If you have access to a British history school text (which I don’t), would you please look up Richard III and let me know in comments whether it reports him as the murderer of the Princes in The Tower. In The Daughter of Time Josephine Tey – or rather one of the characters – claims that 40 million school books can’t be wrong but then goes on to argue that the traditional view of Richard III as a power-hungry, blood-thirsty hunchback is an utter fiction made credible by Thomas More and given the stamp of authenticity by William Shakespeare. What to believe? Let’s come back to that.
Alan Grant, an inspector from Scotland Yard, is confined to his hospital bed with a broken back. He is firmly of the belief that you can tell a lot about a man from his face. His friend brings him a series of portraits to keep him occupied and he is particularly fascinated by one of Richard III but he can’t reconcile the picture with the man’s reputation. Aided by his nurses, his doctors and finally, an American research student, Grant delves into the historical evidence with increasing sympathy for Richard and less and less for “the sainted More” before finally adjudging him innocence of the heinous murder of his nephews. He decides that Richard’s successor Henry VII is the guilty one.
It’s a fascinating read but I feel that it’s on the back of the Richard III enigma that Tey’s novel was ranked by the Mystery Writers of America as fourth in a poll of the hundred best mystery tales ever written. With Grant in the hospital and all the research happening off page so-to-speak, the telling is somewhat static – actually clumsy and plodding in parts. All telling, no showing. No denying, however, it’s a good mystery.
And Tey makes a persuasive case. BUT and it’s a big one. The story of Richard III is not the only revisionist history in these pages. Tey develops a theme – tonypandy – about historical events that are well-accepted but not reported accurately. Such as the events in 1910 in Tonypandy, South Wales.
‘If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy!
Tey disputes that the troops ever opened fire. Similarly with the Scottish Convenanters, who it is claimed did not die for their faith but for acts of terrorism. Particularly controversial is the claim that the Martyrs of Wigtown did not die at all. Now had Tey not been Scottish I would had dismissed these claims out of hand because there are memorials to the Covenanters all over the place in this area of Scotland, including the 800 years old Covenanter’s Oak, the oldest living organism in North Lanarkshire. Is it truly a case of
the final irony, you know, that a group whose name was anathema to the rest of Scotland in their own time should have been elevated into the position of saints and martyrs.
Now the seeds of doubt are sown, so when I come to the end of Tey’s novel, I want to double-check what contemporary British historians are saying about Richard III. How to reconcile Alan Grant’s final character analysis
Excellent record in public service, and good reputation in private life. Salient characteristic as indicated by his actions: good sense.
with Simon Schama’s in The History of Britain Vol I:
a godly fanatic, devoted to wiping out the unworthy, beginning with Edward IV’s in-laws, and his own inconvenient nephews, so that he might institute the reign of piety and justice in England.
And lest we forget, the US Court of Justice declared Richard III not guilty in a mock trial in 1997. More research is obviously called for, beginning with the website of the Richard III society and Alison Weir’s The Princes in The Tower. In the meantime, however, let’s have a little fun. Please vote in the following poll. I’d love to know the prevailing view of Lizzy’s Literary Life readers.
This post is part of the Classic Circuit Golden Age of Detective Fiction Tour. Full details here.