Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anne of Bohemia
ANNE of Bohemia (1366–1394), first queen of Richard II, was the eldest daughter of the Emperor by his fourth wife, Elizabeth of Pomerania. She was born at Prague on 11 May 1366. Her father was the son of that blind king, John of Bohemia, who was killed at the battle of Cressy, and was king of Bohemia himself as well as emperor. The place he fills in history is peculiar. Educated at Paris, his leanings all through life were French and papal. He was not too well loved by the Germans, and was only accepted as emperor because no rival candidate could be induced to stand. He was not too well loved elsewhere, and got crowned at Rome only on condition never to enter Italy again without the leave of the pope. He was, nevertheless, a man of great energy, made terms with all parties, and obtained from Innocent VI the celebrated Golden Bull, which settled the constitution of the Roman Germanic empire so long as it existed. But, worn out with a hopeless struggle between conflicting interests, he died in 1378 at the age of 62. In that same year the great schism in the papacy began, and though Charles was succeeded as emperor by his own son Wenceslaus, the old alliance with France had received its death-blow. In 1379 Wenceslaus began to make overtures to Richard II touching the support of Urban VI against his rival Clement VII at Avignon; and England, Germany, and Flanders very soon made common cause against France. Towards the end of the following year the Earl of Kent and two others were sent over to Flanders to conclude with ambassadors named by the emperor for the King of England's marriage to his sister, Anne of Bohemia. In the commission given to the English plenipotentiaries it is expressly stated that Richard had selected her on account of her nobility of birth, and her reputed gentleness of character. The omission of all reference to beauty is perhaps significant. The house of Luxemburg to which she belonged was not generally distinguished for this quality.
It was intended to receive the bride in England before Michaelmas (Rymer (1816 seq.), vii. 302); but in June the frightful insurrection of Wat Tyler and the bondmen occasioned some delay. An embassy, however, was commissioned on 1 December to receive her and bring her to England; and on the 13th of the same month a general pardon to the rebels was issued at her intercession. Meanwhile she remained at Brussels, whither she had been conducted by the Duke of Saxony, till she could cross the sea in safety. Twelve armed vessels, full of Normans, were sent by the King of France to intercept her. The Duke of Brabant, however, who was Anne's uncle, sent to remonstrate with the French king, Charles V, who thereupon ordered the Normans into port, declaring that he did so merely for the love of his cousin Anne, and out of no regard for the King of England. She then pursued her journey, accompanied by the Duke of Brabant to Gravelines, where the Earls of Salisbury and Devonshire received her with a guard of 500 spears, and conducted her to Calais. After waiting some time 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 of quite an unusual character dashed the vessels in port against each other, and the very ship in which she had come over was broken to pieces by the violence of the sea.
On the third day after her landing she went on to Canterbury, where she was met by the king's uncle, Thomas, afterwards Duke of Gloucester. The city of London gave her a magnificent reception, and she was married to Richard on 14 Jan. 1382 at St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster. Her coronation followed on the 22nd. From all that is known of her disposition and character we may believe that her coming did something to secure a brief interval of peace to a distracted country; but it was a stormy period, and within a very few years the cruelties practised by the serfs were almost outdone by the acts of the parliament truly named as ‘Merciless.’ Even before that date an incident occurred which gives striking evidence of ferocity in high places. In 1385, when the king was on his way to Scotland, Sir Ralph de Stafford, a knight in the queen's service, was murdered at York by the king's own half-brother, Sir John Holland. The murdered man was at the time on his way to London with messages to the queen. He was the son of the Earl of Stafford, and was a boon companion of Richard, with whom he had been brought up from an early age. His father applied to the king for justice. The murderer took refuge in the sanctuary of Beverley; but Richard confiscated his goods and showed his determination to punish crime even where the closest family ties stood in the way. The king's mother, who was also mother of the murderer, strove in vain to intercede, and died of grief that her prayers were ineffectual. After her death, apparently, Richard at length consented to pardon the crime.
The incident just recorded arose, as we are informed by Froissart, out of an encounter between Sir John Holland's retinue and that of a Bohemian knight, whose life one of Stafford's archers had been able to protect only by slaying one of Holland's squires. The queen had brought with her into England, besides Bohemian fashions such as ladies' side saddles and the extraordinary cap worn by ladies in those days, a numerous body of Bohemian followers, who not only excited national prejudice against them, but added to the expenses of a very expensive court. There is no appearance that the queen herself shared their unpopularity. The respect with which she is spoken of by contemporary writers leads us to infer the contrary. The devoted attachment of her husband, who seldom allowed her to quit his side, was of a kind unusual among royal personages. But the great expenses of the household had certainly a good deal to do with the approaching struggle between king and parliament, which forms the turning point of Richard's reign. On one point only—though the fact is not very well authenticated—does it seem that Anne carried her friendship and partiality too far; for it is said that she wrote to Pope Urban VI in favour of the divorce which the Duke of Ireland sought in order that he might marry one of her Bohemian maids of honour. On what pretence such a suit was instituted we do not know; but it was deeply resented in England, as the duchess was a daughter of Ingram de Coucy, earl of Bedford, and was cousin german to the king himself.
In 1387 the Duke of Ireland and the other ministers, by whose advice the king had been guided, were forced to fly the country by a confederacy of five leading noblemen with Gloucester at their head, who marched up to London with an army of 40,000 men and took possession of the capital. Gloucester even aimed at the king's deposition, but found that he could not reckon surely on the support of his confederates. The five lords, however, took possession of the government, removed a number of ladies from the royal household, and called to a severe reckoning all those other friends of the king who had not yet escaped. Under their direction the ‘Merciless Parliament’ (1388) caused the whole body of the judges to be arrested, and the king's late ministers condemned as traitors. They banished the former to Ireland, and the king's confessor also, because he had concealed from the five lords the policy of the king's council. They impeached and sent to the block Sir Simon Burley and some others. Burley was an old companion in arms of the Black Prince, who had committed to him the charge of his son Richard’s education. It was he, moreover, who had gone to Prague on Richard’s behalf to ask Anne in marriage, and the queen was naturally interested in him more than the other victims. Richard himself interceded for him most urgently, and Anne was three hours on her knees before the lords praying that they would spare his life. But it was all to no purpose.
