The Sources

In ‘The Reburial of Richard, Duke of York, 21-30 July 1476’ published by The Richard III Society, the editors, Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, have collected into one slim volume all the existing sources relating to this particular event. They transcribe and, where necessary, translate sources from the French, adding carefully researched and referenced editorial explanation and comment. They argue that ceremonial records from the late medieval period are currently scattered and little–known, and their book certainly demonstrates the rich potential of this under-used material.

Several types of document exist.  Surviving copies of reports from the late fifteenth and sixteenth century, two in French in the British Museum’s Harleian Manuscripts and a later copy by the Chester Herald in English, now provide the core descriptions of the reburial procession.  Accurate details of the ceremony and etiquette of royal occasions were essential so that future events could be run smoothly and correctly.  For this purpose royal officials or heralds produced reports based on contemporary planning schedules; copies were made to ensure the records could always be consulted.

The financial accounts of the lavish funeral feast at Fotheringhay drawn up by the Treasurer of the Royal Household are also reproduced in this source book.  Two accounts of the construction of  great hearses, those of Pontefract and Fotheringhay, also survive: hearses in this context were elaborate structures within which the bodies rested overnight in all the churches en route.  Finally there is an epitaph, a poem celebrating the noble qualities displayed by the Duke during his life, to display on his tomb.

These documents provide a remarkable picture of the magnificent scale, lavish spending and elaborate etiquette of this funeral.  It was a vivid assertion of Yorkist dynastic power, on a par with similar but more widely-known ceremonials in contemporary European court circles.  The Wakefield Historical Society plan to follow the route of the reburial of Richard Duke of York in July 2010 is designed to draw attention to a major event of the late medieval period which hitherto has been almost unremarked.

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