King Edward IV’s Mistress, Jane Shore, just who was she and why did she wield so much power?
When chroniclers of the Middle Ages wrote about women, they only ever seemed to do so from the perspective of their sexuality and how it related to the men around them. However, when we also consider issues of power, politics and greed, women of the middle ages all have a more complicated history than historians present. King Edward IV’s mistress, Jane Shore, was one such woman.
Women of the period, certainly those from a higher social standing, brought influence to bear in a number of ways. Some were business women, others well schooled and learned, teaching in abbeys and priories . Those that seemed to have caused most stir though were those whose lives were caught up in the turmoil of politics and succession.
Jane Shore was a woman at the heart of English politics.
As King Edward IV’s mistress she appears in history as a harlot and concubine; however, there was much more to her life than he role as a mistress. She was born into a rich merchant’s family in London in 1445. She was baptised by her parents John and Amy Lambert and received a good education, learning to read and write and studying a fair amount of Latin and French. Rich merchants had at that time good standing at court and John Lambert very probably lent the King money. Elizabeth (Jane), would have been at home, in the company of the royal family and court life. At the age of twenty one, she became a freeman of the city of London, due to her father being elected a freeman but there is no record of her following her father into business. Jane was quickly caught up in court life and despite becoming married to a wealthy goldsmith called William Shore, it seems very likely that Jane had caught the eye of King Edward IV from an early age.
In 1467, at the age of just twenty two years, Jane had her marriage to William Shore annulled due to his impotence. He was a young man and this must have been a very difficult move for them both, one wonders if she had sought a socially better marriage, having experienced life at King Edward’s court?
The hand of the King can be felt, for on the Patent Rolls of 4th December 1476, the Kings protection was bestowed upon William Shore, citizen of London and his servants, with all his lands, goods and possessions in England and elsewhere. The account of her marriage by Sir Thomas More, renders her husband ‘frigid and impotent’, whatever the truth of it, William Shore did not remarry and quietly left the field free for the King.
The character of Jane Shore
By all accounts she was a joyous and humorous character, beautiful and intelligent. King Edward described her as:
‘Merry in company, ready and quick of answer’
Jane became the mistress of the King and theirs was a friendship which lasted until his death in 1483. Quite how much sway she had in court affairs is difficult to determine, possibly less than others presumed.
She was obviously keen to hang onto her status at court because, when the King died, she became the mistress of Thomas Grey, stepson of the King and then came under the protection of Lord Hastings. These two affairs exposed her in a way that her affair with the King never had and her position became more precarious when King Richard III came to the throne.
Sir Thomas More’s account of Jane Shore
We are lucky to have Sir Thomas More’s historical account of her,in his work, ‘The History of King Richard III’ he uses her as an example of both proof of how beauty dissolves into corruption and for the ingratitude of human nature.
More suggests that Jane, once such a beautiful and fulsome person, is now forgotten or discarded, he writes:
“old, lean, withered, and dried up, nothing left but wrinkled skin and hard bone.”
It is interesting that More refers to her as ‘Shore’s wife’, despite having her marriage to William Shore annulled.
Many men were attracted to Jane, she was a peacemaker, again More records:
“where the king took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind; where men were out of favor, she would bring them in his grace; for many that highly offended, she obtained pardon.”
So what had Jane done to incur the wrath of King Richard III to the extent that he accused her of sorcery and witchcraft and had her sent to the Tower of London?
There are two possible lines to follow here, one is Jane’s affair with King Edward IV, Richard III’s brother. Richard only became king after the marriage between Edward and his wife Elizabeth Woodville was declared invalid and their children illegitimate and therefore unable to accede to the throne.
Richard was a complex man whose dealings with those around him have been interpreted a number of ways. Some of his actions have led many to reflect on the possibility that Richard murdered his nephews (the story of the princes in the tower).
Then there is Richard’s vendetta against sexual offenders and here Jane finds herself caught. Richard brings a charge against Hastings, with whom Jane is having an affair, that, on the night before his murder he had sex with Jane Shore and that he had been guilty of:
‘vicious living and the inordinate perversion of his body with many others’.
Richard goes further and accuses Hastings, Jane Shore and Elizabeth Woodville of conspiring against him. Both Jane and Hastings are sent to the Tower and Hastings is killed. Furthermore Jane is accused of sorcery and witchcraft to ‘waste and wither his body‘. Richard, it is thought, suffered from a curvature of the spine.
The case of sorcery and witchcraft cannot be proved against Jane and the charge is dropped to one of harlot, for this Jane is forced to walk through London in public penance for her adulteries:
“going before the cross in procession upon a Sunday, with a taper in her hand, [dressed only in her outer petticoat].”
Jane’s story continues though, thrown into Ludgate Prison, she continues to attract attention and the King’s solicitor, Thomas Lynom falls in love with her and enters into a marriage contract with her whilst she is still incarcerated. She had a beauty both inside and out and somehow received a pardon from Richard, despite him trying to prevent Lynom from falling into what he considered an inappropriate marriage
The rest of her days were spent in marriage to Lynom with whom she had a daughter. She died in 1527 at the age of 82 and is buried in Hinxworth Church Hertfordshire.
King Edward’s IV mistress, Jane Shore, lived through and was at the heart of, some of England’s most dramatic historical and managed to escape fairly unscathed, a strong and fine Medieval woman.