As the first track, “Shakespeare’s Richard,” starts, the music takes us to another time. Then after a few seconds, a more modern and progressive rock sound takes over. The lyrics address William Shakespeare directly: “Master William, you have shown/A tyrant of the English throne/A hunchback with a withered arm/His reputation has been harmed.” The song mixes the old with the new as far as the sound and vibe. “Master Shakespeare for your queen/With sonnet and drama you did dream/Morton's tale you had read/By Thomas More you were misled.” It has often been said that history is told by the victors, and it is believed that the Tudors adjusted the history of Richard The Third. Sir Thomas More wrote The History Of King Richard The Third around 1513. And of course Shakespeare had to appease the queen, she herself a Tudor.
Then we get the first bit of narration by Sandra Heath Wilson. Interestingly, the disc’s narration is from the perspective of Richard III’s mother. Earlier this year at Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, I saw a production of Queen Margaret’s Version Of Shakespeare’s War Of The Roses, which basically combined all three parts of King Henry The Sixth and Richard The Third, focusing on Margaret and the other female characters, telling the story from Margaret’s perspective. So this, in a way, is the other side of that, the same tale (or part of the same tale) told by the mother on the other side. That’s followed by “The Ragged Staff,” an instrumental track. Again, I love the way it combines the modern and the medieval in a way that gives us easy access to the world of the tale being told on this album, almost inviting us to dance our way in. Plus, it has a cool sound, featuring some really nice work on guitar. That is followed by some narration about Richard in battle. It functions as an introduction to the following track, as the narration will do throughout the rest of the album. “He fought valiantly for York, for his brother King Edward IV, and alongside his other remaining brother, George, Duke of Clarence.” There is a light vibe to “Tewkesbury Tale,” which tells the story of battle. “‘Twas after Barnet’s morning mist/King Edward’s army he did dismiss/Then came the news of a queen from France/For the fate of her son she would take a chance.” The queen mentioned here is Margaret.
“No king could have had a more faithful and reliable brother than Richard,” our narrator tells us. Because the narration is delivered by Richard III’s mother, we have to take what she says with a bit of skepticism, don’t we? After all, as a narrator, she can’t claim to be impartial, even as she tries to set the record straight, even as she speaks against one of her other sons. “The Gold It Feels So Cold” begins with a drum beat, and has the strong sense of moving forward without hesitation or fear. But there is also a pretty aspect to the music. This one is told from Richard’s perspective: “My brothers took their share of wealth/And I took mine for sure/A heavy heart I still have/When that day I recall/No honor in the treaty/No honor in the gold.” The next bit of narration is about Edward wanting to bring home the bodies of his father and Edmund, who had both died at the Battle of Wakefield. And here she also speaks of Richard’s birth: “So frail a baby he had been/I feared I would lose him/But he fought, oh, how he fought.” A wind and a bell, along with a warlike beat of the drum, begin “To Fotheringhay.” “My dear trusted Richard, I charge you this day/Bring our father and brother to Fotheringhay/To the church near our castle of Fotheringhay/The church near our castle at Fotheringhay.” It is not a dirge, however. There is still determination in its sound, in its drive. The track ends at it began, with the wind and the church bell.
In the next section of narration, we are told this of Richard: “It pleased him to be away from court, from the plotting, subterfuge and sordid cunning he hated so much/He did not want to be embroiled in such dishonorable matters, but embroiled he soon would be.” Ah, but here we can’t help but wonder if a mother’s love for her child clouds her vision of him. Can we so completely dismiss everything we’ve heard and learned about Richard? That narration leads to “Confort Et Liesse,” a pleasant and rather cheerful instrumental track. There is no hint of war or trouble here. Rather, it feels like a dance across the countryside. The narration then tells us about how Edward named Richard as Lord Protector to watch over Edward V, and how the queen (Elizabeth Woodville) plotted against Richard. That leads to “By Hearsay.” Here Ian Churchward sings, “King Edward her husband was buried and gone/In mourning and sorrow she did not linger long.” On this track, he is joined by the duo Gentian on backing vocals.
Regarding Richard’s coronation and tour through the realm, our narrator has this to say: “How dazzling his banners and standards/How gracious his smiles as the people lined the way to cheer him/They knew he saved them from more years of war and strife during a minority rule/And they did not believe he had harmed his nephews or done away with them.” This, of course, does make some sense. Henry The Sixth had been a young child when he gained the throne, and that certainly was the cause of some of the troubles. The people of England likely didn’t want another child on the throne. And listen to the sting in her voice as she says, “his foul toad of a cousin, Buckingham.” That leads into “Royal Progress,” which also begins with church bells. There is certainly some joy in the sound of this track, as the king’s royal tour is described. “Long live our good King Richard, they shouted to the sky.” I love that work on keys. Yet there does seem to be a hint of something darker, a warning in the guitar work, and before the end of the track we are told, “Of Buckingham’s betrayal he would soon be told/The schemes of Bishop Morton would very soon unfold.”
