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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


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William Blake. Penance of Jane Shore
William Blake. The Penance of Jane Shore in St Paul's Church, c1793.

from The History of King Richard III
Sir Thomas More

[A King's Mistress1]

Now then, bye and bye, as it were for anger not for covetise, the Protector sent into the house of Shore's wife (for her husband dwelled not with her) and spoiled her of all that she ever had, above the value of two or three thousand marks, and sent her body to prison. And when he had a while laid unto her for the manner's sake, that she went about to bewitch him, and that she was of counsel with the Lord Chamberlain2 to destroy him; in conclusion when that no color could fasten upon these matters, then he laid heinously to her charge that thing that herself could not deny, that all the world wist was true, and that natheles every man laughed at to hear it then so suddenly so highly taken, that she was naught of her body. And for this cause (as a goodly continent prince clean and faultless of himself, sent out of heaven into this vicious world for the amendment of men's manners) he caused the Bishop of London to put her to open penance, going before the cross in procession upon a Sunday with a taper in her hand.3 In which she went in countenance and pace demure, so womanly, and albeit she were out of all array save her kirtle only, yet went she so fair and lovely, namely while the wondering of the people cast a comely rud in her cheeks (of which she before had most miss) that her great shame won her much praise among those that were more amorous of her body than curious of her soul. And many good folk also that hated her living and glad were to see sin corrected, yet pitied they more for her penance than rejoiced therein when they considered that the Protector procured it, more of a corrupt intent than any virtuous affection.

This woman was born in London, worshipfully friended, honestly brought up, and very well married, saving somewhat too soon, her husband an honest citizen, young and goodly and of good substance. But forasmuch as they were coupled ere she were well ripe, she not very fervently loved for whom she never longed. Which was haply4 the thing that the more easily made her incline unto the King's appetite when he required her. Howbeit that respect of his royalty, the hope of gay apparel, ease, pleasure, and other wanton wealth was able soon to pierce her soft tender heart. But when the king had abused her, anon her husband (as he was an honest man and one that could his good, not presuming to touch a King's concubine) left her up to him altogether. When the king died, the Lord Chamberlain took her, which in the King's days, albeit he was sore enamored upon her, yet he forbare her, either for reverence or for a certain friendly faithfulness. Proper she was, and fair: nothing in her body that you would have changed, but if you would have wished her somewhat higher. Thus say they that knew her in her youth. Albeit some that now see her (for yet she liveth) deem her never to have been well visaged. Whose judgment seemeth me somewhat like as though men should guess the beauty of one long before departed by her scalp taken out of the charnel house; for now she is old, lean, withered and dried up, nothing left but rivelled skin and hard bone. And yet being even such, whoso well advise her visage might guess and devise which parts how filled might make it a fair face. Yet delighted men not so much in her beauty as in her pleasant behavior. For a proper wit had she, and could both read well and write, merry in company, ready and quick of answer, neither mute nor full of babble, sometime taunting without displeasure and not without disport.5 The King would say that he had three concubines, which in three divers properties diversly excelled: one the merriest, one the wiliest, and one the holiest harlot in his realm, as one whom no man could get out of the church lightly to any place but it were to his bed. The other two were somewhat greater personages, and natheles of their humility content to be nameless and to forbear the praise of those properties. But the merriest was this Shore's wife, in whom the King therefore took special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved, whose favor, to say the truth (for sin it were to belie the devil), she never abused to any man's hurt, but to many a man's comfort and relief. Where the King took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind. Where men were out of favor, she would bring them in his grace. For many that had highly offended, she attained pardon. Of great forfeitures she gat men remission. And finally in many weighty suits, she stood many men in great stead, either for none or very small rewards, and those rather gay than rich, either for that she was content with the deed' self well done, or for that she delighted to be sued unto and to show what she was able to do with the king, or for that wanton women and wealthy be not always covetous.

I doubt not some shall think this woman too slight a thing to be written of and set among the remembrances of great matters, which they shall specially think that haply shall esteem her only by that they now see her. But me seemeth the chance so much the more worthy to be remembered, in how much she is now in the more beggarly condition, unfriended and worn out of acquaintance, after good substance, after as great favor with the prince, after as great suit and seeking to with all those that those days had business to speed, as many other men were in their times, which now be famous only by the infamy of their ill deeds. Her doings were not much less, albeit they be much less remembered, because they were not so evil. For men use if they have an evil turn to write it in marble; and whoso doth us a good turn, we write it in dust, which is not worst proved by her; for at this day she beggeth of many at this day living, that at this day had begged if she had not been.


1. Jane Shore, mistress of the late king, Edward IV,
persecuted by "the Protector", Richard, Duke of Gloucester,
during the minority of Edward's sons.
2. Lord Hastings, beheaded by Richard III.
3. The punishment for a harlot.
4. Perhaps.
5. Playfulness.


More, Sir Thomas. The History of King Richard III.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th ed. Vol 1.
M.H. Abrams, gen. ed. New York: Norton, 1993.

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