“Tiny scrap of humanity”: The love match of Richard II

Richard2_AnnaOn a miserable January day in 1382 the boy-king Richard II took to wife the daughter of the late Holy Roman Emperor, sister to the King of Bohemia, a young girl named Anne. Anne was a girl of modest beauty and no fortune, Richard’s court and subjects were openly hostile to the match. The Westminster Chronicler called the new queen “a tiny scrap of humanity” and all and sundry criticised the fact that their king had to pay the King of Bohemia the equivalent of today’s £4,000,000 for the right to wed his sister.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, Anne soon earned the love of her new subjects, as well as the moniker “Good Queen Anne”. She excelled as a gentle yet effective peace-maker, utilising the great respect that was universally held for her as well as the very real affection between herself and Richard. Although her husband was far from popular (and indeed would be deposed in 1399 by his Lancastrian cousin, Henry ‘Bolingbroke’ IV) Anne was beloved for her good heart and practical kindness.

It shocked Europe to the core when the previous healthy, and only 27 year old queen was swiftly carried away by ‘plague’ in June 1394. Richard was inconsolable, “wild with grief” and “distraught”. For a full year after Anne’s death he refused to enter any room he knew that she had once been in. He ordered that the Manor of Sheen – a favourite residence of Anne and himself, and where she had come to her unexpected end – be dismantled and razed to the ground.

Anne’s funeral was a no expense spared event, two months in the arranging. The Earl of Arundel was late arriving and Richard was so incensed by this level of disrespect to his beloved queen’s memory that he grabbed a staff from a nearby attendant and beat Arundel around the head with it. Because the earl’s blood flowed onto the floor of Westminster Abbey, the entire building had to be re-consecrated, delaying the funeral and adding to Richard’s grief.

Richard ordered a monument for himself and Anne, the first time that a double tomb was ordered for an English royal burial. The couples’ likenesses were to be produced as life-sized effigies lying in state above the marble tomb, below a grand canopy. They were to be crowned, holding sceptres in their left hands, but clasping each other with their right.

When Richard married again, as an heirless king must, he chose for his wife the six year old Isabella of Valois, as part of a peace treaty with France. A perfect wife for a grieving man, Isabella became in effect the child he and Anne had never had, and allowed Richard to accede to what was expected of him diplomatically without besmirching his love for and memory of his first wife.

Tomb effigies of Richard II and Anne of BohemiaAfter Richard’s deposition by his cousin in 1399, he was incarcerated and (most likely) starved to death early the following year. Bolingbroke buried his adversary without much pomp and circumstance and without heeding his wishes that he be buried in Westminster Abbey next to Anne. However, when Henry V, Bolingbroke’s son, came to the throne in 1413, he – for political reasons, although perhaps also out of fondness for the memory of Richard II, whose court he had lived in as a boy, and who had always treated him kindly – made one of his first acts to re-inter Richard’s bones beside those of his beloved wife.



2 thoughts on ““Tiny scrap of humanity”: The love match of Richard II

  1. What a beautiful story. Among all the instability and political machinations of the period, it’s so nice to know that there were some royals who had a chance at happiness, however fleeting.

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