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Interview with Alex Marchant, Ricardian Children’s Author

Cover of 'The Order of the White Boar'

There is a new Ricardian children’s author on the block: Alex Marchant. Alex kindly agreed to an interview:

Q: You’ve recently published your first novel about King Richard III for children, The Order of the White Boar. What made you write about King Richard?

Alex: I first became interested in King Richard in my teens when my eye was caught by an intriguing title among the books in the school library: ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey. By the time I finished reading the book I was a confirmed Ricardian (even if I didn’t know the term then). I think what piqued my interest was a sense of the enormous injustice this man had suffered after his death – along with the tragedy of that death and of the preceding two or three years of his life. I joined the Richard III Society (I think as one of its youngest members), read as much as I could about the man and visited major sites associated with his life – and death.

I’d always been interested in history and always written stories, including attempts at book-length works throughout my teens. But then life got in the way as it often does – university, career, marriage, kids, house renovation – and it was only a few years ago I returned to writing. And soon after that came the announcement of the dig to find his grave in Leicester, then the momentous press conference that revealed that King Richard had, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, been found.

Q: It was quite a day, wasn’t it? What was your reaction to the announcement?

A: My first thought – after surprise and delight – was ‘This is a unique opportunity to restore Richard’s reputation. What can I do to help?’ I knew I wasn’t a campaigner – the sort of person who writes letters to important people or stands up to speak in support of a cause. But perhaps I could write a children’s book that could communicate Richard’s story to a new generation. At that point I was editing my previous book, ‘Time out of Time’, in hopes of publication and was also partway through a second book for children, so I was uncertain whether I should move on to something completely new. But when a little research showed that there really weren’t any books aimed at my target age group (10–13) showing Richard in a positive light, I realized this was a gap in the market that needed to be filled.

Q: Were you surprised about that?

A: To be honest, yes. I found that there were several such books for adults (a number that has increased over the past five years), but even an approach to the Richard III Society librarian only turned up a couple for children – neither of which was a straightforward story of his life. One was a timeslip book, ‘A Knight on Horseback’ by American author Ann Rabinowitz, which follows the adventures of a twentieth-century boy who gradually learns the true story of Richard III after his initial exposure to the Tudor myths and Shakespeare’s version. The other, ‘A Sprig of Broom’ by Barbara Willard, is a beautifully written evocation of early Tudor England – but Richard appears only in the prologue, which takes place on the eve of Bosworth. The rest tells the story of Richard of Eastwell – at least the interpretation that has him as Richard’s illegitimate son. And by the end, the main character decides he doesn’t want to be known to be related to King Richard….

With the nationwide excitement at the finding of Richard’s grave, I thought there were bound to be other books for children on the way – as has proved to be the case – but by that time my lead character Matthew was hammering on my door, demanding that I write his story, and it was very hard to say no. So I put my half-finished Scottish book on the back burner for the time being, and set to work researching Richard and his times while I finished editing ‘Time out of Time’.

Q: You say none of the previous books for children was a straightforward telling of Richard’s life. In ‘The Order of the White Boar’, you didn’t choose to take that course either, preferring to concentrate on his final years and viewing them through the eyes of a fictitious character. Why was that?

A: I suppose partly because Richard’s life has been brilliantly told already through adult fiction, in books that have been very influential in terms of changing people’s minds about him: Penman’s ‘Sunne in Splendour’ and Hawley Jarman’s ‘We Speak no Treason’ for example are often mentioned as having shown people the way beyond Shakespeare’s monstrous depiction towards the real history of the man. And maybe because I thought those books that were likely to be in the publishing pipeline after the rediscovery of his grave would offer the straightforward story – as has been the case with a couple that have appeared. Perhaps most importantly, I felt that a young narrator who was an outsider – as Matthew is, being just a merchant’s son, rather than a noble – would be able to offer a different perspective – a view of Richard that hasn’t been seen before.

Q: In one of the early reviews of the book, the writer says that, rather than portraying Richard as a warrior or romantic hero, as in most adult novels, ‘The Order’ shows him ‘as a master, as a father, as a family man and as a decent, kind-hearted adult . . . He feels much more human than he usually does in historical fiction.’ Is that what you were aiming for?

