The real Jane Shore

‘Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand

Why dost thou lash that whore?  Strip thy own back

Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind

For which thou whip’st her’ (Shakespeare 1159)

Elizabeth “Jane” Shore {1445-1527}, who was a long-term mistress of King Edward IV, is certainly an interesting historical figure.  After his death, she and her new paramour Baron William Hastings, fell foul of the new administration under his brother Richard III.  She has been somewhat vilified by Shakespeare.  He shows towards her a misogyny which is quite uncharacteristic of the Bard, with his large cast of strong, powerful heroines.

He first praises her, as part of Richard’s famous ‘we speak no treason’ speech, gossiping about the king and queen.  He says of his brother’s mistress:

‘We say that Shore’s wife hath a pretty foot,

A cherry lip, a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue’ (Shakespeare 746)

Shakespeare then begins to sound like a medieval morality play, with the words he puts in Richard’s mouth next.  Good to know that it was a family show down at the Globe.

GLOUCESTER: ‘Nought to do with Mistress Shore!

I tell thee, fellow,

He that doth naught with her, excepting one

Were best to do it secretly alone’.

BRAKENBURY: ‘What one, my lord?’

GLOUCESTER: ‘Her husband, knave!  Wouldst thou betray me?’ {Shakespeare 746}

The next scene where Jane Shore is mentioned, is the highly dramatic one where Richard, now consolidating his hold on the kingdom, accuses his rivals the queen, Jane, and her lover Lord Hastings of plotting against him.   They are accused of witchcraft, which was then a serious capital crime, as was his other accusation of being traitors.

GLOUCESTER: ‘Then be your eyes the witness of their evil

Look how I am bewitch’d, behold, mine arm

Is like a blasted sapling wither’d up

And this is Edward’s wife, the monstrous witch,

Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,

That by their witchcraft they have mark’d me

HASTINGS: ‘If they have done this deed, my noble lord – ‘

GLOUCESTER:  ‘If? – thous protector of this damned strumpet,

Talk’st thou to me of ifs?  Thou art a traitor

Off with his head!  Now by Saint Paul I swear

I will not dine until I see the same.’ (Shakespeare 768)

Here Jane is accused of the whole trifecta of slurs against women: a witch, a harlot, and, by the way her involvement with Hastings has brought about his death, also a femme fatale.  She is also accused of collaborating with Queen Elizabeth, who was something of a harem rival to the King’s mistress.  It seems like every misogynist calumny has been thrown at her here.

William Blake :  The Penance of Jane Shore c 1793

Now we will look at the life of the real Jane Shore.

She was born in London in 1445 as Elizabeth Lambert, to Amy and John Lambert, her father was a wealthy merchant (English Monarchs).  He had supplied Edward IV in his wars with the House of Lancaster.  She was well educated for a girl at that time, as well as being attractive.

In 1460, she was married to an older man named William Shore, a goldsmith (McNeill).  He never seemed to win her affections (English Monarchs) and the marriage was a loveless one, perhaps also sexless (McNeill).  Their marriage was annulled in 1476 (English Monarchs), but his ex-wife would continue to be known by his name.

It was also about this time that Jane met Edward IV, and soon became the king’s mistress. ‘Under Edward’s patronage she enjoy wealth and luxury, and in turn she wielded considerable influence at court’ (Pratt 1293).

When she joined Edward’s harem, Jane was certainly known to be merry.  ‘The King would say that he had three concubines, who in three diverse properties diversely excelled.  One, the merriest; another, the wiliest; the third, the holiest harlot in his realm’ (More 77).

The word harlot may conjure up images of a street prostitute in people’s minds, certainly anything but a new profession.  However, it came from Old French herlot, arlot “vagabond, tramp, vagrant; rascal, scoundrel,” with cognates in Old Provençal (arlot), Old Spanish (arlote), and Italian (arlotto), but of unknown origin.  At first it usually meant a male, but the ‘secondary sense of “prostitute, unchaste woman” probably had developed by 14c., certainly by early 15c., but this was reinforced by its use euphemistically for “strumpet, whore” in 16c’ (Etymonline).  It was also used in past centuries to mean a woman who was a mistress or kept woman, whose relationship with her man was without benefit of clergy.  Therefore, words like harlot, strumpet or whore may not have been considered as scathing as they sound to modern ears.

Edward has been described as ‘a notorious womaniser’, but his relationship with Jane would continue until he died in 1483 (English Monarchs).  After this, she became the mistress of his stepson Thomas Grey, the Marquis of Dorset.  She also took up with Lord Hastings, who had been an admirer of Jane’s for a long time.  This brought about an alliance between Hastings and the Woodvilles, the family of Edward’s queen.

Then came the notorious incident, where Richard accused her and Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain, as well as their downfall: ‘And much matter was there in the proclamation devised to the slander of the Lord Chamberlain: as the he was an evil counsellor to the King’s father – enticing him to many things highly redounding to the diminishing of his honour and to the universal hurt of his realm – by his evil company sinister procuring, and ungracious example, as well in many other things as in the vicious living and inordinate abut of his body, both with many others and also specially with Shore’s wife – who was one also of his most secret counsel of this heinous treason – with whom he lay nightly, and especially on the night passed before his death’ (More 75).

Like Shakespeare’s comments, this makes Baron Hastings sound like the victim of a femme fatale, rather than the power struggle that followed Edward’s death.  This was what really led to his immediate execution in June 1483, he was one of many casualties.  If More’s comments were true, then at least Hastings would have enjoyed his last night.

