Post-classical history

JANE SHORE

Mrs Lynom – Jane Shore – lost her father in October 1487. Two years before, he had received a crushing blow, as heavy as the loss of his aldermanship. Henry Tudor’s triumph at Bosworth had been followed by the restoration of Sir Edward Courtenay to the earldom of Devon in October 1485. All the Courtenay lands went with it, including Puriton and the other West Country manors that Edward IV had given to John Lambert in 1470.17 However, John remained a landowner in Hertfordshire. Aware of King Richard’s unpopularity, it is possible that he bought Hinxworth in anticipation of just such a disaster, and to ensure that whatever happened his son would be a gentleman. The story of John and his Devon and Somerset manors shows how the Wars of the Roses could affect the fortunes of the merchant class even though they might not fight in them.

Mr Lambert made his will on 24 September, only a month before he died, so he had probably known that death was approaching. He calls himself ‘citizen and mercer of London, of the parish of St Olav in Silver Street’. The bulk of his property goes to his son John, while the furnishings of his chapel go to the priest son, ‘Sir’ William Lambert, parson of St Leonard’s in Foster Lane. Jane is left ‘a bed of arras with the velours tester and curtains, [and] a stained cloth of Mary Magdalen and Martha.’ (Did John have his tongue in his cheek, leaving his daughter a marital bed with a picture of the repentant Magdalen?) Thomas Lynom, who was one of the executors, receives 20s and his granddaughter 40s. Despite losing his aldermanship and West Country estates, John Lambert had had a prosperous career.18

Over his tomb, in the middle of the chancel floor of the church of St Nicholas at Hinxworth, John had placed a magnificent brass, nearly four feet long and of superlative quality. It showed Mr and Mrs Lambert, with their four sons and two daughters below them. A scroll issued from John’s mouth with the words, ‘Lord, into thy hand I commend my spirit’; that from Amy’s said, ‘I know that I shall see the good Lord in the land of the living.’ He wore a mercer’s gown, turned back to reveal its rich fur lining, while at his belt hung a capacious purse and a rosary. The Latin inscription beneath described him as ‘citizen, mercer and alderman of London’ – he had never forgotten his lost dignity. The eldest son was dressed as a priest and Jane, the elder daughter, as a most respectable young matron. The brass may still be seen at Hinxworth, though it has been moved from the floor to the north wall of the chancel and the inscription is missing.

Like the majority of Richard III’s officials, Thomas Lynom had soon managed to make his peace with the new regime, securing a general pardon on 26 September 1485. During the following year he was entrusted with granting pardons and receiving former rebels into allegiance in Yorkshire. Although he seems to have lost his post as King’s Solicitor, he continued to be a royal bureaucrat for many years, and is probably the Thomas Lynom who was replaced as escheator of Essex in 1498.

No chronicler mentions a Mrs Shore or a Mrs Lynom after 1483, and, until More’s wonderfully vivid account, all trace of Jane vanishes after her mother Amy’s will of 1488. (Mrs Lambert left her property to be divided equally between her children.) We are not even sure when Thomas Lynom died, but if he was the man from Sutton-on-Derwent, then he was dead by 1518.

Having lost Mr Lynom, she found herself an old woman, ugly and penniless, no longer capable of attracting protectors. More, writing not earlier than 1518, paints a harrowing picture of Jane as she had become by then – ‘lean, withered and dried up, nothing left but ravelled skin and hard bone’. He comments, ‘I doubt not some shall think this woman too slight a thing to be written of and set among the remembrance of great matters . . . how much she is now in the more beggarly condition, unfriended and worn out of acquaintance.’ More reminds his readers how her kind deeds, her interceding with King Edward, had all been forgotten – ‘whoso doth us a good turn, we write it in dust, which is not worst proved by her, for at this day she beggeth of many at this day living, that at this day had begged if she had not been.’

It has been suggested, very unconvincingly, that Thomas More’s description of Jane as a beggar need not be taken too literally, that she may have supported herself by begging letters.19 But in the Latin version of his History of King Richard the Third he simply uses the word ‘mendicando’, begging, and says nothing about writing letters.20 The bleakest interpretation is probably closest to the truth. She begged her bread miserably through the streets of London.

In the earliest printed version of Sir Thomas More’s history, Jane Shore is said to have died in the eighteenth year of King Henry VIII, which means at some time between April 1526 and April 1527. By then she must have been well into her seventies, since a copy of More’s manuscript written not later than 1521 refers to her as ‘septuagenaria’. During her last wretched days the pitiful old woman must have seemed like some fantastic figure from legend.

The legend was a very bloody one indeed. Long before Shakespeare, Tudor England, scarcely squeamish, was horrified by memories of the Wars of the Roses. Even if they were over, the White Rose was far from dead. For most of his reign Henry VIII lived in fear of Yorkist rivals – and not without reason.

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