Tag Archives: Lord Hastings

Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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Cardinal Wolsey and the king’s women

wolseyCardinal Wolsey suffers from being the image of the Catholic Church prior to Henry VIII’s break with Rome and consequentially a figure for anticlerical comment.  He was also not careful about being nice to folk on the way up the greasy pole of ambition forgetting that he might well meet them on the way back down.  There were plenty of members of the nobility who were more than happy to bring him down to earth with a bump most notably the duke of Norfolk.  Today’s post, however, is about Cardinal Wolsey’s role in Henry VIII’s somewhat tangled love life.

Portrait_of_Anne_StaffordWolsey appears in a legal capacity in relation to Anne Stafford, the wife of Lord Hastings.  Anne was the daughter of the duke of Buckingham.  Her older sister Elizabeth was the wife of the earl of Sussex.  Both sisters served Catherine of Aragon.  A scandal broke during May 1510. We know of it thanks to the gleeful writings of Spanish Ambassador Luis Caroz.  What appears to have happened is that Henry, now that Catherine was pregnant, looked elsewhere for diversion.  He looked in the direction of his cousin Anne Stafford.  She was eight years older than him, married for the second time but childless (she went on to have eight children with Lord Hastings).  Somehow or other Elizabeth got to hear about the dodgy goings on and spoke with her brother who in turn summoned Lord Hastings.  Sir William Compton, one of the king’s friends, was caught in Anne’s private chamber.  There was a lively discussion with the duke of Buckingham announcing that his sister wasn’t for the likes of Compton or for Tudors either (he probably came to regret that particular phrase).  The upshot of it was that Hastings took his wife away from court to a nunnery where neither Compton or Henry could dally with the lady in question.  Henry VIII was deeply unhappy and banished Elizabeth and her husband from court for being a pair of tattletales which meant that the scandal came to the attention of Catherine of Aragon resulting in a very unpleasant argument between the royal couple.

Three years later Henry gave Anne a very expensive New Year’s gift well beyond what protocol or courtesy dictated giving rise to speculation that the couple resumed their relationship.  Double click on Anne Stafford’s image to open a new page and an earlier post from the History Jar on the subject.

Where does Wolsey fit into this?  Well in 1527 he had Sir William Compton charged with adultery with Anne.  Compton swore an oath that he hadn’t been up to any such thing but his will written in 1522 suggests otherwise as not only did he ask for prayers to be said for Anne but he left money for her use as well.

 

Let us move to the next mistress – Bessie Blount (b 1499 ish).  It is speculated that Henry’s affair with Bessie began sometime after 1513 during one of Catherine of Aragon’s periods of ill health but no one is certain of this.  There is a letter in existence from Charles Brandon (Mary Tudor’s second husband) to the king giving his very best wishes via the king to Bessie Blount and to Elizabeth Carew (who may well have been yet another royal mistress).  The letter gives rise to speculation that Brandon may have had a fling with Bessie prior to Henry showing interest, equally it might all have been part of the ritual of courtly love and have meant nothing at all or, equally, Brandon knowing the king’s interest in the ladies doing a spot of creeping. What we can be certain of is that in 1518 Catherine of Aragon miscarried a girl and that a month later Bessie Blount produced a bouncing baby boy.

Evidence suggests that Wolsey was given the task of arranging for Bessie to have somewhere suitable for her laying-in at the Priory of St Lawrence near Chelmsford or Jericho as it was known.  The evidence is based on the fact that Wolsey was absent from London for much of June 1519 which coincides with Henry Fitzroy’s birth.  Thomas Wolsey also became the child’s godfather. Fitzroy remained under the care of the cardinal until he fell from favour in 1529 when he moved under the auspices of the Howard family.

Queen Anne BoleynThe next mistress in our story proved to be Wolsey’s downfall.  Popular history has it that it was Wolsey who split the young lovers Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn from one another in 1523. Percy was the heir of the earl of Northumberland and was part of Wolsey’s household whilst Anne was nothing but a ‘foolish girl.’  George Cavendish, Wosley’s biographer, notes that the leading aristocratic families were happy to have sons in Wolsey’s household.  He was at the heart of power after all.  Cavendish says that Henry had already taken a shine to Anne Boleyn and wished to put a spoke in Percy’s plans to marry the girl. Wolsey sent Percy home with a flea in his ear to marry the girl his family had already selected for him; Mary Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury.  In 1532 Mary Talbot claimed that Henry Percy had been pre-contracted to Anne Boleyn and thus her marriage was null and void.  Given that Henry was in hot pursuit of Anne Boleyn at that time it wasn’t the most politically astute thing to have been saying. Even though Henry no longer looked to Rome a dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury exists thawing that all impediments to marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were removed  including the unknown ones!

