King Richard III reigned from 26 June 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. Despite such a short time on the throne, he has attracted interest and debate about his actions ever since. Here are 10 castles linked to the story of King Richard III, some of which would become the focus of the kind of controversies and debates that still swirl around Richard III’s story today.
All that remains of Fotheringhay Castle today is a mound of earth on which the keep once stood and a lump of stone at its foot. In the late 11th or early 12th century, a castle loomed over the gentle bend in the River Nene. Rebuilt by Edmund, Duke of York, the fifth son of Edward III, it became the seat of the House of York. Edmund had the keep laid out in the shape of a fetterlock (a padlock) which, combined with a falcon, was a favourite device of his family.
Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle on 2 October 1452 and raised in the nursery there for the first years of his life. It became a royal castle when his older brother became King Edward IV, and was later used to incarcerate Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed at the castle in 1587.
As the 1450s progressed, Richard’s father the Duke of York fell into opposition to King Henry VI. In 1459, York moved his younger children from Fotheringhay to the more robust Ludlow Castle on the Welsh borders in Shropshire. In the Autumn, York marched an army out of Ludlow only to return quickly, chased by a royal force. York and his noble allies, as well as his older sons, Edward and Edmund, fled during the night of 12 October. Ludlow was sacked the next day by the royal army.
Richard, along with his mother, one brother and one sister, were left behind and experienced the fear of the punishment of Ludlow for its support of York. Sources describe the castle being ‘despoiled’. Ludlow came into York’s hands thanks to his mother, Anne Mortimer. It also became a royal castle with Edward IV’s accession, hosting the Council of Wales, the young Edward V and the first Tudor prince, Arthur.
Today, the castle is in private hands but is open to the public. It is a splendid ruin with plenty to denote its importance and power.
Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, the title he held before becoming king, is recorded at Castle Rising, just north of Kings Lynn, in the summer of 1469. The castle had three baileys, each protected by huge raised earthworks, that encircled a massive keep. Begun in 1138, it became the home of Queen Isabella, the consort of Edward II, in the 14th century. As a Duchy of Cornwall property, it belonged to the crown until Edward IV had a male heir.
On 24 June 1469, trouble was brewing in Edward’s England as the threat of rebellion by Warwick the Kingmaker grew. Richard, then 16 years old, wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to ask for a loan against his income from duchy lands. He needed this to help defend his brother’s crown because, he said, he was ‘not so well purveyed of money therefore as behoves me’. The letter is formulaic, but has a postscript in which Richard offers assurances he will repay the loan and that he will owe the Chancellor a favour. This is the earliest surviving example of Richard’s handwriting.
Castle Rising is owned by Lord Howard of Rising today and is open to the public.
4. Hornby Castle
Another document signed by Richard less than a year later places him in Hornby Castle in Lancashire’s Lune Valley, and in harm’s way. Hornby Castle had belonged to the Harrington family, but Edward IV’s courts had awarded it to their rival, Thomas, Lord Stanley after his son married a Harrington heiress. Sir James Harrington refused to hand over his nieces or the family’s castle. As law and order continued to disintegrate, Lord Stanley had a giant cannon hauled up from Bristol to Hornby to blast the Harrington family out.
The reason no shot was fired can be found in a grant signed by Richard on 26 March 1470 as ‘Given under our signet, at the castle of Hornby’. Richard had taken the side of the Harrington family in the dispute. It would begin a feud with Lord Stanley that would come to a head at Bosworth 15 years later when Stanley betrayed King Richard III.
Hornby Castle is in private hands today, but you can get accommodation there via AirBnB.
Situated on a rocky plateau overlooking the River Tees, Barnard Castle is an imposing ruin today. The castle was begun in the late 11th century after the Norman Conquest and was built and expanded by the de Baliol family. The castle passed to the Beauchamp family, who were the Earls of Warwick, in the 14th century and was modernised. On Warwick the Kingmaker’s death in 1471, Barnard came into the hands of Richard, Duke of Glocuester in right of his wife, Anne Neville (Warwick’s daughter).
An oriel window that offers stunning views over the River Tees was added by Richard, and if you look closely, you can still see a carving of his personal badge of a boar above the window.
Barnard Castle is run by English Heritage and is open to the public.
