Richard III Society. All this because I read a slim book about a detective, stuck in a hospital bed after injuring his back chasing after a criminal, who relieves his boredom by investigating one of the greatest crimes in history – the murder of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspector Alan Grant features in most of Josephine Tey’s detective novels. He’s a detective in the style of Alleyn & Campion – urbane, civilised, handsome & intelligent. Lying in his hospital bed, bored with the pile of novels given to him by well-meaning friends, he’s visited by Marta Hallard, an actress who became a friend after Grant retrieved her emeralds from a thief. She brings him a pile of prints, portraits of famous historical figures who were the principals in classic mysteries. Grant can’t do any physical detecting but why shouldn’t he exercise his brain on a classic historical mystery instead?
Look, Mr Grant, let’s you and I start at the very beginning of this thing. Without history books, or modern versions or anyone’s opinion about anything. Truth isn’t in accounts but in account books.
Brent goes back to the original sources & they discover that most of the stories told about Richard were written to please the Tudor dynasty after Henry Tudor defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. History is written by the victors & Thomas More’s account of events he was too young to have witnessed influenced Shakespeare who wrote the play that has defined mainstream opinion of Richard as a traitorous hunchbacked murderer of innocents ever since. Grant & Carradine realise that much of the history they learnt at school is just wrong, manipulated by the victors & accepted as fact, which is where Tonypandy comes in.
Tonypandy is a village in Wales where government troops were said to have shot striking miners in 1910. The facts were quite different & Tonypandy becomes shorthand for every falsehood written down in history books & taught in school as gospel truth hundreds of years after the fact. The result of their research is that Grant & Brent conclude that Richard had nothing to do with the Princes’s deaths & that they probably survived him & were murdered by order of Henry VII. Josephine Tey paints such a heroic picture of Richard & such a dastardly one of Henry that thousands of readers have been convinced of Richard’s innocence on the strength of this one book. Many people cite the novel as the beginning of their fascination with Richard & it leads many to join the Richard III Society.
However, the fact that my feelings about the historical Richard have changed can’t diminish my enjoyment of this wonderful novel. I still read it at least once a year, for the nostalgic picture of London in the 1950s, to read about the excitement of research & to visit Alan Grant in his comfortable hospital bed, eating rissoles & rhubarb, rewriting history in the most entertaining detective novel ever written.