Post-classical history




Riding home from Picquigny, King Louis told Philippe de Commynes with horror how, during their meeting, Edward IV had expressed a keen desire to visit Paris. Louis continued anxiously, ‘He’s a king, very handsome, and more than keen on the women. He might quite easily meet some cunning female in Paris who would know just what to say to make him want to come back.’ Commynes comments that no man ever enjoyed his pleasures more than Edward, ‘especially in ladies, feasting, banqueting and hunting’. After his return from France, he indulged them to the full. No doubt he spent more time with Jane Shore.

The prime of King Edward for both business and pleasure was during the years 1475–83, when he had eliminated his rivals so that there was no serious opposition. The French pension and his careful husbanding of his own revenues – he had a marked aptitude for accounts – stabilized the budget, while his commercial diplomacy established sound trading relations abroad and ended the economic depression. He understood exactly what merchants wanted, making sensible treaties with neighbours and eliminating piracy. Possessing genuine financial flair, he even engaged in commerce himself, the only English monarch to do so, shipping wool, tin and lead to Italy, while importing cargoes that ranged from wine and paper to sugar and oranges. He ruled much more firmly than during his first reign, putting down rioting, feuding and any attempts to cow juries. He was helped in this by his extraordinary memory, being able to recall the names and estates of all the gentlemen of England as though he were accustomed to seeing each one of them every day.

Yet at the same time the King was a glutton and a compulsive womanizer. Mancini says that he would purge his belly for the sheer pleasure of starting a meal all over again. His wenching was so well known that, in an attempt to discredit his memory during his brother Richard’s reign, an Act of Parliament would allege in retrospect that no man in the kingdom had felt safe about his womenfolk because of Edward’s lustfulness, and that every woman lived in fear of being raped by him. His combination of debauchery with sheer hard work astonished the Croyland chronicler.

What cannot be omitted from any assessment of Edward IV is the impact of his personality. Every contemporary source agrees that he had a magnificent appearance. ‘Very tall . . . exceeding the stature of almost all others, of comely visage, pleasant in expression, broad chested’ is what Polydore Vergil was told. ‘He was of visage full faced and lovely, of body mighty, strong and clean made; with over liberal and wanton diet he waxed something corpulent and burly, but nevertheless not uncomely,’ says More, who as a very small boy may himself have seen the King.

His manner was so friendly and lacking in pomposity that Vergil thought it a little undignified – ‘he would use himself more familiarly among private persons than the honour of his majesty required.’

‘Frequently he called to his side complete strangers, when he thought they had come with the intention of talking to him or having a close look at him,’ Mancini noted.

He was so genial in his greeting that, when he saw a newcomer bewildered by his regal appearance and royal pomp, he would give him courage to speak by laying a kindly hand on his shoulder. He listened very willingly to plaintiffs or to anyone who complained to him about some injustice – charges against himself he would disarm by an excuse even though he might not put the matter right.

His popularity was enhanced by a general sense of relief that the fighting had ended. In retrospect it is easy to forget that with the death of Henry VI and his son it really did seem that the Wars of the Roses were over. Before that venerable ex-Lancastrian Sir John Fortescue died in 1479, he wrote of Edward:

He hath done more for us than ever did king of England, or might have done before him. The harms that hath fallen in getting of his realm be now by him turned into the good and profit of all of us. We shall now more enjoy our own goods, and live under justice, which we have not done of long time, God knoweth.

Admittedly, no one could deny that Edward IV had his faults. ‘He was licentious in the extreme,’ Mancini comments primly, adding:

It was said that he behaved very badly towards numerous women after seducing them because, as soon as he grew tired with the affair, much against their will he would pass the ladies on to other courtiers. He pursued indiscriminately married and unmarried, noble and low-born, though he never raped them. He overcame them all by money and promises and then, having had them, he got rid of them.

Mancini may paint too kind a picture. He himself mentions how Edward threatened Elizabeth Woodville with a dagger when she resisted him before their marriage, while Vergil implies that he tried to rape a kinswoman of Warwick in the Earl’s own house – ‘the king was a man who would readily cast an eye upon young ladies and love them inordinately.’

