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The church of St Martin-cum-Gregory

IMG_20191126_122508If you go to York and enter Micklegate Bar heading towards the City Centre, you will see a wonderful medieval gem on your right, the church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, of which Richard III was patron (below left). Its name is due to the fact that the present church is the result of two different churches’ fusion, St Martin and St Gregory. In the Middle Ages, York was a city with many churches but, at some point, especially after the Great Plague, the population was slashed and, as a consequence, many of them became redundant; St Gregory on Burton Lane was one of them. In addition to the reduction of the population, after the Reformation, St Martin was scheduled for closure but in 1585 it was decided to knock down St Gregory and to merge the two parishes. The nave of St Martin-cum-Gregory church was built in the 13th century while the side aisles were possibly added at the beginning of the 14th century, the chancel in the 15th century.IMG_20191126_123143

In 1565, the Lord Mayor had given 100 marks to buy three bells. The original steeple had to be removed as it was dangerous and it was rebuilt in 1677. Three years later, a clock and a dial were added. Due to the fact that the tower was made of bricks, the result is a strange combination of different styles. The upper part of the tower was added in the 19th century.

In 1828, the church-wardens and parishioners requested that the butter market, built for the second time in 1778, (the first one dating back to medieval times, had been blown away) be demolished and (sadly) this request was granted. The excuse was that for years no butter had been there and that the place had become an assembly point for riotous people. It had been used to view, search, measure, mark and seal the butter, that afterwards was sold elsewhere, even in London. The market was held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a place that today we would have greatly appreciated visiting.IMG_20191126_123138

St Martin-cum-Gregory is famous for its wonderful medieval stained glass and it is surrounded by a graveyard. The roof in the nave was panelled with beautiful sculptured bosses located at the angles of the intersections. In the west end of the steeple it is possible to see the remnants of a Roman family funereal monument.

Recently, the church, belonging to the parish of Micklegate along with Holy Trinity of Micklegate (to distinguish it from Holy Trinity in Goodramgate and the Methodist Church in Monk Gate) and the other parish church of St Mary Bishophill Junior, became surplus to needs and were closed.

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In 2008, due to the beauty of its stained glass, it was reopened as the Stained Glass Centre. Many workshops take place there in summer and currently there is a plan to open the church to the public so it can be visited and appreciated again all the year round. This plan was set up in the hope of giving Micklegate the role it had had before, that of being one of the most interesting and visited areas in York.

 

The Symbolism of the Wild Boar

For many people, seeing a picture of a boar means just seeing a wild animal or a very good meat to eat but for Ricardians it is totally different. The white boar is the emblem of King Richard III, who chose it at some point after he became Duke of Gloucester, when he was able to retain men and array troops. This happened when he was 17, so it is plausible that the choice was made around 1469. What inspired his choice is hard to say. There are many theories around this subject including the word “boar” in itself. In medieval times, the term “boar was spelt “bore” and there is a theory that it could be the anagram of “ebor”, the Roman name of the City of York. It is arguable but as a symbol, what does the boar represent? My personal curiosity pushed me to investigate further and what I have discovered is incredibly fascinating.

The symbolism of the boar changes depending on cultures and countries but many characteristics are common to them and unchanged in time. The boar is an animal that fights till its last breath when hunted, especially if she is a mother. Boars never give up, even if the enemy is clearly more powerful than they are. Fearless and hard to kill, they challenge predators and humans who hunt them. Because of this characteristic, they represent bravery, command, control and fighting spirit. As the meat of the boar is of very high quality, they also represent gatherings and generosity but abundance, courage, stubbornness and power too. It is interesting that the remains of boars have been found in tribal leaders’ burial places to symbolize heroes and warriors.

Many warriors chose the boar as their emblem, especially Anglo-Saxons and Norse leaders. For these cultures and especially in Beowulf, the boar represented ferocity in battle and loyalty to the king. It is possible that the story of Beowulf inspired Richard to choose the boar and his motto to express loyalty to his brother, Edward. Beowulf himself went into battle with a boar-head standard as the symbol of his power as a leader and as a sign of courage.