“There was such celebration and joy at Richard’s court,” his mother tells us in the next narration. “He would have been a great king, but there were those who hated him.” It is clear that our narrator has a lot at stake in this telling, which again makes for an intriguing tale, but also makes us question some of the things she tells us. What an interesting effect. The music of the next track, “The Court Of King Richard III,” takes us inside the court, and there is the joy that our narrator has described. I love the female vocals delivering the lines, “In the court of King Richard the Third/The loveliest music I’ve ever heard,” for her voice adds to the loveliness of the music we are hearing. This again helps us feel like we are there. Before the end of the song, treason is mentioned. And so there is a darker tone to the music behind the next bit of narration as we are told, “Death took his wife and son and left him surrounded by baseness and treason.” Here she tells us straight out what the purpose of her narration is: “As the almighty is my witness, I will protect his name/With this, my testimony, I point my accusing finger at all who were soon to set themselves against him on the battlefield.” So, again, no impartial witness, she. There is a sadder, haunting tone to “Fortune’s Wheel.” “The Goddess Fortuna spins the wheel/And our bad luck she may seal.”
About the Battle at Bosworth, our narrator tells us: “And how proudly he defended his crown, his realm and his life.” Interestingly, when she speaks of Richard’s death, she has to stop, a wonderful touch. That leads to “White Surrey,” a song that is partially about his horse. The line “My horse, my horse my White Surrey” calls to mind the famous line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Here that line paints a different image, creates a different tone from the play’s line. At one point toward the end of the track we hear the galloping of the horses. Now the narration becomes even more personal, as she tells us about wishing her son were still alive to embrace her, rather than relating his deeds. “The Boar Lay Slain” then describes the aftermath of his death. “The boar lay slain on Bosworth Field/Too brave to flee, too proud to kneel/And then a dragon claimed the land/With poisoned tongue and crooked hand.” The use of the word “crooked” here is interesting, because of course it is a word long associated with Richard himself (and with another Richard from our own time), though more precisely “crookback.”
In the next section of narration, she talks about her hatred for Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. It is interesting how the narration becomes more and more blatantly biased as the CD progresses. And maybe that’s the point. We shouldn’t believe either account fully. It is also interesting that the mother of one king reserves her strongest hatred for the mother of the next king. Then “The Rose Of Tudor” begins with a powerful instrumental section. This song is about Margaret Beaufort. “Secret ambition and deep desire/So strong her feelings, a holy fire/The rose of Tudor risen from the earth/For the hope of her son at his birth/Margaret Beaufort, she did foresee/For her son Henry on bended knee/For her red rose she did claim/To bring glory to Tudor's name.” “How my sleep is haunted by what might have been,” the narrator says, lamenting not only her son’s death, but the England that would have existed under his rule. That leads to “Yorkist Archer,” a piece that is beautiful and gentle, especially at it begins. This one has a different sort of perspective, told by a man who is an archer and who, though alive after these events, still calls himself a Yorkist at heart. “My father, he too was an archer/In the army of Richard the Third/But died at the Battle of Bosworth.”
The narration now turns to beliefs about Richard after the events of his reign. “At least Bess, the new queen of England, will not speak out against her lost uncle, much as Tudor wishes it/Richard did not harm his nephews when they were sent into the palace in the tower/Nor did he poison his wife in the hope of marrying Bess, toward whom he was never other than a fond uncle.” This narration addresses the image that people still have about Richard, his hunched back and withered arm. “He had true beauty both within and without,” she tells us. Though we have learned from the discovery of Richard’s skeleton that the “crookback” description was not unfounded. That leads to “The Road To Middleham,” an uplifting and joyous instrumental piece. It is the final track listed on the CD case, though there are two more tracks. The first of these is actually a continuation of the previous track, and perhaps wasn’t meant to be a separate track at all, as one goes straight into the other. In the digital version, it is presented as one track. And the final track is also an instrumental piece, though with a different tone as it begins, a more serious tone. It then begins to take on the joy and vibe of the previous track. This final track, as far as I can tell, is not included on the digital version.
CD Track List
- Shakespeare’s Richard
- Intro Narrative (My Name Is Cecylle)
- The Ragged Staff
- Tewkesbury Narrative (It Was At Tewkesbury)
- Tewkesbury Tale
- The Gold Narrative (No King)
- The Gold It Feels So Cold
- To Fotheringhay Narrative (In 1476)
- To Fotheringhay
- Confort Narrative (But Richard Was Lord Of The North)
- Confort Et Liesse
- By Hearsay Narrative (On His Deathbed)
- By Hearsay
- Royal Progress Narrative (After His Coronation)
- Royal Progress
- The Court Of King Richard Narrative (There Was Such Celebration)
- The Court Of King Richard III
- Fortune’s Wheel Narrative (The Wheel Of Fortune)
- Fortune’s Wheel
- White Surrey Narrative (Richard Faced His Foreign Foes)
- White Surrey
- Tant Le Desiree Narrative (I Have Longed So Much)
- The Boar Lay Slain
- Rose Of Tudor Narrative (The Woman I Most Despise)
- The Rose Of Tudor
- Yorkist Archer Narrative (How My Sleep Is Haunted)
- Yorkist Archer
- Outro Narrative (Tudor That Vile Faintheart)
- The Road To Middleham
This special re-issue of Tant Le Desiree was released on November 1, 2023.