Among the favoured courtiers to whom Edward passed on his discarded mistresses were William Hastings and the Queen’s elder son by her previous marriage, Thomas Grey, whom the King had created Marquess of Dorset, and who was known by everybody as ‘The Marquess’. Hastings had a feud with him, Mancini informs us, ‘because of the mistresses whom they had abducted or had tried to entice away from each other’.

We know the names of surprisingly few of King Edward’s women. He had two children by Lady Elizabeth Lucy, while after his death it was alleged that he had seduced a daughter of the Earl of Salisbury with a promise of marriage. More is tantalizingly unspecific in his account of the king’s loves:

King Edward would say that he had three concubines which in three divers properties diversely excelled, one the merriest, another the wisest, the third the holiest harlot in his realm, as one whom no man could get out of the church lightly to any place but it were to his bed.

The last two seem to have been ladies of the court, and were probably Elizabeth Lucy and Eleanor Butler. ‘But the merriest was this Shore’s wife,’ More tells us. ‘For many he had but her he loved.’1

Meanwhile, in the City of London, the second reign of Edward IV was turning out to be a sunny period of peace and prosperity. However, poor John Lambert’s aldermanship was not restored to him. Only a week after his ‘exoneration’ in 1470, his place had been filled by a fellow mercer, John Brown, and there would not be another vacancy for nearly twenty years. There is evidence from the second half of 1471 which confirms that Mr Lambert had been removed from office because of his political sympathies. In the course of a law-suit against his brother-in-law, Alexander Marshall (over his father-in-law’s bequest of houses in the parish of St Antelyn’s and gardens in St Giles without Cripplegate), John Lambert complained of Alexander’s behaviour. His brother-in-law had ‘openly noised him that he was a false traitor to Henry late called “King Henry the Sixth”.’2Obviously, during the recent Readeption, Alexander had put it about that John was an irreconcilable Yorkist.

In the following year, 1472, Mr Lambert was involved in another law-suit, with the Goldsmiths’ Company, from whom he had rented a furnished house in Wood Street. The Goldsmiths took him to the Mayor’s Court, alleging that when his tenancy came to an end he had taken away eight window panes from the parlour, the iron bars from over the shop counter, and twenty-seven shutters, together with the chapel panelling and a great pewter laver ‘standing by the hall to wash men’s hands’ which he had sold to Edmund Shaa – a rich goldsmith and future Mayor of London. In 1474 judgement was given against him. He was made to return the fittings and pay for the repairs, while Mr Shaa had to give the laver back to the Goldsmiths’ Company.3

This distressing episode does not appear to have harmed John’s reputation. He was elected one of the four wardens of the ‘holy fellowship of the Mercers’ Company’ for a second time in 1475, and in the same year, ‘having livelihood of £51 by the year or above’, was one of those unlucky mercers chosen by the company to present themselves to the King and give a benevolence for the French war. (He is listed as living in Cordwainer Street.) What he was wheedled or bullied into paying is not recorded, though it must have been a substantial sum.

William Shore was prospering as mercer and merchant adventurer. Although he did not become a warden of the company, let alone an alderman, clearly he was well respected. He had been taking apprentices since 1463, some of whom came from rich backgrounds – at least one being the son of a wealthy mercer. His sister had married into the Derbyshire gentry, her husband being John Agard of Foston on the Staffordshire border.4 Agard’s standing may be gauged from the fact that Lord Hastings thought him worth including in his affinity, retaining him by indenture in April 1474. The Agards had been employed for decades as officials of the Honour of Tutbury (part of the Duchy of Lancaster), of which Hastings had been appointed steward two years previously.

The principal information we possess about Mrs Shore is simply that she was childless and that she had been admitted as a Freewoman of the City of London. The latter was no mean dignity, being restricted to daughters born to London Freemen after their election, who must have reached the age of twenty-one. She too had a respected position in society, as a prosperous and well-connected City lady.

