This is developed from a sketch I wrote for our youth theatre group (based in Leicester), shortly after the re-internment of King Richard III in Leicester Cathedral.
Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, opened his eyes and immediately winced. There was a dull light glowing softly around him but he couldn’t make out any other details. He realised he was lying on his back, staring at a distant dark ceiling. This was odd. He decided to try sitting up.
“Ow, my head!” he cried out, as pain danced around his upright noggin, “I feel like I’ve been hit with a pole-axe!”
“Funnily enough, you were”, a voice said from the other side of the room or chamber or where-ever Richard was now sitting. He swung his head towards the voice, trying to make out a blurry figure.
“Who are you?” he demanded. Richard wasn’t sure if it was his eyes or a trick of the light, but the blurry figure was becoming more solid. And there were two others with him.
The first figure, a man in fine clothes, stepped forward. “We are your spirit guardians and companions, Sire. We served you in life and watch over you in death”, he said with a bow.
Richard, rubbing his temples to ease his headache, squinted at the shortest of the three figures. “I recognise you! You bring me my breakfast. Any chance of a spot of porridge? I’m starving. I’m sure I can feel my ribs.”
The young woman curtsied politely but looked uncomfortably embarrassed as she replied, “Alas…. no”.
“No? Hmm.” Richard wasn’t used to being refused. He was a King after all.
The third ghost now stepped forward, some kind of royal page by the look of him thought Richard. “The pole-axe your Highness mentioned…”
“…knocked the life clean out of you.”
The King stared at the three figures. “What do you mean?” he asked, suddenly becoming aware that he was still sat on some kind of low bench or table. He stood up, trying to make sense of where he was and how he got here. “The last thing I remember was… a battle”. Brief memories of swords and lances and horses and mud and terrible fighting skipped around his head.
“Yes Sire, over at Bosworth against Henry Tudor”, said the man in lordly clothing, who Richard was sure was one of his advisors in York.
Bosworth! Henry Tudor! Those names clanged heavily with Richard, like keys to a prison cell of memory. “Yes, that’s right!” he exclaimed, “a battle against that scurvy knave!” But the memory, released with enthusiasm from the cell ran face first into more locked doors. Richard couldn’t remember how the battle had ended. “Erm, how did I do?” he asked his attendants.
They looked awkward, shuffling and fidgeting and not meeting his eye. The breakfast maid, unable to think of a better way to break the news eventually blurted out “We’ll give you three guesses”.
The other two looked at her with irritation before the first figure said gravely, “I’m sorry, my Lord, all was lost”. Then all three clasped their hands together and bowed their heads.
“Oh,” said Richard, feeling as if he had been punched. “And Henry?”
“He became King Henry the Seventh,” said the page, “and started the House of Tudor, my Lord.”
If Richard felt like he had been punched before, this felt as though someone had just kicked him in the crown jewels. “Damn and blast!” he shouted, “Not just a Lancastrian King but a Welsh one too!” He paced angrily around the chamber, fuming. “Well,” he added, “I hope he gets his come-uppance!”
“His unfortunate family,” began the advisor from York, “was full of sorry tales of woe. Tales which have been taught to schoolchildren for hundreds of years”.
“Good!” said the King, stopping his angry stomping with a smirk. Then he frowned. Something was still not at all right. His memory abruptly stopped thinking about battles and picked over what he had been told since he woke up. He felt a bit faint and swallowed dryly. “Erm… You said ‘hundreds of years’?”
“Yes, Sire” replied the advisor.
Richard looked down at his gloved hand. He could clearly see the tiles on the floor through what should have been an inch or so of fine leather, skin, flesh and bone. Oh dear, he thought.
“How long…” he began, before swallowing again and taking a deep breath, “how long have I been asleep? I mean…”
“Dead, Sire?” said the advisor, “Five hundred and thirty years.”
Richard rocked backwards very slightly. Good grief, he thought, that’s a very long time. “And the Tudors have gone?”
“Yes, after them the Crown went to James,” said the page. “A Scot”.
“Ye gods!” exclaimed the King, “first a Welshman and now a Scot! You’ll be telling me next that all of Europe are taking turns with my kingdom!”
“Well,” continued the page with just a smidge too much informality, “there’s been a Dutchman and a few Germans, as well as a stint when they got rid of kings altogether.” He caught the eye of the fuming royal and lowered his head, “Shocking business, Sire. It ain’t been the same since you’ve been gone.”
“So tell me”, said Richard icily, “who is King of England now?”
“Elizabeth, Sire,” said the maid.
Richard blinked. “That’s a funny name for a King.”
The advisor coughed politely, “Elizabeth the Second is Queen, my Lord.”
Richard blinked again. “A QUEEN?!?! Whoever heard of such nonsense? And the second one, eh? Who was the first?”
“Elizabeth the First was Henry Tudor’s grand-daughter,” explained the advisor.
“I might have known!” said Richard, flinging his arms in the air. “Those Tudors can’t even make a decent male heir to the throne!” He walked around the chamber shaking his head and tutting. A thought struck him and stopped. “But what of my place in history?” He turned to his spirit servants and raised an eyebrow. “Do the people know about their dear old King Richard?”
“Which one?” said the page, “They’re quite keen on the Lionheart.”
“Me, you fool!” shouted the irate monarch, “Richard the Third! Come on, tell me, how do people remember me?”
“Well,” began the maid, “there was this amazing playwright called William Shakespeare…” Before she could continue the advisor from York had pulled her and the page over to the far corner away from the King.
“You can’t tell him about the Shakespeare play!” he whispered angrily, “He’ll get upset!”
The maid glared at him, “He’ll find out about it eventually though.”