A: Very much so – and I’m delighted if readers think I have managed it! My intention was always to show ‘the real Richard’ – the man who served his brother in administering the north of England, did the job well, treated the people fairly, was a cultured family man as well as a soldier. And who, in the spring of 1483, when faced with the tragedy of his brother’s early death, had to deal with a difficult and dangerous situation. My aim was to use the contemporary sources as much as possible to lay the foundations for exploring his motivations and reactions when navigating the potentially explosive events of that time. The traditional histories seem to me to struggle with explaining how this loyal, steadfast brother changed into the murdering, usurping tyrant so beloved of the Tudor-created legend. I hope that seeing Richard’s character and behaviour through a child’s eyes in both domestic and more public situations allows the reader to work out for themselves who he was and what his actions mean.

Q: You mention the death of King Edward IV in the spring of 1483. While hoping not to give too much away about ‘The Order of the White Boar’, it does in fact end at that time. Do you think readers will be disappointed at that?

A: I hope not, although I can understand it if they are. But I hope they’ll take on board the note at the end, saying that a second book of Matthew and his friends’ adventures is coming soon. ‘The Order’ doesn’t end on a cliffhanger as such, rather at the start of a journey – one which represents the closing of one chapter in Matthew’s life and the opening of another. And the same can also be said for Richard – in some ways, the death of his brother was the start of a very different part of his life. The next book, ‘The King’s Man’, tells the story of the next two years or so – from a few days after the end of ‘The Order’ through to the fateful days of August 1485.

A: You say the second book is ‘coming soon’. How soon, and how does it build on the foundations laid in ‘The Order’?

Q: If all goes to plan, ‘The King’s Man’ will be published in spring 2018 – so not too long to wait (although it may well seem ages to my younger readers!) It’s finished, but needs some final editing before production starts. As I say, it takes up the story again as Richard and Matthew travel south to meet with the new boy king, Edward V, and catapults them into the political intrigues and manoeuvrings on the road, in court and in the cities of London and Westminster. We meet again some of the characters (historical and fictional) encountered perhaps only briefly in the first book and see the effects and influences they have on the lives of both Richard and Matthew.

Of course readers, both adults and children, who have a knowledge of the history of the time will know where the story ultimately leads, and the challenges and heartbreaks along the way. ‘The King’s Man’ is overall a much darker book than ‘The Order’. But I hope it offers not only a flavour of the times, but also a worthwhile exploration of how and why events played out as they did.

Q: Where will you go next? Back to your half-finished Scottish book? Or, as many of us who write about him find, will you be drawn back to Richard?

A: I’m not sure Drew – the main character of the other book – will be pleased to hear this, but no, I’m not finished with Richard yet! (Poor Drew – I’d already abandoned him once before, to write ‘Time out of Time’…) I’ve already started preparing a third book in the ‘White Boar’ sequence that takes the characters (at least those who remain) beyond the events of August 1485. There are events that stretch years beyond that date which, to me, are still part of Richard’s story. In some ways, of course, that story continues to today – to the many people around the world who are still fighting for a reassessment of his life and reputation in light of what we now know about him and the lies that were told in the decades and centuries after his death. But the story I’ll tell will be that of people who knew him personally and sought to defend him in living memory.

Q: It sounds like we’ll have to wait a little more than six months for the third book in the series.

A: I’m afraid so. My track record isn’t great on finishing books quickly! My first took three and a half years, my second two and a half – although I suppose you could say it was just over a year as I wrote both ‘White Boar’ books one after the other in that time, treating them as a single story at first. But I plan to self-publish ‘Time out of Time’ while working on the third ‘White Boar’ book. I hope that readers who enjoy ‘The Order of the White Boar’ will similarly enjoy it, although it’s rather a different beast. It’s a mixture of timeslip and ghost story, drawing on my former career as an archaeologist. The Scottish book is also a sort of ghost story based around an archaeological dig – that was one of the main reasons I decided to write straightforward historical fiction when it came to Richard’s story. Although at first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself properly in the fifteenth century in order to write from the point of view of a fifteenth-century boy!

Q: But you did manage it?

A: Perhaps too well. For months after I finished the book I missed my characters enormously, they’d accompanied me for so long on my dog walks over the local moors! I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with them – well, some of them anyway – over the next few months as I make a start on the new project.

Q: I very much look forward to reading it when it’s finished – and of course ‘The King’s Man’ in the new year. Thank you, Alex, for speaking to us today.

