Richard III – Dastardly murderer or totally misunderstood?

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

 Most people if asked, including me, would think of Richard III as the hunchback who murdered the princes in the tower. Our information generally comes from Sir Thomas More’s hatchet-job of him by way of Shakespeare and Laurence Olivier or Anthony Sher with a crutch capering around the stage. Josephine Tey does her best to rehabilitate him in her novel published back in 1951. Such is The Daughter of Time’s influence, that although it is fiction, it has almost become an established text.

Tey combines history with the modern detective novel in a clever plot device in which her bored policeman is laid up in hospital and decides to investigate a crime from the past. Colin Dexter was later to use this for Inspector Morse in The Wench is Dead.

Inspector Grant is an expert on reading faces; when his actress friend Marta brings him some portraits to look at, he is intrigued by the one of Richard III and decides to investigate the deeply troubled soul he sees. Looking at the portrait in question (in the National Portrait Gallery, London), he does look worried doesn’t he? Fiddling with his ring is a giveaway surely?

With the help of a young American acquaintance of Marta’s, Brent Carradine, Grant sets out to find out about the last Plantagenet and Yorkist king. They soon discover that the main texts, particularly that of the ‘sainted Thomas More’ were written much later during the reign of Henry VII from the Lancastrian line who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field. They start looking for contemporary accounts, and soon discover that Richard had no motive to dispose of the princes, that his reign was actually fairly enlightened. They conclude that he shouldn’t have been as maligned as he was. By this time Grant is recovered enough to go home, and Brent has an idea for a book. Finis!

I must admit that my knowledge of the Wars of the Roses comes almost entirely from Shakespeare, so that although this is a very gentle novel, it is almost shocking to discover that Richard might be innocent of his nephews’ murders! Tey presents a sympathetic portrait that is at odds with many other viewpoints, notably Alison Weir in her 1995 book, (which I’ve not read). Another more balanced book, Audrey Williamson’s The Mystery of the Princes suggests that there is no evidence against Richard, or Henry for that matter.

Whatever you think about Richard, this was a very enjoyable novel indeed; I’d recommend it to teenagers who like history too. Grant was a likeable and solid detective and I would enjoy reading him on his feet in one of his other outings. Also, now I’ve read a novel by Josephine Tey and read a little about her background, I can read Nicola Upson’s two novels which feature Tey as a slightly Marplesque detective – I’m looking forward to them!

0 thoughts on “Richard III – Dastardly murderer or totally misunderstood?

  1. Teresa says:

    I read this last year and enjoyed it very much. What I especially loved was how well it showed how the truth can easily become hidden as history gets written. Whether Tey has it right on Richard III or not, she does give a revealing picture of how we know what we know (or don't know) about the past.

  2. Sarah says:

    I enjoyed Tey's Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair last year, and have this on the shelf to look forward to. Like yourself, my image of Richard III is courtesy of Shakespeare, so it will be interesting to read a challenge to this.

  3. Annabel Gaskell says:

    Teresa – that's a really good insight – couldn't have put it better. The idea of searching out the real contemporary accounts really appealed to me.Sarah, I'll definitely be reading more Tey, I've ordered Brat Farrar already.

  4. Steph says:

    Ha! I actually just tried to read this book recently and I just couldn't do it. I have no background on the War of the Roses and English history, so I was completely lost, being swamped with all those names and people. I just couldn't keep track of what was going on, which severely hampered my reading of this one. I just found it really unenjoyable, a slog if you will, so I had to set it aside.But I really enjoyed your insights. I just discovered your site (thanks to Teresa & Jenny @ Shelf Love), and I'll definitely be back!

  5. Annabel Gaskell says:

    I must admit, the edition I read had family tree as endpapers, and I did need that – so I sympathise hugely.Thanks to Teresa and Jenny, I've just discovered you too, and likewise I'll return soon also!

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