THE JESUIT PRIEST

Yesterday, in a coffee shop in a town in a faraway land, I met a Jesuit priest.

While drinking a capuccino latte and eating a sugar-coated cinammon doughnut, I made my one and only confession.

I confessed that I was not a catholic, that I did not know the meaning of the word, that I believed in the notion of God but not the Christian one which affiliated with Jesus as its figurehead.

Years ago, I watched ‘The Mission’ and only last week I watched ‘Silence’, directed by American Martin Scorcese.

As I understand it, the essence of both films was that a soldier of Jesus Christ, defined as a Jesuit, should go to a foreign land and spread the gospel of the Christian faith.

Or do I mean the catholic faith?

Why is it that I spell Christian with a capital letter and catholic without?

I became intrigued to learn that the supreme head of the catholic church, the Roman Pontiff himself, the Pope, elected to that position in March 2013, was a Jesuit priest.

There was a wry smile and a short shriek of laughter from the Jesuit priest sitting in my presence.

The sudden clasp of our hands and looking into each other’s eyes was a touching moment of unforgettable silence.

As I now know, the Jesuit priesthood was a religious order formed in 1534 by a Spanish soldier by the name of Ignatius Loyola.

To become a Jesuit priest, the man told me, entailed the taking of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for a lifetime.

Jesuits, like Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines and other such religious orders, are not attached to a diocesan parish church like their secular brothers.  Nor are they accountable to bishops.

Jesuits are licensed by the Pope himself to spread the gospel, so to speak.

Forgive the abrasiveness of my thinking but I must stand to question the need at all to evangelize and apostasize in the twenty-first century to a seemingly well-educated, science-orientated, objective-thinking global populus.

And what is apostasy if it is not to be defiant based on rational opinion or belief about a system, authority or situation perceived to be different?

I could see all too clearly in the eyes of the Jesuit priest that he had abandoned nothing or no one in his absolute determination of human faith.

He was no defector,  no deserter, no whistleblower, no rebel, no mutineer, no betrayer of his nation state.

There are, of course, pockets of civilisation in underdeveloped countries but I am not dissuaded from thinking that the Jesuit Priest is overstepping the boundaries of his mission.

So why does he sit before me?

And why do I sit with him?

It was I who traced him on the internet by social media.  It was I who requested the meeting taking place between us today.

This is a Jesuit priest of the twenty first century who has a smartphone at his fingertips, an online presence, wears a baseball cap and can speak seven languages fluently.

This is my confession.

His mission has taken on a different sphere, a bit like an astronaut going into space to explore the unknown, the universe.

Yes, that is it.  Catholicism means Universal.

Except there are those Christians in the world who have declared themselves to be protestants, lutherans, anglicans, prestbyterians, orthodox.

Today is actually Sunday Twenty-Third of April.

The Jesuit Priest knows it is the celebrated birthday of William Shakespeare, the English playwright who came from the town of Stratford upon Avon.

He takes the words right out of my mouth when he refers to the harbouring of Jesuit priests in the Shakespeare family home by William’s father John and the hiding of the sacred Borromeo testament.

He has never been to England but I hail from that town and I have so many times been to the famous cottage on Henley Street where the events he vividly described supposedly took place.

His ‘take’ on the historical events were different from mine but it mattered not.

Once a lawyer, I am now an English teacher and I have a mission in my life too to teach students the English language so that they can, possibly, have a better, brighter future.

The mission of the Jesuit Priest and the English teacher, it seems, though not fused, is therefore linked and the same.  To deliver a message.

The charming young waitress serves us both a second (free) cup of coffee.  I take another bite of my delicious doughnut.

The clock on the huge white church which shadows the  square strikes eleven on this April Sunday morning.

The hearty congregation disperse into the environs of this northern Indonesian coastal city.

Sunday school, alas, was a long time ago in my life but suddenly I am reminded that catechism, another word I did not fully understand,  is no more than explaining belief as a compilation of doctrine and teachings.

It always remains open to question but I have got the message.

