Anne Easter Smith’s novel of the infamous Jane Shore, Royal Mistress, spans Jane’s life over the notorious 10-year period when she was involved with three of the most powerful men in England. Opening before Jane was forced into a marriage she didn’t want, Smith chronicles how Jane came to the notice of Tom Grey (son of Elizabeth Woodville), and later Edward IV and his friend, Will Hastings. To say Jane was a woman of questionable choices goes without saying; turned by pretty words and powerful men, she is swept along in the events that lead ultimately to her humiliating punishment through the streets of London.
Smith embodies Jane with a sympathetic voice; it is hard not to like her and to understand just what made her so attractive to men in general. Jane is often flighty, though good-hearted; her ill use by those around her is both frustrating and realistic. The story moves among several viewpoints, including those of Jane, Edward, Elizabeth Woodville, and Richard of York. I particularly enjoyed reading Elizabeth Woodville’s observations; her thoughts and actions rang true, especially when she was lamenting the actions of her deceased husband. There is an author’s note section included (always a plus!) that gives detailed information on how the author arrived at her conclusions and also fills in a few blanks.
Though the novel is mainly about Jane Shore, it is also about the tumultuous period when Edward IV’s lust for life led to his early demise and the overthrow of his sons. Smith has given us a very readable, intriguing look at Jane as both a mistress and an intimate participant in the royal circle.