In Celtic and Arthurian myths, the boar is again the main character in many stories about boar hunting. Twch Trywth was a king who turned into a wild boar. King Arthur started chasing him across the Celtic lands but he went missing into the sea. For this reason, in a Welsh legend, the boar is seen as the antagonist of Arthur himself. Celts also consider the boar as a symbol of the marriage bed because they are believed to bring fertility and to represent virility and great sexual power, in this case a night of love and passion that led to pregnancy. As they protect their offspring to the death, they symbolize good mothering and defenders of honour, righteousness and justice. Celts also thought that the boar was a holy, mystical and mysterious creature and Druids associated him with the incarnation of spiritual power. Its head represents good health and incredible strength. Their flesh is the food of gods and warriors and it is a sacrificial animal. Many are the tales about this aspect of the boar. In the Philippines, eating boar’s meat means replenishment of life.

In Northern mythology, it is said that a wild boar was sacrificed to Freya, the goddess of earth and fertility. The sacrifice took place in midwinter so it is likely that the boar represented the sun and the sacrifice, the rebirth of the sun. Being a symbol of truth, it had a role in the swearing of sacred oaths. On Yule Eve, people put their hands on the boar to swear oaths to the king. After this, it was sacrificed to Freya and its flesh eaten to absorb its power. Today, for Yule Eve, people cook bread in the shape of a boar.

In Indian mythology, the boar is once again seen as the symbol of life and fertility but also as a saviour. Brahmin Vishnu saved the earth in the form of a wild boar. The demon, Hiranyaksha, the enemy of the gods, had sunk the earth into the ocean . The wild boar, Varaha, killed the demon and lifted the earth from the water with his tusks.

Indian tribes see the boar as an example of bravery, honesty, self-confidence and the ability to face problems. They also consider him as an emblem of assertiveness and confrontation, a way to face and overcome fears.

Many crests have the boar as a symbol. Apart from Richard III (the best known leader who adopted the boar as his own symbol) a boar’s head appears in the crest of the clan Mackinnon.

Boars are social animals but they don’t trust strangers. All their actions aim at success and they pursue their goal even at the cost of their life. Notwithstanding their poor eyesight, they have a powerful sense of smell and hearing. The symbology of this is that we should look beneath the surface at all those things that can trouble us and push ourselves to uncover the truth hidden by lies.

 

 

Hygiene in Medieval Times

Have you ever asked yourself how people washed and perfume themselves in Medieval time? And what about the smart and noble Plantagenets? Was there a difference between rich and poor people? You will be surprised to discover that Mediaeval people were cleaner than we can imagine and they smelled good.

As you can imagine, hygienic habits differs from peasants to royals even though every class used to bathe and clean clothes. Of course, peasants and poor people in general, were at the lower level of hygiene due to several reasons, first of all status and income. They were not so rich to afford the cost of fuel to boil water or at least, to warm it as it was used to cook and staying warm. However, they washed themselves in some way using cold water or damp cloths. In summer, streams and river, made the difference. In order to avoid waste of hot water, they used to have a bath every couple of weeks following a sort of criteria. As the bath tub was filled, the head of the family had a bath at first followed by all the male relatives in order of age. After that, women could have a bath starting with the oldest. Babies came at last. It is not difficult to imagine that at that point, water was so murky that was even difficult to find the baby in the bath tub. It seems that the expression “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that today is an idiomatic expression, seems to come from this debatable habits.

In monasteries, things went a little bit worse as monks were allowed to bathe only 3 or 4 times a year but there are some records that show in reality they washed themselves regularly at least partially that means face, hands and feet. Being something related to the body, Church didn’t encourage bathing a lot.

As regards nobles, royals and in general healthy people, things were totally different. As they could afford the cost of hot water and accessories for bathing, they had some portable wooden bathtubs with a curtain where they stay standing. Water was often scented with flowers and herbs. They also have bathtubs very similar to those we have today cased in, with tiles around and in horizontal position.

As regards shaving, men shaved regularly but it was not that easy because mirrors were not clear and wide so they prefer to be shaved by a barber instead. In a household account about Edward IV, every Saturday night, he had a shave and head, legs and feet washed. It seems that Edward was also interested in smelling good. To this purpose, not only he washed himself but also he had his linen boiled in water into which orris root and violets were tied to linen. In addition to these plants, he should have used lavender, roses and rosemary as well. We have reason to believe that Richard and the other men and women of the court, might have followed this trend.

