Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Royal Mistress is about Jane Shore, mistress of England's Edward IV for the last seven years of his life, from 1476 to 1483. She was once believed to have been a goldsmith's wife; this novel incorporates more recent scholarly research showing her maiden name was Lambert and her first husband, William Shore, was a mercer - a dealer in fine fabrics. Jane was said to have been beautiful. According to Sir Thomas More, who met her when she was old, "a proper wit had she, and could both read well and write, merry in company, ready and quick of answer," attractions that may have pleased King Edward as much or more than her beauty. Aside from this, the historical record about her is sketchy enough to offer plenty of scope for a novelist's imagination.
The Jane of Royal Mistress is immensely likeable, a thoughtful and compassionate woman who takes every opportunity to help her friends and acquaintances and is sensitive enough to know that her generosity, if not discreet, could tarnish reputations. Like many young and inexperienced women from ancient times into our own, she seems to have loved unwisely at least once before she met the king. She may have loved again afterward. The Author's Note tells us the novel's theme: "to show how humans can love in many different ways."
Jane lived in interesting times. After Edward died, his brother Richard became guardian of Edward's two young sons. When evidence emerged that Edward's marriage to their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was not legal, he became King Richard III. The two "Princes in the Tower" disappeared, later presumed murdered by Richard or his henchmen. Like other novelists, Anne Easter Smith has a theory about what happened to Edward's sons; a segue explores it. Without this tangent wandering away from Jane's story, Royal Mistress would have been more focused and consistently moving. Nevertheless, readers fascinated by the many theories about Richard and his nephews may appreciate the tangent. (2013; 489 pages, including an Author's Note separating history from fiction)More about Royal Mistress at Powell's Books or Amazon.com