Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Royal Love Story-Richard II and Anne of Bohemia

by Anita Davison

Shakespeare portrayed Richard II as a cruel, vindictive and irresponsible king with a preponderance to madness. Hero or a tyrant, Richard was a cultured man who loved beauty and he was apparently a devoted husband.  Born the second son of Joan, the ‘Fair Maid of Kent’ and Edward, The Black Prince, at the Abbey of St. Andrew at Bordeaux on 6th January 1367.

Richard II
A contemporary description of him states:

"King Richard was of the comon stature, his hair yellowish, his face fair and rosy, rather round than long, and sometimes flushed;..He was prodigal in his gifts, extravagantly splendid in his entertainment and dress, timid as to war, very passionate toward his domestics, haughty and too much devoted to voluptousness...yet there were many laudable features in his character: he loved religion and the clergy, he encouraged architecture, he built the church of Westminster almost entirely, and left much property by his will to finish what he had begun."

Richard was not entirely without kingly principal, for he did not condone Christians  killing Christians and sought a way to end the Hundred Years War with France, not least because it was turning against the English.

One of Richard’s favourites, Michael de la Pole, and thus resented by the ‘council’, arranged a marriage for Richard with Anne of Bohemia, [Czechoslovakia] the eldest daughter of the Emperor Charles IV by his fourth wife, Elizabeth of Pomerainia. The union was unpopular, for not only did Anne bring no dowry, her brother, Wenceslas, demanded 20,000 florins (around £4,000,000 in today's value) for her.

Her arrival in England was postponed when, under the leadership of Wat Tyler, John Ball and Jack Straw, the populace gathered at Blackheath to air their grievances and demand the end of serfdom. The Tower of London was sacked, the archbishop of Canterbury murdered and John of Gaunt's Savoy Palace burned to the ground.

The fourteen-year-old King Richard, rode out to meet the rebels at Mile End and his apparent courage in facing the mobs contributed to the failure of  ‘The Peasants’ Revolt, though he was later forced by his Council to rescind the clemency he had granted the rebels.

A Romantic Portrait of Anne of Bohemia
Anne was sixteen and Richard a year younger when she left Bohemia for England in December 1381, accompanied by a large train of attendants under the charge of the Duke of Saxony, and of his wife the duchess, Anne’s aunt.

In Brussels, Anne was received by the Duke and Duchess of Brabant, Anne’s aunt and uncle, and from there she was to proceed to Calais by water, to avoid an overland route through French held lands. Here they heard that twelve armed vessels, full of Normans, were sent by the King of France to intercept her. After a month’s delay and some negotiations in Paris, the King of France sent word that he yielded to the Duke of Saxony's request out of kindness to his cousin Anne, but not out of regard to the King of England.

Anne was described as a Godly, intelligent young girl with an inquiring mind,  renowned for her love of reading and for her possession of the Scriptures in three languages. Her favourite books of the Bible were the four Gospels, which she constantly studied.

Anne resumed her journey by road, accompanied by the Duke of Brabant with an escort of a hundred spearmen. They were received at Gravelines outside Calais by the English ambassador, the Earl of Salisbury and his suite, attended by five hundred spearmen and five hundred archers. Along with a cavalcade of knights and nobles, all clad in full armor, the princess and her ladies made a magnificent entry into Calais, through a vast concourse of cheering spectators, trumpets and flags.

Ladies in Horned Headresses
After waiting for a favourable wind, she embarked on Wednesday morning, 18 Dec., and reached Dover the same day. Scarcely had she landed when a heavy ground swell smashed the vessels against each other, and the ship in which she had come over was broken to pieces.

A Westminster Chronicler called her ‘a tiny scrap of humanity’, and Thomas Walsingham related that the destruction of her fleet was a disastrous omen.

In Canterbury, Anne was received by Richard's uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, with a large retinue, then at Blackheath by the lord-mayor of London , the scene of 'The Peasants’ Revolt the previous year.

In London, the bride was welcomed by young girls at the top of a castle and tower throwing a shower of golden snow, with fountains at the sides flowing with wine and pages offering the princess wine from golden cups.

The marriage ceremony was performed in Westminster chapel on 22nd January 1382. King Richard appeared delighted with his bride, and after a week spent with her and the court in festivities and celebrations, they left for Windsor by barge, accompanied by Richard’s mother, Joan of Kent.

The aftermath of the Peasant’s Revolt were still evident and the culprits still being sought out for punishment. Their conditions distressed the young queen, who begged the king to grant a general pardon on the occasion of her coronation – a request he granted.

Anne became a peace-maker, interceding for those who offended the king as she travelled all over the country with him. In this age, women rode astride, or pillion, i.e. seated sideways on a cushion behind the male rider's saddle. Anne was said to have introduced sidesaddles; seats made of wood strapped to the horse’s back with a pommel for a hand grip, and a wooden plank, wide enough to accommodate both feet, hung along the left side of the animal.

This method of riding was considered necessary for high-born women to preserve their hymen, and thus ensure her purity. The young queen introduced new fashions into England, including the long-pointed shoes called Cracows.  Cracow, in Poland was within the dominions of Anne's father, and it is supposed that the fashion of wearing these shoes may have arrived in England through her attendants. She was also credited with introducing a head-dress for ladies, called the horned cap.

