Visit to Fotheringhay – Part 2, A History of the Church of St Mary and All Saints

The East End of the Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay
The East End of the Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay

Foundation of the present church

Fotheringhay has had centuries of connections to the great and powerful since before the Norman conquest, and it is the York dynasty that lived in the nearby castle whose presence made it a bustling and important village.

Due to the York connection, Fotheringhay’s parish church was to become a collegiate church and the final resting place for the House of York.

View looking down the nave towards the West door
View looking down the nave towards the West door

In the late 13th Century, The 1st Duke of York, Edmund founded a college of priests at the castle before being transferred to the parish church by his son Edward.

It was in 1415 that Edward arranged for the collegiate church to be built on site of an existing Norman church, with work continued after his death by his son Richard, the 3rd Duke of York, father to Edward IV and Richard III.

The charter for the church was granted in 1434, and a copy hangs in the nave. It is the only known complete contract for the building of a church dating from the medieval period. The church was thought to be complete by 1441.

From it’s completion in 1434, the collegiate choir was where the York dynasty chose to lay it’s family members to rest.

Edward the founder of the church was buried there after his death at Agincourt. Richard, 3rd Duke of York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland were re-interred there in 1476.

The re-interment of Richard, 3rd Duke of York and Edmund, Earl of Rutland.

The Nave, Font and High Altar
The Nave, Font and High Altar

Richard, 3rd Duke of York was a pivotal character in the War of the Roses and a sometime protector of the realm under Henry VI.

He was descended from the Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III. When Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester died in 1447, Richard was next in line to the throne and was opposed by Henry VI’s advisers and wife, Margaret of Anjou.

Henry VI was rendered incapable of ruling due to mental illness with Margaret stepping up and working to retain the throne for her son Edward of Lancaster to inherit.

Richard and his son Edmund were killed fighting for his cause at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 and buried at Pontefract.

On the 24th of July, 1476, Edward IV arranged for them to be re-interred at Fotheringhay, and by all accounts it was a reverent and dignified procession that left Pontefract and arrived at Fotheringhay 9 days later.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) acted as chief mourner and they were laid to rest under the chancel.

In 1495, Richard’s wife Cecily Neville was buried next to her husband.

Present church

Sadly, the present church is thought to be half the size of the church the House of York knew, with the nave, aisles and the octagonal tower remaining from the original building.

Despite protest from the parishioners, the choir end and chantries were destroyed in the late 16th century after the college was disestablished during the reformation.

The length of the choir is unknown, but the plans of the church tell us it was designed to be the same length of the nave. For those dedicated church crawlers, the stalls from the choir live on in the churches at Tansor and Hemington.

Elizabeth I insured that Richard, his wife Cecily and son Edmund were reburied in tombs flanking the altar after their initial tombs were destroyed during the reformation. All were originally buried in the Choir and Lady Chapel end of the Church. These tombs are still in fine condition today.

The tombs of the House of York on either side of the altar.
The tombs of the House of York on either side of the altar.

Legacy

The church is one of the finest example of Perpendicular architecture in England and it’s grandeur and position in the countryside makes it a wonderful place to visit, even if you don’t have an affinity for the House of York.

However, if you are interested in the York dynasty and the War of the Roses, it is a poignant and atmospheric place to visit with much to see.

The church remains a monument to York, with a dedicated chapel and window. The Richard III society lay roses here on the anniversary of Richard’s birth every year.

You can become a Friend of Fotheringhay Church.

DSC_1104
North side, with Octagonal tower

Further reading

The British History website has an excellent floor map of the previous and exisiting church, and a wealth of information about Fotheringhay

A contempory description of the re-internment of the 3rd Duke of York and his son is on the Wikipedia page, as told by Thomas Whiting

References
http://friends-of-fotheringhay-church.co.uk/about-fotheringhay-church/
http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/northants/churches/fotheringhay.htm
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/northants/vol6/pp63-75
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Richard-3rd-duke-of-York
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