Two rival kings tell their stories
Updated 2:55pm Wednesday 2nd April 2014 in Features
Two new museums dedicated to two rival kings open in York on Saturday: the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar, and the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar. STEPHEN LEWIS went behind the scenes as Jorvik staff prepared for the opening.
CHANCES are you've never tried to pick up a medieval knight's metal shoe. If you ever do, you'll be surprised how heavy it is.
The knight in question was sprawled across the stone-flagged floor of the second-highest chamber in Monk Bar. At least, his armour was.
His metal shoes – or sabatons – were laid out neatly beside him. They were made of intricately interlocked metal plates that hinged at the ankle - and they weighed a tonne.
Just thinking about how much that suit of armour must weigh gave me new respect for King Richard III.
He may have suffered to some extent from scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. But if he was able to go into battle wearing this lot – even if he had to be winched onto his horse first – he must have been tougher than we give him credit for.
You probably won't be able to try on this knight's shoe when the new-look Richard III Experience officially opens at Monk Bar on Saturday. But you will be able to try on an assortment of helmets for size.
The suit of armour, meanwhile, will be the centrepiece of a display celebrating Richard the 'warrior king'.
Previous visitors to the Monk Bar museum – in the days when it was run by the much-missed Mike Bennett – will have become used to the sight of a waxwork Richard standing in a dock while actors' voices put the case for and against him as the murderer of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.
Fans of the original museum will be glad to see that the waxwork of Richard is still there. And the question of whether or not he murdered the Princes in the Tower will still be touched upon, says Sarah Maltby, the director of attractions at the Jorvik group which has taken over the museum.
But much else will be different. There will be an attempt to reinterpret Richard as a medieval warrior, leader and King rather than simply as Shakespeare's evil hunchback, for a start.
And the Richard III Experience will be just one of two 'new' museums being opened by Jorvik on Saturday which will celebrate two rival kings at opposite ends of the city.
The life and times of the Yorkist Richard, the last Plantagenet ruler of England, will be told at Monk Bar. Across town at Micklegate Bar, meanwhile, will be the Henry VII Experience, dedicated to Richard's rival and successor, the first Tudor monarch and father of King Henry VIII.
Jorvik, which already ran the Micklegate Bar museum, took over the one at Monk Bar in February, just a few weeks before Mike's death at 55.
Mike, who had run the museum for 20 years, was already desperately ill. He approached Jorvik group about taking on the museum when he announced his own retirement. "I'm delighted that Jorvik ... will be taking over the museum and that it will continue to inform and entertain residents and tourists about the Richard III story," he said at the time.
When it reopens on Saturday, however, it will be very much part of a double act with its twin at Micklegate.
Each museum will stand alone: but each will also complement the other, says Sarah. The Richard III Experience will take the story of the wars of the Roses up to Richard's death at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.
The Henry VII Experience – housed in the very Bar beneath which the new King would have made a triumphal entry a year after Richard's death – takes the story on, following the life of the first Tudor King after he seized the throne following Bosworth.
Jorvik has come up with a tagline to unite the two museums: "Two Kings, Two Bars, One City." There will even be a map for a suggested walk along the walls between them. "We want to encourage people to walk the wall between the two," Sarah says.
So what will visitors see when they go along from Saturday? The Press was given a peek behind the scenes at Monk Bar as Jorvik staff were getting the Richard III Experience ready.
The top floor will tell the story of England towards the end of the Wars of the Roses, and of how Richard became King. "We'll be telling the story of Richard: who he was, where he came from, and the run-up to him seizing the throne," Sarah says.
There will be information panels; audio-visuals; two miniature recreations of significant battlefields – the battles of Wakefield and Towton – made specially for the museum; and, against one stone wall, a 'campaign tent' such as would have been used by members of Richard's army when in the field.
This being intended as a family museum, the tent will be home to a children's play area. It will contain some child-friendly displays – including some specially written by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary – and there will be a Richard III board game for children to play. "It is Yorkshire against Lancashire, and whoever gets to the centre of the board first wins," says Sarah.
The middle floor of the tower, meanwhile, will tell the story of Richard as King; of York under his rule, and of the importance of the Council of the North.
There will be a deliberate attempt to get away from the evil Richard of Shakespeare, with the hump and the twisted heart. "This will be about the warrior king, the knight," says Sarah. Hence that suit of armour.
What those who visited the Monk Bar museum in Mike's day will probably be most surprised by, however, is just how much lighter and brighter the ancient stone tower seems.
The vaulted stone ceiling of the lower chamber, above the portcullis, has been cleverly lit to show off its graceful arcs. Access to windows has been opened up, giving great views out along Goodramgate or even down the length of the city walls. And there is even some heating. "We've warmed it up a bit!" says Sarah.
There are still plenty of wonderfully quirky features, however: including two stone prisoner's cells opening off the middle chamber. One contains a 'garderobe' or medieval toilet (the kids will love that) the other the 'little ease' prison where once the Catholic Alice Bowman was held captive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Alice had been found guilty of helping to take down the heads of executed Catholics which had been impaled on spikes around the city. Spending time in this cold stone cell was her reward. A lady in the tower rather than princes: but right here in York...
* The Richard III and Henry VII Experiences open to the public on Saturday. Entry to each will be £3.50 adults, £2.50 children and concessions. Entry to both will be £5 adults, £3 children, £3.50 concessions.
Campaigners still waiting
CAMPAIGNERS calling for Richard III's remains to be buried in York – among them some of the King's distant relatives – are still awaiting a High Court ruling which could have a significant impact on Richard's last resting place.
Members of the Plantagenet Alliance asked the court to rule that there should be a public consultation to decide where the last Plantagenet king's remains should be buried. Following a hearing in March, the court said it would take time to consider its judgement.
Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, ending the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty, and his body was taken to Leicester by supporters of the victorious Henry VII and buried in Greyfriars church, now the site of the council car park.
The king's battle-scarred bones were discovered under the car park in in 2012. The current plan is for them to be reinterred at the city's cathedral.
The Plantagenet Alliance want the remains to be buried at York Minster, claiming that was the wish "of the last medieval king of England", who was known as Richard of York.
In a fresh twist yesterday, Leicester Cathedral announced that a planned major refit of the cathedral to accommodate Richard's remains had been approved.
We don't think that was an April Fool.
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