Anne Easter Smith really does not think that Richard III killed the princes in the tower.
Having read her latest book, Royal Mistress, I think I’m starting to agree with her.
Royal Mistress takes us back to the reign of Edward IV. Jane Lambert is a mercer’s 22 year old, unmarried, ridiculously good looking daughter. In order to get her out of his house, he marries her to another mercer, William Shore. But Master Shore proves impotent and since all Jane wants is to have a child, she is incredibly frustrated in this fruitless marriage.
Then she catches the eye of: Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, William, Baron Hastings and finally, King Edward IV himself. With the help of some well placed friends, Jane gets an annulment from Master Shore and is free to pursue a relationship with the King. He is delighted with her because she just lets him be a man, free from all of the pressures of ruling (which he never did particularly like anyway, preferring the battlefield). When she does ask for favours, they are to benefit her friends and neighbours: a pardon for a guild member; pawning a piece of jewellery he gave her to pay for a new roof for her friend. Her good deeds earned her the nickname, the Rose of London (which would have also been an excellent title for this book).
But Edward IV lived a gluttonous life and died in 1483, leaving Jane at the mercy of the Queen, who hated her, and the newly named Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, intent on cleaning up the immoral court of his brother.
I enjoyed spending time in the company of Jane Shore. She wasn’t a conniving, scheming, ambitious courtesan. She was a woman looking to have her own household, knowing that a woman needed a man to look after her. She didn’t set out to become the King’s whore, but he looked after her and she wasn’t in a position to throw that away. Instead she used her influence to better the lives of the people around her.
Once Edward dies, this story has no qualms about coming back to Richard III. Easter Smith also invokes the name of her heroine, Kate Haute (from A Rose for the Crown) to show us that Richard isn’t a bad person, he’s just always trying to do the best by following the rules. She also attempts to clear up the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, placing the blame squarely on one man’s shoulders.
Reading the Afterword, I discovered that Anne Easter Smith is part of the Richard III society. If you have read any of her books, especially the one featuring Kate Haute (who is so clearly Easter Smith’s favourite character), this comes as no surprise. The skill of Easter Smith’s story telling is that even those of us that were convinced Richard III did away with his nephews, come away thinking that maybe he didn’t do it after all.
The frustrating thing is that we will probably never know for sure.