I am Anne Ayres and I’m a Ricardian!” With those words I opened a recent meeting in Huthwaite of the Notts & Derby Richard III Society.
An unprecedented 90 people were in the audience, eager to hear in person from Philippa Langley, the woman whose drive, persistence and yes - intuition - famously led to the discovery of “The King in the Car Park.”
Richard III has been described as a murdering uncle or a loyal brother, a man of integrity or a tyrannical despot. Was he Shakespeare’s “bottled spider” or an enlightened monarch who enacted laws against corruption in high places?
I couldn’t exactly answer that one, but most Ricardians have a deep-seated sense of the injustice done to a young man of 32, whose once stable world spiralled into turmoil on the sudden death of his much loved elder brother, Edward IV, leaving the kingdom to a child and the Protectorship to Richard.
The information that his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville (TV’s The White Queen) was bigamous, led to Richard taking the throne himself.
But Henry Tudor invaded in 1485 and Richard’s death at Bosworth marked a turning point in history, the beginning of a campaign to put an end to all rival claims to the throne and destroy Richard’s reputation.
“The Winners Write the History” - and Tudor historians certainly did that, culminating in Shakespeare’s monstrous, strangely attractive, over-the-top villain.
Yet Richard was the first king to take the Coronation Oath in English; to ensure that taxes could only be raised through Parliament, wrote laws in English and was greeted with delighted crowds throughout the realm.
Despite this, he has been a by-word for villainy down the ages.
I was aware of Richard from age 16, when I saw a portrait of him. I read Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time” where a modern-day detective researches the Tudor propaganda and finds the case “unproven”.
I knew there was a Society in his name, but never did anything about it.
On to 1985, 500 years since Bosworth and now married with three boys, a display at the library made me conscious of a local branch of the Society, so I finally decided to join.
I’d wondered if the other members would be a bunch of strange obsessives - and they were, and we are! And the best friends anyone could ever have!
Pam Stokes had set up a local Group in her lounge after asking about her nearest branch and being told “Actually there isn’t one - but you could start one!” And she did!
Six people turned up and from those small beginnings in Sutton, our group has grown and developed, meeting once a month for discussions and visits, both nationally and locally.
When Pam later stepped down as Secretary and asked if anyone would be willing to do the job, I heard myself saying into the silence “Well I suppose I might have a go.” And I’ve done it ever since.
So I’m either so despotic that no-one dares to oppose me or perhaps nobody else wants it!
Then in September 2012, we had news of remains that could possibly be those of the king we’d supported all these years.
To solve the mystery of his burial place and found him in our lifetime was miraculous.
Joy unconfined, tempered with a sorrow at his brutal death and the despicable treatment of his naked body by those who would have quailed to face him in full armour, the last Warrior King of England to die in battle.
And now we await the dry outcome of a Judicial Review, to decide the fate of his remains which are currently under lock and key in Leicester University - not really a place of peace and reverence - until the re-interment that will finally honour the last Plantagenet king, Richard III.