What we nearly all accept today is that there are many different intepretations of faith besides our own and we should not be so stubborn or short-sighted as to believe that ours is the only way.

Not today.  Not any day.  Not any way.

The Jesuit priest has heard my confession.

There was no farewell.  No selfie.  No bill of conscience.

My soul can be at peace because, now, today, I know the truth.

HENRY JEPHSON AND LEAMINGTON SPA

My name is Henry Jephson.

I first came to the small town of Leamington Priors in the spring of 1818 as a raw medical student with aspirations of becoming a doctor.

I was attracted by the prospect of what salted spa waters could do for healing and curing people with certain ailments and afflictions.

Back then, Leamington Priors was a town on the south bank of the river Leam with a priory extending to the Elephant Wash.

Nearby was a small post office on the corner facing the largest parish church in the county of Warwickshire and there was close proximity to the access of spa spring water.

Bath houses, Inns and a Pump room were established as one Bernie Greatheed looked to cash in on land he owned to the north of the river.

The potential for development of a parade of shops and residences constructed on a grand scale was obvious.

The Willes family owned a large swathe of land on their Newbold Comyn estate to the east with a corn mill right down by the river itself.

I qualified as a doctor and established my medical practice on the upper part of the Parade.

As my reputation spread, clients would come from far afield and stay at the nearby Clarendon or Regent Hotel.

Queen Victoria herself made an official royal visit to Leamington in 1838, just two years into her reign.

Not only did I have the privilege of meeting her but I had the honour of treating her for some of her ailments.

I am in no doubt that she fell in love with the town and returned many times subsequently, unofficially of course, for a holiday ‘to take the waters’.

Queen Victoria was instrumental, I believe, in persuading the Willes family, notably Edward Willes, to turn ten acres of the meadowland next to the river Leam into a public garden and park.

I was somewhat flattered to say the least when the gardens and park were to be named after me personally in 1846 for supposedly having put the town of Leamington Priors on the map as a health resort.

Queen Victoria did not return for another official visit until 1858 when the town was renamed as Royal Leamington Spa by royal decree.

A momentous day indeed which led to a marble statue being erected of the great lady outside the Town Hall in her honour.

How much more could I have done? … Or would I have done? ….. If I had not gone blind two years later which forced my early retirement.

I don’t have any regrets as such about my life but losing my sight so early in my life is one of two things which disappointed and saddened me as a professional physician.

Here was I advocating cures to the needy but I had to accept Gods will for the impairment.

The second thing is not experiencing parenthood with my wife Mary.  I had always hoped that the ‘taking of waters’ would fix the shortfall in my married life but it was never to be.

The compensation has been, I think, in being slightly ahead of my time and being able to educate ordinary folk, both the paying clientele and the town needy, about basic healthcare.

I lived out my life at Beech Lawn, the mansion house which I had built behind the Parade in the 1830s.

I understand that after my death in 1878, my home became a Ladies Finishing School for a few years before eventually being demolished in 1946.

The town’s Fire Station is located on the site today.

Though I say it myself, the Jephson Gardens are a wonderful sight to behold at any time of year and I am extremely proud that such a ‘green flag’ legacy carries my name for generations to come.

Thank you all very much indeed for listening to my ramble, for that is surely what it is.

Be sure to visit the Jephson Gardens whenever you are passing through Royal Leamington Spa.

Thank you once again most graciously from the bottom of my heart.

TWELFTH NIGHT AND THE TWELVE TENETS OF MY FAITH

Tradition and social habit derived from pagan custom die hard and there is no mirth without mischief, so they say.

When I was just a young boy, I learnt to recite the twelve tenets of my faith.

I was born into a catholic family in the middle of the sixteenth century in a provincial market town called Stratford upon Avon in the mid-shires of England.

Throughout my life, England was declared to be a protestant state and it was forbidden to practice my faith in a public place.

In fact, even practicing it at home in private was considered taboo.

I learnt English, Latin and Greek at my local Grammar School which I was privileged to attend because my Father held high office in the town.

