Wasn’t the recent discovery and identification of the remains of King Richard III in a Leicester car park absolutely riveting? I am not a medievalist (as will doubtless become clear during this blog post), nonetheless, Richard III was my way into the historian’s craft. As a schoolgirl I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time 1, where a detective, scenting propaganda in Shakespeare’s account of Richard, conducts an investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower from his hospital bed.
This led me to read my first grown up history book, Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III. 2 At 14, I was equally fascinated and daunted by the footnotes: PRO E/179 117/77; PRO C 65/114; ibid; op. cit… What did it all mean? Historians were obviously rarified beings who had, I assumed, privileged access to the documents behind all this paraphernalia. It was all very remote from my experience: I felt I would love to be a historian, solving the mysteries of the past, but it wasn’t something that people like me did. Eventually, I not only learnt to cite PRO references and know my op. cit.s from my ibids, I ended up actually working at the Public Record Office (as The National Archives then was). I still like the idea of history as a detective story, with the extra dimension of time; an investigation into cause and effect, weighing the evidence in context – my colleague Sean Cunningham, who has written a book on Richard III 3is very good on this point.