Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Truth is the Daughter of Time"

Look carefully. Look very carefully at the man's face on the left. Is he the hero, or the villain, do you say? In the delicate lines of the mouth, and the narrow, sensitive features, do you see the face of a noble king? Or do you see the face of a man who locked two young boys in a tower--and murdered them?

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.

My Thoughts

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.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    *puts on a strong British accent* Oh, it sounds very exciting! (Mrs. Mayhew, FotF Father Gilbert Mysteries) ;)
    Oooo... a mystery and a spooky one at that. Did he or didn't he murder the two little princes in the tower? And how were they murdered? Ahhh...You're going to have me thinking on that one for awhile. :D
    Umph...Did he or didn't he? :D
    Excellent post! You make me want to read the book! :) ;)
    Love, Sister

    1. A very spooky mystery. ;) Just about sends chills up your spine, doesn't it?

      I think you'll enjoy the book!

      Love and cuddles,

  2. Oh, Schuyler!

    After being an avid student of the House of Lancaster for a few years now, I made up my mind a few weeks ago to get serious about the Wars of the Roses and the kings that followed. I started by picking up a biography of Richard III that has been sitting idle on our shelf for a long time. (It has been a nagging thought in the back of my mind for a long time that I ought to study him and figure out where I stand in the Great Debate. : ) It is rather awkward to have no stance at all, or worse, a vague opinion based on impression rather than fact.) I have not gotten past Richard's childhood yet, but even that has enough excitement and turmoil to fill a few volumes. It is interesting to notice that while the majority of books and public opinion label him a villain, his staunchest defenders historically seem to have been the folk of the North Country of England, his "home turf", so to speak, as Duke of York. If I had been more diligent in reading I might have had something really interesting to contribute by this time. I'll have to hurry up and finish, and do some further research.
    How intriguing that his remains have been unearthed after being thought lost so long! I'm sure it will rouse public interest once again.
    As for the face...hmm. I have always liked his face better than many of his Plantagenet predecessors. It looks sad (in both the sense of "sorrowful" and "settled") and sensitive and anxious. But a face is only a face, after all.

    Thank you for this engrossing post. : )

    ~The Philologist

    1. Dear Philologist,
      I must admit, you were one of the people I was thinking of when I posted this! What is the title of the book you're reading about Richard III? I would be most interested to read it myself, as I have never been so intrigued with a monarch before. Let's compare notes when you've finished!
      It is interesting that those closest to Richard (i.e. the little boys' mother, his sisters, etc.) don't seem to have accused him of the crime in any way. Indeed, the accusations seem to lie more with his enemies, and the majority of them occur after Henry VII killed him. It's also interesting that there were at least 7 other children who could have claimed the monarchy during Richard's life-time, if his claim to the throne really was so shaky. But he didn't kill them--Henry VII did.

      Food for thought, indeed...


    2. A very late reply...
      The book I am reading is simply entitled "Richard the Third" by Paul Murray Kendall. It is widely considered to be THE biography of Richard (of course there are always dissenters in such a controversial subject). He uses a great deal of source material but is selective in which source material he uses, i.e. avoids the wealth of obviously biased writings from the Tudor era. My life is so busy that my reading is going slowly; but so far I am sympathetic with young Richard. His tumultuous childhood alone could fill a screenplay!
      ~The Philologist

  3. Ohh! I love those kinds of novels, Schuyler! So fascinating. Though to be honest I am clueless about Richard III and the mystery until I read your post (tells you I've not read a great deal of Shakespeare too obviously). Other than the swearing though, is the book clean particularly on the romance issue? :D It sure sounds exciting. I also love novels that make me want to know more and search things about the truth of things, especially about history or philosophy or worldviews :-).

    God bless.

    1. I think you would love this one, Joy! I couldn't have told you much about Richard III before I read this either, nor Edward IV nor Henry VII! But the book makes the facts so memorable that I doubt I shall forget them.

      It is very clean on the romance issue. Aside from the face of the princes' illegitimacy (which is handled very appropriately) the only other romantic thing is Alan Grant's assistant having a girlfriend at the theatre. That's only mentioned in passing, and doesn't really come into the story.

      Let me know if you check it out!


  4. Dear Lady B.,

    Your recent post on another Josephine Tey book reminded me that I ought to come back and comment again here. : )

    First, apologies for a mistaken remark in an above comment: Richard was Duke of Gloucester. His father was Duke of York. Second, this Richard III business is far more complex than it appears on the surface. It is not merely a murder mystery; it is a historical war that has been going on for half a millennium. The face of Richard III, one might say, is the face that launched a thousand pens. During his lifetime there were strongly opposing views of him, like most politicians. Unlike most politicians, public opinion is still split and heated 500 years after his death. Since the day he died his story has been constantly rewritten and reviled and revived and reconstituted and reexamined. The sorry lack of reliable material surrounding his life has created a vacuum of speculation.

    Since the 1400s there have been opposing versions of Richard’s story, and each has its own loyal army of adherents. Feelings on the subject run so deep that falsification, slander, cultural prejudice, uprisings, and even murders have been attributed to the war between them. The curious reader who picks up a book or two on Richard generally becomes swiftly aware of this war, for one may encounter (packaged in the same name and dates) a silver-tongued, black-hearted scoundrel ruled by a ruthless streak of ambition, or a just, loyal-hearted young man tragically betrayed, or even a benevolent, greedy, and sincerely pious murderer who is so baffling that his biographers end their books in the inevitable stalemate and blame his conflicted personality on the violent times in which he lived.

    Which of these, if any, is an accurate portrait of the real Richard? There are innumerable factors to weigh into the picture: the state of the church, the state of the nation, the legacy of his family, the probable fact of a strong north/south cultural divide at the time (Richard is the only king of England considered to be "northern"), his personal convictions and religious beliefs...and the list goes on. After nearly half a year of research (historical documents, contemporary chronicles, articles, multiple biographies), I feel I am finally getting to solid ground as far as discovering the truth; but I will not post it here, first because it would be inordinately long, second because there are historians who have studied this subject their whole lives long and still take their stand on opposite sides of the conflict, and I would not want to unduly influence anyone else who is seeking to study out this man's intriguing life.

    That said, Paul Murray Kendall's biography of Richard is a powerful book and a beautiful tribute to the man he saw Richard to be; and I plan to re-read it multiple times. Soon after finishing it, knowing that I could not base my permanent opinion of Richard on one book alone, and that my final conclusion might be far different than Kendall's, I wrote: "I have had all the benefit of reading and experiencing a noble and tragic story of fiction, if fiction it was; and I am glad for the good it has done my heart and soul."

    ~The Philologist

    P.S. I did read The Daughter of Time in my travels and found it an immensely fun way to spend an evening. Apparently Josephine Tey died the year after it was written, though, and never saw its popularity or the huge impact it had on the public view of Richard. She called it "an awful little detective novel". : )

  5. We are most enjoying reading Tey's work aloud. :) "An awful little detective novel!" How very interesting. Though I will say that her earlier work "The Man in the Queue" was longer.

    And I am greatly looking forward to seeing your work on Richard III, and benefiting from your great industry. Complex indeed, it sounds, and the perfect mystery. Though it sounds just as tormenting as Dickens' unfinished "Mystery of Edwin Drood". Shall we ever know? I do hope so, eventually.

    And thank-you very much for giving me a peek into your research thus far! :) It sounds as though you are making every effort to be thorough and objective, two most important qualities in a "Research Worker"--as Brent Carradine would say.



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