The Lincoln Roll – the Princes’ Death Certificate?
This article is about the family tree that belonged to John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln and what it says about the fate of the so-called Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his young brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. It provides an approximate date for the death of Edward V and disproves the idea that either of the Princes might have survived. It also puts the actions of Lincoln, his younger brothers and Margaret of Burgundy in a new perspective.
While this new evidence supports the ‘traditional’ view held by most historians that Richard III ordered the killing of his nephews, it also completely revises the narrative provided by the various contemporary chroniclers and Thomas More. It supports a view of Lincoln – and by extension, his uncle Richard III – as ruthless in their attitude to the Princes. It eliminates a number of the alternative ‘suspects’ that have emerged in recent years, while introducing a new one – John de la Pole himself.
At the end of this article there will be a link so that the reader may see a video of the digitizing of the manuscript and investigate the content of the roll itself.
Who was John de la Pole?
John de la Pole was the nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, being the son of their sister Elizabeth (1444 to 1503) and John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (1442 to 1491 or 1492).
John was the first-born and was a young adult during the period spanning Edward IV’s death and Lincoln’s death at the Battle of Stoke in 1487. He was made Earl of Lincoln by Edward IV in 1467.
He was treated as one of Richard III’s close family. He supported Richard completely during his seizure of the throne in 1483 and benefited greatly from his uncle when he became king. He was Richard’s spare heir and when Edward of Middleham died he became Richard’s heir presumptive.
Throughout Richard’s usurpation of the throne between April and July 1483, Lincoln was at his side and supporting him throughout.
In an interview for the Nerdalicious web site’s History Salon entitled ‘The Survival of the Princes in the Tower’, four authors discussed the evidence – David Baldwin, Annette Carson, Toni Mount and Josephine Wilkinson have all written about Richard III or the ‘Princes in the Tower’.
In the interview, Toni Mount, who is a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society, gave Lincoln as an example of a contemporary of the Princes who believed in their survival. We will see from his genealogical roll that she was wrong in that assertion.
What is the John de la Pole genealogical roll?
In the middle ages most important families would keep family trees and documents in order to be able to prove their descent and as evidence in disputes over inheritance, land and titles. The roll in question is a parchment that has been collected over years and is intended to demonstrate the descent of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln from Brutus, mythical ancestor of the kings of Britain.
The roll belonged to Lincoln and in addition to providing his family tree it contains an element of propaganda. It will be the Lincoln view of things.
The roll is held in the John Rylands Library Special Collection. The library is part of the University of Manchester in England.
The existence of the roll is not a new discovery, it has been known to historians for some time. It was mentioned in Hicks’s ‘Richard III’ and in Michael K Jones’s Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a battle. However its most prominent display to the public was in the television documentary Henry VII: Winter King by Thomas Penn shown on BBC 2. It seems that these historians did not look closely at the detail of the roll, because they were using it to make specific points.
The roll has been used to demonstrate that Lincoln considered himself to be Richard’s nominated heir after the death of Edward of Middleham, which is stated clearly on the document. Thomas Penn used it to emphasise how much opposition Henry faced after 1485 and to demonstrate how Lincoln regarded the new Tudor line as an interloper onto the scene of legitimate Yorkist royal blood.
The roll does demonstrate this very graphically. The descent of the kings, queens and de la Poles is shown with an explanation of their pedigree and small amount of commentary. It is clearly not Tudor propaganda – for it shows Henry descending from his grandfather, Owen Tudor, a servant.
Each individual person in the family tree is represented by a medallion containing a description of the person. The medallions of kings and queens are decorated and include stylized portraits. The lines showing descent are shown in red, however, the invading Tudor line is expressed in thick black.
The roll clearly ceased to be worked on at some point in the early days of the reign of Henry VII, since it shows the marriage to Elizabeth of York. Children of their marriage are hinted at by combined red/black lines of descent, but it is difficult to use the children as dating evidence, since the four red/black lines bear no names or commentary.
What does the Lincoln Roll say about the Princes?
The individual medallions for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville show them as king and queen. In the medallions representing Edward V and Richard of York there is no mention of illegitimacy. The boys are shown in every way as though they were children of a valid marriage. Their legitimacy is not questioned in any way or it was of no interest to Lincoln.
Edward V’s medallion reads
Edward first-born son of King Edward and Elizabeth
“In iunie tute sine liberis decessit”
In June safely without issue deceased in childhood (my translation)
Richard, Duke of York’s medallion reads
Richard second son of King Edward and Elizabeth
“Etiam decessit sine liberis”
Also deceased without issue in childhood
What is the significance of this information?
The period between the death of Edward IV and the Battle of Stoke incorporating Bosworth is one of the most confused and the most written about in English history. This small new piece of information rewrites much of what has gone before, which was the product of chronicles written by persons who were close to the action, but were not sure of what had happened to the Princes. This information comes from a person at the very centre of power, who was at Richard III’s side throughout the usurpation.
These writings were put into some kind of narrative by people like Thomas More, who will have used some eye witness reports and his imagination to create a believable story. Later writers, like Alison Weir will have followed the clues provided by More to solve the ‘case’ – concluding that the Princes must have been put to death in September.
There have been other documents found that stated that Edward V died in June: Colin Richmond noted that the Anlaby Cartulary stated that he died on 22nd June.
The June date also fits in with the documentary evidence of the dismissal of the Princes’ servants and the authorization of their payment shortly after.