What about teeth? It seems that in Medieval times, the oral hygiene was not so bad as we could think. First of all, teeth at that time were almost perfect as not so many people could access sugar and not so often. In addition to this, they want to appear smart and smell nice so they clean their teeth using linen-cloths to rub them with salt, pepper, rosemary, mint, powdered charcoal, and many other herbs.

Due to the high waste of candles made out of animals fat, castles smelled damp and not exactly good. To avoid this, herbs and flower were strewn across the floor especially lavender, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. This last was used also as a perfume for men.

At this point, many of you are wondering if women removed hair from their body and the answer is yes. They shaved their armpits, legs and the so called “Head Down There”. This practice was common among Western women especially prostitutes who were considered more appealing without hair as this could have given them a sort of “innocent” air. They normally used quicklime for this purpose.

Finally, what was the main smell in Medieval times? There were many flowers and herbs to perfume the air and the body as rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, violets but the typical, Medieval smell was rose. To wash their hands and the hands of their close friend before eating, bowls of rose water and petals were put on the table for people to use. Roses are always so fascinating flowers preferred especially by nobles and monarchs and not only for hygienic reasons but also to conquer the heart of a woman. We have not changed a lot after all…

The mysterious stained glass of Giggleswick

Giggleswick Church

Very few people know that there is a mystery surrounding the church of St Alkelda in Giggleswick. The whole matter started with a parish fair.  People from the two churches dedicated to St Alkelda, one in Middleham {pingback to March 28} and one in Giggleswick, were looking for items to sell at the fair in a Parish room. The room was a private house the church had acquired in 1932 and it was linked to the vicarage until the early Sixties. During the search, these parishioners came across a pile of old newspapers and they were attracted by something at the bottom. It was a beautiful stained glass that showed a woman being strangled with her feet in water. Everything matched with the description of St Alkelda’s martyrdom.

Giggleswick Church

Immediately after the discovery, the finders contacted the former vicar’s relatives with memories back till 1955 but they could remember nothing. Many questions arose: who was the artist who had made it? When and above all why the panel was never used? Some think that possibly it was considered extremely Catholic and this was perhaps due to the influence of a local historian, Thomas Braynshaw.

The reason the saint is showed with her feet in water, is because her name is the result of an Old English-Norse word haelikeld that is “holy well”. Possibly, she was associated with the wells that are located close to the churches both in Giggleswick and Middleham but her name was very likely to be a different one. The possibility that St Alkelda was a real person is very strong as in 1818, thanks to a refurbishment of the church in Middleham, a stone coffin was found with the skeleton of a woman inside and in the place where tradition refers the saint was buried.

As the stained glass panel was found, the members of the parish decided to clean it and try to get more information about it. During the cleaning, it was noticed that the blue and the red pieces of glass were thicker than the others.  This could mean that those pieces were made with a different technique possibly medieval coming from another glass depicting St Alkelda or a different subject. What is sure is that in A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick by Brayshaw, a stained glass with many blue pieces was recorded in 1620 so it is likely that the glass was destroyed during the Commonwealth period. In 1890, a photograph shows that the stained glass reported in Braynshaw’s book had been replaced by a plain one. It is a possibility that the old pieces were inserted by the unknown artist in the new glass.

In order to have a more reliable opinion, in 2017, the glass was taken to York Minster’s glaziers. They affirmed that the glass panel was a modern one and that the thick pieces were a sort of imitation of a medieval technique but they were not able to give a definitive answer though. All this makes the glass unique and interesting. However, a question come to mind: why inserting just some pieces made imitating a medieval technique and not making the whole panel using it? It is more plausible that the unknown artist, found or was given the pieces and he had the idea to insert them in his own panel creating a very original artefact.

As regards the name of the saint, we personally have an idea still not supported by evidence. Why dedicating two churches that are very close one to another to both the Virgin Mary and a local saint? Why not just St Alkelda? What if the saint’s name was Mary and the original name of Middleham or Giggleswick church was St Mary of the Holy Well referring to the martyr who baptised converted people using the water of the wells? If her name was Mary, it was easy to mismatch her with the mother of Jesus so this could be the explanation for the adding “of the Holy Well”. At the moment this theory is just our own speculation about this topic.

