Revisionist History for Richard III and a Visit to York

Richard III is considered to be one of the most reviled Kings in British history.  His infamy derives from one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, Richard III, which alleges that Richard was responsible for the murder of the Two Princes in the Tower of London.

I will spare you the disturbing details of the Wars of Roses – often referred to as the “Cousins War” – but the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 paved the way for an even more disturbing reign of Henry VIII.

Fresh from riveting performances of Henry VI (parts 1 and 2) and Richard III from the BBC, I wanted to learn more about the Wars of the Roses:

It is clear that Shakespeare’s plays about the Kings during the Wars of the Roses were crafted to cater to the legitimacy of Elizabeth I’s reign. To use President Obama’s expression, Shakespeare wanted to “Be on the right side of history.” Clearly this was a wise decision, since many great plays would have remained unwritten if Shakespeare had lost his head by being politically incorrect.

If you have no idea about the Royal family politics of that period, it is useful to walk around with a book like “A Companion and Guide to The Wars of the Roses” under your arm. People – even in York – will think that you know more than you actually do.  Worked for me!

Probably the most famous lines for Richard III in Shakespeare’s play are “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” as the unhorsed Richard faces death at Bosworth.   A London guide suggested that Richard’s slain body was carried naked over the back of a horse and beaten with sticks by angry bystanders.  I am wondering if the phrase “Don’t beat a dead horse,” arises from this vivid image.

With irony that Shakespeare would have most certainly have appreciated, Richard III’s body was recently discovered in a Leicester parking lot.  After conclusive DNA analysis, the city of York demanded that Richard’s bones be returned for a proper burial in York Minster (rather than Westminster).  Nevertheless, the Mayor of Leicester refused stating that the remains will be returned “over my dead body.”

Clearly, “good bones” do matter when it come to tourism.

Beverley Minster and Pipe & Glass

We started our journey to Yorkshire in Beverley. We arrived one hour late to Beverley Minster to hear their acclaimed choir sing hymns.  Fortunately for us, the service was two hours long.

Beverley Minster

Beverly Minster is a stunning cathedral and was used as a substitute for Westminster in the filming of Victoria.  I was quite amused when one of the London Walks guides said that “Victoria was even shorter than Tom Cruise” – a compelling argument that there is still a role for short people in this world.

After our visit, we dashed up to Pipe and Glass Inn, an award-winning “gastro” pub nearby.  I will spare the reader the details of our gluttony, but I had a delightful piece of pork.  Found below is a small appetizer consisting of a Scotch Egg and salmon tartare:

On a beautiful spring day, we wound our way up the road to nearby York

The Walls of York

Getting into and out of the city of York in an automobile is a bit of a hassle.  Get to your destination and park.  Most everything worth seeing is within walking distance.

American Vagrants on York Walls Overlooking Minster

Taking advantage of the wonderful weather – the last we were to see for a few days – we decided to check out the acclaimed Walls of York.  They are still in remarkable condition, but we decided to forego visiting Micklegate where the heads and bodies of nobles who did not manage to get to the top of the political food chain were often displayed to deter others from trying.

York Minster

Sheila and Alison explored York Minster on their own.  I realize that this is one of the most beautiful churches in England, but I had found a superb antiquarian book store nearby.  I managed to pickup a delightful book called “Making Haste from Babylon:  The Mayflower Pilgrims.”  The book had been heavily discounted suggesting that few were interested in the Pilgrims, Puritans or the Mayflower.

The book is quite interesting, particularly for those who want to understand why Puritans from a relatively small area in southern Yorkshire decided to travel to the New World during the reign of James I.

York Castle Museum

The York Castle Museum is considered to be a must see destination, but I was a bit offended discovering that the “Roaring 60s” are now considered ancient history.  Nevertheless, the prison, World War I Museum and life-size replica of a Victorian Village (see below) were quite interesting:

I was surprised to learn that some of the great English chocolate fortunes originated in York as Puritans tried to reduce the level of drunkenness by substituting chocolates for ale.   It didn’t work quite the way they expected as most pubs now serve a pint of Yorkshire’s finest with a small box of chocolates.

The Shambles

The Shambles is – in my opinion – a bit overhyped.  It is a short and narrow street featuring many cute shops.  The fish mongers and vegetable and meat stalls that used to crowd this street have given way to far more fashionable stores selling cosmetics and handbags.

In any event we had a delightful tea at Betty’s Tea Room in York, best known for their lemon curd tarts.

In York, we stayed at a small but conveniently located hotel now called Parigi, formerly St. Denys Hotel.

Brontes and David Hockney in Yorkshire

I am a fan of the Brontë sister novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.   While I am more familiar with both Charlotte and Emily Brontë, it appears that their sister, Anne, was more popular during their tragically short lives.

As depicted in the recent documentary “To Walk Invisible,” these very talented authors wrote under male pseudonyms. Charlotte was “Currer Bell”, Emily was “Ellis Bell” and Anne was “Acton Bell.”

While I enjoyed both novels and the rich characters their lively imaginations created,  I do not have a “I am Heathcliff” coffee cup, which seems to be the rage in Brexit England these days.   In fact, I far prefer re-reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, a hilarious romp featuring literary detective, Thursday Next.   Other “Thursday Next” novels by Jasper Fforde are not nearly as entertaining.

We stayed at Haworth, Yorkshire to visit the Brontë Parsonage, which houses the Brontë museum.  Frankly, it is one of the most interesting exhibits I have ever attended.  The costumes worn by the Brontë characters in the “To Walk Invisible” documentary are interspersed throughout the exhibit.

These brilliant women all died tragically young.  In fact, Charlotte died pregnant roughly a year after her marriage to an assistant to her father at the Parsonage.  Sadly, her progressive father, Patrick, outlived all of his six children and his wife.

bronte table

Original table at which the Bronte sisters wrote their novels.