The representation of Edward V in the roll shows none of the decoration of the other kings and queens and the text does not refer to him as king. It is shown as though Richard III had succeeded Edward IV directly because Edward IV had no heirs still alive.
However, it is the use of the word tute – safely that gives the implication of complicity on the part of Lincoln. He viewed the existence of the Princes as a threat and because of the closeness of Lincoln and Richard III it is reasonable to assume Richard felt the same way.
If the Princes were dead by the end of June, it makes the appointment of Brackenbury as Constable of the Tower make more sense. He was a man who seems to be of kindly disposition of whom no-one is critical. So gentle Brackenbury would never need to act out of character because there was no longer any dirty work to be done. It also explains why Richard and Lincoln could embark on a royal progress in July with few worries that Edward V could have been freed while they were away.
The rescue attempt of July can no longer be misconstrued as an assassination attempt and must be seen on face value as a well intentioned act by people who did not know the truth.
Since Sir James Tyrrell’s confession may have been another of More’s inventions, it is possible that attempts to place him at the Tower later in the year are pointless and confusing.
Pretenders during Henry’s reign
Since Lincoln fled to Flanders to raise money to finance the Lambert Simnel rebellion, it is safe to assume that his brothers, who continued to cause trouble for Henry VII throughout his reign, knew the truth about the Princes – as must Margaret of Burgundy. Their complicity would shed a new light on later events. Many Ricardians like to characterize the de la Pole family as unfairly hounded by the Tudors.
The implications of this are far reaching and difficult to even summarize in a short article.
David Durose is a recently retired IT Consultant who has always enjoyed history and became interested in the period after family research established his descent from one of Henry Tudor’s Breton knights. He also borrowed the title for this article from a post on Susan Higginbotham’s Facebook page.
Walter Herbert was born in the mid-15th century to William Herbert of Raglan and Anne Devereux of Weobley. He was the second son of the couple after his father’s namesake and one amongst around a dozen children that were bor n to the couple. Walter’s brother William, his father’s heir, was thought to have been born in March 1451 therefore it is reasonable, although admittedly not certain, that Walter was born during 1452. As a second son details regarding the birth are more difficult to ascertain, an issue for the modern historian that extends even to second sons of medieval royalty. Once again it is reasonable to assume Walter was born at Raglan Castle near to Monmouth, the Herbert family seat which had recently been inherited by Walter’s father William from his grandfather William ap Thomas.
Raglan Castle’s position in the Marcher lands of south east Wales warranted the fortress a degree of prestige as a good conduit between rural west Wales and the industrious citadel that London. Although a castle has long stood on the site, Raglan first gained wider prominence under the ownership of Walter’s grandfather William ap Thomas, a veteran of the battle of Agincourt in 1415. It was William ap Thomas who oversaw the construction of the French-styled Great Tower, a five story hexagonal keep known as the Tower of Gwent. William Herbert inherited this castle upon William ap Thomas’ death in 1445.
Walter’s mother Anne Devereux came from a prominent Herefordshire gentry family and was the daughter of Sir Walter Devereux and Elizabeth Merbury. Sir Walter served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland between 1449 and 1451 and was closely affiliated to the greatest landowner in the region and probably the kingdom in Richard, Duke of York. Elizabeth Merbury meanwhile was the daughter of Sir John Merbury who had served as Chief Justice of South Wales.
Walter Herbert’s childhood, and indeed his entire life, would be dominated by the internecine conflict now regarded as the Wars of the Roses. Walter’s father William Herbert was closely aligned with the Yorkist faction of Richard, Duke of York, a natural position considering their lands primarily lay within close proximity to the Duke’s own Marcher estates. This was further supported by Wlliam Herbert’s father-in-law Walter Devereux being a core part of the Yorkist court party and close to the Duke of York. Young Walter, who was almost certainly named after his esteemed Devereux grandfather, was raised in a household that was undeniably Yorkist in affection and affiliation.
After the brutally bloody victory of the House of York at the Battle of Towton in 1461, Walter’s father William Herbert became the first Welshman to enter the English peerage when he was ennobled by the new king Edward IV, the son of the deceased Richard of York, as Lord Raglan. William Lord Raglan maintained his preeminent position as one of Edward IV’s chief councillors throughout the decade, using this newfound wealth and power to dramatically renovate Raglan Castle. His most opulent addition was the Great Gatehouse, consisting of an entranceway dividing two half-hexagonal towers with elaborate machicolations. His rebuilding project was designed to demonstrate the Herberts new prestige, an image which was bolstered in 1466 when Herbert secured the betrothal and subsequent marriage of his eldest son William to Mary Wydeville, the queen’s younger sister. In 1468 Lord Raglan was bestowed with the quasi-royal title Earl of Pembroke, recently stripped from the exiled Lancastrian Jasper Tudor, further cementing his position alongside the king.
The Tudors and the Herberts had an acrimonious relationship, perhaps due in part to their respective ancestors’ roles in the Owain Glyndwr Welsh Wars of Independence in the early 15th century. Glyndwr was ably and loyally assisted during his uprising by his first cousins, the Tudur brothers of Penmynydd. Fighting against them as a commander of the English king Henry IV was Dafydd ap Llewelyn ap Hywel, better known as Dafydd Gam and a respected military veteran. One of the Tudur brothers, Maredudd ap Tudur, was the grandfather of Jasper and Edmund Tudor whilst Dafydd Gam was the grandfather of William Herbert. This mid-15th century generation of Herberts and Tudors would have been aware of this family rivalry at the turn of the century and it may have provided an added dimension of animosity during their battle for supremacy within Wales during the Wars of the Roses.