The good news is that In May 2019 the panel will be allocated in Giggleswick church with a great ceremony. This will be a good occasion to visit both Giggleswick and Middleham, the only two places in the world celebrating St Alkelda but the mystery continues. Giggleswick is also famous for the school, attended by Richard Whiteley and at which Russell Harty taught, did he not?

Richard III enters York

Richard III and his royal progress in York

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Richard, Anne and Edward Prince of Wales in York 8th September 1483

It is not that easy to find a city connected to King Richard III as York is. During his life, he visited the capital of Yorkshire many times and after he accepted the crown and became king, he left London for the Royal progress and stayed in York for three weeks.

We are lucky enough to have records of his staying in the city and of his triumphant arrival on 29th August 1483 in the capital of Yorkshire. The description of this event is not very detailed abut gives us the perfect idea of what happened that day in York.

It is significant that Richard entered York through Micklegate Bar.

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Micklegate Bar

He probably decided to do so in 1460 his father’s head had been displayed there as he was declared a traitor. Richard Duke of York was actually eligible to be King himself so we can consider Richard’s choice as a remark that both him and his father were legitimate heirs to the throne. We can also imagine that he wanted to redeem his father entering in triumph from the same gate his father had been so badly humiliated and treated as a traitor.

 

We have an account of the royal progress in York thanks to the Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York. I adapted from the medieval version to the modern to be more understandable.

“He took his journey towards the county of York where the people abused his lawful favour (as he both favoured and trusted them in his heart) had of late presumed to attempt diverse routes and riots contrary to his laws and enfranging of his peace and upon hope of his maintenance were so elated that no lord were he never of so great power could either pacify or rule them till the King himself came personally thether to set a concorde and a unity in that country and to bridel and rule the rude and rustical and blustering bold people of that region and so he by long journeying came to the city of York were the citizens received him with great pomp and triumph according to the qualities of their education and quantity of their substance and abiity and make diverse days, plays and pageantry and token joy and solace.

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York Minster

York Minster: Wherefore King Richard magnified and applauded by the north nation and also to show himself appearing before them in royal habit and sceptre in laude and diadem on his head, made proclamation that all people should resort to York, on the day of ascension of our Lord, where all men should both behold and see him, his queen and prince in their high estates and degrees, and also for their good will, should receive many thanks, large benefits and munificent rewards. At the day appointed, the whole clergy assembled in copes richly revested and so with a reverent ceremony went about the city in procession; after whom followed the king with his crown and sceptre, appeared in his circot robe royal accompanied with no small number of the nobility of his realm: after whom marched in order queen Anne his wife, likewise crowned leading on her left hand prince Edward her son having on his head a demi crown appointed for the degree of a prince.  The king was held in that triumph in such honour and the common people of the North  so rejoyed that they extolled and praised him far above the stars.”

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The Archbishop’s Palace in York

On the 8th September, Richard invested his son Edward Prince of Wales and made knight his illegitimate son (John of Gloucester) in the Archbishop’s Palace in York. He also gave to York many presents especially to the Minster. There is an inventory of all the beautiful items he donated to the Minster of York. None of these seems to have survived.

Something personal

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The Hotel opened by the present Duke of Gloucester

Richard entered the city of York as a King on 29th August. For an incredible coincidence, the day I officially landed in England to remain was 29th August as well. We stayed for 25 days in a hotel in the city centre that had been opened by HRH Richard Duke of Gloucester.  A sign of my future affiliation to the RIII Society?

 

Scoliosis treatments at the time of Richard III

After centuries of slanders about Richard III, always named as “the hunchbacked king”, it was finally proved that he just suffered from scoliosis.

He was not born with this condition but he probably started to suffer with it in his adolescence between 10 and 15. This is the so-called idiopathic scoliosis that can be, in some cases, very painful and in very rare cases can even be fatal.

