My friends and colleagues will tell you I’m a bit of a bone nut – osteophile? – witness the lifelike replica of a Roman Gladiator’s skull that grins on my desk. Plus I’m a Shakespeare fan, so I was totally jazzed over the recent revelation that a skeleton found under a Leicester car park had been conclusively revealed to be that of Richard, the third of that name to rule over all England. The resurrection of King Richard’s reputation, if not his corpse, is the subject of one of the most enjoyable mysteries ever written: Josephine Tey‘s perennial favorite, The Daughter of Time. If you haven’t read it, you have a real treat in store.
Tey’s hero Alan Grant finds himself laid up with a broken leg. In order to keep his spirits up, an actress friend of his brings him some portraits so that he can exercise his keen judgment as to faces, and he is startled to learn that one worried, conscientious visage (right) belongs to history’s most infamous villain, Shakespeare’s “foul bunch-backed toad,” Richard III. Grant sets about some sickbed skullduggery, sifting through the evidence to prove Richard’s innocence of the alleged murder of his two nephews, as reported in Sir/Saint Thomas More’s vindictive Tudor hack job and William Shakespeare’s justly celebrated early masterpiece of delicious dastardliness.
Largely inspired by Clements Markham’s 1905 title Richard III: His Life and Character, Tey’s diverting and informative historical mystery has helped to resurrect the last Plantagenet’s unjustly tarnished reputation, and inspired latter accounts (including Elizabeth Peters’ The Murders of Richard the Third and Kate Sedley’s The Midsummer Crown). One can only imagine what Grant would have made of the newly revealed and highly accurate facial reconstruction of Richard that was recently unveiled, and how much has been made of how “not like a monster” he looks. Of course judging a person’s character by their physiognomy is highly questionable; Richard may have been handsome, but not exactly Ted Bundy handsome after all, and his legendary hunchback turns out to have been quite real. But new forensic evidence of the post-mortem desecration of Richard’s corpse reveals how the embattled king began to be disgraced even before his remains were unceremoniously dumped in a shallow hole too small for his slender, twisted frame. These recent findings lend further credence to the words of Sir Francis Bacon: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”
Want to know more? Here is a list of history, mystery, historical fiction and drama about Richard III.