Double History. Examining the similarities and differences of the physical characteristics of Perkin Warbeck, alleged pretender to the throne and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.
This article begins in a nondescript bar in a nondescript village on yet another nondescript island in the Mediterranean. I will not name the island as :-
I had no interest in actually learning the name of it or anything more than the way to the nearest hostelry
It is a small place and I want to spare the blushes and the reputation of the man I am about to describe.
Mrs JJ and I were on a ‘round the Med cruise’, eighty four islands in seven days or something like that, accompanied by the two small people who hang around our house. That day the liner had put into the harbour of a whitely painted, aloe planted, domed and pointed, picturesque kind of place. Mrs JJ took the boys, (or was one a girl? I was never quite sure,) to buy what she described as souvenirs and mementos and what I described as overpriced plastic mass produced cr*p, while I ambled about town trying not to make it look too obvious that I was headed for the nearest glass of, mug of, plate of, kind of place.
Instinct (or was it desperation?) soon led me to the sort of place I desired and gratefully I sank into an outside chair and scanned the menu. My eyes took a while to acclimatize to the dim light filtering through the rubber tree canopy of the Taverna but then I saw a fierce Backgammon game was in progress between the smallest man I had ever seen and a loud dark haired Islander. I tried not to stare but the small man, who was obviously winning the Backgammon match, was so striking in appearance with stark white, long hair, pale, pale skin and when he removed his aviator shades, and I saw his opaque eyes, one out turning, almost pinkish in colouring and seemingly lashless, my eyes could not help but be drawn to him.
He looked familiar, but I knew I did not know him.
I ate my food and drank my drink and pondered the strange pale man and later, talking with Mrs JJ, she suggested that he may have been an Albino and may also have the condition Dwarfism.
Mrs JJ is clever like that.
I didn’t think too much more about the unusual man and several years passed, years of working and saving and eighty four more islands in seven more days and then I was asked to write an article about one Perkin Warbeck. Despite my university lectures I could not for the life of me remember who Perkin was and, like everyone else, my first stop was Google and second stop was Wikipedia…… and there I saw HIM! Not the man in the Taverna, but all the features were the same, overlarge head on narrow shoulders, light, light hair, pale see-through eyes – eyes looking in different directions.
My immediate thought was Perkin is an Albino Dwarf! and, although I know it is not the correct way to do research, I began to look for original evidence, hitherto overlooked, to back my supposition.
Of course, I did not find any chroniclers saying ‘that Perkin kid was a pale midget of a bloke’ but tantalizing
clues I found aplenty :-
The ‘picture’ is a screen shot I took one day. Sadly I did not make a note of what I had snipped it from, but you will see from the varying descriptions that Perkin seemed to be a small, fey, almost ethereal sort of man
The word Imp, used by Fabyan, I find particularly telling. The word imp traditionally has connotations of something IMPlanted or grafted on, as can be seen in the screen shot (below) from an 1836 dictionary and what could be more implanted than a lookalike Richard of Shrewsbury. In addition, the word IMP is used for a mischievous small person. This usage has faded and risen throughout the centuries but was in common usage (together with the alternate versions, impi and impa,) in mediaeval period.
From the electronic Middle English Dictionary. (The print MED, completed in 2001, has been described as “the greatest achievement in medieval scholarship in America. I am not going to argue with that! I wish that all historical fact writers (particularly those with double barrelled names) would actually bother to look stray and strange words up in there rather than positing whole theses on one word incorrectly understood. )
“Imp, impa, impi, impe (n.) Also imppe, himpe & (in place names) im-. Pl. impes, impen.
1.(a) A branch of a tree; a shoot, sprig; a sucker shoot; (b) a scion, a graft; (c) a young tree; a sapling, a seedling; also fig.; (d) a tree; (e) ~ garth (yerd), a garden or nursery where seedlings or graftings are grown or cultivated; ~ tre, a grafted tree, an orchard tree.
2.(a) The offspring of a noble family; (b) ?a representative
- 3. A small, fey and mischievous person of doubtful origin.
The more I looked at the facts the more the facts shouted back at me that Perkin was small and very pale. Everywhere he went he was looked at, stared at and pointed out for the fairness of his face and then it hit me. Not many people ever doubted seriously that he was Richard, the sixth child and second son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville.
That was when my mind froze. If Perkin was an Albino Dwarf then Richard of Shrewsbury must also have been an Albino Dwarf. Immediately I started sifting facts, looking through books, searching the internet and reference section of the library for any mention of Richard’s appearance, any contemporary picture – learning all about Dwarfism, Albinism, anything I could lay my hands on – noting, jotting, drinking tea and puzzling.