This kind of scoliosis can’t be prevented, as the cause is unknown but the culprit could be the growth hormone or a genetic predisposition. This condition can be mild or severe. In the latter, it can affect the appearance of the person and obviously can create embarrassment, low self-esteem and sometimes depression in addition to physical distress, headache, a very thin shape, stomach problems and lung dysfunction.

Severe scoliosis is visible if the person wears tight clothes and, if it doesn’t stop developing, it can cause excruciating pain due to nerve pressure. However, people affected by scoliosis have a normal life and can practice sports, do exercise and every normal, daily activity.

Richard III is probably the most famous person affected by idiopathic scoliosis, along with Princess Eugenie of York, the runner Usain Bolt, the actress Liz Taylor, the singers Kurt Cobain and Liza Minnelli, the tennis star, James Blake, among others.

Today, it is easy to treat this condition thanks to braces and, in the worst cases, with surgery but, unfortunately, these treatments were not available at the time of Richard III and medieval remedies were almost useless, very painful and often they even worsened the situation.

For people affected by mild scoliosis, there were some massage techniques used in Turkish baths along with the application of ointments made with herbs and plants. In other cases, these massages were made in preparation for another treatment. One of the most common ‘remedies’ was traction. The equipment for this treatment was very expensive, so only rich people and the nobility could afford it. As Richard was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England and a noble as well, it is highly probable that he would have gone through traction. The instrument used for this purpose was similar to the ‘rack’ used to torture people. The patient was lying on his back and tied by armpits and calves by a rope to a wooden roller and literally pulled to stretch the spine. The treatment could last for hours and it is not difficult to imagine how horribly painful it was and, unfortunately, it was of no benefit.

Richard’s family would have had the best physicians of the time and these should have been aware of this treatment so it is likely that, unfortunately, he had to undergo traction. It is difficult to imagine that Richard’s family wouldn’t have tried to cure his spine, being such highly-ranked people.

However, scoliosis was not just a physical issue. A person affected by scoliosis was seen as the incarnation of evil and a sinner, while a straight spine represented morality, goodness and beauty. The Shakespearean character of Richard III was associated with wickedness and immorality because of his physical deformity, sharpened to the maximum to create an unscrupulous monster capable of any crime.

Richard managed to hide his condition for his whole life because he very well knew this could have been a reason for being painted as a bad person, twisted in his body and, therefore, also in his mind.

After his death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and his secret revealed. Shakespeare exaggerated his condition in order to misrepresent Richard and to blame him for every possible crime. His scoliosis became a hunchback with the addition of a withered arm and a limp.

With the discovery of his skeleton under the car park in Leicester, it appeared very clear that Richard had just a scoliosis and the evil hunchbacked king created by Shakespeare was just Tudor propaganda, that made Richard the most maligned king in English history. This discovery helped to reveal Richard in a new light and called into question all the atrocities he has been accused of. There are many reasons to believe that the truth will eventually come to light.

Do you want to know a very strange coincidence? In Ipswich, where the sales office of the Richard III Society is located, there is a surgeon, expert in spinal surgery: his name is Robert Lovell (top)!

A house in Scarborough

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The King Richard III restaurant today

If you visit Scarborough Castle and go down towards the beach from there, turn your head to your right and walk along the seafront opposite the Harbour, and you will notice something singular. Among the shops, cafés and fish-and-chip restaurants, there is a house that stands out because it is the oldest in the area. It is the ‘paradise’ of Ricardians in Scarborough as it is called ‘The King Richard III’ and it is a very well maintained restaurant where you can have a delicious lunch or just a pint, inside the ancient building or  outside to enjoy the sun and the sea breeze.

 

Why was the restaurant named after the last

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The plaque outside the building

warrior king of the House of York? There is a compelling story that might give people an explanation.  In the summer of 1484, Richard III went to Scarborough, apparently for naval business. He loved Scarborough and Yorkshire in general so it is easy to imagine he enjoyed the wonderful view of the bay and the fresh, salty sea air especially after the terrible spring that had taken away his only legitimate son from him. It is said that during his stay in Scarborough, the king had chosen to stay in a house rather than in the castle and he chose the building we can still see today.

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The oldest picture taken in 1912.

