St Mary and All Saints Church is one of the finest structures in Northamptonshire. It has much to offer visitors with its royal connections. It is open daily from 9:00am to 6.00pm
Fotheringhay’s Early History
The Domesday Book mentions Fotheringhay with Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror
owning the Manor. Maud, daughter of Judith and Walthof, Earl of Huntingdon, married Simon de St Liz,
and it was Simon who built the first Fotheringhay castle and founded a Cluniac nunnery in about 1100.
Following Simon’s death, Maud married David I, King of Scotland. The property then passed to David’s
son Henry and his grandsons Malcolm IV and William the Lion, both Kings of Scotland.
William the Lion conveyed it to his brother David, later Earl of Huntingdon, and upon David’s death in
1219, his son John le Scot, Earl of Huntingdon came into possession. John le Scot died without children
and the property passed to his niece Devorgilla in 1243. In 1290, Devorgilla’s youngest son King John
of Scotland came into possession.
In 1331, the castle and manor were granted to Mary de St. Pol, Countess of Pembroke and in 1337,
Edmund Langley, Duke of York, 5th son of Edward III took possession by Royal Grant.
He passed it to his son, another Edward and following his death, it passed to his nephew Richard Duke
of York. It was in the Castle that his youngest son, later to be King Richard III was born.
It remained in the family until the defeat of the Yorkist Dynasty at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485
when Fotheringhay Castle and Manor became the property of the Tudors.
The Norman motte and bailey castle was built to the east of the village next to the river.
Unfortunately its subsequent destruction has been so total that it is virtually impossible to imagine what
the fortress must have looked like.
The original castle buildings were made of wood, but these were replaced with stone in the thirteenth
century. According to a description in 1341 the castle had a stone keep surrounded by a ditch, two chapels,
a great hall, a kitchen, a number of smaller offices, a gatehouse and a drawbridge and at the beginning of
the sixteenth century the castle buildings were extensively repaired by Katherine of Aragon.
A survey made in 1625 described the castle as being ‘meetly strong’ but 10 years later it was deserted and
falling into ruins. Today you can see the truncated conical mount or ‘motte’ on which the castle keep
stood and on the east an inner courtyard or ‘bailey’.
Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle on 2 October 1452. He lived for less than 33 years and was
King of England for less than 2 years being the last English king to die in battle; and yet he is still one of
the most enigmatic and controversial of our monarchs.
By the time Richard was six, the political clashes between the houses of York and Lancaster bordered on
open warfare. Richard, his mother and brother George moved from Fotheringhay, to the greater safety of
Ludlow, only to be captured there by Lancastrian Royal forces. Richard’s father the Duke of York and his
elder brother Edmund were both killed in battle by the Lancastrians at the Battle of Wakefield. After the
Battle of Towton in 1461 another of his brothers the Earl of March entered London in triumph and was
crowned King Edward IV just a week later.
As the King’s brother, Richard was at the forefront of political events and was created Duke of Gloucester
in 1461. In 1470 King Edward was deposed by the Lancastrians and King Henry VI returned to the
throne; George Duke of Clarence and Richard fled into exile in Burgundy, but returned the next year,
defeating Henry VI’s ally the Earl of Warwick at the battle of Barnet. Richard then played a major part
in the defeat of Henry’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou. These battles, and a successful invasion of Scotland
in the summer of 1482 cemented Richard’s reputation as a brave and strategic soldier.
Edward returned to London, beheaded Henry VI and was returned to the throne as King. In April 1483
however, he died following a short and sudden illness, leaving his two sons Prince Edward aged twelve
and his brother the Duke of York aged nine (The Princes in the Tower) under the care of their Uncle
Richard of Gloucester as Lord Protector.
Within a few weeks, Duke Richard had convinced parliament that the marriage of Edward IV and
Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the Princes, had been invalid. This made them illegitimate and cleared
the way for him to become King Richard III.