In 1456, whilst Walter Herbert would have been a young child, his father William led a siege on Carmarthen Castle on behalf of the Yorkist cause, capturing and imprisoning the resident constable Edmund Tudor, at that time Earl of Richmond and half-brother of the Lancastrian king Henry VI. Within a few months Edmund Tudor was dead and buried in the Grey Friars in Carmarthen. The cause of death is often considered to have been from an outbreak of the plague but could conceivably have been brought on by injuries suffered during the siege or imprisonment. Herbert’s actions were certainly a factor in the downfall and death of Richmond and would have incurred even greater animosity from the surviving Tudor brother, Jasper, the Earl of Richmond.
The Tudor/Herbert rivalry took an intriguing twist after the Yorkist ascendancy in 1461 when William Herbert purchased the wardship of Henry Tudor, the four-year-old son of the deceased Edmund Tudor. Henry was the new Earl of Richmond and despite his clear Lancastrian credentials was potentially a valuable asset to Herbert. Henry’s hitherto protector Jasper Tudor had been forced into exile and his mother Margaret Beaufort was in no position to retain control of her son. Henry was integrated into the Herbert household and conceivably treated on par with the Herberts own children. It would have been during this time that Walter Herbert, probably aged around eight or nine years old, would have first met Henry Tudor. What were his thoughts on this new intruder who was now expected to be his childhood companion? Perhaps he was joyful had gaining a new friend or possibly there was jealousy over another competitor for the affections of the adults. It is difficult if not impossible to state for sure but one must assume Henry’s time at Raglan was a relatively happy one; Scholars rating amongst the very best tutors were assigned to him in order to provide the child with a top education whilst it is also known he received military training as befitting his status as a noble youth. Henry’s histiographer when he became king, Bernard Andre, would later record ‘after he reached the age of understanding, he was handed over to the best and most upright instructors to be taught the first principles of literature’. Andre also wrote, perhaps with a degree of bias towards his royal patron, that Henry ‘surpassed his peers’.
Henry Tudor would remain with the Herberts until he was a teenager, with Walter Herbert concurrently emerging from adolescence into adulthood. The greatest hint that Henry appreciated his years at Raglan, if not the wider conflict that had enforced his situation, was a later statement recorded by Polydore Vergil that Henry considered himself ‘kept as a prisoner, but honourably brought up’. Henry also brought Lady Anne Devereux, Walter’s mother, to court once he was crowned king to show favour and deference to the woman who had played a part in his development. Nonetheless a frustratingly unanswered component to the childhood of Henry at Raglan is the spectre of his father’s death at Carmarthen Castle a mere three months before his birth. If any person was responsible for Edmund Tudor’s death it would have been William Herbert, who led the attack on the castle and the imprisonment of the Earl of Richmond. Was this subject ever discussed at Raglan, where Henry Tudor regularly dined with William Herbert and played with his son Walter?
Whatever Henry’s feelings toward William Herbert, his uncle’s successor as Earl of Pembroke after 1468, it seems Herbert had serious designs on fully integrating Henry into the Herbert family by marrying the boy to his daughter, and Walter’s sister, Maud. This marriage would have united the two most powerful 15th-century Welsh families and provided William with a respectable marriage for his daughter. Henry’s descent from King Edward III through his mother Margaret Beaufort would not have gone unheeded by the opportunist Herbert. We know this marriage was proposed due to its inclusion in Herbert’s will, rendered relevant after his execution after the Battle of Edgecote in 1469. Herbert was killed fighting for the House of York against the rebellious force of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, a man who regarded Herbert with enmity as a parvenu unnaturally close to the king. He was an ardent Yorkist until his last breath. His will commanded the betrothing of Maud to Henry but this arrangement was disrupted by the Readeption of Henry VI and the House of Lancaster to the throne after the Battle of Barnet in 1471. This restoration brought Jasper Tudor back to the kingdom for an extended duration for the first time since his hurried exile a decade earlier and it was his nephew Henry that he immediately sought out. Henry had been taken to Weobley, the Devereux family seat of Walter Herbert’s maternal relations where presumably the remainder of the Herbert children were also in attendance. It’s often thought that the twelve-year-old Henry had been present at the Battle of Edgecote, witnessing his first military engagement. If this is the case then it is probable that Herbert’s sons William and Walter were also present, particularly as they had reached adulthood. If this was the case it must have been a traumatic experience for all, as they may have seen their father William and uncle Richard brutally executed by Warwick’s army.
The ill-fated Readeption of Henry VI barely lasted a year and culminated in the deaths of the king and his only heir Edward, Prince of Wales. Jasper Tudor once again fled into exile but this time ensured he took with him his nephew Henry. Although the House of York had been restored to the throne, the Herberts did not succeed in regaining their hitherto powerful positions. William Herbert’s eldest son and heir William initially succeeded to the earldom of Pembroke after the Battle of Edgecote. The younger William’s marriage to Mary Wydeville, the queen’s sister, ensured he remained on favourable terms with the royal family but without the guiding hand of his father this relationship began to disintegrate. In 1479 William was forced into accepting the lesser earldom of Huntingdon in place of that of Pembroke, a demotion that brought with it a decline in prestige and wealth. The Pembroke title was bestowed upon the king’s son, Prince Edward.
