Pageant and spectacle

Richard III entered the city through Micklegate Bar on 29 August 1483 to a spectacular welcome of pageantry, speeches and decoration throughout the streets.
Richard III entered the city through Micklegate Bar on 29 August 1483 to a spectacular welcome of pageantry, speeches and decoration throughout the streets.
© Carolyn Donahue

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Richard III was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483. Soon after the magnificent ceremony he went on royal progress northwards to be seen as king across his realm. The journey culminated in a spectacular reception in York, where the king and his entourage arrived on 29 August 1483.

Richard spent three weeks in the city, a stay which was filled with festivity, including welcoming speeches, pageants, gift-giving and feasting. The city had been warned of the royal visit a little over a month earlier but received detailed instructions of the scale and style of display expected just a few days before Richard's arrival.

The king's secretary, John Kendale, wrote to the city council to urge them to put on the most elaborate pageants and finest speeches they could. This was not just to welcome the king but to impress the great lords travelling with him. In particular, an element of north-south competition was used to inspire extra effort in the display, with emphasis placed on the need to welcome the king with a flourish which would dazzle the southern lords in the royal party.

The city government was required to organise the pageantry, including dressing in their ceremonial scarlet to officially receive the king, and ordinary citizens were asked to hang colourful fabrics from their homes to brighten the streets as the king passed through. Much of the display was based on traditional civic pageantry which occurred throughout the year regardless of royal visits.

The royal party was met by civic leaders outside the city walls at St James' church and brought through Micklegate, across Ouse Bridge and along Stonegate to the Minster, with a pageant performed at each of these sites. On arrival at the Minster the king was received at the west door by the dean and canons where he was blessed with holy water before kneeling at the font to recite the prayer 'Our Father'. Services followed which included the psalm of victory, Te Deum, before the royal party processed to the Archbishop's Palace.

The magnificent welcome was highly staged to honour the king and involve the citizens. Care was taken to ensure there was visible support for Richard throughout the city. The king ordered 13,000 badges of his heraldic insignia, the white boar, to be sent to York during his stay for distribution amongst the people.

The centrepiece of the royal visit to the city in 1483 was the investiture of his son as Prince of Wales on 8 September, a lavish event which highlighted the importance of York to the king as well as his son's position in the north.


Reception of Richard III by civic leaders, 29 August 1483

"'all odir onest men of the cite shalbe in reid apon the pay[n] of xxs. to be forfaite by hym to the communalte of thys cite and that all odir persons of every occupacion in blew, violet and musterdivyles shall on fote meit our said sufferan lord at Saint Jams chyrch. Memorandum… a syght to be made at the kynges cumyng at Myklyth Barr, Ousbryg and Stayngate.' Preparations for the royal visit, 4 August 1483 "

York House Books, vol 2 p. 288

Richard III's arrival in York, 29 August 1483

"'On the 29th day of the month of August, on the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, in the year of our Lord 1483, Richard III, King of England and France came to the City of York. With him were the Queen and Prince, and many other magnates, both spiritual and temporal, including five Bishops, those of Durham, Worcester, St Asaph, Carlisle and St Davids, the earls of Northumberland, Surrey and Lincoln, Lords Lovell, Fitzhugh, Stanley, Strange, Lisle and Graystoke and many others. After being received by the civic authorities in solemn procession at the chapel of St James outside the walls, they were honourably received into the City, and passed through displays and decorations to the Metropolitan Church of St Peter. Here the King was honourably received at the west door by the Dean and Canons and other ministers of the said church, all vested in blue silk copes, sprinkled with holy water and censed. On an ornamental footstool at the font he said a Paternoster, the Succentor of the Vicars saying the responses to the De Trinitate, that is "Honor virtus", this being finished by the Choir before the steps of the High Altar. Here a pause was made for about the space of a Paternoster and an Ave. The Dean then began the prayer "Et ne nos inducas" for the King. This being done the Dean and Canons then withdrew into their stalls with the other ministers and Amen finished on the organ. The psalm Te Deum followed, begun by the officiating prelate, and finished by the choir and the organ, at once the antiphon De Trinitate was sung by the Succentor, that is "Gratias tibi Deus", with a versicle and a prayer to the Trinity. The procession then went to the palace of the Lord Archbishop.'"

York Minster Library, Vicars Choral Statute Book, p. 48, transcript in P.W. Hammond and A.F. Sutton, Richard III The Road to Bosworth Field (London, 1985) pp. 140-41.

Letter to keeper of the wardrobe requesting items of heraldic display, 31 August 1483

"'iij Cotes of Armes betyne with fyne gold for oure owne persone, fyve Cote Armors for heraultes lyned with bukeram, xl trumpet baners of sarcenet… xiij Ml Quynysans of fustyane with bores'"

British Library Harley MS 433 f. 126, printed in R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (eds.) British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (Upminster, 1979-82) vol 2 p. 42

Richard III's entertainments in York, 1483

"'Wishing therefore to display in the North, where he had spent most of his time previously, the superior royal rank, which he acquired for himself… he left the royal city of London and passing through to Windsor, Oxford and Coventry came at length to York… he arranged splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments to attract to himself the affection of many people.'"

N. Pronay and J. Cox (eds.) The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486 (London, 1986) p.161

Instructions from the king's secretary on pageantry in York, 24 August 1483

"'In all their progresse [the king and queen] have beyn worshipfully ressayved with pageantes and other… but this I advyse you, as honourably as your wisdomes can imagyne, to ressayve hym and the quene at their commyng, dispose you to do as well pageants with soch good speches as can goodly, thys short warnyng considered, be devised, and under suche forme as Master Lancastre of the kynges counsell, this brynger, shall sumwhet advertise you of my mynd in that behalve, as in hangyng the streits through which the king grace shall come with clothes of arras, tapistre werk and other, for ther commen many sothern lordes and men of worship with them, wich woll marke gretly your ressayving their graces. Me nedeth not thus to advise you, for I doubte not ye have provided therfore better than I can advyse you how be it on my ffeith I shewe you thus of good hert… Scribled in hast the xxiiij day of August at Not[tingham] with the hande of your servaunt and hertly lover, John Kendale secretory.' "

York House Books, vol 2 p. 713