The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
published 1951 chapter 2
[Inspector Alan Grant, recuperating in hospital, has been looking at pictures of faces, and turns to the last one]
He picked it up and looked at it.
It was the portrait of a man dressed in the velvet cap and slashed doublet of the late fifteenth century. A man about thirty-five or thirty-six years old, lean and clean shaven. He wore a rich jewelled collar, and was in the act of putting a ring on the little finger of his right hand. But he was not looking at the ring. He was looking off into space.
Of all the portraits Grant had seen this afternoon this was the most individual. It was as if the artist had striven to put on canvas something that his talent was not sufficient to translate into paint. The expression in the eyes — that most arresting and individual expression — had defeated him. So had the mouth: he had not known how to make lips so thin and so wide look mobile, so the mouth was wooden and a failure. What he had best succeeded in was in the bone structure of the face: the strong cheekbones, the hollows below them, the chin too large for strength.
observations: Inspector Grant is about to take on his strangest case: he is going to investigate the murder of the Princes in the Tower, but 500 years after the (alleged) crime was committed. And (this is not a spoiler as it is the whole premise of the book) he is going to pronounce Richard III - the man in the picture above - innocent.
It’s a typically infuriating Josephine Tey book, full of side issues, her own opinions, and some quite tendentious arguments. But, as a way of making history fascinating and exciting it is unmatchable – it’s a great book for young people. A personal view (not, so far as we know, shared by anyone of importance or credentials) is that historical fiction is a great way to get the basic facts into your head, and then you can get the real stuff from proper books. Chasing down the fuller history of Richard III you can find where Tey has smoothed the story over or chosen her facts carefully. An example – she repeatedly says that Elizabeth Woodville’s behaviour towards Richard III is impossible or incredible if he HAD killed her sons. But one of her other sons (not Royal, and much older) WAS undoubtedly (legally) executed by Richard’s orders, so the argument is a bit shaky.
And whatever you read about the case, it is very difficult to disagree with her and Grant’s conclusion that there is no reason at all to believe that Richard III was guilty.
Mean-minded comments on Inspector Grant on previous Tey entries, along with a favourite picture. Henry VII succeeded Richard III - more historical fiction on the Tudors all over the blog: samples here and here. A 20th century King of England here.
The picture of Richard III comes from Wikimedia Commons.