Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

Royal Mistress After reading Marjorie Bowen’s Richard III novel, Dickon, a few weeks ago, my interest in the Wars of the Roses was rekindled and the next book I picked up was Royal Mistress, another novel set in the same period…but from a very different perspective. Anne Easter Smith’s heroine is Jane Shore, famous for being a mistress of Edward IV. Jane is not usually given a lot of attention, so I looked forward to seeing her character fleshed out and brought to life, and to learning more about her beyond her relationship with the king.

Born Elizabeth Lambert, Jane is the daughter of a prosperous London silk merchant (the name ‘Jane’ is thought to have been the invention of a 17th century playwright, but in this novel we are told that Elizabeth has taken the name Jane to distinguish her from an Aunt Elizabeth). Jane is married off at the age of twenty-two to William Shore, another mercer, or dealer in textiles. The marriage is not what she’d hoped it would be and Jane quickly discovers that while her husband is not above using her beauty to advertise his silks and satins, in the privacy of their own home he is cold, distant and has no interest in giving her the children she so desperately wants. To make things worse, Jane is still in love with Thomas Grey, with whom she’d had a brief romance before discovering that not only was he married, he was also the son of Elizabeth Woodville, queen of England.

As she begins to seek an annulment of her marriage, Jane catches the eye of Will Hastings, the king’s chamberlain, and through him she gets to know Edward IV. Royal Mistress follows Jane throughout the years of her relationship with the king, as she becomes an important part of Edward’s life and finds some of the warmth and affection that was missing in her marriage. After Edward’s death, however, Jane finds herself at the mercy of Richard III, who disapproves of her behaviour and wants to have her dismissed from court. Jane turns to Will Hastings for protection…but he is also out of favour with the new king and Jane’s safety cannot be guaranteed.

Royal Mistress is the first book I’ve read by Anne Easter Smith and I’ll be completely honest and say that, based purely on the title and front cover, I didn’t expect much from it. And after reading the first few chapters, I thought I was right. The story is slow to start, concentrating on a purely fictional romance between Jane and Tom Grey (it’s true that Jane was a mistress of Grey’s after Edward’s death, but there is no evidence of an earlier relationship between them) and while I did like Jane – she is portrayed as generous, warm-hearted and down-to-earth – her character didn’t seem to have a lot of depth or a lot of purpose other than being the mistress of various men.

As I got further into the novel, though, more characters are introduced, parts of the story are told from perspectives other than Jane’s, and I was swept away by the retelling of a period of history that I love. Reading the author’s note at the end of the book, I could see how much care had gone into her interpretations of the characters and their actions and motivations (even if I didn’t always agree with these interpretations). It’s interesting that Smith says she is a staunch supporter of Richard III and yet with this novel being written mainly from Jane’s point of view, it was necessary for her to portray Richard in a less than positive light. Where the disappearance of the princes in the tower is concerned, though, I was happy with the theory she puts forward as it’s one I find quite convincing.

I see Anne Easter Smith has written four more novels set during the same period, but while I did end up enjoying this one, I’m not sure yet whether I will want to read any of her others. I would like to read more about Jane Shore, though; I have a copy of Vanora Bennett’s Queen of Silks on my shelf which I hope to read soon, but if you can recommend any other books please let me know. I was interested to see that Jean Plaidy’s 1950 novel on Jane is called The Goldsmith’s Wife, as it was thought until recently that William Shore was a goldsmith rather than a mercer. Proof that history is still evolving!

9 thoughts on “Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

  1. whatmeread says:

    I had the same experience with Anna Easter Smith, so much so that I did not finish the book. It just took too long to go anywhere.

    On another note, I don’t know if you ever read nonfiction, but you might be interested in Desmond Seward’s the Wars of the Roses. I mention it because he tells the story of the wars by how it affected the lives of four actual people, and one of them is Jane Shore.

  2. Elisabeth Hallahan says:

    Anne Easter Smith is one of my favorite authors. Her book Daughter of York, I thought was wonderful. It does deal with the same time period, through the eyes of a sister of Edward and Richard,
    Years ago I read The Goldsmith’s Wife and it became a favorite of mine, I still think of it quite fondly. Despite its age it would be worth reading.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Elisabeth. If I do decide to read another book by Anne Easter Smith I’ll consider Daughter of York. I’m pleased to hear you think The Goldsmith’s Wife is worth reading too.

  3. jessicabookworm says:

    I spotted this on Netgalley but wasn’t sure about it. I hadn’t heard of the author before and while I thought it would be interesting to find out about a mistress of Edward IV I did worry it would be a bit too heavy on the romance. Sounds like its got a good balance though. I hope you enjoy reading more about Jane.

    • Helen says:

      There was a lot of focus on the romance in this book (a bit too much for me) but I suppose that’s to be expected in a book about a royal mistress. I might still try another of her books, though.

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