Eleanor Hibbert: Letter about Jane Shore in The Goldsmith’s Wife by Jean Plaidy
Just days after the announcement that confirmed Richard III’s remains were found, I received this correspondence (purchased from a document seller on eBay) between Eleanor Hibbert (Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Ellalice Tate, Anna Percival) and a reader from the University of Illinois English Department on Jane Shore, and along with her a mention of “the enigmatical Richard III”.
This prompted me to compare my 1950 edition of The Goldsmith’s Wife with my 1979 edition, in which an Author’s Note had been added. Did this inquiry have anything to do with the curious addition to later printings? Re-reading the Author’s Note, it does not seem as though she had added any further thoughts relating to Mr. Harner’s questioning, though you can read it at the end of this post. It does, however, have much to do with Shakespeare’s version of Richard III, which is so much in the news right now.
The letter from Hibbert is typed on a thin pre-folded page that is made to seal and mail, and has a stamp with Queen Elizabeth II’s image and “Ninepence Postage”. There is one inserted word in ink and several places where a letter or part of a word were erased and typed over. I think this shows that while Hibbert was a perfectionist with her writing, she was more lax (though not sloppy or lazy) on personal correspondence, most likely due to the time restraints from her writing career. It is said that she answered all fan mail personally and did not employ a secretary.
The address, Hibbert’s penthouse opposite Hyde Park, is at Albert Court, Kensington Gore. Having never been to England, I am only able to visualize via maps and images online, but it looks to have been a building next to the Royal Albert Hall.
I am very surprised by Hibbert’s final words: “As for reviews, my books are rarely reviewed, particularly nowadays.” However, reviews in 1970 (at the time of this letter) were in the form of newspapers, periodicals and probably fan letters. Had she lived to see the age of the Internet, she would find generations of readers who still adore her and newly made fans every day, and a plethora of reviews.
I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the author’s life as much as I have!
Dear Mrs. Hibbert,
I am presently at work on a study of the use of the Jane Shore theme in literature. A few days ago I came across a copy of your Goldsmith’s Wife which makes use of the legend; before this I had thought that the two books (one by Paget, the other by Thompson) which appeared in the 1930’s were the most recent treatment.
One chapter of my thesis will concern the appeal (in general terms) of the legend. Would it be too much of an imposition to ask how you became interested in writing about Jane Shore? I am particularly interested in what prompted you to write the book (whether it be a literacy source or whatever).
Also, I would be interested in reader reactions (perhaps in the form of letters to you about the book) to your treatment. I have not yet searched for reviews of the book—most of my research is still confined to the sixteenth century treatments.
I realize that I am imposing on your privacy, and I apologize. However, any information that you might find time to communicate would be gratefully appreciated.
James L. Harner
Dear Mr Harner,
In answer to your queries about my book THE GOLDSMITH’S Wife I have always been interested in Jane, the only child of a mercer of Cheapside London, who not only became the mistress of a profligate king but kept her position until his death. She seemed an excellent subject for a book, and so I investigated and became more and more interested. It was not only Jane of course but the period itself which is so fascinating as she was surrounded by such significant figures. There is Edward himself; the affair of the princes in the Tower and the enigmatical Richard III.
I notice you refer to the ‘legend’. I wouldn’t call it that. There seems ample evidence that Jane actually lived; and she is listed in the Dictionary of National Biography.
I have now published about 45 historical novels and I get a constant stream of letters from readers. I don’t think this book has been singled out from the rest. As for reviews, my books are rarely reviewed, particularly nowadays.
I hope this information is of use to you.
The Goldsmith’s Wife
by Jean Plaidy
Jane Shore, notorious mistress of King Edward IV, is a refreshingly honest person. She is a beauty and knows her charms, but she is also very moral, but not overly religious. She always wants to do what she feels is right and stands by her convictions even at her own peril.
Jane unwillingly enters a marriage with one of her merchant father’s connections, a goldsmith named William Shore. She wanted to marry for love, but found being a young, wealthy and beautiful woman attracted too much attention from men who wanted other than honorable marriage. Running from a particular stalker, she thought she would be safe with a ring on her finger.
Marriage to Will was nothing like her romantic dreams and she found herself susceptible to the charms of other men. She soon came to the notice of the King and against her better judgment moved to court to play the role of favorite mistress. Never asking for anything for herself, she used her influence for the good of others and became a fast favorite of the people. She was even on friendly terms with the Queen, who was grateful King Edward had such a selfless mistress who didn’t get involved in politics or empty the royal coffers.
Near the end the story turns from Jane’s unfortunate fall from grace to the story of the Princes in the tower. I’ve read so many takes on this particular part of history and didn’t think I would be surprised, but Plaidy actually had a little spin on the conspiracy that I haven’t read before. It also seems very plausible.
I enjoyed Jane’s ending (as an old woman), even though it is different from what I’ve read before. Even Wikipedia has her ending her days with Thomas Lynom and the birth of a daughter. A book I read earlier this year, Figures in Silk, also had her marry Lynom and have a child. I do wonder why Jean Plaidy decided to write the story a bit differently, but I am not unhappy with the ending she created. It seemed to compliment the personality that she gave to Jane.
I really enjoyed this book very much and now count it as one of my favorite Plaidy novels.
“It is unfortunate that Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, with its misstatements and distortions and exaggerated character-drawing of the central figure, should be generally accepted as history. But such is the case, so that if Richard is written about from any other angle an explanation seems advisable.
Handicapped as he was by living under Tudor rule, Shakespeare naturally dared not contradict the historians of the day, whose concern it was to vilify Richard in order to applaud the Tudor usurpation, and in so doing lay the blame for the foulest crimes of the period upon Richard.
Since the Tudors guiltily destroyed any state papers which might confound their falsehoods, it is not easy to discover the truth of what happened during Richard’s brief reign. The evidence obtainable has been sifted and analyzed, and I am sure that the fair-minded will agree that the picture of Richard as presented in The Goldsmith’s Wife is a balanced one.
As for Jane’s discovery of Anne Neville, that is entirely fictional. How Richard discovered his future wife is a mystery; but, taking into consideration Jane’s adventurous and warm-hearted nature, together with the fact that, owing to her upbringing in Cheapside, it is more likely that she, rather than any other at court, would have been in touch with the humbler citizens of London, my theory of Anne’s rescue seems plausible.“