Truth Is The Daughter Of Time

Truth Is The Daughter Of Time

This is a frontispiece to a 1951 mystery novel by Josephine Tey (real name: Elizabeth Makintosh) named _The Daughter of Time_It is about the question of whether or not King Richard III ordered the murder of the “Little Princes in the Tower,” his nephews Edward and Richard, as has  long been alleged, and for a long time was simply accepted as historical fact.  This bestselling and very well and wittily written novel makes the case that Richard was framed by his successor, Henry (Tudor) VII, who usurped him after defeating and killing him in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  Tey manages to build up through the novel a very convincing case for this view, which I shall not get into the details of, although I highly recommend the novel, which I just finished reading. In any case, if she is right, or even partly right (because  have been many other accusations against Richard made as well), then this is one of those cases where “the victor gets to write the history.”

I note a few points.  The usual argument, still put accepted by many, is that Richard did the little princes in because they were threats to his having succeeded their father, his brother, Edward IV.  But in fact it is now accepted (documents surfaced centuries later on this apparently suppressed by Henry VII) that showed that they were illegitimate and thus not possible heirs to the throne. Richard had no reason to kill them.  He was invited to assume the throne by both houses of parliament and was thus completely legal and legitimate. And after his death, Henry had a Bill of Attainder brought against him in parliament listing all sorts of terrible things he supposedly did that justified the completely illegitimate Henry usurping Richard’s throne.  But murdering the princes was somehow not included in this Bill, which would obviously have been the top charge against Richard if it were true.  Furthermore, given Henry’s lack of any legitimacy, there was a large group of individuals, including the little princes if they were still alive, who had more claim to the throne than Henry.  He  was the British monarch who initially instituted Star Chambers that brought charges against each of these in turn allowing them to be “judicially murdered.” The grounds for these in some cases were as vague as “for certain reasons” (unnamed).  OTOH, a major reform Richard introduced was the right to bail.  There is much more, but this gives some idea of what Tey puts forth, most of which I have verified from other sources.

I see a couple of relevancies of this to current events, both the matter of arguments over “the Lost Cause” and Confederate monuments as well as the matter of whether or not Donald Trump will get away historically with stating over 20,000 lies since becoming president.  There seem to be three factors here.  One is whether a leader can be authoritarian or not, which Trump would like to be but is not quite.  Henry VII certainly was.  This allows one of many advantages in putting forth a false historical narrative.

Then there is the matter of having propagandists, especially initial ones.  For Trump that is clearly Fox News.  For the Lost Cause, there was not a single clear individual or group, but a long buildup through the late 19th and into the early 20th centuries.  For Henry VII the most important was his ally and enemy of Richard, John Morton, whom Henry made the Archbishop of Canterbury, a thoroughly corrupt individual.  Much younger than him, but working for him, was the much revered Sir Thomas More, and it was through More that Morton put forth the initial claims and accusations against Richard.

Then we have the role of arts and media.  I do not think Trump really has that yet, which takes more time, but for the enemies of Richard the most influential was William Shakespeare, whose play, Richard III, written during the reign of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, depicts him as a truly monstrous figure, the murderer of the little princes, slanderer of his mother, and much else, as well as being hunch-backed and with a withered arm, these latter all apparently false.  But he makes for a great villain, and the count of famous actors portraying him as such is beyond count.  Shakespeare’s play may be the reason more than any other why most people and many textbooks present the standard story as fact without any hint of doubt.  In many peoples’ minds, Richard may have been the worst of all British monarchs, with only King John a possible rival (btw, his corpse was found in 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester).

While Trump may not have his Shakespeare, the Lost Cause certainly had its victory in the arts and media by the early 20th century in the form of Hollywood, most influentially with the films Birth of a Nation by Griffiths that glorified the KKK and the not quite so virulent but probably more influential Gone with the Wind.  Hollywood bought the Lost Cause hook, line, and sinker all the way and really did a semi-Shakespeare version on it.

BTW, another curious example of historical distortion that I knew nothing about is reported in the novel, and it involves monuments, which do certainly reinforce these historical myths.  I had never heard of the Covenanters, but they were a radical Presbyterian group in Scotland that played a major role in making Scotland be predominantly Presbyterian, with the height of their activities being in the early 1600s, with a dramatic peak around 1638. Anyway, Tey (who was born in Scotland) reports on some monuments somewhere there to some women who were supposedly martyrs to the Covenanter cause.  However, according to her, they were not even killed. They were not martyrs at all. But the monuments and claims they have helped the cause. Apparently, the truth is now generally accepted, and occasionally somebody suggests taking down the monuments.  But somehow it does not happen because they make good tourist attractions for the small towns they are in.

Barkley Rosser