Kate Ellis was born in Liverpool and studied drama in Manchester. She is the author of 12 crime novels featuring black archaeology graduate D.I. Wesley Peterson, which blend modern and historical mysteries. The latest of them is The Blood Pit. As well as this, she has just published Seeking the Dead, the first book in a new series set in a thinly-disguised York. Kate has twice been nominated for the Crime Writers' Association Short Story Dagger and her eighth novel, The Plague Maiden, was nominated for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2005. Here she discusses Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, one of the novels that inspired her to become a crime writer.
Kate Ellis on The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The concept of a detective novel set entirely in one claustrophobic hospital room, where the detective is confined to bed with a broken leg, doesn't sound a very promising one. But if you think that, you couldn't be more wrong. This is the setting of one of the greatest books written in the Golden Age of crime fiction - Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time.
Detective Inspector Alan Grant has a reputation at Scotland Yard for being able to pick a potential criminal out in a crowd by the look of his face. So when, to relieve the boredom of hospital routine, his actress friend, Marta, brings him some pictures of historical characters who have been involved in notorious mysteries, he is surprised to find that one of them looks as though he belongs on the bench in a courtroom rather than in the dock. Fascinated, he discovers that the subject of the portrait is Richard III, the original 'wicked uncle' who was reputed to have murdered his two young nephews in the Tower of London and, unable to believe that the distinguished, sensitive and conscientious face was that of a ruthless murderer, Grant begins to search for the truth behind the well-known story.
To get to the truth, of course, he has to have help and this comes in the shape of various nurses and friends, but mainly Brent Carradine, a young American acquaintance of Marta's who is researching at the British Museum. Thanks to Carradine's expertise, Grant progresses from gleaning basic information from his nurse's school history books and historical novels to delving into original documents and serious historical research.
As the writing is lively and vivid, we really get to know the various colourful characters of Richard's age, including his rather dysfunctional relatives. In the book we meet members of the Plantagenet family: the lazy and womanizing King Edward IV, Richard's elder brother, his beautiful wife Elizabeth Woodville and her ambitious relations. Then there's his treacherous brother George, Duke of Clarence, who famously 'drowned in a butt of malmsey', and his forceful sister, Margaret, married to the Duke of Burgundy. Recent researches have even thrown light on Richard's mother, Cecily Neville, who is now thought by some historians to have borne a son fathered by a lowly archer (rather than her husband, the Duke of York, who was away fighting at the relevant time), a son who was later to become Edward IV. This new piece of research, gleaned from documents discovered in Rouen Cathedral, was unavailable to Josephine Tey, but is very relevant to the story of Richard and perhaps even backs up the author's conclusion that Richard had no reason to kill his nephews.
However, the main theme of the novel is truth. Even the title is taken from an old proverb 'truth is the daughter of time'. In the course of the story Grant and his helpers examine every 'fact' that everybody thinks they know about the supposedly villainous Richard III. Most of what we think we know comes from Shakespeare's powerful play in which Richard is portrayed as the epitome of scheming evil. But this picture of Richard comes from a play written approximately 100 years after he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, so where did William Shakespeare get his facts from? Grant discovers that Shakespeare took the story from a document found in papers belonging to Sir Thomas More, a man of saintly integrity. Surely a man with More's reputation for honesty could be trusted to tell the truth. But all was not as it seemed. More had only been eight when Richard died at Bosworth; his could hardly be an eyewitness account. His evidence was hearsay and Grant manages to track down the original source of the material to John Morton, Henry VII's Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard's bitterest enemy. More had been in Morton's household as a boy and he merely reported Morton's version because he knew no better. He was giving the official Tudor version of events and that version has been found to be highly suspect.
As the book progresses, layers of propaganda and lies are peeled away. History, it is said, is always written by the victor and this is particularly true of the Wars of the Roses. The victorious Henry VII, unlike Richard himself, only had a tenuous claim to the English throne and it was vital for him to blacken the name of his predecessor to secure his position.
The Daughter of Time deals particularly effectively with the question of how stories and facts can be twisted to suit political ends. Josephine Tey coins a new expression 'Tonypandy' referring to an incident in which troops were said to have shot striking Welsh miners. However, the truth of the matter was that the miners faced a few unarmed policemen and the worst injury sustained was a bloody nose or two – hardly a massacre, but the myth still endured. The Tudors were masters of 'spin' and ensured that Richard III's name echoed down the years as one of history's worst villains.
The records of the City of York record the Battle of Bosworth with the words 'This day was our good King Richard most piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of the city'. So, could a man so loved and respected, a man who had displayed nothing but integrity and loyalty throughout his life, have murdered his two young nephews in cold blood? This wonderful detective story examines the evidence and attempts to set right centuries of injustice.
The Daughter of Time is a fantastic read and is a book I return to again and again. It has influenced my own writing - I undertake a lot of historical research for my Wesley Peterson books and in my new series, set in a thinly-disguised York, my detective is called Joe Plantagenet... perhaps as a subconscious tribute to a greatly wronged King.