Walter Herbert’s whereabouts during this period are unrecorded but it’s assumed he was involved in the continuing administration of the Herbert estates. The family did receive some notable attention in 1476 when Maud Herbert, who had once been proposed as a bride for Henry Tudor, was married to Henry Percy, the mighty 4th Earl of Northumberland and one of the premier nobles in the kingdom. The wedding must have been a spectacular event whilst the Herberts were undoubtedly grateful to have secured a prestigious marital alliance at a time their fortunes appeared to be on the wane. It’s intriguing to note that Henry Percy, just like Henry Tudor, spent part of his youth under the guidance of William Herbert at Raglan, a period where he would have encountered both Tudor and Walter Herbert. What bearing did this childhood association have on decisions each man took as adults?
After Edward IV regained the throne in 1471 there was a relative period of peace and prosperity until the king’s death twelve years later in 1483. The seizing of the crown by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, from his young nephew Edward V opened a fresh round of civil strife as members of the nobility loyal to Edward and his maternal Wydeville relations sought to depose the newly crowned Richard III. The apparent death of the young prince however paved the way for distant exile Henry Tudor to be adopted as an alternative king by disenfranchised Yorkists and lapsed Lancastrians. As with all members of the gentry, the Herberts would have viewed events with a sense of trepidation, calculating how to manipulate the situation to ensure they retained their status and estates. Supporting the loser in such a conflict could cost a man his lands and his life. The titular head of the family as Earl of Huntingdon, William Herbert had connections to each faction and therefore by extension did his younger brother Walter. William had been married to Mary Wydeville until her death in 1481 and of course had been an associate of Henry Tudor’s during his time at Raglan. His sole child with Mary, possibly named Elizabeth after her aunt the queen, was thus a first cousin of the deposed king Edward V. Interestingly however in 1483 William married Katherine Plantagenet, the recognised but illegitimate daughter of Richard III. This marriage would have undoubtedly brought Herbert closer to the king and must have ensured his loyalty at a time when Wales, in the sphere of Herbert influence, was being targeted as a potential landing place for Henry Tudor. It is possible that William had become acquainted with Richard on a personal level and was indeed appointed Justiciar of South Wales. This would be in keeping with the Herberts traditional stance as avowed Yorkists; Walter and William’s uncle Walter Devereux, Baron Ferrers, would be killed at Bosworth fighting for Richard.
Henry Tudor in exile would have been informed of developments in England and Wales as he plotted his tactics for invasion. It was apparent that his best chance of a successful invasion would be via Wales, parts of which had always remained sympathetic to the House of Lancaster and the Tudors in particular. Henry began to court potential allies in Wales and the Herbert family were focuses on account of their standing in the region. As son-in-law to Richard III it seems that William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, was not considered likely to flock to the banner of Henry Tudor. His younger brother Walter however, a man with no titles or major estates, was targeted as a prospective collaborator. Walter Herbert was an able military commander and possibly the most competent of the Herbert brothers. He was described as ‘a man of ancient authority among the Welsh’.
Henry’s need for alliance to the Herberts increased in desperation after rumours throughout the English court that King Richard III was considering marrying his niece Elizabeth of York reached Henry in exile. It had been planned for Henry to marry Elizabeth in the event of a successful invasion in order to boost his credentials as a unifying king, bringing together Lancaster and York and ending the Wars of the Roses. The loss of Elizabeth as a bride would have created unspeakable damage to his claim to the throne, probably resulting in the loss of the Wydeville affinity as supporters to his cause. Henry was persuaded to consider alternative options with one possibility being a sister of William and Walter Herbert. Although Maud had married the Earl of Northumberland, her younger sisters Jane, Cecily and Katherine remained unmarried and viable options. A marriage to a Herbert sister would give Henry a greater bargaining chip in securing the alliance of William Herbert whilst also opening up a dialogue with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, as extended family. It appears that Henry sent his messenger Christopher Urswick to Percy to discuss the possibilities arising from such a union but the message appears to have never been received. Polydore Vergil recounted Henry’s marital issues in his later works, stating ‘it was thought to stand with their profit if by affinity they could draw into surety of that Walter Herbert, a man of ancient authority among the Welshmen, who had with him a sister marriageable; and to procure the same, messengers were sent to Henry Earl of Northumberland, who had in marriage Walter’s other sister, that he would deal in that cause’.
Henry Tudor landed at Mill Bay in West Wales on 7 August 1485, unsure of the welcome that would be awaiting him from the local populace. His army marched northwards into Wales, remaining close to the coast as the proceeded first towards Harverfordwest and then onto Cardigan. Henry’s actions in staying close to the coast as opposed to marching in land suggest he was wary of Walter Herbert and another great South Welsh magnate in Rhys ap Thomas, both of whom were outwardly loyal to King Richard III. His initial avoidance of direct conflict suggest Henry had yet to reach an agreement with either man and was attempting to circumvent their combined forces. It was whilst Henry was in the proximity of Cardigan that news allegedly reached his camp that Walter was rapidly approaching from Carmarthen with a large force, ostensibly to do battle against Henry in the name of the king. It was rumoured that Walter was ‘not far away with a band of armed men’. Henry anxiously sent out scouts to investigate but their reports were inconclusive. It may have been confusion as it was at this time a Welshman named Richard Griffith joined Henry’s army with some reinforcements along with John Morgan. It is unclear if these men defected from Herbert’s force or were permitted to leave. It is known that Henry finally came face to face with Rhys ap Thomas at a location known as Long Mountain in Powys, close to the English border where it is probably he was accompanied by other prominent Welshmen like Rhys ap Maredudd Fawr. It may be presumed that Walter Herbert was also present at this junction, a final rallying cry for the Welsh nobles before they left behind Wales and continued their march into England and towards Bosworth.