His brief reign ended two years later when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and the victor,
Henry Tudor, was crowned King Henry VII.
Mary Queen of Scots
While Richard III was born in Fotheringhay Castle, Mary met her end there. She was executed in the
Great Hall on February 8th 1587 on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I for treason.
Elizabeth was nervous of Mary’s devotion to the Catholic religion and also her undeniable claim to
the English throne through her grandmother Margaret, sister to King Henry VIII who had married
King James IV of Scotland. The religious tensions caused by the Reformation between Catholics and
Protestants also led to political instability.
Mary’s marriages culminating with her third to the Earl of Bothwell were unpopular with the Scottish
nobles and they rose against Mary forcing her to abdicate in favour of her young son James and flee to
England where she sought sanctuary with her Protestant cousin Queen Elizabeth.
Alarmed at the possibility of a Catholic uprising in England in support of Mary, Elizabeth imprisoned
her in a variety of locations. She was right to be on her guard. In 1570 the Pope called for Elizabeth’s
excommunication and encouraged all Catholics to rise up and depose her.
Mary became the focus of numerous plots and conspiracies against Elizabeth’s life especially as she was
in contact with England’s old enemy Spain. King Philip planned to invade England in support of Mary’s
claim to the throne. This threat struck at the very heart of Elizabeth’s protestant England and when
evidence was “found” that implicated Mary in a plot to kill the Queen and take the English throne for
herself, it gave Lord Walsingham the Queen’s spy master enough proof to accuse Mary of Treason.
Her trial took place at Fotheringhay Castle on the 14th and 15th October 1586. She had been moved
from Chartley in Staffordshire for the purpose as Fotheringhay at that time was surrounded by marsh and
water and it was considered secure. Those in attendance at the trial consisted of Law Lords, Ministers and
Sheriffs. After the evidence was heard she was found guilty of treason on 25th October and sentenced to
death. The warrant for her execution was signed by Queen Elizabeth on the 1st February 1587 although
she later claimed she had been tricked into signing it.
The execution took place on February 8th in the Great Hall of the Castle. Mary dressed in black outer
garments with scarlet bodice and petticoat beneath, the colour of martyrdom. The executioner perhaps
overcome by the occasion made a poor job of her beheading. Two blows were necessary to sever her neck,
and her small dog was found cowering beneath her skirts.
Mary’s decaying body lay unburied at the Castle until July when it was removed and carried in procession
by night to Peterborough Cathedral. When her son was crowned King James VI of England he had his
mother’s remains translated to Westminster Abbey where a tomb was built, in the Henry II Chapel,
slightly larger than that of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Foundation of Fotheringhay College
Fotheringhay College, founded by Edmund Langley, originated in the chapel of the Castle and was
known as the ‘The Collegiate Church of the Annunciation and St Edward the Confessor within the
Castle of Fotheringhay’.
It is not clear exactly when Edmund founded the college, but towards the end of the 14th century he made
plans for it to be expanded to a larger establishment. By 1410 Edmund’s son Edward Langley, together
with Henry IV were contemplating the transfer of the college from the castle. On 18th December 1411
the King granted Letters Patent for a new foundation and the following year the Pope’s sanction was
granted to transfer the college from the castle to a new site on six acres of land to the south of the parish
church and on the site of the Cluniac nunnery.
In 1415 the Chancel of the Norman parish Church was rebuilt and extended to form the Quire and Lady
Chapel of the Collegiate Church and the dedication was changed to St Mary and All Saints. Also in that
year, Edward Langley was killed at the Battle of Agincourt and his body was brought to Fotheringhay
and buried in the partly built Quire. In 1434 the nave was rebuilt to match the Quire being of 7 bays with
aisles and of the same height and width - 82 feet long and 60 feet wide (25 x 18.3 metres). It remained in
use as the Parish Church.
