Walking in the footsteps of Richard III

The guilds entertain Richard III, as depicted in York's historical pageant in 1909. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives
7 Oct 2013 @ 10.48 am
| History
The guilds entertain Richard III, as depicted in York's historical pageant in 1909. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives
The guilds entertain Richard III, as depicted in York’s historical pageant in 1909. Photograph: York Libraries and Archives

john-oxley-headshotSo where was Richard III’s York? You can now find out thanks to a walking tour with archaeologist John Oxley. Here he guides us around the king’s city


On Friday, August 29, 1483 King Richard III, accompanied by the Queen, his son, five bishops, three earls, and many lords of the realm, clerks, servants and hangers-on stopped at the Chapel of St James on the Mount where the civic party, dressed in ceremonial red robes, greeted him and his court.

Richard stayed in York for the next three weeks during which time the city was humming with excitement and alive with festivities.

That Friday was a day of celebration. The king was escorted through the city to York Minster.

The streets – Micklegate, Ouse Bridge, Low Ousegate, Spurriergate, Coney Street, and Stonegate – were lined with people cheering and singing. Brightly coloured sheets and textiles hung from the windows of the houses.

The corporation and guilds of the city staged elaborate pageants at Micklegate Bar, Ouse Bridge, and Stonegate. The first pageant at Micklegate Bar probably emphasised the history and loyalty of the city to the crown.

Those at Ouse Bridge and in Stonegate would perhaps have been drawn from the Mystery Plays. Richard entered the Minster Precinct at Minster Gates, the site of one of four gateways into the Minster Precinct.

On to the palace

At the West Door, the Dean and Canons of York Minster greeted Richard. After services in the Minster led by the Dean, the royal party made its way to the palace of the archbishop which became the King’s residence during his stay in York.

On September 8, Richard’s son was invested as Prince of Wales in the palace. The ceremony was followed by a four-hour banquet.

Ten days later Richard rewarded the city. In front of the Lord Mayor, aldermen and others in the Chapter House of York Minster he promised a substantial reduction in the annual tax the city paid to the crown.

Remarkably, today in York we can walk in the footsteps of Richard. We can stand in many of the places where Richard feasted, prayed and met his subjects during this and his many previous visits.

What survives

The York Minster library in Dean's Park. Photograph: York Minster on Flickr
Recognisable to Richard: the York Minster library in Dean’s Park. Photograph: York Minster on Flickr

Micklegate Bar, St Williams College, buildings such as 35 Stonegate, 60 Stonegate, 33-35 High Petergate all survive from Richard’s time in York.

We can stand in Barley Hall, home in the late 15th century to the important Snawsell family, knowing that Richard himself might have been wined and dined in this very space. We know Richard was feted in The Guildhall.

The chapel of the Archbishop’s palace where the investiture took place is now the Minster Library; part of its cloister survives in the Dean’s Park. And York Minster and its Chapter of House still stand proud over the city.

Two years later, on 19 August 1485 York sent 80 men to join Richard’s army. They arrived too late to fight with the king.

However, the Lord Mayor’s sergeant of the mace did fight at Bosworth, and on 23 August he returned to York to report that “King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was through great treason… piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city”.

York’s loyalty and support to Richard, first as Duke of Gloucester then as King, was true to the end.