Romantic Couples in History:
Richard II and Anne of Bohemia (1382 - 1394)

by Teresa Eckford

The relationship between Richard II and Anne of Bohemia represents the essence of true love. A note in a contemporary chronicle sums it up, describing how Henry V atoned for his father's usurpation. "And anon, the firste yeer of his regne, for the grete and tendre loue that he hadde to king Richard, he translatid his body fro Langley vnto Westmynstre, and buried him beside quene Anne his first wiff, as his desire was." [1] And there they lie to this day, inseparable in death, as they had been in life.

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I should, however, start at the beginning. Richard II came to the throne at the age of ten in 1377, after the death of his grandfather, Edward III. (Click here for a jump link to a painting of Richard II.) The son of the infamous Black Prince (who died the year before) and Joan of Kent, he led an eventful, and ultimately doomed life. While capable in many ways, he was also stubborn, proud and not particularly astute in the area of politics. He was, however, a handsome man who could be charming when he desired. Here is a contemporary description:

"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." [2]

Although Richard did not know his father very well, the Black Prince had a profound influence on his son's life; he was a great soldier and able commander, and until the onset of his illness, a physical, athletic man. Though tall, Richard did not inherit his father's athletic build, and was far more like his great-grandfather, Edward II, in appearance and character that he was like either his father or grandfather, Edward III. He was forever haunted by his father's military and knightly reputation and his inability to live up to it as he would have liked to was probably a major factor in his desire for the complete political control which eventually cost him his crown and life.

Richard's early years were dominated by three key figures: his mother, Joan of Kent, his tutor (chosen by his father) Sir Simon Burley, and his uncle, John of Gaunt. Soon after the 1381 Rebellion, marriage arrangements began in earnest. Sir Simon travelled abroad and, along with the Earl of Suffolk, negotiated a match between his pupil and the daughter of the late Emperor Charles IV, and sister of King Wenzel of Bohemia (also known as Wenceslas, but not the one of the Christmas carol.) Anne was, by all accounts, a cultured young woman with royal connections throughout Europe. Unfortunately she was also poor, her brother could not afford a dowry. However the diplomatic advantages of the match were appealing, so the arrangements were made and Richard agreed to lend his new brother by marriage the equivalent of 15,000 pounds. This did not sit well with many of the English people.

In January of 1382 (some sources say the 14th, while others say the 20th) Richard and Anne were married. Despite the fact they'd known each other such a short time, it appears the marriage was a success from the beginning. Anne was less than a year older than Richard, and though some chroniclers mentioned her beauty, her effigy reveals her to have been a rather plain young woman. (Click here for a jump link of a bust of her at the National Portrait Gallery, based on her effigy.) However, this appeared not to affect the king's feelings for his wife. All but one of his biographers agree that the marriage was a happy one. Nigel Saul, Richard's most recent biographer, wrote "The bond that was established between them was one of remarkable strength and intimacy for an arranged marriage at this level of society in the middle ages." [3]

During the first two years of their marriage they went on two progresses together and gradually, the English people grew to like the queen. In 1388 she further endeared herself to Richard by begging on her knees in front of his political opponents that they spare Burley's life. They refused, an insult Richard did not soon forget and for which they would pay later in his reign. In 1392 she pleaded with Richard to have mercy on the people of London, guaranteeing her popularity. They had offended him and he'd retaliated by revoking the city's Charter. Here is how the Monk of Westminster (author of the Westminster Chronicle) recounted the event:

At length through the intercession, on behalf of the Londoners, of friends, conspicuous among them the queen (who more than once, indeed on many occasions, both at Windsor and at Nottingham, prostrated herself at the king's feet in earnest and tireless entreaty for the city and the welfare of its citizens that he would cease to direct his anger against them and would not let so famous a city and its teeming masses perish without due consideration simply because of the burning passion of its enemies), the king's mild and kindly nature was moved by pity and persuaded by the queen and by others among his nobles and prominent men, he forgave the Londoners all their offences against him... [4]

This change in attitude on the part of the Monk illustrates how the English people had grown to love her - when she first arrived, he'd referred to her as "this little scrap of humanity". [5]

As the years went by, there can be little doubt that their love only grew stronger. In a letter to his mother by marriage, Elizabeth of Pomerania he refers to her as "mater nostra carissima", which loosely translates to 'mother of my beloved'. [6] Richard and Anne were childless, despite the fact that they were rarely separated. [7] That Richard also had no illegitimate children is further proof of his devotion to her, nor was she rumoured to have taken lovers either. All Richard's biographers agree on this. Nigel Saul notes that at least one biographer hypothesized that their marriage was childless because it was chaste, due to Richard's great admiration for Edward the Confessor, however he argues (and I concur) that this is unlikely the case as Richard "had a powerful sense of lineage" [8] and wanted children so as not to have the direct Plantagenet line end with him. Many kings in his position have been known to repudiate barren wives, yet there was no indication Richard ever had any intention of ending his marriage to Anne. Also, they were both still young so they might have continued to hope for an heir in the future.

Richard had the legendary Plantagenet temper and was known to react first and think later. Though Anne only rarely entered the political stage, it is believed she probably tried to help him curb his temper and was also instrumental in persuading him to think twice about rash decisions made while he was angry. [9] After the death of his mother in 1386, she was the one person he seemed to rely on without question, though he did continue to favour certain nobles.

