The Daughter of Time by Josephone Tey
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
I first 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 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 over 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. And 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 Philippa Langley's struggle to persuade professional archaeologists to dig up part of a Leicester Social Services Car Park. There were things about 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 makes 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 seemed at times dismissive: the archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, when the project was finally agreed and funded, announced that he expected to do no more than establish the long-lost location of the Greyfriars' Church. But were they to find any trace of Richard, he said, he "would eat his hat". (My earlier post on this subject, on September 3rd, The King Under the Car Park, mentions his subsequent consumption of a hat-shaped cake)
Even if you don't enjoy historical fiction, 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 a 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 from which she never reappeared. Could there have been some 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? Instead, the man was rewarded and treated with favour until twenty years later, when he allegedly confessed and was swiftly executed without trial. The confession - which would have pointed a damning finger at Richard - never subsequently saw 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.