We cannot know whether Anne and Henry Percy really did love one another or the extent to which their relationship had developed.  We have circumstantial evidence in terms of Henry Percy weeping when Anne Boleyn was condemned and also the evidence of Cavendish as well as assorted hostile ambassadors.   To find out more about George Cavendish and his version of events double click on the image of Anne Boleyn to open a new page and an earlier post.

What we do know for certain is that Wolsey was unable to unravel Henry’s marriage from Catherine of Aragon and that this was what led to his fall from favour in 1529 even though Henry is said to have declared he couldn’t afford to lose the cardinal and sent him a ring as a token of his affections when Thomas became ill.  Come to think of it Wolsey didn’t get on very well with Catherine of Aragon either.  She regarded him as pro-french and thus anti-spanish as well as being the man who ensured that she was sidelined in politics by making himself indispensable to the king.

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Richard III windows Leicester Cathedral

IMG_7218It’s more than a year since King Richard III was reinterred at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015 after famously being discovered under a car park.

In addition to the rather large slab of Swaledale stone fashioned to represent a sarcophagus there are two fine new windows in the north side of St Katherine’s chapel designed by artist Thomas Denny which are truly beautiful.

The reds and golds are particularly eye-catching.  The more you look; the more you see. There’s even a football in the window for those who look carefully enough – a reminder of Leicester’s successful 2015-2016 football season.

I love the window depicting Leicester’s archeology including mosaics, Saxon treasure and  a skeleton – presumably Richard’s.IMG_7242The window on the left shows women tending to bodies in the aftermath of battle – Bosworth, although it could, of course, be any Wars of the Roses field. Above the women a window depicts a body slung over a horse reflecting Richard’s last undignified journey back to Leicester. Study of his skeleton revealed that his body was not treated honourably in the aftermath of his death.

The central panel depicts the road to Emmaus.  Above this scene young man learns to ride a horse at Middleham Castle and three children play at Fotheringay. Richard was born in Fotheringay Castle in 1452 and grew up in Middleham in the care of his Neville relations who held Middleham at that time.  Later it would become his own home.

IMG_7243The window on the right depicts Richard and Anne Neville mourning the death of their son Edward of Middleham who died on April 9 1484.  Richard’s journey through the shadow of the Valley of Death continued with the death of Anne in March 1485.  Richard was dead five months later.  Above the main panels there’s a boar – Richard’s emblem; the Battle of Tewkesbury and Kirkby Muxloe built by Lord Hastings.  There’s an oak and a castle representing a kingdom.  Richard became king in 1483 after serving his brother Edward IV loyally throughout his life.  Richard’s motto was “Loyalty binds me.”

Richard  reigned for two years. He was the last Yorkist Plantagenet king of England. It is the events leading up to his claiming the kingdom and the disappearance of his two nephews which focus people’s attention away from the loyal and good service that he fulfilled on his brother’s behalf. There’s a discarded crown as well in the main panel on the right as well as an orb and sceptre. Richard can be seen riding across Leicester’s bridge on his way to battle.

Half a millennia after Shakespeare’s hatchet job on the last Plantagenet kingIMG_7244, Richard III has acquired a breath taking monument which seeks to redress the balance.  I’m not saying the man was a saint – he was a medieval king and generally speaking they probably weren’t the type of people you’d wish to meet down a dark alley but neither was he the monster that the Tudors portrayed. Politics was a bloody and brutal affair-just ask Lord Hastings who was summarily executed for reasons we don’t fully understand even today and equally consider Francis, Lord Lovell who remained loyal to Richard when all hope was lost.

DSC_0055.jpgI’m not sure it it was intentDSC_0055.jpgonal or not but knowing the story of Richard III and his missing nephews I found it impossible to look at the Emmaus scene without pondering on the fates of King Edward V and his brother Richard of York – although the two young men are too old to be the princes their presence is something that continues to haunt Richard’s history.  Whether the question as to what happened to the princes will ever be answered is another matter – and generally speaking there’s nothing like a conspiracy theory to keep writers and academics in employment.

 

But that’s not to say the truth won’t eventually surface. We now know that Richard III wasn’t the hunchbacked monster of Tudor propaganda but that he did have scoliosis which developed as he grew to maturity – so a sort of middle ground between two differing historical views. Perhaps more than anything Richard III was the one thing which no medieval king could afford to be – ultimately unlucky.  He was the last English king to die on the battlefield.  Henry Tudor dated his reign to the day before Bosworth to ensure an act of attainder hung over the heads of all the nobility who’d been loyal to Richard.

But for all that, the one medieval king who most people can name whether they’re interested in history or not is King Richard III.

A trip to Leicester can also involve a visit to Bosworth Field and Kirkby Muxloe Castle.  There’s even a Richard III experience opposite the cathedral though I must admit I didn’t avail myself of that particular facility. I was more than happy with Thomas Denny’s windows.

 

 

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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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