I studied History there too which was a fascinating subject to me.  My tutor, Simon Hunt, often complimented me on my uncanny ability to comprehend details in a manner beyond my tender years.

Somehow I just knew that my passion for history plus the background of my family from farming stock and the strength of my faith would shape my adult life.

Many a day I had spent at the forest of Arden or along the banks of the river in town where I could engage with nature and be as free as the birds I could see flying in the sky.

There was not a bird I thought I did not know or could not identify with.

When my father fell upon harsh times and I was sent away as a teenager to a catholic seminary in the north of France, one could say that it was kind of the beginning of the rest of my life.

I would step foot on the battlefield at Agincourt where my Shakespearean ancestor had fought on behalf of King Henry V.

I would visit the small town of Domremy in the north-east of France to feel some affinity with the young woman, Jeanne d’Arc,  who was born there one hundred and fifty years before me and who had left her own all too brief legacy in the annals of history.

And I would see a partridge in a pear tree for the first time.

It was a defining moment in my life when the meaning of my catholic faith came home to me, on foreign pastures.

I could readily relate why this beautiful gaming bird would spend hours in a pear tree, feigning injury as a decoy to protect her young from a constant stream of potential predators.

How odd it sounded then to hear the same chant as mine ringing in my ears but yet spoken by others with different tone and words.

The relationship between the partridge and the pear tree was considered supreme in my faith.

A partridge.  Two turtle doves.  Three French hens.  Four colly blackbirds.  Five golden ringed pheasants.  Six geese a-laying and seven swimming swans.

Memorise or forfeit I say.

The game does not, of course, end there.

Eight maids are milking to produce from the dairy.

Nine ladies are dancing to the sound of the music.

Ten lords are leaping at the prospect of winning a ladies hand but one will not be lucky.

Eleven pipers pipe the music for the ten lords and nine ladies to entwine while twelve drummers are drumming the finale, one beat for every tenet of my faith.

Only several centuries later in the year 1909 would an Englishman named Frederic Austin compose a melody which would be fitting for the chant which became labelled as ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ and which would be sung forever thereafter by protestants and catholics alike.

It seems funny now that a nonesense song of secular origin should strike such a cord.

I had a dream once but it may have been only a vision during my awakened hours.

I allowed my imagination to run a riot about a shipwreck in a faraway place which was,  in truth,  much closer to home than you might think about town folk and royalty.

Stratford upon Avon was such a wonderful place to grow up as a child.

There was an effervescence in the life of its tradesmen and craftsmen, a magic in the forest of Arden and a serenity about the Avon river which flowed calmly through the town.

Folk drank ale in the taverns, Inns accommodated visitors while mummers, pageant wagons and keepers of exotic wonders brought social entertainment to the town like never before.

An orchard was never very far away either.  Plum pudding, apple pie, pear crumble were constants on the menu.

I knew the meaning only too well of the fruits of the earth.

As a catholic, I wholeheartedly embraced both the Old and New Testament of the Christian bible, the Holy Trinity of Faith, Hope and Charity; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only that but I felt at ease with the ten commandments, the ethos of the eleven disciples (excluding Judas) who followed Jesus and course the twelve tenets of my faith.

Nothing could or would change that.

The twelve days of Christmas were celebrated from the twenty fifth of December until Epihany on the 5th January.

What I had always understood this meant was that three wise men, called Magi, had come from the east and followed a bright star to bring gifts for a new born child who was proclaimed as the son of God but in reality was the first born of Judeans Joseph and Mary.

The new born child, born on 25th December, was named Joshua and was baptized with holy water on the twelfth day after his birth, 5th January.

Christians of whatever denomination, protestant or christian, would join in the revelry which climaxed on the twelfth night with gift-giving.

There always comes a time, it seems, when politics are in conflict with expression of faith to the detriment of the common man who wishes no more than to go about his daily life in peace, dignity and honour.

