Shoreditch not named after a lady who died in a ditch

There will be many mythbuster moments on this blog and here comes one now!

Once upon a time there was a beautiful but delicate lady called Jane. She was the daughter of a Cheapside merchant and married a goldsmith called William Shore when she was just sixteen. He ran his business in Lombard Street and tried as best he could to provide for his new wife’s expensive tastes in dresses. Jane must have cut quite a dash because after seven years of marriage, she caught the eye of King Edward IV who made her his mistress in the year 1470 or thereabouts.


How the Victorians imagined her dying

By all accounts, Jane was as witty as she was pretty. Years later, the saintly Thomas More wrote that Jane Shore was the king’s favourite mistress – and Edward IV had a rather ravenous sexual appetite. Thomas More wrote (spelling reflects the time):

The meriest was the Shore’s wife in whom the King therefore toke special pleasure

The Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton painted a slightly less flattering picture of a woman who was of “mean stature” and a little on the podgy side.

Her haire of a dark yellow. Her face round and full. Her eye grey…her body fat, white and smooth.

Shore’s husband was less than amused by this turn of events and abandoned his wife, leaving England and apparently dying abroad of grief. What he really should have done was wait for a change of king. And sure enough, Edward eventually passed away and was succeeded by wicked King Richard III.  Or much misunderstood Richard III if you prefer. This is the same king just buried with much pomp and circumstance in Leicester – after his bones were discovered under a car park recently.

Allegedly a picture of Jane Shore

Allegedly a picture of Jane Shore

Richard ordered Jane to do penance for her sins in St Paul’s churchyard. To Drayton, writing nearly a hundred years later, this was all about Richard making his late brother King Edward look like an awful character in order to obscure Richard’s dreadful crimes – like killing his young nephews in the Tower of London in order to seize the throne. So poor Jane was a political pawn in a very nasty medieval political game.

Jane hadn’t helped herself by falling for Lord Hastings after the death of King Edward, who King Richard hated so much he had him beheaded. Gradually, all Jane’s friends deserted her. And she sank into poverty by degrees – captured in a poem:

My gowns, beset with pearl and gold; Were turn’d to simple garments old; My chains and gems and golden rings, To filthy rags and loathsome things

And so – the tale went – Jane breathed her last as a beggar and fell into a ditch outside the city walls in an area that would immortalise her name: Shoreditch.  Only – there’s a few problems with that part of the story. According to Thomas More, she was seen very much alive and a sprightly old lady during the reign of Henry VIII, decades later. In fact, she may have lived till 1527 dying at the age of eighty. Also – Shoreditch (according to London historian John Stow) had existed as a name for that area for four hundred years before Jane Shore.

Myth – busted!

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