Although we have so few firm details, we can nonetheless guess a good deal about Mrs Shore’s way of life. A very widespread impression exists that all medieval women were downtrodden slaves, apart from a few great ladies, but this was true only up to a point. It was certainly not the case with well-to-do females of Jane’s class, especially if they had a strong character. Middle-class girls usually received some sort of formal education, even if they could not attend the grammar schools. They at least went to elementary schools or else were given private tuition, being taught to read and write, together with a little Latin and French, and perhaps a smattering of English Law. (We know from Thomas More that Jane could read and write.) A woman might take an active part in trade if she wished, acquiring the legal status of ‘femme sole’, which enabled her to do business on her own account, and even to take apprentices; there were women brewers, women corn-merchants and, above all, women silk-weavers. However, they were the exception rather than the rule, their activities generally stemming from surplus energy rather than any need to supplement the family budget.

There is no record of Jane Shore ever having been in business. Presumably she supported her husband to the extent of dressing as richly as any court lady in order to advertise his prosperity. (Again, we know from More that she was fond of smart clothes.) After all, as a Freewoman of the City, she had a position to keep up. ‘In the merchant class it is probable that they followed the custom of gentlewomen in the City, learning to hunt and going freely to taverns’, says Sylvia Thrupp in her Merchant Class of Medieval London. Hunting included riding with the buckhounds – sitting side-saddle, a custom that had come in towards the end of the previous century – hare coursing, and hawking. No doubt many women preferred to treat these entertainments as spectator sports, merely going to a meet of the hounds or watching the hawks being flown from a convenient rooftop. Other amusements were chess, backgammon and draughts, all of which could be played for money.

The first historical evidence that not all was well with the Shores’ marriage dates from 1474. On 30 November William Shore made a gift of his goods and chattels to five friends, two of whom were mercers. This was a common legal device for protecting one’s possessions, often adopted when leaving the country to travel abroad.5 Mr Shore may have been considering emigration because of his wife’s affair with the King.

Edward kept in touch with most of the richer London merchants and must have been told all the racier City gossip. So too would William Hastings, with his own mercantile activities and vast acquaintance. One can guess that both roared with laughter on hearing that a beautiful young woman was seeking to have her marriage annulled by the Church on the grounds of her husband’s impotence. It could well be that it was their bizarre law-case which first aroused the King’s interest in Mrs Shore.

Jane had been trying to obtain an annulment for several years. Her lawyers had taken her case more than once to the Court of Arches (Dr Morton’s old stamping ground), but the Dean of Arches – the ‘official principal’ – had proved thoroughly unsympathetic. Why? Admittedly the grounds were most unusual; normally an annulment was granted because the marriage had been within a forbidden degree of affinity (of cousinhood, which was too close) or because there was evidence of coercion. Impotence was a very rare plea indeed, and the case was apparently unique in fifteenth-century England. Did the Dean suspect that poor Mr Shore’s lack of virility was a convenient fiction? On the other hand, one can understand Shore’s reluctance to appear before the court if he really was afflicted in this embarrassing way.6

Only the richest in the land could afford to go to Rome over the head of the Dean of Arches. Even a loving father anxious for grandchildren would have baulked at the vast sums involved. However, the money came from somewhere. (Did the King pay?) On 1 March 1476 Pope Sixtus IV dispatched a mandate from Rome to the Bishops of Hereford, Sidon and Ross in London, which empowered them to hear Jane’s petition.

The papal mandate reads as follows:

The recent petition of Elizabeth Lambert alias Schore [sic], mulier, of London states that she continued in her marriage, per verba legitimi de presenti, to William Schore, layman of the diocese of London, and cohabited with him for the lawful time, but that he is so frigid and impotent that she, desirous of being a mother and having offspring, requested over and over again the [principal] official of London [the Dean of Arches] to cite the said William before him to answer her concerning the foregoing and the nullity of the said marriage and that, seeing the said official refused to do so, she appealed to the Apostolic See . . .

