Re-reading “The Daughter of Time” or was Richard III a murderer?

"The Princes in the Tower"

“The Princes in the Tower” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a re-reader.  If I like a book, particularly a mystery, I will read it again.  Josephine Tey is a writer I first read in high school when I was introduced by my mother.  I remember thinking at the time that ‘The Daughter of Time” was one of her least interesting stories.  After all, Alan Grant is in a hospital bed reading books about Richard III and sending researcher Brent Carradine to look for answers about someone who died 400 years before.  I believed in the Thomas More/William Shakespeare version of Richard.  I was probably fourteen.  But since then, I have re-read it several times and since the discovery of Richard’s bones have done so again.

It is a very carefully constructed guide to how to conduct an investigation.  Grant starts out with one of his nurses’ history books from school and moves on to more complete histories of Richard and England.  He finds out that Thomas More, although written as if he were a witness to the events surrounding the princes in the tower, was actually between 5 and 8 years old.  Grant and Carradine go to original sources for answers to the kinds of questions anyone conducting an investigation would ask.  Who benefits?  What were people saying at the time?  Where were the relevant people at the time of the alleged murders?  Who was still alive after Richard died?

There are many, like Winston Churchill, who are unconvinced by Tey.  Thomas B. Costain presented much the same evidence as Tey in his history, “The Last Plantagenets.”

Many who believe that Richard was guilty believe that Richard somehow stole the throne.  Edward IV had died, his oldest son was very young and Richard was to be Regent.  Instead, Richard learned that his brother’s marriage was, as they said, irregular.  Parliament declared a Titulus Regulus making Edward’s son ineligible for the throne and Richard became King.

There is no question that Richard had been an excellent administrator of north England, including York.  At the end of the book, Grant lays out his case.

In the matter of the presumed crime:

(a)  He did not stand to benefit; there were nine other heirs to the house of York, including three males;

(b)  There is no contemporary accusation.

(c)  The boys’ mother continued on friendly terms with him until his death, and her daughters attended Palace festivities.

(d)  He showed no fear of the other heirs of York, providing generously for their upkeep and granting all of them their royal state.

(e)  His own right to the crown was unassailable, approved by Act of Parliament and public acclamation; the boys were out of the succession and of no danger to him.

(f)  If he had been nervous about disaffection then the person to have got rid of was not the two boys, but the person who really was next in succession to him:  young Warwick.  Whom he publicly created his heir when his own son died.

And Grant’s case against Henry VII.

(a)  It was of great importance to him that the boys should not continue to live.  By repealing the Act [Titulus Regulus] acknowledging the children’s illegitimacy, he made the elder boy King of England and the youngest boy the next heir.

(b) In the Act which he brought before Parliament for the attainting of richard he accused Richard of the conventional tyranny and cruelty but made no mention of the two young Princes.  The conclusion is that at that time the two boys were alive and their whereabouts known.

(c)  The boys’ mother was deprived of her living and consigned to a nunnery eighteen months after his succession.

(d) He took immediate steps to secure the persons of all the other heirs to the crown, and kept them in close arrest until he could with the minimum of scandal get rid of them.

(e)  He had no right whatever to the throne.  Since the death of Richard, young Warwick was de jure King of England.

I can’t predict whether the discover of Richard’s bones will lead to his rehabilitation as a ruler, but Tey makes an interesting case in his favor.  If you like mysteries or history or both, I recomment “The Daughter of Time.”

Richard the Third the last Plantagenet

Richard III was, according to Shakespeare, one of the worst villans to rule England.  On the other hand, there were many, including Josephine Tey who believed otherwise.  And now, his bones have been found and identified.

The bones as discovered.

Greyfriars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found

Grey Friars car park, Leicester, where the remains of King Richard III were found.

According to the BBC

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.

Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

The Guardian detailed the careful science behind the declaration.

There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

The skeleton’s injuries were consistent with accounts of Richard’s death.

Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another sword slash, which also went through the bone and into the brain, would also have proved fatal. But many of the other injuries were after death, suggesting a gruesome ritual on the battlefield and as the king’s body was brought back to Leicester, as he was stripped, mocked and mutilated – which would have revealed for the first time to any but his closest intimates the twisted back, a condition from an unknown cause, which began to contort his body from the age of about 10. By the time he died he would have stood inches shorter than his true height of 5′ 8″, tall for a medieval man. The bones were those of an unusually slight, delicately built man – Appleby described him as having an “almost feminine” build – which also matches contemporary descriptions.

According to the Boston Globe story

Richard III ruled England between 1483 and 1485, during the decades-long tussle over the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. His brief reign saw liberal reforms, including introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

The discovery of Richard’s bones will not resolve the controversy surrounding him, however.  Most believe in the Shakespearean image of him as a the evil hunchbacked killer of two young princes in the Tower of London.

After I read Richard III in high school, my mother introduced me to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.  Her detective character, Alan Grant, takes up the case while in the hospital with the help of a young researcher who does the leg work.  The Wikipedia article about the book has a good summary of what Grant concluded and Tey believed.

The main arguments presented in the book in defence of King Richard:

  • There was no political advantage for Richard III in killing the young princes. He was legitimately made king.
  • There is no evidence that the princes were missing from the Tower when Henry VII took over.
  • Although a Bill of Attainder was brought by Henry VII against Richard it made no mention of the princes. There never was any formal accusation, much less a verdict of guilt.
  • Henry never produced the bodies of the dead princes for public mourning and a state funeral.
  • The mother of the Princes, Elizabeth Woodville, remained on good terms with Richard.
  • The Princes were more of a threat to Henry VII as the foundation of his claim to the crown was significantly more remote than theirs.