For twelve years they lived together, deeply in love and seeing each other through several crises. In 1394, however, the plague struck again, taking with it Queen Anne, aged only 27. "On 7 June Anne, queen of England, and daughter of the emperor, died at the manor of Sheen;..." [10] Richard has variously been described as "wild with grief", "utterly inconsolable" and "distraught in the aftermath". [11] When the Earl of Arundel was late arriving at the funeral, Richard struck him for showing such disrespect to the queen's memory. [12] Saul mentions that for a year after her death he refused to go into any room she'd been in [13]. The following spring, John Gedney, Clerk of the Works, received a writ, ordering him to destroy the Manor of Sheen including "the houses and buildings within the moat,..." and "the houses and buildings in la Neyt" [14] Sheen itself was a sprawling collection of buildings, it was in la Neyt that Anne had died. Richard had spent time expanding Sheen earlier in his reign and la Neyt had been among the favourite residences of the royal couple. [15]

In 1395 Richard also commissioned a tomb for himself and for Anne. [16] The effigies appear to be true portraits, rather than idealized figures as the queen is depicted as rather plain and slightly plump, while Richard looks elegant and slender, with a wispy goatee and a long nose. Before he left for Ireland in 1399, he dictated specific instructions for his funeral. They were not carried out by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke when Richard died in February 1400, less than six months after being forced to abdicate the throne. Instead the deposed king was laid to rest at King's Langley, a Dominican friary, a final insult at the hands of his cousin. However, Henry V, Bolingbroke's son, who had spent time Richard's court, chose to honour his last wishes and moved his body to Westminster in an elaborate ceremony. [17]

Thus ended a very bittersweet love story. Anne and Richard had what appears to be a perfect marriage, one of mutual respect and love. That their life together was cut short so tragically may have been a blessing in disguise. Richard had some very definite ideas about kingship and the monarchy that did not appeal to his powerful magnates. Even had Anne, with her tempering influence, lived, it is still quite conceivable that he would have blundered politically and left Anne a grieving widow. Their years together, filled with passion and friendship, are almost without rival in the history of the English monarchy - there can be little doubt that, though their time together was relatively short, they certainly rank among the most romantic of couples in history.

Click here to read about Richard's second wife, a young French princess who grew to adore him.

Notes:

1) The Rev. John Silvester Davies, MA, An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II., Henry IV., Henry V., and Henry VI.. New York (AMS Press, 1968) p.39

2) Louisa Desaussure Duls, Richard II in the Early Chronicles, Paris. (Mouton, 1975) p. 8

3) Nigel Saul, Richard II. New Haven, Conn. (Yale University Press, 1997) pp. 93-94

4) L.C. Hector, Barbara F. Harvey (Eds. and Transl.), The Westminster Chronicle, 1381-1394. New York (Oxford University Press, 1982) p. 503

5) Ibid., p. 24

6) Edouard Perroy (Ed.), The Diplomatic Correspondence of Richard II. London (Offices of the Society, 1933) p. 38

7) Op.cit. Saul, p. 456

8) Ibid. p. 457

9) Harold F. Hutchison, The Hollow Crown. London (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961) p. 8 and Elizabeth Hallam, Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses. Markham (Penguin Books, 1988) pp. 39 and 69

10) Op.cit. Hector and Harvey, p. 521

11) David Williamson, Debrett's Kings and Queens of Britain. London (Webb & Bower Publishers Ltd., 1986) p. 83, John Cannon and Ralph Griffths, The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy. New York (Oxford University Press, 1988) p. 235 and Op. cit. Saul, p. 456

12) Op. cit. Duls, p. 73 and Michael Hicks, Who's Who in Late Medieval England. Chicago (St James Press, 1991) p.183

13) Michael J. Bennett, "Richard II and the Wider Realm" in Anthony Goodman and James L. Gillespie, Richard II: the art of Kingship. Oxford (Clarendon Press, 1999) pp. 193-94 and Op.cit. Saul, p 456

14) Howard Montagu Colvin, The History of the King's Works. London (Her Majesty's Stationer's Office, 1963) Vol. II, p. 998

15) Ibbid., p. 994 ff

16) Op.cit. Saul, note on plate 20

17) Ibid., pp. 428-29

Sources

  • Louisa Desaussure Duls, Richard II in the Early Chronicles, Paris. (Mouton, 1975) pp. 91, 179
  • Elizabeth Hallam, Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses. Markham (Penguin Books, 1988) pp. 76-77, 96-97, 100, 115
  • Nigel Saul, Richard II. New Haven, Conn. (Yale University Press, 1997) pp. 226-30, 457-58
  • David Williamson, Debrett's Kings and Queens of Britain. London (Webb & Bower Publishers Ltd., 1986) pp. 83-84

Isabella of Valois

In 1396 Richard married again, as part of a peace treaty with France. His bride, the six year old daughter of Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria, came to England and lived mostly at Windsor. She was the perfect second wife for the mourning king. Still a child, it would be several years before a consummation was expected, thus giving Richard plenty of time to overcome his grief for Anne. She was also like the child he and Anne never had and he appeared fond of her, giving her gifts and visiting with her as often as he could. By all accounts she grieved for him deeply after his death, then waited two years in England while Henry IV quibbled about returning her and her dowry as per the marriage contract. (This is similar to what happened to Catherine of Aragon more than a century later.) After returning to France she married Charles of Angouleme (later Duke of Orléans), but died in childbirth in 1409, after only three years of marriage.

Click here for Teresa's research sources on Richard and Anne

Link to all of Teresa's Cheat Sheet articles following Life in the Keep & the Chatelaine
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