Richard III and the Legend of the Car Park

The carpark, school to the left.
The carpark, school to the left.

You all watched the documentary, saw the news. It was September 2012 and thanks largely in part to the endeavors of Philippa Langley, a small council office car park in Leicester city centre, was pinpointed as the possible site of the church of the Greyfriars Abbey, the original burial place of short-lived King Richard III, killed by his successor Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Headlines grabbed the nation as, with the help of a team from the University of Leicester’s archaeology department, trenches were dug and under the ominous letter R from the reserved parking space it covered, a skeleton emerged, with its hands crossed as though once bound, and a spine glared in the spotlight with its obvious twist. Langley made much of the signs, and asked if the box to which the remains were transferred could be covered with a heraldic flag. The archaeologist was uncomfortable with the suggestion and so Langley ceremoniously covered the small box herself before it was wedged in the back of a small van, beside the shovel and wellies, tools of the trade for a working dig.

Old map showing the land on which Greyfriars stood. Note Friar lane to the rear, and St Martins depicted directly opposite, (the dividing road is Peacock Lane) next to which you can see the medieval Guildhall.
Old map showing the land on which Greyfriars stood. Note Friar lane to the rear, and St Martins depicted directly opposite, (the dividing road is Peacock Lane) next to which you can see the medieval Guildhall.

Some months later, DNA results were returned using a sample taken from a traced line through Anne of York’s (Richard’s sister) to Michael Ibsen, a London-based cabinet-maker originally from Canada. The DNA was a match and it was confirmed that the remains were indeed those of Richard III, Last Plantagenet King of England. All hell broke loose in the world of “How to bury a rediscovered monarch”, as so-called descendants of the Plantagenet line raised an appeal in response to the plans to inter Richard in Leicester cathedral. They wanted their “family” buried in York Minster, rather than a “poxy ex-parish church” as one person described the Cathedral in Leicester.

The appeal raged on for months, whilst quietly in the background the wheels of organization continued on with the planned “funeral for a king”. Money was again raised to cover costs via donations and so forth, and Ibsen set to work making a coffin. Several designs were drawn up and one chosen for a tomb, and extensive re-modelling began inside St Martins to house Richard’s remains. The former cemetery outside was landscaped and work began on the Visitors Centre, to house a permanent exhibition for tourists. A temporary exhibition was set up in the Medieval Guildhall next to the Cathedral. The Judge ruled in favour of Leicester and the re-burial went ahead. Millions of people watched the proceedings, shown live on television; thousands criticised the venture with such insults as “Leicester was scruffy”; “Leicester lost the King for over 500 years”, and “Richard deserved to be buried in York”. The mud-slinging continues to this day, and still many thousands of armchair fanatics armed with unsubstantiated claims to know what the King himself would have wanted refuse to let the matter rest.

So here’s my take on it. With a little truth thrown in, that wasn’t made public for the sake of sensationalism. Or something. (Well the public loves a good drama, why let the truth get in the way of that eh?) Oh and for the record, I am from Yorkshire stock, but born and raised (on and off) in the Leicester area so you can be assured in this article you will only hear the truth.

A more modern map to compare.
A more modern map to compare.

When I was a teenager, we learned about the Wars of the Roses, including the Battles of Empingham and its more famous big sister, Bosworth, both of which took place nearby. We visited the battlefield of Bosworth, since revised of course, and in my own time I researched and learned all about the period, and visited many of the key places. Going to school near Stamford obviously helped with the back story, after all, it wasn’t simply a case of two armies pitching up and throwing rocks at each other for a few hours until everybody was either too tired or too dead to continue, lots of the key players held titles and so on in the area, and their connections with my neighbourhood stretched to more than one battelfield on one August day. I lurked in St Martins cathedral on many a quiet Saturday afternoon, sitting at the side of the ledger stone, a simple slab memorial dedicated by

the Richard III society to Richard in the early 80s. Its inscription read:

‘Richard III, King of England. Killed at Bosworth Field in this county 22 August 1485. Buried in the Church of the Greyfriars in this Parish.’

During my moments of quiet contemplation, a nice gentleman often stopped by and chatted to me about the whole period. I think his name was Peter…. He had a connection with the Cathedral, and was very knowledgeable of local history. I looked forward to our discussions and I learned a lot from him. Not just the whole period of the Wars, but also about the history of Leicester in general and how the two combined. One thing I do remember was the photos he showed me, of Peacock lane onto which both St Martins and the Greyfriars site opened. In the early part of the 20th Century, there remained a wall, part of the original monastic perimeter stonework. It was demolished soon afterwards, sometime in the 1920s from most accounts. Peter taught me about how the site of the Greyfriars was dissolved in 1538, and how the buildings were demolished and sold off, eventually coming into the possession of wealthy Leicester Businessman and three-times mayor Robert Herrick, who built a grand house with landscaped gardens. Christopher Wren visited in the early 17thC and recorded viewing a magnificent memorial stone which read “Here lies the body of Richard III, some time King of England” positioned

within the garden

Peter also spoke of the story of how the fine alabaster tomb, paid for by Henry Tudor himself, ten years after his adversary’s death, was destroyed by his son’s supporters during the dissolution just 43 years later and Richard’s body removed and unceremoniously dumped from the nearby Bow Bridge into the River Soar, which allegedly Richard had bumped into on his way to battle and bumped again on his slightly less than victorious return some hours later, dead and slung naked over a horse. Peter maintained the story was a myth perpetuated by Richard’s sympathisers and the remaining friars of Greyfriars, in an effort to prevent further desecration of the King’s remains. In time the myth became “fact” to be peddled in every history book written; it served its purpose, it kept the King’s remains safe.

