600-year-old Richard III manuscript turns the page at Yorkshire Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 17 October 2013

When a 600-year-old House Book manuscript goes on show at the Yorkshire Museum today, it will be left open on pages revealing Richard’s visits to the city of York.

A photo of a woman standing in front of a large ancient book inside a historic building
Curator Natalie McCaul with the House Book in York© Yorkshire Museum
Displayed in the Medieval Gallery, the parchment recounts Richard’s decision to watch Corpus Christi Mystery Plays, details the money spent on hosting the Royal visit and shows the preparations made by planners to welcome him.

“It offers us a unique window into the relationship between York and Richard III like nothing else in existence,” says Natalie McCaul, the museum’s Curator of Archaeology, discussing the handwritten accounts of the “much talked-about” meetings between city and ruler.

“We think it may be the first time it has gone on public display.

“It talks of the pomp and circumstance of his visit to the city, where people where made to clean the paths in front of their doors and put up banners from their windows.”

From January, the pages will be turned to show Richard’s death – and not all of the city's 15th century leaders agreed about their feelings.

“It describes his murder being a 'grete hevynesse of this citie’, and how Henry VII’s messenger was afraid to visit after Richard’s death,” says McCaul.

“But it also shows that, even then, the city wasn’t united in its support for Richard.

“Rumour and reality were still deeply intertwined, with numerous telltale accounts of suspected treason noted.”

Councillor Sonja Crisp, one of the modern incumbents of the city council, says the book is the second in an unbroken series of 180 city House Books held at the York Archive.

“This Housebook survived floods at the Guildhall in 1892 and remains as arguably one of the most important late medieval documents in the country,” she observes.

“Dating from 1476 through to the present day, these volumes record the meetings of York’s council, with the earliest coinciding with King Richard’s rise to power in the north of England.

“The manuscript reveals an unusually intimate picture of a city courting the favour of royalty, while the expression of grief at Richard’s death was a risky gesture at a time when the new King was soon to impose his will on what he might have perceived as a rebel city.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Quotes from the House Book:

Slander of the duke of Gloucester, June 24 1482

"'John Davyson emonges other shewed howe that he hard Master William Melrig say in a place where he and other was, that he hard Master Roger Brere say that as toching my lorde of Gloucestr', 'What myght he do for the cite? Nothing bot gryn of us'. The said William Melrig the same day was sent fore, cam personalie tofore the said maiour, and ther and then demanded by the same maiour what sedicious wordes he hard at eny tyme Roger Brere say of my lorde of Gloucestre; he answered and said noon.'"

Slander of the duke of Gloucester, February 14-15 1483

"'The last day of Januari last past sityng at the ale at Eden Berys in Gothryngate that one askyd and said emong the felliship sittyn at ale, 'Syrs, whom shall we have to owr mair thys yere?' Wher unto awnswerd and said Stevyn Hoghson, 'Syrs, me thyng and it plees the communs I wold we had Maister Wrangwysh, for he is the man that my lord of Gloucestre will doo for'; and the said [Robert] Rede… said that if my lord of Gloucestir wold have hym mair the communs woldnot have hym mare; and her apon the said Welles sent for afore the said leutenaunt.'"

Death of Richard III, August 23 1485

"'King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie.'"

Henry VII's messenger afraid to enter York, August 24 1485

"'Forsomuch as the forsaid Sir Roger Cotam durst not for fere of deth come thrugh the citie to speake with the maire and his brethre, it was thought that they shuld goo unto him, wherupn the maire and his brethre went unto the sign of the boore and ther they speak with the said knight, which shewed unto them that the king named and proclaimed Henry the vii grete them well, and wold be unto them and this citie as good and gratiouse soveraign lord as any of his noble progenitors was before. With othyr words of comforth. Wherof the maire and his brethre thankes him moch and soo departed.'"

Report of slander against Richard III, May 14 1491

"John Payntour denied slandering the earl of Northumberland four days after Christmas, 1490, by saying he was a traitor who had betrayed king Richard. 'Bot he says that he herd the said maister Burton saye that Kyng Richard was an ypocryte, a crochebake and beried in a dike like a dogge, wherunto the said John Payntour answerd and said that he lied, for the Kynges good grace had beried hym like a noble gentilman. Apon all whiche wordes and saynges he reporteth hym'."

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