Anne of Bohemia – More than Good?

Ellie Monks

Anne of Bohemia was the first wife of Richard II

Anne of Bohemia was the first wife of Richard II, making her a queen of England until her death in 1394 which is conventionally said to have been because of plague. Anne was a member of the house of Luxembourg, members of which were often elected to be the Holy Roman Emperor. In fact, Anne’s father was Emperor Charles IV, and she was his eldest (surviving) daughter. Despite being an Imperial Princess and her husband’s complicated reputation, Anne herself, does not get discussed as often, nor in particularly great detail by historians and writers of historical fiction. Especially in comparison to the ‘She Wolf’ Isabella of France (wife of Edward II) and the women of the War of the Roses. Why is this? It could be that historians and writers believe that Anne is simply…boring. And on the surface that could be true. She never helped overthrow her husband like Isabella of France did, and she was never accused of witchcraft or murder like Elizabeth Woodville or Margaret Beaufort were. Another reason could be that previous historians have described Anne as a failure because her and Richard never had children. Giving birth to an heir to the throne is considered by those looking back to the medieval period, to be the most important aspect of the queen’s role. And as such, the lack of a Prince of Wales makes people assume that Anne wasn’t a good queen. Much of the blame for the lack of children is also placed on Richard II. Historians did once suggest that the real reason that the royal couple never had children was because Richard was actually gay, or that he preferred for them to have a chaste marriage like Edward the Confessor and his queen Edith. Proof for the first suggestion has no clear evidence, but what evidence there is, often comes from Richard’s political enemies. For the second suggestion, however, people look to Richard and Anne’s shared tomb. The tomb emphasises the idea of a chaste marriage, as if to give Anne some protection from any type of bad press because they didn’t have any children. However, a queen consort’s role was not limited to just having children. A pre-modern queen often took part in affairs of the kingdom, including the justice system. A queen was expected to be the compassionate one of the royal couple, the intercessor between the king and the criminal in question. In this elaborate theatre of justice, a queen would beg for the king to show mercy and lessen the punishment. Anne took part in this, the most famous example coming from when she reconciled her husband with the city of London, after Richard had argued with them, asking them to show them mercy. Chronicles also mention Anne begging for mercy on behalf of Simon Burley (Richard’s old tutor). The Lords Appellant were executing anyone they considered ‘treasonous’ but were actually just supporting Richard. Unfortunately, Anne was not successful, and Simon Burley was executed. In addition to this, Anne came from the Imperial court in Prague, a centre of culture at this time in Europe. In marrying Richard, Anne brought with her cultural influences which enabled works like The Canterbury Tales to be created.
Anne of Bohemia – More than Good?
Anne of Bohemia

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Why then, is Anne always cast as a good wife who was apolitical, when the role of a medieval queen was in itself a political role?

The surprising (although in hindsight quite obvious) answer is the Victorians. Despite the fact that they were being ruled by a queen, and that the Suffrage Movement was in its infancy, Victorian men wanted their wives to be submissive and apolitical. As such, Anne of Bohemia and her ambivalent legacy, which mostly consists of her ‘calming influence’ on Richard (who has been retrospectively diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder’, evident throughout the 19th & 20th centuries) and very little else, seemed to be a perfect example of what a good wife ‘should’ be. A ‘good queen’ who did not challenge her husband and always supported him. It’s true that the chronicles and her tomb present an image of Anne which to modern eyes can make her appear to be a bit of a wet blanket. But that doesn’t mean that we in the modern day, can treat Anne like she’s less important than any other medieval queen, just because she was what people expected her to be. It’s not fair to disregard her just because of that. Anne should be treated with the same amount of respect as other historical figures. If Anne and Richard had managed to have children, maybe her reputation would be different than just ‘Good Queen Anne’. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Anne should not be disregarded in the way that she has been, but rather viewed as someone who positively influenced English culture.
Ancestry UK
Anne of Bohemia – More than Good?

Ellie Monks

Ellie wrote for Edition 2, The Forgotten Women of History.
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