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Friday, 29 August 2014

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Aiming to make the most of Penrith Castle's links to King Richard III

A call has been made for creative thinking to help make the most of Penrith Castle – and its strong ties to King Richard III.

King Richard photo
Richard III

It was revealed to great fanfare this week that skeletal remains discovered underneath a car park in Leicester were indeed those of the last Plantagenet king.

After suffering at least two deadly head wounds, tests on his skull and body showed evidence he was brutally hacked, presumably by the victors, after falling and dying on the battlefield in 1485.

DNA recovered from the remains, radio-carbon dating, battlefield wounds on the skeleton, and the link between what was found during the dig and what was mentioned in documentary sources from the period led to Leicester University academics concluding the identity was “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The discovery has been met with particular joy in north Cumbria, which boasts strong connections with Richard III when he was known as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, through castles at Carlisle and Penrith.

Mark Douglas, property curator at English Heritage which owns both sites, said: “Two of Cumbria’s castles have links to Richard III. Carvings in the keep at Carlisle Castle pledge allegiance to Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

“Following the death of Richard, 2nd Earl of Salisbury in 1471, Penrith Castle was granted to Richard, Duke of Gloucester who later became King Richard III.”

Mr Douglas added: “The future king resided at Penrith Castle for periods between 1471 and 1485, as he held the position of Sheriff of Cumberland.

“His role was to secure the county against the Scots and keep rival local families under control.

“Richard carried out alterations at Penrith Castle, transforming it into a suitable residence. Large windows, probably to light private apartments, were inserted in a raised external wall. A new gatehouse and a tower were also constructed at this time.”

While the extent of Richard’s stays in Penrith are unknown, there are many tales about his role within the town, including rumours that he repeatedly lodged at the former Dockray Hall – now the Gloucester Arms – in Penrith, while carrying out alterations to the castle.

Stonework above the door to the pub still displays the arms of Richard III.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “The Gloucester Arms has a lot of information about Richard III – there are stories about a secret tunnel, running from Penrith Castle to the pub.

“Penrith was one of many estates Richard received from his brother, before he was king, and over a 14-year period he might have lived here for a few months a year.”

Carlisle historian Denis Perriam said Richard, Duke of Gloucester, also makes an appearance in history books for his role as Governor of Carlisle Castle.

“There is a tower on the west walls of Carlisle, which is referred to as Richard III’s Tower,” he added. “It has on it the coat of arms of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, which was a white boar.”

Judith Clarke, a curator at the Penrith and Eden Museum, said that while historians will disagree on exactly how much time the king spent within the region, his links are unquestionable.

“It is great that there is a very definite connection with Penrith, that cannot be disputed,” she said. “It’s not every day you discover a king’s body, particularly under a car park, and it is very exciting.

“It will raise the profile of Richard III and, with the discussions about where the body will eventually be reburied, it will keep it in the news. I believe his body should be returned to the north – it is by chance he was buried in Leicester, and he has strong connections with the north of England.

“I did wonder if anyone would suggest Carlisle, because Richard was Warden of the West March. These connections are not strong enough to justify a case for burial though, so York seems to be a good suggestion.”

Mr Stewart believes that while Richard III is seen by many to be a villain, he was “well-liked and fondly remembered” in Penrith, and that historians should take advantage of the international attention to preserve the connection.

“I would like to see this discovery as an opportunity to think more about making something of Penrith Castle,” he added.

“I think it is a terrible pity that what could be a great entry to the town, is stuck as a stone ruin beside a station, overshadowed by a McDonald’s.

“The castle could be integrated into the town, and we need to think creatively about how to do that.”

Richard III’s connection to Penrith is already scheduled to be marked within the town, as it is detailed on one of the new information boards set to be placed in the restored heritage coronation garden.

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