Between getting over a bout of flu and catching up on all my work it’s going to be tricky to find time for the blog for a while, but my brain is whirling with ideas for posts on a certain Plantagenet monarch, recently dug up in a Leicester car park. Historical controversies have a tendency to attract fiction writers and there can be few more contraversial figures than Richard III and, whichever slant you take on him, it’s a cracking story.
For whatever reason, I never learnt any medieval history in school, or not beyond the Norman Conquest and some stuff about castles at primary school anyway, so almost anything I’ve picked up on the era comes from fiction and TV documentaries. This means that when it came to Richard III, I had a very hazy reminiscence of The Princes in the Tower from a children’s book of English kings or somesuch but very little else until I read Josephine Tey‘s The Daughter of Time in my teens.
The Daughter of Time features Tey’s regular detective Alan Grant laid up in hospital after an accident and bored to death. A visiting friend suggests that he should investigate a historical mystery and brings him a whole host of images of faces of possible candidates. It is Richard he settles on, convinced that the face in his portrait belongs on the bench, not in the dock, and with the help of an American actually supposed to be researching Henry VII and Morton’s Fork, he sets to find out the true murderer in a 500-year-old case.
It is very good on the way history is written by the victor and shows how much of the popular view of Richard was shaped by Tudor propaganda, revealing the chain of sources – Shakespeare, drawing on More, drawing on Morton and so on. Of course it’s dated – being first published in 1951 – and abounding in attitudes of the time, quite apart from the idea that you can tell someone’s character from their face. (Mind you, that idea evidently hasn’t quite gone away, given the recent fuss.) Whatever you might say about Tey’s argument and its flaws, which are summarised here, it’s a great, quick, read and no doubt absolutely flying off the shelves at the moment.
My teenage self was just the right age to be fired up by such an obvious and outrageous injustice, an instant convert to Ricardianism and quite offended with my dad for considering the matter a bit more complicated than that. It also fired me with a desire to spend my time in the reading rooms of the British Library doing original historical research. Sadly that is yet to come to pass, but I did keep digging on the subject of Richard III. More on which to follow.
- Richard III, DNA and Josephine Tey (mybeautfulthings.wordpress.com)
- Unearthing Historical Truths: Richard III in Fiction and in the Flesh (Well, Bones) (misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com)
- The king and aye (bbc.co.uk)
- Josephine Tey is the reason anyone still cares about Richard III (macleans.ca)
- Clayton Hardiman: The king is dead (and buried under a parking lot). Long live the king (mlive.com)