Anne Easter Smith focuses this Wars of the Roses tale on Edward IV’s mistress, Jane Shore. Born “Elizabeth Lambert” to a London silk merchant and his wife, Jane’s beauty and wit catches the attention of many powerful men despite her marriage to cloth merchant (mercer) William Shore. Jane’s many admirers include Tom Grey (Marquess of Dorset and Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s son from her first marriage), Will Hastings, and even Edward IV himself. She becomes the king’s mistress and begins a series of selfless acts by interceding with the king to benefit commoners in need. When Edward IV dies, however, her life is thrown into chaos. First Will Hastings, the late king’s best friend and closest advisor, agrees to protect her if she becomes his mistress. She does so, just to find Hastings murdered by the king’s youngest brother Richard of Gloucester, who goes on to usurp the throne from Edward’s sons. The new king, Richard III, is hell bent on distancing himself from the lasciviousness of his brother’s court and therefore punishes anyone, including Jane, associated with the old regime. Jane must rely on her wits and connections to survive the wrath of this king as events unfold.
Ms. Smith provides an interesting look into the “what ifs” of Jane’s life, filling in some of the holes in her tale. The dialogue feels stilted at times, especially when listening to the audio version, and there are many POV jumps, even into the heads of minor characters, which make the story feel off balance. It also wasn’t apparent to me what exactly made Jane so alluring. Her beauty is mentioned many times, but surely beauty alone couldn’t ensnare so many powerful lords. Here, Jane is prone to comic verse, which hints at her intelligence, but instead feels a bit contrived. So readers are left rather puzzled about what makes her so bewitching.
I did like how Ms. Smith addressed Richard’s shifting morality as he took the throne. There are several references to Richard’s illegitimate children in various novels, but this is the first place I have seen Richard’s mistress named: Kate Haute. It gave Jane’s condemnation by Richard an entirely fresh perspective and made Richard a more conflicted, flawed character.
Ms. Smith also does an excellent job of telling this well-known tale from the commoners’ POV. Many, many books address these historical events through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, Buckingham, and even Richard himself, but rarely do you get a glimpse of what the common people of the time thought of what was going on behind palace gates. The gossip, the innuendo, the speculation by the lower classes – all of it serves as a reminder that this must have been a daunting series of events for the common folk, who were no more than spectators as the powerful squared off.
Amazon link is here.