Richard III Museum
Richard III Museum
Housed within Monk Bar, one of York's medieval gateways, is one of its best-kept secrets; the Richard III Museum. Monk Bar is primarily 14th century, but Richard himself built the topmost chamber in 1484, possibly paying for it out of his own pocket. Now the Bar is a museum devoted to the life, times, and reputation of perhaps England's most controversial king.

Monk Bar is the tallest gateway in York's historic city walls and over the centuries has served as a guardhouse, prison, and police house. In 1992 the medieval chambers within the Bar were converted into the museum, partly in an attempt to balance the slanted view taken by most historians towards King Richard and redress the balance by presenting the other side of the story.

A major section of the museum is devoted to a special exhibit called The Trial of Richard III, where you can hear the evidence, both pro and con, and decide if the king in the dock actually did kill his nephews, the unfortunate 'Princes in the Tower'. Relive the entire controversy through mock medieval tabloid newspapers.

The second chamber houses a display on executions ordered by Richard while he was king. Elsewhere in the Bar is perhaps the smallest prison cell in the world, where an unfortunate Catholic named Alice Bowman was incarcerated during the Elizabethan period.

Try your hand at raising an authentic working portcullis - the original portcullis inside Monk Bar was used to control traffic through the gateway beneath. The mechanism still works and you can raise and lower it - with a bit of muscle power!

The Richard III was the brainchild of Michael S Bennett, a former York tour guide. Bennett was fascinated by the story of King Richard and determined to set the historical record straight over this much-maligned monarch. He wrote and performed a play entitled An Audience with King Richard III, a DVD of which is available in the museum gift shop.

Bennett has also authored several manuscripts, including Shakespeare's Richard III, Fact and Fiction, a scene-by-scene analysis of Shakespeare's play about Richard. All of which information is included just to drive home the point that he knows what he's talking about when it comes to Richard III!

NB. Mr Bennett was manning the till when we visited, and I found him friendly and entertaining.

The museum is fascinating and well worth a visit. It will help give a glimpse into a corner of York's history that is perhaps in need of more illumination!