Hello! This week, I’m your tour guide, for a visit to a place which has plenty of interesting historical links for me, but which I’ve never managed to visit. Don’t get me wrong – I was all set to go. I’d already found a hotel nearby, checked bus routes, confirmed train times and then… Discovered there was nothing there. So, something of a ‘non site’ this week, but never mind – there is a reason. We’re off to Fotheringhay Castle!
As you can see, limited opportunities to explore, and not much of a chance to get a sense of the place…
Ownership of the land can be traced back to a gift from William the Conqueror to Judith of Lens, the wife of the Earl of Northumbria, with their daughter and her husband founding the castle around 1100. Through her second husband it became the property of the King of Scotland, before eventually being gifted to William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (son of the more famous William Marshal, and the man who commissioned the famous history of the hero knight).
Obviously, a connection to the great William Marshal is a good start for any castle, but for me, the next really interesting owner took possession in 1415, when Edward, 2nd Duke of York died without heirs, and it passed to Richard, 3rd Duke of York. And we all know what happened to his youngest son… The nearby Church of St Mary and All Saints are the final resting place of both Richard III’s parents, the afore-mentioned 3rd Duke and his wife, Cecily Neville. So it was here, on this day in 1452, that Richard Plantagenet, youngest son of the Duke of York was born. There’s a line of thought that he may have been a sickly child, due to the line in a letter that “Richard liveth yet,” but then, this was the 1400s – child mortality was high at the best of times, even for noble families, so perhaps this was just more of an observation on this, rather than a specific note regarding his particular health situation.
Clearly though, no chance to go and stand in the room where the Richard III story began, but then comes an odd twist, as we skip forward in time again, and my second favourite historical figure comes into the frame. Although Mary, Queen of Scots was never a prisoner long-term at Fotheringhay, it was where she spent her final days, and received news of her planned execution the night before it was to take place, on the 8th February 1587. If I’m honest, I don’t tend to read too much about Mary’s time in England, as frankly, it makes me cross. It’s well-known that Elizabeth I hesitated in signing the death warrant, and that even when she did, she didn’t issue it immediately, and that eventually, the Privy Council commanded Mary’s execution under Cecil’s command, and without Elizabeth’s knowledge.
Mary’s ghost is one of the central characters in the book I’m currently working on, and although I never set any scene in Fotheringhay, it is mentioned a couple of times, and I am definitely thinking of setting a short story there at some point. The very fact that it links my two favourite historical figures, and at such key events in their life (at least, I would consider birth and death fairly key events!), is an oddity that I simply never twigged until I started further researching Richard’s younger days.
So, join me in raising a cup of tea (I would say mug of ale, but as this goes live fairly early in the morning, it probably isn’t appropriate), and wish Richard III a happy birthday! And please send me sympathy, because even though I know there’s nothing there, I do still think that one day I’ll have to visit Fotheringhay, and let my imagination do the best it can!