Jane Shore - Famous Royal Mistress
Early Life of Jane Shore
Elizabeth ‘Jane’ Shore was born in London around 1445, and her main claim to fame was that she became one of the many mistresses of King Edward IV of England. Edward IV truly loved Jane Shore and once described her as ‘the merriest harlot’ in his realm. Jane was born into a respectable and prosperous family and grew up against the backdrop of the troubled times of the War of the Roses.
Her parents were John and Amy Lambert; her father was a rich merchant in the City of London and her maternal grandfather, Robert Marshall, was a prosperous grocer. She was baptised with the name Elizabeth, but at some stage in her life she started calling herself Jane. The reason she changed her name is unknown, but one theory is that she changed her name when she was living at Court as the King’s mistress in deference to Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville.
Marriage of Jane Shore
As she was growing up, Jane spent a lot of time in her father’s shop observing the aristocratic ladies who came to choose their wares. She watched how they conducted themselves and how they spoke, and learned the manners of the upper classes of her day. She was thought to have been a very intelligent woman, was a noted wit, and was also well thought of for her kind heart and warm, outgoing personality.
However, it was her incredible beauty that caused Jane to become known throughout London and she was toasted as ‘The Rose of London’. She was much feted by the young bloods of London and had many suitors, one of the most notable being William, Lord Hastings. It is thought that he must have become entranced with Jane before she got married, as he supported and protected her until his ultimate fall and execution in 1483.
Jane’s amazing popularity with the young men made her father very anxious to get her suitably married off as soon as possible, so he arranged a marriage between Jane and William Shore, who was a mercer. Shore was around fifteen years older than Jane, reputedly very good looking, and was extremely affluent.
However, it seems that the couple never really hit it off and Jane finally petitioned to have her marriage annulled in 1476 on the grounds that William was impotent and therefore unable to give her the children that she wanted. Pope Sixtus commissioned three bishops to investigate the matter and her marriage was annulled in March of 1476.
Jane Shore - Royal Mistress
Her love affair with Edward IV appears to have started in the same year as the annulment of her marriage in 1476, after Edward’s return from the signing of the Treaty of Picquiny in France. Unlike many of his mistresses, who were enjoyed and then discarded fairly rapidly, Edward was genuinely fond of Jane and maintained a romantic relationship with her until his premature death in 1483.
During her time as his royal mistress, she wielded a lot of influence over Edward, but did not use this influence for her own benefit, and she did not accept large gifts or monetary gains from her King. She did, however, use her influence with Edward IV to help others. Her notoriously soft heart led her to petitioning for the pardon of those who had fallen out of favour. She was a prominent and popular member of Edward IV’s Court and was even tolerated by his wife, Elizabeth Woodville.
Jane’s love life started to become seriously complicated after Edward’s premature and unexpected death in 1483. Edward IV was a tall, very handsome man and had been very fit in his youth, as he had been a powerful warrior when he was fighting the battles that were to win him his crown. However, after his throne was secured his slipped into a life of indolence and debauchery. He put on weight and did little exercise, and when he caught a chill after a fishing expedition on the Thames, it quickly turned into pneumonia and he died on 9th April.
Jane rapidly took up with Edward’s stepson, Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset and also rekindled her relationship with her old flame, Lord Hastings. The exact details of these relationships is not known, but it is certain that Jane helped to forge a relationship between Hastings and the Woodville faction in the fracas that broke out over who was to have control over the coronation and early career of the youthful King Edward V. After Edward V’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, retreated into Sanctuary at Westminster with her daughters and younger son, Richard Duke of York, Jane was said to have carried messages between the two parties.
The Downfall of Jane Shore
Edward IV’s youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had been named as Lord Protector and legally given the care and control of his nephew, the new King Edward V. However, Richard believed that Edward’s Woodville relatives were plotting to gain control of the new monarch and stop him from having any influence or authority in the new royal administration that was being put together.
Richard of Gloucester had already imprisoned and would go on to execute Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, who had previously had guardianship of Edward V when he was Prince of Wales at Ludlow Castle, and her son and Edward V’s half-brother Richard Grey at Pontefract Castle.
Hastings had previously supported Richard against the Woodville faction, but Richard evidently got wind of the meetings and communications between Lord Hastings and the Woodvilles. On 13th June 1483 Hastings was dragged out of a Council Meeting in the Tower of London, accused of conspiracy and hurriedly beheaded on Tower Green. He was believed to have spent the evening before his unexpected execution with Jane Shore, and she was also arrested on charges of conspiracy and sorcery for her part in the affair.
The Penance of Jane Shore
The charges against her were reduced to one of harlotry and her punishment was being made to do public penance at St Paul’s Cross in London. Jane’s humiliating public penance involved walking through the streets of London dressed only in her kirtle and carrying a lighted taper. Her beauty attracted a lot of attention from the men who lined the street’s to watch her progress and she elicited much sympathy from the crowds.
After she completed her penance, Jane was sent to Ludgate Prison. While she was there, the King’s Solicitor, Thomas Lynom, became infatuated with her and petitioned Richard of Gloucester, who was by then King Richard III, for her hand in marriage. Richard tried to dissuade Lynom against the match, citing Jane’s reputation and previous behaviour as reasons why she would not be good for him. Richard III even tried to get his Chancellor to try to prevent the marriage, but Lynom was determined and eventually Richard agreed to Jane’s pardon and release from Ludgate Prison and to the marriage.
Jane was placed in the care of her father until the wedding could be arranged. The newly married couple had one daughter, and although Lynom lost his position as King’s Solicitor after Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, he still became part of the new Tudor administration, taking part in commissions on the Welsh Marches and working in the service of Arthur, Prince of Wales at Ludlow.
The Old Age and Death of Jane Shore
Jane Shore lived until she was around 82, which was a great age in the sixteenth century, and when she died in 1527 she was buried at Hinxworth Church in Hertfordshire. She met Sir Thomas More in her old age and he described her as ‘a soft, tender heart’. Rumours that she died in poverty and having to beg for a living are very likely to have been untrue, as her husband had been a relatively wealthy man and would have left her well provided for.
Jane Shore’s fame lived on in literature and she was mentioned in Shakespeare’s play Richard III and she was the main character in Nicholas Rowe’s ‘The Tragedy of Jane Shore’ in 1714. She also features in several modern historical novels such as ‘The Goldsmith’s Wife’ by Jean Plaidy in 1950 and the 2009 novel ‘The White Queen’ by Philippa Gregory.
So this is the story of Jane Shore, a famous royal mistress. Although she lived as a mistress of King Edward IV and then consorted with two other prominent noblemen, she was known during her lifetime for her beauty, soft heart and warm personality. She lived the last years of her life as a respectable wife and mother, in a comfortable, middle class home and died as a very old lady. She had done her penance in public and moved on to find a new love and a new respectability.