Anne of Bohemia, Queen of England

Anne of Bohemia, Queen of England

King Richard II’s first wife Anne has the distinction of being the only English queen from Bohemia. The marriage was a by-product of the schism within the Papacy in the fourteenth century. When the young Anne came to England, one of the chroniclers described her as a “scrap of humanity”.

Anne was born on May 11, 1366 in Prague. She was the eldest daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and his fourth wife, Elizabeth of Pomerania. Much of Anne’s childhood was spent in the Hradschin Palace in the newly transformed and prosperous city of Prague. Emperor Charles had built new districts as well as the Cathedral of St. Vitus and a university. Anne was mostly under the care of her half-brother Wenceslaus at court, where she received an education and most likely witnessed the majesty of imperial ceremony.

As soon as King Richard II was crowned King of England in 1377, many offers of marriage arrived from all over Europe, including from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles who put forth his eleven year old daughter Anne. But this match was soon rejected. Charles died in 1378 at the age of sixty-two leaving Anne in the custody of the new king, Wenceslaus.

The idea of a marriage alliance between England and Bohemia was raised again when the split in the papacy began in the year 1378. Pope Urban VI was elected in April of that year and later in September faced opposition from Pope Clement VII. Clement’s support came from France, the Scots and Castilians and Urban was backed by English and German rulers along with the Roman and Italian princes. Urban’s group was not cohesive and he was looking for an alliance to bring them together. In the spring of 1379, Urban was notified there were three English envoys in Milan working on a marriage contract between King Richard II and one of the daughters of the Visconti Duke.

Urban summoned the envoys to Rome and directed them to go to Bohemia to discuss a possible marriage with the sister of King Wenceslaus who embraced the proposal with enthusiasm. The talks were postponed when the English were kidnapped upon their return and held until their ransom was paid. Anne was incredibly poor. Negotiations for her dowry were delayed but it soon became obvious Wenceslaus had no money to give her. A dowry was eventually agreed upon in principle with the amount to be settled later but in actuality it was never paid. The chroniclers noted their unhappiness with the lack of dowry and this caused opposition and resentment toward the marriage.

Richard ended up giving Wenceslaus fifteen thousand pounds in the form of a loan because he was deeply committed to the alliance and to Anne. Talks resumed in the summer of 1380 but it wasn’t until May of 1381, a month after the imperial envoys were received by Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt at the Savoy Palace, that Richard came to an agreement on the treaty of marriage.

Anne's husband, King Richard II of England
Anne’s husband, King Richard II of England

In the fall of 1381, Anne set out with her retinue at her brother’s expense, travelling from Ghent to Bruges. Charles V, King of France sent twelve armed vessels full of Normans to intercept her journey. Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Brabant, sent envoys to the French court to remonstrate with the King. Charles eventually recalled the Normans saying he only did so for the love of his cousin Anne and not out of regard for the English king. The party proceeded to Gravelines where her retinue left her to return to Bohemia. She continued on to Calais accompanied by the English. On December 18, Anne crossed the Channel to Dover without incident. However, after she arrived and disembarked, a storm arose and huge waves crashed into the harbor, crushing ships together. The vessel she had sailed on was broken into pieces.

John of Gaunt met with Anne and they traveled to Canterbury, spending Christmas at Leeds Castle. Complaints in England were already being heard about Anne’s poverty and the costs of the marriage. Money had to be raised through loans to pay for her entry into London. Anne was greeted in London with magnificent displays, including a pageant that featured a gilded castle. But as Anne and Richard progressed through the streets, the crowds tore down the royal arms which had been crossed with the imperial arms and hung on a fountain in her honor.

An argument actually broke out between the primates of London and Canterbury over who would perform the wedding and coronation ceremonies. A compromise was made and it was decided the bishop of London would perform the marriage rites and the Archbishop would crown the new queen. The wedding took place on January 20, 1382 at Westminster Abbey and the coronation of Anne took place two days later.