A: Thank you.




Historical murder investigations redux

thewenchisdeadA fictional police officer lies in a hospital bed and his mind wanders to a historic case.

However, it isn’t Inspector Alan Grant and the disappearance of the “Princes”, as related by Tey, but Inspector Morse and the definite murder of Christina Collins.

Written in 1989, The Wench is Dead was broadcast on Radio 4 in 1992 and was John Thaw’s penultimate television case as Morse on ITV in 1998.

Brat Farrar

Josephine Tey’s novel Brat Farrar is widely perceived as having been based on the Victorian Tichborne case where a well-upholstered Australia-based butcher’s son posed as the missing claimant to a baronetcy. Arthur Orton/ Castro persuaded Roger Tichborne’s mother that he was the heir to the title, but very few others and lost his court casesbratfarrar.

In a book serialised by BBC1 in 1986, in their classic “Sunday teatime literature slot”, Tey makes some of the Ashby family circumstances different and introduces an interesting psychological feature: Simon knows that Farrar cannot be his elder twin, Patrick, because … but we won’t spoil the ending for those who have not yet read it. This frequently occurs in great literature and Rattigan, for example, plays with the facts of George Archer-Shee’s postal order problems at Dartmouth Naval College in The Winslow Boy.

Is Tey implying something more? We all know that she also wrote The Daughter of Time, in which she employs the device of a fictional mid-C20 policeman to explore the facts about the “Princes”. Is Brat Farrar, written two years earlier, a previous attempt at this objective. Is Patrick actually the younger “Prince” (or a combination of both) and is Simon his, or their, brother-in-law? It is more than sixty years too late to ask Tey but perhaps she wrote about it somewhere, privately.

Truth really is the daughter of time – and so it should be for a king like Richard III….!


The sad events in the immediate aftermath of Bosworth are well known to us all, and are not always illustrated with any kindness to the murdered Richard III, but somehow, this one from the 18th century does him no disservice. He is shown as a young man, not ill-formed, and seems to be carried with reasonable dignity, given the circumstances.

Nor does the article from which it is taken do him any disservice, but sets out the facts, balancing Josephine Tey’s matchless fiction/non-fiction work, The Daughter of Time, against the truthless writings of More and Shakespeare. Richard emerges victorious, thanks to the justice of the daughter of time. She stayed her hand for many centuries, but at last the truth is emerging for all to see.

I recommend this article. It is a very enjoyable read for everyone who knows what a truly awful deal history apportioned to Richard. It will also be an enjoyable read for those who do not know the truth, but have blithely accepted what More, Shakespeare and their Tudor masters have dished out for far too long.

A 19th century British reference to the Portuguese marriage

The facts of the proposed marriages of Richard III to Joana of Portugal and of Manoel of Beja to Elizabeth of York had, of course, been known in Portugal for a long time, before being published by Domingos Mauricio Gomes dos Santos in 1963.

Arthur Kincaid picked up on this and mentioned the marriages in his 1979 publication of his edition of Buck. Barrie Williams then wrote about the matter at length in the Ricardian in the 1980s and Jeremy Potter mentioned the marriages also in his 1983 book Good King Richard? And it was Williams, of course, who inspired Annette Carson to look into the matter more deeply, and write at length about it in The Maligned King.

Yet, there has been no evidence that earlier Ricardians (ie before 1963) knew anything about the matter. Paul Murray Kendall did not know about the marriages, and bemoaned the “fact” that Richard had made no effort to marry off his nieces to get them out of Henry Tudor’s reach (he did not know about Cecily and Ralph Scrope, either). It does not feature in The Daughter of Time; nor in Philip Lindsay’s glowing biography in 1933, nor in Sir Clements Markham’s 1906 book, nor any of the earlier authors, such as Halsted and Buck. Yet, at least one near-contemporary of Markham did know, and mentioned it in one of his books. Unfortunately, he was not a Ricardian…..

Henry (H) Morse Stephens was born in 1857 in Edinburgh and attended Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a BA in 1880 and an MA in 1892. He was a staff lecturer there until 1894. He also lectured at Cambridge University on Indian history, while writing articles for a number of magazines and papers.