Ledger stone dedicated to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, Circa 1982. by the R3 society.
Ledger stone dedicated to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, Circa 1982. by the R3 society.

Peter told the story of how at some point in more recent history, I forget when, a group of “experts” came to Leicester on a mission to rediscover the site of the Friary. They were unsuccessful. Largely as a result of mixing up their monasteries and doing a heck of a lot of ill-fated work at the nearby Blackfriars monastery site. Oops. Peter always maintained the carpark site across the road, on Peacock Lane was situated – as was well known locally and had been since the period in question – on the site of the old Greyfriars. The surrounding buildings and street names attested to that; Friar Lane, Greyfriars, Greyfriars offices and so on. There was never a mystery. That was where the church once stood and that was where Richard was buried. After 500 years of redevelopment, including banks, schools, offices and houses, Herrick’s mansion site was still plotted, as were his gardens. The carpark area, once the playground of the old Alderman Newton School, remained the only plot on the entire site which had never been disturbed or built upon. Even the carpark used the old foundation mortar as its base.

The only question was down to a matter of scale. Modern maps versus old maps told different stories of the exact position of the Church. Peter explained simply, it had to be where the carpark stood, mainly because it had never been “uncovered” in other development phases. Richard was not the only “important” figure in history to have been interred within the church, should any remains have been uncovered, alongside walls and so on, it would have been noted. It wasn’t, therefore it was still there. Richard was never “lost”, he was always safe.

Fast forward thirty years, and once again a resident in the area, after moving back from my hometown in Yorkshire, I watched as Ms Langley and the Leicester University team went the whole nine yards with the “spooky” paranormal feeling by the letter R and the ensuing “discovery” of the skeleton of the King. Okay, but she had previously visited the site some three years prior, and the RESERVED marker wasn’t there then; No “R”, no spooky! Sorry. Big myth. Also the remains were found metres away from the R entirely. And, Ms Langley was working purely on the groundwork and research put together by other people over the previous years. It has been claimed that her own hard work pinpointed, with the help of John Ashdown-Hill the exact position of the Friary and Church. Not really true. The carpark, some fifty yards’ square was in actual fact the only patch of ground in that corner of the city centre that has remained un-developed in 550 years. There wasn’t actually anywhere else the Church could have been, unless it was under one of the later builds and we would think such a thing would have been recorded, knowing as they did that Richard lurked in the area somewhere.

The dig was not for Richard’s remains, as far as the University were concerned. They were purely and simply looking to find the church remains and plot another section of the city’s history. Finding Richard was the cherry on top. They also found five other sets of remains, including that of an unknown chap in a splendid coffin, on which they continue to analyse. Theories include that he is William of Nottingham. Also an unknown high status lady, buried near to the high altar, in a very fine tomb; she is thought to be an early benefactress of the Friary.

Now here is where it gets sticky. The fund-raising and lobbying by Philippa Langley raised enough cash from donations to dig three trenches, recover up to three sets of remains, ensuing scientific tests etc and the “making right” of the site. The university team formed an official body comprising of experts but separate to the University interests. They held the dig licences and therefore was the legitimate owners of anything recovered. At the point where remains were found, the extra funds were raised and the required exhumation licences obtained By Professor Buckley, on behalf of the team and therefore he was the last say on what happened next. Due to previous conversations between Ms Langley and all interested parties when the idea became a reality back in 2009, including the Ministry of Justice, Church of England and HM the Queen, it was always agreed and set that Professor Buckley was the lead man on the team, and that any remains, particularly those of the King, if found, would be reinterred within the nearby Cathedral Precincts, across the road, as per Church of England AND Ministry of Justice requirements. This was specified on dig licences and contracts. Even the Queen had agreed to this, citing no official interests in the reclamation of remains. There was never any debate as to the outcome of discovery.

At some stage in the proceedings, Leicester council as owners of the site, got involved and flexed their muscles, muddying the water somewhat, and then tactfully withdrew when it became apparent their involvement was not helping matters and could cost Leicester the whole deal as well as money they would have to commit if they remained successful in keeping Richard in the city. Personally, from reading the official documentation of the whole thing, I feel that it’s entirely possible a quiet word was had in the relevant person’s ear to shut up and go away, before her ill-perceived red-tape tripped everybody up. She chose to take the advice. A tiny uproar was further created when it was stated that the remains recovered would be placed on display within the University or at an alternative setting. Some people, rather stupid ones we must assume, mistakenly thought this meant Richard too. No. Silly, silly people.

