This carefully crafted ebook: "Famous Imposters (Pretenders & Hoaxes including Queen Elizabeth and many more revealed by Bram Stoker)" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Famous Impostors is the fourth and final book of nonfiction by Bram Stoker, published in 1910. It is a book that deals with exposing various impostors and hoaxes. Table of Contents : Preface Pretenders Perkin Warbeck The Hidden King "Stefan Mali" The False Czar The False Dauphins Princess Olive Practitioners of Magic: Paracelsus Cagliostro Mesmer The Wandering Jew John Law Witchcraft and Clairvoyance: The Period Doctor Dee La Voisin Sir Edward Kelley Mother Damnable Matthew Hopkins Arthur Orton Women as men: The Motive for Disguise Hannah Snell. La Maupin. Mary East Hoaxes, Etc.: Two London Hoaxes The Cat Hoax The Military Review The Toll-Gate The Marriage Hoax Buried Treasure Dean Swift's Hoax Hoaxed Burglars Bogus Sausages The Moon Hoax The Chevalier D'eon The Bisley Boy Prolegomenon The Queen's Secret Bisley The Tradition The Difficulty of Proof The Time and the Opportunity The Identity of Elizabeth The Solution Index Abraham "Bram" Stoker ( 1847 – 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.
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(Pretenders & Hoaxes including Queen Elizabeth and many more revealed by Bram Stoker)
A. Perkin Warbeck
B. The Hidden King
C. “Stefan Mali” The False Czar
D. The False Dauphins
E. Princess Olive
Practitioners of Magic
The Wandering Jew
Witchcraft and Clairvoyance
A. The Period
B. Doctor Dee
C. La Voisin
D. Sir Edward Kelley
E. Mother Damnable
F. Matthew Hopkins
Women as men
A. The Motive for Disguise
B. Hannah Snell.
C. La Maupin.
D. Mary East
A. Two London Hoaxes
B. The Cat Hoax
C. The Military Review
D. The Toll-Gate
E. The Marriage Hoax
F. Buried Treasure
G. Dean Swift’s Hoax
H. Hoaxed Burglars
I. Bogus Sausages
J. The Moon Hoax
The Chevalier D’eon
The Bisley Boy
B. The Queen’s Secret
D. The Tradition
E. The Difficulty of Proof
F. The Time and the Opportunity
G. The Identity of Elizabeth
H. The Solution
The subject of imposture is always an interesting one, and impostors in one shape or another are likely to flourish as long as human nature remains what it is, and society shows itself ready to be gulled. The histories of famous cases of imposture in this book have been grouped together to show that the art has been practised in many forms — impersonators, pretenders, swindlers, and humbugs of all kinds; those who have masqueraded in order to acquire wealth, position, or fame, and those who have done so merely for the love of the art. So numerous are instances, indeed, that the book cannot profess to exhaust a theme which might easily fill a dozen volumes; its purpose is simply to collect and record a number of the best known instances. The author, nevertheless, whose largest experience has lain in the field of fiction, has aimed at dealing with his material as with the material for a novel, except that all the facts given are real and authentic. He has made no attempt to treat the subject ethically; yet from a study of these impostors, the objects they had in view, the means they adopted, the risks they ran, and the punishments which attended exposure, any reader can draw his own conclusions.
Impostors of royalty are placed first on account of the fascinating glamour of the throne which has allured so many to the attempt. Perkin Warbeck began a life of royal imposture at the age of seventeen and yet got an army round him and dared to make war on Harry Hotspur before ending his short and stormy life on the gallows. With a crown for stake, it is not surprising that men have been found willing to run even such risks as those taken by the impostors of Sebastian of Portugal and Louis XVII of France. That imposture, even if unsuccessful, may be very difficult to detect, is shown in the cases of Princess Olive and Cagliostro, and in those of Hannah Snell, Mary East, and the many women who in military and naval, as well as in civil, life assumed and maintained even in the din of battle the simulation of men.
One of the most extraordinary and notorious impostures ever known was that of Arthur Orton, the Tichborne Claimant, whose ultimate exposure necessitated the employment, at great public expense of time and money, of the best judicial and forensic wits in a legal process of unprecedented length.
