Truth is the daughter of time, maybe – Richard and Raimond
I know we’re all obsessing about Brexit at the moment. But here is something completely different.
If I asked my readers what they knew about King Richard III, I suspect the answer would be something like this: “He was the last king of England before the Tudors, his body was dug up recently underneath a carpark in Leicester, he’s traditionally thought to have been completely evil, as in the Shakespeare play, and in particular he murdered his nephews the Princes in the Tower. But on the other hand a lot of people think he didn’t murder them at all.”
A huge amount of research time and paper-and-ink has been spent over the last four hundred years or so in trying to establish that, contrary to Tudor reports, Richard III did not kill King Edward V and his younger brother. These attempts go back at least to the time of Jane Austen, the original Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Historian: “it has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to believe true.”
The most famous and influential of Richard’s defenders however is Josephine Tey (detective story writer from the Golden Age, real name Elizabeth MacIntosh, 1896-1952). Her most famous book is “The Daughter of Time,” which with great originality has her modern detective Alan Grant investigate the murder of the Princes in the Tower from his hospital bed. He concludes that “from the police point of view there is no case against Richard at all.”
There is more to be said about Josephine Tey generally, but her books are noteworthy for their elegant prose, wit and readability. “The Daughter of Time” sounds dull, but is not. When I first read it I was utterly convinced by its arguments, and I’m sure many other people have been too. Her book has Grant and his friend exclaim eloquently how much rubbish there must be in generally accepted history, and indeed they’re possibly right.
I don’t think that anyone nowadays asserts Richard’s guilt without explanation or caveat, and I suspect that Ms Tey is largely responsible for this substantial change in historical focus. My experience of fictionalised versions are that they always portray Richard as innocent. After all, that’s so much more tragic and interesting.
But more recently I started to wonder about some of the aspects Tey doesn’t have Alan Grant consider, in his supposedly exhaustive study of the evidence.
In particular, towards the beginning Grant is reviewing his extremely limited knowledge of the case, and he remembers that “Two skeletons had turned up – under some stairs? – in Charles II’s day, and had been buried. It was taken for granted that the skeletons were the remains of the young princes, but nothing had ever been proved.”
This, I’m fairly sure, is the last and only time that those skeletons are mentioned in the book.
But the skeletons are the most convincing evidence of Richard’s guilt. They are children’s skeletons, found in the Tower. If they are the princes (and who else would they be?) and if the post-mortem done in 1933 assessed their ages correctly, which it may not have done, then they died during the reign of Richard III and not during the succeeding reign of Henry VII. And if they died under his watch with no obvious explanation, it’s very hard to exonerate Richard from some or all of the responsibility for their deaths.
These post mortems were done in 1933. “The Daughter of Time” was published in 1951. The failure to cover this aspect of the case seems to me extraordinary, whether due to careless omission or dishonesty. To me, it fatally undermines this very famous and admired book.
I would love to believe Richard III innocent. It’s so much more fun. But.
Whether or not Richard ordered the killing of the princes, it’s I think generally accepted that the Tudors badmouthed him to excess. But according to the author Sharon Penman, “Richard was still more fortunate than Raimond de St Gilles, the sixth Count of Toulouse. Unlike Richard, Raimond has no society devoted to clearing his name.”
You may well respond, “Who? Why does someone who only French medieval history buffs have ever heard of need a society?” Indeed.
Sharon Penman writes what Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant calls “the almost-respectable form of historical fiction which is merely history-with-conversations, so to speak. An imaginative biography, rather than an imagined story.”
Some time ago I was given her novel “A King’s Ransom”, the second half of her reimagining of the life of Richard the Lionheart (two centuries earlier than Richard III.) It is a large and impressively-researched tome, and at the end it contains not merely an Afterword, telling us what happened to all the characters after this King Richard died, but also an Author’s Note regarding the sources and literary decisions of the author.
Richard the Lionheart’s life was that of a warrior, and I do not find battles interesting. Despite Ms Penman’s noble efforts, I found the book only moderately enjoyable, and it recently almost went out to Oxfam. It was rescued by her references to Raimond (or Raymond) of Toulouse.
This Raimond was a peripheral ally in the life of the Lionheart, but was married for about three years to Richard’s sister Joanna or Joan (she then died.) He was Joanna’s second husband, and she was the third of his five wives.
Raimond fell foul of the Catholic Church, apparently for not assisting in the persecution of Cathar heretics, and opposing the Albigensian Crusade against them. For this he was excommunicated. According to Ms Penman, the church and historians generally have called him an abusive husband and a heretic without cause, largely because he had the modern virtue but medieval vice of religious tolerance.
She says in her Author’s Note that he needs his own biographer, but she doesn’t seem to be inclined to do the job herself. Instead, and this is what I find both touching and amusing, she merely describes his (minor) role in the life of the Lionheart in such a way as to win over converts to her cause.
“A King’s Ransom” is a book about war and intrigue, ranging across all of central Europe and (periphally) England. There’s very little romance; few of the participants have time or inclination. But all the romance and most of the sex of the 640 pages is devoted to a sweet love story between Raimond and Joanna, with a lengthy scene on their wedding night to prove that he is a much better lover than her previous husband.
It’s a different way of defending a long-dead aristocrat to Josephine Tey’s.
And indeed it’s difficult not to sympathise with the guy. Only in the Afterword do we learn of his sad death, at the age of 66. Unable to attend Mass because the Church had refused repeated requests to lift the excommunication, he was standing at the church threshold to listen when he apparently suffered a stroke in the heat. He died shortly afterwards, was refused last rites, and despite years of pleading and political concessions by his son was never allowed burial in consecrated ground.
I think I find this more affecting than all the rest of Sharon Penman’s story of the Lionheart.
The whole Albigensian Crusade, a military campaign to slaughter the neo-Gnostic Cathars in southern France (apparently; I’ve just peeked at Wikipedia) of course left thousands dead, most equally innocent of any crime. Raimond was just one.
My appetite was whetted. I’d really like to know the truth about both Richard III and Raimond VI. I’m hoping that some day I will.
Love from the PPI Blogger