Five places Richard III may have wanted to be buried (and none of them are Leicester)

Richard III may have wished to be buried in Middleham, Northamptonshire, London, York or County Durham, leading historian Michael Hicks has said.

This article was first published in May 2014

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Speaking exclusively to History Extra, Hicks said that at one time or another, the last Plantagenet king envisaged being buried at at least five different locations.

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Hicks, who is head of history at the University of Winchester, said: “Death was ever-present in the Middle Ages, and people prepared for it at much younger ages than they do today.

“Determining what happened to their possessions was a factor, but it was more important to ensure salvation and to mitigate sufferings in purgatory after death.

“Richard III died at the age of 32. He drafted wills – none of which now survive – and planned his death on several occasions. Each will would have succeeded the previous one.

“Richard died a traitor, with all his possessions seized by the crown. He died intestate [as though without making a formal will]; therefore we do not know for sure where he wanted to be buried. But I believe there are a number of possible places.”

The result of a judicial review over where the remains of Richard III should be buried is expected this month. The judicial review will examine the justice secretary’s decision to authorise the exhumation and reinterment of the monarch’s remains in Leicester.

It has been brought by a group of Richard III’s distant relatives, the Plantagenet Alliance Limited, who are campaigning to see the former king reburied in York.

Here, Hicks explores five sites Richard may have wished to have been buried:

Fotheringhay College

Where? The mausoleum of the House of York, Northamptonshire

Why? Richard was born at Fotheringhay, and I think the presumption must have once been that he would be buried at the family mausoleum at Fotheringhay College. It was founded by the Dukes of York, and contains memorials to many of the members of the House of York.

There, in 1476, Richard presided as chief mourner at the reburial of his father, Richard Duke of York, and elder brother, Edmund Earl of Rutland, both slain by the Lancastrians in 1460 at the battle of Wakefield. [They were previously buried at Pontefract].

I think, until he had his own family and mausoleum, Fotheringhay was the most likely place Richard would have been buried.

Richard also helped to endow St George’s Chapel Windsor, which his eldest brother Edward IV planned to be his own mausoleum. Edward was indeed buried there. He allotted space within it to at least two trusted Yorkists, Lords Hastings and Ferrers: perhaps Richard planned to join them As king, Richard  moved Henry VI there from Chertsey. Perhaps he expected to make this the new royal mausoleum.

However, he later became dynastic, marrying Anne Neville and having at least one child, and his burial place of choice probably changed.

It’s also worth noting that the other three family burial places of Richard and his wife, Anne Neville, available to him – Warwick College, Tewkesbury Abbey and Bisham Priory – were located too far away from where Richard lived to be viable options. They did not fit in with his role as ‘lord of the north’.

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Middleham parish church and Barnard Castle chapel

Where? North Yorkshire and County Durham respectively

Why? In 1478, Richard decided to found two collegiate churches of dean, canons and choristers, in the north: at Middleham parish church and the chapel in Barnard Castle.

It was logical for Richard to establish his own mausoleum. Therefore, he gained permission in 1478 to start endowing these churches.

Richard gave Middleham parish church substantial estates, and aimed to found and incorporate a college there for a dean and six secular priests. He assembled some building materials to extend the east end and add living accommodation, but had not got very far when he died. St Alkelda’s Church at Middleham survives.

Perhaps he meant Middleham to become the burial place for his family, but more probably he had such plans for the chapel in Barnard Castle – its foundation was to be much bigger and grander, for a dean and twelve priests. Nothing of it now remains.

However, when Richard became king, both Middleham and Barnard were rendered out of date – neither were grand enough for a king.

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York Minster

Where? York, North Yorkshire

Why? As Duke of Gloucester, Richard made himself ‘Lord of the North’. When Richard became king in 1483, he celebrated especially at York, where his son was invested as Prince of Wales.

Richard founded a chantry at York Minster of 100 priests, to pray for the good of his soul and those of his family.
One hundred priests was an unheard of quantity – the wages would have been about £1,000 a year, and the plan required a £25,000 capital investment. This was an enormous investment: about a third of the income of the English crown at the time. This was a bigger endowment than for any other medieval chapel.

We know that some clergy were appointed and paid, and celebrated mass at existing chapels in the minster. Materials were assembled to extend the minster, and to establish living accommodation, but we know nothing of the plans that were dropped after Richard’s death.

Professor Barrie Dobson suggested that York Minster was to be Richard’s sepulchre. This is unproven but, given the evidence, perfectly feasible.

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Westminster Abbey

Where? Westminster, London

Why? Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, died at Westminster in March 1485, and was buried with all the honours due to a queen at Westminster Abbey by the door to Edward the Confessor’s chapel.

It could have been that Richard planned to join her there – it was common to be buried with your wife. But only four months later – in August 1485 – Richard himself was dead. He therefore had no time to construct a splendid tomb for Anne, and perhaps for himself too.

The problem with Westminster Abbey, however, was that there was little space – this was why Henry VII added his massive Lady Chapel at the east end. And while we might argue that Richard wanted to be buried at Westminster with his queen, there is some evidence that he tried to replace her before she died.

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And why might Richard not have wanted to be buried at Leicester?

Leicester is home to the mausoleum of the House of Lancaster – Richard’s enemy – so it’s very unlikely he would have wanted to be buried there.

But history happened, and he was killed in battle in Leicester. People who died in battle didn’t have any say in where they ended up [being buried].

Prof Hicks last month raised doubts about whether the skeleton discovered in Leicester is in fact that of Richard III. Click here to read the article.

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