The telephone woke me out of a deep sleep so I was annoyed.
“Who the hell is this?
“I’m terribly sorry, but I’m calling from Great Britain and, due to circumstances, had to ignore the time difference. I do so apologize.”
“Who are you and what’s so important?”
He told me his name, asked me not to publish it, but to refer to him as a representative of The Richard lll Society.
“What does anyone from The Richard lll Society want with me?”
“Zach. It’s not just anyone who wants to speak to you. Indeed, no one from the Society, actually.”
“Then why the wake-up call?”
“Mr., excuse me, Zach. You must have read about the recent discovery of Richard III’s remains.”
“His Majesty has requested that we immediately fly you to the University of Leicester for an audience. An interview, if you will.”
That got me off my back and sitting up as Sue cocked her head quizzically.
“His Majesty has enjoyed your Interviews With The Dead Series and believes you to be fair, and willing to present his words accurately.”
“It’s going to take some time to make arrangements…”
“Everything has been taken care of. In fact, your plane to Birmingham Airport leaves at 6 A.M. There will be a car at your house in about, about an hour and a half. I’ll meet you at Birmingham and we’ll drive directly to the University.”
After I hung up, I felt a wave of annoyance at his, their, presumption that I’d be willing to just pick up and leave. It quickly passed as I realized how right they’d been. It’s good to be the King–even if you’ve been dead for 528 years.
Exhausted from a five-hour transcontinental cram of British history, I sat in a quiet room in one of the University’s libraries. Then the king was wheeled in on a cart.
Me: “You’re worse for wear, I’d say. Will we be able to conduct the interview in modern English? It would make it much easier for me and my readers.”
Richard lll: “Of course. I’ve spent many years quietly listening to the world change above me. Though I must warn you, I might slip into a few ‘thou’s’ and other common phrases used during my lifetime. Centuries old habits are quite difficult to break.”
Me: Thank you, Your Majesty. I’ve certainly been following your excavation with great interest…”
Richard lll: “They really did a marvelous job. Just their persistence was quite amazing–especially given my reputation. Or, the slander of my reputation, that is.”
Me: “All of it?”
Given who/what I had as an interviewee, I had no facial expressions to help decipher emotional undertones. I’d have to rely on his voice to glean what his feelings might be.
Richard lll: “That’s actually quite a difficult question. ‘Tis true I was forced to kill to acquire the Crown, but it truly was my Crown to acquire. It wasn’t I who decided that the True and Honorable King Edward lV’s marriage to Elizabeth was illegal. Nor was it I who declared their children illegitimate and barred from succession.”
Me: “But you did murder several people on your way to the Crown.”
Methinks I hear a royal chuckle.
Richard lll: “And all the wars, assassinations, ‘regime building’ since?’ Is that not murder to wear a Crown? Truly, I did kill four people. Hardly a slaughter and faced no other opposition to my crowning. It was that damnable Shakespeare, or should I say Edward de Vere, that frightened Earl who wouldn’t even disclose his name, who truly turned me into a monster. Which, of course I wasn’t. I repeat, four people. ‘Tis thus a slaughter? Dost that suggest mass opposition to my Kingship? How is it that few will acknowledge that my ascendency halted a potential civil war?”
I was still stuck by his calling Shakespeare Edward de Vere.
Me: “The Earl of Oxford?”
Richard lll: “The 17th Earl of Oxford to be precise. Of course it was de Vere who turned me into a deformed hunchback with a withered arm. ‘Now is the winter of our discontent.’ My Posterior–if I still had one. Lies, all lies, though well written lies, I must admit. Surely you don’t think an uneducated minstrel could write about me–scurrilous as the writing might be. Or perhaps you believed it to be Marlowe?”
Clearly Shakespeare, or de Vere, touched a royal nerve. If he still had any.
Me: “I’ve never had a horse in that race.”
Richard lll: “Thou means?”