There is scant evidence for Walter’s participation at Bosworth but the limited information that we have about his career post-1485 suggest he was firmly allied to Henry. His brother William Herbert did not fight in the battle on either side, remaining outwardly neutral. Walter was knighted after the Bosworth campaign, a gesture of gratitude that Henry issued to his supporters. He was also made Steward of properties in South Wales, including Talgarth and Cantrecelly and appeared to have the lease and lordship to Caldicot Castle. On 19 August 1502 it was recorded that Queen Elizabeth of York stayed at her husband’s childhood home, the guest of Walter Herbert, the one-time brother-in-law of her aunt Mary Wydeville. During this stay Walter bought the queen a goshawk. Walter also succeeded in making a good marriage on 15 February 1500 when he was wed to Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham who was killed in 1483 for joining Henry Tudor’s rebellion. Anne was not only the daughter and sister of Dukes of Buckingham but was also the step-daughter of Jasper Tudor, who had married her widowed mother Katherine Wydeville. After the death of his brother in 1490 the Herbert estates were legally inherited by his niece Elizabeth although Walter oversaw the administration. Elizabeth also inherited the Barony but not the earldom, which could only be inherited in the male line. For reasons unfathomable the earldom did not pass to Walter Herbert. Sir Walter Herbert passed away on 16 September 1507. His lasting, if fictional, legacy may be the fact he was mentioned in Shakespeare’s infamous play Richard III when Henry of Richmond commands ‘And you, Sir Walter Herbert, stay with me’. It would appear that Walter Herbert did indeed stay with Henry Tudor, remaining loyal to the first Tudor monarch until his death ended a lifelong association.
Amin, N., (2014) Tudor Wales Amberley Publishing
Evans, H.T., (1995) Wales and the Wars of the Roses Sutton
Chrimes, S.B., (1972) Henry VII Yale University Press
Griffiths, R. & Thomas, R.S., (1985) The Making of the Tudor Dynasty Sutton
Rees, D., (1997) The Son of Prophecy John Jones
Skidmore, C., (2013) Bosworth; Birth of the Tudors W & N
Harris, B., (1986) Edward Stafford, Third Duke of Buckingham Stanford University Press
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Waleswas released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.
This is a walk designed to cover most if not all of the locations in York associated with Henry VII and his reign. As king, Henry reigned England from 1485-1509 and visited York on two occasions – 1486 and 1487.
*start at the King’s Manor in Exhibition Square*
1. King’s Manor
King’s Manor was originally built to house the abbots of the adjacent St Mary’s Abbey. The current construction was built atop the original Norman building and many parts of the building date from the 15th century. After the Abbey’s dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539 it became the headquarters of the Council of the North for the next 100 years. Henry VIII was noted to have stayed here during a progress to the north.
*walk across Exhibition Square*
2. Queen Margaret’s Arch
Queen Margaret’s Arch is a small entranceway in the defensive walls which once provided protection to St Mary’s Abbey. The portion which remains today is the familiar arch through which scores of residents and tourists pass on a daily basis to traverse to and from the city centre. This opening was created in 1497 to provide easy access to and from the Minister from the Abbey; it was further utilised in the summer of 1503 when the convoy of the teenage Princess Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, passed through with her convoy on her journey north to Scotland for the commencement of her marriage to King James IV.
The visit of this Princess of England and Queen of Scotland to York was of great importance to the citizens of York as it offered an opportunity to display due reverence and loyalty to the King of England and to gain the favour of the Tudors in the aftermath of the turbulent Wars of the Roses. It is stated that the streets were lined with such large crowds it took her two hours to progress from the archway to the Minster. She had been met by the Mayor and the Aldermen dressed in their finest crimson robes and adorned with their chains of office. The following day Margaret attended High Mass at the Minster and witnessed another procession. She was ‘richly arrayed in a gown of cloth of gold with a rich collar of precious stones and a girdle reaching down to the ground made from spun gold’.
This occasion was commemorated in 1899 by a local historical society who commissioned a plaque which is presently positioned on the wall next to the arch.
*cross the road to Bootham Bar*
3. Bootham Bar
Bootham Bar has been a gateway into York for over 2000 years and was used as an entranceway by the Romans. The existing structure primarily dates from the 14th century, with the arch an 11th century Norman creation. In 1501 during the reign of Henry VII a door-knocker was installed with the requirement that any visiting Scots had to knock and obtain permission from the Lord Mayor to enter the city. A portcullis can still be viewed in the empty chamber. During the Lambert Simnel conspiracy Bootham came under attack from rebels, “the lords Scrope of Bolton and Upsall, constrained as it was said by their folk, came on horseback to Bootham Bar, and there cried ‘King Edward’ and made assault on the gates, but the commons who were watchmen there well and manfully defended them and put them to flight’. After another rebellion in 1489 over tax was more successful in breaching Bootham Bar, Henry VII criticised the city for not maintaining the walls in a good condition.
