Who was Richard III? Villain, or slandered victim of his enemies? Recent news that his remains have allegedly been found under a British parking lot raises the question of his character once again. One of the best fictional efforts to unearth the truth is mystery novelist Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. Based on a proverb attributed to Francis Bacon that “truth is the daughter of time, not of authority,” the book follows one of Britain’s best detectives, Alan Grant, as he pores through historical literature on the infamous king.
On its surface, the proverb might sound a bit problematic to Christians or anyone who holds that truth indeed comes from an ultimate Authority, but Tey uses it to show that authority exercised selfishly (as in the case of Henry VII, Richard’s successor, killer, and perhaps key slanderer) distorts the truth. When this happens, it’s up to those who love and seek the truth, like Grant, to set the record straight.
Readers accompany Grant, famed for his quick thinking, sudden insights, and relentless pursuit of justice, on trips to Britain’s oldest libraries, where he studies the works of Thomas More and Richard’s mother Cecily Neville, among others.Though I’ll leave readers to figure out whether he successfully alters history, it’s worth pointing out that Tey’s book asks us to consider our power—a potentially dangerous one—to shape how future generations perceive us. The story shows, quite literally, what it means to say that we make history, for evil as well as good—if Grant is right, then our portrait of Richard is the product of detraction at its worst.
Tey is currently the go-to author on my bookshelf—I’ve just finished her first of eight mysteries, A Shilling for Candles. Tragically, her early death left us only with these works, but they are remarkable for their diversity. No Agatha Christie or P.D. James, Tey gives each book its own template. For my fellow alumni of all-girls schools, I recommend Miss Pym Disposes, the creepy tale of a British boarding school for girls where a gymnastics feat goes fatally awry. Daughter of Time, however, is as good a starting point as any for all of us.