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The Daughter of Time

Book by Josephine Tey

Book by Josephine Tey

What would you do if you were cooped up, staring at the ceiling, with nothing to engage your mind?

Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard finds himself in just such a position, having fallen through, of all things, a trap door!  To relieve his boredom, at the suggestion of his friend, actress Marta Hallard, he endeavors to solve “something that has puzzled the world for ages.”

“It was the portrait of a man.  A man dressed in the velvet cap and slashed doublet of the late fifteenth century.  A man about thirty-five or thirty-six years old, lean and clean-shaven.  He wore a rich jewelled collar, and was in the act of putting a ring on the little finger of his right hand.  But he was not looking at the ring.  He was looking off into space.”

The portrait of Richard III from the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait of Richard III from the National Portrait Gallery.

Grant believes the man to have been a noble judge or soldier.  “Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority.  He is shocked to turn over the photo and realize he is looking at a portrait of Richard III, considered one of the most villainous monarchs of all time.  The reproduction is from a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.

In fact, one character, a former docent at the Gallery, muses:  “I liked the Portrait Gallery best because it gave one the same sense of proportion that reading history does.  All those Importances who had made such a to-do over so much in their day.  All just names.  Just canvas and paint.”

And it is into history Grant must delve to unravel the truth about Richard III and his alleged murder of his nephews, the two princes in the tower.  He begins by reviewing contemporary school books and then moves onto historical accounts.

Upon the death of his brother Edward IV (1442 – 1483), Richard Plantagent (1452 – 1485) was to serve as regent until Edward’s son, Edward V, came of age.  In 1483, Edward V and his younger brother were in residence at the Tower of London.  Convention alleges that Richard III murdered his nephews and usurped the throne.  He, in turn, was defeated in battle at Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor (1457 – 1509), who then reigned as Henry VII.

As they say, “to the victor go the spoils”, so too does the benefit of writing History.  As Grant is to learn, it is the Tudors and the enemies of Richard III who wrote the record that has become historical “fact.”  They wrote that Sir James Tyrrel was employed by Richard to smother the princes with pillows.  So Grant wades through that record to find evidence to support the case.  He looks at the murder of the princes as he would any criminal case.  “Who benefits?”

Grant, being beridden, is assisted by historical researcher Brent Carradine.  Brent eagerly tracks down Richard III’s contemporaries to get an unbiased view of the time.  They determine that the sainted Sir Thomas More’s account was largely taken as hearsay from one of Richard’s staunchest enemies, John Morton.  True contemporary accounts are scant.

However, Carradine does manage to unearth some surprising facts.  Henry VII’s Bill of Attainder (1485) denouncing Richard makes no mention of the two princes.  Nor was the death of the princes a rallying cry for Henry’s cause to dethrone Richard in battle.  Grant wonders, “What possible reason could there be for that lack of contemporary accusation?”

More curious is the suppression of a 1484 document, Titulus Regius.  This statue issued by Parliament declared Richard as the rightful king.  It alludes to a prior marriage that invalidated Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and thus making his children by her illegitimate.  Henry VII ordered this document to be revoked—unread—and for all copies of it destroyed.  This in turn legitimized all of Edward IV’s children, including Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s wife.

Further the alleged assassin, Sir James Tyrrel, does not confess to the crime until his execution in 1502, nearly twenty years after the event!  Upon learning this fact, Grant wonders, “Forty million school books can’t be wrong.”

But “History was someting that he would never understand.”  “The values of historians differed so radically from any values with which he was acquainted …”  Historians are human and fallable.  They are biased and subjective.  In her narrative, Tey appears to be making this argument as much as she appears to support the idea that Richard III is not the villian he is commonly perceived.

True, there are a few details in the Titulus Regius Tey leaves out of her narrative, but she unravels a compelling mystery and makes a compelling case for who killed the two princes.  Nor is she the first to theorize that Richard didn’t have his nephews killed.  It’s human nature which finds “it difficult to give up preconceived beliefs.”

She cites two other historical events, the Boston Massacre of 1770 and Tonypandy Riots of 1910-11 in Wales, as examples of how the historical record differs from the historical legend.  The latter of which is often the more well-known and reported version of events.

The Daughter of Time—the title’s taken from an old proverb—was published in 1951, a year before Tey’s untimely death.  It’s often cited as one of the best detective novels of all time.  It is unusual in that it applies mystery novel detection tropes to an actual historical event that cannot be conclusively solved.  Yet the journey is a remarkable one.


Earlier in 2013, the body of the real Richard III was unearthed following excavations at a site near Leicester, England.  DNA confirmed the human remains as Richard and the skull was used to reconstruct what he looked like.  See article here.

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Categorised in: Mystery, Reviews

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  1. Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise | The Poisoned Martini
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