Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Gruyères Castle

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

It is tempting to think that the British Isles contain all the sites associated with Richard III’s life. Of course, that’s not true. Richard lived abroad twice, first in 1461 and again in 1470-1. On both occasions, he had fled England in order to save his life and wound up living in lands controlled by the Duke of Burgundy.  The Duke, a descendant of a junior branch of the French royal house of Valois, maintained the most glamorous and sophisticated court in all of Europe.  So powerful were the Valois-Burgundian dukes that when Edward IV became king, he betrothed his sister Margaret to the heir of that duchy.

Charles the Bold

Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433-1477). His third marriage was to Margaret of York, Edward IV’s and Richard III’s sister. He would be the last of the Valois dukes of Burgundy.

Margaret’s intended husband, Charles “the Bold” or “the Rash”, became Duke of Burgundy with the death of his father Philip “the Good” in 1467. Their marriage (Charles’ third) occurred in 1468 in a lavish wedding ceremony culminating with 10 days of festivities in Bruges.  The marriage alliance had a profound impact on geopolitics, both in England and on the Continent. Edward IV would lose the support of Richard Neville, “the Kingmaker” Earl of Warwick, because he favored an alliance with France. France would take an aggressive stance against both England and Burgundy, and actively seek to thwart both regimes.  Burgundy, the on-again/off-again ally of England, would generally fall into allegiance with its Anglo cousin.  Although Margaret never bore Charles any children, she did take great delight in being a step-mother to Mary, Charles’ sole heir and daughter by his second wife.  One of the reasons why Margaret did not have any children by Charles is that he was usually off fighting somewhere in his far-flung territories.

Map of territories held by the Dukes of Burgundy 1465-77. (By Marco Zanoli, Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Charles inherited an enormous assemblage of lands that gave him a revenue stream rivaling those of other European monarchs.  In 1473, he even announced to the Holy Roman Emperor that he desired to form an independent sovereign state, with himself (naturally) its king.  Bold, indeed!  Charles wasn’t content, however, with his inheritance and he sought to expand and solidify his territorial holdings.   His army entered the Duchy of Lorraine and seized Nancy in November 1475; he then proceeded to march south against the Swiss Confederation, doing battle against the Swiss at Grandson and then at Morat (Murten) in 1476.  Behind his back, the Duke of Lorraine re-took Nancy while Charles was fighting the Swiss, and thus, in the Winter of 1476-7, Charles found himself moving his troops back to Lorraine in an effort to recapture Nancy.  It was a fatal mistake.  Charles’ army would be routed in the bloody Battle of Nancy and Charles slain in battle.  His head had been cleft in two by a halberd, and his body could not be found amongst the battle detritus for two days.  It had been stripped of clothes and jewels and the face was mangled, cut open and partly eaten by dogs or wolves, and it could only be identified by its long fingernails and battle scars.  His death, like his third marriage, would have significant geopolitical consequences.  His daughter Mary’s husband, Archduke Maximilian from the House of Hapsburg, would become Holy Roman Emperor.  The lands that had been in the possession of the Dukes of Burgundy now became absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire, and then involved in the Wars of Religion and the horrific Thirty Years’ War of the 16th and 17th centuries.  The border between France and Germany, at Alsace-Lorraine, would be disputed into the 20th century.

So what does this have to do with Gruyères Castle, you might ask?  Well, the person who claimed to have killed Charles the Bold was the Count of Gruyères, who fought at the Battle of Nancy along with other mercenaries from the Swiss Confederacy.  The Count’s family seat was in the Swiss Canton of Fribourg, where his ancestral castle overlooked the town of Gruyères.  My husband and I discovered this, much to our surprise, when we visited in May 2017.

Gruyères Castle

Gruyères is a bit of a tourist mecca for those visiting this part of Europe, as it has many attractions including the heritage cheese and some very impressive mountains.  But most impressive of all is its castle, originally constructed in the 13th century in the “Savoyard” style.  It is open to the public every day of the week, and contains several medieval features including a kitchen, receiving room, bedchamber, chapel, and ramparts.  It also has a cape belonging to Charles the Bold as a knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which was taken as booty by the Swiss when they defeated Charles at the Battle of Morat (Murten).

