Richard II ruled England from 1377 to 1399. During the final two years of his reign, often referred to as Richard’s tyranny, he made the mistake of disinheriting his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who he already exiled. Henry returned to England in 1399, quickly gathering support from all around, and deposed Richard without the monarch being able to put up a fight. Richard surrendered the throne and was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, where he died, of causes unknown, the following year. Thus ended the reign of the Plantagenets and began the reign of the House of Lancaster. Or so the history books say…
Matthew Jankyn, a liar and a thief – a true Medieval Miscreant, crosses paths with the scheming Bishop Beaufort, who enlists him to spy on the conspiracy of the Whyte Harte, a plot to return Richard to the throne stolen from him by Bolingbroke. But how can Richard be returned to the throne when he died in Pontefract years previously? Is it possible that Richard survived his supposed fate?
This is the first in two novels featuring Jankyn, both written very early in Paul Doherty’s career and it will be released as an ebook (along with a multitude of others from his back catalogue). The fate of Richard, while not one of the classic historical mysteries, such as the Princes in the Tower, does have questions hanging over it. So how does the subject matter combine with the historical mystery genre?
Well, to clarify matters first of all, this isn’t a whodunit. There is a slight element in this regard, but nothing to write home about. No, instead this is the story, set over twenty years or so, of how the mystery of the Whyte Harte – the symbol of Richard II – drives people, from rogues such as Jankyn to both Henry IV and Henry V, to hunt for the truth. Why exactly would so many people be willing to believe that Richard survived his fate? Why does the legend of the Whyte Harte survive when no-one has actually seen him? The story ranges across England, Scotland and France, from Paris to Agincourt, and ties together the many small questions and discrepancies concerning Richard’s fate into a coherent whole.
What the book most closely resembles is Doherty’s The Death Of A King, addressing similar questions concerning the death of Edward II – a work of fiction that weaves together a coherent theory with the adventures of the protagonist, and it is to Doherty’s credit that despite the similar themes, the two books are very different indeed. Jankyn is an unpleasant character, although not so unpleasant as to not want you to follow his adventures and discoveries, and the story is presented against a fascinating period of English history. Anyone who enjoyed the recent BBC series The Hollow Crown, featuring the Shakespeare plays, Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, will recognise the background that the story is played out against and will certainly enjoy an alternate fictional tale set in the period (although more factually correct that Shakespeare’s work). It certainly appealed to me, as I studied one of the plays at school, acted in a second and Branagh’s Henry V is one of my favourite films ever.
Readers looking for a traditional historical mystery should really look elsewhere though - there’s plenty of those in Paul Doherty‘s back catalogue – you may have seen one or two reviews of them on this blog :). But if you’re a fan of, say, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – which addresses the mystery of the Princes in the Tower – then may I suggest that you take a look at this, or The Death Of A King. Because, in my humble opinion, this does a damn sight better job than that “classic”. Probably not for every mystery buff out there, but if you’re a fan of medieval history, then this is Highly Recommended.