INTERVIEW WITH ANNE EASTER SMITH
I am sure many of my readers are familiar with the books of Anne Easter Smith, who has written several well-regarded novels about the Yorkists, beginning with her first, A Rose for the Crown, about Richard III. Her newest book is about a woman I always found very sympathetic, Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore. Jane always reminded me a bit of Charles II’s favorite, Nell Gwynn, and I am sure that Anne will do justice to Jane. Anne has also provided a brief biography. Sadly, I could not put up a photo of the Royal Mistress book cover as my blog has been rejecting them for some time now and we’ve yet to resolve the problem. But you can see the cover on Amazon here. http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Mistress-Anne-Easter-Smith/dp/1451648626/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374334120&sr=1-1&keywords=anne+easter+smith+royal+mistress So read the interview below and enjoy!
A native of England, Anne spent some of her childhood in Germany and Egypt and the rest at boarding school. She came to the US in the late ‘60s for two years and is still here, living in Newburyport, MA with her husband, Scott. Anne is the author of five novels about the York family in the Wars of the Roses, all published by Touchstone at Simon & Schuster. Her third, The King’s Grace, won the 2009 Best Historical Biography award from Romantic Times Book Review. Royal Mistress tells the story of the rise and fall of Jane Shore, King Edward IV’s favorite and final mistress. The book arrived in bookstores on May 7th.
Q. How did you chose Jane Shore as your latest protagonist?
A. The one important member of the York family who I had only written about as a peripheral character to the main ones in my first four books was King Edward IV. I felt he needed fleshing out (although he did that himself rather well!). After all, Edward became the first Yorkist king at 19 after some thrilling victories in battle, like Towton and Tewkesbury. I had dealt with his early years as king in A Rose for the Crown and Daughter of York, as seen through the eyes of his brother, Richard of Gloucester in the first book and his sister, Margaret, in the second. As I have consistently told the York story during the Wars of the Roses through a different woman’s eyes in each book, I searched for a compelling protagonist to focus on Edward’s character. I suppose I could have chosen Elizabeth Woodville, his queen, but as Philippa Gregory had only just released her book about Elizabeth, I did not want to be accused of being a copycat! (Although my take on Elizabeth would have been quite different.) I knew Jane Shore’s story from reading Jean Plaidy’s The Goldsmith’s Wife(pub. 1950) long ago, and when I found out that Plaidy’s research was now not up-to-date, I decided to retell Jane’s story with the new information we have about her early life.
Q. Tell us a little about who Jane was.
A. Elizabeth (Jane) Lambert was a daughter of John and Amy Lambert of the London parish of St. Mary-le-Bow. John was a wealthy mercer, or silk merchant, and had been Master of the Mercers’ Guild (or Company or Mystery), the largest and most important guild in the city. Before we meet Jane in Royal Mistress, he had been an alderman and sheriff of London. We believe Jane was one of six children, although a couple of them disappeared from the records. The exact date of her birth is unknown. However, we do know she lived a fairly long life as Sir Thomas More describes a meeting with her, somewhere between 1516 and 1519, and used the word “septuagenarian.” I think he was probably guessing, and that the penury she found herself in at that time may have made her appear older than she was. Jane became Edward’s mistress sometime in the mid 1470s, not long after she married another mercer, William Shore. The marriage was not successful and Jane filed for annulment not long after. Whether it was through the king’s influence that she was freed from her marriage vows, we don’t know, but she was granted an annulment (“divorce” was a word not used in those days) on the grounds of impotence–very unusual and hard to prove. We know that Jane was beautiful, and later portraits of her always depict her with long fair hair and large eyes. She was described as rather small, even for her time, and one can imagine the picture she and Edward made together as he was 6ft. 3 1/2 inches! Edward is to have declared that Jane was the wittiest of his mistresses, and those who chronicled the goings on at court also mentioned that “of all women, he loved her the most.”
Q. Your previous books are told in third-person personal narrative but for Royal Mistress you use omniscient narration. Why did you change your structure?
A. I am glad you noticed! In case the terms are unfamiliar to anyone, the difference between the two forms of narration is that in third person personal, you must pretty much hang out in your protagonist’s head. This means it’s hard for you to go into battle if you have a female protagonist; she needs to hear about it from a letter or from someone who was there. Because Jane was the king’s mistress, there were too many scenes where Jane would not be present but that would be key to the story, so by using the omniscient voice, I can be inside other people’s heads and certainly in other places where Jane was not present. It was confusing at first, but once I got the hang of it, I found it very freeing.
Q. Whose heads in particular did you want to be in other than Jane’s?
A. For the first time, I braved the inside of male brains! I still am not sure how men think, but I gave it my best shot. So, Edward IV was an obvious target, as were his chamberlain, friend and Jane’s champion, Will Hastings, Jane’s husband, William Shore, and most important to me, Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. In my other books, my pro-Richard stance comes through loud and clear. But in Royal Mistress I had to look at him through other people’s eyes–notably my protagonist Jane’s and her protector Will Hastings’s, both of whom Richard punished severely after Edward died. But, by also being able to jump into Richard’s head, I could temper what other people were saying or thinking by showing Richard’s motivation for some of his more controversial actions. Richard was driven by a strong sense of duty, morality and loyalty, and woe betide anyone who did not measure up.
Q. Although Jane was a concubine and rose and fell because she used her body, did you find her a sympathetic character to research and write?
A. Oh yes. Jane was witty, kind and loyal. She was doomed as soon as William Hastings set eyes on her and marked her out as a lover for either himself or for his friend and master, King Edward. Once her marriage was annulled, she was at the mercy of any man who fancied her. In those days, a woman’s path was defined by the men in her life: father, brother, husband or lord. I had to find the person that won the love and admiration of three of England’s most powerful men in 1470-1480s: Edward IV, William Hastings and Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and oldest son of Queen Elizabeth Woodville (by her first marriage). And Jane’s story was full of enough drama to inspire poets, playwrights and prose writers to retell it through the centuries. Royal Mistress is just latest of many efforts to do justice to this intriguing, almost-forgotten woman in history.
Thank you so much for sharing this with your many and faithful readers, Sharon. Anyone who loves your Sunne in Splendor will recognize most of the characters in Royal Mistress.
Thank you, Anne, for agreeing to this interview. It was a pleasure to “chat” with you. I am sure Royal Mistress will be a great success and I am also sure that somewhere, Jane Shore is smiling.
July 20, 2013