I would encourage all to visit this superb museum and learn more about these remarkable women and their determination to break through in a literary world dominated by men.

Yorkshire is a wonderful county full of delightful panoramas and interesting historical venues.   After our visit to the Brontë Museum, we drove about 30 minutes to Saltaire, a World Heritage site featuring the a completely refurbished textile mill that houses the colorful art of David Hockney.


Painting of Saltaire by David Hockney at entrance to the Salts Mill

Very briefly, the six story and two acre Salts Mill building was built by Sir Titus Salt in 1853.  He later built homes for his workers just across the train tracks in the village of Saltaire (seen above in the foreground of the painting).

The Salt Mill building features long expanses of book shelves, art supplies and a majestic gallery featuring Hockney’s latest work.  The Tate Britain is currently hosting a Hockney exhibit in London and we were fearful that much of his work would be on loan.  Fortunately, his recent work was not!

Most of Hockney’s work at the Salts Mill features colorful paintings of the surrounding Yorkshire countryside.  I will leave it to art critics to opine on the merits of his art, but in this setting his paintings are majestic.  I understand that his use of vibrant colors was triggered by a visit to California some years ago.

Now nearing 80, I was amazed to see a retrospective of some of Hockney’s “drawings” for friends crafted on the iPhone and iPad using an app called Brush.  The “drawings” are magnificent.   I only wish I had the talent to send such beautiful images to friends.  The world would be a happier place.

Enjoying a brief break in Haworth, Yorkshire.

More later from York, where I was reunited with my soul-mate, Richard III.

Channeling the Spirit of Richard III in Yorkshire

We celebrated my April 27th birthday a day early since it coincided with both the birth and death day of William Shakespeare.

Mind you, I have very little in common with Shakespeare, but my sister Alison regularly communes with the “The Bard.” According to her, the great bard proposed this lovely ditty to celebrate Brexit (best if sung along with “There will always be an England”):

There will always be an England
We love our mash and peas
We will always have our Shakespeare
But will now read it in Chinese

We are now on a week sojourn in the Yorkshire moors (and dales).   Weather conditions have been somewhat sketchy: it snowed yesterday.  The Brits refer to it as a “spot of weather” and move bravely on in conditions fit only for White Walkers (a reference to Game of Thrones enthusiasts).

This is my first extended visit to York and the surrounding Yorkshire countryside.  The landscape which some many consider somewhat bleak is – in my opinion – quite breathtaking.

The inspiration for visiting York came from watching the Hollow Crown series on Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III plays and a wonderful historical documentary about the Brontë sisters entitled “To Walk Invisible.”

We are currently staying in a lovely cottage (B&B) in Egton Bridge called Broom House.  Yesterday, on the drive up from York (more later), we had tea at Castle Howard with Sebastian Flight of Brideshead Revisited.   I am sad to report that he is not holding up well under the stress of his dissolute life.

I will be writing more about the city of York in a future blog, but I did want to say a few words about some exceptional religious architecture that Henry VIII decided to decimate during the Dissolution.  While only the shell of these majestic buildings remain, they are truly awe-inspiring

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey sits on a windswept cliff overlooking the town of Whitby and the North Sea.  Although the first monastery was established in the 7th Century, the Abbey that we now know was a Benedictine monastery founded shortly after the arrival of William the Conqueror.

Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire

It survived several pillages from the Vikings and the Scots until Henry VIII permanently disabled this place of worship to pursue his version of the sanctity of marriage.  It is said that Brad Stoker used the Abbey as a backdrop to Dracula.

We arrived at the Abbey parking lot in a driving rain storm (temperature in the mid-30s).   After a short discussion on whether we should venture out in these hostile conditions, we decided to go native.  Armed with our brollies and wellies, we ventured forward into conditions that would have disheartened most Vikings.

We were delighted that we persevered.  The National Trust handed out some instructional audio phones that narrated the history of the Abbey through the voice of a fictional monk of the period.

Rievaulx Abbey

Unlike Whitby, Riveaulx Abbey is nestled in a deep valley in central Yorkshire.  It too, was a Benedictine Order founded and run by two pious monks who both were later canonized.

Rievaulx abbey in Yorkshire

Of the three Abbeys we visited, Rievaulx was my favorite.  It too was forcibly downsized by Henry VIII and much of the building was sold-off to developers.  Henry VIII reportedly kept much of the gold and copper to fund his lavish and rather dissolute lifestyle that many Americans still envy.

The skeleton of this abbey attests to its majesty.   A digital monk dutifully explained the history of the abbey and the daily life of those Benedictine monks who lived there.  Most interesting.

Fountain Abbey

Another Abbey that help fund Henry VIII’s lifestyle, was Fountain Abbey.  This mammoth abbey and surrounding grounds is a walker’s delight.  The bluebells were in full bloom and there are many nooks and crannies overlooking this stunning piece of religious architecture.

Fountain Abbey, Yorkshire

Our small group wracked up well over 10,000 steps wandering around this remarkable estate.

The Star Inn

The highlight of my birthday (actually Shakespeare’s birthday) was lunch at England’s 2017 award-winning “gastro pub,”  The Star Inn has a well-deserved Michelin star and you dine in a wonderful pub that seems to have been a stage set for a Lord of the Rings film.

Andrew Pern explains what makes this food remarkable.  Editor’s Note:  Mr. Pern now has a restaurant in York, but we missed it.  Bummer!!!

Click on the link to explore this eclectic menu.   I particularly enjoyed the “Black Forest hot chocolate with drunken cherries.

I realize that the French may hold their noses at the phrase “gastro pub,” but we had a memorable meal and The Star Inn is well worth the detour.