While her life is mostly remembered as a bitter-sweet love story, Anne, as other female rulers of her day, had a great influence on European thought. For example, she arrived in England not only with books, but with a team of Bohemian illustrators who left a strong influence on English art. Conversely, her presence in England encouraged a reverse cultural exchange, hastening the spread of Wyclif’s writings in Bohemia.
On December 18, 1381, 15-year old Anne crossed the British Channel with her large entourage. It was a wretched time for travel, but she was on her last stretch of her 700-miles journey from Prague. It was the season for storms, but thankfully the winds rose only after her crossing, destroying her ship but preserving her life.
She was the eldest daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, and of his fourth wife Elizabeth, Duchess of Pomerania. Her final destination was London, where she would marry Richard II, King of England, eight months younger than her.
It was, as expected, an arranged marriage, with off-and-on negotiations starting in 1377, when Richard was first crowned. Initially, the proposal was rejected, but Pope Urban VI convinced Richard and his council to change their minds. At that time, the papacy was claimed by two different popes, and Urban needed his supporters (which included England and Bohemia) to band together.
The arbitration was not without hindrances. The English envoys were kidnapped and held for ransom on their way back from Bohemia, and Anne’s family was so poor that couldn’t afford to pay the dowry. In the end, Richard had to send a loan of 15,000 pounds in order to get his bride to England.
As Anne continued her travels from Dover to Canterbury, the English people continued to gossip about her poverty. After all, much of the money spent by the crown came from their taxes. Their complaints flared as she entered London. Some even tore down the display of royal arms crossing imperial arms, a symbol of Richard and Anne’s union.
In spite of this, the wedding took place on January 20, 1382 at Westminster Abbey and the coronation of Anne two days later.
As it turned out, Richard and Anne really loved each other. With time, even the English people came to appreciate her. She was described as intelligent, pious, and gentle. Richard had the palace at Eltham remodeled for her, and rarely allowed her to leave his side.
The people had a harder time accepting her and her large Bohemian entourage, especially since Richard was very generous with them. His building projects in Anne’s honor were legendary, and their married life was described as one of elegance and luxury. Apparently, both Richard and Anne were passionate about fine clothing, and introduced new trends, including long and pointed shoes for women.
What won the people’s hearts, however, was Anne’s role of advocate and mediator.
Her first intervention was in 1381, when she interceded with the king in behalf of the participants in the Peasants’ Revolt. In 1384, she persuaded Richard to change the punishment of John Northampton, Lord Mayor of London, from execution to lifelong imprisonment. Her most famous intercession, however, was on behalf of the citizens of London in 1392, when the king, furious after a loan denial, arrested some city officials, revoked many of the city’s privileges and charged the city a fine of 100,000 pounds.
Anne begged the king on her knees during a public ceremony until Richard raised her up and seated her at his side, assuring the city of his pardon. The same year, the grateful Londoners responded by gracing the royal couple with extravagant Christmas gifts: a camel for Richard and a pelican (symbol of maternity) for Anne. Anne, however never had children, as much as she pined for them.