The king and aye: Scots author who tackled Richard III's reputation
- 9 February 2013
- From the section Highlands & Islands
Confirmation that a skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park is that of English king Richard III has sparked debate about his reputation as a historical bogeyman. But, as writer Jennifer Morag Henderson tells here, a 1950s Scottish author made efforts to have the notorious monarch viewed in a very different light.
The search for the body of Richard III was not instigated by a university, but by a group of amateur historians and enthusiasts, the Richard III Society.
The society exists to promote the idea that Richard was not the evil hunchback that we know from Shakespeare - and more generally aims to promote balanced historical research, rather than allowing history to be written by the victors.
The theory that Richard III was a man wronged by history whose reputation deserves to be re-examined was first popularised by a writer from Inverness, Josephine Tey, in her book The Daughter of Time.
Although the Richard III Society has been around since the 1920s, it was Tey's 1951 novel that brought their ideas to a more general reading public - on the Richard III Society website, they dedicate a special section to Tey's novel.
The Daughter of Time is an extraordinary book; an entertaining mystery novel featuring Tey's regular detective character Alan Grant, yet one that also takes a serious look at history and how we understand it.
It is also a novel that readers are extremely passionate about: it has never been out of print since it was first published, and on a recent edition of BBC Radio 4's A Good Read was described as "one of the most important books ever written".
As an introduction to the controversies surrounding Richard III, the book is second-to-none - and as a novel, it is absorbing, engaging, and utterly compelling, sweeping up each new reader in its argument.
The title of the novel comes from an old proverb, "Truth is the daughter of time", and the book directly challenges the received idea that Richard was a tyrant who murdered the Princes in the Tower. Instead, Tey shows detective Alan Grant discovering an entirely different picture of a man.
Tey was not a member of the Richard III Society, but she has certainly inspired more than one person to join - as well making countless readers question their own views of history.
So who was Josephine Tey, and why did this Highland woman have an interest in Richard III?
Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh, the daughter of a fruiterer from Inverness. She lived from 1896-1952. A prolific writer, one of her first big successes was a crime novel, featuring Alan Grant, called The Man in the Queue.
She went on to write seven more crime novels, one of which was adapted and filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, and several of which were adapted for radio and television, including Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair and The Singing Sands.
As well as being a mystery writer, Tey has been seen as something of a mystery herself.
She hid behind more than one pen-name, writing plays as well as novels. As Gordon Daviot, she scored a huge success with a play called Richard of Bordeaux, which ran in the West End in London for over a year before transferring to Broadway. Like The Daughter of Time, this play focused on a Shakespearian king, Richard II, but aimed to humanise him.
Richard of Bordeaux, produced in 1933, launched the career of a young actor called John Gielgud, and Tey worked with many other well-known actors of her day, such as Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, and one of the most famous interpreters of Shakespeare's Richard III, Laurence Olivier.
Despite her huge success, Tey shunned publicity, and continued to live in Inverness, where she kept house for her widower father. She had grown up in Inverness, and originally trained and worked as a PE teacher. Her training and career had mostly been in England, and she had only returned home after the sudden illness and death of her beloved mother.
Tey retained a fondness for the country where she had lived and worked as a student and young woman, and much of her writing is set in London and the south of England.
History was another of her passions, and, as well as the English kings Richard II and III, she wrote about Scottish history, including a play about Mary, Queen of Scots.
Tey was a fascinating woman, whose books cover a surprisingly wide range of topics, reflecting her own unusual background and experiences.
As an amateur historian who also published serious biography, she would have been interested in the recent archaeological dig to search for the remains of Richard III.
And, as a Ricardian and firm believer in the search for the truth, she would have been thrilled at the opportunity the discoveries have made for reassessment of Richard III.
Jennifer Morag Henderson is a writer from Inverness, and an expert on Josephine Tey. She is preparing a biography of Tey, and will be speaking about the author's life and work at Inverness Library on 21 March.