The belief in witches, though not extinct in our country even today, affords examples of the converse of imposture, for in the majority of cases it was the superstitions of society which attributed powers of evil to innocent persons whose subsequent mock-trials and butchery made a public holiday for their so-called judges.
The long-continued doubt as to the true sex of the Chevalier D’Eon shows how a belief, no matter how groundless, may persist. Many cases of recent years may also be called in witness as to the initial credulity of the public, and to show how obstinacy maintains a belief so begun. The Humbert case — too fresh in the public memory to demand treatment here — the Lemoine case, and the long roll of other fraudulent efforts to turn the credulity of others to private gain, show how wide-spread is the criminal net, and how daring and persevering are its manipulators.
The portion of the book which deals with the tradition of the “Bisley Boy” has had, as it demanded, more full and detailed treatment than any other one subject in the volume. Needless to say, the author was at first glance inclined to put the whole story aside as almost unworthy of serious attention, or as one of those fanciful matters which imagination has elaborated out of the records of the past. The work which he had undertaken had, however, to be done, and almost from the very start of earnest enquiry it became manifest that here was a subject which could not be altogether put aside or made light of. There were too many circumstances — matters of exact record, striking in themselves and full of some strange mystery, all pointing to a conclusion which one almost feared to grasp as a possibility — to allow the question to be relegated to the region of accepted myth. A little preliminary work amongst books and maps seemed to indicate that so far from the matter, vague and inchoate as it was, being chimerical, it was one for the most patient examination. It looked, indeed, as if those concerned in making public the local tradition, which had been buried or kept in hiding somewhere for three centuries, were on the verge of a discovery of more than national importance. Accordingly, the author, with the aid of some friends at Bisley and its neighbourhood, went over the ground, and, using his eyes and ears, came to his own conclusions. Further study being thus necessitated, the subject seemed to open out in a natural way. One after another the initial difficulties appeared to find their own solutions and to vanish ; a more searching investigation of the time and circumstances showed that there was little if any difficulty in the way of the story being true in essence if not in detail. Then, as point after point arising from others already examined, assisted the story, probability began to take the place of possibility; until the whole gradually took shape as a chain, link resting in the strength of link and forming a cohesive whole. That this story impugns the identity — and more than the identity — of Queen Elizabeth, one of the most famous and glorious rulers whom the world has seen, and hints at an explanation of circumstances in the life of that monarch which have long puzzled historians, will entitle it to the most serious consideration. In short, if it be true, its investigation will tend to disclose the greatest imposture known to history; and to this end no honest means should be neglected.
RICHARD III literally carved his way to the throne of England. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that he waded to it through blood. Amongst those who suffered for his unscrupulous ambition were George Duke of Clarence, his own elder brother, Edward Prince of Wales, who on the death of Edward IV was the natural successor to the English throne, and the brother of the latter, Richard Duke of York. The two last mentioned were the princes murdered in the Tower by their malignant uncle. These three murders placed Richard Duke of Gloucester on the throne, but at a cost of blood as well as of lesser considerations which it is hard to estimate. Richard III left behind him a legacy of evil consequences which was farreaching. Henry VII, who succeeded him, had naturally no easy task in steering through the many family complications resulting from the long-continued “Wars of the Roses” ; but Richard’s villany had created a new series of complications on a more ignoble, if less criminal, base. When Ambition, which deals in murder on a wholesale scale, is striving its best to reap the results aimed at, it is at least annoying to have the road to success littered with the debris of lesser and seemingly unnecessary crimes. Fraud is socially a lesser evil than murder; and after all — humanly speaking — much more easily got rid of. Thrones and even dynasties were in the melting pot between the reigns of Edward III and Henry VII ; so there were quite sufficient doubts and perplexities to satisfy the energies of any aspirant to royal honours — however militant he might be. Henry VII’s time was so far unpropitious that he was the natural butt of all the shafts of unscrupulous adventure. The first of these came in the person of Lambert Simnel, the son of a baker, who in 1486 set himself up as Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick — then a prisoner in the Tower — son of the murdered Duke of Clarence. It was manifestly a Yorkist plot, as he was supported by Margaret Duchess Dowager of Burgundy (sister of Edward IV) and others. With the assistance of the Lord–Deputy (the Earl of Kildare) he was crowned in Dublin as King Edward VI. The pretensions of Simnel were overthrown by the exhibition of the real Duke of Warwick, taken from prison for the purpose. The attempt would have been almost comic but that the effects were tragic. Simnel’s span of notoriety was only a year, the close of which was attended with heavy slaughter of his friends and mercenaries. He himself faded into the obscurity of the minor life of the King’s household to which he was contemptuously relegated. In fact the whole significance of the plot was that it was the first of a series of frauds consequent on the changes of political parties, and served as a baton d’essai for the more serious imposture of Perkin Warbeck some five years afterwards. It must, however, be borne in mind that Simnel was a pretender on his own account and not in any way a “pacemaker” for the later criminal; he was in the nature of an unconscious forerunner, but without any ostensible connection. Simnel went his way, leaving, in the words of the kingly murderer his uncle, the world free for his successor in fraud “to bustle in.”
