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King Richard iii and the boy from Bermondsey

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

I grew up in a, well I want to say normal household, but I am not so sure it was. The street in

which I lived was normal I suppose. We lived in a flat on a council estate near Dagenham in Essex. I wasn't born there. I am a South London boy, from Bermondsey. My parents moved to Dagenham when I was about six years old. My friends in the street where we lived were from working class multi racial families, some had dads, some had dads in prison and others had no dads. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a dad living at home. Their dads when not in prison worked mostly at the Ford motor plant. My dad worked on the buses. Their homes had colour TV's and their dads had cars. We had a black and white tv and no car. What I had that they didn't was, Bob and Joce Jamieson.

My parents I would describe as interesting. I didn't think so at the time, at the time I wanted to be like the other kids in my road. I liked going to their houses and the other kids liked coming around to our house. A lot. To them it was different I suppose. No Blue Lady or Elvis prints on the wall. On our walls we had portraits of medieval kings. We had books, a lot of books and if that wasn't enough we went to the public library once a week. I would sit and draw and copy from reference books whilst my parents looked for their weekly reads. I have many fond memories of the sun streaming through the windows in that quiet place where my imagination ran riot. I could be a sea captain, a knight or be Robin Hood whenever I wanted. The music played in our house impacted me too, how could it not. Ranging from the medieval music of David Munrow and The Early Music Consort to Russian Orthodox chanting by way of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, well you get the idea. So as a child I had a slightly different perspective on the world. No wonder when later, a music teacher played a piece of medieval music in class and smugly asked if anyone knew what it was, he nearly feinted when the quiet lad in the corner raised his hand and said Battle Pavane Galliard Sir! My dad loved to draw, he had once had the opportunity to train under a Royal Academician, he had just fallen in love with my mum and so his talent was never realised but my mum was and still is very creative and between them they shared their abilities with me. My dad also taught some of the kids in my street to draw, we all sat in our sitting room drawing, chatting and laughing. Dad actually later went on to become a teacher of history. Through him I developed a love of the Middle Ages. This small world then was a rich source of mental and creative nourishment.

What has all this to do with King Richard III? On my parents bookshelf was a book written by Paul Murray Kendall simply called Richard III I thought it was the hundred and eleventh but my dad clipped me round the ear and said don't be silly. I started to read this book and it drew me into a time and a place that just reached into my my soul. I could not put it down. I was fourteen and I disappeared into that most bloody period of English history known as the Wars of the Roses. Not only that but there was a cracking murder mystery too. The fate of the Princes in the Tower of London, added to which the death in battle of a valiant and brave King. The last English King to die in battle. My interest, obsession would be a better description, was established. I began to draw Richard in battle, as a king and I drew his white boar and white rose emblems and later when I joined the Richard III Society, aged 15 my mum and I would go to the AGM of the Society in London. I took flat stones I had painted with the shields of Richard and his knights of the Household and I sold them, for money. My first heraldic commercial enterprise. I felt on top of the moon.

In 1980 I started formal training on a specialist art course, the only one of it's kind in the world that taught heraldic

painting, calligraphy and traditional manuscript illumination. My tutor was at a loss on why I wanted to produce Richard III themed pieces all the time. The centre piece of my Diploma show in 1983 was a medieval tapestry style painting of the Battle of Bosworth, of course it was! By this time I had also become the unofficial artist to the Richard III Society and produced a menu design for the 1983 quincentenary dinner at the Guild Hall London and put on a small exhibition of the Ricardian art I had been painting at College. I met HRH the Duke of Gloucester, an incredibly nice man. Moving forward to 1984 I was working for the College of Arms in London, for non other than the York Herald of Arms whose badge of office was the white rose en soleil, one of the badges used by King Richard. This venerable institution was founded by King Richard III in 1484 and I rather cheekily suggested in a conversation with the then Garter King of Arms that the post of Blanc Sanglier Pursuivant be created in recognition of the fact. The conversation was politely changed. I at least tried. I must say that the Herald who introduced me to the College of Arms bore as Lancaster Herald of Arms the red rose. So even in the early 1980's the red and white roses were impacting my life. In 1985 I was excited to be commissioned to design the center of a commemorative plate celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth and by now my College center piece had been made into a thousand prints and were selling like hot cakes at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre.

Today so many years later I still paint Ricardian themed art. The passion has never dwindled. In my plan chest draw as I write this, is an illuminated manuscript awaiting completion depicting Richard. I am currently designing a 15th century style tapestry depicting the king and I have just produced several designs for fabrics that show his various personal devices. Why? a good question, why indeed. I believe the colour and imagery of heraldry are a powerful force. We only have to look at the Tudors and how they covered everything in green and white livery, greyhounds, red dragons and roses. They understood the power of heraldic devices. Richard III whom I think innocent of the charge of murder has been much maligned and his visual image in history reduced to a few portraits of a hunchback and a depiction in an obscure roll written by a Warwickshire priest and clerk. I like to think that my paintings and designs showing Richard III will survive in time and maybe in some small way help redress the balance and let others see him the way I do. A strong valiant king riding beneath his livery banners of murrey and blue emblazoned with bright suns and white roses, living up to his motto, 'Loyaultie me lie' (Loyalty binds me)all the while his mischievous white boars proudly supporting his coat of arms as the rightful King of England.

I have a dedicated page here on my website to King Richard which will show many of the works I have written about in this blog. So stay tuned. I have however taken the liberty to display the painting commissioned by the Richard III Society in 2012 and the Battle of Bosworth I painted all those years ago in 1983. All this art because of a young boy finding a book on his parents bookshelf in a small flat on a council estate in Dagenham. It is a strange and fascinating world.

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