I read The Daughter of Time as a teenager and it fueled a lifelong fascination with history and an interest in Shakespeare’s misshapen king. It also led me to read a number of weighty tomes about Richard III and the House of York and, this August, to visit Leicester to see their new Richard III Visitor Centre. Our trip included attending some lectures about the finding of Richard’s remains and on our return home sent me onto the internet to hunt out a second-hand copy of Josephine Tey’s novel.
Read today, the book’s language, with two stereotypical nurses and descriptions of hospital visitors allowed to smoke beside the beds of patients, sounds dated. Yet the story – of a bored and bed-bound detective conducting a cold case examination into the case against Richard – still grips. I found it as impossible to put down as I did all those years ago. My husband is currently devouring it with equal enthusiasm.
With both the book and our August trip fresh in our minds, we recently went to see the film – The Last King – about the amateur historian Philipa Langley’s struggle to persuade archaeologists to dig up a Leicester Social Services Car Park. There were things in the film that jarred and I questioned the indulgence of having the shade of Richard III appearing at Ms Langley’s shoulder – a fanciful invention of the makers of the film. It was also somewhat harsh to the professionals involved in the exercise. Yet one cannot deny that the finding of Richard’s skeleton was due to the dogged persistence of an amateur about whom the professionals were at times dismissive. The archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, when the project was finally agreed and funded, said he expected no more than to establish the location of the Greyfriars church. Were they to find any trace of Richard, he pronounced, he “would eat his hat”. (My earlier post on this subject, on September 3rd, The King in the Car Park, mentions his subsequent consumption of a hat-shaped cake)
I heartily recommend The Daughter of Time to anyone who enjoys a good detective story. The book might even give you a different perspective on Shakespeare’s portrait of the King whom Philippa Langley feels was maligned. Josephine Tey’s novel also raises fascinating questions about what happened after Bosworth. Why, for example, did Henry VII deprive the strong-willed Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, of an honoured place at his Court? Instead, eighteen months after his accession, he stripped his mother-in-law of everything she owned and ordered her into a Bermondsey nunnery for the rest of her life. Could there have been a need to keep her quiet? And why did it take him so long to question Sir James Tyrrel about the alleged murder of his wife’s young brothers? Why not publish his damning confession when Tyrrel was beheaded, without trial, some twenty years later? A confession which has never subsequently seen the light of day?
We will probably never know the truth of what happened, unless perhaps another Philippa Langley happens along. But both book and film remind us that fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
If members of Ninevoices ask me nicely, I will certainly lend them my copy of The Daughter of Time...