The battle of Stoke, near Newark — the battle which saw the end of the hopes of Simnel and his upholders — was fought on 16 June, 1487. Five years afterwards Perkin Warbeck made his appearance in Cork as Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. The following facts regarding him and his life previous to 1492 may help to place the reader in a position to understand other events and to find causes through the natural gateway of effects.
To Jehan Werbecque (or Osbeck as he was called in Perkin’s “confession”), Controller of the town of Tournay in Picardy, and his wife, nee Katherine de Faro, was born in 1474, a son christened Pierrequin and later known as Perkin Warbeck. The Low Countries in the fifteenth century were essentially manufacturing and commercial, and, as all countries were at that period of necessity military, growing” youths were thus in touch at many points with commerce, industry and war. Jehan Werbecque’s family was of the better middle class, as witness his own position and employment; and so his son spent the earlier years of his life amid scenes and conditions conducive to ambitious dreams. He had an uncle John Stalyn of Ghent. A maternal aunt was married to Peter Flamme, Receiver of Tournay and also Dean of the Guild of Schelde Boatmen. A cousin, John Steinbeck, was an official of Antwerp.
In the fifteenth century Flanders was an important region in the manufacturing and commercial worlds. It was the centre of the cloth industry; and the coming and going of the material for the clothing of the world made prosperous the shipmen not only of its own waters but those of others. The ships of the preTudor navy were small affairs and of light draught suitable for river traffic, and be sure that the Schelde with its facility of access to the then British port of Calais, to Lille, to Brussels, to Bruges, to Tournai, Ghent, and Antwerp, was often itself a highway to the scenes of Continental and British wars.
About 1483 or 1484, on account of the Flemish War, Pierrequin left Tournay, proceeding to Antwerp, and to Middleburg, where he took service with a merchant, John Strewe, he being then a young boy of ten or twelve. His next move was to Portugal, whither he went with the wife of Sir Edward Brampton, an adherent of the House of York. A good deal of his early life is told in his own confession made whilst he was a prisoner in the Tower about 1497.
In Portugal he was for a year in the service of a Knight named Peter Vacz de Cogna, who, according to a statement in his confession, had only one eye. In the Confession he also states in a general way that with de Cogna he visited other countries. After this he was with a Breton merchant, Pregent Meno, of whom he states incidentally: “he made me learn English.” Pierrequin Werbecque must have been a precocious boy — if all his statements are true — for when he went to Ireland in 1491 with Pregent Meno he was only seventeen years of age, and there had been already crowded into his life a fair amount of the equipment for enterprise in the shape of experience, travel, languages, and so forth.
It is likely that, to some extent at all events, the imposture of Werbecque, or Warbeck, was forced on him in the first instance, and was not a free act on his own part. His suitability to the part he was about to play was not altogether his own doing. Nay, it is more than possible that his very blood aided in the deception. Edward IV is described as a handsome debonair young man, and Perkin Warbeck it is alleged, bore a marked likeness to him. Horace Walpole indeed in his Historic Doubts builds a good deal on this in his acceptance of his kingship. Edward was notoriously a man of evil life in the way of affairs of passion, and at all times the way of ill-doing has been made easy for a king. Any student of the period and of the race of Plantagenet may easily accept it as fact that the trend of likelihood if not of evidence is that Perkin Warbeck was a natural son of Edward IV. Three hundred years later the infamous British Royal Marriage Act made such difficulties or inconveniences as beset a king in the position of Edward IV unnecessary: but in the fifteenth century the usual way out of such messes was ultimately by the sword. Horace Walpole, who was a clever and learned man, was satisfied that the person who was known as Perkin Warbeck was in reality that Richard Duke of York who was supposed to have been murdered in the Tower in 1483 by Sir James Tyrrell, in furtherance of the ambitious schemes of his uncle. At any rate the people in Cork in 1491 insisted on receiving Perkin as of the House of York — at first as a son of the murdered Duke of Clarence. Warbeck took oath to the contrary before the Mayor of Cork; whereupon the populace averred that he was a natural son of Richard III. This, too, having been denied by the newcomer, it was stated that he was the son of the murdered Duke of York.