Stephens also wrote a number of books including works about Sir Robert Peel, the French revolution, Indian history … and a history of Portugal, which appears to have been written in the early 1890s. In discussing the reign of Joana’s brother, King (Dom) João II (still popular in Portugal today, by the way, with at least one Algarve hotel named after him!), Stephens talks about João’s relationship with Edward IV and Richard III, in particular relating to the renewals of the Treaty of Windsor by both Kings. He then has this to say:

“In 1485 the King of Portugal proposed in a Cortes held at Alcobaça, that his only sister, Joanna (sic), should be given in marriage to Richard III, but the princess, who … wished to become a nun … refused the alliance”.

Interestingly, it was at that Cortes that the Portuguese discovered, to their dismay, that Richard was exploring the possibility of marrying Isabel of Aragon if Joana would not have him. This, of course, pretty much ensured a favourable reply from the Portuguese, and led to Annette Carson’s interesting and very plausible interpretation of Buck’s Elizabeth of York letter: that she was asking Norfolk to speak to Richard to ensue he pursued the Portuguese marriage (which offered marriage with Manoel of Beja), rather than the Spanish one, which offered her nothing.

So…… there were indeed people before the 20th Century in this country, and not just in Portugal, who knew perfectly well that Richard was not trying to marry his niece and yet none of the people who would have benefited from the information – like Markham – knew anything about it. In the case of Stephens’s book, it was a specialised subject that a Ricardian author would have no reason to read, unless he also happened, by chance, to be interested in Portugal. Another problem in this particular case was that Stephens emigrated to America in 1894, becoming Professor of History at Berkeley, in California. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, he spent the rest of his life (he died in 1919) collecting as much information as possible about that tragedy.

The cynic in me, though, does wonder whether others (ie those not well disposed towards Richard) might have known – and chosen to keep the information to themselves.

One final point about Markham, he visited Portugal at least once (and was actually staying in Estoril when he heard of the death of his friend Robert Scott (of the Antarctic)). If only he had known……


Wikipedia – Henry Morse Stephens

Arthur Kincaid – edition of George Buck’s original work

Jeremy Potter – Good King Richard?

Annette Carson – The Maligned King

H Morse Stephens – The Story of Portugal (described in the Kindle version as a Short History of Portugal)

A 1950’s Kids’ Book with a Different View

We tend to think of anything relating to Richard  III prior to the last  forty years to be biased towards traditional views, with the exceptions of Josephine Tey’s novel, Paul Murray Kendall’s biography, a few other novels like Patrick Carlton’s Under the Hog, and the early  ‘defenders’ such as Buck, Markham and Halsted. Children’s books in particular seem to tow the Shakespearean line, with illustrations of shadowy, black clad, limping uncles menacing angelic golden haired children depicted as little more than toddlers. Royal Children of English History  by  famous author E. Nesbit was one of these, containing not only the More-inspired story of the princes finished by a line  that went something like ‘he (Richard) was killed at Bosworth by a much better man, as he throughly deserved.’ (She seemed unaware that Henry Tudor placed a young child, Edward of Warwick, into the Tower shortly thereafter. There were also references to ‘the great Henry VIII’ and a story that made Edward of Lancaster seem to be a young child going into battle rather than a young man).

However, there were exceptions:  in the 1950’s a softcover book for children appeared Mediaeval Britain Told in Pictures by C.W. Aime. This book covered the medieval era  but used the medium of art rather than text, with the drawing based of portraits and illustrations of the day. We see pilgrimages and we see the burning of Lollards (older kids’ books tenders NOT to skirt around such things) and we have the wedding of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, an armoured Richard Duke of York…and even the  murder of Edmund of Rutland at Wakefield (who tends to get forgotten in favour of Edward of Lancaster.) Sopeaking of which, the book goes on then to illustrated Edward IV’s reign including a scene in which  the King strikes Edward of Lancaster who is then murdered by his men.

This is where it gets interesting. Under the caption there is no mention of Richard having any involvement at all, despite the overwhelming Shakespearean influence of the time. The blame seems to be laid firmly at Edward’s door. The next page features drawings of both Edward V and Richard III and facsimiles of their signatures…and not a mention of  murders in the Tower, hunchbacks,  smothering, dolorous babes or usurpation.

Instead at the bottom of the page is a very interesting comment : ‘The brief reigns of Edward V (1483) and Richard III (1483-1485) are important chiefly as transition periods introducing the Tudor Despotism.’

An unusual opinion in that particular era especially in a book primarily intended for children–but certainly a refreshing one.



