Richard III and York
by Peter Hammond
Since the exciting discovery of the bones in Leicester, which we are all hoping turn out to be those of Richard III, there has been much discussion about where they should be reburied if they are indeed his. Normal archaeological protocol would dictate that they be reburied near to where they were found but these, of course, could be the bones of an anointed king of England, so that perhaps other criteria should apply.
There have been suggestions that he should be reburied in York, 'where he planned to be buried'. It is worth stating that there is no direct evidence whatsoever that he did plan this. Much has been made of the fact that he planned to set up a college for 100 priests in York Minster. There is no doubt that he planned this. There are several entries in the Privy Seal Register (Harleian Ms, 433) which probably date from between August 1484 and February 1485 which show this. One of the early entries merely says that 'The Chirche of York hath a graunt for C prestes etc' but subsequent entries fill in some of the detail and make clear that Letters Patent setting up the college had been issued and that grants of income and property, (probably in the Duchy of Lancaster) had been made to the Minster. The Dean and Canons of York were given permission to collect the rents.
We know that work had started on setting up the college because the Fabric Rolls of the Minster for 1485 contain an entry showing that six altars for these priests had been erected. In the will of William Poteman, a Canon of York and one of those given authority to collect the rents from the property granted to the new college, was a bequest of some timber which had been taken from the house that was originally being erected for the priests of the College to live in but was now being demolished. Thus work had progressed quickly as long as Richard was alive but probably stopped soon after he died. Poteman was dead by March 1493.
So we know that Richard not only planned but started work on a large college for priests in York Minster. What we do not know is how he planned to use this college nor can we know, lacking any actual evidence. He may have intended this as a mausoleum for his family, starting with the burial of his son Edward (who may possibly have been buried in the Minster already), but we do not know. Richard founded many chantries and elevated the existing chantry at Middleham into a college of six priests. He also planned to found a college for 12 priests in Barnard Castle, another project which failed at his death. We have no more (or less) reason to suppose that he wanted to be buried in his foundations of Middleham or Barnard Castle than that he wanted to be buried in York.
1. British Harleian Manuscript 433, ed. R. Horrox and P. W. Hammond, vol. 1 (1979), pp. 201, 221, 242, 247 and 267.
2. The Fabric Rolls of York Minster, ed. J. Raine, (1858), pp. 86, 87