Gruyères Castle – Cape of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece

The Count of Gruyères’ achievement at the Battle of Nancy is memorialized in a 19th century wall painting depicting him slaying Charles the Bold, along with other famous tales of the Counts of Gruyères.

19th century painting depicting Charles the Bold’s death by the Count of Gruyères at the Battle of Nancy

Gruyères itself is a perfectly preserved medieval town, with abundant hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops.  There is a museum devoted to the contemporary Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed the aliens in the Alien movie series.  If that isn’t your cup of tea, there is always scrumptious cheese fondue or local raspberries served with cream.  You would certainly fare better with Gruyères than Richard III’s rash brother-in-law!

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Richard Vaughan, CHARLES THE BOLD (Boydell Press, 1973)

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Conisbrough

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

For me, being a “Ricardian traveler” doesn’t necessarily mean that you only visit places where Richard III — as a child, the Duke of Gloucester or the King — lived.  It means exploring towns, castles, battlefields, and churches which have some association to his family or to the Wars of the Roses.  I would call Conisbrough in South Yorkshire a “Ricardian” site because it does have connections to Richard’s ancestors, including a rather infamous one!  And, to my surprise, I discovered that Richard did give its castle some attention during his life, consistent with his reputation as being a Duke who made extensive investments in architecture and his estates’ infrastructure.

Conisbrough Castle

From the 11th to the 14th century, Conisbrough Castle was in the possession of the de Warenne Earls of Surrey.  Construction began in the late 11th century, with the unique great tower (also called “Hamelin’s Tower” after Hamelin de Warenne, Henry II’s half-brother) being built in the 1170s or 1180s.

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle – Barbican and SW Curtain Wall

The great tower contained living quarters for its early inhabitants:  a great chamber for receiving guests, a bedchamber, chapel and latrine.  “Mod cons” such as a well and fireplaces provided fresh water and heat.  The fireplaces have unique “joggled” (V-shaped) lintel stones and intricately carved capitals in the French style, similar to examples at York Minster (completed by 1175).  The castle anchored a burgeoning human settlement on the River Don, and there are lovely views of Conisbrough village from the roof of Hamelin’s Tower.

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Conisbrough Castle passed to the crown (Edward III) when the de Warenne family line ran out of surviving heirs.  The king granted it to his son Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. While Fotheringhay and Ludlow were primary Yorkist residences, Conisbrough was an important secondary residence.  It was at Conisbrough Castle that Langley’s second son, Richard, was born in 1385.  Richard II served as his god-father, as the king was staying in York at the time.

Richard of Conisbrough is a controversial historical figure.  There are, and were, significant doubts about his birth legitimacy.  He was conceived 12 years after his older brother Edward when his mother (Isabella of Castile) was rumored to have been having an extra-marital affair with Richard II’s half-brother, John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon.  Further doubt is cast on his legitimacy by his father and brother neither mentioning nor providing him with any land or income in their wills.  In a secret and clandestine marriage,  he took the 16-year old Anne Mortimer, eldest sister of the Earl of March and Richard II’s declared heir, as his wife.  Aside from receiving an annuity of 500 marks from Richard II, and later the title of Earl of Cambridge in 1414 from Henry V, Richard was the poorest of all English earls and held no political or military office.  His “claim to fame” came in 1415 when he was executed for his role in the Southampton Plot, a poorly devised scheme to assassinate Henry V and put his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, on the throne.  Notably, some historians and scholars have questioned whether any such cohesive conspiracy existed.  They suggest that Henry V might have gotten wind of grumblings amongst some noblemen and, in an effort to eradicate political turmoil before he left for his campaign in France, accused them of plotting against his life.  A confession was obtained from one of the alleged co-conspirators (Sir Thomas Grey), but Richard of Conisbrough demanded a trial by his peers.  He was found guilty.