One of Richard’s finest rescuers….

Josepine Tey - 2

This lady turned me into a Ricardian. Single-handedly. The Daughter of Time is a wonderful book that is still changing people’s lives today. Richard owes her a lot for rescuing him from the outer reaches of Shakespearean bias. I shall definitely be reading this new biography of her:




A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”


To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.


I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.


King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.


Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:


“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”


In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:


Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          


The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.


The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:


“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”


It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.


“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”


Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.


On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.


In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.


The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.


I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.


Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.



According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the noun Ricardianism means ‘support for or advocacy of Richard III’. Even though I have been a supporter of king Richard III for almost six decades, I am reluctant to describe myself as a Ricardian since it implies a narrow interest in one man. I prefer to call myself a Revisionist, which implies a wider interest. This is a personal eccentricity, which I have to bear. I mean no criticism or offence to Ricardians and I sincerely hope none is taken by my frankness. However, the distinction is important to me because it has informed my personal search for the real king Richard.  I have been looking for him since I was a pre-pubescent schoolboy in East London in the fifties. During that time I have met many different ‘Richards’; the purpose of this piece is to share a few of them with you.


Olivier’s Richard: the bravura baddie

Although William Shakespeare bears some responsibility for my interest in the last Plantagenet king, it was Laurence Olivier who fired my imagination with his electrifying performance of the king. The first thing to strike me about Olivier’s performance was his voice. It is, as he himself described, it “ …the thin reed of a sanctimonious scholar…it set the vision going thin and rapier like but all-powerful…the perfect hypocrite…. A mixture of honey and razor blades ”[1] Olivier’s Richard is a baddie, but he was an irresistibly captivating baddie. He is witty, he is heroic, and he is sexually potent. The passage wherein he woos Anne, the mourning widow of the man he has just murdered is one of the most lascivious scenes in cinematic history. Olivier’s brilliant and irresistible theatricality is only the posturing of power. He knows how wicked his deeds are but he does them anyway. His opening soliloquy sets the scene:

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…


“Since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well spoken days

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of the day

Plots have I laid…”

And he doesn’t disappoint: from the moment he walks on the set, he frames each event for us. He announces it in advance, providing a running commentary and evaluating its success. He seduces a grieving widow as she accompanies her dead husband’s coffin. He murders anyone who gets in his way: his brother, his wife, his nephews, his friend and comrade in arms. He lies, tricks, boasts, leers, jeers and laughs his way to the throne, delighting in his own malignity and making the camera a mirror for his vanity. And then he falls: spectacularly. Richmond invades from France and takes the initiative. His ‘supporters’ desert him and the hunchback metaphor rises to the surface; he is racked with the ghosts of those he has murdered. Typically, his courage is unimpaired. At Bosworth on his last day on earth he tells us “Richard is himself again”. Fighting with supernatural courage and ferocity to retain his life and crown; finally his enemies overwhelm him. In the end only his voice sours: “ a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse... Ultimately, Richard’s death is as much a performance as his life. Great stuff! I still watch that film today and I still have an almost irresistible urge to punch Stanley Baker’s lights out.


Inspector Grant’s Richard: on the bench and not in the dock

To be honest I have only read three Ricardian novels and I only enjoyed two of them. Pride of place must go to Josephine Tey. Her novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ set a very high standard for novelists to aspire too during the sixty plus years since Inspector Alan Grant made his first appearance in Ricardian literature. As an experienced Scotland Yard detective Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a criminal on sight. However, when, on being shown the NPG portrait of Richard III, he places him on the bench rather than in the dock, Grant begins to fret. From his hospitable bed and with the help of a young American researcher called Brett Carradine he begins an investigation into the allegations against king Richard, which Grant thinks changes history. Grant sees Richard as a man much traduced and he blames the historians for this. His Richard is a virtuous man, honest and loyal to a fault, brave and an able administrator. He is just, with a genuine care for the common weal. As a former soldier himself, Grant is hugely impressed with Richard’s military career (‘he was a brigadier at eighteen’). It took me a few years to find out that Inspector Grant’s version of Richard was based on the work of Sir Clement Markham. Published at the turn of the twentieth century. Markham’s account is an elegant but flawed defence of Richard, which modern scholars tend to regard like the ‘curates egg’: it is good in parts.


