Edward of Middleham, the only legitimate son of King Richard III, is thought to be buried in a small parish church in Sheriff Hutton. So should King Richard’s remains be laid to rest here too? STEPHEN LEWIS reports
IN THE north-east corner of the Norman church of St Helen and the Holy Cross at Sheriff Hutton is a carved stone effigy of a burly knight. He is dressed in chain mail and surcoat, his hands pressed together on his chest, a shield on his left arm, a sword belted around his waist.
This was Sir Edmund Thweng. He died at the battle of Stirling, and the effigy probably represents him as being slightly bigger than he was, says church warden Roy Thompson. “If you died in battle, then they tended to make you look a bit bigger than you actually were.”
A couple of paces away from the effigy of Sir Edmund, tucked against the church’s north wall, there is another stone figure. This one is altogether more delicate than that of the burly knight. Carved in bone-white alabaster, it represents a boy of about 11. He is wearing a long, belted robe that falls in rich folds, and on his brow there is a coronet.
The features of his face are mainly gone, worn away by time. But he seems peaceful, somehow, as if at rest with his place in the world.
This is thought to be a representation of Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales and only legitimate son of King Richard III.
Edward, who had been invested as Prince of Wales in a lavish ceremony at York Minster in 1483, died the following year, at Middleham, of tuberculosis.
His grieving parents, King Richard and Queen Anne Neville, were in Nottingham. They came north to Sheriff Hutton, one of the King’s power bases in the north, and the body of their son was brought to meet them.
Then, according to the story, he was buried in this church. Not exactly beneath where the effigy now rests atop an alabaster tomb – but on the opposite, southern side of the church, in the ancestral chapel of the Nevilles, his mother’s family.
There is no hard evidence that the young prince is buried here, admits Mr Thompson. But the circumstantial evidence is strong.
Sheriff Hutton Castle, half a mile away, was one of three bases for Richard’s Council of the North, the effective government of the North of England for more than 150 years. The other bases were in York itself, and at Sandal castle in Wakefield. Richard and his retainers would have stayed regularly at Sheriff Hutton, says Mr Thompson: and this was where the Court of Pleas met to dispense justice based on common law.
The young prince’s parents, King Richard and Queen Anne, hastened north from Nottingham when they learned of their only son’s death.
The prince’s body, meanwhile, was brought south to meet them, here at Sheriff Hutton. It is very unlikely that his body would have been moved again, Mr Thompson says.
“They would have buried him here in the (Neville) family chapel.”
A plaque in the church next to Edward’s effigy admits that there is some doubt over the identification. But based on armorial bearings, the ‘balance of probabilities’ is that this really is where Richard III’s only legitimate son is buried – probably somewhere beneath the stone flags on the Neville side of the church.
In Mr Thompson’s opinion, that means that the Church of St Helen and the Holy Cross should be at least under consideration as a final resting place for Richard himself, now that remains found beneath a car park in Leicester have been confirmed as his.
Ideally, he should be interred at York Minster, where his son was invested Prince of Wales, Mr Thompson says. During his short reign, the King had made it perfectly clear that that was where he wanted to be buried. He had plans for a chantry chapel there.
He was only king for a couple of years – but since he died at the age of 32, he would clearly have been hoping to be on the throne for much longer than that. “And he had made plans for his family to be buried at York Minster.”
But if the Minster doesn’t want him, there are a number of other appropriate locations: at Middleham, which was Richard’s stronghold in the north long before he became king; at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, where he was born; or at Sheriff Hutton, where he could lie beside his son. “This is an option,” Mr Thompson says.
He certainly should not stay in Leicester, the church warden believes. He died there, fighting to defend his kingdom. But just because that is where he was killed doesn’t mean it is where he should stay.
British soldiers killed fighting overseas are repatriated home to their loved ones. We should do no less for the last Plantagenet king.
Village is named after ‘Settlement on a hill’
SHERIFF HUTTON gets its name from the Old English words hoh and tun, meaning ‘settlement on a hill’. The prefix ‘Sheriff’ was probably added in memory of Bertram de Bulmer, the Sheriff of York, who died in 1166.
Work on building the Norman church of St Helen and the Holy Cross, where Richard III’s son Prince Edward is thought to be buried, began in about 1100. A Norman castle was built nearby: you can still see the remains of the original castle mound – actually four small mounds – from the churchyard.
The later ‘Plantagenet’ castle which was the headquarters of Richard III’s Council of the North was built in about 1400, and is half a mile or so away.
Edward of Middleham, the king’s only legitimate son, was by all accounts a ‘delicate’ or sickly child, who had been too ill to travel to his father’s coronation at Westminster Abbey in July 1483. He was invested as Prince of Wales at York Minster later that year, but died at Middleham, possibly of tuberculosis, on March 9, 1484, according to a plaque in St Helen’s Church.
The effigy to the prince now standing against the church’s north wall had, at some point in history, been dismantled, and pieces were spread all over the church. It was reassembled in its present position in the middle of last century. But the prince himself is thought to be buried beneath the stone flags at the other side of the church, in the chapel of the Neville family, where many of his relatives from his mother’s side are also buried.