Me: “I was never concerned by who wrote Shakespeare’s work.”
Richard lll: “Perhaps if you had been subject to hundreds of years of relentless attacks due to de Vere’s vicious fictions, you might have had, as you say, ‘a steed in that race.’
Me: “So you deny murdering your nephews too?”
Richard lll: “Deny? Of course I deny! Think, please. History is in the eye of who writes it and it was that ever-scheming Henry and his minions who did the writing. The Tudors’ rumoured and schemed and plotted throughout every day of my reign. Who would you expect to be accused?”
His bones began to rattle as his fury mounted.
Richard lll: “Think! Why would I kill them? They were no threat to me; I was the legitimate Monarch. I was close to their mother Elizabeth throughout my entire reign, my entire life! Now, think again! Who were they a threat to? To Henry! Is it not surprising that no formal accusation was ever made? Henry never even produced the bodies of the dead princes for public mourning and a state funeral. Why not, if they had been slain by my hand? Because it was Henry’s henchmen who murdered them! Yes, Henry VII even brought a Bill of Attainder against me, yet no mention of the princes was made. Curious, n’est pas?
Me: “How could Henry have killed them, King Richard?”
Richard lll: “I would most certainly suggest that those who want the truth, and can handle the truth, take a close look at John Russell, my oft disloyal Chancellor. The mistake I made was simply ridding the Court of his person–instead of the earth! But then de Vere and all his eloquent lies…”
Me: “You certainly hate him, don’t you?”
Richard lll: “Of course! He turned my hunger of justice, my reformation of our legal system, my love of country so grand I was willing to die for it into a distortion of me and my life. Even a cursory glance at my short reign will show my losses, sacrifices, my attempt to keep peace that went for naught. No English Monarch has died on the battlefield since I!
Richard lll: “It’s quite accurate. As is the fact that while my posture was not true, I was certainly no hunchback. But I really must return to the ugliest stain upon my reputation. The princes. While true that recent historians at least argue about the truth, it took a mystery writer to discern it. Yes, The Daughter of Time, though incorrect about the murderer, speaks to my complete innocence.”
Me: “You read The Daughter Of Time?”
Richard lll: “Listened. A book on tape, as the moderns say.”
Me: “Well, I certainly understand your concern about those murders if what you’re saying is to be believed.”
Richard lll: “If!. If? If I were still among the living I’d…Dammit, man, read Sir Clements Markham. Read Horace Walpole. Read Jeremy Potter. Yes, read Josephine Tey! If you still have doubts, return and again we shall talk.”
I could hear his weariness and decided to respect it.
Me: “If I might be permitted one last question?”
Richard lll: “Most assuredly.”
Me: There seems to be a fight brewing about where to place your remains. Leicester wants to re-inter you in the city’s cathedral, but York is petitioning to have you there. Do you have a preference?
Richard lll: “After all this time, how could I not? Though I can’t blame modern Leicester for my horrific squashed burial box, and the University did take the time to find me, I prefer York. It is my homeland and where I belong. Though I imagine they’ll do with me what they wish. I’m used to that.”
Me: “Thank you for this interview King Richard. I never expected it.”
Richard lll: “‘Tis a pleasure Klein, if only for an opportunity to stretch my legs. I do fervently hope you’ll be clear about de Ville’s monstrous lies. They have kept me awake for half a millennium.
‘The caricature of the last Plantagenet king was too grotesque, and too grossly opposed to the character derived from official records. The stories were an outrage on commonsense…My own conclusions are that Richard III must be acquitted on all counts of the indictment.’ Sir Clements Markham (1906)
‘Richard proved himself an energetic and efficient king’ with a proper concern for justice and the impartial administration of the law. ‘No one familiar with the careers of King Louis XI of France, in Richard’s own time, or Henry VIII of England in his own country, would wish to cast any special slur on Richard, still less to select him as the exemplar of a tyrant’. Charles Ross (1981)