To view Fotheringhay church from the south-east is to witness a tranquil scene, not wholly at one with its past. Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded in 1587 at the now-vanished castle.

There had been an ordinary parish church on the spot until 1411, when its rebuilding began to accommodate a college of priests. Edward Langley, Duke of York, procured an indulgence to those who visited and gave alms to the building work, granted in 1413 by the anti-pope John XXIII. Edward died two years later at Agincourt, but work on the choir pressed ahead.

In 1434 a contract was drawn up by parishioners (including the Duke of York) with the architect William Horwood for the building of the nave and its west tower, to complete a building that was obviously meant to be a great family mausoleum. It was here that Richard, Duke of York (later Richard III) brought the remains of his father (the 3rd Duke) and elder brother – who had both been killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 – for re-interment in 1476. His mother, Cecily Neville, was also buried there. But Fotheringay’s glory was brief: after the Dissolution the de-roofed choir rapidly fell into decay before its demolition in 1573 and it fell to

Elizabeth I to have the remains of her ancestors, the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of York, reinterred on each side of the present altar at the East end of the nave.

Even in its mutilated state, the church is splendid. As specified in the contract of 1434, the tower bears an octagonal crown – very likely a reflection of the octagonal central tower of Ely cathedral – whilst the nave is filled with light that floods through its large Perpendicular windows.

Map reference TL059931 Simon Cotton