When the matter eventually reached court, after some presentations, and statements from all concerned, it was ruled that the appeal committee had brought nothing new to the table, York Minster maintained their neutral stance of the outcome, standing by their original statement that the remains were to be interred in St Martins as planned. The Queen continued her stance that the crown had no interest in providing any sort of funeral process, or burial. Westminster, acting on behalf of the Queen as a Royal Peculiar maintained that the Queen had the final say, and besides there was no room at the inn as it were. The Ministry of Justice confirmed they never intended changing the decree set by themselves and Professor Buckley. The Church of England maintained that they followed the law in regard to reinternment in the nearest consecrated ground to where the discovery was made – St Martins, just fifty yards away. And Leicester council kept their mouths firmly shut, and neutral. Meanwhile St Martins plugged quietly away, constructing a befitting space for the tomb of a king. The Judge ruled that ownership of the remains could not fall to the appeal committee as all possible descendants were not represented, being as in all probability numbered into the tens of thousands and their line of descent was such that it was mooted. Had they been within living memory then the outcome would have been opened to familial concern.

Contrary to popular notions that he was fond of York, that he considered York his home, that he was building a chantry chapel, intending to be buried there after his death, being that he was of the House of York. Ok… one at a time. Richard III was never about York. It was his late father’s title, and as such his family were collectively umbrella’d under the name of York. By rights, upon assuming the crown like his brother and others before him, upon ascending the throne, Richard took the title Duke of Lancaster which is synonymous with the crown since the days of Henry Bolingbroke. Prior to the throne, Richard was the Duke of Gloucester, but Gloucester cathedral was not given thought. Richard was born in Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire – where his father and brother were eventually buried alongside his mother. Fotheringhay dismissed notions of internment there on account of visions of thousands of stampeding tourists descending on the small town. Nearby Peterborough was a possibility and had a vacant spot previously tenanted to Mary, Queen of Scots, alongside Catherine of Aragon. That idea failed to gather steam. Other suggestions consisted of various mid-way points including Nottingham and Middleham. In reality he had links with any number of places and ties with none.

It is foolish to contemplate the notion that the chantry chapel he requested was his desired burial place; if anywhere his wish would have been to be interred with his Queen, Anne in Westminster, hence her own rather hurried internment in Westminster, most likely in the interests of permanent final resting place to follow upon his own death. The chapel at York was intended to be a place of worship and teaching for a large number of new priests, possibly to say prayers on his behalf after his death. Working on the Catholic belief of Purgatory, the doctrine stated that the time spent there after death depended solely on the number of prayers offered by living sponsors and the extent of one’s own patronage of the Church and other good works. To have a chapel of your own, with 100 dedicated priests saying prayers for your soul 24/7 would ensure your short term stay in Purgatory before your hopeful ascension to the realms of the Kingdom of God. But in the short term, it’s highly unlikely that Richard had actually given that much thought to his own demise.

Oh and during the later named Wars of the Roses, which wasn’t actually anything to do with the places of York versus Lancashire, rather than the titles of the main players at its inception, York remained for the most part a supporter of the House of Lancaster. Richard’s affinity with the county of Yorkshire as he knew it, was more his connection with Middleham and his bribes and promises to the population – not to mention the nobles – in an effort to keep their favour and support.

Finally… Leicester is not some dingy backwater. It is a vibrant multi-cultural city with lots to offer, including two thousand years plus of visible history. Castles, monastic ruins, a roman bath-house, Anglo-Saxon churches, many links with famous Kings and nobles of the past, museums and so on. It contains the first living memorial to the Great War, medieval hospitals, previously unknown species of dinosaur… the list goes on. There are battlefields nearby, and other just as famous burials, both known and undiscovered. And Richard was always there. But no, they didn’t bury him under a carpark in 1485…. Not unless you can prove that the Greyfriars drove a Ford Focus or something…… He was given a hasty funeral in a consecrated Church by sympathetic monks. They did the best they could in the time available, when they could easily have said “No”. The following 500 years of events was just circumstance. Before we preach at the “loss” of his remains, think about the more permanent loss of the remains of many other monarchs and nobles in similar and different circumstances. In case you are all interested, Leicester also houses the remains of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, disgraced Archbishop of York and long-time confidante of Henry VIII in another Friary around the corner, also owned by the University of Leicester; Also “lost”. The only reason Richard became so famous upon the recovery of his remains is because his remains were recovered. Most people probably knew bugger all about him until then. Where are the shouts to recover all those other lost remains? I’m sure if you all chuck a few pounds or dollars in, you can get up your own archaeological team to do the research and dig for them, then pay for your own funerals and so on in a place of your choosing. You know, like Leicester did for Richard.

The residents raised a great deal of the £3 million required for the upgrades inside and to the vicinity of the Cathedral, and all the associated preparations and so forth. Not through taxes, and not from the city funds. The people of Leicester are proud of their city, and to insult it, insults them and all the hard work they put into the celebrations of Richard’s life the work needed to provide his final resting place, and the facilities so the rest of the world can enjoy it too. All the nay-sayers who continue to sit at home criticizing, would do well to remember two things. 1) The story you saw from the comfort of your armchair was a heavily sensationalized account of events. The truth is there if you care to read it. 2) The people of Leicester care very much about Richard, and their efforts to give him a dignified burial. They paid for it and they attended it and they continue to take pride in it.

Was it about money? Yes, to a certain degree, keeping the remains of the last Plantagenet king is a great revenue and footfall boost for a forgotten city which could lead to a renewed interest in other historic sites the city has. But you can’t tell me that York wouldn’t have had the same benefit. And they already have a tremendous tourist income. Why shouldn’t Leicester rejuvenate with a slice of that pie? Richard has been here for over 500 years, why move him now? If it had been down to me, I would rather have put him back in the car park than hand him over to someone else after all this time. Why on earth should Leicester do all the work for someone else to reap the rewards? I’ve stood by that carpark many times since I was a girl. I told any interested parties that Richard was buried in there; most laughed.