The story of the building is very interesting and it is a miracle it is still there, intact, as if no time passed for it. There have been attempts to find out the history of the house from the 15th century till today, but the lack of documentation has made it impossible to trace the owner of the house during Richard’s reign. We know that it was the property of the Tindall family, who had a long history as shipbuilders, but this was in the 17th century. The first owner from the Tindall family was James and, when he died, his son lived in the house with his family. When the Tindalls moved, in 1880, the house became the property of a baker, William Purcell, who baked in the house and after this it became an engineering shop owned by Thomas Varley. The next owner was a certain Mary Forrest who stayed there until 1850. Since then, the house has had other owners, including a certain Mr John Wray, and a picture was taken in 1892 in which the plaque is still visible. There is a sign over the top with the following information: ‘Late Residence of Richard III, May 22nd 1484’.

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The oldest picture taken in 1912

During the Victorian Age, they had a terrible habit of trying to modernise every ancient building, so the house was completely changed, with the bay windows removed and the stone walls plastered. The house became a grocery shop until 1905. In 1908, the house was acquired by The Seaman’s Mission Institute but, at the same time, the mission started to allow visitors to view the house for an admission fee of 2d. Possibly, this gave the new owner, Mr Booth, the idea to take advantage of the story of the king by transforming the property into a museum in 1914. Unfortunately, just a year later, Mr Booth drowned on the Lusitania and the house was bought by one of his relatives, Mr Burrows. Referring to Mrs Wharton’s drawings, Burrows was able to remove the Victorian plaster and install a replica of the original bay windows, so that the house now looks very similar to the original medieval building. Mrs Wharton’s drawings also show the so-called ‘King’s Bedchamber’ located on the second floor, the furniture inside and the decorated plastered ceiling.

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The York Rose and the bull of the Neville family

The building’s restoration was not an easy task. It started in 1915 and it was discovered that the building was larger than expected, detached, with a two-storey hall and the extended west-wing. Boarding, plaster and wallpaper were removed and many details came to life including the decorative plasterwork in the ‘King’s Bedchamber’ decorated with a geometrical multi curve and a pattern of square panels with thin ribs.  In the centre there is the York Rose, the Arms of Richard III and, at each of the four corners, the bull of the Neville family.

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The stained glass in the restaurant

Today, the main hall is named ‘The King’s Hall’ and there is a stained glass with the symbol RIII. It is possible to see two reproductions of War of the Roses suits of armour and a panel in red with the same features as the glass. The King Richard III house is a Grade I listed building.

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The King’s Hall

It is not sure that King Richard stayed in this house because the castle is very close to it, so there shouldn’t have been any reason for the King to sleep in a normal house. Moreover, in the castle, you can see some panels with multiple choice questions. One of these asks: ‘Who was the last owner of the castle?’ and the right answer is, of course, Richard III. Where does the truth lie? My personal opinion is that the King slept in his castle and he possibly had a pint or a glass of wine in the house. One thing is certain; Richard had a particular dedication to the town of Scarborough. Had he survived Bosworth, Scarborough and its surroundings would have become an independent county, as written in a vellum document of his reign but, sadly, fate decided differently.

The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

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Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

Edward of Middleham: the prince of Richard III

 

Edward in the stained glass at St Mary and St Akelda in Middleham

Edward of York, better known as Edward of Middleham, was the only legitimate son of King Richard III and his Queen, Anne Neville.

Edward was thought to have been born in Middleham Castle in December 1473, but this date is not certain. The historian Charles Ross wrote that this date “lacks authority” and was of the opinion that Edward was probably born in 1476. A document in which the Duke of Clarence thought that the marriage between his brother and Anne was invalid confirms that the child was not born at least until 1474. The Tewkesbury Chronicle estimates that he was born in 1476 so when he died he was probably 7 and not 10, as many think. No doubt he was already born on 10th April 1477 as priests of York Minster were asked to pray for King Edward’s family including his brother Richard and his family (wife and son).

For almost everyone he is Edward of Middleham, as he was probably born in the Nursery Tower of Middleham, today known as the Prince’s Tower in the west wing of the castle and it is thought he died there too. He grew up in Middleham with a wet nurse called Isabel Burgh and a governess, Anne Idley, married to one of Richard’s favourite courtiers.

