Last night, I dreamed of Richard II.
Not that I ever met him, of course. He died — was murdered — in conditions not fit for a serf, let alone a king, fifty years before I was born. At least — unlike his great-grandfather Edward II — he wasn’t killed by the thrust of a white-hot poker up his anus. More likely, Richard died of starvation which, for a man of his exquisite sensuality, may have been almost as appalling. But, though I never knew him, like other noblemen I have seen the great diptych altarpiece painted for Richard; the only great work of painting that England has to compare with the masterpieces of Netherlandish art in its great cities of Brussels and Bruges. Cities I have come to know all too well in my grey hairs.
In the picture, he kneels, clothed in majesty, with his favourite virginal male saints giving benediction; but in my dream, he sat enthroned in his great Chair of Estate, and there, with his sweet beardless childlike face and his golden locks, his head, his whole being, was numinous with a shimmering nimbus. His face glowered and his eyes shot sparks of righteous anger.
“Those who have dethroned and done to death their lawful king have transgressed grievously.”
His voice was, actually, surprisingly strong and clear, if a bit reedy. Of course, he must have been speaking in French. All people of quality did in those days.
“At last, the true Plantagenet, like the root of Jesse, arose to restore the line of the Lord’s anointed, but — like verminous curs — his issue fought and devoured their own. And with only York’s granddaughters left, who then shall reign in England?”
With this, his voice had risen to a piercing scream. “A bastard, by our Lady, Welshman.” His strength subsided. “God forgive you, England, for I never shall.”
He turned, suddenly gay, to his child bride. “Will my lady take wine with me?” Then turning back to face me, trembling before his bright blue eyes, he said, “And as for you, De-la-Pole, one of your great-grandfathers was my chancellor — a bright boy, though the son of merchants — and the other was my bard. And what are you?” His face was now terrifyingly close to mine. “An exile, an outcast, little better than a churl!”
Then suddenly, confusingly, his face was that of the other Richard, the one I did know only too well. He of the hog, shorter, his body twisted, bending forwards, not as handsome as his elder brother, with his sonorous, pedantic voice saying, “Your pretty nephews will succeed me, De-la-Pole, God having seen fit to take my beloved only son; protect them…” His sensitive face contorted. “Make them kings, or that fucking Tydr takes everything!”
Then he was transfigured into a screeching winged demon — which perhaps he was — and dissolved in air. I woke up dretched, sweating and screaming. Thank the Lord, Rabbi Abraham, my beloved friend, was there to comfort me. For no one else would.
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