Catholics were perceived as a threat to the new protestant state and so it came to pass during my lifetime that the catholic manner of celebration on the twelfth night became forbidden.

A failed catholic insurrection in 1605 (better known as the Gunpowder Plot) against the new King, James I, would lead to severe constraints against catholics.

At the peak of my literary powers and I could say that William Shakespeare was a household name in theatrical circles, I would be inspired to write a play which I called ‘Twelfth Night’ .

The play was performed in private chambers first of all before a failing Queen Elizabeth and an Italian Duke, Orsino, who by special request, was given a role in the play for his own egotism.

There would be frivolity and revelry and all would be revealed in time on the twelfth night.

That would be the last twelfth night in my lifetime.

And that, my friend, is the Gospel Truth.

THE GORDON RIOTS OF 1780

This is the story of the riots which occurred in London England for six days during June 1780.

More than forty thousand people took to the streets in what was the biggest mob protest of its kind in English history.

The riots are named after a protestant Lord, George Gordon, who opposed new laws favouring catholics.

Catholics had long been oppressed in England and the root cause stemmed back to Henry VIII in 1530 and his ex-communication from the catholic church for divorcing Catherine of Aragon.

Later monarchs Queen Elizabeth I and James I reinforced laws against catholic oppression during the period of history when playwright William Shakespeare lived.

Catholics were essentially denied the right to freely and openly practice their faith and were generally discriminated against in exercise of their civil liberties compared to protestants.

The ‘riots of eighty’ damaged the homes of well-to-do catholics, catholic chapels and other institutions associated with catholicism.

Protestants were always fearful of another insurrection such as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 which might actually succeed or of a catholic invasion from continental Europe.

The riots achieved nothing other than to merely delay the inevitability of catholic emancipation which eventually came in 1827.

Fourteen years later, Charles Dickens wrote and published Barnaby Rudge in which the Gordon Riots are a key part of the story.

It could certainly be said that if it was not for that novel, then the so-called Gordon Riots would have surely long been forgotten.

They are only memorable insofaras the ensuing civil unrest was subdued by armed forces at a time when there was not yet a professional police force to uphold law and order.

So much then for getting a magistrate to ‘read the riot act’ to even a dozen unruly assemblers (and request them to disperse within an hour or face consequences), let alone forty thousand or more.

What Charles Dickens described as the ‘mantle of religion’ certainly whipped up fervour amongst the English people but in truth it was no more than the catalyst for other issues of civil unrest in England at that time.

The fervour appealed to poor and frustrated, low-educated, illiterate, easily-led  individuals who were drawn into social unrest and civil disobedience.

England in 1780 had just ceded independence of the ‘new world’ across the great pond to America and was facing challenges to its military might (and military resoruces) like never before.

Confrontations anew with an old enemy, France, under Napoleon Bonaparte, were only just a few years over the horizon.

And as for the consequences of the Gordon Riots?

Catholics could join the armed forces and fight for King and Country.

Arguably, Lord George Gordon committed treason against the State but the charge was never proven against him in a court of law.

Seven hundred rioters lost their lives during those six senseless days and twenty one of them were publicly hanged.

The English State today no more seeks retribution against a Jesuit Priest than it would against a Jehova Witness or an Muslim  preacher of the Quoran.

Religious cleansing, neighbor to neighbor, is a condemnable practice.

The Mantle of Religion now uses a new weapon, the Internet, to mobilize its mob.

Mob protests and demonstrations, when they happen, are largely peaceful.

New public order laws over the last fifty years in particular and the existence of a well-trained police force ensure so far as possible that the ‘Riots of Eighty’ can never again be repeated in England on such a scale.

Catholicism is no longer a destructive force at work in a contemporary society but the chant and cry of ‘No Popery’, once faint, is more than just an audible echo.

A LETTER TO A LORD

A letter was to be written on this still evening to a catholic Lord and delivered by a messenger at the twilight hour.

The author of the letter would never be known but suspicion would later fall upon one to whom he was related by marriage.

The author of the letter was not the suspect but another.