‘M’aime,’ said the Earl of Arundel to her with insolent familiarity, ‘pray for yourself, and for your husband; you had much better.’ Next year the king emancipated himself from the thraldom of the confederate lords. 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,
'Then,' said Richard, 'I must be able to manage my own affairs as every heir in my kingdom can do at twenty-one.' On this he commanded the great seal and the keys of the exchequer to be given up to him, dismissed Gloucester and most of the other lords, and governed for some years after with prudence and moderation. The only occurrence which for a while threatened to renew old differences was when in 1392 the king demanded a loan of 1,000l. from the city of London, which the citizens not only refused to give, but would not allow a willing lender to advance, insomuch that they nearly killed the Lombard who offered it. The king caused the mayor and sheriffs to be arrested, and it was decreed in council that the city should forfeit its privileges and be governed thenceforth by wardens. The city made a humble submission, and appealed to Queen Anne as mediatrix. Richard’s wrath was appeased.
‘I will go,’ he said, ‘to London and console the citizens; nor will I suffer them further to despair of my favour.’ He accordingly passed through the city on Wednesday, 21 Aug., in great pomp and splendour, the queen by his side wearing a rich golden crown that was presented to her at Southwark, and robes glittering all over with gems. During their whole progress the king and queen were received with enthusiasm. The ingenuity of the age had exhausted itself in devising pageants for their entertainment; and a minute account of the day’s festivity was composed in Latin verse by a contemporary poet. The procession ended at Westminster Hall, where Richard took his seat on the king’s bench, sceptre in hand, and the queen kneeling at his feet made her formal intercession for the city. Richard raised her from her knees and seated her beside himself; then addressing the mayor, assured him of renewed favour and gave him back the key and the sword. On 19 Sept. a formal pardon, dated at Woodstock, was granted to the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen. It is four times stated in the document that it was granted at the intercession of the queen. Just before this great triumph, according to the date given in the contemporary memorandum, the king and queen dined in the refectory of the Grey Friars of Salisbury, with a great attendance of bishops and lords, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 Aug.), 1392, the king wearing his crown and all the insignia of royalty (Eulogium, ed. Haydon, iii. 369). Tnis must have been the meeting of the council in which it was agreed on what terms the city of London should be restored to favour.
Two years later Anne died of the pestilence at Shene on Whit Sunday, 7 June 1394. She was mourned by her husband with a bitterness of grief that knew no moderation.
‘Besides cursing the place where she died,’ says the chronicler Stow, ‘he did also for anger throw down the buildings, unto the which the former kings, being wearied of the city, were wont for pleasure to resort.’ The funeral was put off till 3 Aug., in order that it might be made as magnificent as possible. Peers were required to be in attendance with their wives in London on the Wednesday previous, which was 29 July, and to accompany the corpse from Shene to Westminster the day before the interment. Abundance of wax was procured from Flanders for flambeaux. The rank of the deceased queen, as daughter of an emperor, was thought to require higher honours than had been paid even to Queen Philippa. Yet one disagreeable incident marred the solemnity. The turbulent Earl of Arundel, one of the five lords of 1387, absented himself from the procession which accompanied the body from St. Paul’s to Westminster, and then, arriving late at the abbey, asked permission to leave early on urgent business. Richard was deeply offended at what he evidently regarded as a wilful slight, and seems 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 also ordered the earl that same day to the Tower, but a week later issued a warrant for his liberation (Rymer, vii. 784, 785). Anne died childless, but lamented by all, alike the great and the humble, to whom she had endeared herself by her constant desire to promote the general welfare. Her husband caused a gorgeous tomb to be erected over her at Westminster, and ordered his own effigy to be raised upon it alongside of hers, with their hands clasped together. The monument still remains, and conveys a very perfect notion of the queen's personal appearance; but the head-dress was removed by Cromwell's soldiers when they stabled their horses in the abbey.
Anne of Bohemia has commonly the repute of having favoured the doctrines of Wycliffe. No specific instance, however, has been shown of her active patronage of the reformer, who died just three years after she came to England. A passage, cited by Huss from Wycliffe's writings, does indeed suggest that she read the gospels in three languages, Bohemian, German, and Latin; but this does not go far to establish any sympathy with Wycliffe's principles. There is no doubt that she was highly educated. Her father knew the importance of learning, and was the founder of the university of Prague. She was at least indirectly instrumental in spreading Wycliffe's views by the mere fact of her marriage; for it was the Bohemians in her train who first introduced his writings to John Huss. It is well known that even at the present day many of those writings exist in manuscript at Vienna and at Prague, of which copies are rare or not to be found in England.
[Walsingham's Historia Anglicana and Ypodigma Neustriæ; Froissart; Hist. Ricardi II a monacho quondam de Evesham, ed. Hearne; Chronicque de la Traïson et Mort de Richart Deux, ed. Williams; Eulogium Historiarum, ed. Haydon, Rolls Ser.; Ric. de Maydeston in Wright's Political Poems, i. 282–300; Rolls of Parliament, iii. 376; Rymer's Fœdera (1816), vol. vii.; and among modern writers Strickland's Lives of the Queens, vol. i.; Wallon's Richard II, and Höfler's Anna von Luxemburg.]