Jane was not charged with witchcraft or treason, but her promiscuous lifestyle was used against her by Richard.  She was forced to undergo public penance at St Paul’s Cross {Hypno}, as common prostitutes often were in those days.  She was forced to walk through the London streets, dressed in only her kirtle and carrying a lighted taper.  ‘Her beauty attracted a lot of attention from the men who lined the streets to watch her progress and she elicited much sympathy from the crowds’ (Hypno).  Another account says ‘the people pitied her for her loveliness and womanly patience’ (Luminarium).  This scene was later depicted by artist and poet William Blake.

After this, Jane was held in Ludgate Prison.  Here she would meet Thomas Lynom, the King’s Solicitor, who fell in love with her and petitioned to marry her.  Richard strongly objected to this, and tried to persuade him otherwise (Hypno).  Eventually they were married, and Jane later had a daughter named Julianne (McNeill).  Her husband lost his prestigious position after Henry Tudor became king, but they survived.

As Mrs Lynom, Jane would live a quiet and respectable life.  She lived to be 82, an amazing age for that time, one of few characters from Richard III to have any longevity. She long outlived the House of York; the king who loved her, and the king who despised her, subjecting her to public humiliation.  She is buried in Hinxworth Church in Hertfordshire (McNeill).

Since her death, Jane Shore has become quite a darling of literature, beginning with the Thomas Churchyard’s poem “Shore’s Wife”, which appeared in The Mirror for Magistrates in 1563 (Pratt 1295).  In 1714, Nicholas Rowe wrote a play The Tragedy of Jane Shore.  Historical novels written about her include The Goldsmith’s Wife (1950) by Jean Plaidy, Royal Mistress (2013) by Anne Easter Smith, and she is a character in Philippa Gregory’s book The White Queen and the subsequent television miniseries.  Even in the fictional Game of Thrones, the “Walk of Atonement” which Cersei Lannister was forced to undergo, is based on Jane’s real life public penance (Conradt).

Hinxworth Church, Jane Shore’s final resting place

Sir Thomas More, who was later canonised, talks about Jane Shore factually in his History of King Richard III.  He mentions the incident which was later dramatized by Shakespeare, about how Richard exposed his withered arm and denounced them with: ‘You shall all see in what wise that sorceress and that other witch of her counsel, Shore’s wife, with their affinity have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body’ (More 70).  He then adds that Richard was not believed because they knew Queen Elizabeth would not do something so foolish, let alone with her rival Jane Shore, and Richard’s deformities ‘was ever such since his birth’ (More 70).

However, More was quite chivalrous in his treatment of Shore, whom he knew.  ‘Proper she was and fair’ he described the younger Jane. ‘Yet delighted not men so much in her beauty as in her pleasant behaviour.  For a proper wit had she and could both read well and write, merry in company, ready and quick of answer, neither mute not full of babble, sometimes taunting without displeasure and not without disport’ (More 77).  As for her relationship with Edward IV: ‘For many he had, but her he loved – whose favour, to say truth (for since it were to belie the devil), she never abused to any man’s hurt, but to many a man’s comfort and relief.  Where the King took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind; where men were out of favour, she would bring them in his grace.  For many that had highly offended, she obtained pardon; of great forfeitures she go men remission.  And finally, in many weighty suits she stood many men in great stead’ (More 78).

More would meet Jane in her later years.  He described the elderly woman, paramour of a long dead king, as: ‘For now is she old, lean, withered, and dried up, nothing left but shriveled skin and hard bone.  And yet being even such, whoso well regards her visage might guess and imagine which parts, how filled, would make it a fair face’ (More 77).  That is something that happens to all of us eventually, and the alternative of violent death is far worse, as St Thomas would certainly discover when he lost Henry VIII’s favour.

In conclusion, it could be easily said that Jane Shore was perhaps judged a little harshly by some, why should all women be classified as either Madonnas or else whores?  Surely they should not be judged so harshly, just for giving men exactly what they want, including the king.  Jane was a fascinating woman in a fascinating time, who was generally liked by many.  She would long outlive both her lovers and enemies, certainly the entire period of the Wars of the Roses.



Kendall, Paul Ed. (1965) Richard III: The Great Debate.  This compilation consists of: More, Thomas (c.1513) History of King Richard III; & Walpole, Horace (1768) Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III. The Folio Society: London.

Shakespeare, William (2010) The Complete Works. HarperCollins Publishers: London.


“Harlot” (2017) Online Etymology Dictionary.  Retrieved from:

“Jane Shore” (2004-05). Plantagenet of York.  English Monarchs.  Retrieved from:

“Jane Shore” (2017). Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. Retrieved from:

Conradt, S. (2016).  The Real-Life Walk of Shame that Inspired that Game of Thrones Scene.  Mental Floss.  Retrieved from:

Easter Smith, A. (2013). Edward IV’s Women. A Writer of History.  Retrieved from:

Hypno, C. (2016).  Jane Shore – Famous Royal Mistress.  Owlcation.  Retrieved from:

Intriguing History (2017). King Edward IV’s Mistress, Jane Shore, just who was she and why did she wield so much power?  Intriguing Women. Retrieved from:

McNeill, M. (2013). Jane Shore.  The Honest Courtesan.  Retrieved from:

Pratt, S. (1970). Jane Shore and the Elizabethans: Some Facts and Speculations. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 11(4), 1293-1306. Retrieved from

Wikipedia (2017). Jane Shore.  Wikimedia Foundation Inc.  Retrieved from:


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