His second accomplishment is that he and his wife Anne Mortimer produced one male child, also named Richard, who later became the third Duke of York and the father of two kings (Edward IV and Richard III).  Although the English Heritage guidebook states that the future third Duke of York was born at Conisbrough Castle, this is not documented by baptismal records there.  Anne Mortimer died either while giving birth to Richard in 1411 or shortly thereafter, when she was around 20 years of age.  There are no records about where she died or was buried, but there is a theory that she was interred at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire.  Her skeleton was found during an exhumation of Edmund of Langley’s tomb in 1877.  It was during the disinterment of Langley’s remains, which were intermixed with those of his first wife Isabella, that archeologists discovered a separate lead coffin containing the skeleton of a young woman less than 30 years of age with auburn hair.  The scientists concluded it could not belong to Langley’s second wife, Joan Holland, since she died at the age of 53/54 after remarrying several times.  Of course, no DNA or other forensic testing was done back in the Victorian days, so this conclusion is based on the educated guesswork of archeologists.  It is possible that Anne gave birth to Richard and  died at Conisbrough Castle, with her body being translated more than 150 miles to Kings Langley, but again there is no record of this happening.  There is some logic to the argument that she would have been buried near her place of death, thus making Conisbrough a less likely candidate.

With the accession of Edward IV to the throne in 1461, the castle again became a crown property. The last recorded repairs to it were carried out in 1482-3, on the orders of  Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  After the Battle of Bosworth, it fell into a ruinous state and remained in that condition for hundreds of years.  Yet, for many, the castle has inspired the imagination.  Both Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Britanniae) and Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe) used Conisbrough Castle as a setting for their storied flights into English history.

The Church of St Peter, Conisbrough

Perhaps one of the more surprising “gems” discovered on the trip to Conisbrough was the parish church of St. Peter’s, which boasts architectural details from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman periods.

St. Peters Church, Conisbrough

St. Peters Church, Conisbrough

St Peters Church, Conisbrough

Nave of St Peters Church, Conisbrough


The church was founded in the 8th century, built around 740-750 AD and more likely even as early as 680 AD based on masonry construction similarities with other churches dating from that period, making it one of the oldest parish churches in all of England.  One of the arch capital supporters in the nave came from a nearby Roman villa, and it features a carving of a Roman soldier with a leather-pleated skirt; it was later defaced by 16th century iconoclasts, but it is still visible today.  The nave itself has round Saxon arches on the north side, and pointed Norman arches on the south side from the 1200 period.  The nave’s roof was raised in 1200 and again 1475, when the church was being substantially remodeled in the Perpendicular style during the reign of Edward IV, to its present height.  The Victorians enlarged the north aisle in 1866, keeping the original stones and some ancient 13th century glass windows which depict Old Testament figures such as Joseph, Noah and Jacob.  Unfortunately, their work was met with scorn and ridicule, and it seems they may have caused the loss of some ancient frescoes and wall paintings.  A 13th century altar slab, with its 5 consecration crosses, presently in the north presbytery chapel, was found in the Castle ruins in 1923 and brought into the church where it is used for prayer.

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There is a most curious tomb chest that is said to be from the Romano-British time period, a leftover from when Aurelius Ambrosius remained in Conisbrough following the withdrawal of Roman governors in 400 AD and preached in what is now the churchyard.  According to the history recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, he gathered and led the Britons against the invading Saxons. The tomb chest depicts (from right to left) a dragon, a serpent, a knight with sword and shield defending against the dragon, and a priest with a bishop’s crozier.  Other experts say that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history is suspect and more fantasy than fact, and the chest actually dates from the Norman period.

St Peters Church Grave Cover

Tomb Chest:  Romano-British or Norman?

Remnants of 15th century glass have been assembled into two collages in the windows of the south wall of the chancel.  One contains a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with tears streaming from her face, as she knelt at the crucifixion of Jesus.  The other contains a portrait of Prior Thomas Atwell from Lewes Priory in Sussex and a figurehead of St Blaise with his bishop’s crozier.

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For more information, including visiting hours, about Conisbrough Castle, click here and here.

The parish church of St Peter has a 20-minute video about its history on its website, which you can find here.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Ripon Cathedral and Richmond Castle

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

I admit I have a special fondness for the “third smallest city in England” – Ripon.  It’s located in North Yorkshire and is a bustling cathedral town, famous for its racetrack and the “Ripon Hornblower”. It’s also well-situated for making day trips to a plethora of Ricardian sites, including Middleham Castle, Barnard Castle, Sheriff Hutton, Jervaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey, Coverham Abbey, and Skipton Castle.  It was the place where the Archbishop of York had one of his personal palaces, although all that remains of that nowadays is a stone archway on Kirkgate Street.  It has a wonderful little butcher shop that sells delicious pork pies, and a clutch of terrific pubs — One-Eyed Rat being my favorite.  Not bad for a 1,300-year old town that seems to have escaped the economic booms and ravages of the Industrial Revolution.

