After 500 years, we now know where the bones of King Richard III of England are. They have been found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, near the site of the Battle of Bosworth where he was slain.
The evil genius of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard — hunchbacked, vicious, fiendish clever — was the literary ancestor of all those compelling villains who often upstage heroes: think about Professor Moriarty, Darth Vader, even Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
The excitement brings to my mind one of my favorite books: The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey (pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh).
This delightfully short book masquerades as light entertainment, yet it has a resonant message. The title, after all, comes from Sir Francis Bacon: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.” Time’s truth, for Tey, is not always true.
A bed-ridden police inspector in postwar London becomes intrigued by the supposed crimes of King Richard III, almost five centuries before. Did the evil hunchback of Shakespeare’s plays truly order the murder of the two little princes in the Tower of London (his nephews)? Was he even a hunchback?
The inspector doggedly roots out multiple details that render implausible the popular account of Richard as ruthless murderer. “After all,” one character explains, “the truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time.”
Instead of Richard as the killer of the little princes, the evidence points directly to . . . well, I don’t want to spoil your pleasure by revealing everything.
For a writer of history who swoons over Shakespeare’s plays, The Daughter of Time is a powerful corrective. Conventional history cannot be trusted. When I came to doubt the traditional telling of the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy, Tey’s work inspired me to cloak as fiction a retrospective dissection of that momentous crime. This coming September, Kensington Books will publish my own American daughter of The Daughter of Time — titled The Lincoln Deception.
Don’t believe someone’s account of an event; trust in “the small facts of the time.” When it comes to the Booth Conspiracy, I don’t. Keep your eyes peeled for The Lincoln Deception.