Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of Richard III’s ‘lost chapel’ in Towton, north Yorkshire.


While filming new archaeology television series Medieval Dead, due to air on Yesterday later this month, a team uncovered the structural remains of a building.

The building is believed to be Richard III’s chapel, designed to commemorate the victory of the House of York in the 1461 battle of Towton.

Richard was killed at the battle of Bosworth before the completion of the chapel, which consequently fell into decline and by the late 1500s disappeared altogether.

Until now, the location of the chapel has remained hidden.

More like this

Lead archaeologist Tim Sutherland, from the University of York, told historyextra: “We have found evidence of the structural remains of a medieval building. We have found worked stone, as well as lead and glass from the windows.

“This is ongoing, but we have proved the chapel exists and we have found the archaeology to back it.”

Explaining the background of the ‘lost chapel’, Sutherland said Richard III’s predecessor and brother, Edward IV, had hoped to build a memorial to mark the Yorkist victory in the battle of Towton.

“Edward planned to build a grand memorial chapel where people could pray for the dead,” Sutherland said.

“When he died in 1483 his brother, Richard III, took the throne, and one of the first things he did was to tie up Edward’s loose ends. One of those, of course, was to build a commemorative chantry chapel.

“Richard starts to build one on the battlefield at Towton, but when it was almost finished he was killed at Bosworth.

“It was obviously unpopular among the Lancastrian-supporting Tudors who followed, so the chapel fell into decline and eventually Towton Hall was put up in the vicinity.

“But no one knows exactly where the chapel was. Since 1997 I have been looking for evidence of it in all of the places it is alleged to be, but could find nothing. We were running out of potential sites.

“But while filming Medieval Dead we narrowed it down to a small area, the one place left it could be.

“Following the excavation we called upon a University of York expert in medieval stonemasonry, who concluded that what we’ve found is evidence of a late 15th-century high-status religious structure.

“This date ties in perfectly with Richard’s chapel. In future we would like to carry out further work to find out how big and how grand it really was.”

The battle of Towton is said to be the bloodiest clash on English soil.

Fought between the Lancastrians and Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses, the battle was a victory for the House of York and resulted in Edward, Earl of March being crowned Edward IV.

The clash heralded a new dynasty - one that Edward hoped to commemorate with a chapel.

Medieval Dead airs on Yesterday on Monday 21 October. The programme will follow Sutherland and colleagues Malin Holst and Simon Richardson as they use radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis and the latest DNA profiling to shed new light on the medieval world.

The series will see the team try to identify where the hidden dead of Agincourt are buried; solve the mystery of an unidentified skeleton found at Tadcaster Castle, and reveal how medieval society coped with disease.

Jeremy Freeston, Medieval Dead writer, producer and director, told historyextra: “The idea for the series came from my experience over the years filming in skeleton stores all over the world, from big storage places in London to rented apartments in residential tenements in Russia.

“I always wondered why they kept all these long shoeboxes full of human remains – now the science is genuinely enabling archaeologists and researchers to examine them in completely new ways.”

This article was first published at History Extra in October 2013.


If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to the print edition of BBC History Magazine? Alternatively, subscribe to the magazine digitally – on iPad and iPhone, Kindle and Kindle Fire, Google Play and Zinio.