Isolde Martyn and Mistress to the Crown

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I’m delighted to welcome Isolde Martyn as a Word Wench guest today.  Born in England and now an Australian of many years standing, Isolde has won numerous writing awards, including an RWA RITA in the US and two Romance Novel of the Year awards in Australia. 

Today Isolde is going to tell us about her new novel, Mistress to the Crown, a story of the remarkable woman known to history as Mistress Jane Shore.  Isolde, over to you!

Isolde_Martyn2"How easily Life can flick us. Like an idle boy’s fingernail against a tiny fly. We are so fragile, our destinies changed so easily by a marriage, a death, a quarrel or a smile."

History is full of heroines – women who succeeded and survived despite great adversity, especially in the centuries when the law gave them little protection or rights. Some of them were women who challenged the conventions of their time and my latest novel, Mistress to the Croswn, is the story of such a heroine: Elizabeth Lambard, better known as ‘Jane Shore’, mistress to King Edward IV.

The intrigues of the Wars of the Roses have been at the heart of most of my novels, Frame_IsoldeMartyn_MistressToTheCrownso that was why I was looking for a historical woman of that era who would have been at the centre of events.

From the writing point of view, I was seeking a main character who courageously faced challenges that revealed her inner strengths and whose goals would be applauded by today’s readers. Historical novel enthusiasts would want me to stick to the facts – what would her life have been like as a royal mistress? What about the famous men who had loved or loathed her?

And historical romance readers would have requirements, too – my spicy heroine had to be a one-lover-at-a-time lady, not a girl who slept around, and there needed to be a happy ending. So would the real Mistress Shore match up? My research needed to separate fact and legend.

This feisty woman had inspired plenty of literature over the centuries. Earlier writers had used her life as a lesson in morality, an encouragement to wives to behave themselves, but the legend of a goldsmith’s misbehaving spouse named Jane proved to have no foundation. The Mistress Shore character was first named ‘Jane’ in a play about King Edward IV about eighty years after her death.

A ladySir Thomas More did some sleuthing on her in 1513. It would have been like a biographer today researching a royal mistress of the 1970s. More made no mention of her parentage or baptismal name but people remembered her as attractive and capable of giving witty rejoinders without offence. She interceded with King Edward in cases of injustice and it was said of his amorous affairs: ‘Many he had; but her he loved.’

But what was her background? To have been Edward’s mistress for at least eight years argues that she was more than a bimbo or a comedienne. One of my patterns of research with real people is to discover what I can of their childhood. With all the current literature on infancy such as Attachment Theory, childhood abuse etc., we are much more aware of the experiences that mould a child and the scars that can trigger reactions in adulthood and affect decision-making.

With the help of the Goldsmiths’ Guild and the Mercers’ Guild Librarians, I discovered that Elizabeth grew up in a political, affluent household in the heart of Heart of GoldLondon and, reading up on the merchant class of that time, there is evidence that the daughters of such families were usually well educated.

She was baptised Elizabeth and her father, John Lambard, was high-ranking in the most prestigious guild in England –the Mercers’ Guild. Not only did he run a business that probably specialised in the import of costly fabrics but he was also the alderman representing Farringdon Ward, which contained old St Paul’s, two abbeys and Newgate Gaol. He was also second in rank to the Lord Mayor in the civic year 1460-61, when he served as Sheriff of London with a staff of clerks and soldiers under his command. Organising the defence of the city and overseeing the punishment of criminals and traitors were among his duties.

Period castle image1460-61 was a pivotal year in the Wars of the Roses. John Lambard had lent money to the Duke of York, and when the duke was killed in battle in December 1460 and it looked like Lancaster had triumphed, he must been afraid, not just that he would never get his investment back but that he could be fined or tried as a traitor. For that reason, he supported the decision that London should not open its gates to the successful Lancastrian army. Amazingly, the victorious troops turned back. Then when York’s son, Edward, came knocking on the gates, the London aldermen not only let him in but they acquiesced in his coronation.

Elizabeth Lambard would have been old enough to be aware of her father’s fears and the political see-sawing. She probably watched handsome Edward ride past in procession. However, what must have spoilt the euphoria for her was that during the crisis, her father, anxious to secure her future in desperate times, arranged her betrothal. By law, she was now committed to marry William Shore, a mercer in his late twenties, twice her age.

She was married to him for about 13 years. The Papal Registers tell us that several times she tried to bring a case for separation but her family appear not to have supported her. A woman, a housewife, divorcing her husband! She would be ostracised, spat upon, her honour in tatters.

Elizabeth gained the admiration of the King and his friend, Hastings. I gave her King Edward Plantagenetcourageous opportunism in the novel but I’m sure her determination to gain her freedom was paramount. Edward’s favour now made a difference. In 1476, Pope Sixtus appointed three English bishops to hear her case. That’s not to say the tribunal was stacked. One of the three judges had been very helpful to Edward’s queen in time of danger. Clearly there was sufficient evidence that Master William Shore was impotent and frigid towards his wife, otherwise the integrity of the judges would have been a laughing stock.

Life was good until Edward fell suddenly ill and died. Elizabeth was accused of treason and witchcraft by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Her property was seized, she endured imprisonment and a shameful public penance.

But the real Elizabeth wasn’t broken. A letter from King Richard III reveals that one The Penance of Jane Shoreof his officials fell in love with her. And she must have cared for her suitor because she risked marriage again. Both her parents’ wills mention him as her husband. I had the happy ending for my historic heroine.

Here’s an extract from Mistress to the Crown:

There were no servants now. One by one and subtly, the candle flames had been smothered so that only about the table was there sufficient light to show the sheen of skin. The musician had quietly left.

King Edward watched me take a gulp of wine, shook his head teasingly and removed the goblet from my clasp. He let his gaze fall to my cleavage and then rise once more to my eyes.

‘Well, my proud Londoner, shall you let me unclothe you, adore and worship you? If not, flee now, for I’ve an appetite on me that needs must feed.’

‘And my appetite?’ I asked.

‘Fire for fire, sweetheart.’

His lips touched mine teasingly and before I could respond, he drew back. "Sweetheart, I have learned that Life is a trickster and Fortune his strumpet. You live for the moment because you don’t know what he has in store for you. That sinful fellow has taught me some cruel lessons, seesawed me up, seesawed me down, set me against those I believed my friends.’ He carried my hand to his lips. ‘So, my beautiful mistress, let us live this night as though it is our last upon this earth. What say you?’

I nodded, watched him push the table back, stand, and turn to face me.  ‘Take my hand and dance, Mistress Shore, dance before the music is over.’

He held his left hand out to me, palm uppermost. Gold banded his fingers, graceful fingers for so large a man.

Our faces drew close. He looked down into my eyes and tenderly brushed his lips along mine. Had the real Helen felt like this with Paris? Then he made another pass, grazing playfully this time. And deep inside me, the she-serpent reached up her arms through mine and sensually eased her fingers through his long hair and drew his face down.

Mistress to the Crown is not currently available in print in the US, though the ebook edition is available from Amazon. and possibly other e-book sites.  Isolde will give a print copy of the book to a commenter between now and midnight Thursday. 

Edward's coat of armsAlso, be sure to check out her website!  Among other treasures is a wonderful interview she did with Dorothy Dunnett

Isolde, thanks so much for joining us today!

Mary Jo