In The World of Richard III, Kristie Dean takes readers to more than 80 sites associated with the last Plantagenet king – resplendent castles, towering cathedrals, manor homes and chapels – each brought to life with photos and floor plans. Highlights include Richard’s adopted childhood home, Middleham Castle, and Tewkesbury Abbey, where Richard helped his brother secure his throne.
Here, writing for History Extra, Dean explores seven of the most significant sites in Richard’s life…
Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire was once a main residence of the dukes of York. Today a few crumbled pieces of masonry and a grassy mound are all that remain of the once grand home of the York family. On 2 October 1452, Richard took his first breath in a chamber inside the stone keep. The 11th child and fourth surviving son of his parents, Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, Richard entered a world that was full of conflict.
Most of his formative years were likely spent here, shielded from the turmoil of the country. The collegiate church of St Mary the Virgin and All Saints nearby, which his family had founded, also played a part in Richard’s history. One particularly momentous occasion was July 1476, when he escorted the bodies of his late father and brother Edmund of Rutland to the church after his brother, Edward IV, organised for them to be moved from the priory of St John in Pontefract. The bodies were reinterred in an elaborate funeral, and afterwards a grand feast was held both inside and outside Fotheringhay Castle.
Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire
Richard was placed in the household of the Earl of Warwick to complete his education. Because Middleham Castle was an important centre for the earl, Richard would have spent much time in this formidable stone fortress. Here, Richard fostered friendships with the nobles who would later die fighting for him.
Following the death of the Earl of Warwick at Barnet and Richard’s subsequent marriage to his daughter, Anne Neville, Middleham became one of Richard’s most important holdings. It was here that he entertained Nicholas von Poppelau, who later described Richard as having a “great heart”. Richard and Anne stayed at Middleham often, and it was here in the ‘prince’s tower’ that his only legitimate son, Edward, was born.
As Richard and Anne visited other holdings, Edward was left in the ‘nursee’ under the care of his nurse. Legend holds that it was here that Edward also died, leaving Richard bereft of his son and heir.
Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire
A small market town on the River Ouse, Stony Stratford was the scene of one of the most important events in Richard’s life. After learning of his brother’s death, Richard headed to intercept Edward V’s party on its way from Ludlow towards London.
On 29 April, Richard and Buckingham met the young king’s maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, at Northampton. The men spent the evening in pleasant conversation, but the following morning, Woodville was arrested. Richard then rushed towards Stony Stratford, where the king was staying. After entering the village, Richard arrested the king’s half-brother, Richard Grey, and the king’s chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan.
Treating the young king with all deference, he explained that these men had been involved in a plot to harm Richard. Likely feeling he had little choice, Edward V yielded to his uncle’s authority. With this action, Richard sparked a chain of events that would ultimately result in his coronation.
Several locations in London were significant in Richard’s life, but probably none more so than Westminster Abbey, where his coronation occurred. On the morning of 6 July 1483, Richard left Westminster Hall in a regal procession towards the abbey. The entire route from Westminster Hall to the west door of the abbey had been covered in ray cloth.
Richard walked barefoot under a canopy of green and red silk brocade interwoven with gold threads, with the Duke of Buckingham carrying his train. Anne’s procession followed the king’s, with Margaret Beaufort carrying Anne’s train. Inside the abbey, St Edward’s chair had been prepared for the king, while another richly decorated chair had been set up for his queen. Following the coronation ceremony, which was the same one that had been used for the kings of England for centuries, a lavish celebratory feast was held in Westminster Hall.
During his time in the north, Richard had often intervened for York’s citizens, both in disputes with powerful nobles and even with Edward IV when the king threatened to revoke the city’s liberties. As king, Richard began plans to fund a chantry at York Minster, which was to be served by an additional 100 chaplains to the ones already at the Minster. They would say prayers for him and the members of his family.
York Minster was also the site of another important event in Richard’s life. In September 1483, Richard and Anne travelled to York for the investiture of their son as Prince of Wales. Following mass at York Minster, the ceremonies moved to the Archbishop’s Palace, where Edward was knighted and invested as Prince of Wales. Following Richard’s death at the battle of Bosworth, York’s public records illustrate its dismay: “King Richard… piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city”.
While many towns and cities were already submitting to the rule of the new king, Henry Tudor, York was willing to show its affection for its former king.
Perched on a narrow sandstone ridge, Nottingham Castle was an immense fortification often visited by royalty. Richard and Anne were at Nottingham when they received the tragic news that their son had died. Their grief was so intense that the Croyland chronicler remarked on it.
However, as king, Richard could not let his personal sorrow keep him from ruling the country. Worried about a possible uprising, Richard decided to pursue peace with Scotland. A Scottish delegation met with Richard and his men in the Great Hall, and a treaty, which included a promise of marriage between James IV and Anne de la Pole, was arranged.
Richard’s next visit to Nottingham Castle was in June 1485, when he made Nottingham his base: the impregnable castle was a central location from where he could counter any invasion. At the end of July, Richard left Nottingham for Leicester.
In 1483, near the start of his reign, Richard stayed in Leicester Castle. While here he wrote a letter to the French king, Louis, to enquire about what protection France would offer English merchants. This visit was full of promise and hope for the future, since Richard had every reason to believe that his reign would be long and prosperous. In October, Richard stopped in Leicester for a few days to await the men he had summoned to help put down Buckingham’s rebellion.
Richard arrived in Leicester on what would be his final visit in 1485 – on 20 August, as the sun began to set. The next morning he left the Blue Boar Inn to meet Tudor’s troops on the battlefield, arriving on the morning on 22 August. After the battle of Bosworth, which took place near the border with Warwickshire, Richard’s body was slung across a horse and brought back to Leicester to be put on display for several days before being buried by the Greyfriars in their priory church.
Visiting each location associated with Richard III brings to life his short reign, and grants valuable insight. Between his birth at Fotheringhay and his burial in the priory church of the Greyfriars, Richard lived a life that continues today to intrigue.
The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean is published by Amberley, 2015. To find out more, or to purchase the book, click here.