Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Guest Post: Kristie Dean presents an excerpt from The World of Richard III

The World of Richard III 
by Kristie Dean

To read Lisl's review of The World of Richard III, click here

I had such high expectations for Middleham Castle that I was afraid it might disappoint. I shouldn’t have worried. From my first visit I was enthralled by the castle, and a subsequent visit just deepened my appreciation for this impressive building situated in Wensleydale. On my first visit, I had seen Middleham glistening in the sun. The day had been mild and I had rambled around the ruin for hours, poking my head into every nook and cranny.

For my research trip – the trip where I would be taking the pictures to be used in the book – I hoped for a similar day. I knew rain was a possibility, but I figured I would be in the area long enough for rain to stop. My eternal optimism was rewarded by a torrential downpour. Rain was hitting me in every direction. I had brought a rain sleeve with me, but it was useless in this deluge. Every picture I took had water beading on the lens. Finally I gave up, hoping that I would find someone to take a picture for me later. I would concentrate on the layout and my research.

The castle looked even more formidable as I peered at it through wet, stringy hair. Richard would have seen Middleham Castle in both states – on sunny days and in the worst weather possible. Somehow, this made me appreciate the view of Middleham in the rain. It added a layer to the experience. I could no longer just write about how beautiful the castle appeared; I would need to explore its intimidating side as well. In the course of researching and writing The World of Richard III I had so many wonderful experiences but this day at Middleham was a special one.

--Kristie Dean

Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire

Rising up out of the dales, Middleham Castle is every bit the fortress it appears. The large, impregnable walls still look formidable, even in a ruinous state. In 1823, English geographer E. W. Brayley said, ‘As it is, majestic in decay, Middleham Castle, as an object, is the noblest work of man in the County of Man.’ You will find the castle is as striking today as it was then.

The first stronghold at Middleham was a motte-and-bailey castle likely built in the eleventh century. Its position can still be seen from the present location of the castle. After the new stone castle was built, the old site was deserted. The new site was not in a highly defensible position; however, evidence remains to show that protective fortifications were built, including a moat around the castle, as well as an outer courtyard.

Through the years, the castle passed from Alan the Red, a Norman who came over with William the Conqueror, to his brother, finally falling into the hands of the Nevilles through the marriage of Robert de Neville to Mary, daughter and heiress of Ralph FitzRanulph. The Neville family would expend money to enlarge and enrich Middleham during their time as its owners. The castle would eventually pass to Richard after the death of the Earl of Warwick.

Perhaps no other place held more meaning for Richard than the imposing stone walls of Middleham Castle. So many significant events in his life took place within the keep of this impressive edifice – events that would change Richard as well as the country. From his days in the earl’s household to his days as King of England, Middleham would hold both happy and depressing memories.

The Gatehouse
Despite centuries of decay, the gatehouse is still imposing. It stands three storeys high, with an arched stone entry. This was not the original entrance to the building, but was a fifteenth-century addition, and would have been the entrance that Richard would have used to reach the inner courtyard. Look up at the gatehouse and find the turrets. While there is little evidence that sculpted stone figures of armed men would have adorned the battlements, these men can be seen on other Neville properties, such as Raby Castle, and it is likely they would have graced Middleham’s battlements as well. Channels in the gatehouse show evidence of a portcullis, which would have offered extra protection.

Arriving at Middleham, Richard would have observed a very different town than the quiet town we see today; there had been a settlement there since Roman times. By the time Richard arrived, it was a bustling market town and important centre for the Earl of Warwick. It is easy to imagine Richard passing through the town and spotting the formidable towers for the first time, easy to picture his pride in his surroundings – pride that he was placed in the household of the greatest lord in the land to begin his training. Maybe he looked up at the turrets of the gatehouse as he entered into the castle through the north entrance. Whatever his thoughts, he had been placed in the care of the Earl of Warwick, and he would come to love this retreat from court.

Richard entered into the household of the Earl of Warwick to complete his education, and it is likely that he spent some of his time at Middleham. Paul Murray Kendall has Richard entering into the earl’s household as early as 1461, but as David Baldwin points out, references to Richard during this time period place him in other locations. Very little is known about Richard’s education, which probably resembled that of most nobles at the time, but it is known he spent time with the Countess of Warwick and her two daughters, Isabel and Anne. Isabel was nearer to Richard’s age, but Richard would have been acquainted with both of the girls, and perhaps a friendship was formed at this time that would later foster a caring marriage between Richard and Anne.

