King Richard III in Scarborough: Fact or Fiction?

This is the final installment of an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Issue no. 4, 2015) by Jeremy Clark. He has kindly contributed his work to be republished here.

For Part I of this article, please click here. For Part II click here, and Part III here.

Article Summary:

A comprehensive investigation of the history and characteristics of the house, as well as the popular belief that King Richard III stayed here during the summer of 1484.

After he was crowned in 1483, King Richard III made a northern tour. He arrived in Scarborough on May 22nd 1484, and visited again from June 30th to July 11th. The purpose of his visit was to assemble a fleet to defend against the expected invasion of Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. It is reputed that King Richard III stayed in the house named after him on the foreshore during the summer of 1484.

He might well have found this location – beside the harbour and providing easy access to his ships – more convenient than the castle.

Nevertheless, he did stay for a time at Scarborough Castle because writs, warrants and other documents were sealed by him on May 22nd and July 5th, reportedly ‘given at the castel of Scardeburgh’. He was the last monarch to reside at the castle. However, further royal orders issued after 5th July were ‘given at Scardeburgh’ (without further mention of the castle) so it is possible that Richard did stay in the fifteenth century Sandside house for a few days. There is, however, no conclusive evidence to confirm this.

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Above: A facial reconstruction of the head of King Richard III with blond hair and blue eyes. DNA testing suggests that this would have been his colouring (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

Although not recorded in documents, the original house is thought to have belonged to Thomas Sage (c.1430-1497), one of the town’s leading burgesses and the richest ship-owner. He was a very wealthy man who had property in the area and was well-disposed towards Richard.

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Above: Aerial view of the harbour at Scarborough. King Richard III house can be seen in the blue circle. To the right is the curtain wall of the castle, which extends along the whole length of the promontory overlooking the town. At the top right is the Barbican and Gatehouse to the castle (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

King Richard the III (2 October 1452 -22 August 1485) was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. In 1485 he granted Scarborough a new charter, making it a county rather than a borough. This was subsequently revoked after his death by Henry VII.

Richard III was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field was the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses.

After the battle Richard’s body was taken to Leicester and buried in the Church of the Grey Friars. His body was found in 2012 during an archaeological excavation and on 26th March 2015 his remains were reburied in Leicester Cathedral rather than in York Minster as many of his supporters had hoped.

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Above: A plaque in remembrance of King Richard III inside Leicester Cathedral (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

When the building was taken over as a café in 1964 a few alterations were made to the interior on the ground floor. The stone fireplace was removed and replaced with a flight of stairs to a newly built kitchen at the rear. The stone-flagged floor was covered with wooden floorboards and the blocked-up doorways to the former antique shop next door were cleared to make entranceways to additional seating areas of the restaurant. The stone walls and the oak rafters which rest on a massive beam were retained in their original condition.

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Above: King Richard III house as a museum in the 1950s with an antique shop next door (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

Below: King Richard III House as a café in 1986 (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

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Despite these alterations the house has retained its medieval appearance from the time of King Richard III, even though there it is uncertainty regarding whether or not he actually stayed here.

Today the restaurant is smartly decorated and has a good atmosphere. Full suits of armour are suitably placed while parts of armour decorate the stone walls.

However, the second floor, known as the King’s Bedchamber, which has the elaborately decorative plasterwork ceiling with the York Rose (the Arms of Richard III), is not open to the public. The remains of the fleur-de-lis scrollwork frieze can be seen on the ground floor of the restaurant on the east wall, above the stone doorway giving access to the additional seating area. There is also seating outside in front of the building with views of the harbour.

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Right: King Richard III restaurant today, with visitors setting outside (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

To see the article in its original format, and all original references, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Issue 4, 2015). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Jeremy for sharing this article!

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