*walk through Bootham Bar and along High Petergate; at the Minster turn left and enter Dean’s Park*
4. Archbishop’s Palace
The Archbishop Palace is located a few yards from the Minster within the confines of the Dean’s Park. As its name suggests it was the one-time medieval residence of the Archbishops of York before their eventual relocation, firstly to Cawood Castle and then to Bishopthorpe Palace. On 9 September 1483 Edward of Middleham, only son and heir of King Richard III, was invested as Prince of Wales within the walls of the Archbishop’s Palace, an attempt at turning attention away from the exiled Henry Tudor and towards Richard’s own hopes for the future of the House of York. Today the remaining buildings of the Palace house the Minster Library.
*continue walking past the Archbishop’s Palace and along Minster Yard lane. When you reach the small junction turn left*
5. St William’s College
St William’s College has no direct link with Henry VII but is nonetheless another intriguing and important 15th Century building in York. The current incarnation of the building was built during the start of the reign of Edward IV, in the early 1460’s.
It was designed to accommodate 24 priests who were entrusted with praying for the souls of the deceased in exchange for payment, a common medieval activity. The building was named for Saint William Fitzherbert, Archbishop of York in the mid twelfth century and a nephew of King Stephen. Henry VI was responsible for the initial licensing for the chantry in 1457 before his successor Edward IV renewed the royal licence in 1461 shortly after coming to the throne, encouraged no doubt by his Neville cousins. Building commenced in 1465, the year George Neville became Archbishop of York, and would remain the abode of the Minster’s chantry priests until the reformation the following century.
*turn right and walk back towards the Minster*
6. York Minster and St Michael-Le-Belfry
York Minster is undoubtedly one of the greatest examples of medieval architecture in Europe, a true landmark renowned across the continent and a wonderful demonstration of the Gothic style.
The Rose Window in the Minster was believed to have been created during the early Sixteenth Century and is a celebration of the union of the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster in the marriage of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor. During Henry’s progress to the city in 1486, when he would have heard Mass in the Minister, a pageant was put on in his honour in which was featured ‘a royal rich red rose, unto which rose shall appear another rich white rose, unto whom all flowers shall give sovereignty’. This was the birth of the Tudor Rose, the symbol of a new era.
Inside lies the tomb effigy of Thomas Savage, Archbishop of York between 1501 and 1508. Savage was a much-valued ecclesiastical figure during the reign of Henry VII. He was a kinsman of the Stanleys and his brother Sir John Savage had commanded part of the Tudor forces at the Battle of Bosworth. Archbishop Savage was said to lead a live more akin to that of a nobleman than a cleric, enjoying hunting and other secular pursuits. As archbishop he played a key role in the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon and also in the ennoblement of Prince Henry as Duke of York. He also served as President of the Council for an extended period, a position of utmost importance as it was he who presided over the meetings whilst the chancellor was absent. By 1498 he was referred to by the Spanish envoy as being one of the most influential people in the kingdom.
Opposite York Minster stands the city’s only 16th Century church, and a wonderful place of worship in its own right. The current incarnation of St Michael-le-Belfry was built during the tumultuous Reformation period of 1525 and 1537. The Minster’s Master Mason John Forman was the architect and it’s an interesting fusion of the traditional Medieval Gothic Style evident in the Minster with flourishes of the new Renaissance period. Although it was built after the time of Henry VII it is nonetheless an intriguing Tudor construction, unique in York. It also served as the church in which the notorious Guy Fawkes was baptised in 1570.
*Opposite the Rose Window, walk a few yards down the small path until you reach Starbucks at the entrance of Stonegate*
Stonegate is one of York’s most important and historic streets; the current thoroughfare lies atop the Roman Via Praetoria, suggesting the integral part this street has played for thousands of years. The street also played a key role in the construction of the Minster; stone from Tadcaster was brought from the River Ouse up the street to the Minster. During Medieval times the street was home to goldsmiths, printers and glass painters amongst other craftsmen. Mulberry Hall, situated about half-way down Stonegate is a prominent medieval building built in the mid-15th Century. In April 1486 as part of his progress to York, Henry VII passed through Stonegate where he was greeted with a pageant. A lady dressed as the Virgin Mary blessed the new king in what was a joyous welcome to the centre of York for the new king.
*turn up the small alleyway underneath the ‘Ye Olde Starr Inn’ sign and enter Coffee Yard*
8. Barley Hall
Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse in the centre of York situated just off Stonegate, an historic thoroughfare close to the towering Minster that would have been one of the most prestigious streets in England during the 15th century. Accessible through two small atmospheric alleyways, the townhouse portrays how the building appeared in the 1480’s. Rooms include the great hall, a buttery and pantry, a parlour and several bed chambers, each of which is fitted with furniture relevant to the era.
Originally built in 1360 by monks of a priory, by the reign of Henry VII it was a bustling residence playing an important role in the civic life of England’s second city. The property came into the ownership of successful goldsmith William Snawsell in 1466, who initially rented the townhouse for the relatively high price of 53 shillings and 5 pence. Snawsell was wealthy in comparison to his fellow townsfolk and owned a multitude of property throughout York and the neighbouring villages. As a prosperous gentleman he served the city in various capacities, earning a degree of regional prominence as Chamberlain in 1459, Sheriff in 1464, Lord Mayor in 1468 and alderman for twenty years thereafter until his retirement due to illness in 1492.