The College had a staff of 34 including a Master, Preceptor, 11 Chaplains or fellows with 8 clerks and
13 choristers who sang the services. It was established to pray for the souls of Richard II, Henry IV,
Henry V and the Founders, other Benefactors and their families.
Richard Duke of York and his son Edward, Earl of Rutland were killed in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460,
the first considerable battle in what was to be known as the Wars of The Roses. Their heads with mock
crowns were placed on the City walls of York. In 1461, their bodies were buried at Pontefract and were
finally brought to Fotheringhay in July 1476 where they were interred in the Quire with a magnificent
chantry chapel built over their remains in 1477.
Following the Reformation, the College was surrendered to the Crown in 1539 but was allowed to
continue activities until 1548 when it was granted to Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He immediately
removed the lead from the Quire roof and several of the collegiate buildings before dismantling them.
The only remaining evidence of the Quire of the Collegiate Church is on the east wall where, between
the buttresses can be clearly seen the outline of the arches of the two aisles and the chancel arch which
separated it from the parish nave.
The contract for the rebuilding of the nave, was entered into on the 24th September 1434 between
the Commissioners acting on behalf of Richard Duke of York and William Horwood Freemason of
Fotheringhay. Horwood was to be paid £300 for his work if satisfactory or be sent to prison if it was not!
Along the north aisle wall there are a splendid set of elaborately crocketted buttresses from which rise
flying buttresses which in turn support the sideways thrust of the heavy 15th century wooden nave roof.
Where the flying buttresses meet the nave wall, you can see a set of gargoyles reputedly representing
(from east to west) William Horwood, the builder of the Church, his dog Blaster, a Green Man, Cicely,
Duchess of York and her husband, Richard 3rd Duke of York.
The North Wall
The north west extension of the Church which covers the two western bays of the aisle is split into two
parts. The porch in the east and a room to the west which may have been used as a Treasury. The porch
has a wide outer arch and a large wooden inner door within a plain arch. There is also now a blocked
window. In the corner of the porch, there is a small door leading to the Treasury.
Over this door is a stone lion, once part of Fotheringhay castle and thought to have been part of the
remodelling of the castle carried out by Queen Katherine of Aragon. The lion appears in 19th century
prints over the door of a pub called The Lamb in St Osyths Lane, Oundle. It was presented to the Church
in 1976 and was installed here in 1995.
Above the porch is an upper room originally for the Sacristan, it was later used as a schoolroom.
Below the porch is a forgotten vaulted chamber, possibly an ossuary for holding bones. It was discovered
in 1989 and was excavated in 1992. The finds also included fragments of 15th century painted glass,
pottery, marbles and coins, some of which are displayed at the back of the Church. Some of the glass
fragments originally from the nave windows, were incorporated in a new window by Keith Barley of York
and this is now at the east end of the upper room.
The Tower and Lantern
The most striking feature as you approach the Church is the magnificent western Tower and Lantern.
The first storey above the nave walls contains the ringing chamber with small windows on all three
Above this is the Bell Chamber with four larger belfry windows. This contains six bells. Two trebles cast
by the Whitechapel Foundry in the 1990s when the bells were re hung. The third bell is dated 1595, the
fourth 1614, the fifth originally 1609 was recast in 1860, and the tenor bell which is inscribed “Thomas
Norris made me 1634”.
Placed at the four corners at the top of the tower were originally four figures. Only the badly weathered
remains of two of them now exist and it is impossible to say what they represented.
On top of the tower is the Lantern, in which a lamp was lit to guide hunters returning home from
Rockingham forest in medieval times. It is octagonal—the number eight had major religious significance
in the early church. This octagonal space was originally lit by three–light windows on each side. These
were open but are now filled in.
Rising from the top of the low pyramidal roof is a flagstaff with a large gilded Falcon and Fetterlock, the
badge of the House of York.