Grant and his American collaborator argue that there is little evidence of resistance to Richard’s rule (ignoring Buckingham’s rebellion). They allow that there were rumours of his murdering the princes during his lifetime, but they decide that the rumours had little circulation, and attribute them to the Croyland Chronicle and to the Lord Chancellor of France, and ultimately to Tudor sympathiser John Morton. They also propose that Morton was the actual author of Thomas More‘s biography of Richard, suggesting that the incomplete manuscript found after More’s death was an unfinished copy by More of Morton’s lost original. They conclude that the princes probably remained alive throughout Richard’s reign and were later killed by Henry.

The Richard III Society which sponsored discovery and will have his bones reinterred will still have work to do to clear his name.  Where are the alleged bones of the princes and can we now do DNA on them?

Photograph of car park Darren Staples/Reuters

Josephine Tey and Dick Francis

I had just finished re-reading Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes when I learned of the death of Dick Francis.  While they could not be more different, both are favorites of mine.  Josephine Tey specialized in elegant stories with very little violence and no blood while Dick Francis always had a “tough guy” hero who at some point gets beaten up (or injured somehow) and has to be nursed back to health, usually by the love interest.  Tey wrote only eight mysteries between 1929 (The Man in the Queue) and 1952 (The Singing Sands ).  Francis, on the other hand wrote more than 40 beginning in 1962 with Dead Cert.

Dick Francis was the Queen’s Jockey and famous in British racing circles before he turned to write mysterties.  According to his obituary in the New York Times

…Mr. Francis was already a celebrity in British sporting circles. Named champion jockey of the 1953-54 racing season by the British National Hunt after winning more than 350 races, he was retained as jockey to the queen mother for four seasons and raced eight times in the Grand National Steeplechase.When Devon Loch, the horse he was racing for the queen mother in the 1956 Grand National, collapsed in a spectacular mishap just before he would have won, Mr. Francis feared, as he put it in his autobiography, that he would be remembered as “the man who didn’t win the National.” This setback, along with the accumulated miseries of injuries, forced him into early retirement at the age of 36.

The New York Times published this well known picture of Francis on Devon Loch, the Queen Mother’s horse.

Drawing on his experiences as a jockey and his intimate knowledge of the racetrack crowd — from aristocratic owners to Cockney stable boys — the novel contained all the elements that readers would come to relish from a Dick Francis thriller. There was the pounding excitement of a race, the aura of the gentry at play, the sweaty smells from the stables out back, an appreciation for the regal beauty and unique personality of a thoroughbred — and enough sadistic violence to man and beast to satisfy the bloodthirsty.

Mr. Francis was a formulaic writer, even if the formula was foolproof. He drew the reader into the intimate and remarkably sensual experience of the world of racing. His writing never seemed better than when his jockey-heroes climbed on their mounts and gave themselves up to what he called “the old song in the blood.”

This self-contained world was, of course, a reflection of a broader universe in which themes of winning and losing and courage and integrity have more sweeping meaning. As the critic John Leonard wrote, “Not to read Dick Francis because you don’t like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don’t like God.”

Tey also created worlds.  Each of her eight mysterties is set in a different world.  Although little is know about Tey (Elizabeth Macintosh), she was born in Inverness and attended a physical training college in Birmingham.  Miss Pym Disposes is set at a similar sort of college where the students (all young women) study to teach phys ed and practice what we would now call physical therapy.

The writer, Natasha Cooper, wrote in a short essay on Tey

Until I started to think about this piece I had always assumed that my devotion to Josephine Tey’s novels had most to do with the age at which I first read them. As an impressionable twelve- or thirteen-year-old I revelled in the gentle, unusually rational decency of her good characters and found the domesticity of her settings appealing. The elegant simplicity of her style makes her work easy to enjoy at any age and some of the novels, particularly Brat Farrar with its predominantly young cast, might well have been written specifically for teenagers.

But once I started to reread some of the novels the other day, I realised that there was more to my delight in her work. Her obsession with the masks people wear and the truths they hide is one that I share. All crime writers must be concerned with the ways in which criminals disguise themselves and are found out by their investigators, but Tey’s interest went beyond that.

…In Miss Pym Disposes she plays with the idea of misread identity in several different ways in the characters of the heroine, an easily mockable spinster who happens to have written a brilliantly successful psychology textbook, and the three physical training students who provide the murderer, victim and chief suspect.Like most of Tey’s villains, Pamela Nash in Miss Pym Disposes is beautiful, successful, adored – and so full of vanity that she cannot conceive of anything (even someone else’s life) being more important than her own wishes…

I also first read Tey as a teenager by discovering Miss Pym and Brat Farrar. 

As the Grumpy Old Bookman said in his 2005 entry

Josephine Tey, the English crime writer, died in 1952; but if you go to Amazon.co.uk and type in her name, you get 172 results; and on Amazon.com you get 109. In other words, the lady is still in print, is still published in a wide variety of formats, still selling, and still being read. That being the case, it is worth having a look at her life and methods in order to see what might be learnt.

So celebrate Dick Francis by picking up one of his books (I particularly like the early ones) and rediscover (or discover) Josephine Tey both are well worth the time.