Wednesday 23 August 2023

Richard Duke of York Revealed

Surviving images of Richard duke of York are few in number and generic in their style. So it was with great delight that I recently came across a previously misidentified image of him in a manuscript produced for his family. (The manuscript also includes an image of his wife, Cecily, which had been identified in the 1940s but I had been unaware of it).

University of Chicago Library’s MS 224 probably originated at Wigmore Abbey, a house founded and patronised by generations of the duke of York’s Mortimer ancestors. The manuscript looks to have been put together in the fourteenth century and added to in later generations both as a record of Mortimer family history and as a means of justifying their claims to various estates and even to the throne of England. The manuscript includes a history of Wigmore Abbey, a variation of the Brut chronicle of British/English kings, royal genealogies and an annotated heraldic genealogy of the Mortimer family until the male line died out. Notes have been added to the effect that the heir of the last earl, Edmund Mortimer, was his sister’s son, Richard (duke of York). The entry for this last earl is unfinished and on the pages following (ff. 61v, 62) earlier text has been scraped away to begin an entry for Richard duke of York and his wife Cecily – their arms are sketched in and there is a list of Cecily’s siblings that must have been written before her brother-in-law, Humphrey Stafford, was made duke of Buckingham in 1444. But then, for reasons we can only guess, the project was abandoned.

© Wigmore Abbey chronicle and Brut chronicle. Manuscript, Codex Ms 224, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library ff. 61 v & 62.

Some decades after the list of Cecily’s siblings was written, a new and much more accomplished artist started fresh pages for the house of York, this time with sketches of each family member above their shields (unfortunately the very tops of each head have been worn away). It is among these that the image of Richard duke of York is to be found. 

©Wigmore Abbey chronicle and Brut chronicle. Manuscript, Codex Ms 224, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library f. 62 v.

Mary Giffin, whose articles on the manuscript are essential reading, thought that the first of these images (above) depicted a crowned king, holding a sceptre, and presumed it was Edward IV since he was using supporters occasionally used by King Edward (Richard II’s white hart and the lion of Mortimer). On the page opposite, Giffin convincingly identified Edward IV’s mother Cecily duchess of York. Yet Giffin also identified Edward IV in a second - much less complete - image, depicted on the page after Cecily (this shield supported by a lion guardant and the bull of Clarence). It is highly unlikely that Edward IV would have been depicted on that first page, facing his mother, because throughout the book husbands and wives appear on facing pages. 

                                                                           Detail of above: Richard duke of York

I would suggest that Giffin had mistaken a staff of office in York’s hand for a sceptre and a coronet for a crown (see above). The figure opposite Cecily looks exceptionally like the sketch of Henry duke of Warwick in the genealogy of the Beauchamp Pageant (BL MS Cotton Julius E IV/3 see f. 27v), who carries a similar staff and wears a coronet. Indeed the similarities between the images in the Beauchamp Pageant and this Mortimer book are so close that it is tempting to speculate a connection between the artists.

© Wigmore Abbey chronicle and Brut chronicle. Manuscript, Codex Ms 224, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library f. 63 v.

The images in this manuscript of Edward IV (above and below) and Richard duke of York are very different from one another – Edward’s face and shoulders are youthfully slim and his hair is at shoulder length. By contrast, York is square-jawed, almost jowly, clearly a man who has reached middle age. It would be reckless to imagine that this was any closer to a portrait than other surviving images of the duke of York, and the images could have been drawn well over a decade after his death. Yet the care taken to present an obviously older man and the more realistically detailed features make it a compelling representation.

                                                                            Detail of above: Edward IV

The facing page image of the duke's wife, Cecily (below), is also an attractive addition to the more familiar images of Cecily that are usually circulated (from her mother’s book of hours and the Luton guild book). In both of those she is surrounded by women with almost identical faces and it is unlikely that this is anything like a portrait either. In the present manuscript there are no other women to enable us to judge whether any distinctiveness was intended. The faces in the Beauchamp Pageant are all slightly different from one another and in comparison with these we could note the more pointed chin, straighter nose, and perhaps a more determined or down-turned mouth, but the differences are slight and probably meaningless since she is almost identical to the Beauchamp Pageant illustration of her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Lady Latimer on f. 27 v. Nonetheless it is always nice to have an extra resource to draw on in illustrating Cecily’s life and in this one, unlike the others, she is the central focus of the artist’s attention, not kneeling behind her mother or daughter-in-law.

© Wigmore Abbey chronicle and Brut chronicle. Manuscript, Codex Ms 224, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library f. 63: Cecily Neville, duchess of York.

The choice of heraldic supporters is also of interest since neither the duke nor the duchess used these particular combinations in other surviving images of their arms. It may be that once York started using the royal arms of England, just months before his death, he decided to adopt Richard II’s white hart alongside his Mortimer lion and this is our only evidence of that. This combination was used by both his eldest son and his wife in later years. Mary Giffin identified Cecily’s supporters here (below) as eagles but they lack the head tuft that usually distinguishes eagles from falcons in heraldry. Falcons were of course a favourite badge of Richard duke of York and his father’s family. We cannot know who decided that here Cecily should use only a repeated badge of her husband’s family without any nod to her own lineage, but this fits with the impression I’ve gained elsewhere that Cecily had scant interest in promoting her own natal connections, immersing herself completely in her husband’s dynasty.

© Wigmore Abbey chronicle and Brut chronicle. Manuscript, Codex Ms 224, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library f. 63.

The page facing Edward IV looks to have been scraped clean(ish) but there is no hint of a roundel for his wife. This would suggest that these images were most likely inserted before the autumn of 1464. This could be consistent with production by the Beauchamp Master since Alexandra Sinclair suggests he was nearing the end of his career by the time he produced that work in the 1480s. Such a date also accords with Edward IV’s seemingly youthful appearance. That said, we might note a scattering of circles sketched beneath Edward, as if judging where to enter later generations, which could imply a different dating – a project begun just as Edward IV's son, Edward V, left Ludlow to ascend the throne, only for the manuscript to be abandoned at news of his deposition. If the artist was the same as the creator of the Beauchamp Pageant, it suggests a particularly sad scenario since the Pageant was probably left unfinished when its most likely dedicatee, Edward of Middleham, died suddenly in 1484.



I encountered these images while working on an article about Anne Mortimer’s legacy to the house of York which was recently published in a collection edited by Paul Dryburgh and Philip Hume: The Mortimers of Wigmore 1066-1485 Dynasty of Destiny (Logaston Press, 2023).

J.L. Laynesmith


Giffin, M.E. ‘Cadwalader, Arthur, and Brutus in the Wigmore Manuscript,’ Speculum 16 (1941), 109-20

Giffin, M.E. ‘A Wigmore Manuscript at the University of Chicago,’ National Library of Wales Journal 7 (1952), 316-25

Given-Wilson, C., ‘Chronicles of the Mortimer Family c. 1250-1450’, in Richard Eales and Shaun Tyas eds., Family and Dynasty in Later Medieval England (Shaun Tyas, 2003), 67-86

Laynesmith, J.L., Cecily Duchess of York (Bloomsbury, 2017)

Sinclair, A. ed., The Beauchamp Pageant (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 2