My Place: Middleham – on the trail of Richard III

Today, I'm delighted to welcome author Alex Marchant, author of The Order of the White Boar and The King's Man.

As a fan of Richard III, I found Alex's article on Middleham Castle and its surrounding area very interesting. I'm sure you will, too. :-) 

Over to Alex...
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Middleham, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire
The name ‘Middleham’ likely means one thing and one thing only to most people. There is of course its racing connection – Middleham is the ‘Newmarket of the North’, with some fifteen racing stables in and around this large Yorkshire Dales village – but to anyone with an interest in history, especially of the medieval period, the fact that it was the primary home to the future King Richard III will always overshadow that.
The gatehouse of Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle has been a brooding presence in the area for more than 800 years. The remains of an early earth-and-timber castle can just be discerned on the slope of the hill to the south, but that was abandoned in favour of the grand stone-built keep and surrounding bailey which, though ruined through neglect since the sixteenth century, casts its spell on many visitors today. 
William's Castle, from tower of Middleham Castle

Begun in the later twelfth century by the FitzRanulphs, the castle passed to the powerful Nevill family in the 1270s, and 200 years later, through his marriage to Anne Nevill, the daughter of the (in)famous Warwick the Kingmaker, to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest brother to King Edward IV. And it is that connection that proves the draw for many to this remote part of Yorkshire.
Wensleydale, from the moorland slopes of Pen Hill

For it is rather remote even today. The closest railway is miles away and few buses connect Middleham to the nearest towns. And it is possible, if you take a stroll a little way out of the village – along the water meadows of the river Ure, or up on to the moor tops above the dale – watching the buzzards soaring over the patchwork of drystone walls, or hearing the unearthly whooping cries of oystercatchers or curlews – almost to roll back the centuries to when the castle was home to Richard, Anne and their small son, Edward. 
Richard III, his son, Edward of Middleham, and his wife, Anne Nevill,
depicted in a modern stained glass window at Middleham's church of St Mary and St Alkelda

Duke Richard himself may not have spent all of his time here during those years of his lordship – being called away often by brother Edward to wars with the Scots or in France, to Westminster for Parliament or council, to the other castles in his northern dominions, such as Pontefract, Penrith, Barnard Castle or Sheriff Hutton – but Anne undoubtedly had her household here. And their son Edward was born here and likely died here too, sadly only a few years later. Although by that time he was Prince of Wales, it’s still unknown exactly how old little Edward was – and the whereabouts of his grave also eludes us. Long thought to be in Sheriff Hutton church, that theory has now been most likely disproved. Could it be that he lies in Middleham’s own church of St Mary and St Alkelda – or in the nearby priory of Coverham, or perhaps beautiful Jervaulx?
The chapter house of Jervaulx Abbey, about 3 miles from Middleham.
An anonymous small grave cover lies immediately before the site of the high altar
and is perhaps the resting place of little Edward.

For all the castle’s ruined state, and the soaring majesty of its keep, it’s strangely intimate – and somehow it’s possible to imagine, as one wanders about its often-deserted ground, that you can hear the happy boyish calls of Ed as he plays or trains with his companions, his fellow pages, or the everyday bustle of life in a medieval noble household.
Many adult novels about King Richard III have been set wholly or partially in Middleham – sometimes the scene of romance, other times showing it as a place of refuge from the politics, intrigues and turmoil in which Richard was caught up. They were troublesome, turbulent times, this latter part of the fifteenth century. And the term ‘no-brainer’ could have been coined for my decision also to set the greater part of my own children’s novel about King Richard, The Order of the White Boar, in this place that will always also be associated with his own childhood (though it’s disputed just how much of his time as a knight-in-training in his cousin Warwick’s household may have been spent at this castle – just one of many of which Richard Nevill was lord). 
’King Richard’ himself describing his exploits at the battle of Barnet
to some young ’pages’, Middleham Castle, July 2013

When my lead character, Matthew Wansford, 12-year-old son of a middling merchant, arrives at the castle in the summer of 1482 – having left his home in York in disgrace – it’s a place of comfortable domesticity. The Duke is away fighting the Scots (as so often), but otherwise life goes on as normal: the pages attend their lessons in French, Latin, music, weapons training, the Duchess conducts business with the steward, there are rides on the moors, hunting, hawking, intrigues, reading of romances after dinner in the great hall. If it weren’t for the swaggering bully he encounters (Hugh Soulsby, son of an executed Lancastrian traitor), Matt’s life would be idyllic as he settles into friendships with fellow page Roger, Alys, ward of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and little Ed, the Duke’s son himself. But of course, this is the time of the Wars of the Roses – and though there has been peace for the past twelve years under Edward IV’s rule, nothing stays the same for ever....
What is left of the great hall of Middleham Castle,
with the kitchens beneath.

For all the dangers and troubles that Matt also experiences during his stay at Middleham – strife with Hugh, the hunt on which a friend almost loses their life, the sadness of his leaving – in following times he looks back on his months there as a golden interlude – one that he yearns to recapture with that nostalgia that many of us feel for a place where we once felt at home, with people whom we grew to love, even if our paths crossed only briefly ... when we have no idea whether they will again, and whether we will pick up where we left off. Matt’s life and those of his friends – and of his good master, Duke Richard – will weave together and pull apart, and interlace once more, as history sweeps them up, and aside, over the coming years. Middleham and wild Wensleydale always call to him – across the miles, across the sea, across time.  
Middleham Castle

And visitors today are no different. Many return year after year, from countries far from this place, countries on continents not even known to those who lived here in the 1480s. The draw of Richard III is hard to explain, but Middleham is a magnet to many people – the place where perhaps he was happiest, where his life can be celebrated, where he is still remembered as a good lord and king, far from the monstrous picture drawn by his enemies. A picture belied by the fact that, well into the twentieth century, one third of all boys born in nearby Coverdale were named – yes, you’ve guessed it – Richard.
King Richard's standard flies from the topmost tower of
Middleham Castle on the day of his reinterment in March 2015
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 About Alex Marchant:

Born in the rolling Surrey downs, and following stints as an archaeologist and in publishing, I now live surrounded by moors in King Richard III’s northern heartland, working as a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and independent author of books for children aged 10+. 

My first novel, Time out of Time (due out 2019), won the 2012 Chapter One Children’s Book Award, and my second was put on the backburner in 2013 at the announcement of the discovery of King Richard’s grave in a car park in Leicester. As a Ricardian since my teens, that momentous announcement prompted me to write about the real Richard III for older children and so The Order of the White Boar and its recently released sequel The King’s Man were born. The Order has been described by the Bulletin of the Richard III Society as ‘a wonderful work of historical fiction for both children and adults’ and The King’s Man as ‘a brilliant, gripping, heart-wrenching sequel’.

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Find Alex on:




And follow Matt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WhiteBoarOrder 

The books can be bought from Amazon at myBook.to/WhiteBoar and mybook.to/TheKingsMan


All images (c) Alex Marchant.

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Thank you so much, Alex, for the insightful description and wonderful photos. Middleham Castle is a place I'd love to visit one day. 

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