Richard III: biographies and classic crime

by Andre

David Baldwin RICHARD IIIJosephine Tey THE DAUGHTER OF TIME

The surprise reappearance of Richard III, dug up in a Leicester car park, is a timely opportunity to try and disinter the truth about a king portrayed as a Machiavellian villain by Shakespeare. “We have to concede the curved spine was not Tudor propaganda, but we need not believe the chronicler who claimed Richard was the product of a two-year pregnancy and was born with teeth,” as Hilary Mantel said in her (unfairly) infamous lecture on royal bodies. “The king stripped by the victors has been reclothed in his true identity.” If you want to learn more about the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, there are a pair of updated historical biographies that feature the car park dig: David Baldwin’s Richard III and – not so snappily titled – The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill.

Perhaps the most enjoyable piece of historical revisionism for Richard III, though, is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a unique and classic crime novel in which a bed-ridden Inspector Alan Grant decides to investigate the real facts behind the murderous ‘hunchback king’ after seeing a contemporary portrait of Richard. Could such a sensitive, noble face really belong to one of the most infamous villains of history? It’s a fascinating premise for an exquisite crime novel which, 62 years since publication, is more inventive and adroit in its plotting than almost any modern genre author can manage.

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