Richard had remodeled the palace at Eltham for Anne, including a garden. Anne’s favorite residences were Eltham and Sheen, both of which were smaller in scale than the other palaces. Anne was noble in birth and described as gentle in character. She was intelligent and pious. Anne brought to England copies of the New Testament in Latin, Czech and German and translations were made for her of the Gospels in English, presumably to help her learn the language. Richard was devoted to Anne and rarely allowed her to leave his side. Many times she traveled with him. He appeared to love her very much.

Richard was very generous in gifts and marriages for some of Anne’s entourage. This caused some resentment at court but Anne’s sweet nature helped to overcome this bitterness and she herself wasn’t resented. Some of Anne’s entourage has been given credit for introducing the style of shoes having long pointed toes which had to be held up with chained garters that wrapped around the knees. The Queen brought other Bohemian fashions to England including the ladies side saddle and a jaunty form of cap. The Bohemians also had influence in England on art and illuminated manuscripts. There is some speculation that Chaucer wrote a poem as a tribute to Anne called “The Legend of a Good Woman”.

In 1387, Richard’s uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester along with several other noblemen raised an army of forty thousand men and marched on London. The nobles were dissatisfied with Richard’s rule and considered deposing him. They banished some of the king’s men and his confessor and impeached Sir Simon Burley who was Richard’s guardian and tutor. He had been one of the envoys who had negotiated Anne’s marriage to Richard. She naturally took an interest in his situation and interceded for his life by begging for three hours on her knees. His life was not spared but he was spared a traitors death.

The following year Richard emancipated himself from his regency council. He was twenty-two and now able to administer his own affairs. He managed to rule effectively for a while. John of Gaunt returned to England in 1389 from his adventures in Spain and his presence helped to strengthen the royal family. Anne and Richard spent a good part of the summer of 1390 with Gaunt at Leicester Castle and Gaunt joined them for Christmas that year at Eltham.

In 1392, old differences were renewed when Richard requested a loan from the city of London which was refused. The city was suffering from food shortages and plague and had not come to the aid of the King is his quarrel with the recalcitrant lords. The king arrested the mayor and sheriffs, revoked many of the city’s privileges and named his own wardens. In addition, he charged the city a fine of one hundred thousand pounds.

Anne reportedly interceded for the Londoners by begging Richard to forgive them on her knees at Windsor and Nottingham. The Londoners submitted. The king and queen entered the city in great splendor making their way to Westminster Hall where, in a public ceremony, Anne made intercession once again. Richard raised her from her knees and seated her next to him and assured the city officials of their renewed favor. Formal pardon was granted to the mayor, sheriffs and alderman in September.

There is no evidence Anne and Richard had anything but a normal sex life but the union would be childless. Richard was an admirer of Edward the Confessor and may have followed his example and practiced abstinence for religious reasons. Or perhaps they couldn’t have children for physical or health reasons. There is no evidence Richard had any children legitimate or illegitimate. There is also the likelihood that Anne was unable to conceive.

Funeral procession of Anne of Bohemia
Funeral procession of Anne of Bohemia

On June 7, 1394, Anne died at Sheen Palace, most likely of plague. Richard was so distraught at her death, he had the palace torn down and destroyed. He vowed that for an entire year he would enter no building except a church where he had spent time with Anne. It was thought that since Anne was the daughter of an emperor, the honors of her funeral should exceed those of Richard’s grandmother, Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife of King Edward III.

Etching of the effigies of the tomb of Anne of Bohemia and King Richard II in Westminster Abbey
Etching of the effigies of the tomb of Anne of Bohemia and King Richard II in Westminster Abbey

Anne’s funeral was delayed for two months so Richard could plan a suitably magnificent ceremony. Extra wax torches were ordered from Flanders. On August 3, her body was carried from Sheen to Old St. Paul’s Cathedral and then was taken to Westminster Abbey. Archbishop Arundel conducted her funeral service and praised her for her commitment to pious reading. Richard built a magnificent tomb in Westminster and had her buried there. There are effigies of Anne and Richard on the tomb with their hands clasped. Anne of Bohemia’s wooden funeral effigy is on display in the Westminster Abbey museum.

Further reading: “Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York” by Lisa Hilton, entry on Anne of Bohemia from the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 by James Gairdner, entry on Anne of Bohemia from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Nigel Saul

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