During his short life, Edward was given several titles. On 15th February 1478 Earl of Salisbury, on 26th June 1483 Duke of Cornwall, on 19th July Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and above all on 24th August 1483 he was named Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales. He received this last title in York with his father himself performing the ritual. The solemn ceremony was held in the Archbishop’s Palace and was followed by four hours of banqueting. Edward walked along the streets of York to the delight of people.

It has always been said that Edward was not a healthy child. It seems that he was so sick that he went to York in a litter and not riding a horse as he was meant to do and he couldn’t even be present at his parents’ Coronation. Because of this, probably Richard decided to organise this solemn ceremony in York where the child was named Prince of Wales.

Edward was the only legitimate child of Richard but he had at least one half-brother and a half-sister. As it is likely that these two children grew up in Yorkshire, it is possible that Edward didn’t feel lonely as a child.

Unfortunately, we have no official portrait of Edward apart from a few drawings and stained glasses. The most famous is in St Mary and St Alkelda Church in Middleham, where he appears dressed as the Prince of Wales along with his father and mother. His physical appearance is not clear as he is different in the images we have of him. It is likely he was a fair haired child with blue eyes and a lean body shape.

As Prince of Wales, Edward was expected to be king after the death of his father but fate had decided otherwise for both of them. In April 1484, Richard and Anne were at the castle of Nottingham to enjoy a respite from their royal progress, when the news of Edward’s death arrived. The reactions of the poor parents is described in the Croyland Chronicles as they were almost bordering upon madness. This means that the death was sudden and unexpected and this explains the fact that they had left him in Middleham, as they didn’t suspect an imminent death.

 

The cause of death is not sure, it seems he suffered with tuberculosis but a sudden death is not typical of this illness. So possibly the cause was something completely different and it is very unlikely we will ever know.

A mystery surrounds the burial of Edward. Many think he was buried in Sheriff Hutton in a tomb of alabaster representing a child. Some investigations have proved the tomb is empty so there is a theory that the child was possibly buried somewhere in the church, along with the mortal remains of the Neville family’s members. Due to its age, it is not possible to see any inscriptions and it is very likely the tomb dates from much earlier than 1484. The theories around the actual location of Edward’s tomb are many and varied. Some people think it could be in Coverham, others in Jervaulx Abbey where, as a child, Edward rode horses with his father, others even it is in York. Some are of the opinion that any place he might be was a provisional resting place. At that time re-burials were very common so it was not impossible that Richard had in mind a different location but, as protecting his son’s body from being desecrated or displayed was apparently Richard’s desire, we can just hope nobody will ever disturb Edward’s eternal peace.

The Church of St. Alkelda at Middleham

History of St Mary and St Alkelda Church

If you go to Middleham, your priority will be to visit the castle of King Richard III but you can’t leave this fabulous town of the Dales without having a look at the church of St Mary and St Alkelda. This church is a must for visitors, especially Ricardians, and considering it is not a massive church, it has a lot to offer to those who love historical buildings.

The first church on the actual spot where the present church is built dates back to the 12th century but just a couple of stones are still there. The actual date of the foundation of the church seems to be the year 1280.

The dedication of the church is to the Virgin Mary and St Alkelda. Myth and folklore surround this saint and many even doubt her existence, even though in 1818, when the nave was dug, a stone coffin was found. When it was opened, the mortal remains of a woman were found and in the exact spot where tradition indicates St Alkelda was buried in the south east corner of the present church.  The meaning of her name derives from the Old English – Norse healikeld in Modern English “holy well”. It seems that there was a well close to the church and the water was very effective for eye problems.

The new church was built around 1350 while the tower was added in 1450 approximately. St Alkelda was martyred around 800 AD so it is possible that a Christian society was already active in Middleham. However, we need to go to 1280 to have a church there with a nave, aisles and a chancel. The following year, Mary of Middleham was born. She is thought to have been the heiress to the castle and the patron of the church. The first mention of the church is found in a taxation document by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. The value of the church was fixed at £8. In 1310 the church was endowed with lands to increase the value of the building.