These horns were often two feet high, and equally as wide, arranged on a frame of wire and pasteboard, covered with gold-speckled muslin or gauze. Anne was apparently responsible for the introduction of pins into England. Up to that date, gowns were fastened by tiny skewers made of wood or ivory. Pins had been made for some time in Germany, and the use of them soon spread through England.

When Richard reached his majority, he asked his uncle Gloucester at the council table to tell him how old he was ; and when the duke replied that he was twenty-two, declared:  'Then I must be able to manage my own affairs as every heir in my kingdom can do at twenty-one.'

King Richard II and Queen Anne

He took possession of the great seal and the keys of the exchequer.  In celebration, he arranged a round of celebrations which rivalled his coronation. At a tournament at Smithfield, Anne presented the prizes, which consisted of a rich jewelled clasp and a crown of gold. Then came a banquet at the palace of the Bishop of London, with music and dancing, jugglers and acrobats which continued into the night.

Richard liked to live in style, and kept many establishments in palaces round the country – another annoyance to his impoverished people. His entertainments and banquets were magnificent, while he employed three hundred scullions in his kitchens.

In 1394, when Richard was preparing for an expedition into Ireland to quell a rebellion, the queen fell ill at Shene Manor, purportedly of the plague. The king rushed to her side and was with her when she died. Inconsolable at the loss of his wife, Richard ordered Shene to be partially dismantled, but he never occupied it again.

Richard summoned all the nobles and barons of England to a funeral that took two months to prepare; another expensive pageant. They and their wives were expected to arrive the day before and escort the body for Shene to Westminster Abbey.

A long procession escorted the body from Shene to Westminster, accompanied by a large number of torch-bearers; so many, the wax had to be imported from Flanders expressly for the purpose. Anne was buried in the Confessor's chapel behind the high altar in Westminster Abbey, where Richard had ordered a double tomb made for them both.

The Earl of Arundel absented himself from the procession and then, arriving late at the abbey, asked permission to leave early on urgent business. Richard was deeply offended and appears to have drawn his sword upon the earl. 'The king himself,' says the contemporary writer from whom our only knowledge of the incident is derived, 'polluted the place with the blood of the Earl of Arundel at the commencement of the funeral office.' He ordered the – presumably injured - earl to the Tower, releasing him a week later.

Richard’s biographer, Nigel Saul, states that for a year after Anne’s death, he refused to go into any room she'd been in.

Coppersmiths crafted effigies of gilded copper and latten in a canopy above the crowned figures of Richard and Anne, their right hands joined, and holding sceptres in their left hands.

Anne’s epitaph mentions her as having been kind to 'pregnant women'. The Evesham chronicler said, ‘this queen, although she did not bear children, was still held to have contributed to the glory and wealth of the realm, as far as she was able’. She was referred to as ‘Good Queen Anne’. Her tomb bears this inscription in Latin.

"Under this stone lies Anne, here entombed,
Wedded in this world's life to the second Richard.
To Christ were her meek virtues devoted:
His poor she freely fed from her treasures;
Strife she assuaged, and swelling feuds appeased;
Beauteous her form, her face surpassing fair.
On July's seventh day, thirteen hundred ninety-four,
All comfort was bereft, for through irremediable sickness
She passed away into interminable joys."

In the interests of state, Richard married Isabella of Valois two years later. She was only six at the time, though he was openly fond of her.

The last two years of Richard's reign are traditionally described as a period of tyranny with the government levying forced loans, carrying out arbitrary arrests and murdering the king's rivals. Some historians believe he suffered from schizophrenia, he certainly showed signs of mental illness, and a narcissistic personality.

Richard’s friends rapidly deserted him and he was forced to abdicate. Henry Bolingbroke proclaimed himself king and took the throne as Henry IV, and in September, Richard was taken to Pontefract Castle. By the end of February 1400, Richard of Bordeaux had starved to death.

Stylised Painting of Richard's Death
Isabelle grieved for him deeply, then remained for two years in England while Henry IV quibbled about returning both her and her  £83,000 dowry as per the marriage contract.

Initially buried in Kings Langley, Richard's body was interred where he most wanted to be, beside his beloved Anne at Westminster Abbey.

The clasped hands on the tomb no longer exist, though the inscription describes her as ‘beauteous in body and her face was gentle and pretty.’ Although this is not borne out by a bust of her in the National Portrait Gallery taken from her effigy which shows her as rather plain and plump.  Her tomb was opened in 1871, when many of her bones were found to have been stolen via a hole in the side of the casket.

After returning to France Isabella de Valois married Charles of Angouleme (later Duke of Orléans), but died in childbirth in 1409 at the age of 19.


  1. Thanks for that. Interesting article on a period I am vague on. Sad story in many ways. Interesting to think what would have happened to Richard had she lived.

  2. Like very much this post!! I just pin it on Pinterest!!!

  3. Thankyou some interesting facts that I did not know.

  4. Excellent, factual and well told. Thank you.

  5. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Anne of Bohemia, Anne and Richard were married on January 20 and she was crowned on January 22.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.