The author had known about the plan to assassinate the English King for some time.

Because the plan was conceived by him and so he had known about the intentions of the thirteen conspirators from the very beginning.

Arguably, he, the author, was the fourteenth conspirator and he knew only too well that he would face the wrath of justice if his plan failed.

If it succeeded, he would be nationally acclaimed and endeared forevermore to the monarch whom he served.

He had many a night lay awake dreaming of such a night as this throughout his political life.

His Father had foretold that one day the destiny of the English nation would be in his hands.

And so it proved to be.

The man was a grand master at his craft.  Nobody would know.  Nobody could suspect.

The letter itself was thoughtfully penned and the handwriting ridiculously caressed to ensure anonymity.

The content and message of the letter was purposely obscure without specifying the event itself that had been planned for.

The author of the letter was aware and acquainted with all of the thirteen actual conspirators but they were not as acquainted with him or at all in relation to his involvement in the assassination plot.

There was never any need to give the game away.

One of the thirteen conspirators was the suspect supposed to have written the letter.

Why else warn the Lord to whom you write to stay away from the State opening of Parliament on 5th November if he did not want his life to be saved?

The suspect played his part in the plot only to be relieved of his conscienable indebtedness and to be promised reward in addition.

He knew by his very contact with the author that the author had no intention whatsoever of allowing the so called Gunpowder Plot to be carried out to its finality.

In such circumstances, the suspect would never have needed to write the letter because there was no inherent danger to the Lord.

The author had facilitated the renting of the small cellar below the Parliament building to one of the conspirators, Thomas Percy.

The author had also facilitated the fetch of the forty barrels of gunpowder and done his homework on the nightwatchman and explosives expert Guy Fawkes.

The author had also relayed reassurances to the ringleader Robert Catesby.

All that was now required to do was to write the letter and effect the muse.

The author despised catholics more than he could stand.  It was totally alien to him and unacceptable that anglicans should revere an entity, such as was the papacy of Rome and a foreign power, greater than that of English sovereignty.

The messenger was summoned to meet a stranger in the darkness of the forest.

He could or would never know with whom he met and was warned in no uncertain terms that his life and that of his family was in danger until the letter had been delivered.

The messenger was explicity instructed to hand the letter only to the Lord himself and that it should be read by the Lord in the presence of a servant.

The messenger would not stop long enough for the letter to be opened.

The author’s motive here was plain enough.  A third party, the servant, would know about a plan to attack the King but not know of any details.

In the days that followed when the servant tried to convince others of such a plot (and of course he did not know who any of the conspirators were), he would not be believed.

The Lord was, of course, perplexed to receive such a letter and at such an hour.

He was quick to take it to the one man who he thought would make sense of it.

Indeed he would because that man was the author of the letter.

With masterful trickery, the letter writer and now keeper told nobody about the letter until the eve of the planned attack as he feigned a process of investigation and built a platform for his own glorification.

When the time came at the midnight hour, Guy Fawkes was inevitably caught red-handed in the cellar while others, realizing they were rumbled, were chased across the English countryside and were either shot to death or captured and later executed.

All except one man, the suspect for writing the letter.  He did not run.  Nor was he tortured or threatened with execution.

There was no need.  The suspect was quietly detained at the Tower of London to await his reward.

The end was not quite what the suspect expected but nothing less thad been planned for by the author of the letter from the outset.

The suspect was poisoned and died.

King James rejoiced at the saviour of his kingdom from a bunch of catholic dissidents and paid glory to the hunchback little man who was his closest political adviser and who had, so to speak, hatched the plot.

That is why English people always say ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November’.

Famous words indeed.

Not so much for the burning of an effigy of an explosives expert on a bonfire but for a letter written to a Lord which cemented the foiling of a Gunpowder Plot that never was.

WHO WOULD BE A CATHOLIC?

The question ‘who would be a catholic’ is posed in the context of English history.

Today, we take it almost for granted that we can freely and openly practice our religious faith and not be discriminated against when it comes to doing military service, being eligible for a job, having the right to vote in a government election, owning property and other assets of wealth.

