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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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