Fotheringhay and Royal History

Sandy Denny, while with Fairport Convention, wrote her very haunting Fotheringay in 1969 about imprisonment. Was it about Mary Queen of Scots or was it an allegory of the medieval, or general captivity of women? Virtually nothing exists now of Fotheringhay Castle. The Great Hall where the Stuart pretender Queen met her executioner in 1587 is gone; only the old keep mound, part of the silted up moat and a railed up piece of stone are there for the tourist. But the quiet solitude of the site and the village just hint at that lonely event so long ago. Do go to see Mary’s tomb in Westminster Abbey next to Queen Elizabeth’s to understand the importance of her life though.

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Artists impression of the sixteenth century castle at Fotheringhay with The Great Hall

Fotheringhay throws up another delight however, and the reason for our visit. The Church of St Mary and All Souls must be one of the finest examples of the fifteenth century English Perpendicular style as well as being the mausoleum for the Yorkist Dynasty of the Wars of the Roses a hundred years earlier. The collegiate church at Fotheringhay was founded by Richard, the second Duke of York, killed at Agincourt. Buried together at the altar are the third Duke and his brother Edmund, Duke of Rutland, both killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 pursuing the Yorkist cause. The Yorkist symbol of the fetterlock and falcon is everywhere. The most interesting being at the centre of the fan vault below the tower. Look for the wonderful painted pulpit, given to the church by Edward IV. 

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Interior of Fotheringhay Church with Fan Vault and Yorkist Falcon and Fetterlock

The real delight is the architecture. The fifteenth century parish church is pure English Perpendicular with a marvellous lantern tower at the western end. The York Window at the east end displays the symbols and arms of the Yorkists and was donated by the Richard III Society in 1975. What makes the building even more significant is its undoubted influence on St George’s, Windsor (Harry and Meghan). King Edward IV, who was brought up at Fotheringay was the major sponsor of the fifteenth century chapel at Windsor and it is impossible not to see the influence. How does this come about you ask. The parish church we see now is only part of the original fifteenth century structure. It was built on to the Duke of York’s collegiate church and cloisters, subsequently destroyed during the Dissolution. A model shows the original fourteen bay Perpendicular chapel with complete Nave, choir and lady chapel. The influence is complete when you learn that St George’s chapel was also to have a lantern tower. The fortunes changed after the Battle of Bosworth and the Windsor money ran out as the royal building programme moved to King’s at Cambridge, the Tudor project from Lancastrian (King Henry VI) origins. The lantern was never constructed.

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Model of the Duke of York’s full Collegiate church in its fifteenth century glory.

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St George’s Chapel, Windsor, 1475-1530.

So go to Fotheringay and have a drink or meal in the Falcon (named after the Yorkist symbol). Wander around this quiet village and consider the turmoil of the past. The wars with France, the Roses Civil war, the birthplace of Richard III and the religious conflicts of Tudor England. Imagine what an important castle stood above the River Nene, and where all the stone has gone from it and the college. Where are you with the polarised positions of Richard III or Mary Queen of Scots? And then… all this should inspire the tragic Sandy Denny to pen her beautiful allegory of imprisonment.

How often she has gazed from castle windows o’er,
And watched the daylight passing within her captive wall,

Tomorrow at this hour she will be far away, Much farther than these islands,             Or the lonely Fotheringay

 

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The Church of St Mary and All Souls Church, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, c1434.

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The York Window, donated by the Richard III Society 1975. Note the boar, Richard’s symbol.

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