As you come through the north door, you will see in front of you the Holy Water Stoup. This was a basin
containing water that had been blessed by the priest and therefore was considered Holy. Every church in
the middle ages held one of these as do most Catholic churches today. You dip your finger in the water,
and cross yourself thus performing an act of purification. With the Reformation this practice ended. The
niche before you contains a figure of The Mother of God, St Mary, to remind visitors that the Church is
dedicated to Her.
As the plan below shows, the Church is rectangular and the central nave is wide and lofty. The walls are
largely formed of glass; very typical of The Perpendicular architecture of the 15th Century. Originally these
windows would have glowed with the jewel like colours of stained glass, subsequently sadly destroyed.
The modern shields between the arches are the Coats of Arms of some of the people connected with the
Church and Castle.
The low-pitched roof is made of oak and is connected to the walls with simple wooden bracing arches.
The wooden Box Pews were installed by Thomas Belsey who purchased the Fotheringhay estate in 1804
The East End of the Church
The reredos, usually an ornamental screen behind the altar, is in the form of an early 19th Century
Testament Board, which is a relatively rare survival in its original position.
The altar and communion rails are modern, and the wooden altar cross and the candlesticks were made
from bell frame oak and old bronze bell bearings when the bells were re-hung in the 1990s.
Tombs and Monuments
When Queen Elizabeth I visited Fotheringhay in 1566, she saw the desecrated tombs of the royal dukes
among the ruins of the collegiate quire. Expressing disgust at this lack of respect, she ordered that their
remains should be exhumed and reburied in the parish church. Her orders were carried out and two
identical monuments were put in place either side of the altar wall.
The tombs are typically sixteenth century in design; plain with panelled bases supporting pairs of
Corinthian columns finished with friezes and cornices and a profusion of heraldic panels with Falcon
and Fetterlock badges.
The monument on the right of the altar commemorates Edward, 2nd Duke of York, killed at the battle
of Agincourt in 1415. The monument on the left, his nephew, Richard, 3rd Duke of York killed at
Wakefield in 1460, and his wife Cecily Neville, known as the Rose of Raby.
The organ, built by Vincent Woodstock, was installed in 2000. It is a mechanical action, two-manual
pedal organ housed within a solid oak case. The organ is used for accompanying services, for teaching
and also for recitals that take place in the church during the year.
The beautiful oak pulpit dates from the middle of the 15th century and stands on a pedestal against the
first pier of the north arcade. It has a hexagonal, fan vaulted canopy and a panelled back on which are
displayed the arms of Edward IV who is said to have been the donor. The pulpit has now been restored to
its original colours and is richly carved and ornamented. The door, which still has its iron hinges is fixed
open and the stairs to the pulpit are modern.
The fifteenth century font stands under the eastern arch of the tower and is raised on two steps so
that the congregation can see the ceremony of baptism. The panelled octagonal bowl is carved with
foliage and grotesque heads and you can still see some of the medieval colouring of the stonework.
The present Font Cover is constructed from a medieval “Misericord seat,” originally situated in the
Quire of the Church.
It was once compulsory to have Royal Arms in every church. Fotheringhay church has a hatchment of
Royal Arms dating from the reign of George III and they are displayed over the eastern tower arch at the
west end of the nave.
Stained Glass Window and York Chapel
The windows of this church originally contained remarkable images and icons reflecting its history as
the burial place of The House of York. Sadly few fragments survive, some are now installed in the upper
room of the Tower.
This new window is called The York window, dedicated in 1975 it was a gift from the Richard III Society.
It incorporates the arms of Richard III, his Queen, Anne Neville, the Founders of the Collegiate Church,
Benefactors and their Wives.
On the wall to the right of this chapel, can be seen traces of where the south door originally led into
a passage connecting the church with the College Cloisters, which would have been in regular use.
This guide was produced by
The Friends of Fotheringhay Church
who were established to help maintain
and beautify the building and its environment.
To contact The Friends of Fotheringhay Church, please email:
Photographs are reproduced with kind permission
of 13 Souls and Alan Hancock.