Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
Truth is the daughter of time!
I vividly remember my introduction to Daughter of Time. I was about 14 and my father handed it to me. “Here”, he said, “read this. I think you’ll like it.”
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“Richard III” he answered.
I exploded, “Richard III? I hate Richard III. Mom took us to see the play at the Shakespeare Festival and I also saw the movie. He’s a deformed monster and he killed those little boys. I don’t want to read about him!”
Dad laughed and said,”Tell you what, read the first 50 pages and if you hate the book, stop reading.”
I started the book that evening and finished it in the wee hours of the morning. I was stunned, how could the Bard of Avon be so wrong? And the “Sainted Thomas More” – would he have used Tudor propaganda instead of the facts?
Daughter of Time is actually at least two books.
The first book is the charming story of an injured police officer (Scotland Yard) suffering through a lengthy recovery from injuries suffered when he fell through a trap door.
Flat on his back, Alan Grant finds “the prickles of boredom” almost unbearable. Used to leading an active life, he finds books, games, and working out geometric problems inspired by cracks on the ceiling less than challenging. When actress Marta Hallard (with whom he has become friends after recovering her expensive pearl necklace) breezes in one afternoon, he tells her how bored he is.
She has all sorts of suggestions including knitting, chess or possibly looking in to a historical mystery. She returns a few days later with a folder of portraits including the Borgias, Oliver Cromwell and Richard III.
Richard’s portrait puzzles Alan, in his policeman’s guise. Richard’s facial expression and body language do not fit the image of the ultimate Shakespearean villain. Could the man in the painting have murdered his young nephews to seize the throne?
Alan elicits the help of his nurses (who he mentally refers to as “the Midget” and “the Amazon”), his police partner, his housekeeper and a delightful young American living in England allegedly researching The Peasant’s Revolt, but actually romancing the young ingénue in Marta’s current play. Marta refers to him as a “woolly lamb” but with his research ability and free time, Brent Carrandine is exactly the person Alan needs to unravel the mystery of Richard III.
The “investigation” into this centuries-old murder has all of the drama of a police procedural and the primary sources are used as “witnesses”. It is fascinating to watch as Alan and Brett build the case, one fact after another. No one, not even Sherlock, could have done it better.
But the underlying story is an indictment of the historians, who for centuries accepted and worst of all, taught, the Tudor point of view of Richard III.
“Cui bono” is a standard measure when it comes to assessing historical facts – and Richard was not the one with the most to gain.
If you have only known Shakespeare’s Richard, then Ms. Tey’s painstaking review of the evidence through her protagonist, Alan, will be an eye-opening experience.
This book has remained one of my favorites – and I have re-read it often over the years. I would strongly urge anyone interested in any era of history to read this book and try and apply the same evidentiary techniques to any personage or situation.
This is one of the few books that I feel deserves a 5 stars plus. It makes you think about what is true and what is perceived as true.