Post-classical history

35

MRS SHORE DOES PENANCE, 1483

JANE SHORE

We do not know Jane’s reaction to the news of the death of a lover with whom she had spent the previous night. But we do know that she was in very serious trouble. On 21 June, eight days after the killing of Lord Hastings, Canon Simon Stallworth, prebendary of Crackpole St Mary in the diocese of Lincoln and a servant of the Lord Chancellor, wrote from London to a friend that Mrs Shore was in prison and he did not know what was going to happen to her.1 Clearly, Richard was very angry with Jane. It can scarcely have been because of her ‘sorcery and witchcraft’. Was there another reason for the Protector’s hostility besides her friendship with Hastings?

Mancini may have given us the answer. He reports that about the time Hastings died ‘the duke [of Gloucester] learnt from his agents that the marquess [of Dorset] had slipped out of sanctuary and, suspecting he was hiding in the area [Westminster], had its fields – already deep in standing corn – and its woods ringed by troops and dogs, trying to catch him by penning him in just as hunters do, but he was never found.’2 The obvious person for the Marquess to run to was Mrs Shore; someone as kind as Jane would never turn him away. In any case, he was in love with her, and he had been without a woman at Westminster. It is quite possible, therefore, that she was arrested for sheltering Dorset. Undoubtedly they were together later that year, during the summer or in the early autumn.

The Great Chronicle of London says that shortly after the Protector’s coronation as King Richard III on 6 July, a woman named Shore ‘that before days, after the common fame, the lord Chamberlain held, contrary to his honour, [was] called to a reckoning for part of his goods and other things. In so much that all her moveables were attached by the sheriffs of London . . .’3 This sounds like deliberate hounding on the authorities’ part, since all her own goods had been stolen at the time of her arrest which, as we know from Canon Stallworth, took place some time between 13 and 21 June.

Describing the looting that accompanied her arrest, More emphasizes that Richard was punishing her in this way ‘for anger, and not for covetousness’. He sent Sir Thomas Howard (who had seized Hastings in the council chamber) to take her to prison. Howard robbed her of everything she possessed, which was ‘above the value of two to three thousand marks’ – as much as a thousand pounds. This was no small sum since many comfortably-off squires had incomes of less than £20 a year.4

Mrs Shore was to enjoy star billing in the propaganda that followed. Already she had featured in the proclamation issued after William’s death. (More could have seen both this and the sheriffs’ order with his own eyes – as a lawyer and under-sheriff he had access to legal documents of the period.) She was going to be attacked publicly by Buckingham and she would also feature in a further proclamation. The regime was trying to make her the symbol of its opponents’ ‘vicious living’. But her liaison with Dorset is the most probable reason for her arrest.

Jane was able to avoid the worst gaols by insisting on her right as a Freewoman of London to choose the prison. Ludgate gaol was in the rooms over the gate at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, opposite St Martin’s Church. Timber-framed on the side within the City but with a battlemented stone façade outside, it had a large window from which she could watch the crowd below passing in and out of the City, while friends were able to bring in food.5

Now that William Hastings was safely out of the way, Gloucester set about securing possession of the King’s younger brother, the ten-year-old Duke of York. On 16 July a party of the great and good, led by Buckingham, called on the Queen in sanctuary at Westminster; it included Archbishop Bourchier of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor Russell, and Lord Howard. Eventually they bullied her into parting with the boy, who joined his brother in the Tower. ‘Farewell, mine own sweet son,’ said the poor Queen. ‘God send you good keeping. Let me kiss you once yet ere you go, for God knows when we shall kiss together again.’

Henceforward, according to The Great Chronicle, ‘was the Prince and duke of York holden more strait and there was privy talk that the Protector should be king’. On Sunday, 22 June a sermon was preached at Paul’s Cross next to the Cathedral, with the text ‘Bastard slips should not take root’. The preacher claimed that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had never been valid because at the time of the wedding he had been betrothed to Lady Eleanor Butler, the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter, which precluded his marrying anyone else. Moreover, not only were the little King and his brother illegitimate, but Edward IV and Clarence had themselves been bastards. Only the Duke of Gloucester was his father’s rightful son.

When the Duke of Buckingham made a very similar speech at the Guildhall two days later, he claimed that the late King had paid more attention to ‘Shore’s wife, a vile and abominable strumpet, than to all the lords in England except unto those that made her their protector’.

Buckingham’s entire speech was part of a smear campaign, an attempt to discredit the memory of Edward IV.

For no woman was there anywhere, young or old, poor or rich, whom he set his eye upon, whom he anything liked, either for person or beauty, speech, pace or countenance, but without any fear of God, or respect of his honour, murmur, or grudging of the world, he would importunately pursue his appetite and have her, to the great destruction of many a good woman . . .