It cannot be denied that the Irish people were in this matter as unstable as they were swift in their judgments, so that their actions are really not of much account. Five years before they had received the adventurer Lambert Simnel as their king, and he had been crowned at Dublin. In any case the allegations of Warbeck’s supporters did not march with established facts of gynecology. The murdered Duke of York was born in 1472, and, as not twenty years elapsed between this period and Warbeck’s appearance in Ireland, there was not time in the ordinary process of nature, for father and son to have arrived at such a quality of manhood that the latter was able to appear as full grown. Even allowing for an unusual swiftness of growth common sense evidently rebelled at this, and in 1492 Perkin Warbeck was received in his final semblance of the Duke of York, himself younger son of Edward IV. Many things were possible at a period when the difficulties of voyage and travel made even small distances insuperable. At the end of the fifteenth century Ireland was still so far removed from England that even Warbeck’s Irish successes, emphasised though they were by the Earls of Desmond and Kildare and a numerous body of supporters, were unknown in England till considerably later. This is not strange if one will consider that not until centuries later was there a regular postal system, and that nearly two centuries later the Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale, who was a firm believer in witchcraft, would have condemned such a thing as telegraphy as an invention of the Devil.
In the course of a historical narrative like the present it must be borne in mind (amongst other things) that in the fifteenth century, men ripened more quickly than in the less strenuous and more luxurious atmosphere of our own day. Especially in the Tudor epoch physical gifts counted for far more than is now possible; and as early (and too often sudden) death was the general lot of those in high places, the span of working life was prolonged rather by beginning early than by finishing late. Even up to the time of the Napoleonic Wars, promotion was often won with a rapidity that would seem like an ambitious dream to young soldiers of today. Perkin Warbeck, born in 1474, was nineteen years of age in 1493, at which time the Earl of Kildare spoke of “this French lad,” yet even then he was fighting King Henry VII, the Harry Richmond who had overthrown at Bosworth the great and unscrupulous Richard III. It must also be remembered for a proper understanding of his venture, that Perkin Warbeck was strongly supported and advised with great knowledge and subtlety by some very resolute and influential persons. Amongst these, in addition to his Irish “Cousins” Kildare and Desmond, was Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV, who helped the young adventurer in his plot by “coaching” him up in the part which he was to play, to such an extent that, according to Lord Bacon, he was familiar with the features of his alleged family and relatives and even with the sort of questions likely to be asked in this connection. In fact he was, in theatrical parlance, not only properly equipped but “letter-perfect” in his part. Contemporary authority gives as an additional cause for this personal knowledge, that the original Jehan de Warbecque was a converted Jew, brought up in England, of whom Edward IV was the godfather. In any case it may in this age be accepted as a fact that there was between Edward IV and Perkin Warbeck so strong a likeness as to suggest a prima facie possibility, if not a probability, of paternity. Other possibilities crowd in to the support of such a guess till it is likely to achieve the dimensions of a belief. Even without any accuracy of historical detail there is quite sufficient presumption to justify guess-work on general lines. It were a comparatively easy task to follow the lead of Walpole and create a new “historic doubt” after his pattern, the argument of which would run thus:
