“Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile,
And, cry,`Content,` to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.”
With such sweetly written words, Shakespeare damns Richard`s memory into the pit of hell. But tarry awhile longer, because the hooves of redemption are galloping o`er the hill as I write. Is it not right to question every supposed answer, and not to judge that which cannot be judged? Where are the facts in a case study 530 years old? The trail is not so much cold, as being permanently encased in permafrost. So, while “There be Dragons,” all over the landscape of the past, for a writer with a talented imagination, they are of small consequence.
Josephine Tey`s Daughter of Time, is set in 1950`s England, but the heart beat of this ingenious story is 530 years in the past; King Richard 111. Not the Tudor propaganda of Shakespeare`s, “malignant, bottled spider,” but the Richard which Tey believed existed, and deserved a shot at salvation. The story is a classic whodunnit, but as it progresses, we ask the question; who is our hero in this piece of theatre – the hospitalised Inspector Grant, or the shadow of a man long dead.
Thanks to material given to him by well meaning friends, to keep him occupied while in hospital nursing a broken leg, he gazes at the royal portraiture, and alights upon a face which fascinates him; in his opinion it`s not the face of a murderer. It`s the face of Richard. From this moment on, Gray dons his metaphorical deerstalker, and the game is afoot. He becomes embroiled in the story of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and enlists a small army of eager little helpers; the time of friends and staff is requisitioned to the cause to vindicate Gray`s intuition that the King was not evil uncle Richard, who`s reputation had in fact been “stitched up like a kipper,” by later Tudor writers hostile to him.
The Daughter of Time captures perfectly the excitement and thrill of pursuing an intellectual puzzle, and the immense satisfaction of nailing a centuries old illusion to the floor. Apart from the novel being gripping and extremely readable, it hammers home a very important point. Facts. What are facts? What we assume to be facts, are nothing of the sort. Nothing is written in stone, there are no lines in the sand. The `facts` of the case against Richard are supposition, innuendo, hearsay, political propaganda. The book shows up the inconvenience of Sir Thomas Moore`s literary salvo against Richard; he was not only not a contemporary biographer of the king, but was writing for a Tudor monarchy which was desperate to legitimise it`s illegal usurpation of the crown. Shakespeare was in very good (or bad) company by executing Richard`s good name. Careful reading of his history plays reveal an obvious bias towards the Lancastrians, simply because the Tudors claimed their very dodgy royalty from them.
Critical thinking, and assessment are vital in history; and while interpretation has to rear it`s ugly head quite a lot of the time because hard evidence is so vague and elusive, it should never be replaced by bias. There are always alternative interpretations. Which means, take Inspector Grant`s belief that he`s cracked the case with a whopping jar of salt. The Daughter of Time is a cracking, out of the ordinary book, but don`t take it`s conclusions as read.