Sir Thomas More is frequently accused of literary invention in the creation of his History of King Richard the Third, and Buckingham’s oratory may seem like so much fantasy, something dreamt up by the author’s imagination. Yet, as will be seen, there is every reason to suppose that the Duke really did make such a speech. The irony of this programme of sexual denigration – even now unique in English history – is that the Protector himself had sired at least two acknowledged bastards and probably a third as well.

On 25 June a delegation headed by the Duke of Buckingham, and composed of such magnates as Lord Howard, together with the Mayor and aldermen, formally asked Richard of Gloucester to assume the Crown. The peers and MPs who had come to London to attend Parliament – postponed for the time being – drew up a petition begging him to do so, a petition that would be embodied in an Act when they met the following year.

Echoing Buckingham’s speech at the Guildhall, the petition alleged that during the late King Edward IV’s reign

this land was ruled by self-will and pleasure, fear and dread, all manner of equity and laws laid apart and despised. Whereof ensued many inconveniences and mischiefs – as murders, extortions and oppressions, namely of poor and impotent people, so that no man was sure of his life, land nor livelihood, ne of his wife, daughter ne servant, every good maiden and woman standing in dread to be ravished and defouled . . .

All this is very similar to the accusations made against Henry VI some twenty years before, save for the extraordinary sexual charges.

The ‘pretensed marriage betwixt the above named King Edward and Elizabeth Grey was made of great presumption, without the knowing and assent of the lords of this land,’ continues the petition, ‘and also by sorcery and witchcraft committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jaquet, duchess of Bedford, as the common opinion of the people and the public voice and fame is through all this land.’ Because of the pre-existing contract of betrothal (‘troth plight’) to Eleanor Butler, the marriage was invalid, so that ‘all the issue and children of the said King Edward [have] been bastards and unable to inherit or claim anything’.

The petition is not a fabrication by ‘Tudor propagandists’ but a document that would later receive Richard’s full, formal approval in Parliament as part of the Act Titulus Regis.6

On 26 June the Protector was proclaimed King of England. In the meantime ‘Edward Bastard, late called King Edward V’, as he was now known, and the Duke of York were seen less and less. After the elimination of Hastings, the former King’s attendants were not allowed to visit him. ‘He and his brother were taken into the inner rooms of the Tower itself and each day could be glimpsed more and more rarely until finally they ceased to appear at all,’ Mancini tells us. Young Edward’s physician, the last of his attendants to see him, reported that the boy spent his time in prayer since ‘he believed that death was facing him’.

On 5 July Mancini watched Richard III processing from the Tower to Westminster, the day before his crowning, bowing from the saddle as the crowd cheered him. The route led down Ludgate Hill into Fleet Street, so Jane too must have watched the new monarch from her window as the coronation procession passed beneath her prison through the Ludgate. She saw a short, spare, wiry little man (with no outward sign of a hump or a crook-back), who wore a gown of purple velvet trimmed with ermine over a doublet of blue cloth-of-gold. His queen – Anne Nevill, Warwick’s younger daughter – followed in a litter, flanked by five mounted ladies-in-waiting. They were escorted by most of the peers of England, some thirty-five. The spectacle can have done little to hearten poor Mrs Shore, who knew that the King had not finished with her. She was a key exhibit in his smear campaign.

Richard’s charge ‘that she went about to bewitch him and that she was of counsel with the lord chamberlain to destroy him’ could not be proved and had to be dropped. Even so, the King hoped to use her reputation for loose living to discredit Edward IV, Hastings and Dorset. The Great Chronicle records that shortly after the coronation a woman named Shore was ‘as a common harlot put to open penance for the life that she [had] led with the said Lord Hastings and other great estates’ – ‘other great estates’ meaning King Edward and the Marquess of Dorset.

Everyone laughed at the authorities suddenly taking it so seriously that Jane had been free with her favours. ‘And for this cause (as a goodly, continent prince, clean and faultless of himself, sent out of heaven into this vicious world for the amendment of men’s manners) he [Richard] caused the bishop of London to put her to open penance’ is More’s sardonic comment.7

On a Sunday, Jane was made to walk barefoot in her kirtle through the City streets, carrying a lighted taper. She ‘went so fair and lovely’ and looked so comely, especially when she blushed, that many men cheered, ‘more amorous of her body than curious of her soul’. Even those who disapproved of her way of life felt sorry for her, questioning the King’s motives.

Soon after her penance, Mrs Shore was let out of prison. However, it would not be long before she returned to Ludgate gaol. For it seems that King Richard discovered that she had joined the Marquess of Dorset in his hiding place.

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