Jane’s petition was granted and her marriage annulled. While there is no reason to suppose that she was lying about the wretched Mr Shore’s inadequacy, the composition of the tribunal may have had something to do with its verdict. Although little is known of the Bishops of Sidon and Ross, ‘my lord of Hereford’ was a prominent figure at court and a close friend of the King. He was Dr Thomas Millyngton, a former Abbot of Westminster, who had played a most important part in the life of the royal family.7 When the pregnant Queen and her daughters had gone into sanctuary at Westminster during the Readeption of 1470–71, as Abbot Dr Millyngton had housed them in his magnificent ‘lodging’, where Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her first son. After Edward’s restoration, the grateful King had insisted on Millyngton’s appointment to the see of Hereford, making him a privy counsellor. He was at the very least aware of the judgement in this case which would be most welcome to his patron.

We know from Thomas More’s account that King Edward was captivated by pretty Mrs Shore’s good looks and cheerful, amusing personality. In More’s view, the young lady’s miserable marriage ‘the more easily made her incline unto the king’s appetite when he required her’, while ‘the respect of his royalty, the hope of gay apparel, ease, pleasure and other wanton wealth, was soon able to pierce a soft, tender heart’. He adds that as soon as the affair had begun – probably at some date before November 1474 – Mr Shore, ‘not presuming to touch a king’s concubine, left her up to him altogether’. Apparently More had not heard about Shore’s impotence.

Admittedly, our knowledge of Jane Shore and of her relations with King Edward IV is very scanty indeed. She belonged to a class that has left very few personal records, and in any case the chroniclers thought that no woman other than a queen, a great heiress or a saint was worth mentioning. The first firm date for Jane’s very existence is that of the divorce tribunal’s appointment in 1476; she is not heard of again for another seven years. We are totally dependent on Thomas More for any details of her romance with the King. No doubt their first meeting was followed by the usual pattern of swift seduction and a torrid affair. What made it so different from Edward’s other love affairs was that it turned into a firm friendship which lasted for the rest of his life.


Jane Shore’s ‘gay apparel’ – how fashionable ladies dressed in Edward IV’s reign. The material of the one on the left is similar to that of doublets worn by the king and his brother Richard in portraits painted about 1482.

There are many lurid tales about Jane, mostly apocryphal. One example in the Dictionary of National Biography – which gives as its source the Huntingdon Peerage – is especially colourful:

It is said that Lord Hastings, who may have met her owing to her father’s business lying much at court, tried to induce her to become his mistress; and that he even schemed to carry her off by night, but was defeated in his design by the repentance of a maid who was his accomplice.

Sadly, this story is nowhere to be found in the Huntingdon Peerage (which in any case is hopelessly unreliable) and has no historical foundation. William Hastings kept away from her until after King Edward’s death.

The spectacular story of Mrs Shore’s later fall from riches to rags (to be recounted further on in this book) appealed to the popular imagination. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, plays and ballads would be written about her:

Long time I lived in the courte,
With lords and ladies of greate sorte;
And when I smil’d all men were glad,
But when I frown’d my prince grewe sad

However, all that was really known about Jane until 1972, when she was identified as John Lambert’s daughter, came from the Tudor chroniclers whose only sources were Thomas More, a few lines in The Great Chronicle of London, and some references to her by Richard III.

William Shore left the City. On 4 December 1476 he was given letters of protection under the great seal for his lands, goods, servants and possessions, no more being heard of him in London records till the next reign. He moved to East Anglia or Flanders, or alternated between them, having close links with Colchester and Antwerp. There he concentrated on his business as a merchant adventurer, exporting cloth and importing wine, trading as far afield as Iceland. Understandably, he did not marry again.8

‘Shore’s wife’ was one mistress whom Edward IV did not care to pass on to his courtiers. More informs us that Lord Hastings fell deeply in love with her – ‘on whom he somewhat doted’ – but far from attempting to kidnap her, did not press his suit out of ‘reverence towards his king, or else of a kind of fidelity to his friend’. His competitor, the Marquess of Dorset, who was no less attracted by her, also seems to have kept away from Jane until after his stepfather’s death.

