In Arran, they watched the burial of Richard III. (No, they watched it on television.) In the Novum Organum, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) says, “Truth is the daughter of time.” What he meant by that, I’ve no idea. You might be able to explain it to me and tell me why Josephine Tey took the quote as the title of her novel. In a work of fiction, Tey examines the truth of the Tudor claim that Richard III murdered the princes in the Tower. I put it that way, describing it as a Tudor claim, because that is how on the Isle of Arran they were talking about Tey’s book.
I am not come here to dispute whether or not Richard III dunnit. I have not spent the time required to chew the evidence and decide whether I like the taste. Surprisingly, the issue still inflames passions on both flanks of the argument. If you want a fine example of “controversialist” writing, utterly lacking in any attempt to use historical method to arrive at a conclusion based on reasonable probability, a conclusion designed instead to provoke lots of outraged comments, you should look at either or both of the diatribes that have appeared in blogs hosted by The Spectator.
A piece in The Spectator by Sean McGlynn is notable for attracting 168 comments of varying reasonableness.It is extraordinary also for suggesting that Richard Starkey is competent to pronounce on who should be labelled “a loon”. The other, by Nigel Jones, is of interest to writers for its use of emotive language. It would be a useful exercise for students in school to pick out both the obvious uses of emotive language and the more subtle examples in the articles and comments. Directly relevant to discussion of Tey’s book would be this description in Jones’s article of the Tower of London: “…the even more brutal killing – committed in the same grim fortress (my italics) twelve years before, and carried out by Richard’s own hands.” As historians who have studied the period like to remind us, The Tower was a palace where princes waited just prior to their coronation. (I was inclined to use an exclamation mark here, but at this point I am eschewing emotional devices for this post. What do you think of that old ‘eschewing’?)
Richard III and The Daughter of Time
On Arran, the book group looked at Tey’s careful assessment of the credibility of witnesses in The Daughter of Time, a work of fiction. They contrasted Tey’s novel with the ‘polemic’ of Alison Weir in her book, The Princes in The Tower. They called it a polemic, so I decided to check whether their account of Weir’s book stood up. I loved this in a review on Amazon by IP: “My only criticism is that the author isn’t as objectionable (sic) as the average historian should be.” Does the reviewer IP have Richard Starkey in mind?
I have read that Tey struggled with her plots. My view is that in The Daughter of Time her struggle was with the structure of the novel. What the precise difference is between plot and structure I have not yet had time to think about in enough depth. What do you think?.
Tey began with the conclusion that Richard III was innocent. She wanted her Inspector Alan Grant to prove it, using objective police methods to sift the evidence and assay its value. She needed to do this whilst all the time showing how police methods led to his conclusion. Grant needs to assess the credibility of long-dead witnesses and the accuracy of their statements. His conclusion is to be reached by careful weighing of the facts. It must not be an emotional rush to judgement by a hanging judge.
The problem of structure in the novel that confronted Tey was that it would be pretty boring if Grant just went into a library, read the various accounts and weighed up the credibility of the historical sources. If you were the author, how would you have solved this conundrum?
Tey puts Grant in a hospital bed, bored with nothing to do. A succession of characters visit him. He is provoked to consider the case of the princes in the Tower by looking at a portrait, not knowing that the subject of the portrait is Richard III. Grant claims to be able to judge guilt and innocent by looking at faces and so wonders how the portrait could be that of a ruthless murderer. Of course, it is highly dangerous to make such judgements. When I was at the Old Bailey (no, sorry to disappoint you but I was there as a potential juror) at the start of a drugs trial involving a group of accused who claimed not to speak English, my fellow jurors-to-be were all convinced that one woman in the dock was obviously guilty. They had decided by looking at her face. When the judge addressed a question to the obviously guilty woman, she translated to the accused men, and then she relayed their reply. Yes, she was the translator. Nevertheless, by using this fictional device, Tey found the structure of her novel and gives a better argument in the course of doing so than contributors to The Spectator and some historians.
Now is the time for your exclamation mark!
As for the plot of Tey’s novel, there is a good summary in Wikipedia.
If you want to see a good book group in action, however, then you will have to move to the wonderful Isle of Arran and join in.