Michael’s Mount, he and his army of west-country rebels marched through Cornwall and the south-west of England in his attempt to seize the English throne: an attempt which ended in failure and his capture at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497 when the Cornish rebels and Perkins’army surrendered. Perkin Warbeck finally met his maker and an unceremonious end on 23 November 1499 at the end of a rope on the gallows of Tyburn, London.

And the fate of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Catherine Gordon?  She suffered a very lenient fate at the hands of Henry VII.  She was the daughter of the Scottish George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly.  For political reasons, it had suited the Scottish king, James IV, to believe that Warbeck was indeed Richard, Duke of York.  Therefore Warbeck was encouraged to marry the daughter of a Scottish nobleman.  Warbeck and Lady Catherine had a grand and lavish wedding in Edinburgh.  Calling herself the ‘Duchess of York’, Lady Catherine was finally captured by Henry VII’s forces at St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall in September or October 1497.  She was brought back to London. Surprisingly Henry VII treated her very kindly and she became a much favoured (and favourite) lady-in-waiting to his wife, Elizabeth of York.  Henry VII arranged for Lady Catherine to have a pension, paid for by him, and he also settled her expenses for her clothes.  The favours continued when Lady Catherine attended her Scottish king, James IV’s, 1503 marriage to Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret and the same year, she was the Chief Mourner at Elizabeth of York’s funeral.  Lady Catherine’s fate at the hands of Henry VII was remarkably kind and generous, especially considering that if Warbeck really had been Richard, Duke of York, then Elizabeth of York would have been her sister-in-law.  Perhaps Henry VII decided that it was better to keep your (innocent) enemies close to you rather then have them holed up on a far-distant Cornish island? Lady Catherine went on to marry a further three husbands and died a peaceful death in 1537 – many many years after her adventures with the Tudor Pretender, Perkin Warbeck.

Was Warbeck Richard, Duke of York?…  Who knows!  But who-ever he was, my husband, child and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to St Michael’s Mount on St Piran’s Day.

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe Castle on St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe perilous staircase up to the castle on St Michael’s Mount.
Whenever the castle was besieged throughout the centuries,
the poor troops had to run up these stairs to storm the castle!

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe view from the top of St Michael’s Mount’s castle

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayOne of the early-modern canons, now (strangely!)
trained on the amphibious boat used to transport modern-day
residents and visitors to the island

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayLooking down the canon into the bay

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe canons on St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe ancient causeway totally under the water of high-tide
but visible from the top of St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayMedieval stained glass windows from Bruges in the
Chevy Chase room, St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayThe medieval church of St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayMedieval stained glass in the church of St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayA medieval religious object within the church of St Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount on St Piran's DayRe-enacting Perkin Warbeck leaving St Michael’s Mount?
Or King Canute trying to drive back the waves?

Home educating a year on, it is somewhat strange that I have ended up teaching my special educational needs child about life and the universe in the very area where the controversial councillor, Collin Brewer, proclaimed that special educational needs children need ‘putting down’. Mr Brewer, if you are reading this, come spend a day (or two) with me and my child whilst I home educate him, and tell my child to his face that he needs putting down. Or alternatively, do some good by showing my child (and me) that you lofty councillors do care about some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Mr Brewer, come listen to the story of my child and my fight for him to have a basic human right: a school education. I promise you, our story will make you weep.

You may also be interested in
– School Trip Friday – Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
– School Trip Friday – Chapel of St Peter’s on the Wall, Bradwell
– School Trip Friday – Imperial War Museum Duxford
– School Trip Friday – Of Cabbages and Kings
School Trip Friday – Hadrian’s Wall
School Trip Friday – Messages from England’s Roman Past
School Trip Friday – What did the Roman’s ever do for us?

© Essex Voices Past 2013.

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4 Responses to School Trip Friday(ish) – St Michael’s Mount and Perkin Warbeck

  1. Thanks for such lovely blogs. I don’t get to read them often enough, but always enjoy them when I do.

  2. I appreciate your Essex articles for their rich evocation of eras past, and educational value for this Yank, but the mention of your darling child in this post touched me, – and I wanted to wish you well.

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