The Tudor Richard: the facts do not always speak for themselves

It is the Tudor based history of Richard started by Sir Thomas More and completed by William Shakespeare, which still dominates the public’s perception of him as a regicide, homicide, usurper and tyrant. This is the Tudor view of Richard that took hold immediately after Bosworth. Mindful of his weak claim to the throne, Henry VII ‘encouraged’ his subjects to believe that his victory and accession was the preordained ending of Richard’s tyrannical reign and, further, that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was the heaven-sent ending of thirty years of internecine civil wars. It is this doctrine that Professor EMW Tillyard calls the ‘Tudor Myth’[2] It is intended to promote the Tudor worldview not just by blackening Richard’s name but by directing what people should think about the Tudors, their claim to the throne and English history. It was a political necessity to blacken Richard’s name to enable the purity of the Tudor dynasty to shine ever brighter.

Professor Paul Murray Kendall describes the growth of this process: “In the court of king Henry VII…there existed among the men who conspired against king Richard III and bought his overthrow a body of opinion, continually enlarged by tales and conjectures concerning the past, which they had conquered. It was out of this amorphous mass of fact, reminiscence, hearsay growing ever more colourful and detailed with the passing years, that the authors of Henry VIII’s day fashioned the (Tudor) tradition.” The problem with the Tudor tradition is not simply that it represents the history of the victors, but also that it is confused and conflicting, and it is based on nothing more than rumour and gossip. It is also clear that Henry VII tampered with the historical record. He ordered Titulus Regius, Richard’s Act of Settlement, to be destroyed without being read, on pain of punishment. He also allowed his official Tudor historian to publish a false account of Richards’s title and his accession[3]. This whole episode highlights the pivotal role played by historians in shaping our perception of history.


Self evidently, historical facts are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong. It was the historian EH Clark who wrote: “I am reminded of Houseman’s remark that ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. To praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using properly seasoned wood and properly mixed concrete in his buildings.”[4] Nonetheless, facts do not necessarily speak for themselves. Peoples’ opinions are influenced by the selection and arrangement of appropriate facts. And it is the historians who decide what facts are important, and their context. Necessarily, this is a subjective exercise; it is a mistake to think that facts exist independently of a historian’s interpretation. What constitutes an important ‘historical fact’ as opposed to an ordinary unhistorical fact depends on the historian’s viewpoint. For instance, our picture of England during Richard’s reign is incomplete. This is not just due to gaps in the sources or records but also to the fact that those we do have are largely written by a small number of people in southeastern England. We know quite a bit about the discontent of the Yorkist gentry in London and the south, but we know little or nothing about how his reign was viewed outside that area.   Our view of Richard’s reign has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. Not only are the facts we do have subjective; we almost certainly do not have all the facts.


The modern Richard: a study in polemics

These problems raise important ethical and professional questions about impartiality and objectivity. Can historians remain objective? Should they be objective? Professor John Gillingham explores these questions in an essay about Richard’s character.[5] He identifies the dichotomy between Richard’s behavior before 1483 and the nature of his alleged crimes thereafter as the central problem in explaining his character, which he argue raises ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’. It creates a hostile, adversarial environment in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign. He argues that the whole process has developed the features of a courtroom trial (indeed it has). This is awkward because (in the words of historian David Knowles) “…an historian is not a judge, much less a hanging judge” Professor Gillingham adds that it is this reluctance to judge historical characters, allied (in this case) to a realization that “… the evidence base is non-existent” that has led to an accommodation between the traditionalist historians and Ricardians.

He may well be right, but I see little or no evidence of any such ‘accommodation’. Indeed, traditionalist and Ricardian literature and their respective websites are replete with strident and in some cases intolerant views on Richard’s guilt or innocence. Unfortunately for the disinterested observer, too much of this writing is polemical: some for him but most against him.   Professor Charles Ross put his finger on the key issue for modern historians: “ The extraordinary problems of the evidence are highlighted by the difficulty historians have always found in providing an answer to the vital question: when and why did Richard seek the throne for himself?” [6] Clearly, anybody wishing to write a balanced piece about Richard has to struggle with the paradox of his behaviour before April 1483 and the crimes he is accused of thereafter. Professor Ross assures us that the modern approach is to ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” Ross further argues that modern historians have a much better understanding of the Tudor tradition and a wider knowledge of fifteenth century English politics, adding for good measure that this has resulted in “…a more critical appreciation of the value of the Tudor tradition and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence…”[7] Even for a neutral observer, these comments raise two obvious issues. First, one wonders how closely the events of these times can be scrutinized given the ‘extraordinary problems’ of the evidence alluded to. Second, the suggestion that the Tudor tradition is confirmed by contemporary sources simply begs the question, since the probity of the contemporary material is precisely the issue disputed by Ricardians. The Tudor writers may simply be repeating the mistakes of fifteenth century sources.