The “dodgy DNA” thing? While it is entirely possible that there may be a break or indeed several, in the Y line of the DNA, prior to Richard, the only way of detecting this would be to go up from Richard to the possible first offender (Edward III) and back down to the person it allegedly affects now, DNA testing all the way. No this doesnt throw the present Queen’s line into question as she descends from the Jacobean line through action of Parliament rather than direct descent, via the Hanovers. All this is in fact irrelevant as the person whom this “break” directly affects has been notified and is aware of where the break occurred, going back just four generations. But when all is said and done, there have been a number of innocuous bids for the Crown over time, including Richard’s own. DNA is just a new way of framing that!

Things I can’t comment on – I heard rumours regarding the design of the tomb, between the one that was chosen by the “funeral committee” and the one chosen by the RIchard III society. The rumour mill claimed that because the society design was not chosen, the members tried to renege on their donations towards the cost. Toys out of cot moment? I don’t know. You will have to ask them. Did Richard kill those two nephews of his? You’ll have to wait until my book comes out for my thoughts on that. But that’s another story for another day. Let’s leave that for the Richard III society for now, and Philippa and John. I’m sure they have plenty to say on the matter which will keep you occupied until then.

In conclusion, I’m a Yorkshire lass and I’m from the Leicester area. And as a Historian I am happy to say Richard is in the right place. Resting in peace, as he has done since 1485, in a new improved space.


Sources for the legal and practical aspects and procedures of the dig are available on request.
The rest you will have to climb inside my head for, but before you cry foul… remember this: Being weaned on credibility as a Historian, I wouldn’t put my name to it, if it wasn’t true. I have no reason to lie.

Pedro the Cruel

Pedro the Cruel Photo Credit- Luis García
Pedro the Cruel Photo Credit- Luis García

No one looks at their sweet newborn baby and thinks some day his nickname is going to be “the cruel”.  However, let’s say with start Pedro had it’s not surprising.  His father, Alfonso XI, King of Castile, ditched his wife, Maria of Portugal, for his mistress.  Once his wife gave him a son, he shipped them both off to exile away from court.  He continued living with his mistress, with whom he had 10 children two of which were twin boys, leaving Maria to pour bitterness in Pedro’s ears.

Pedro remained under his mother’s control away from court until 1350.  When Pedro was 16, his father died of the black plague leaving Pedro to take the Castilian throne.  He inaugurated his reign by killing a supporter of his half brothers, who were rivals of his for the throne.  He also had his father’s mistress killed.  Basically if someone looked sideways at him, Pedro had them killed.  One of his former ministers on the eve of his execution, wrote to the young king pleading, “Now at the moment of death, I give you my final counsel – if you do not put aside the dagger, if you do not stop committing such murders, then you shall lose your realm and place your person in the greatest jeopardy.”  Those pleas fell on deaf ears.  Historian L.J. Andrew Villalon described the Castilian king this way, “From early in Pedro’s reign, it became clear to friend and foe alike that the monarch had a suspicious and vindictive personality. He employed deceit and cruelty wherever he encountered opposition, real or imagined. His unforgiving nature, combined with a very long memory, made it very hazardous for an opponent to attempt reconciliation with the king. Time and again, the aristocracy looked on as one of its members thought he had made peace with the king, only to be executed or assassinated when the opportunity arose…a modern psychiatrist could scarcely avoid a diagnosis of progressive paranoia, aggravated by homicidal rage and sadistic tendencies.”  Fun guy.

Going against his chief minister, Pedro fell in love and secretly married María de Padilla.  María had her own ambitions and did not like his chief minister.  Scrambling to save his position, he convinced Pedro to marry Blanche of Bourbon, the daughter of the Duke of Bourbon.  Politically, it was ideal as she sealed a needed alliance with the French and brought him a huge dowry.  In a situation much like his childhood, Pedro married Blanche then immediately went back to María, who influenced him to get rid of the scheming minister who arranged his marriage.  This caused a huge scandal and alienated France and the Pope.  He only spent two nights with Blanche, who he eventually had murdered in 1361.

In the meantime, instead of fighting the Muslims of Granada, like his forefathers, he teamed up with them and turned on the Aragonese.  In the midst of that war, he invited his half brother, Fadrique, to dinner and the dessert course was a mace to the head.  The murder of his twin enraged Enrique and he allied with Aragon.  Help put Enrique on the throne and the war with Castile ends.  This was working and Enrique had driven Pedro from Castile by 1366.  However, Pedro had one more trick up his sleeve.

Pedro struck a deal with Edward, the Black Prince of England.  The Hundred Years War spilled over to Spain as the English beat a French Castilian army at Najera in 1367.  However, the English alliance fell apart after Pedro killed one of the prisoners in a fit of rage and kept forgetting to pay his English allies.

The wars drug on and through some double dealing Pedro ended up in a tent with his half brother, Enrique.  Cage match 1369 was about to begin.  Accounts differ as to what happened inside the tent.  One story says Enrique didn’t recognize Pedro so someone had to point him out.  Enrique must have needed glasses because when he still didn’t get it, Pedro screamed, “It’s me!  It’s me!”

