Conspicuous piety

Royalty and piety: Richard III's endowments and gifts to York Minster were a demonstration of his religious devotion
Royalty and piety: Richard III's endowments and gifts to York Minster were a demonstration of his religious devotion
© Carolyn Donahue
North-South Competition

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On arrival at York on 29 August 1483 Richard's procession through the city led him to the Minster, where a solemn service was held in his honour. This was the first time Richard had celebrated divine service in the Minster since he had become king, but he had already taken part in important ceremonies at the cathedral as duke. Following the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, Richard had attended a commemorative ceremony at York Minster. The occasion was not only an opportunity to worship and mourn with citizens but also saw Richard lead the nobility in publicly making an oath of allegiance to the new king, Edward V.

The association between Richard and the Minster was especially strong. On his visit to York in 1483 the high altar had been decorated with his gifts of silver and gilt figures of the twelve apostles alongside other relics. Such items not only showed Richard's favour for the church, but were a lasting reminder of his position and piety. A sixteenth-century inventory at the Minster showed that gifts made by Richard III of decorated copes and a large cross adorned with angel figures and jewels were still at the cathedral.

York Minster was also the planned recipient of a grand endowment for a college of priests in late summer 1484, one of three colleges he proposed to establish in the north, the others being at Middleham and Barnard Castle. While the Minster was the focus of great patronage by Richard III, it was not the only site to receive gifts, indeed it was expected that nobility and royalty would bestow items or money on the religious institutions they visited. Richard was a patron of St Martin-cum-Gregory church, Micklegate, for example, and granted money and land to the nunnery at Wilberfoss, nine miles east of York. In return prayers for the good health of the king and his family, and for their souls after death, were expected.

Further public expressions of piety were made through attendance at performances of religious plays and by becoming members of religious guilds. As a special honour to mark Richard III's visit to York in 1483 the Creed Play was staged on 7 September. The play included twelve biblical scenes including, pertinently to this new monarch, God and Christ enthroned as well as the nativity, crucifixion and resurrection. Citizens of York paid for the play, which was performed by the Corpus Christi guild. Richard and his wife, Anne Neville, had become members of this guild in 1477; his mother Cecily had been a member since 1455.

For Richard's patronage of Windsor and Westminster follow the link to St George's Chapel, Windsor here:


Minster service on the death of Edward IV, April 1483

"'He [Richard] therefore came to York with an appropriate company, all dressed in mourning, and held a solemn funeral ceremony for the king, full of tears. He bound, by oath, all the nobility of those parts in fealty to the king's son; he himself swore first of all.' "

N. Pronay and J. Cox (eds.) The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486 (London, 1986) p.155

Minster service on arrival in the city, 29 August 1483

"'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.' "

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.

Gifts to York Minster displayed, 8 September 1483

"'On the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the King and the Queen both crowned, went in procession to the aforesaid church… the High Altar was ornamented with silver and gilt figures of the twelve Apostles and many other relics given by the Lord King.'"

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.

Prayers for the king, 4 December 1484

"'Licence for James Charleton, esquire, Richard Davy, perpetual vicar of the parish church of St Mary, Rykall, co. York, Nicholas Admytte, clerk, Richard Bank, gentleman, and Richard Burgh, clerk, or their heirs, executors or assigns to found a perpetual chantry of one chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the said church for the good estate of the king and his consort Anne, queen of England, and his firstborn son Edward, prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall and earl of Chester and the said founders and for their souls after death… to be called King Richard the Third's chantry.'"

Calendar of Patent Rolls, AD 1476-1485 (London, 1901) p. 464

Jewelled cross gifted by Richard III to the Minster, noted in 16th century inventory

"'Item j magna crux stans super sex bases, habentes sex angelos in pinnaclis earumdem basium, et duos angelos super bases tenentes in manibus reliquias casulae et solularium Beati Petri Apostoli; habet, autem, albas ymagines crucifixi et duorum latronum, cum aliis ymaginibus juxta pedem et multis lapidibus preciosis rubeis et saphires, ex dono regis Ricardi tercii' ['Item, a great cross, standing upon six bases having six angels on the peak of the same the bases, and two angels set upon bases holding in their hands the remains of the cell and dwelling of Saint Peter the Apostle; it has, on the other side, white images of Jesus Christ and the two thieves, along with other images by the foot and many precious stones of ruby and sapphire, a gift of king Richard the Third']"

J. Raine, 'The Fabric Rolls of York Minster', Surtees Society 35 (1858), p. 219.

Performance of the Creed play, 2 September 1483

"'Also the same day it was agreid that the Creid play shall be playd afore our suffreyn lord the kyng of Sunday next cumyng apon the cost of the most onest men of every parish in thys cite.' "

York House Books vol 1 p. 292

Membership of Corpus Christi guild, 1477

"'In primis dux Glocestriae et dom. Eliz. Uxor ejus' ['First, the duke of Gloucester and lady Elizabeth his wife' - Elizabeth was a mistake for Anne]"

J. Raine (ed.) 'The Register of the Guild of Corpus Christi in the City of York' Surtees Society 57 (1871) p. 101