But what I always enjoy whenever I go there are the famous 15th century wood carvings at Ripon Cathedral. They depict Biblical scenes, medieval beasts and mythical monsters in the most vivid manner. The “misericords” or “pity” or “mercy” seats are particularly  renowned.  A misericord is a ledge that is attached to a tip-up seat in the choir stall, which allowed the worshipper to take the weight off his or her legs but still technically stand for prayer.  The carvings can only be seen when the seat is in the “up” position, which would be for most of the Mass (the only time the canons could sit would be during the Epistle and the Gradual, and the Responses at Vespers).

Ripon Cathedral - West Facade (built 1220)

Ripon Cathedral – West Facade (built 1220)

Ripon Cathedral sits on the site of the first stone church building erected in Northumbria, in 672, under the guidance of Saint Wilfrid.   His Saxon crypt is still intact under the cathedral’s foundations and can be explored by visitors, as demonstrated in this YouTube video.  The present building’s west front was built in 1220, its two towers originally capped with spires.  In 1439, the college of the church comprised 32 members (7 canons, 6 vicars, 6 deacons, 6 incense carriers, and 6 choristers).  In 1458, the central tower suffered a partial collapse which destroyed the existing choir stalls.  It was not until the 1480s that restoration work began, and continued into the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII.  According to accounts from 1520/21, the wood carvers were paid 4-6 pence per day for their work on the choir.  The misericords on the south side of the choir date from 1489; the ones on the north side from 1490.  Similarities with the misericords of Beverly Minster suggest they were done by the same hand.

Ripon’s carvings have a large proportion of spiritual or doctrinal images, although there is one “profane” carving of a man exposing himself (!).  Scenes from the Old Testament were viewed as metaphors for Christ’s baptism and resurrection, while other images offered morality lessons.  Reynard the Fox, for instance, makes an appearance to warn gullible Christians against Satan’s treachery.   There is also a really wonderful carving of an elephant carrying a castle-like “howdah”, with 11 men riding on top and one being held in the elephant’s trunk.  Some speculate the 12 men represent the disciples, with Judas being held in the trunk.  Medieval people were, indeed, familiar with elephants.  Louis IX of France gave an elephant to Henry III in 1255; crowds flocked to see it and Matthew Paris made a sketch.


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Effigy of Thomas Markenfield, with unique livery collar

Effigy of Thomas Markenfield, with unique livery collar

There is a beautiful alabaster effigy of Sir Thomas Markenfield, who died in 1398. He is wearing a most unique livery collar that reflects his service to Richard II, as it shows a stag at rest within a park pale.  His descendant, another Thomas, was appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1484 and fought with Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.   Markenfield Hall is only 3 miles from the cathedral and is considered one of the best-preserved moated 14th century country houses in England. The current owner opens it up to the public at limited (and erratic) times of the year, so if you’re lucky you might get a tour of it.

Also of interest to Ricardians is a banner commemorating Richard III’s 550th birthday that was donated to Ripon Cathedral by the Richard III Foundation.  It is displayed in the cathedral’s library and is worth checking out.  The occasion of the king’s birthday in 2002 was celebrated by a medieval mass with the mayor of Middleham and the dean of Ripon Cathedral officiating – reflective of the enduring attachment that is still expressed in Yorkshire for this long-dead monarch.

Richmond Castle - 12th century square keep

Richmond Castle – 12th century square keep

Next, we drove 30 miles north to Richmond Castle, one of the great Norman fortresses of the medieval era.  Like many castles, it is situated high above the local river (in this case, the River Swale), and its square keep – designed to express the power and wealth of its owner – dominates the town buildings that cluster at its foot.

Richmond Castle was founded in 1070 A.D. by Alan Rufus, a Breton kinsman of William the Conqueror who commanded the Breton contingent of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings.  As a reward for his service at Hastings and later in putting down a revolt in the North in 1070 (a brutal affair known as the “Harrying of the North”), the Conqueror bestowed upon him a vast group of lands and estates that would become known as the “Honour of Richmond”.   Alan Rufus built Richmond Castle to be the focus of his Honour.  Because of his service to the king, he was very much an absentee owner and delegated its defenses to select feudal knights.  The town prospered and was granted borough status as early as 1145.

