Anne of Bohemia was born in Prague on 11th May 1366. She was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and his fourth wife. Anne’s brother was King Wenceslas of Bohemia. In 1382 Anne married King Richard II of England with whom she enjoyed a happy but childless marriage until her death at Sheen Palace in 1394.
Papal Intervention in Marriage Talks
Anne of Bohemia may appear to be a strange choice of bride for a King of England. Marriages were contracted to strengthen alliances, enhance wealth or territories through a dowry, or for other diplomatic reasons. Anne was from the far side of Europe, brought with her no dowry, and at the time of her marriage spoke very little English. Indeed, the suggestion of a marriage between Richard and Anne had been rejected by the English during the lifetime of her father. Negotiations only re-opened when Pope Urban VI intervened upon hearing of Anglo-Milanese negotiations.
An Unusual Marriage Contract Agreed
These negotiations took some time. Envoys from both parties met, terms had to be agreed, and rather unusually Richard II opted to send Anne’s brother, King Wenceslas, a loan of fifteen thousand pounds in order to finalise the deal, which was agreed in May 1381 after a month of haggling had taken place in London.
The benefits of the union may not be immediately apparent but economically and politically there were reasons for the King of England to opt for this marriage union over other options, including the potentially lucrative hand of Caterina Visconti that Pope Urban VI took steps to prevent.
Diplomatic Benefits of Anne of Bohemia’s Marriage to Richard II
At the time that Richard’s closest advisors were seeking a suitable bride the church was divided by the schism, seeing rival pontiffs in Rome and Avignon. The Holy Roman Empire, like England, supported Pope Urban VI who was based in Rome. The Avignon Papacy was supported by France. The shared religious choices presented scope for an alliance against a common enemy. The timing also coincided with Bishop Despenser’s preaching for a crusade in Flanders against the Cementists. This was backed by the Rome Papacy who clearly saw a benefit in linking England and the Germanic states against their theological foes.
Economically the union led to English merchants having the freedom to trade freely within the Holy Roman Empire. This was a large market which had the potential to be lucrative for the English crown.
These gains were not obvious to the masses, nor to many at court. When Anne of Bohemia then arrived in England with a large entourage, and with the king paying for her hand in marriage rather than seeing a dowry come with her, there was disillusionment.
The importance of a potential union between England and the Holy Roman Empire was not lost on the French. As Anne travelled from Ghent towards Bruge from where she would sail to England, King Charles V of France dispatched twelve heavily manned galleys to intercept the entourage. It provoked an outcry from the Duke of Brabant, who was an uncle of Anne of Bohemia. King Charles V, also a relative of Anne’s, was persuaded to recall his squadron of galleys, saying that he had only done so for the love of his cousin.
Anne of Bohemia’s arrival in England
Anne’s arrival in England in December 1381 was almost disastrous. Many of the ships that had transported Anne and her entourage to England were destroyed in a storm. Some saw this as a bad omen, which is recorded in the chronicle of Thomas Walsingham. Elsewhere, the Westminster Chronicle described her succinctly as being ‘a tiny scrap of humanity’.
In traditional style the future Queen was escorted from the coast by a senior royal, in this case Thomas, duke of Gloucester. From the coast the party travelled to Canterbury. Here she was greeted by John of Gaunt, with whom she spent Christmas at Leeds Castle. From Canterbury the queen to be then travelled towards London. As was tradition for an important visitor, Anne and her party were met by the Lord Mayor of London and other dignitaries at Blackheath, before entering London for preparations for the royal wedding. That marriage ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey on 22nd January 1382, after which the newlyweds sailed by barge to Windsor with the king’s mother, Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales, as an escort.
Good Queen Anne
Anne soon won over court and the people. Known as ‘Good Queen Anne’ she learnt English, was pious, and contributed to charitable causes. Politically she was seen as a positive influence on her husband and became adept as a mediator in court disputes. Her role as a mediator was important given the events of the period. Anne had an influence over the manner in which those implicated in the Peasants Revolt were treated by the authorities. In 1387 the Lords Appellant found their intentions delayed by Anne pleading for three hours on her knees for mercy for Sir Simon Burley’s life. Sir Simon was one of the men who had negotiated her marriage to Richard. Found guilty of treason by the Merciless parliament her actions on his behalf failed to save his life, though she was able to stop him enduring being hanged, drawn and quartered.
Her role as a mediator was again evident in 1392. Richard II attempted to force loans from the City of London which provoked anger as the city was struggling to recover from the effects of the Plague and enduring food shortages. When the City refused to loan the king any money, he imposed a fine and had senior officials arrested. Anne interceded on the cities behalf, persuading the king to pardon the officials and resolving the matter in public: which may have been prearranged.
Support for John Wycliff
Anne was a patron of institutions and encouraged learning. As complaints about the works of John Wycliff intensified it was Anne who stepped in to protect him, ensuring that he evaded prosecution and going as far as to encourage students from the Holy Roman Empire to travel to England to learn from Wycliff.
Death and Funeral of Anne of Bohemia
Anne and Richard II were extremely close. When Anne died, most likely of the Plaque, in 1394 Richard was devastated and became quite unstable through grief. The funeral itself was delayed for two months to ensure that the ceremony was splendid enough to befit a Queen of England who was also the daughter of an Emperor. The Queen’s funeral cortege then made its way from Sheen to St. Paul’s Cathedral, escorted by a procession of candlights that had required special orders to be placed in Flanders. From St. Paul’s the last leg of the funeral procession was the journey to Westminster Abbey for the ceremony. At the funeral King Richard II struck the Earl of Arundel for arriving late and had to be restrained from further violence. He then had the royal palace at Sheen, where Anne had passed away, destroyed.
Richard had a double tomb commissioned for Anne and himself. Anne was laid to rest in this tomb within Westminster Abbey. Richard himself was not initially buried alongside Anne of Bohemia. Following his death in captivity he was initially buried at King’s Langley on his cousin King Henry IV’s orders. Richard’s remains were transferred to lay alongside Anne during the reign of King Henry V. The elaborate tomb originally showed the effigies holding hands. A rare show of affection on a tomb of any English monarch.
Westminster Abbey – Richard II and Anne of Bohemia
Institute of Historical Research – How did Anne of Bohemia contribute to Richard II’s treasure?
Medievalists – Anne of Bohemia, Queen of England
British Museum – Items from the archives relating to Anne of Bohemia
National Portrait Galley – Anne of Bohemia. 6 portraits of Richard II’s Queen Consort, Anne of Bohemia.
Reformation Society – Anne of Bohemia
English Monarchs – Anne of Bohemia
Featured Image: Anne of Bohemia by Elkington & Co, cast by Domenico Brucciani, after Nicholas Broker, and Godfrey Prest electrotype, 1873, based on a work of circa 1395-1397 NPG 331. © National Portrait Gallery, London Available under a Creative Commons Licence.
Cropped version of The Liber Regalis, Anne of Bohemia, Wikimedia.