Visions of Paradise

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Daughter of Time

Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, is the type of mystery I much prefer to the typical genre type of crime committed / detective studies clues for several hundred pages / crime solved. It is the story of a bedridden detective who sees a portrait of the badly-maligned British monarch Richard III and has trouble believing that a man who looks so deep and thoughtful could really have been the cold-hearted murderer who killed his two young nephews imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Thus begins several hundred pages of historical research combined with speculation on the part of the detective and his researcher associate. What they learn is fascinating indeed. Apparently Richard was the last Lancaster king who was killed in battled by Henry VII, the first Tudor king. The first history of Richard was written by John Morton, a supporter of Henry who ingratiated himself to the king by rationalizing Henry’s seizing the throne from the supposedly “evil” Richard. Morton was rewarded for his pro-Tudor history by being named archbishop of Canterbury by Henry.

The most influential history of Richard was written by Thomas More shortly thereafter. More, chancellor during the reign of Tudor king Henry VIII, based his facts primarily on Morton’s history. As a result, More’s description of the horrific Richard became the standard reference for centuries. It also influenced Shakespeare who wrote his plays during the Tudor era, and who too realized the importance of satisfying his monarchs. His villainous image of Richard, based on More’s history, has influenced generations even moreso than More’s history did.

According to Tey, Richard was a well-loved, fair and kind king who cared for the family and supporters of his brother Edward; Henry, however, was a tyrant who tried to kill or eliminate all the remaining Lancasters who were a threat to his legitimacy. While Tey’s detective never learns for sure, he considers it much more likely the famous young princes were killed in the Tower of London during Henry’s reign, not Richard’s.

The evidence in favor of Tey’s view of Richard is quite convincing in the book. At the time of Richard’s supposed murders, there were so many other heirs to the throne alive that it made no sense for Richard, a truly rational man, to kill the princes. Plus, upon seizing power, the Tudors issued many public statements intended to discredit Richard, but none of them mentioned anything about his supposed murder of the two young princes. Surely, the detective surmises, if such a horrendous deed did take place, that would have been one of their primary arguments against him.

At the end of the book Tey claims that after the Stuarts came to power, vindications of Richard were written, but Morton’s, More’s and Shakespeare’s images were so ingrained in the public mind the truth was never able to change Richard’s popular image.

After finishing the book I decided to do some research to determine if Tey’s view of Richard III is the correct one, or whether the entire novel is pure fantasy. I began with an online search. The first website I found repeated the Richard was evil mantra, but their source was the original Morton Tutor history.

The next website was created by The Richard III Foundation, Inc. which described itself as "a non-profit educational organization to authenticate the life and times of King Richard III, his contemporaries and era, and to expand information about the medieval period." Obviously I knew where their prejudices would lie, so I was not surprised to read therein that The Lords and Commons of Parliament petitioned Richard to take the throne and he accepted.

During his reign, according to the Foundation, Richard III passed some of the most enlightened laws on record for the fifteenth century.

I have since read two scholarly books, The Yorkist Years and Richard III, both of which offer pro-Richard histories filled with first-level documentation from the Yorkist years. Obviously more research into both sides of the issue still needs to be done, but if thought- provoking ideas, whether fictional or historical, are one of the hallmarks of outstanding fiction, The Daughter of Time certainly qualifies. I recommend it quite highly. In addition to my opinion, the novel was selected as the 4th greatest mystery novel of all-time by the Mystery Writers of America, which results can be found in The Crown Crime Companion.

1 Comments:

  • Hello there! I came across your blog through google. I had a wonderful time reading “Daughter of Time”. I have never been a very good history student and was quite apprehensive when I started reading the book, but now I must say that I quite love it and I was really glad to find someone else who enjoyed it too!

    By Blogger Corinth, At 10:51 PM  

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