The Feast Day of St Alkelda was granted in 1388 by Richard II on 5th November and lasted 3 days. In 1470 Edward IV granted a license to found a chantry in the south aisle. Previously, in 1460 St Alkelda and the castle of Middleham was the house of Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. After the death of Richard, Duke of York, Cecily Neville of Raby, his wife, moved with her children to Middleham. Warwick made Edward Plantagenet King Edward IV but when this latter failed the Kingmaker’s expectations by “marrying” Elizabeth Woodville and not a French princess, Neville plotted against him, planning to put on the throne George Duke of Clarence, the King’s brother, or to restore Henry VI. The outcome was the battle of Barnet, where Warwick lost his life. Middleham castle and lands including the church were granted to the youngest of Cecily Neville’s sons Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. He married Anne Neville, one of Warwick’s daughters and inherited the Lordship of Middleham.

In 1477, possibly at Gloucester’s request, Edward IV, his brother, granted a license for transforming St Alkelda into a College with a Dean, six Chaplains, four Clerks, a Sacristan and six Choristers. In the Statute drawn up by Richard Gloucester, the Dean was appointed to lead perpetual masses for the Royal Yorkist family. A copy of the original statute is currently displayed on the left aisle under the white boar and the stained glass window depicting Richard and his family. When Richard became King Richard III, the church became known as the King’s College, Middleham. Sadly, in 1547, the Chantry was closed by Act of Parliament under Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church. It seems that the Collegiate title was one in name only because it was never listed as an exempted Collegiate church in the Act for the Dissolution of Chantries in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI.

In 1538 Thomas Cromwell decided to allow couples to marry in St Alkelda without a license or banns. This practice stopped in the 18th century. Because of this, St Alkelda was a sort of Gretna Green in Yorkshire.

In 1839, Dean Wood tried to revive the Chapter appointing six Canons and reinstated the Cathedral form of service. In 1845 the status of Royal Peculiar ended. The Dean became a Rector and St Alkelda an ordinary parish church under the Bishop of Ripon.

St Alkelda has many valuable objects and decorations. Apart from the 14th century relief of the Crucifixion and the 15th century glass depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom, the visitors can also appreciate the Saxon gravestones in the north aisle, the 14th century stone font and chancel arch. In addition to this, there is the Lady Chapel aisle with Richard III’s White Boar standard, a copy of his royal seal, a copy of the statute of the church signed by Richard Gloucester and the beautiful window depicting the King and his family.

There are many other artefacts and decorations in St Alkelda to see such as the medieval grave covers, the carved gargoyles, the copy of the Middleham jewel and much more. St Alkelda is a church belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Leeds.

St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way

There is a new plan going on as regards St Alkelda; a walking route around 35 miles long that follows an ancient prehistoric and Roman route for most of the way. It goes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it would take walkers 2-3 days to complete it depending on how experienced they were.

The route from Middleham goes via Coverdale, passing by little hamlets, Coverham Abbey, churches with monastic associations, evidence of ancient settlements, tumuli and an impressive earthwork. It then takes in Kettlewell (tourist centre), passes down Wharfedale to Kilnsey, up  and into the  limestone hill country, Mastiles Lane, an ancient trackway, Roman camp, the remains of 5 medieval wayfaring crosses. Il passes down Celtic and medieval field systems into Malham tourist centre and where the archaeological dig of St Helen’s chapel, holy well and graveyard, medieval and Anglo-Saxon, takes place in May. From there it goes past Malham Cove, peregrine falcon reserve, a spectacular limestone scenery, down to Stockdale Lane and descends to Ribblesdale past evidence of a Roman camp waterfalls,  limestone caves where prehistoric and Romano-British remains have been found,  Settle, market town and across the river to Giggleswick and its church.

On the route, we see how the different rocks – limestone and millstone grit mostly, produce different scenery, grass colours and flora. In St Alkelda’s day, there would have been marsh and bog around the rivers, woodland and even thick forest in places, the habitat of deer, wolves, bears, and wild boar. These animals are mentioned in some Celtic nature poetry, also Prayers for Protection! It was the monks and their sheep during the Middle Ages who changed the landscape to what it looks like today. The plan has just started but visitors and good walkers will soon enjoy the awesome St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way.

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