But for something more than two hundred and seventy years, they were exactly the civil rights denied to Roman Catholics in England on account of their faith.

And I call them Roman Catholics because catholicism is centred upon the Vatican city in Rome and catholics swear their allegiance to the Pope as their supreme head.

Events began to unfold in 1530 when Henry VIII sought papal permission to divorce Catherine of Aragon but was refused by the Pope and was thereby ex-communicated.

It was the beginnings of catholic oppression in England.

Monasteries centuries old were first dissolved and then destroyed,  the Anglican Book of Prayer was introduced by Queen Elizabeth I and catholics were subjected to recusancy and fines of a shilling for not attending anglican church services on a Sunday.

The town of Stratford upon Avon in England is typical of catholic closseteers who were anglicans by day and catholics by night.

The Shakespeare family were known for their catholic loyalities and William Shakespeare was not shy to make reference to it in many of his plays.

From 1559 until her death in 1603, Elizabeth I established England as a dominant protestant state and catholics were very much in the minority.

Nevertheless, the English nation was as paranoic as its unmarried and childless monarch about who would succeed her and her closest advisers would play no mean part in the final outcome.

There were several supposed catholic attempts to whisk the realm away from Queen Elizabeth during her lifetime, notably the Babington Plot which brought about the execution of Elizabeth’s catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, in 1587.

Of course, there was the Spanish Armada which came asailing at England’s coastal borders a year later and the fluffed rebellion of the Earl of Essex in 1601.

Ultimately, two men would have the greatest bearing on the outcome for the English monarchy and for catholics in England in general.

They were Father and Son William and Robert Cecil.  Their interventions and influence drove the anti-catholic propaganda to the hilt.

James Stuart, King of Scotland and son of the fated Mary Queen of Scots, would be invited to come south of the border and become the next monarch of England.

He was a staunch protestant with catholic sympathies.

Not surprisingly, while Robert Cecil, succeeding his father as the closest counsel to the monarch, saw a situation to manipulate and to oppress catholicism in England even further,  English catholics thought at first that this might be their chance to gain status quo in the open practice of their faith,

When English catholics realized that was not going to happen (and it did not take long), a group of dissidents met to discuss a plan about assassinating the new King and his ministers, having him replaced with either his daughter Princess Elizabeth or the Spanish King.

There were thirteen members at the end in the grand conspiracy which became known as the Gunpowder Plot and was planned for Tuesday 5th November 1605, the first state opening of Parliament by King James.

Many of the conspirators had participated too in the Essex rebellion and had either got away scott-free or been able to buy their way out of jail.

Needless to say, the Gunpowder Plot did not succeed.

An anonymous letter was sent to a catholic lord a few days beforehand hinting not to attend Parliament on 5th November.  The letter was passed to Robert Cecil who coyly waited until the eleventh hour before catching the explosives expert, Guy Fawkes, ‘red-handed’ in the cellar below the Parliament building where forty barrels of gunpowder was stored and ready for detonation.

The thirteen conspirators all met their end by one means or another.  Some were pursued and shot, others were captured and executed.  One man was poisoned in the Tower of London.

The direct consequence of the failed plot was for citizens of England to swear allegiance to the crown over the papacy or be subjected to civil penalities.

For some, this was too much of a conscience to bear and chose to rest their soul by ‘kicking the bucket’, a term coined for a person who voluntarily hangs himself and then kicks the bucket away to pass away.

Things got a little better for catholics following the Civil War 1642-1660 but it was not until 1829, thanks to an Irishman named Dnaiel O’Donnell (not the popular singer today of the same name!) that religious freedom would be ordained for catholics in line with protestants.

Emanicipation was not as yet a trendy buzzword but what evolved for catholics would follow in later decades for slaves, indigenous people, women and workers.

There was once such a thing as the divine right of Kings and the legitimacy of hereditary nobility.

Not anymore.