Peter's beheading, from a 14th-century French manuscript.
Peter’s beheading, from a 14th-century French manuscript.

Froissart’s version is a bit more inflammatory.  He says Enrique came into the tent demanding. “Where is the son of a Jew whore who calls himself king of Castile?”  Them was fighting words. Pedro answered, “You are the son of a whore, for I am son of the good King Alfonso!”

In any case, weapons were drawn and they both came out swinging.  Most accounts say Pedro had the upper hand until someone pulled him off Enrique, who took that opportunity to plunge his sword into his half brother’s stomach.  Pedro the Cruel lay dead on the ground.  Enrique had Pedro’s body beheaded and left to be abused for several days.  A fitting end to a man nicknamed “the cruel”.


Sources available on request


Battle of Empingham

battlefield at Empingham/Tickencote Warren
battlefield at Empingham/Tickencote Warren

It has gone down in history as one of the shortest and least bloody battles that is known to have taken place in England. Casualties numbers are not recorded but were thought to be light, and two were executed before the battle started.

Its 1470. Edward IV has regained his control following his defeat at Edgecote Moor the previous year, as a result of the intrigues of his brother George, Duke of Clarence and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who had later taken Edward captive for a period, before being forced to release him as a result of an uprising in the North by Lancastrian supporters under Humphrey Neville. Finding the Yorkist armies unwilling to muster to defend, Warwick was left with no alternative but to release his King, who then successfully raised his armies and brought the rebellion under control. Edward witnessed the ringleader executed personally, some say in response to the executions of his father- and brother- in- law Richard and John Woodville’s executions following the battle, at Kenilworth. Also lost were Edward’s closest men, and commanders, the Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert and his brother Sir Richard, and Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon who were captured following the battle and also executed. Herbert had previously been tasked with guardianship of Henry Tudor following the death of his father, Edmund and the later exile of his uncle Jasper, both half-brothers of the deposed King Henry VI.

Back in control, and welcoming Clarence and Warwick back to court, ostensibly in forgiveness, Edward set about re-organising the peace that had settled on England for a period. But Warwick’s plots were not at an end. With an alliance formed between the pair and Lord Robert Welles, and Sir Thomas Dymmock, a new plan was formed to take on the King once again. Edward meanwhile had busied himself with matters of what appeared to be domestic but with the ever present underlying necessity of power alliances, had taken the steps of releasing the heir to Northumberland, Henry Percy, from prison where he had been for around three years following the battle at Towton which led to his father’s death and the forfeiture of the lands and title. Edward knew that it was pivotal to his support in the North to restore the title to Percy, but this left the burning question of what to do with John Neville, Lord Montagu, on who the same titles had been bestowed at Percy’s loss. Edward had desire of keeping this Neville firmly on his own side.

John Neville, unlike his older brother, was an open and ardent supporter of the King, and this was reflected with his receipt of Northumberland. Instead, he was given the title of Earl of Devon now vacant following the execution of Stafford after Edgecote Moor. Edward also agreed the betrothal of his eldest daughter Elizabeth to Montagu’s son, George, which had the effect of appeasing Warwick somewhat with George being his nephew, and it also re-ignited the possibility of marriage between his own daughter Isobel to Clarence, a union he had been aiming for, for some time. Along with his plan to put Clarence on the throne in Edward’s place; a plot that he had been forced to put to one side for a while as a result of the Northern rebellion of 1469.

Inside of Church of St Peter at Tickencote. One of possible contenders for burial of any dead from the battle
Inside of Church of St Peter at Tickencote. One of possible contenders for burial of any dead from the battle

Some theories would have it that Edward truly had forgiven his brother and cousin, however others argue that Edward was working under the old adage “keep your friends close and your enemy closer” following Warwick and Clarence’s disloyalty, and that he was in fact observing their actions whilst feeding them enough rope with which to hang themselves. Following the revolt in the North, Edward had demanded the presence of those to whom rumours abounded of a follow up rebellion. Lord Welles, his son Robert (Baron Willoughby de Eresby) and Sir Thomas Dymmock had fallen into dispute with a neighbor, Sir Thomas Burgh and had encroached upon his property. Edward intervened on behalf of Burgh, his master of horse.

Dymmock and Lord Welles were taken into court and the questions put to them regarding the agenda of the men. They squeaked their innocence of matters, and Edward decided to detain them to see what happened next. His information being what it was, he sent word for his men to muster at Grantham on March 12th 1470 to relieve Burgh. Word spread through Lincolnshire undoubtedly fanned by young Welles that the King’s army were going to march on Lincolnshire with a view to further retaliation for the previous years’ uprising. Men began to gather under Willoughby, and Warwick called his men to arms, seemingly on the pretext of sending them to join Edward’s growing forces at Grantham.

Meanwhile, Dymmock and Lord Welles petitioned Parliament and received pardons. Edward by now was sure that the pair were working for Warwick and another plot was afoot. Edward spoke briefly with his brother, after the pair rode out to see their mother, and Clarence assured him, he was going home to his wife, and staying there. This was however untrue, and he only reached his meeting with Welles and Dymmock at Clerkenwell before heading out. Edward gathered his ordinance from the Tower, and being joined by his allies, Arundel, Hastings and Percy to march north to Grantham. Following his meeting, Clarence headed North also, to meet with Warwick. By the time Edward reached Waltham Abbey on March 6th, it was apparent that Robert Welles was organising a rebel muster at Lincoln, confirmation being sent by messenger from Lord Cromwell of Tattershall Castle, who stated that the call to arms had been shouted from every Sunday pulpit. Edward summoned the senior Welles and Dymmock for further questions.