The return of the king

The rescue of Richard’s bones from a municipal car park and their reinternment in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester is a historic moment, which I welcome. It enables people to focus on his humanity, which is a much-needed balance to the Tudor inspired caricature we are familiar with. We know what he looked like, what he ate, what he drank, that he had scoliosis, and exactly how he died — in graphic detail. Nevertheless, his reinternment with honour has done nothing to close the rift between Ricardians and traditionalists. More worryingly from my perspective, is the impression I get that the drama surrounding his discovery and reinternment, and the keen debate it has provoked, may be transforming the last Plantagenet king into a cult figure.   Moreover, the discovery of his bones, invaluable though this is, does not actually advance our knowledge and understanding of the defining events of his life: the bastardization and deposition of his nephew Edward V, and the disappearance of the two Princes in the Tower. A dearth of reliable contemporary sources, the growth of an enduring legend, epitomized by Shakespeare, and the passage of time have conspired to prevent us from being able to establish what truly happened during the critical period of Richard’s life. I accept that on the material we have now we cannot know the truth. We can interpret the material according to our personal agenda, we can analyse peoples’ movements and actions and we can infer their intentions and motives. But, as things, stand we can never know what the actual truth is.

For me, therefore, the search continues….

[1] Laurence Olivier – On Acting (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1986). I suspect Olivier was really a Ricardian. This is what the thought of Shakespeare’s history “I didn’t read any of the books that were around, protecting Richard from the false rumour written by this tinkerer with melodrama, whose name is William Shakespeare, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else. I just stayed with the man.” (p79)

[2]. EMW Tillyard Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1944); pp. 29-32

[3]. It was (and is) unheard of for a Parliamentary bill to be repealed without being read. It is indicative of Henry VII‘s desire to suppress the truth.

[4]. EH Clark- What is History? (Palgrave Macmillan 2001 edition) at page 5

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) pp 11

[6]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 64.

[7]. Ross at page LXVI

The Best Novel You’ve Never Heard Of (unless you’re a supporter of Richard III)….

josephine tey

We all know Josephine Tey, so it’s good see a new review at It is quoted in full here:-

The Best Novel You’ve Never Heard Of

June 16, 2015 by Thomas L. McDonald

It’s a mystery where the mystery is 500 years old, and everyone already knows the solution. Or at least they think they do.

The detective is stuck in a hospital bed for the entire novel.

There is no action whatsoever. We never leave the hospital room.

Only three characters have any kind of substantial roles, and only a handful of other characters appear at all.

It was voted Number One on the list of Top Crime Novels of All Time by the Crime Writer’s Association (UK) in 1990.

And it is, indeed, the greatest mystery novel of all time.

The book is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I have an omnibus of Tey novels I’d never cracked, but I first heard about this one on a BBC radio show when Peter Hitchens described it as the most important novel he’s ever read. We’ll get to his reasons for saying that in a moment (and they’re good reasons), but who is this author and what is this strange book?

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of respected playwrite Gordon Daviot, whose “Richard of Bordeaux” ran for 14 months in London and helped make John Gielgud a star. Daviot, it turned out, was also a pseudonym. The real author of all these works was Elizabeth Macintosh, but even that doesn’t tell us much, because Macintosh was intensely private and we know very little about her life. She even kept her final illness a secret, and her few friends, such as Gielgud, only learned about her death when her obituary appeared.

What does matter is that she could write like gangbusters. She shows off a bit of this skill as she assesses and imitates different types of novel which people keep leaving with her hero. One is a typical agrarian novel:

The Sweat and the Furrow was Silas Weekley being earthy and spade-conscious all over seven hundred pages. The situation, to judge from the first paragraph, had not materially changed since Silas’s last book: mother lying-in with her eleventh upstairs, father laid-out after his ninth downstairs, eldest son lying to the Government in the cowshed, eldest daughter lying with her lover in the hay-loft, everyone else lying low in the barn. The rain dripped from the thatch, and the manure steamed in the midden. Silas never omitted the manure. It was not Silas’s fault that its steam provided the only up-rising element the picture. If Silas could have discovered a brand of steam that steamed downward, Silas would have introduced it. 

