A review of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Richard III has had a bad press through the centuries, characterised as a hunchback, suffering the indignity of being buried under a Leicester car park, although the car park came after the burial, and accused of the murder of the two princes in the Tower of London. Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, the fifth in her Alan Grant series, originally published in 1951, is an ingenious attempt to rehabilitate his reputation. It is a book that was ranked number one in the Crime Writers’ Association’s top one hundred crime novels of all time. Some accolade.
Grant of the Yard is condemned to a long stay in hospital, recovering from leg and back injuries. To prevent him from growing too bored, an actress friend presents him with a series of portraits of historical characters, each of whom is associated with a mystery. His sleuthing instincts aroused, Grant decides to investigate the story of Richard III and whether he really did murder the princes in the Tower. He is helped in his endeavours by an American amateur researcher, Brett Carradine, who does the legwork, combing through historical records to find vital clues that might have a bearing on the case.
For some unaccountable reason the history of the Tudors is a well-travelled literary path, but Tey cleverly shines the spotlight on an event that trashed the reputation of the Plantagenets and made Henry VII’s undoubted usurpation of the throne more palatable to the English.
Using a combination of Grant’s deductive training and Carradine’s in-depth trawl through the records, the sleuth quickly determines that the allegations against Richard are based on hearsay, rumour and later accounts written by supporters of the Tudors to justify their ascension to the throne. Grant also believes, looking at the portrait, that Richard’s face is not one of a murderer but rather that of a kind, compassionate man.
Tey builds up a compelling case in favour of the last Plantagenet king, arguing that he had nothing to gain from the princes’ deaths unlike Henry VII who needed all potential claimants to throne out of the way, that Thomas More was little more than a Tudor apologist, that no contemporary capital was made of the allegations against Richard III who was forgiven by the boys’ mother and that there were no contemporary reports of the boys’ deaths. Historians with a detailed knowledge of the period might profoundly disagree with her thesis and some arguments seem stronger than others, but as well as being an intriguing analysis of a notorious historical event, Tey’s book played a not insignificant part in the movement to rehabilitate Richard III’s reputation.
It is a deceptively simple story but one which sucks the reader in, forces them to think and reconsider their pre-existing prejudices. The sense of disappointment at the end when Carradine reports that he has found later histories detailing the events which exonerate Richard is genuinely moving. They are not the trailblazers they perhaps they thought they were but, nonetheless, the intellectual exercise was perfect therapy for a detective of the Yard lying on his back with nothing else to do.
I enjoyed it immensely and it deserves its reputation as one of the great detective stories.