Clarence meanwhile had sent an undeniably dubious note to his brother that he was going to continue north and rendezvous with Warwick where he would assist him in raising men from Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It seems logical that by this point Edward was aware that his brother and Warwick were switching allegiance once again. This seems to be substantiated by notes on the matter that Edward himself passed to his leaders, and that his play seemed to be one of “let’s make like an idiot, let it go and see where it takes us”. He was under no disillusions that he had the superior forces both with numbers, experience and with cannon. Edward was in Huntingdon when he received word that the rebels were being led by Sir Robert, after confirmation received via Lord Welles and Dymmock. He sent word to the younger Welles that unless he was prepared to disperse his rebels and submit to the King, his father would be “offed” as a result of his treason.

On the 11th, whilst Edward was at his family home in Fotheringhay, he received word that Warwick was ostensibly parked with his forces in Leicester ready for muster on the 12th. It was then that he received word that the rebels marching from the north had passed Grantham and had changed course for Leicester. Welles meanwhile had continued on his own journey with his force towards Stamford 31 miles away. Edward had his men already encamped outside Stamford, after receiving word of Welles’ route and intentions. By medieval standards, a 30-mile march in armour would take a full day. Unless Warwick and the north-men ran, they were going to miss all the fun. It seemed Welles felt that with Edward’s army camped in Stamford, and Edward seemingly isolated at Fotheringhay, it would appear more pertinent to effect a rescue attempt with a large show of numbers.

On the 12th, Edward’s advance pickers had gone out on reconnaissance and the army was placed to the North of Welles’ force of rebels, at the edge of the Great North Road, in a field to the south of the village of Empingham in Rutland, a few miles north of Stamford at a place locally known as Tickencote Warren. As both sides formed under their banners, Edward brought out Lord Welles and Sir Dymmock, to the front of his forces and had them both summarily executed on the spot in full view of the enemy, led by Welles’ son. Edward then ordered forth his cannon to fire an opening volley on the rebels. They turned and fled.

Edward’s forces routed the remainder who tried to escape in all directions. Popular legend has it that they shed their coats in the process in order to prevent identification, leading to the alternative romantic name of the Battle of Lose-coat field. I can assure you however that this is a popular name for certain fields in Rutland, from its translation of the old English for a cottage with a pig-sty “hlose-cot” of which there were several. Locally the battle had faded away into the murky depths of memory and time, not many know of the event, much less where it took place. The few who do, refer to it as the battle of Empingham or the battle of Tickencote. Another legend states that at the commence of battle,the army under Welles shouted “A Warwick, A Clarence” and gave the confirmation of their allegiance, and the treason of Edward’s brother and cousin. But I would posit that it would be pretty illogical to be shouting allegiances when one is running away.

Varying sources have claimed differences in the number of dead, however it would seem with the abrupt conclusion of the battle with only the one volley and not much else, that deaths would be few and mostly restricted to the rebel forces. Certainly there don’t seem to be any local records of potential burial places for the casualties; Rutland is unique in that pretty much every village contains a church dating back to the Period immediately following the Norman conquest, up to around the 14th Century, including both Tickencote and Empingham. No remains are knowingly held in these places. The battlefield continues to be harvested every year by the owner. The lack of deaths could be mainly because they were fired upon, and then ran away. Contemporary sources do state that several rebels were chased into the local woods where some were captured and put to the sword. It was from one of these victims who was dressed in the rebel livery that a letter was found about his body which conclusively linked Welles’ force to those of Warwick and Clarence. And provided Edward with the next step of the plan, which was to march Northwards to reach Yorkshire before Warwick and Clarence reached there, and mustered a waiting Yorkshire enemy…..


Mary of York

Mary of York, daughter to Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville. Photo Credit- Google Images
Mary of York, daughter to Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville. Photo Credit- Google Images

Mary was born on the 11th August 1467 at Windsor Castle. She was the second daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Mary was christened the next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Bourchier, was her Godfather. Her Godmothers are not recorded although it is thought Mary was named after Elizabeth’s sister Mary, who could possibly have been one of her God-mothers. Shortly after her birth, Mary’s Uncle, Anthony Lord Rivers successfully held back the Bastard of Fauconberg during his attack on London.

Elizabeth secured in 1468, an income for her two daughters, of £400 a year, and the two were governed by Lady Berners until her death in 1475. That year, Edward IV, in anticipation of his journey to France, and faced with the possibility of conflict, drew up a will. He left a considerable sum for Mary, 10,000 marks, on condition that she made a good marriage in accordance with the wishes of her mother. If she went against this condition, her bequest would be turned over to pay her father’s debts.

