Charter reveals how Richard III planned to make Scarborough an independent county

By Richard Moss | 16 March 2015

Richard III's Charter for Scarborough, produced in the spring of 1485, goes on display at Scarborough Art Gallery

a photo of a parchment with the Words Scarborough written in gold
Detail of Richard III’s charter for Scarborough © Scarborough Museums Trust
Counterfactual history has its pitfalls and opponents but a document held by Scarborough Museums Trust reveals how, had Richard III not fallen at the Battle of Bosworth, the county of Yorkshire would have been a different place.

The rare vellum document bearing the seal of King Richard III is about to go on display at Scarborough Art Gallery later this month and it shows how the last king of the House of York effectively granted the seaside town and its surrounding area the right to become an independent county.

Richard's Charter for Scarborough was produced in the spring of 1485. Just over four months later he died at the Battle of Bosworth and his successor, Henry VII, refused to recognise it, so it was never enacted.

a photo of a woman with glasses looking at a document
Scarborough Museums Trust Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne examines the charter© Scarborough Museums Trust
What effect it would have had on the White Rose County - one of England's most proud and, it's fair to say, independent minded shires, is hard to quantify.

But the charter reveals how Richard wanted to grant the privileges because of “…the special Affection which we have and bear towards our Town of Scardeburgh in the County of York and the Burgesses of the same and in consideration of their good and faithful Behaviour and for their more secure Immunity and quiet and also for other Causes…”

Held in the Scarborough Collections, the original vellum document will be put on display on March 26, the day of the king’s reinterment at Leicester Cathedral.

At 530 years old the fragile document is, says SMT Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne, “a very precious and fragile object, so is usually kept in controlled storage”.

“But Richard III had strong connections to, and great affection for, Scarborough – it felt right to mark his reinterment by allowing people the rare chance to see this fascinating document.”

Richard’s charter for Scarborough will remain on display until the end of the year.

Entry to the gallery is £3, which includes entry to both Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda Museum for a year. The Gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm, plus bank holidays. For further information call 01723 374753.

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