Poor old Richard III. This king just can’t catch a break. William Shakespeare helped turn him into a much maligned monarch. Now, the site of one of his favourite homes is at the centre of a political storm that the Bard would have relished getting to grips with. For Barnard Castle, focus of the Dominic Cummings debate, was once the much loved residence of Richard.
The last Plantagenet’s links to the town came about through marriage. Around 1472, Richard had wed Anne Neville, the younger daughter of the famous Kingmaker and one of the wealthiest women in the known world. Handy. Her inheritance included the famous Barnard Castle and the couple spent time here during the late 1470s.
Richard’s famous boar badge can be found hidden inside what’s left of the castle showing that he put his mark on the building. In 1483, it became home to a king when Richard took the throne from his young nephew, Edward V, who he had declared illegitimate. But just two years later, Richard himself was killed at the Battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor claimed the crown. Barnard Castle slowly fell into ruins afterwards. However, the town around it has continued to grow while the pretty remains of the royal home are now looked after by English Heritage. They have remained firmly closed to visitors all through the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
And it’s the settlement itself that is in the headlines right now. It was confirmed that Dominic Cummings, special adviser to the Prime Minister, had travelled to County Durham during lockdown – he says he needed his parents help with childcare after his wife began to show signs of coronavirus. However, it was later claimed that he was seen in Castle Barnard, thirty miles from their house, at a later date in lockdown. The Prime Minister was asked about it at a press conference and did not deny it but did go on to say that some allegations about Mr Cummings were false.
However, the debate around it has ensured that Barnard Castle is on everyone’s lips again and not for a good reason. Five hundred years on, Richard III is still the king who can’t stay away from controversy.