Although some sources claim a betrothal was proposed between Mary and Hans, heir to Denmark, it has also been cited that as part of Edward’s 1475 treaty with Louis XI, a betrothal would be made between the Dauphin, Charles, later Charles VIII and Edward’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, or upon her unforeseen death, Mary would be to stand in her place in the match. In any event neither of these eventualities took place, as both Edward and Louis died within a few months of each other in 1483. Charles was 13 years old at the time, and upon reaching his majority, in 1491, scandalised the monarchy somewhat by marrying Anne of Brittany who had already been married by proxy to Maximillian I of the Hapsburgs, in a dubious ceremony. Elizabeth meanwhile married Henry Tudor in 1486 to become Queen of England. The proposed match between Hans and Mary must not have been formalised as he married Christina of Saxony in 1478. One other suitor has been named for Mary, Hans’ younger brother and co-Duke, Frederick I.

The five daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, (left to right): Elizabeth, Cecily, Anne, Catherine, and Mary. Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral. Photo Credit- Wikipedia
The five daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, (left to right): Elizabeth, Cecily, Anne, Catherine, and Mary. Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral. Photo Credit- Wikipedia

In 1480, Mary and her younger sister Cecily, joined their older sister with the honour of being named as Lady of the Garter. Elizabeth having received the same honour three years previously. Two years later, on May 23rd 1482, at the age of fourteen, Mary died suddenly from an unknown cause. She was laid to rest at the side of her younger brother George, who pre-deceased Mary by three years. George died aged two, probably of plague.

Over time, the tombs of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and those of George and Mary were amongst several whose location within St George’s Chapel Windsor, had not been recorded. The tombs of Edward and Elizabeth was discovered during work in 1789, and subsequent remodelling of the vaults for the tomb of George III between 1810 and 1813, turned up the coffins containing the remains of Mary and George, who were subsequently placed in the vault adjoining that of their parents.

During this work, Mary’s coffin was found to be breached in one area, showing her pale blonde hair remained in one area, and the coffin on being opened, revealed her eyes were pale blue and open. However the admission of air to the remains caused her eyes to disintegrate almost immediately. Allegedly a quantity of Mary’s hair was then cut off and subsequently passed to famous English writer, Agnes Strickland, before she was laid once more to rest.


Battle of Mortimer’s Cross

30167I debated with myself for quite some time as to whether I should write about the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, as there isn’t really a great story to tell. The battle was short and decisive, but one of the most poorly accounted in the Wars of the Roses. Much of what we know is filled with holes and contradictions, particularly regarding the location of the venue and even the date is unconfirmed.

But I felt the story must nonetheless be told, mostly for the sake of how the key events fit into the bigger picture. Several notable figures made their mark in history that day, one way or another either by their actions or simply as a result of the outcome. And as we all know, background and context is hugely important in establishing motives, alliances, and later events. So let’s dive in and see what happens.

Our key players on the day were for the Yorkists, Edward, Earl of March, with his flanking commanders, William Herbert (later Earl of Pembroke) and his father in law, Sir Richard Devereux. Other major attendants of note included John Tuchet, 6th Lord Audley (who had defected earlier the same year from the Lancastrian cause after being taken prisoner by the Earl of Warwick in Calais), John Milewater, Lord Grey of Wilton and Humphrey Stafford, future Earl of Devon.

For the Lancastrians, led by Owen Tudor were his son, Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke and James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond. Their army comprised roughly 4000 men, a thousand less than the Yorksists, made up for the most part of Tudor’s Welshmen and Butler’s happy band of French, Irish and Breton mercenaries. Their plan was to travel South to meet with Queen Margaret of Anjou who was leading the remaining Lancastrians to take London. Warwick held captive her husband Henry VI.

880264Edward had learned of the deaths of his father Richard, and brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland at Wakefield some five weeks previously. At that time, he had been staying in Shrewsbury by most contemporary accounts, from where he heard Margaret was heading for London; he had moved to Wigmore to gather up his forces from the March area. Upon hearing that the Tudors were marching South to meet with the Queen, Edward altered his plans to head for the capital and instead made the decision to head towards Tudor’s force and cut them off with battle. Being in Wigmore suited his plans as it gave him the advantage of being very close to his chosen point somewhere near to Mortimer’s Cross.

The city of London in the meantime, upon hearing Margaret was on her way flanked by Scottish forces, whom she had spent the previous few weeks recruiting with the help of recently widowed Scots queen Marie of Guelders, closed the city gates to her and prepared to defend themselves against the inevitable pillaging and destruction that her army were famous for.

The Tudor forces marched from Brecon. Jasper and Owen had spent the winter period following the Battle of Wakefield supposedly at Pembroke Castle, being as it lay on the river from Milford Haven. It is supposed that Butler landed here with his overseas mercenaries, and it was from here that Margaret sailed up to Scotland some weeks before after stopping to meet the Tudors, possibly at Harlech. The Lancastrians force was inferior in number to the Yorkist army, and had the added disadvantage of language differences. The commanders were not for the most part known for their battle skills, including Jasper Tudor who had little inexperience in battle, or indeed their bravery. The army under Edward by contrast were Marches men well known for their courage, comprising mainly of long bowmen and billmen.