The title of the Earl of Richmond was originally created for and given to Alan Rufus, and his heirs, but through the centuries it was severed from the Honour itself.  During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Honour of Richmond passed between various hands – technically, it owed allegiance to Brittany/France but also to England.  So, it was periodically confiscated whenever the political winds shifted.  In 1435, the title passed to the Plantagenets and ultimately to Margaret Beaufort’s son, Henry Tudor.  Edward IV confiscated the title from Tudor, and he granted the Castle to his brother George, Duke of Clarence, until his execution in 1478, at which time it was granted to Richard.  Richard had already possessed the Richmondshire (Yorkshire) estates from the Honour by virtue of a July, 1471 grant from Edward IV.  Both the Castle and the Richmondshire portion of the Honour remained in Richard’s possession until his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

If the weather is clear and warm, Richmond Castle is the perfect place to bring a blanket and a good book to read (I would say a picnic lunch, too, but am not sure if food is allowed to be brought in).  There is a broad green lawn in the center of the castle complex, and there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore.  Climbing the ramparts of the curtain wall is rewarded with stunning views of Richmond’s town, the River Swale, and the Yorkshire Dales.  We spent a good 2 hours there, and found a delightful little tea shop just yards away from the Tower’s gate where we enjoyed scones with cream and jam.  In all, Richmond and Ripon are two laid-back places that are not overrun by tourists and offer many pleasures – historical and sensory – for the Ricardian traveler.

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My previous Travel Tales blog talked about the Forest of Bowland and Skipton.  Today, we’re going to two places that sometimes get forgotten by the traveler who is interested in visiting places having some Richard III connections:  Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle.


Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey – Refectory and undercroft


From our temporary homebase in Ripon-Masham, we drove 30 miles to visit one of the gems of English medieval history.  Like Fountains and Byland Abbeys, Rievaulx was one of the great Cistercian monasteries of medieval Europe, and its ruins are said to be the “most complete” of any of the dissolved religious houses in England. It has one of the most spectacular natural settings within a deep valley in the North York Moors National Park; however, to take a photograph from the best vantage point one has to pay an admission price of over Ł5.00 per person to the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace. (It was raining and it didn’t seem worth the price of admission just to take a photograph.)


Rievaulx Abbey – Presbytery

At the height of its popularity, as many as 650 men – monks and lay brothers – prayed, sung masses, lived and worked within a completely self-sufficient community.  But it also provided hospitality and lodgings to kings and great noblemen.  In 1322, Edward II was visiting Rievaulx when his army was surprised by the Scots on nearby Shaws Moor and defeated by them at the battle of Byland. Other than that, the abbey seems to have been cut off from the rest of the world, suffered significant losses during the Black Death, but made something of a come back during the 15th century when records show the monks renting out pastureland to 49 tenant farmers. Visiting ruins of such grand buildings is always awe-inspiring – albeit a little melancholy.


Helmsley Castle – Possessed by Richard III from 1478-1485

The next stop was to Helmsley Castle, only three miles to the east from Rievaulx. I’d never heard of this particular castle in all my “Ricardian” reading, but Edward IV granted it to Richard following the execution of George, Duke of Clarence, in 1478.   Helmsley became a great castle when Robert de Roos II (c. 1186-1227) set about rebuilding the pre-existing fortress structure. De Roos, also known as “Fursan”, was one of the 25 barons chosen to ensure King John’s compliance with Magna Carta, and this was highlighted in an exhibit at its visitors’ center.


