Church Monuments Society

MOTM placeholder grey

Is this the tomb of Richard III’s son?

Month: March 2013
Type: Effigy   Stone carving  
Era: 17th Century

Visit this monument

St Helen & the Holy Cross
Sheriff Hutton,
YO60 6SX

More about this monument

At the east end of the north aisle of Sheriff Hutton parish church (originally the chantry chapel of the Wytham family) stands an undersized chest tomb of alabaster (Fig 1). It has evidently spent some time exposed to the elements, being severely damaged by damp and frost, especially at the north side.

It now consists of the east and west ends, both with shields under canopies, and a south side with panels of kneeling angels supporting shields each side of a central Trinity carving and flanking saints, probably SS. Barbara and John the Evangelist. That this is the original south side of the tomb is confirmed by the presence of a donor figure facing east in the central panel of the Holy Trinity. The north side is missing. The effigy wears a robe, possibly furred at the hem, and a soft cap. The feet and supporters are missing (Fig 2). The face is much weathered but seems to be rounded, with no facial hair and could be interpreted as that of a juvenile. No colour is now visible on the tomb but the Neville arms were reliably recorded on it in 1623.

For more than a century the legend has been gaining ground that this is the monument of the only legitimate son of Richard III, Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, who died young in 1484. The suggestion can be traced to J.W. Clay in 1904 who, in editing the Church Notes of the antiquarian Roger Dodsworth, first made the tentative suggestion for the tomb’s identification, based on a reading of the record of the Neville heraldry on the monument and in the glass of the church. This notion was taken up with enthusiasm by later commentators and is now often uncritically accepted, although it has been challenged in recent years.

The contemporary accounts in the 1480’s of the death and burial of Edward of Middleham: the Crowland Chronicle and the Rous Roll, place his death and burial at Middleham. He “…was seized with an illness of but short duration and died at Middleham Castle…”, “…..Edward was honourably buried at Middleham, it is said”. The movements of Richard III and his Queen at the time of Edward’s death are detailed in the Harleian MSS; they received the news of his death at Nottingham, went first to York on their way north and then to Middleham. There is no indication of a journey to Sheriff Hutton at that time.

The first record of the tomb in the church is that of Dodsworth in 1623. Previous to that, a Visitation in 1584 by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald, describes the other monuments in the church but makes no mention of the alabaster chest tomb. It is possible the original location of the tomb was not the parish church at all, but the chapel at Sheriff Hutton castle. In 1546 the chantry commissioners recorded a chantry of the ‘Holy Trinity and Our Blessed Ladye’ (possibly the chapel’s dedication) in the chapel of Sheriff Hutton castle, served by two priests. The presence of the carved panel of the Holy Trinity, together with the donor figure on the south side of the tomb may relate it to this chantry.

The style of the tomb is quite unlike other alabaster tombs of the 1480s and relates to a closely connected group of tombs made sixty years earlier which can be dated to the first quarter of the fifteenth century, all associated with Yorkshire gentry of the Lancastrian affinity, more specifically that of Henry IV. The design of the Sheriff Hutton tomb chest is a compressed version of the tomb chest of Robert Waterton (d.1425) at Methley (Fig. 3) and of Sir Richard Redman (d. 1426) at Harewood. At Methley the tomb and the chapel in which it is housed, relate specifically to the 1425 will of Robert Waterton and the arms of his executors on the contemporary wooden screen date the chapel to soon after the will.

Comparison with similar tombs is not the only dating evidence for the Sheriff Hutton tomb; the bare-headed donor figure, almost certainly the patron who commissioned the tomb, kneels at the feet of God the Father in the Trinity panel with a scroll going up to the ear of God the Father (Fig. 4). He wears armour and the short, round haircut of the first part of the fifteenth century.

The workshop which produced the tombs at Harewood and Methley (and possibly also at Swine) was probably situated not in the Midlands, where the major deposits of alabaster were found, but at York, using a local source of the stone. Characteristic of this workshop is the carving of miniature vaulting within the canopies finished with a small central boss and a slight convexity to the carving of the shields. This workshop seems to have ceased producing tombs some time during the 1420s; no later examples are known. The Sheriff Hutton tomb forms part of its output and its significance lies, not in the dubious identification with Edward of Middleham, but the evidence it gives of another high status Lancastrian patron of this York workshop. The heraldry reliably recorded on the tomb links it with the Nevilles and, at the period of its manufacture, Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland held the castle and manor of Sheriff Hutton, so it may be one of his children. It may be some comfort to Ricardians to think that the tomb may be that of a kinsman of his Queen, even if it is not of her son.

Copyright: Dr Jane Crease

Further Reading.

British Library: Harleian MSS 433, f. 172 et seq.
Pronay, N. and Cox, J (eds.), The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486, Sutton, 1986
Courthope W. H. (ed.), The Rous Roll, London 1859
Crease, J., ‘Not commonly reputed or taken for a saincte’: the output of a northern workshop in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries’; in Badham, S. and Oosterwijk, S. (eds.), Monumental Industry: The Production of Tomb Monuments in England and Wales in the Long Fourteenth Century, Donington, 2010
Crease, J., ‘The Sheriff Hutton Monument’, Ricardian Bulletin, Sep. 2009, pp. 37-40; Dec. 2009, pp. 39-41.
Routh, P. and Knowles, R., The Sheriff Hutton Alabaster: a Re-assessment, Wakefield 1981