After the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, Edward IV had but little to contend against. His powerful foes were all either dead or so utterly beaten as to be powerless for effective war. The Lancastrian hopes had disappeared with the death of Henry VI in the Tower. Margaret of Anjou (wife of Henry VI) defeated at Tewkesbury, was in prison. Warwick had been slain at Barnet, and so far as fighting was concerned, King Edward had a prolonged holiday. It was these years of peace — when the coming and going of even a king was unrecorded with that precision which marks historical accuracy — that made the period antecedent to Perkin’s birth. Perkin bore an unmistakable likeness to Edward IV. Not merely that resemblance which marks a family or a race but an individual likeness. Moreover the young manhood of the two ran on parallel lines. Edward was born in 1442, and in 1461, before he was nineteen, won the battle of Mortimer’s Cross which, with Towton, placed him on the throne. Perkin Warbeck at seventeen made his bid for royalty. It is hardly necessary to consider what is a manifest error in Perkin’s Confession — that he was only nine years old, not eleven, at the time of the murder of Edward V. Nineteen was young enough in all conscience to begin an intrigue for a crown; but if the Confession is to be accepted as gospel this would make him only seventeen at the time of his going to Ireland — a manifest impossibility. Any statement regarding one’s own birth is manifestly not to be relied on. At best such can only be an assertion minus the possibility of testing whence an error might come. Regarding his parentage, in case it may be alleged that there is no record of the wife of Jehan Warbecque having been in England, it may be allowed to recall a story which Alfred, Lord Tennyson used to say was amongst the hundred best stories. It ran thus :
A noble at the Court of Louis XIV was extremely like the King, who on its being pointed out to him sent for his double and asked him:
“Was your mother ever at Court?”
Bowing low, he replied:
“No, sire; but my father was!”
Of course Perkin Warbeck’s real adventures, in the sense of dangers, began after his claim to be the brother of Edward V was put forward. Henry VII was not slow in taking whatever steps might be necessary to protect his crown; there had been but short shrift for Lambert Simnel, and Perkin Warbeck was a much more dangerous aspirant. When Charles VIII invited him to Paris, after the war with France had broken out, Hemy besieged Boulogne and made a treaty under which Perkin Warbeck was dismissed from France. After making an attempt to capture Waterford, the adventurer transferred the scene of his endeavours from Ireland to Scotland which offered him greater possibilities for intrigue on account of the struggles between James IV and Henry VII. James, who finally found it necessary to hasten his departure, seemed to believe really in his pretensions, for he gave him in marriage a kinswoman of his own, Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly — who by the way was remarried no less than three times after Perkin Warbeck’s death. Through the influence of Henry VII, direct or indirect, Perkin had to leave Scotland as he had been previously forced from Burgundy and the Low Countries. Country after country having been closed to him, he made desperate efforts in Cornwall, where he captured St. Michael’s Mount, and in Devon, where he laid siege to Exeter. This however being raised by the Royal forces, he sought sanctuary in Beaulieu in the New Forest where, on promise of his life, he surrendered. He was sent to the Tower and well treated ; but on attempting to escape thence a year later, 1499, he was taken. He was hanged at Tyburn in the same year.
Pierrequin Warbecque’s enterprise was in any case a desperate one and bound to end tragically — unless, of course, he could succeed in establishing his (alleged) claim to the throne in law and then in supporting it at great odds. The latter would necessitate his vanquishing two desperate fighting men both of them devoid of fear or scruples. — Richard III and Henry VII. In any case he had the Houses of Lancaster, Plantagenet and Tudor against him and he fought with the rope round his neck.
An Act of Parliament, 1 Richard III, Cap. 15, made at Westminster on the 23 Jan., 1485, precluded all possibility — even if Warbeck should have satisfied the nation of his identity — of a legal claim to the throne, for it forbade any recognition of the offspring of Lady Elizabeth Grey to whom Edward IV was secretly married, in May, 1464, the issue of which marriage were Edward V and his brother, Richard. The act is short and is worth reading, if only for its quaint phraseology.
