Jane Shore

The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul's Church c.1793 by William Blake 1757-1827Jane, or rather Elizabeth, Lambert was  a Londoner.  Her father John Lambert was a successful merchant who ensured his daughter received a good education and  spent time at court.  It is probable that John loaned money to King Edward IV to pursue his campaign against Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians.  By 1466  Jane was married to a goldsmith by the name of William Shore on account, it is thought that young Jane attracted rather a lot of attention at court from wealthy men – sadly all of whom appeared to have been married.  One of her admirers was Lord Hastings another one was the king himself – Edward IV.

In 1467 Jane’s marriage to William Shore was annulled.  The cause given is Shore’s impotence which is a bit puzzling because he wasn’t an old man, even though Sir Thomas More described the goldsmith as ‘frigid.’  Even more peculiar, some ten years later, King Edward  gave his protection to Shore and his servants.  It is difficult to know whether William stood back to make way for his king – he certainly never remarried- or whether he just wasn’t interested in women.  In any event, Jane swiftly became King Edward’s favourite mistress.  He described her as the ‘merriest harlot in the realm.’  Her concern for others didn’t just extend to her ex-husband.  Even Sir Thomas More admitted that rather than profiting from her relationship with Edward IV herself she used her influence to help other people – a bit of a contrast with Edward’s lady wife who managed to irritate rather a lot of people by lining her own pockets and those of her family.

When King Edward died she became the mistress of Thomas Grey, stepson of the King and then took up with Lord Hastings- who’d admired her for more than two decades at this point. She was then implicated in a plot purported to have been formulated by Lord Hastings to bring about the overthrow of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

According to Margaret Beaufort who had it from her husband Lord Stanley, Richard  had concluded the best thing to do was to become king himself.  Hastings had summoned Richard from Middleham when Elizabeth Woodville set a plan in motion to keep all the power within Woodville hands.  As a result of Hastings sending a messenger north, Richard was able to intercept the young king on his way from Ludlow to London and scupper the Woodvilles chances of controlling the kingdom.  Elizabeth Woodville had immediately sought sanctuary in Westminster along with her daughters and the Duke of York.  Hastings apparently had a change of heart once he realised that Richard was contemplating changing the role of protector for that of monarch and immediately began plotting against Richard.

Jane was apparently a key figure in this murky world of royal conspiracy – bizarrely Margaret Beaufort (yes, the mother of Henry Tudor – Lancastrian claimant to the throne), sent a letter explaining all of this to Elizabeth Woodville.  It’s not so far fetched because Margaret had made her submission to the Yorkist king following the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  At that stage no one thought of her teenage son as a possible king.  In the intervening years Margaret had become sufficiently friendly with Elizabeth Woodville to be a godparent to the Princess Bridget. And, in order to support her story she mentions Jane because, equally oddly, Elizabeth was on friendly terms with Jane… and who better to carry messages than Jane. (Who needs soap operas when the Plantagenets are available?)

Whatever the truth of the plot, whether there even was one, Richard swiftly accused Lord Hastings, Jane Shore and Elizabeth Woodville of conspiring against him.  Hastings was sent to the Tower and executed without a proper trial.  The whole affair was so hasty that there wasn’t even a block in place. Jane, deprived of her latest protector and incarcerated was accused of witchcraft (as incidentally was Elizabeth Woodville)  but the case was eventually dropped.  Instead Jane was charged with being a harlot – and having been Edward IV’s mistress, Thomas Grey’s mistress and also Lord Hastings floozie it was a charge that was going to stick. Jane, like Eleanor Cobham before her and countless other women, was  forced to walk through London barefoot in her shift with a taper in her hand in  penance for her sins – apparently the Londoners who had come out to mock her were moved by her dignity.

Jane was clearly a woman of some importance in this murky dangerous world. Richard was  troubled by her and sought to remove her from the picture altogether.  Edward usually discarded his mistresses pretty swiftly but Jane had remained friendly with him until his death – suggesting friendship and respect.  Certainly the king’s wife liked her and Margaret Beaufort felt able to trust her to carry messages -a reminder perhaps that England was ruled by a family rather than a bureaucracy (albeit a family who appeared to have joyously murdered, executed and plotted against one another). And yet her role in history is the one given to her by medieval society which sought to diminish her- a harlot.

Jane must have been a looker and had a sparkling personality because you’d think that this was going to be a story with a very unhappy ending but even after being unceremoniously dumped in Ludgate Prison she found a new man – not a turn key or a felon but the King’s solicitor.  Thomas Lynom must have fallen in love because he married her  even though the newly minted King Richard III told him that it was an inappropriate marriage.

Jane died in 1527 at the age of 82 having spent the rest of her life with Thomas Lynom and even become friends with Thomas More who admired her wit.

William Blake was interested in her story as this water colour demonstrates.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Wars of the Roses

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  1. Pingback: Mr Shore – husband of Edward IV’s mistress | The History Jar

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