First look: York’s two new museums see Richard III take on Henry VII

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Inside the Richard III Experience, Monk Bar, York. Click the image to see a larger version. Photographs: Richard McDougall

Two new museums throw open their doors on Saturday (April 5th) pitting a pair of medieval monarchs against one another.

In Monk Bar, The Richard III Experience gives an insight into this most controversial king. His successor’s life and times are explored at The Henry VII Experience in Micklegate Bar.

The museums, launched by the Jorvik Group, focus on the two monarchs who marked the transition from the Middle Ages to the Tudor Period, using a range of media designed to engage all ages.

The exhibitions tell both the swashbuckling stories of Richard and Henry, and the nature of public life in York when they visited the city – from aldermen and medicine to sewage and sanitation.

Visitors to the two museums will find a variety of features including replica suits of armour, an abundance of informative placards, videos and for younger visitors, props, costumes items and passages of text scripted by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary.

The Jorvik Group already operated the small museum situated in Micklegate Bar which has now become The Henry VII Experience.

They took the reins of Monk Bar’s Richard III Museum – re-branding it as The Richard III Experience – following the retirement of the attraction’s former owner Mike Bennett.

What’s the big idea?

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Click on the images for a closer look

Sarah Maltby, director of attractions at the Jorvik Group, explained the vision behind the significantly re-vamped Richard III attraction.

“We’re looking at his life and reign, but more specifically we’re looking at his impact on York and what York was like during his reign.

“We talk about when he came to the throne, the Wars of the Roses in Yorkshire more generally, the fact that he came to York and the fact that there was a reaction to him from the people of York.”

But Sarah says, that is only half the story. “Obviously we want to encourage people to go on to The Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar.

“To encourage that we’ve written a trail, which we’re going to give to all our visitors so they can explore the walls between the two attractions.”

An expert’s verdict

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The man himself: Richard III. Click the image to see a larger version

We spoke with Richard III Society member Peter Hammond about the ill-fated monarch’s relationship with York.

Does the Richard III Experience represent the king well?

Yes, I think the exhibition gives a good representation of the life and times of Richard III. There are some things I might not necessarily agree with, but yep, I think it does. It tells a good story.

How did York people regard Richard III?

Most York dwellers wouldn’t have thought about him at all. They knew that there was a king of course.

The councillors would have thought about him quite considerably, because they’d have been thinking about what he could do for us and what we could do for him in return. Certainly the council supported him.

Did he wield much power before he became king?

Yes, I’m sure he did. He had a lot of influence – not necessarily direct power, but they had to pay attention to what he said, and find out what he said.

What do you think about Richard’s alleged remains found in Leicester?

I think it’s excellent. I mean all of a sudden he’s a real person! Perhaps in a slightly strange way given we’re looking at bones, but yes, he’s a physical presence. I think it’s excellent, whatever the result [of ongoing investigations into the legitimacy of the find].

Do you think his remains belong in York, Leicester or elsewhere?

You can make a case for all kinds of other places, but between York and Leicester… I think Leicester!