It was an old paperback that was in the bookcase in the den of my family's house alongside other paperbacks, mostly Agatha Christies and Erle Stanley Gardners. It was rainy, it was summer and I was bored and needed something to read. I was thirteen or thereabouts.

An hour later, I was buried deep into one of the greatest historical conundrums of all time - Who murdered the Princes in The Tower during the bloody transition from the last of the Plantagenets to the Tudors for the throne of England?

The Daughter of Time was originally published in 1951 and has become one of the most well-known mystery books ever written. It is very sad that Josephine Tey (real name Elizabeth Macintosh) died the next year and was not able to see how far reaching and lasting was the impact of her novel.

I didn't put it down from the time of picking it up until the last word of the last sentence on the last page and then I put it aside with a sigh. Poor Richard! How crummy is it to be vilified as one of the most evil men in history when there is a very good possibility that you yourself were the victim of murderers and slanderers?

The framing device that Tey uses for her historical mystery is simply brilliant. Briefly, a bored British police inspector, Alan Grant is laid up in the hospital with nothing to do. His good friend Marta, an actress, brings him a collection of portrait prints from the National Gallery in London which are comprised of figures who are the subjects of historical mysteries which she believes could use further investigation. She thinks this would be a splendid project to keep him occupied during his convalescence.

He is uninterested until he comes to the last picture which he guesses incorrectly to be a judge or a man of good temperament. When he turns the picture over to find out who it is, to his surprise it is Richard the III, famed Shakespearean villain and the murderer of the two lost Princes in the Tower. Because he prides himself on his innate ability to determine character from visage, Inspector Grant then embarks on a quest to see whether his instinct and insight were correct or incorrect when it comes to Richard.

This is the picture that sets him off on his fact-finding journey.

All of his investigation takes place within the confines of his hospital room and involves the perusal of history books and historical records. This reading is then supplemented with a Socratic discussion with a young researcher from the British Museum who assists him in the search for the truth regarding the murder of The Princes in The Tower

The Daughter of Time is an important book. The reason it is an important book is contained in the title, one of the best titles ever for revealing the essence of an entire book. When I first pulled it down from the shelf, I thought that it would be a novel about a woman, the 'Daughter' of the title. Wrong.

The book opens with the preface "Truth is the daughter of time" and an attribution to "Old proverb". If you choose to investigate further, you will find a more complete thought in a quote from Francis Bacon who adds a qualifying phrase, "Truth is the daughter of time, not authority."

The Bacon quote turns out to be the true theme of the book. And while The Daughter of Time is on every list that exists of Best Mysterys Ever Written, its enduring fame is not as strictly a mystery novel. The book is assigned reading in history classes, but not for what it teaches about the history of the Princes in the Tower. The reason it is assigned reading in history is because of what it teaches about historical methodology and the difficulty of interpreting source material without understanding the circumstances under which it was originally written.

Is the narrator objective or self-serving? Are they writing or testifying to that which they have themselves witnessed or that about which they were told? By whom? How long past?  It teaches how elusive 'truth' is and how subject it is to being twisted to suit the needs and the motivations of the chroniclers.

"History is written by the victor" is an old saw but one that contains an essential truth. History is malleable, and subject to the shifting needs of those who present it. Are we not ourselves, in even our modern day, still the gullible audience for those who present fiction as fact and fact as fiction?

I won't spoil the book for you if you have never read it - suffice it to say that the laid-up Inspector Grant discovers many many reasons to suspect that Richard III is the victim of one of the worst frame-up jobs in history and that he may not be the villain we all "know" him to be.

This topic is by no means exhausted and is still the subject of controversy and competing theories to this day. The Richard III Society, founded in 1924 remains active and dedicated to the reclamation of the reputation of Richard III. From their Mission Statement:

The Richard III Society may, at first glance, appear to be an extraordinary phenomenon - a society dedicated to reclaiming the reputation of a king of England who died over 500 years ago and who reigned for little more than two years. Richard's infamy over the centuries has been due to the continuing popularity, and the belief in, the picture painted of Richard III by William Shakespeare in his play of that name. The validity of this representation of Richard has been queried over the centuries and has now been taken up by the Society.

The Society is perhaps best summed up by its Patron, the present Richard, Duke of Gloucester:

"… the purpose—and indeed the strength—of the Richard III Society derives from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies; a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for."

I have to wonder if the Richard III Society ever happened upon a long lost diary of Richards with the following entry:

No more worries. Tyrrell demanded a fortune, but I was happy to pay it. Elizabeth Woodvillle will not be happy, but she'll get a settlement that should keep her quiet hey nonny nonny ho forsooth, what?  

if it should ever see the light of day. See how skeptical I've become?

For other takes on Richard III there is Alison Weir's The Princes in The Tower (1992) which I have not read but plan to.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.