The Last Man had appeared in January, 1826, and for the remainder of the year, Mary worked on shorter writing projects (stories, poems) and had great fun with her dear friend Jane Williams, who, as you will recall, was the widow of Edward Williams, who had drowned alongside Bysshe back in the summer of 1822. Mary greatly enjoyed Jane’s company. Trusted her implicitly. A mistake—as we’ll see.
As 1827 commenced, she had settled on Perkin Warbeck (?1475–1499) as the subject for her next novel. Warbeck, a figure now largely unknown to the general public, caught Mary’s fancy in the mid-1820s, and she read all she could about this murky historical figure.
In her scholarly edition of Perkin Warbeck, editor Doucent Devin Fischer tells us a bit about the historical Warbeck, a young man who claimed to be one of the two princes held in the Tower of London and murdered by order of Richard III. Warbeck claimed that he’d escaped. Later, he raised supporters, invaded England more than once, hoping to overthrow Henry VII, who, he claimed, was not the legitimate heir to the throne. He, Warbeck, was.
But his final invasion floundered; he was captured; and, on November 23, 1499, authorities transported him to Tyburn, near the Marble Arch in contemporary London, where they summarily hanged him.
In her Preface to the novel, Mary confesses that she believed Warbeck’s claim: It is not singular, she wrote, that I should entertain a belief that Perkin was, in reality, the lost Duke of York. She also says that she will not be sticking to rigorous fact—she will tell the story, try to make it exciting.
But early in 1827 family and personal issues emerged, issues that would slow her progress on the novel—that would break her heart. Yet again.