As a prominent civic officer Snawsell was a contemporary of Richard III when he was both Duke of Gloucester and King of England, As Alderman it would have fallen upon men like Snawsell to welcome Richard to the city on his various visits and to walk in procession during the subsequent celebrations. Adorned in his purple gown of state, this was a role Snawsell would have continued under Henry VII, only retiring from service in his seventies. Snawsell also played a prominent role in taking gifts to Richard’s son Edward of Middleham and honouring the newly invested Prince of Wales in September 1483. Further enhancing his credentials as a loyal member of Richard’s northern affinity was his relationship through marriage to Thomas Wytham, who was one of Richard’s councillors when Duke of Gloucester and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry VI and Edward IV.
In August 1485 Snawsell was amongst the city elders who had been informed of the invasion of Henry Tudor in an attempt to depose Richard from the throne and had to decide accordingly what course of action to take. He was present during an emergency meeting of the City Council which decided you dispatch around 80 troops to fight Richard’s cause at Bosworth although disastrously they failed to reach the battlefield in time. The following day William Snawsell’s name is listed first in the records of those York councillors present to hear a report of the battle, an account which stated “King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason…piteously slane and murdred to the grete hevyness of this citie.”
Presented with the loss of a patron who had treated York, and in particular its civic gentlemen like William Snawsell well, the elderly alderman chose to make an immediate peace with the new monarch and accordingly swore allegiance. As alderman it is probable that Snawsell would have honoured Henry VII during the new King’s progress to York, forming a core part of the welcoming committee at Micklegate Bar. It is believed he died around 1495 although no will has survived to verify.
Snawsell’s townhouse at Barley Hall would have been amongst the most opulent in the city and would have been served by around twelve servants, including a cook, a steward and various scullions to ensure the smooth running of the household. Snawsell lived at the property with his wife Joan Thweng of Sheriff Hutton and their children Seth, Isobel and Alice. William remained in possession of the residence under 1489 when it was sold to William Carter, a wine merchant.
The reconstructed Barley Hall stands today almost as a testament to the importance these local civic officers played in shaping history’s most dramatic moments, a participation that is generally overlooked in favour of the kingdom’s elite nobles. William Snawsell succeeded in achieving what very few nobles managed to do in the 15th century, and that was to serve four kings and both the House of Lancaster and House of York.
*continue through Coffee Yard and turn left along Grape Lane. At the end of Grape Lane turn right onto High Petergate and just before the Poundland turn left up the small alleyway*
9. Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate
Church of Holy Trinity was founded in the early twelfth century and features thirteenth and fourteenth century architecture. The church received substantial restructuring during the 1470’s under the guardianship of Rector John Walker. The rector was responsible for the magnificent stained glass window on the east wall, which was added in 1471. The tower was added during the reign of Henry VII and was completed between 1495 and 1496.
*Follow the path until you enter Goodramgate opposite Tesco. Turn left and follow the road until you reach Monk Bar*
10. Monk Bar
Monk Bar is the site of the Richard III Experience. The Bar is a 14th Century construction that was heightened under the orders of Richard III. The section of Wall from here to Layerthorpe was probably repaired during the reign of Henry VII; the arches are late medieval and correspond to other late 15th Century walls in London and Tenby.
*Enter the York Walls on the right of Monk Bar. On the right just a short walk along you will see the timbered hall of the Merchant Taylor’s Guild*
11. Merchant Taylor’s Hall
The Merchant Taylor’s Hall is a 14th Century timber-framed building that has served as the base of the Taylors Guild in York for over 600 years. They were one of seven guilds in the medieval city and were a powerful entity. They received the patronage of Henry VII in 1503 when he officially recognised their name through charter as the Merchant Taylor’s Guild.
*Follow the wall until you come to the end of this section in Layerthorpe*
12. King’s Fishpool
The King’s Fishpool was a large shallow lake lying between Layerthorpe and Foss Bridge. It was created during on the orders of William the Conqueror in 1069 when he dammed the River Foss and added another level of defence on the eastern side of the city. The Fishpool would remain in situ for the next 700 years and its boundaries can be understood by the lack of walls between Layerthorpe and the Red Tower. Today the name for the area is Foss Island, derived from the 18th century when the Fishpool began to silt up creating a series of marshy islands. The fishpool provided a plentiful supply of fish to the nearby castle.
*walk along the main road for a few hundred meters until you reach the Red Tower and the resumption of the town walls*
13. Red Tower
The Red Tower in York, constructed during the reign of Henry VII. This watchtower once marked the end of the city walls before the commencement of a large swamp that was part of the King’s Fishpool. An agreement was made between King Richard III and York City Corporation to strengthen and repair the walls, an understanding that continued into the reign of Henry Tudor.
Construction began on the Red Tower in 1490. The Corporation did not wish to pay the higher rates to Stone Masons and therefore employed the cheaper Tilers Guild to build the tower using bricks. This decision angered the Stone Masons who had hitherto been responsible for all such construction work in the city and a feud erupted between the masons and the tilers, who complained that their tools were being routinely broken or stolen. The situation escalated until 1491 when a tiler named John Patrick was murdered. Two masons were charged with his murder. One man was Christopher Horner and the other was William Hindley, Master Mason at the Minster. Hindley escaped arrest as he stayed in the Minster area which fell under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop rather than the city authorities. Both men escaped conviction, an indication of the power masons held in the city. The tilers were permitted to finish the Red Tower but it would prove to be York’s only brick building of the period. It was first referred to as the Red Tower in 1511 when artillery was kept there.