Cap XV. Item for certayn great causes and consideracions touchynge the suretye of the kynges noble persone as of this realme, by the advyce and assente of his lordes spirituall and temporal, and the commons in this present parliament assembled, and by the auctorite of the same. It is ordeined established and enacted, that all letters patentes, states confrymacions and actes of parlyament of anye castels seignowries, maners, landes, teneinentes, fermes, fee fermes, franchises, liberties, or other hereditamentes made at any tyme to Elizabeth late wyfe of syr John Gray Knight; and now late callinge her selfe queene of England, by what so ever name or names she be called in the same, shalbe from the fyrst day of May last past utterly voyd, adnulled and of no strengthe nor effecte in the lawe. And that no person or persons bee charged to our sayde soveraygne lord the Kynge, nor to the sayde Elyzabeth, of or for any issues, prifites, or revenues of any of the sayde seignowries, castelles, maners, landes, tenementes, fermes or other hereditamentes nor for any trespas or other intromittynge in the same, nor for anye by suretye by persone or persones to her or to her use — made by them before the sayde fyrst daie of May last passed, but shalbe therof agaynste the sayd Kynge and the sayde Elizabeth clerly discharged and acquyte forever.” 1
1 In the above memorandum no statement is made regarding Jane Shore, though it may be that she had much to do with Perkin Warbeck.
THE personality, nature and life of Sebastian, King of Portugal, lent themselves to the strange structure of events which followed his strenuous and somewhat eccentric and stormy life. He was born in 1554, and was the son of Prince John and his wife Juana, daughter of the Emperor Charles V. He succeeded his grandfather, John III, at the age of three. His long minority aided the special development of his character. The preceptor appointed to rule his youth was a Jesuit, Luiz–Goncalvoz de Camara. Not unnaturally his teacher used his position to further the religious aims and intrigues of his strenuous Order. Sebastian was the kind of youth who is beloved by his female relatives — quite apart from his being a King; and naturally he was treated by the women in a manner to further his waywardness. When he was fourteen years old he was crowned. From thence on he insisted on having his way in everything, and grew into a young manhood which was of the type beloved of an adventurous people. He was thus described : “He was a headstrong violent nature, of reckless courage, of boundless ambition founded on a deep religious feeling. At the time of his coronation he was called ‘Another Alexander.’ He loved all kinds of danger, and found a keen pleasure in going out in a tempest in a small boat and in actually running under the guns of his own forts where his commands were stringent that any vessel coming in shore should be fired on. He was a notable horseman and could steer his charger efficiently by the pressure of either knee — indeed he was of such muscular vigour that he could, by the mere stringency of the pressure of his knees, make a powerful horse tremble and sweat. He was a great swordsman, and quite fearless. ‘What is fear?’ he used to say. Restless by nature he hardly knew what it was to be tired.”
And yet this young man — warrior as he was, had a feminine cast of face; his features were symmetrically formed with just sufficient droop in the lower lip to give the characteristic ‘note’ of Austrian physiognomy. His complexion was as fine and transparent as a girl’s ; his eyes were clear and of blue; his hair of reddish gold. His height was medium, his figure fine; he was vigorous and active. He had an air of profound gravity and stern enthusiasm. Altogether he was, even without his Royal state, just such a young man as might stand for the idol of a young maid’s dream.
And yet he did not seem much of a lover. When, in 1576, he entered Spain to meet Philip II at Guadaloupe to ask the hand of the Infanta Isabella in marriage, he was described as “cold as a wooer as he was ardent as a warrior.” His eyes were so set on ambition that mere woman’s beauty did not seem to attract him. Events — even that event, the meeting — fostered his ambition. When he knelt to his host, the elder king kissed him and addressed him as “Your Majesty” the first time the great title had been used to a Portuguese king. The effect must have come but little later for at that meeting he kissed the hand of the old warrior, the Duke of Alva, and uncovered to him. His underlying pride, however, was shewn at the close of that very meeting, for he claimed equal rights in formality with the Spanish king; and there was a danger that the visit of ceremony might end worse than it began. Neither king would enter the carriage in which they were to proceed together, until the host suggested that as there were two doors they should enter at the same time.
Sebastian’s religious fervour and military ambition became one when he conceived the idea of renewing the Crusades ; he would recover the Holy Land from the dominion of the Paynim and become himself master of Morocco in the doing of it. With the latter object in his immediate view, he made in 1574, against the wise counsels of Queen Catherine, a sortie de reconnaissance of the African coast; but without any result — except the fixing of his resolution to proceed. In 1578 his scheme was complete. He would listen to no warning or counsel on the subject even from the Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, or the Duke of Nassau. He seemed to foresee the realization of his dreams, and would forego nothing. He gathered an army of some 18,000 men (of which less than 2,000 were horsemen) and about a dozen cannon. The preparation was made with great splendour — a sort of forerunner of the Great Armada. It seemed to be, as in the case of the projected invasion of England ten years later by Spain, a case of “counting the chickens before they were hatched.”