Albinism (from Latin albus, “white”; also called achromia, achromasia, or achromatosis) is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin.
Albinism results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles and is known to affect all vertebrates. While an organism with complete absence of melanin is called an albino an organism with only a diminished amount of melanin is described as albinoid.
Albinism is associated with a number of vision defects, such as photophobia, nystagmus and astygmatism.
Dwarfism is a medical disorder. In men and women, the sole requirement is having an adult height under 147 cm (4 ft 10 in) and it is almost always classified with respect to the underlying condition that is the cause of the short stature. Dwarfism is usually caused by a genetic disorder; achondroplasia is caused by a mutation on chromosome four. If dwarfism is caused by a medical disorder, the person is referred to by the underlying diagnosed disorder. Disorders causing dwarfism are often classified by proportionality. Disproportionate dwarfism describes disorders that cause unusual proportions of the body parts, while proportionate dwarfism results in a generally uniform stunting of the body. Disorders that cause dwarfism may be classified according to one of hundreds of names, which are usually permutations of the following roots:
rhizomelic = root, e.g., bones of the upper arm or thigh
mesomelic = middle, e.g., bones of the forearm or lower leg
acromelic = end, e.g., bones of hands and feet.
micromelic = entire limbs are shortened
But what of Richard of Shrewsbury? Was there any evidence or hint that he could also be short? Did he also have pinkish eyes or white hair? There are no contemporary pictures of Richard but a stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral does show him with bright gold hair and what appears to be a squint. He also looks unusually short against the lectern.
I searched in vain for a contemporary reference to his appearance, but as with Perkin, I found little concrete evidence to back my thesis and concluded that even the most outspoken and daring of chroniclers is unlikely to have put ‘King Eddie and Liz Double U’s second son was a bit of a squirt who could easily be mistaken in candlelight for a miniature ghost’.
Rui De Sousa, a nobleman who had seen him in 1482, later said of him, ‘he had seen him singing with his mother and one of his sisters and that he sang very well and that he was very pretty and the most beautiful creature he had ever seen…’
Then it hit me! (I was getting bruises from all of these things hitting me!) There was evidence but of a circumstantial type. Richard of Shrewsbury was still with his mother and sisters at an age when most strong and healthy young lads had been sent to do knightly training in another household. His mother had the principal say in his upbringing, unlike all other royal sons who had a living father or elder brother who were more paternally reared. Cloth for the clothes of ‘The Right high and myghty Prynce the Duke of Yorke’ are recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, cloth whose measurements do not increase throughout the years as if the prince stayed the same size. (Similar records of cloth for growing children show a greater yardage year by year indicating growth in the child, but Richard’s yardages remain constant.) His ‘beauty’…….
I may never be able to find the one piece of evidence proving beyond all reasonable doubt that Perkin Warbeck and Richard of Shrewsbury were Albino Dwarfs, but I am satisfied in my own mind that this is at least a reasonable supposition.
Jeff ‘Jefferty’ Jeff is tired now and wants a cup of tea and a nice home made biscuit.
Happy 2015 to you all and happy reading.
The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy Ian Arthurson The History Press, 2009
“Ocular straylight in albinism”. Kruijt B et al. 2011.
Clumber Spaniel Keeping, Showing and Breeding (1984)
Littell’s Living Age, Volume 75 edited by Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell
Fabyan’s Chronicle: Robert Fabyan (a cloth-merchant who liked colourful stories) Circa 1460- Circa 1512.
On the Tudor Trail (blog): Natalie Grueninger
“Saucy girls” Calendar: 1984
Hastings, the man, the myth and legend: Jeff Jefferty Jeff. (Manuscript still to be written.)
The Lost Prince: David Baldwin
A New English Dictionary of the English Language: A to K, Volume 1 1836 Charles Richardson
‘Onken’ family size yoghurt pot
The British Occupation of Iraq: Andrew Lycett
Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)
Five go Adventuring Again: Enid Byton
Mutation in and Lack of Expression of Tyrosinase-Related Protein-1 (TRP-1) in Melanocytes from an Individual with Brown Oculotaneous Albinism: A New Subtype of Albinism Classified as ‘OCA3’ Raymond E Boissy et al 2014
Smoking seriously harms you and others around you
Scouting for Boys (1939 edition)
The Burial of Edward V: Jeff Jefferty Jeff. (A work in progress.)
Cucumber sauce recipe: Delia Smith
Anne Boleyn, the myth, the legend, the superstar. Jeff Jefferty Jeff. (Manuscript still to be written.)
Richardson, Douglas (2011). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families IV (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City.
The Maligned King: Annette Carson
© Jeff ‘Jefferty Jeff January 3rd 2015