That’s just damn good writing.

In The Daughter of Time, Tey’s series detective, Scotland Yard’s Alan Grant, is stuck in bed with a broken leg, being driven batty by boredom. His friend Marta brings an envelope full of engravings to help him pass that time. Grant likes to read faces. He claims he can tell whether a person is a judge or a defendant by just looking at his face. Among the pictures is a print of King Richard III, and this one begins to work on him.

He knows what schoolboys know about Richard: crouchback, the monster who killed the boys in the tower and stole the crown before suffering an ignominious death on the field at Bosworth.

But of course, that’s Shakespeare, not history.

Grant starts to read about Richard, first in schoolbooks, and then with the help of a researcher at the British Museum, he drills down through layers of legend and pseudo-fact. It’s an interesting process, beginning with the kind of common knowledge everything assumes to be true, then peeling away layers like an onion. He doesn’t start with the goal of proving Richard innocent of the murders, but as “facts” are revealed to be mere propaganda and lies, the real story slowly emerges.

And it is absolutely gripping. Grant gets new material (from books, friends, or research), ponders and discusses it, and one by one two tales are told.

The first is a tale of research. Call it a Research Thriller. Anyone who knows the real thrill of discovery when you’re deep in researching a topic (and readers of some of my longer pieces know I’ve experienced it myself) will understand how engrossing this can be. It’s true detection: finding data, interpreting it, and slotting it into the larger puzzle.

The second is the tale of Richard III, the rise of the utterly vile Tudors in the form of Henry VII, and the disappearance of the princes in the tower. If you think you know this story, you don’t. It may or may not prove that Richard is innocent to your satisfaction, but it will raise a lot of hard-to-answer questions. It will make you want to read more on the subject. And there’s plenty to read.

But its most important quality is the way it cuts through received wisdom to get to truth. This is the reason Peter Hitchens singled it out:

I found myself describing ‘The Daughter of Time’ as ‘one of the most important books ever written’. The words came unbidden to my tongue, but I don’t, on reflection retreat from them. Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land. Her story-telling ability is apparently effortless (and therefore you may be sure it was the fruit of great hard work. (As Ernest Hemingway said ‘if it reads easy, that is because it was writ hard’) . But what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, incuriosity and of a resistance to reason.

Yes, exactly. Tey offers one piece of “fact” after another, and then explodes it with a reference to a primary resource that directly disproves it. We learn how rumor and propaganda (specifically Tudor propaganda, of which Shakespeare, peace be upon him, was a master hand) utterly replaced hard fact, and how even subsequent historians merely folded these facts into the old narrative without bothering to see how they make that narrative impossible.

As Grant says about the historians he’s reading, “They seem to have no talent for the likeliness of any situation. They see history like a peep-show; with two-dimensional figures against a distant background.”

Catholics will recognize this immediately because it’s the dominant narrative of mainstream Church history today. The church certainly has her share of dark and shameful moments, but the exaggerated quality of this narrative–the millions tortured and killed, the oppression, the damage done to civilization–is a pure lie concocted largely by Protestant Reformers, political enemies, atheists, and the sensationalist press. As someone who teaches Church history, I read the schoolbooks, just like Grant does in the novel, and I find the same lazy errors and outright lies.

If Richard III is what contemporary records show he was–a good king unseated by a wicked rival with no claim to the throne who actually murdered the princes–then how did the story get turned out around?

And if that piece of history is completely false, what else is?

“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon in a line that gives the book its title.

Or as Tey says, history is not in the accounts, but in the account books. It’s the little details, not the stories of the victors, that we must look to.

That’s Tey’s gift to you in The Daughter of Time. When you’re done, you won’t take anything at face value, nor should you, even your faith. Probe deeper, ask questions, be a detective. In other words, test everything, hold on to what is true.

UPDATE: I knew when I used the clickbait headline I’d start hearing from people who read and loved it, and it turned out to be a favorite of a large number of Catholic bloggers, including my blogmother Julie D. She has an episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find on Tey.

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