Some indication of the number of adventurers and camp followers accompanying the army is given by the fact that the 800 craft ordained for the invasion of Morocco carried in all some 24,000 persons, inclusive of the fighting men. The paraphernalia and officials of victory comprised amongst many other luxuries: lists for jousts, a crown ready for the new King of Morocco to put on, and poets with completed poems celebrating victory.
At this time Morocco was entering on the throes of civil war. Muley Abd-el-Mulek, the reigning Sultan, was opposed by his nephew, Mohammed, and to aid the latter, who promised to bring in 400 horsemen, was the immediate object of Sebastian. But the fiery young King of Portugal had undertaken more than he was able to perform. Abd-el-Mulek opposed his 18,000 Portuguese with 55,000 Moors, (of whom 36,000 were horsemen) and with three times his number of cannon. The young Crusader’s generalship was distinctly defective; he was a fine fighting man, but a poor commander. Instead of attacking at once on his arrival and so putting the zeal of his own troops and the discouragement of the enemy to the best advantage, he wasted nearly a week in hunting parties and ineffectual manoeuvring. When finally issue was joined, Abd-el-Mulek, though he was actually dying, surrounded the Portuguese forces and cut them to pieces. Sebastian, though he fought like a lion, and had three horses killed under him, was hopelessly beaten. There was an attendant piece of the grimmest comedy on record. The Sultan died during the battle, but he was a stern old warrior, and as he fell back in his litter he put his finger on his lip to order with his last movement that his death should be kept secret for the time being. The officer beside him closed the curtains and went on with the fight, pretending to take orders from the dead man and to transmit them to the captains.
The fate of Sebastian was sealed in that battle. Whether he lived or died, he disappeared on 5 August, 1578. One story was that after the battle of Alca9er-el-Kebir, his body stripped and showing seven wounds was found in a heap of the slain; that it was taken to Fez and there buried; but was afterwards removed to Europe and found resting place in the Convent of Belen. Another story was that after a brilliant charge on his enemies he was taken in, but having been rescued by Lui de Brito he escaped unpursued. Certainly no one seemed to have seen the King killed, and it was strange that no part of his clothing or accoutrements was ever found. These were of great splendour, beauty and worth, and must have been easily traceable. There was a rumour that on the night following the battle some fugitives, amongst whom was one of commanding distinction, sought refuge at Arzilla.
Alcacer-el-Kebir was known as the “Battle of the three Kings.” All the principals engaged in it perished. Sebastian was killed or disappeared. Abd-el-Mulek died as we have seen, and Mohammed was drowned in trying to cross the river.
The dubiety of Sebastian’s death gave rise in after years to several impostures.
The first began six years after Sebastian’s successor — his uncle, Cardinal Henry — was placed on the throne. The impostor was known as the “King of Penamacor.” The son of a potter at Alcobaca, he established himself at Albuquerque, within the Spanish borders, somewhat to the north of Badajos, and there gave himself out as “a survivor of the African Campaign.” As usual the public went a little further and said openly that he was the missing Don Sebastian. At first he denied the soft impeachment, but later on the temptation became too great for him and he accepted it and set up in
Penamacor, where he became known as the “King of Penamacor.” He was arrested and paraded through Lisbon, bareheaded, as if to let the public see that he in no way resembled the personality of Sebastian. He was sent to the galleys for life. But he must have escaped, for later on he appeared in Paris as Silvio Pellico, Duke of Normandy, and was accepted as such in many of the salons in the exclusive Faubourg St. Germain.
The second personator of Sebastian was one Matheus Alvares, who having failed to become a monk, a year later imitated the first impostor, and in 1585 set up a hermitage at Ericeira. He bore some resemblance to the late king in build, and in the strength of this he boldly gave himself out as “King Sebastian” and set out for Lisbon. But he was arrested by the way and entered as a prisoner. He was tried and executed with frightful accessories to the execution.
The third artist in this imposture appeared in 1594. He was a Spaniard from Madrigal in Old Castile — a cook, sixty years old (Sebastian would have been just forty if he had lived). When arrested he was given but short shrift and shared the same ghastly fate as his predecessor.
