Micklegate Bar

Micklegate Bar, York
Micklegate Bar, York

The medieval city of York was enclosed by an impressive network of walls – much of which remains intact. There were four defended gateways, or ‘bars’, of which Micklegate Bar is the best known. Situated on the south side of York, this was the way into the city from London, and was often therefore the stage-setting for important arrivals.

In August 1483, for example, King Richard III and Queen Anne entered the city through Micklegate Bar. At such times the Bar itself would have been decorated with heraldic devices and other adornments. Once inside the city, where they were ‘greeted joyfully by the citizens of York’, the royal party enjoyed three pageants that were staged in their honour. This was an important occasion that marked the start of three weeks of festivities (including the investiture of Richard’s son, Edward, as Prince of Wales).

But Micklegate Bar is more famous, indeed notorious, for more grisly associations with the Yorkist period. Following the Battle of Wakefield, the heads of the defeated Yorkist commanders – including Richard, Duke of York, and his second son, Edmund - were placed on poles above the gates. The duke’s head was topped with a paper crown, in cruel mockery of his regal aspirations. Following the Yorkist victory at Towton, however, Edward IV ordered that the heads should be taken down and replaced by those of dead Lancastrians.

The appearance of Micklegate Bar is somewhat altered today. The three-storey gatehouse that remains would, in the fifteenth century, have been fronted by more elaborate defences. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive entrance to the older part of the city, and it has continued to play a role during ceremonial occasions. When the present queen visited York, for instance, she was formally welcomed at Micklegate Bar by the Lord Mayor.

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