Jasper’s army faced a long march towards London, and as word spread knew there was a possibility that they would have to face Edward, particularly as the Brecon route they took was almost certain to have them cross paths. Tudor was not especially looking forward to an engagement but the closer he got, the more likely it became. It is argued that the route he chose was deliberate as his intention was to reach the area before battle lines could be drawn and attack the Yorks at either Wigmore or Ludlow. After covering 110 miles in somewhere between five to ten days, the Tudor forces arrived near the Yorkist lines. Edward had on the other hand, like Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, had plenty of time to rest his army, and reconnoitre the area for the best place to wage his battle. He chose an area close to Wigmore somewhere between Mortimer’s Cross and Kingsland, where two valleys met, flanked by wooded hills to one side and the River Lugg to the other. The exact position was not recorded however is believed to be somewhere close to the crossroads of what is now the A4110 and the B4362. A cottage down towards the turnpike is known as Battle Acre, and a farm-hand has reported many finds of bits of metal associated with horses, bridle bits, stirrups and so on, as well as many that could arguably be from weapons adding weight to the site as the correct one.

3909016Some historians would argue that Edward chose to have the river to his rear, but I would suggest that made little tactical sense as if he gained the upper hand, he would be driving uphill, and should he be forced to retreat it would be through the river. Wigmore Castle was a stones’ throw away holding provisions, and reinforcements and would be easily defended should he be on the losing side and be forced to retreat. Further men would be stationed at Ludlow. Croft Castle at Mortimer’s Cross, home of Richard Devereux was to provide another tactical stronghold, and was allegedly where Edward chose to stay before the battle. Had the Lancastrian forces changed direction and continued past the chosen position they could have marched straight past Croft, which would have allowed Edward to engage them there also.
On the morning of February 2nd 1461 (some would have the 3rd) Edward rose and led his men to their positions. Taking the centre, he positioned his bowmen under the tree cover to the right led by Devereux, on the hillside shielded by trees, from where they would be hidden from view and placed to inflict maximum damage on the opposing force. His billmen flanked the river and were commanded by William Herbert. The sun that day was a peculiar phenomenon known as parhelion or sun dog, which occurs when the sun rises on a very cold day and is flanked on either side by ice crystals which reflect the rays leading to the impression of three suns in alignment. Edward’s army were said to be a little afraid of the sight, but he convinced them that it was a sign from God representative of the Holy Trinity and that he was on their side. After the battle, Edward had the symbol of three suns woven into a banner, which became his emblem.

The initial charge, often attributed to Jasper Tudor was in fact made by the Earl of Wiltshire, leading the Lancastrian left flank to the opposing right of Edward. This charge was halted before any significant damage could be sustained, by the hidden archers on the hillside who inflicted heavy casualties and caused immediate chaos. Edward’s right hand vanguard were forced to retreat slightly over the road during the melee, which saw the survivors of the charge flee into the central Lancastrian force, led by Jasper, causing mayhem and obstruction. Pembroke then attempted to engage Edwards centre force, led by Edward himself with his men-at-arms. He was said to have made his mark as a warrior that day, with images of him standing a head and shoulders above most of his men, and clad in full armour, slashing away with his sword to maximum effect.

9518317Meanwhile, Owen Tudor tried desperately to encircle the left flank and failed, his forces routed. At this point it was said that Pembroke and Wiltshire made their escape from the battlefield knowing the day was lost. In a contemporary account however it is claimed the Wiltshire as soon as his initial charge met the rain of arrows from the Yorkist archers, turned and fled. As the Lancastrian army realized their defeat was imminent, many tried to make their escape. Most were slain on the battlefield, drowned in the Lugg trying to swim to safety or chased from the river bank and slaughtered as they were caught. It was claimed that there were up to 4000 Lancastrian dead that day, however that would account for pretty much their entire force. It may not be as fanciful as it sounds, desire for revenge of his father and brother would no doubt have been at the front of Edward’s mind; mercy was probably not in his vocabulary that day. Other sources indicate this number was total casualties from both sides combined, which ordinarily sounds more likely but due to the short length of battle and the ferocity of the Yorkist defence, it seems fair to presume that the majority of dead were from the Lancastiran side.

The survivors of the Tudor force were said to have fled, some as far as 17 miles to Hereford, all the while being chased by York’s army. Indeed, it is claimed that it was at Hereford where Edward caught up with Owen Tudor, taking him prisoner and later having him beheaded, before spiking his head on the town gate or sitting it atop the market cross, whichever account you believe. It is claimed that Tudor thought he would be spared right up until the moment his collar was ripped away. His last words were said to be “that hede shalle ly on the stocke that wass wonte to ly on Quene Katheryns lappe.” Other sources would have the battle itself taking place on the outskirts of Hereford, and Owen Tudor being captured at the edge of the battlefield as he tried to escape. Although I discount this suggestion, either way the result is the same. Edward won, and Owen Tudor lost his head. Popular legend states a local mad woman visited the head of Tudor on its spike, washed his face and combed his hair and placed candles around it. Owen’s body was buried in a small chapel of the greyfriars at the edge of Hereford. His illegitimate son David later paid for a memorial. There is a later stone close to where Tudor’s head was spiked.

Several key lords on the Lancastrian force managed to escape, a small number were executed, one died in battle. It would appear in stark contrast that York losses were few, estimates vary but a conservative figure of 50 to 100 men is given, with none of the commanders amongst the casualties. As for Margaret of Anjou, when reaching London and finding her way barred, her Scottish ‘barbarians, having already plundered and pillaged their way to the city, fled back to the north, content with the spoils they had gathered, and happy enough not to have to fight. Margaret hesitated unsure of her next move, when news reached her of the loss at Mortimer’s Cross. Her army fell back and retreated through Dunstable, leaving Edward to join with the Earl of Warwick and march on to London himself where he was crowned King of England.