review: ROYAL MISTRESS by Anne Easter Smith
Title: Royal MistressAuthor: Anne Easter Smith
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
How Acquired: Through Net Galley
What it’s About: Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows King Edward will find her irresistible.Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as those of Jane and Will Hastings, hangs in the balance. Jane must rely on her talents to survive as the new monarch, Richard III, bent on reforming his brother’s licentious court, ascends the throne.
My thoughts: I’ve had a lovely couple of days spending time with my favorite Plantagenets thanks to Anne Easter Smith. I read and reviewed Anne’s last book QUEEN BY RIGHT about Cecily Neville, the Duchess of York, which I enjoyed, so I was eager to dive back into this world that I have loved ever since I saw THE LION IN WINTER in high school. Jane Shore, Edward IV’s last mistress, was someone that I had heard of, but knew very little. At first when I started reading the novel, I thought that it was just going to be another harlot with a heart of gold story. You know, “she sleeps with the King, but she’s a really good person who helps the poor,” type of thing but Jane’s story is much deeper than that.
When the book opens, Jane Lambert is on the verge of spinsterhood. She’s twenty-two and still unmarried which was highly unusual at that time. Her father is bit of an asshole; he adores her younger sister Isabel but treats Jane like she’s a nuisance. He expects absolute obedience, and prefers women to be seen and not heard. Jane however is quick-witted, intelligent and not afraid to speak her mind. There’s a telling scene with her mother Amy who shares her story with Jane, that once she too was outspoken and feisty, until basically Jane’s father beat it out of her. She tells Jane that one day she too will learn to keep silent. How awful but also probably how common was that in the 15th century when educating a woman was seen as a waste of time. The fact that Jane can actually read makes her something of an anomaly.She’s also gorgeous, petite with an hour-glass figure, and wavy blonde hair. She’s the type of woman who men gape at on the street, while their women glare. It’s not Jane’s fault that she’s a pocket Venus but most men don’t see much past her pretty face. Jane is also a bit of a romantic, she wants true love which she thinks she’s found with Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset until she discovers that he’s not only married, but that he’s lied about who he is.
Since she can’t marry the man that she loves, Jane settles for marriage to William Shore, a much older silk merchant who is eager to get in good with her father. She’s determined to make her marriage work but William won’t cooperate, or more to the point, a certain part of Will’s anatomy won’t cooperate. As I read further into the book, I experienced a range of emotions towards Jane. I liked her enormously for her sense of fun, her optimism, independent, and most of all her loyalty to her friends, her King, and Will Hastings. When she has the opportunity to help her friend Sophie as well as others in her community, she does. On the other hand, Jane was also naïve, stubborn, and headstrong.
The novel details the last few years of Edward IV’s reign as well as the first two years of Richard III’s reign. Although the book is predominantly Jane’s story, it is told in multiple points of view, including Will Hastings, Richard III, Elizabeth of York and Thomas Grey. Ah poor Edward IV, he comes across as a relatively decent man who started out as a good King but then through boredom, and having to constantly deal with his asshole of a brother George, Duke of Clarence, he’s given full reign to his hedonistic side, spending more time drinking, eating and whoring than he does governing. You finish the book feeling what a waste of a human life. To spend all that time fighting to get what you want, the Crown of England, just to turn into a fat git towards the end. When the revelation comes to light in the book about Eleanor Butler, one is not surprised; it is exactly the type of boneheaded move that you would have expected from Edward.
And then there is Richard, my Richard. For the record, I’m a diehard Ricardian but that doesn’t mean that I believe that Richard III was a saint. As portrayed by Easter Smith in ROYAL MISTRESS, Richard’s downfall is his inflexibility when he thinks that he is right. In his own way, he’s as arrogant as Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence. Like Jane, he is incredibly loyal to Edward IV and by his extension his family, although he loathes the Queen and the Woodvilles as many people did at the time. One has to wonder if Elizabeth Woodville hadn’t made such a power play after Edward IV’s death, whether or not things would have turned out differently. Edward IV’s death meant that people stopped playing nice and began to get real. Easter Smith has an interesting take on the death of the two Princes, it’s a theory that has been tossed about before, but she lends it real weight in her portrayal of the events that lead to their death.
Edward’s death means that Jane is in danger of losing everything. It’s to her credit that she didn’t demand more from Edward. Her plight illustrates the lack of opportunities available to women in the 15th century if they are not married. While the reader may not like Jane’s choices, in the end one understands where she is coming from. There is a moment towards the end of the book, where she is talking to her close friend Sophie, that is just so self-aware without taking you out of the story. Jane makes no apologies about the choices that she has made in her life. In the end, after everything that Jane has been through, her unhappy marriage, her relationship with Edward IV, and the punishment meted out to her by Richard III, you long for her to have a happy ending.My verdict: A compelling and intimate account of the last days of the Plantagenet dynasty. An utter joy to read and a must for lovers of The War of the Roses. Now that I have read ROYAL MISTRESS, I will definitely be seeking out A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, DAUGHTER OF YORK and A KING’S GRACE. The only trouble is which one am I going to read first? Hmm!