19 June 2009

Is this the face of a murderer?

That, of course, was the opening question/premise of Josephine Tey's famous novel, The Daughter of Time. I had read the book as a young man and decided this week to do so again. The internet has changed me; I now want all my information delivered quickly and concisely, so I was a little impatient during the rereading, wishing that what was written as 200 pages had been summarized in a 50-page essay. But it's still a quick one-sitting read and it still presents in a compelling manner logical reasons to presume Richard III innocent of the murder of the young princes:
  • Even after their deaths, there were nine other heirs in the York line, so he didn't gain much benefit.
  • He was not accused of the crime at the time it supposedly occurred.
  • The boys' mother (Elizabeth Woodville) remained a friend of Richard after the supposed event and the other children were allowed to be at his palace.
  • He treated the other York heirs generously.
  • His right to the crown was unassailable on legal grounds.
  • The person next in succession was young Warwick, but Richard even made him his own heir when Richard's son died.
I won't give any more spoilers here re who Tey postulates did kill the young princes, but I'll note that Richard's reputation for posterity was blackened first by hearsay, and then by the popularity of the Shakespearean play - written (probably) by Edward deVere, whose ancestor John deVere (13th Earl of Oxford) commanded the Lancastrian troops at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard was killed by forces loyal to Henry Tudor.

History is written by victors, but, as Tey's book title suggests, Veritas Filia Temporis.

For those with more than a passing interest in this subject, there is a Richard III Society, dedicated to reassessing his life and studying 15th century English history and culture.


  1. This book started me on some serious research into the matter, got me hooked on the Middle Ages, changed me from a Lancastrian to a Yorkist, and caused me to stick up for Richard at every opportunity.

  2. Richard the III as a character is still the best Shakespearian character around. Funny as hell and evil as [insert four letter swear word]
    I heart him.

  3. I started with Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour immediately followed by Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third. Learning about the real man was so different from the brilliant but fictional Shakespearean version that I found myself compelled to gobble up all I could on this fifteenth-century monarch and ended up writing about him myself. My first book, a novel about Richard III in This Time will be available by the end of this month.

    After much research, not only like Tey have I come to the conclusion that r3 was innocent of their murders, but that they weren't murdered at all and may well have survived him.

    Go to the American Branch website referenced in this article and click on 'Resources for Students and Teachers' for a link to non-fiction Ricardian resources and on 'Ricardian fiction' for a list of novels that are about Richard III, Wars of the Roses, and medieval themes.

    For Ricardian discussion and an abridged list of Ricardian sites among others (including this site) go to my blog, Random Thoughts of an Accidental Author.


  4. Is it possible that Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays? I know this is a radical proposal but it does have the benefit of simplicity.

  5. @Richard - the theory you suggest (often called the Stratfordian hypothesis) is actually NOT simpler, because then one has to explain how the uneducated son of a pig farmer in rural England came to have a world-class vocabulary and a familiarity with the names of streets in Italy. Not to mention explaining why, when he died, no attention was paid to the fact by the public and press. And more. The "Oxfordian hypothesis" is actually the simpler of the two.

    I should blog this topic sometime, but there's so much to cover that it would really require starting a separate blog. And I don't have the energy for that right now...

  6. People really have to get over the idea that only the nobility were capable of being educated or talented.
    Shakespeare as author *is* the simplest explanation because other proposals have to explain the production of nearly 40 plays, long poems, two sonnet cycles, and the historical references to Shakespeare as actor and manager of his own company, and how it was that someone like Oxford with no theatrical experience whatsoever would be able to write plays as well as an experienced actor would do.

  7. The recent facial reconstruction came back with similar features and a very youthful look for Richard, which seems right for the fact he was in good health and only 32 when he died.



    In the same vein with the question/premise of Josephine Tey's novel, Ms Langley of the Richard III Society was heard saying the ‘very handsome’ face of the king was not one of a cold-blooded killer. I am not commenting on the validity of the argument, just pointing out the similarity and quietly chuckling to myself.

    Richard's character was certainly blackened by his rivals, but a Medieval prince did not have to be a cold-blooded murderer in order to eliminate competitors to the throne. Besides, it could have been his over zealous men like James Tyrell, or Henri Stafford who thought they knew better what the Richard wanted than Richard himself. The fact that the princes were never seen after 1483 goes against Richard's faction at the end of the day.


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