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Every Tale Condemns Me for a Villain

When I heard the recent news that King Richard III’s bones had been discovered beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, my first thought was of an unusual museum I stumbled into several years back while walking the medieval wall surrounding the old city of York.  As a devoted fan of hole-in-the-wall museums, I could not have enjoyed the Richard III Museum more, due to the fact that, crammed as it is into one of four gatehouses in the York City Wall, the museum may be as close as one gets to being located in an actual hole in a wall.  Browsing the exhibits, which detail the life of the last Plantagenet King of England and examine how his reputation has fared through the ages, I noticed several references to a novel called The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, and when I returned home was happy to find that my local library had a copy.

In many ways, the book is as unusual as the museum.  Published in 1951, The Daughter of Time chronicles another crime solved by mystery author Tey’s stock detective, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant.  However, this particular case—the murders of the Princes in the Tower and their attribution to Richard III—occurred hundreds of years earlier, and due to the fact that Inspector Grant is bedridden with a broken leg, most of the book’s action consists of historical research.  It’s a page-turner, however, and I recommend it to anyone whose interest in Richard III was piqued by his recent rediscovery.  It is also an insightful meditation on how history can be spun by victors and becomes mythologized over time.  But what I most like about The Daughter of Time, and what I think it accomplishes better than any other book I know, is the way it depicts just how much fun historical research can be.

And since I went and got that librariany, why not throw in a bunch of links to Richard III-related materials here at the Library?  Kicking it off with the most influential and oft-quoted, William Shakespeare’s play is available in print, and as unabridged audio and video performances.  We have three movie adaptations of the play: a silent featuring Frederick Warde, Laurence Olivier’s classic 1955 portrayal, and Ian McKellen’s 1995 reimagining of the play during the World War II era.  For those with a taste for more hard evidence, Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower  is considered a readable and solid overview, as is Charles Ross’ biography of the prime suspect, although Tey’s Inspector Grant may have taken issue with him.  And now that new evidence has come to light in the discovery and verification of Richard III’s remains, keep an eye on the catalog in the coming years to see what new verdicts may come in.  - Dan Coleman, Collection Development

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3 Comments

  1. Ginger Vermooten says:

    Daughter of Time has been a favorite of mine for over four decades, and I just reread it–again–after the identification of Richard III’s remains. Aside from rehabilitating a well known villain, it has other truly delightful moments, including a discussion of ‘Tonypandy.’ (We all of us should know about tonypandy: it’s all around us.)

    I’m a staunch Ricardian now, and hope that others will join this somewhat exclusive group. Josephine Tey’s book is a great way to get started.

  2. Evie Rapport says:

    Josephine Tey was also my entry to Richard III a long time ago, and I still believe many of her arguments are sound. I too found the Richard III Museum on the wall in York beguiling and weirdly appealing — “hole-in-the-wall” quite literally as well. Besides the sources Dan mentions (and Ian McKellan’s version of Shakespeare’s play is wonderful), I found these interesting; most of them are in the library:
    – Desmond Seward’s “The Wars of the Roses: Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century,” which goes past Bosworth to 1499. Seward is sternly unsympathetic to Richard but it’s a good overview of the events and powerful personalities.
    – Sharon Kay Penman’s “The Sunne in Splendour” is terrific historical fiction; Richard, whom she calls Dickon, is the central character although it follows the Wars of the Roses from 1459 through Edward IV to Richard’s reign. She’s clearly a Ricardian and puts forth a very good argument for another candidate as murderer of the princes.
    – Al Pacino’s video “Searching for Richard” examines how an actor creates a famous character in a play that is completely at odds with historical reality.
    – Elizabeth George is also a Ricardian and brings the controversy into her early Thomas Lynley mystery “Well-Schooled in Murder” and some other works.
    I do wish a similar forensic examination could be made of the children’s bones found in the crumbling old royal residence at the Tower of London in King Charles II’s reign. They were identified as the princes whom Alison Weir writes about (and several others, notably Elizabeth Jenkins); the bones were inurned in Westminster Abbey and they will not be disturbed, it’s been announced.
    I was fascinated to see the reconstruction of Richard III’s face. It’s very like the image at the National Portrait Gallery in London — I have a tea towel of it.

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