“Well, let’s leave that for later, not now,” said the advisor, “I think he’s a little delicate at the moment.”
“Yes,” agreed the page, “finding out that people think you’re an evil hunch-backed murderer does tend to spoil your day.”
“What was that?” said Richard from behind them.
“Nothing!” said the startled spooks, guiltily.
“Hmmm,” said the King, gazing at each in turn. “So you were telling me how the people remember me.”
“Well, Sire,” said the advisor, “you are definitely one of the more well-known kings.”
“Especially now”, agreed the maid.
“Especially now,” repeated Richard. “Yes, now about that… I am some kind of… ghost… am I not?”
“Yes, Sire,” agreed the advisor, “well done, Sire.”
“But why now? Why has it taken over five hundred years….”
“To get your spirit up, Sire?” asked the page.
“Yes. I’m not sure how all this works, but it does seem a very long time.”
The advisor from York stepped forward once more. “There have been some, ah, ‘developments’ with your burial place. Your original tomb was in Greyfriars in Leicester…”
“But,” the page chipped in, “Henry Tudor’s son got into a bit of an argument with the Pope and the friary was demolished…”
Richard shook his head in disbelief, “Those cursed Tudors again!”
“….and your tomb was lost for hundreds of years,” finished the page.
“Until you were found under a car park,” said the maid.
“Under a what?” asked the King, puzzled.
“A car park.”
“Is that good?”
“Well,” continued the maid, “finding a space in a car park is often challenging, finding a King is amazing!”
“So,” said the page, “you were dug up and examined.”
“Examined?!?” Richard suddenly felt uncomfortably exposed and brought his arms in to cover his body.
“Yes, to make sure you were you, Sire,” said the page with a grin.
“And you are,” said the advisor reassuringly, “congratulations, Sire!”
Richard, still with his arms across his torso, tried to make sense of it all. “Well, that explains why I feel so… ‘bony’.” He looked around the chamber, noticing for the first time that it wasn’t entirely enclosed. Detail beyond a few yards was lost in a kind of dark fog, but he got the impression that they were in a large building. “So, where am I now?”
The advisor waved his hand and the fog began to clear, “You’ve been entombed in Leicester Cathedral…”
“With a big fancy ceremony!” said the maid.
“…and everyone came to pay their respects,” continued the advisor.
“Even Sherlock Holmes,” said the page, “it was a lovely service.”
Richard, watching as more and more of the ancient cathedral seemed to congeal into view, noticed a group of strangely dressed people approaching. The one in front pointed directly at the dead monarch.
“And here we have the tomb of King Richard,” said the guide, passing right through the King and gesturing at the big ivory-coloured bench on which Richard had been lying. Richard now realised that it wasn’t a bench at all, but his tombstone. It was long and low and cut with a deep cross from edge to edge. He nodded his head in approval at the size and majesty of the stone, although it seemed a little spartan. In his day a proper tombstone had a full-size statue of the deceased carved on top.
“Wow,” said one of the group, “Is he inside that?”
“No,” replied the guide, “He is buried under it.”
The thought of his actual body trapped under such a weighty stone made Richard feel distinctly uneasy.
Another of the group piped up: “That’s a big chunk of stone. Is it to make sure they don’t lose him again?”
Richard stepped over to his attendants. “Who the blazes are they?”
“Tourists,” said the advisor, “come to see your tomb.”
“You mean pilgrims, come to pay their respects to their dear old king?”
“Well…” began the maid.
“Sort of…” said the page.
One of the group was nudging another. “Go on,” she said, “do the famous line.”
“Oh alright,” replied her friend, before theatrically exclaiming: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
The King turned to the advisor. “Why did she say that?”
“Oh, they’re supposed to be some of your last words, Sire.”
“Are they?” Richard furrowed his brow in concentration. More images of his final battle drifted through his memory. “I really don’t remember saying that. As I recall… it was more like ‘Oww, argghhh!! Gettoff!!’” The King nodded to himself slightly, “But you know, I think I prefer that horse one.”
The tourists were now beginning to drift off, following the guide to another part of the cathedral. A small child was left staring at the tomb with folded arms and dark expression. Her mother called to her to come along at which point the child turned and said grumpily, “But what about the skellington? I want to see the skellington!”
The child stomped back to her mother, obviously unimpressed that the day’s most interesting item was hidden under a mass of stone. As Richard watched her go, wondering whether the girl would be quite so forthright and stroppy after a few nights in the Tower, his attendants came before him and bowed.
“And now, Sire,” said the advisor from York, “we will leave you to your slumbers.”
“My slumbers?” said the King, confused, “Not likely! I’ve been dead to the world for five hundred and thirty years!” He saw sunlight twinkling through the stained glass windows and more unusually attired people walking down the aisle. His mind was made up. “I’m off sight-seeing!”
“But Sire…” said the advisor anxiously, pointing to the tomb, “your final resting place!”
“Yes, yes, good to know the old bones are finally being well looked after,” said the King rubbing his hands together, “but I need a ride, some phantom nag to carry me.” A thought struck him. “Let’s see: A horse, a horse, my… erm…” he patted at his ghostly garments and extracted a fine handkerchief. “My hankie for a horse!”
From the dim recesses of the Cathedral and the darkened edges of reality came the sound of a ghostly neigh and ironclad hooves. King Richard III smiled. “Splendid!” he said as he strode off to mount his spectral beast and explore this new world.
His attendants stood, unseen, uncertain and unwanted.
“We waited five hundred and thirty years for that,” said the advisor from York. “What do we do now?”
The page turned to the maid. “It’s a lovely summer’s day,” he said, holding out his arm, “fancy an ice cream?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” she replied, taking his arm.
“But what about the King?” hissed the advisor.
“He can get his own,” said the page.