The seat of the Neville family of Warwick the Kingmaker in the rolling hills of Wensleydale in Yorkshire. It played a central role in much of Richard’s life. As a young teenager, he was sent into Warwick’s household to learn to be a knight and a nobleman. We know he met his future wife, Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville, whilst there at a feast at nearby Cawood Castle. When the couple married, it would be their base in the north throughout the 1470s until 1483.
Richard’s only legitimate child was known as Edward of Middleham because he was born at the castle. His date of birth is uncertain. Often cited as December 1473, it was more likely as late as 1476. He would pass away as Prince of Wales in 1484.
Richard left the north in response to his brother’s death in April 1483. It was a year that would radically change his life and by the end of June, he would be King Richard III. Middleham is perhaps the place Richard might have considered home.
Middleham Castle is an English Heritage property and is open to the public.
7. Baynard’s Castle
Where a BT office known as Baynard House now stands there used to be a magnificent town house, the London base of the House of York, named Baynard’s Castle. It stood on the banks of the Thames between Blackfriars Station and St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1460, it was here that Edward IV, the first Yorkist king, was offered the throne of England, replacing the Lancastrian Henry VI.
In 1483, Richard used Baynard’s Castle after his arrival in London following the death of his brother the king. Although he began to plan for the accession of his nephew, Edward V, his brother’s marriage was eventually declared bigamous and the children of it illegitimate. Following this, Richard was presented with a petition at Baynard’s Castle requesting him to become king on 26 June 1483 in what must have been a deliberate recreation of his brother’s accession.
The Tower is one of the most iconic buildings in England. It played an important role at two key moments in Richard’s life. On 21 May 1471, the deposed Lancastrian king Henry VI died. Although Yorkist propaganda claimed he died of ‘pure displeasure, and melancholy’ after hearing of the death of his son and his cause at the Battle of Tewkesbury, it is widely believed he was murdered on the orders of Edward IV. Richard is often suggested to have been the murderer. This is based largely on a comment in Warkworth’s Chronicle that Richard, with many others, was present at the Tower that night. Precisely what happened, and who, if anyone, killed the old king remains a mystery.
The year 1483 is full of controversies that defy certain resolutions. Richard’s nephews are remembered as the Princes in the Tower. Having been lodged there to prepare for Edward V’s coronation, he and his brother Richard, Duke of York disappeared from view by the end of the year. Instead, it was Richard who would set out from the Tower of London for the traditional procession to Westminster that culminated in his coronation as King Richard III.
The Tower is operated by Historic Royal Palaces and is open to the public.
Now a ruin in the West Yorkshire town of Pontefract, this castle was once one of the most impressive in Yorkshire. Richard II had been imprisoned within the castle after he was deposed by Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, in 1399. He is believed to have died there, possibly of starvation, perhaps on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1400.
On 25 June 1483, two relatives of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s widow (and therefore Richard’s sister-in-law) were executed at Pontefract by Richard’s order. Earl Rivers, the queen’s brother, and Sir Richard Grey, her younger son from her first marriage, had been arrested en route to London and sent north. They were brought to Pontefract, according to some contemporary sources, for a trial, though many accounts paint their executions as murders without any legal trial.
When Richard III was visited by the Silesian knight Niclas con Popplau from Breslau, they met at Pontefract Castle. Niclas kept a diary of his travels and he spoke in glowing terms of King Richard III. He also left a faintest hint that one or both of the Princes in the Tower might have been at Pontefract when he was there.
Pontefract Castle is managed by Wakefield Council and is open to the public with free entry.
10. Nottingham Castle
Located in the centre of the kingdom, Nottingham Castle was frequently a strategically important location for English monarchs. Richard III was no exception, particularly as the threat of invasion by Henry Tudor grew.
On 24 August 1483, Richard’s son Edward of Middleham was created Prince of Wales at Nottingham Castle as a prelude to his formal investiture in York. In March 1484 Richard had based himself at Nottingham as the likelihood of Tudor’s attack grew because it allowed him quick access to any corner of his realm. Whilst there, he and his wife Anne received the news that their son Edward of Middleham had died. The Crowland Chronicle records their grief: ‘hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.’
During his brief reign, Richard ordered building work and modernisation at Nottingham. It is claimed he referred to it as the castle of his cares. If true, it is unclear whether that referred to the care he took for this strategically important site, or the grief he felt there at the news of his son’s death. Richard was based at Nottingham again in the summer of 1485 when Henry Tudor finally crossed the Channel and landed at Mill Bay in south-west Wales.
Nottingham Castle is open to the public.