In this novel, Mary Shelley returned to The Last Man's message that an idealistic political system is impossible without an improvement in human nature. This historical novel, influenced by those of Sir Walter Scott, fictionalises the exploits of Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of King Henry VII who claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the second son of King Edward IV. Shelley believed that Warbeck really was Richard and had escaped from the Tower of London. She endows his character with elements of Percy Shelley, portraying him sympathetically as "an angelic essence, incapable of wound", who is led by his sensibility onto the political stage. She seems to have identified herself with Richard's wife, Lady Katherine Gordon, who survives after her husband's death by compromising with his political enemies. Lady Gordon stands for the values of friendship, domesticity and equality; through her, Mary Shelley offers a female alternative to the masculine power politics that destroy Richard, as well as the typical historical narrative which only relates those events. She also creates a strong female character in the round-faced, half-Moor, half-Fleming, Monina de Faro, Richard's adoptive sister, whom Robin Clifford demands as his wife. Monina is a versatile young lady who acts as decoy, messenger, and military organizer, in addition to her close friendship with both Richard and Katherine. Robin Clifford epitomizes mixed loyalties—an old friend descended from Lancastrians, who is constantly divided against himself. Stephen Frion, secretary to Henry VII and betrayed by him, is an elder foil, whose loyalties shift back and forth dependent on Henry's grace, whereas Clifford's wavering is based on genuine emotion.
The book opens immediately after the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485 (a scanning error in the Dodo Press 2000 edition gives the date as 1415). Three knights are fleeing from the battle, Sir Henry Stafford, Lord Lovel, and Edmund Plantagenet, although the latter two are not identified until they split from Stafford and arrive at a church. All three are members of the defeated Yorkist contingency. With the aid of John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln, Lovel and Edmund are involved in spiriting away Richard, Duke of York into the hands of Mynheer Jahn Warbeck, a Flemish moneylender who had previously housed him and pretended that Richard was his deceased son, Perkin Warbeck. This is not considered safe enough for the youth at the present time, so it is arranged for Richard to go with Madeline de Faro, Warbeck's 25-year-old sister. Madeline is married to mariner Hernan de Faro, and the two have a daughter named Monina, and Richard and Monina develop a strong sibling bond, Richard aware he could never marry a commoner. It is she who rescues and nurses him back to health after his first taste of battle in the Granada War.
^Spark, 201; Lynch, 135-41. Mary Shelley consulted Scott while writing the book.
^"It is not singular that I should entertain a belief that Perkin was, in reality, the lost Duke of York ... no person who has at all studied the subject but arrives at the same conclusion." Mary Shelley, Preface to Perkin Warbeck, vi–vii, quoted in Bunnell, 131.
Bennett, Betty T. "The Political Philosophy of Mary Shelley's Historical novels: Valperga and Perkin Warbeck". The Evidence of the Imagination. Eds. Donald H. Reiman, Michael C. Jaye, and Betty T. Bennett. New York: New York University Press, 1978.
Bunnell, Charlene E. "All the World's a Stage": Dramatic Sensibility in Mary Shelley's Novels. New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN0-415-93863-5.
Garbin, Lidia. "Mary Shelley and Walter Scott: The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck and the Historical Novel". Mary Shelley's Fiction: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Eds. Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Nora Crook. New York: Macmillan; St. Martin's, 2000.
Hopkins, Lisa. "The Self and the Monstrous". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein": Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Eds. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
Lynch, Deidre. "Historical novelist". The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN0-521-00770-4.
Sites, Melissa. "Chivalry and Utopian Domesticity in Mary Shelley's The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck". European Romantic Review 16.5 (2005): 525-43.
Wake, Ann M Frank. "Women in the Active Voice: Recovering Female History in Mary Shelley's Valperga and Perkin Warbeck". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein". Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Ed. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997. ISBN0-8386-3684-5.