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Thursday, July 21, 2011

My recent tour of Yorkshire had different trails. Our main one was, anyway,  following the footsteps of Richard III, visiting the places he lived in and ruled on. After reading some  historical novels  like The Sunne in Splendour, “Virgin Widow” or “The Daughter of Time”,  to find myself in the same places where those historical events occurred or where  the touching – and sometimes complicated  - relationships took place was  very  exciting, thrilling. It was a real pilgrimage through some of the key moments  of  Richard III’s life and the places that were their settings.

 The Romans, the Vikings and the Normans all made  York their northern headquarters. For hundreds of years it was England’s second city after London, a rich and prosperous port.  We visited different sites and landmarks there with a very special guide, lunarossa for Fly High readers, who is Italian and has been living there for a long time now.  We visited the impressive Minster, walked on the ancient walls  - that still encircle the city for about 3 miles - along the river Ouse,  had a look at the Shambles  and at Clifford’s Tower, admired the ruins of St Mary’s  Abbey and the Hospitium nearby hosting a very elegant,  typically British wedding party,  but , first of all we entered the town from Monk Bar and visited the museum dedicated to Richard III at the top of its stairs. 
Richard III was brought up here in the North and became Governor  of these regions  when his elder brother was King Edward IV. He remained Lord of the North until his brother’s death, when he was crowned as his successor ,  Richard III. Many people in York and Yorkshire are committed to the Ricardian cause: to wipe out  Richard's stained fame. This is also the purpose of this little museum. Shakespeare, the bard of the Tudors, depicted him as a monster and as the murderer of his young nephews, as a wicked usurperer, and , unfortunately this is a widely spread opinion. Academic research  and popular  novels have demonstrated how wrongly this negative image has been considered as the real one, but much still must be done.

At the museum, as it happens in the Tower of London too, visitors are asked to sign for Richard III’s innocence or guilt after visiting. There are  two different books. Which one do you think I signed?

Middleham Castle

Richard of Gloucester  had his Knightly training  at Middleham Castle , under the tutelage of his cousin,  Richard Neville, Earl of  Warwick, “the kingmaker”, who had helped his brother Ned to become King Edward IV deafeating Henry  VI  of Lancaster.  At Middleham he lived from 8 to 12 and there he met his loyal friend,  Francis Lovell, as well as  Anne Neville, the Earl’s youngest daughter and his cousin, whom he will later on marry. After reading the intriguing reconstruction that novelists as Sharon Kay Penman or  Anne O’Brien did of Richard's and Anne’s years at Middleham, visiting its bleak, spooky  ruins inhabited by crows was both a puzzling and a thrilling experience. Nothing of the glamorous life  has been left but traces of the  ancient  greatness could still be found. “Richard was happy here” ,  I went on thinking but I couldn’t avoid feeling melancholic.
Here is what Middleham Castle must have looked like to  his illustrious guests, to Richard’s and Francis Lovell’s young eyes,  in 1464: (from  Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne in Splendour, p. 88 )

“Middleham Castle, the Yorkshire stronghold of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was situated on the southern slope of Wenleydale, a mile and a half above the crossing of the Ure and Cover rivers. For three hundred years, the castle had dominated the surrounding moors, and the limestone Norman keep towered fifty feet into the chill northern sky, encircled by a quadrangular castle bailey, a dark-water moat, massive outer walls, and a grey stone gatehouse that faced north, toward the village that thrived in the shadow of the Neville Bear and Ragged Staff.”
Middleham Castle

Sheriff Hutton

We stopped at Sheriff Hutton on our way to Fountains Abbey. The ruins of this castle are located in a beautiful  natural area and are circled by a public path. It’s not possible to get too near it but the walk around the area is a very pleasant one.
Upon the death of Richard Neville in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, his lands were given to  Richard of Gloucester by his brother the king. He often stayed at Sheriff Hutton  during his tenure as Lord of the North. Its proximity to York made it convenient to Richard.
By the middle of October 1480, Richard was at Sheriff Hutton where he received news from the Earl of Northumberland that the Scots might attempt retaliation for the raiding party that Richard had led across the borders. Northumberland wrote to the magistrates of York ordering them to prepare an armed force. The men of York send an Alderman to Richard at Sheriff Hutton seeking his advice.
In 1484, Richard established a royal household for the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George of Clarence, and John, Earl of Lincoln. In July of 1484, Richard established the Council of the North, with its chief headquarters at Sheriff Hutton and Sandal Castle.
In 1485, while awaiting the invasion of Henry Tudor at Nottingham, Richard sent his niece, Elizabeth of York, her sisters, and the Earls of Warwick, Lincoln, Lord Morley and John of Gloucester, to the castle.
The castle became the property of Henry VII and, in 1525.

Bosworth (Leicestershire)

"Richard had encamped his army along a high ridge to the northwest of the village of Sutton Cheney. It afforded the Yorkists a clear view of the barren treeless plain below, known to local villagers as Redmore for the blood-color clay of its soil. A summer twilight was darkening the sky, and the lights of enemy campfires weremaking themselves visible through the dusk. Like scattered stars plunged to earth …” (Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne in Splendour, p. 888)

On our way  from  Sherwood Forest to Stratford –on- Avon ,  we drove up  to Bosworth Battlefield expecting  a funereal site, gloomy and bleak. But we were amazed at  the beautiful , colourful, spectacular, breathtaking landscape we found. Such bright colours at sunset and such peace. Our pilgrimage could well end there.  It was difficult not to think of  all the horrors connected  to those stunning fields so we were moved and silent. "Rest in peace, Richard Plantagenet". 

Before leaving the area,  we visited the Church of St James at Sutton Cheney which was nearby . Curiously , there was a bell - playing lesson going on and we were warmly welcome by a smiling woman vicar. 
The troops of Richard III passed it on their way to the final battle, and by tradition Richard himself heard mass for the last time in the church on 22nd August 1485. 
 The most preminent position in the church goes to the very modern memorial to Richard III. Erected by the Society of Richard III, this memorial has become the centre-pieceof the annual Richard III Memorial Service, held on the Sunday nearest to August 22nd.

St James's at Sutton Cheney


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