The fourth, and last, imposture was more serious. This time the personator began in Venice in 1598, calling himself “Knight of the Cross.” As twenty years had now elapsed since the disappearance of Sebastian, he would have changed much in appearance, so in one respect the personator had less to contend against. Moreover the scene of endeavour was this time laid in Venice, a place even more widely removed in the sixteenth century from Lisbon by circumstances than by geographical position. Again witnesses who could give testimony to the individuality of the missing King of twenty years ago were few and far between. But on the other hand the new impostor had new difficulties to contend against. Henry, the Cardinal, had only occupied the Portuguese throne two years, for in 1580 Philip II of Spain had united the two crowns, and had held the dual monarchy for eighteen years. He was a very different antagonist from any one that might be of purely Portuguese origin.
In the eyes of many of the people — like all the Latin races naturally superstitious — one circumstance powerfully upheld the impostor’s claim. So long ago as 1587, Don John de Castro had made a seemingly prophetic statement that Sebastian was alive and would manifest himself in due time. His utterance was, like most such prophecies of the kind, “conducive to its own fulfilment ;” there were many — and some of them powerful — who were willing at the start to back up any initiator of such a claim. In his time Sebastian had been used, so far as it was possible to use a man of his temperament and position, by the intriguers of the Catholic Church, and the present occasion lent itself to their still-existent aims. Rome was very powerful four centuries ago, and its legions of adherents bound in many ties, were scattered throughout the known world. Be sure these could and would aid in any movement or intrigue which could be useful to the Church.
“The Knight of the Cross” — who insinuated, though he did not state so, that he was a Royal person was arrested on the showing of the Spanish Ambassador. He was a born liar, with all the readiness which the carrying out of such an adventure as he had planned requires. Not only was he well posted in known facts, but he seemed to be actually proof against cross-examination. The story he told was that after the battle of Alcacer-el-Kebir he with some others, had sought temporary refuge in Arzilla and in trying to make his way from there to the East Indies, he had got to “Prester John’s” land — the semi-fabled Ethiopia of those days. From thence he had been turned back, and had, after many adventures and much wandering — in the course of which he had been bought and sold a dozen times or more, found his way, alone, to Venice. Amongst other statements he alleged that Sebastian’s confessor had already recognised and acknowledged him; but he was doubtless ignorant, when he made the statement, that Padre Mauricio, Don Sebastian’s confessor, fell with his king in 1578. Two things, one, a positive inference and the other negative, told against him. He only knew of such matters as had been made public in depositions, and he did not know Portuguese. The result of his first trial was that he was sent to prison for two years.
But those two years of prison improved his case immensely. In that time he learned the Portuguese language and many facts of history. One of the first to believe — or to allege belief, in his story, Fray Estevan de Sampayo, a Dominican monk, was in 1599, sent by the Venetian authorities to Portugal to obtain an accredited description of the personal marks of King Sebastian. He returned within a year with a list of sixteen personal marks — attested by an Apostolic notary. Strange to say the prisoner exhibited every one of them — a complete agreement which in itself gave rise to the new suspicion that the list had been made out by, or on behalf of, the prisoner. The proof however was accepted — for the time; and he was released on the 28th of July, 1600 — but with the imperative, humiliating proviso that he was to quit Venice within four and twenty hours under penalty of being sent to the galleys. A number of his supporters, who met him before he went, found that he had in reality no sort of resemblance to Sebastian. Don John de Castro, who was amongst them, said that a great change in Sebastian seemed to have taken place. (He had prophesied and adhered to his prophecy. ) He now described him as a man of medium height and powerful frame, with hair and beard of black or dark brown, and said he had completely lost his beauty. “What has become of my fairness?” the swarthy exprisoner used to say. He had eyes of uncertain colour, not large but sparkling; high cheek bones; long nose; thin lips with the “Hapsburg droop” in the lower one. He was short from the waist up. ( Sebastian’s doublet would fit no other person.) His right leg and arm were longer than the left, the legs being slightly bowed like Sebastian’s. He had small feet with extraordinarily high insteps; and large hands. “In fine,” Don John summed up illogically, “he is the self-same Sebastian — except for such differences as resulted from years and labours.” Some other particulars he added which are in no way helpful to a conclusion.
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