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Royal Mistress
by Anne Easter Smith

Beautiful, buxom and blonde, Jane Lambert has no trouble attracting men’s attention. The young woman yearns for romantic love, and has thus far spurned every suitor. Finally, her father marries her off to Master Shore, a fellow mercer. Jane’s husband is indifferent to her charms, and she begins to despair. But fate has a different plan for pretty Jane Shore: she attracts the attention of the king’s step-son, his chamberlain and eventually the king himself. Loved for her quick wit and generous spirit, Jane’s marriage is annulled and she becomes the beloved mistress of Edward IV. When he dies eight years later, Jane’ s security vanishes  as a known adulteress, with no rank or personal wealth, how will Jane support herself in the turbulent reign of Richard III, Edward’s puritanical successor?

This is the first time I’ve read one of Anne Easter Smith’s novels, although I’ve long meant to check her out, thanks to her reputation as an excellent storyteller of 15th century English history. The first thing that jumped out at me was the rich detail; her vivid descriptions of medieval London really brought Jane’s world to life. Because her father is a mercer, Jane grew up surrounded by rich fabrics, and throughout the book she’s particularly observant of the texture and quality of the material goods around her. Through her eyes, the story was very tactile and sensual.

Jane’s constantly bouncing from one bed to the next  by the end of the book she’s been married twice and mistress to three very different men. Countless other men have been seduced by her large bosom and charming smile. She’s the sex symbol of her era, rather like a medieval Marilyn Monroe. Jane flirts. She tells funny stories and makes up little poems mocking her situation. She isn’t bawdy or lewd, simply comfortable with her body and more approachable for it. All in all, she is a very likeable woman - Thomas More later describes her as the merriest of Edward’s mistresses  but one can only have so many men being struck with instant lust/love at first sight before it ceases to feel realistic.

The story isn’t told exclusively from Jane’s point of view. In fact, she’s often absent from the story. Royal Mistress also spends a fair amount of time on the politics of the time, including the disappearance of the princes in the tower. Smith is of the “Richard didn’t do it” camp, and her version of events is a little different from the story told in the books of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir and others.

Fans of Smith’s previous novels will be pleased to see many of her characters revisited. Kate Haute, fictional heroine of A Rose for the Crown and mother of Richard III’s bastards, even makes a brief cameo.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Royal Mistress, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
2011: Tighter by Adele Griffin
2010: Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts
2009: Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins


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