Yet still to this day, the English monarchy is as anglican as the day on which it was conceived and an English royal is forbidden by law to marry a Roman Catholic.

And do you know?

I still remember the story I heard in childhood of the little boy who sang in Elizabethan times ‘the Twelve Days of Christmas’ as if his life depended on it.

Now I know why.

Who would be a catholic?

THE LAST BATTLECRY OF AN ENGLISH KING

William Shakespeare put the immortal words ‘My Horse, my Horse, my Kingdom for a Horse’ into the mouth of a man as the battlecry of the last English King to ever be killed in combat.

Depending what version of the story you want to believe, the valiant King was pulled from his horse and hacked to death or came within relative proximity of conflict with the very man who stood between him and the continuance of his reign.

This is the story of Richard III who was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in deepest Leicestershire in 1485 by Henry Tudor who then succeeded him as English monarch and set the wheels in motion for the Tudor dynasty.

Fortune is said to favour the brave but ;perhaps that cannot be said for Richard III who remains accused to this day of murdering kin who were more entitled than he to the English crown.

His own personal woe was exasperated in the months leading to the fateful battle when his only son and wife died too.

A man can certainly dream and if Richard III did have a meaningful dream on the eve of the battle, it would surely have foretold of his inevitable doom.

Richard III only ruled England for two years and he was probably far from the character with physical deformity portrayed by Shakespeare in the play of his name.

The actual human remains of Richard III have fairly recently been unearthed in an archaeological dig on grounds of a former friary in the heart of the city of Leicester and today a public car park.

Modern technology and science enables us to know that he was a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with a slight scollosis to one shoulder but certainly no hunchback.

Shakespeare wrote Richard III the play in the early 1590s, fairly soon after being called ‘an upstart crow’ by fellow playwright Robert Greene and at a time when Robert Cecil held the upper hand in political influence over the ruling monarch Elizabeth I.

The backdrop to the story of Richard III was very simple indeed.

Elizabeth I was unmarried and of course without a child which could claim to be her successor.

Her own paranoia about the succession was the paranoia of the whole English nation.

Richard III, whether rightly or wrongly, was perceived as the usurper who could turn the natural order of succession on its head and plant a rightful heir for his own gain.

Shakespeare could smell a rat but it was not the unjustly discredited Richard III.

It was surely Robert Cecil, the living hunchback dwarf who no longer lived in the executive shadow of his father.

In reality and in fact, Robert Cecil won the day by supplanting the Scottish King, a protestant with limited catholic sympathies, James Stuart, as Elizabeth’s successor in 1603.

Nevertheless, Richard III is the benchmark by which judgment is exercised whenever a tenuous succession to the monarchy of a nation, any nation, not just England, is discussed.

Richard III came to rule by a number of events and circumstances.

It seems to matter not that his successor and victor Henry Tudor, crowned as Henry VII, had a lesser claim to the sovereignty of England than himself.

Such was the spoils of war.

It could be argued that William, Duke of Normandy, had no such claim to the sovereignty of England either when he came and conquered in 1066.

The One Hundred Years War between England and France from 1347 until 1453 and subsequently the so called War of the Roses from 1455 until Richard III’s death in 1485 had a definite impact on future English sovereignty.

From one of doubtful royal descent to Lord Protector of the Realm and King of England.

Richard III is alleged to have killed, amongst others, his Uncle Henry VI, cousin George the Duke of Clarence and the two princes, Edward V and Richard, his own nephews, who were mysteriously detained at the Tower of London, never to be heard of again.

Shakespeare contrived to tell the tragic story of Richard III with a sense of condemnation, distrust and disbelief.

Ghosts, curses and prophecies played no mean part in the hallowing story.

There may well have been a winter of discontent in the months that led to the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 but certain facts speak for themselves.

Richard III will now be reburied either at Leicester Cathredal, York Minster (for he was after all from the royal House of York) or quite possibly at Westminster Abbey in London.

If there is a place for him.

Whatever your take on Richard III, the last battlecry of an English King can still be heard today.