*walk along the town walls until you reach Walmgate Bar*
14. Walmgate Bar
Walmgate Bar is the most complete of the city’s four bars as the only gateway that still retains its barbican. Similar to the other bars, the eldest part of Walmgate is the 12th century stone archway with the remainder generally being 14th century. Uniquely the inside of the Bar features a timber-framed Elizabethan house. The heavy wooden doors date from the 15th century. Henry VIII entered York through this bar in September 1541.
*walk along the town walls until you reach Fishergate Bar*
15. Fishergate Bar
Fishergate Bar was an alternative medieval entrance into the city. The arch was restored in 1487 by the Lord Mayor of York William Todd who is commemorated on the plaque above the archway. Mayor Todd was knighted that year by Henry VII for providing support against the forces of Lambert Simnel, Yorkist pretender to the throne and in celebration funded the restoration of 55 metres of the walls including Fishergate. Only two years later however an uprising occurred in York amongst some of the citizens angered at the raising of taxes by Henry VII. One of their acts of civil disobedience was the torching of Fishergate Bar on 15 May 1489, carried out by Sir John Egremont and John Chambers. After the attack Thomas Wrangwysh was reprimanded for not keeping the two bars in adequate repair. The damage was such that the Bar was bricked up and would remain as such until 1827. The king also ordered that the walls in the area be repaired and strengthened. In 1491 the king further ordered the walls and ditches to be repaired and guns to be obtained. The Mayor pleaded poverty in response so the king granted £98. The guns didn’t materialise until the reign of his son Henry VIII in 1511.
*walk along the walls until you reach Fishergate Postern*
16. Fishergate Postern
Fishergate Postern is a large, rectangular stone building built first erected in the early 16th century. It was a defensive tower used to keep guard over the nearby postern gateway. The original early 15th century tower was designed to be a secondary entrance to the larger, nearby Fishergate Bar.
The Postern saw increased usage during the reign of Henry VII after the destruction and subsequent bricking up of Fishergate Bar after the tax riot of 1489. In 1501/02 the Mayor and Corporation of York ordered that a new stone postern tower be built, and construction was between 1504 and 1507 which is the tower we see today. The stone gateway was probably rebuilt at the same time, complete with portcullis.
*cross the road and bridge and follow the pavement around until you reach Clifford’s Tower*
17. Clifford’s Tower
Clifford’s Tower is the only substantial remnant of the medieval York Castle, an unusual two-story quatrefoil keep built in the late 13th Century on the orders of Henry II. It served as a defensive base within York in addition to a medieval prison and place of execution. By the late 15th century the castle had fallen into a state of disrepair; Richard III was killed before his orders for renovation work had been carried out and it seems there was no urgency or need from Henry VII to continue with the plans. By the reign of Henry VIII the castle had fallen into further disrepair although it was still used for executions, for example Pilgrimage of the Grace leader Robert Aske was hanged from the tower in 1536.
*cross the road and pick up the York Walls trail by walking through the park next to the river. Walk up the steps to Skeldergate Bridge and walk across. On the right hand side looking up river you will see the Ouse Bridge*
18. Ouse Bridge (from Skeldergate Bridge)
Henry VII crossed the Ouse Bridge in 1486 during his northern progress to York. He was greeted on the bridge with a throne and ‘King Solomon’ who led six men who portrayed the six earlier King Henrys. Together the group offered Henry VII a sceptre to accompany a crown he had earlier been presented at Micklegate Bar. A shower of rose water and comfits completed the exuberant and merry scene.
*At the end of Skeldergate Bridge, enter the York Walls and follow through until Micklegate Bar*
19. Micklegate Bar
The location of the Henry Tudor Experience
Micklegate Bar was the most important gateway to York and traditionally was the place royalty was welcomed into the city. The base of the Bar dates from the 12th century, similar to the city’s other bars whilst the top two stories date from the 14th century.
For hundreds of years Micklegate Bar was used to display the severed heads of rebels and traitors, including that of Richard, Duke of York, in 1460. The last severed head was not removed until 1754.
Henry VII first visited York in 1486 and his entrance to the city was through Micklegate Bar. Court chronicler Polydore Vergil wrote ‘he set out for York, to keep in control the people of the north, wild and readier than others for rebellion’.
He was met by the city’s sheriffs, aldermen and Mayor at Bilborough Cross and was accompanied into the city. No expense was spared in paying tribute to this new gain and to seek his favour; it was said children lining the street cried out ‘King Henry’ and red and white roses were displayed to symbolise York and Lancaster’s union. Henry was presented with a crown and the keys to the city, symbolic of York’s submission to the king. He was greeted by a citizen dressed as Ebrauk, the legendary founder of York, who exclaimed in verse ‘To you, Henrie, I submit my citie, key and croune; To reuyll and redresse, your dew to defence; never to this citie to presume ne pretence; but holy I graunt it to your governaunce; As a principall parcel of your inheritaunce’.
Henry returned again in July 1487 but this time he arrived at Micklegate at the head of an army having just defeated a Yorkist threat to his throne. The Mayor and Corporation of York met him at the Bar, where the king was accompanied by a thousand noblemen dressed in armour. A Mystery Play was put on for Henry who watched from the Coney Street house of Thomas Scott.
*From here follow the remainder of the walls to cross Lendal Bridge. You will emerge by the King’s Manor and York Minster*