Helmsley Castle – model

The castle remained in the continuous possession of the de Roos lords until the Battle of Hexham in 1464, when its current owner was executed and attainted for fighting on behalf of the deposed Henry VI.   The castle’s east tower dominates the nearby town of Helmsley and the surrounding parkland where medieval lords would have enjoyed hunting and other recreational activities. Although Richard possessed this castle from 1478-1485, there is no record of him residing here. However, he might have dropped by for a visit when he was at Rievaulx Abbey on May 20-21, 1484 according to Rhoda Edwards’ “The Itinerary of King Richard III”.  Indeed, as Richard next traveled from Rievaulx Abbey to Scarborough, it would be almost impossible for him not to pass by his castle at Helmsley – it is literally on the eastward route over the Moorlands towards Scarborough.  Who knows, perhaps he indulged in a bit of hawking in the lovely country that surrounds the castle.  Or maybe he took a brief meal there before setting out to his next destination.  Imagine that:  Richard’s banner might have hung over Helmsley Castle for a short time!

Why was Richard III traveling to Rievaulx and passing by Helmsley to his beloved Scarborough?  Well, he was continuing what he called “Our Great Journey” or what we now call Royal Progress, following his coronation in July of 1483 and interrupted by Buckingham’s rebellion in October of 1483.  It consumed most of  his brief 26-month reign, and totaled an astounding 2,750 miles.  Other English kings were equally active in traveling through their realm, especially during politically stressful periods and after their coronations.  As Rhoda Edwards shows, both Edward IV and Henry VII did the same.  It wasn’t just for pleasure.  The King brought his household, and perhaps more importantly, a council of administrators who would draw up charters, continue royal business, and receive and hear petitions from the people.  Given the fact that Richard III’s royal retinue numbered in the range of 200 persons, it would seem likely that Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle provided lodgings for these royal servants.  So, this was not just a time for Richard III to bask in the glow of his recent crowning, but was intended to create connections to his subjects and to introduce them to the overall style and “tenor” of his rule.

Here are some more photos from our outing to Rievaulx and Helmsley:

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Forest of Bowland and Skipton

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

I am passionate about history and travel!  As soon as I got my passport, I was determined to go out and see the world with my own eyes, but more importantly, to encounter places associated with Richard III.  In his brief 32 years, he assembled what has been called by Professor Rosemary Horrox of Cambridge “the largest noble affinity of its day” — meaning, he owned a vast number of castles and estates that we can still visit in the UK.

For me, the most interesting period of Richard’s life as a man began in 1471 when he was only 17 years old and still living in the shadow of his older brothers Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence. That was the year Richard returned from exile in Burgundy, led his first troops in combat at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and received from Edward IV a grant of castles, manors and offices that would form the backbone of his great affinity in the North of England. I had been invited to speak at the 2015 Richard III Foundation’s conference at Market Bosworth, so my husband and I decided to plan our annual holiday around my talk and to visit Ricardian sites from the 1470s that sometimes get overlooked in favor of the more famous ones like Middleham Castle, Fotheringhay, and Bosworth Battlefield.

Upon arriving at Manchester International Airport, we loaded our bags into our rental car and drove only 45 minutes to the strikingly beautiful Forest of Bowland in the “Red Rose” County of Lancashire. In July, 1471, Edward IV granted Richard the Mastership of the Forest of Bowland in the royal duchy lands. It was one of the few Lancashire duchy offices in which Richard was active – in other respects, he deferred to the Stanleys who jealously guarded their familial entitlement to those offices, so much so that Edward IV had to twice intervene and order Lord Stanley to stop meddling in the offices he’d given to Richard.

Rolling hills of Bowland Forest

Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

The Forest of Bowland is the perfect place to decompress after a long trans-Atlantic crossing and to adjust to a new time zone. It’s all rolling green hills dotted with countless sheep, ancient towns and churches, mossy dry-stone walls, and a network of bubbling brooks that swell over their banks during heavy rains. There, we stayed at a very small B&B in Newton-in-Bowland whose friendly owners, outspoken Yorkshire folk (the eastern side of Lancashire is more “White Rose” than “Red Rose” country), were surprised to be receiving guests from America. We were delighted by pleasant views from our bedroom window.

The owners of the B&B directed us to several walking routes in the area, including one on Pendle Hill, famous for its 17th century witches and the place where George Fox, in 1652, had a vision which inspired him to establish the Quaker movement. Not to be deterred by our jetlag, my husband and I succeeded in climbing the very steep 5-mile route up this “hill” (only 90 feet short of being a mountain!) and were treated to stunning vistas of North Yorkshire and the Pennines. At the end of the day, we rewarded ourselves with a hearty pub meal at Parker’s Arms, where we had the best venison burger ever tasted and a pie filled with “salt marsh lamb” and cockles.