Middleham is also the most likely place for Richard to have established friendships with the nobles who would eventually die fighting with him in battle. Another friendship that Richard presumably fostered at Middleham was with Francis Lovell, who proved time and again to be intensely loyal to Richard. It is conceivable that the two of them became close during their time at Middleham and other Warwick holdings, even though there is dispute as to whether Lovell and Richard were in his household during the same years. It seems likely they did meet while in the earl’s care given their lifelong friendship.

Standing inside the inner courtyard, you will see a wooden staircase leading up to the keep. In the fifteenth century, this would have been a massive stone staircase. Walking towards the keep, you can just make out some remnants of the stone stairway. The twelfth-century keep dominates the area today, just as it would have in Richard’s time.

Middleham Castle, Wensleydale. Richard likely spent some of his childhood here in the 
palatial home of the Earl of Warwick. After Warwick’s death, the castle passed into Richard’s 
hands. His son, Edward of Middleham, was born, and probably died, here.

The Great Hall and Privy Chamber
When Richard came back north after the death of Warwick, he made Middleham his principal residence. From here, he would have administered justice in the area. By entering into a mutually advantageous marriage with Anne Neville, he was able to secure the loyalties of people in the North previously loyal to the Neville family. But he also generated loyalty in his even-handed treatment of the people, and he would keep this northern support for the years of his reign.

All that is left of the Great Hall where Richard would have conducted much of the business of the North, entertained guests and held court is a shell. If you pause long enough, in your mind’s
eye you can recreate the scene. Hear the laughter and the thump of dishes being placed before Richard and his guests, and see the servants scurrying to and fro attending to everyone. It would have been a lavish scene, as Richard spent heavily on feasting. One of the guests he entertained here as king was a German nobleman named Nicholas von Poppelau. The king made a good impression on Poppelau, who described Richard as having a ‘great heart’.

Richard’s council would have met in the Great Hall and administered justice for the area. As Paul Murray Kendall points out in his book The Yorkist Age, ‘Richard of Gloucester’s council at Middleham became such an effective instrument of justice in the 1470s that after Richard became king, he created the Council of the North, which the Tudors continued.’

One of the earliest problems Richard would have to deal with during his tenure in the North was the Bastard of Fauconberg. Thomas Neville, an illegitimate son of Lord Fauconberg, and the Earl of Kent, William Neville, had led an uprising against Edward IV. Neville had been pardoned and sent north with Richard into Yorkshire; however, he returned south without permission and was arrested. Richard dealt swiftly with him, having him executed at Middleham.

From the hall, there would have been access to the great chamber and the privy chamber. These rooms would have also been well used by Richard during his tenure at the castle, and were equipped with a fireplace and access to latrines in the tower. A chapel lies to the east wall of the keep. Little remains, but if you take a closer look, you can make out the tracery windows in the walls. With the destruction of time it is harder to picture, but try to imagine the household meeting in the chapel to observe morning prayers. Take the stairway to the viewing platform for views of the site of the original motte-and-bailey castle, as well as the panoramic view of Wensleydale.

The South Range
The two-storey south range of the castle had towers located at the south-east and south-west corners. This range held several rooms at the first-floor level, with the one at the east end having a fireplace and south-facing windows. Two more chambers were in the west end of the range, with very similar layouts. These rooms were large and were described in the 1538 survey as a lady chamber with a gallery to the presence chamber.

The south-west tower is also known as the ‘Prince’s Tower’ because legend has it that Richard’s only legitimate son, Edward of Middleham, was born here. This is certainly plausible, because the 1538 survey names a room next to the tower in the west range a ‘nursee’. In the nursery, Edward’s wet nurse, Isabel Burgh, and his governess, Anne Idley, would have played an important role in his young life.

At Middleham, Edward would have spent his days playing in the courtyard, watching mummeries in the Great Hall, and spending time with his parents when they were at the keep. It was also here he would die. The Croyland Chronicle said that he was ‘seized with an illness of but short duration …’ His death left Richard bereft of his son and heir at a critical time in his reign. After Edward’s death in 1484, Middleham would cease to be one of Richard’s favourite residences. The memories that he had enjoyed would now be tinged with pain.

Kristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. She has been published in several online magazines and local newspapers, and presented a paper at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. She lives in Tennessee. 

You can find more about Dean and her work at her website, as well The World of Richard III's Facebook page.

The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean is published by Amberley Publishing, 2015. The book is available to buy at all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, AmazonAmazon UK and the Book Depository.

Added notation: This post has been updated to include a link to Lisl's review for The World of Richard III


  1. Thank you for being a part of the blog tour. Looking forward to Lisl's review.

  2. Can hardly wait to read this book! :D

  3. It's one of those books that you just HAVE to read.

  4. I must have this too! Louise, we will have to do the tour!

  5. Thanks, Louise, Lisl, and Paula.