Like all medieval men and women, the King and his mistress rose early, their day beginning at 5.30 a.m. They sat down to dinner at nine or ten o’clock – somewhat later on fast days. By all accounts, Edward is unlikely to have enjoyed fasting. A fair number of his banquets seem to have been picnics during hunting parties, in ‘lodges’ made of green boughs, around the old royal palace of the Bower in Waltham Forest at Havering in Essex.

As with every fifteenth-century sport, where women were concerned the hunt was often a spectator sport. Jane watched it set off with due pageantry, waiting in the lodge until it returned with a boar, stag, buck or hares, whereupon the morning’s sport was symbolically re-enacted before the women, after which everyone sat down to dine. The King also went in for angling parties, and perhaps tennis parties as well – what is now called ‘real tennis’ was fashionable. Much more enjoyable, probably, from Jane’s point of view, was dancing.

This usually meant the ‘Bace Dance’, the slow, stately Basse Danse of the Burgundian court, which was very different from the hopping and skipping of country jigs. Writing in 1521, when it can have changed little, Robert Coplande explains, ‘for to dance any Bace Dance there behoveth four paces, that is to wit: single, double, reprise and braule [branle]. And ye ought first to make reverence toward the lady . . .’

Each couple stood side by side, the lady on the man’s right, giving him her left hand to hold at shoulder level. Gentle and undulating, this courtly dance consisted of grave advances and retreats, punctuated by the branle – a sideways step, swaying from left foot to right and back again. It was customary for the court to dance it before the King, and presumably Jane did so on many occasions in her most seductive apparel.

Clearly King Edward enjoyed her company very much indeed, appreciating the sweet nature for which she was so renowned. According to More, ‘in his latter days, he left all wild dalliance and fell to gravity’, yet he always remained good friends with Mrs Shore. ‘Where the king took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind; where men were out of favour, she would bring them into his grace.’

There is a tradition at Eton that she saved the college from destruction, when Edward contemplated transferring its endowments to St George’s, Windsor. He had little reason to favour a foundation of Henry VI. It is said that Jane persuaded him to change his mind at the request of her confessor, Henry Bost, who was Provost of Eton. Unfortunately there is no hard documentary evidence for this story.9

Even so, More insists that Jane Shore saved a substantial number of people from ruin out of the sheer kindness of her heart:

For many that had highly offended, she obtained pardon. Of great forfeitures she got men remission. And, finally, in many weighty suits she stood many men in great stead, either for none or very small rewards and those rather gay than rich: either for that she was content with the deed [it]self well done, or for that she was delighted to be sued unto, and to show what she was able to do with the king, or for that wanton women and wealthy be not always covetous.

In his History he writes only of Hastings and Morton with such obvious liking as he does of Mrs Shore.

However, More has to admit that the Queen – a good hater – could not stand ‘Shore’s wife . . . whom of all women she most hated, as that concubine whom the king her husband most loved.’ Queen Elizabeth had reason to feel competitive. Despite his womanizing, Edward still found time to share the marital bed, fathering ten children who survived infancy – the last being born as late as 1480. There were so many royal palaces near London (his favourites being Windsor, Eltham and Greenwich), and he was so often on progress, that it was very easy for him to meet Jane without the Queen knowing, unless informed by spiteful gossips. Quite apart from his palaces, Mrs Shore had a comfortable house of her own in London, either in some smart street in the City off Cheapside or in a fashionable suburb such as Stepney. But if the bond with Jane was cheerful companionship rather than sexuality, this did not placate Elizabeth Woodville if she ever believed it.

The royal favour did not extend to Mrs Shore’s family, save for the ‘protection’ given to her ex-husband. Edward IV was certainly not going to waste time on patronizing such a fool as Mr Lambert, who had lost his aldermanry. John must have reached sixty by the late 1470s and was therefore growing very old indeed. There are fewer and fewer references to him in the records. One of the last is in 1477, when he made a small contribution towards repairing the City walls, after an appeal by the King and the Mayor.

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