Pub lunch

Pub Lunch – Parker’s Arms, Newton-in-Bowland

Salt marsh lamb, by the way, is a local delicacy and is made from lambs who graze on coastal vegetation which lends a unique flavor to their meat. We’d never encountered it before and it was absolutely delicious with the cockles. Of course, this only made us more excited to try a wide variety of savory pies throughout our trip, and I suppose I could make an argument that sampling them lent another historical dimension since meat pies were greatly consumed during the 15th century. Don’t believe me? OK, I admit we love English pub food. But, anyway, back to history and our trip . . .

The next day we relocated our lodgings to the Masham-Ripon area in North Yorkshire, and this served as our “home base” for the next several days. Ripon is a bustling cathedral town, famous for its racetrack and the “Ripon Hornblower”. It’s also well-situated for making day trips to a plethora of Ricardian sites, including Middleham, Barnard Castle, Sheriff Hutton, Jervaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey, Coverham Abbey, and Skipton Castle. It was to the latter, Skipton, that we first journeyed.

Skipton Castle touts itself as being “one of the best-preserved and most complete medieval castles in England” according to its pamphlet.

Skipton Castle

Skipton Castle, North Yorkshire – possessed by Richard III from 1475-1485

The original motte and bailey wooden castle was erected in 1090, and later replaced by a stone structure in the 12th century. Many elements of the 12th century castle and its chapel are still evident. Edward II gave the castle to the Welsh Marcher lord Robert Clifford in 1310, who initiated additional improvements, and it remained in the Clifford family possession until 1461, when the 9th Lord Clifford was attainted following Towton. Richard obtained possession of Skipton in 1475 when he acquired it from Lord Stanley in exchange for his Welsh castle in Chirk. It remained in Richard’s possession until his death in 1485, and as one can see from the photograph, a large Tudor-period manor house was added by the Clifford family when they regained possession after Bosworth. The combination of medieval and Tudor-style architecture is charming and there is a lovely courtyard.

Courtyard, Skipton Castle

Skipton Castle courtyard, with yew tree planted in 17th century

Skipton was one of the last Royalist holdouts in the North during the English Civil War and surrendered to Cromwell’s army after sustaining a long siege. Fortunately, the attempt to “sleight” the castle didn’t work completely and, while the castle lost its original roofs, the Parliamentarians later permitted Lady Anne Clifford to replace them – with the caveat that they were not strong enough to bear firing cannon. Lady Anne is credited with planting a yew tree in 1659, which still graces the courtyard.

Hats for sale in Skipton

Market Day in Skipton, North Yorkshire

Skipton is also a busy market town, and our visit coincided with their Monday market day. It was enjoyable seeing the local crafts, household goods and foodstuffs being sold on the High Street, many of which had a distinctive Yorkshire flair. We were also surprised to see that Andrew Cargenie, someone from our home state of Pennsylvania, provided the funds for Skipton’s Public Library!

The desirability of possessing Skipton must have been very high for Richard.  It had not only a fine castle with a garden, park, game reserves, private chases over the Pennine uplands and dales, but also a flourishing agriculture, commercial growth in the town, patronage of Bolton Priory, and extensive estates and honorial jurisdiction.  It also added to what Professor Horrox has called the “trans-Pennines” base of his nascent affinity.

Skipton Parish Church

Skipton Parish Church of the Holy Trinity – patronised by Richard III

Richard acted as patron of the local parish church of the Holy Trinity, granting it Ł20 in 1483 for the construction of its oak roof, the timbers of which are still in place today along with their original 15th century roof bosses. The church became a mausoleum for the Clifford family, following the dissolution of Bolton Priory in the 16th century.

For additional reading about Skipton Castle, see Richard T.  Spence’s “Skipton Castle and its Builders” (2002) and “The Shepherd Lord of Skipton Castle:  Henry Clifford, 10th Lord Clifford 1454-1523” (1994).  For additional reading about Richard’s experience as Duke of Gloucester, and his affinity in the North, see Rosemary Horrox’s “Richard III:  A study of service” (1989).

Some more photos of our time in Newton-in-Bowland, driving enroute to Skipton via Pateley Bridge, and at Skipton.

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