The penance of Jane Shore by Robert Scott Lauder

Jane Shore: The 15th Century Royal Mistress Forced to Walk London’s Streets in her Underwear


Elizabeth ‘Jane’ Shore was an Englishwoman who lived between the 15 th and 16 th centuries. She is best remembered as one the many mistresses of the English king Edward IV. As one of the king’s favorites, Jane Shore wielded a considerable amount of influence on Edward IV, which she used to help those who incurred the king’s displeasure. After Edward IV’s death, however, Jane Shore quickly fell from power. Nevertheless, she survived this and lived peacefully till a ripe old age of 82.

When was Jane Shore Born?

Jane Shore (born Elizabeth Lambert) was born in London around 1445. She was the daughter of John Lambert, a wealthy merchant and his wife, Amy. Due to her family’s wealth, Jane received a high level of education, which, at that time was uncommon for people of this class and even more so for a female. Additionally, her family’s social standing provided Jane with the opportunity to socialize with important members of English society.

Many Suitors But Did Her Marriage Succeed?

As a young woman, Jane was both intelligent and beautiful, thus attracting many admirers. Nevertheless, her first marriage was arranged by her father, who was anxious that his daughter be suitably married as soon as possible. Her father’s choice was the goldsmith William Shore. Despite being 15 years older than Jane, William was considered to have been very handsome and extremely wealthy. The marriage, however, was not a success as Jane did not have affection for her husband. In March 1476, the annulment of the marriage was granted by Pope Sixtus IV, on the grounds that William was impotent and therefore was unable to fulfil his marital duties of fathering children.

Jane Shore Used Her Considerable Influence to Help Others

By the end of the same year that Jane’s marriage was annulled, she met the king and became his mistress. In spite of Edward IV’s notoriety as a womanizer, Jane remained as the king’s mistress until his death. The king himself described Jane as being ‘Merry in company, ready and quick of answer’, and was under her influence. Jane used her influence over Edward IV to the good of others, by appealing to the king on behalf of those who have displeased him. She seems to have been successful in this, as many were pardoned thanks to her intercession. It is unclear, however, as to Jane’s influence in court affairs and it is unlikely that she played a major role in the politics of the time.

King Edward IV.

King Edward IV. (David Williamson / Public Domain )

Jane’s Attempts to Realign Allies

When the king died in 1483, Jane tried to remain in the English court by becoming the mistress of Thomas Grey. Thomas was the son of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward’s queen, and her first husband, Sir John Grey of Groby. Additionally, she was also the lover of Lord Hastings and therefore received his support and protection. Hastings was a close friend and advisor of the king, as well as Jane’s most famous suitor before her marriage to William Shore. Thanks to Jane, the Hastings and Woodvilles were drawn closer together.

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of Edward IV of England

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of Edward IV of England. (tudorplace / Public Domain )

The alliance between these two prominent families was perceived as a threat by Richard, the younger brother of Edward IV. Richard had been serving as Lord Protector of the Realm, before deposing Edward V, Edward IV’s 12-year-old son and successor, to become Richard III . Lord Hastings was accused of treason and promptly executed on the 18 th of June 1483. The Woodvilles did not escape from Richard III either. Although Elizabeth was accused of witchcraft, no further action was taken. Several of her relatives, including one of her brothers, however, were executed.

Jane’s Influence Gains Her Enemies

As the person responsible for bringing the Hastings and Woodvilles together, Jane was also a target of Richard III. Although she too was accused of witchcraft, there was not enough evidence to convict her of this crime and she was charged with harlotry (sexual immorality or prostitution). She was sentenced to do the traditional public penance for harlotry at St. Paul’s Cathedral . Dressed only in her kirtle and carrying a taper, Jane was forced to walk through the streets of London barefooted. The crowds who witnessed Jane’s public penitence were not only moved by her plight but were also impressed by the dignity with which she carried herself. Jane’s public penance is widely believed to be the inspiration behind the Walk of Atonement in the series Game of Thrones .

The Penance of Jane Shore, by William Blake

The Penance of Jane Shore, by William Blake. Source: (The Tate / Public Domain )

After Jane completed her public penance, she was sent to Ludgate Prison. Thomas Lynom, the King’s Solicitor, had become infatuated with Jane while she was imprisoned and sought her hand in marriage. Although Richard tried to dissuade him from doing so, Lynom was adamant and eventually managed to obtain a pardon for Jane from the king. Although there were rumors that Jane died in poverty, this seems unlikely to be true. Her husband was a relatively wealthy man and she would have had a comfortable life. Towards the end of her life, she met Sir Thomas More, who wrote about her in his ‘History of King Richard the Third’. Jane died at the age of 82 around 1527 and was buried in Hinxworth Church, Hertfordshire.

The plight of Jane Shore depicted in plays written by Sir Thomas More and other playwriters.

The plight of Jane Shore depicted in plays written by Sir Thomas More and other playwriters. (National Library of Scotland / Public Domain )

Top image: The penance of Jane Shore by Robert Scott Lauder (Scottish, 1803–1869) T

By Ḏḥwty


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