Faces are neither here nor there, for as the author I am about to review aptly stated, this man was capable of murder, whether or not he did it. You and I, as well as all mankind, are capable of murder.
We are looking at Richard III, of course, the last Plantagenet to reign on the throne of England. Interestingly enough, not long after I re-discovered him, I heard the joyous news that his skeleton has been found 500 years after his death, under a car park in England.
However much I laugh at the car-park, it's difficult to laugh at Richard III once you know him. The legend of "The Princes in the Tower" has long baffled scholars and historians trying to untangle the dusty deeds of history. Did he or did he not murder his little nephews in an effort to cement his claim to the throne of England? Shakespeare immortalized him as a curmudgeonly villain, murdering this person and that person in his frenzy for power. But I would hope Shakespeare isn't looked upon as an authoritative source of fact. And what about Thomas More's Life of Richard III? Well, he wrote it during the reign of Henry VII, and Henry VII was the one who killed Richard and ignominiously disgraced his body.
One doubts whether a fiction book would be a reliable source for such a debate, but after Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, I'm inclined to think that she holds a sound theory. And it's not a wild first blush of enthusiasm. I see good evidence to back her theory up.
The Princes in the Tower
Upon the death of Edward IV, the coronation of his son proceeded in good order. Edward's younger brother, Richard, took the position he had been given as Lord Protector, and planned out everything for the young king. Not long before his coronation was to have taken place, a man named Stillington came before Parliament with a shocking testimony: Edward IV had secretly married another woman before he married the boy's mother. Therefore, Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester were illegitimate, and Richard III had the rightful claim to the kingship.
After his coronation, the two little boys continued to live in the tower, apparently pursuing their studies. Playing in the grounds, looking out of windows, nothing out of the ordinary. Then, legend has it that they appeared less and less, until sometime during the summer of 1483, when they were never seen again.
Did Richard murder them, to cement his claim to the throne? Or did something even more sinister occur?
In 1684, nearly two hundred years later, two little skeletons were discovered under a staircase in the Tower, leading to the chapel. Upon scientific evaluation, they were determined to be between seven and thirteen years of age.
Who they are, and what happened to the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to this day.
The Daughter of Time
Enter Alan Grant, inspector at Scotland Yard, who is trapped in a hospital room with a broken leg, steadily ignoring a stack of wishy-washy novels kindly loaned him by his friends.
He's read the the like before. They're insipid, and insupportable.
To fall through a trap-door was the ultimate in absurdity; pantomimic, bathetic, grotesque. At the moment of his disappearance from the normal level of perambulation he had been in hot pursuit of Benny Skoll, and the fact that Benny had careened round the next corner slap into the arms of Sergeant Williams provided the one small crumb of comfort in an intolerable situation. Benny was now "away" for three years, which was very satisfactory for the lieges, but Benny would get time off for good behavior. In hospitals there was no time off for good behavior.Fortunately a helpful friend drops by and understands exactly what he needs: a mystery to solve. Grant has a penchant for picking out a criminal simply by his face, and so his friend gives him a stack of portraits from a picture gallery, containing the faces of famous people in history who have dark threads of intrigue clinging to them. Grant immediately focuses on the picture of a kind, though somewhat sad-faced man, and immediately loses his reputation for being a good judge of character. He assigns him as a good man, until he flips the portrait over, and finds that out who he is. After all, there's nothing more heinous that murdering two little boys.
With the help of a lanky young American and a beautiful actress, Grant sets out to prove that Richard III couldn't have murdered the Princes in the Tower. After all, a man with a face like that could never be the cold-blooded villain Shakespeare made so famous. At first it's just an amusing hunch; but it quickly turns up evidence much more substantial.
I give you fair warning: you'll never be able to put it down.
Much as I enjoyed it, I probably won't read it again until I can buy my own copy and white it out. Fortunately Grant only swears at the ceiling once before he's rescued from his boredom, but it's the funniest pattern I've ever seen. The book will go for pages and pages with never a swear word spoken, and then there will be three or four instances all on one page.
I will warn my readers that Tey doesn't take a very favorable view of the Scottish Covenanters. You'll have to bite your tongue a good deal, as Alan Grant considers their religious zeal one of the biggest frauds in history. Tey is right--plenty of Covenanters did gather around murderers, and our side committed plenty of acts to be ashamed of. But I don't go as far as Alan Grant does and say that all the religious martyrdoms were a fraud. Just a hint of prejudice on his part, I fancy. I certainly don't have any. ;)
Perhaps it was a stroking of my ego that kept me going, after all. Reading the back was intriguing enough, but a British author who complements Americans on the third page of her work, and makes an American an integral part in working out the solution, will soften the hardest of Yankees. After Verne and Dickens, it was oil on a wound.
Not everyone agrees with Tey's theories about the murderer of the little princes. And now, if you don't want anything spoiled *don't look* Tey says that the boys were very likely alive during the reign of Richard III, and on through his death. Many scholars disagree with this, because rumors of their disappearance appeared in the writings of Dominic Mancini, a man who visited England during Richard's reign. Mancini's book was discovered after Tey's death. Tey doesn't deny rumors might have surfaced before his death, but she says they were perpetrated by Richard's enemies, in preparations for Henry VII's invasion. I did a little digging, and found that Dominic Mancini couldn't even speak English, and relied largely on an interpreter. It is not known for sure who his interpreter was, but one possible candidate is John Argentine, a doctor who was the last attendant of the princes in the Tower, and fled after Richard's coronation. The question is, did Argentine plant this rumor in Mancini's work out of spite, and because he was Richard's enemy? Why did he flee England? Or was he an honest physician, and were the princes truly in fear of their lives? Upon first glance, I don't see that Dominic Mancini's book would seriously, if at all, undermine Tey's theory. *end of spoilers*
We may be seeing further research into the princes in the coming years. Thought the Queen has not allowed the skeleton's under the stairs to be given an extensive examination, perhaps with the discovery of Richard III's skeleton she may sanction further DNA testing to try to identify them. I certainly hope so.
I am indebted to the person who mentioned this book to me in passing. Pride and Prejudice has taken me a horrific 43 days, and I've only gotten Lizzy as far as her visit to Mrs. Collins. The other book I'm working through is sitting quietly at 35 pages, and has sat there for over a month now. But after I picked up The Daughter of Time, I sat in frozen state for an entire evening, so wrapped up in the story that I couldn't take myself away from it. I haven't been absorbed like that since Dickens' Bleak House, and Inspector Bucket's midnight chase through London streets. The Daughter of Time gave me the momentum, not only to finish something, but also to dive into Kevin DeYoung's A Hole in Our Holiness, which I mightily look forward to reviewing. And I think it will give me the speed to conquer Mr. Darcy yet.
Not only that, but this is the first book that has actually catapulted me to my computer upon finishing it to find out everything I could about Richard III. For a good solid block of time I checked fact after fact; and the debate was so absorbing, I lay awake long after the rest of my respective clan had gone to a well-deserved rest, thinking about it.
I think it shall haunt me for a very long time. Did he murder the princes in the tower? Or did someone else do away with them?
I'm inclined to think he didn't. No absolute proof, of course, but Tey's book is not a theory to be despised. And it's one I look forward to re-visiting.