Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Richard II and His Queens, Guest Post by Mercedes Rochelle, Author of A King Under Siege

Please join me in welcoming Mercedes Rochelle to Let Them Read Books! Mercedes has a brand new historical novel, A King Under Siege, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about a king that doesn't get as much attention as he should. Read about the two queens of Richard II and grab a Kindle copy of the book for only $2.99!

Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants' Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard's inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.

by Mercedes Rochelle

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. I still remember that night in the late 1970s when I watched the BBC production on television, with Derek Jacobi as Richard and Jon Finch as Henry IV. Even though I knew nothing about them, I was totally moved during the prison scene while Richard bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! I've been carrying him around with me for forty years, and I finally cleared my plate so I could concentrate on his story. It was a good thing, too; his history is so complicated it took me two years to write the first volume in my new series. It turns out that Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life, and yet the events of his young kingship were instrumental to the fateful conflict that cost him his crown—and his life.

Richard II died childless. Shakespeare, the consummate storyteller, gave us a grown queen who threw herself into his arms as he was led to prison following his humiliating surrender to Henry of Bolingbroke. Imagine my surprise to learn that in reality, Richard's queen was only ten years old! Ah, she was his second queen. His first, Anne of Bohemia, had died five years before his deposition and two years before he remarried. How in the world did that happen?

By all accounts, theirs was a love match from the first. Although she was not considered a great beauty, Anne had a sweet disposition. At age fifteen she was one year older than Richard and their closeness in age (and inexperience) probably contributed to their affection for each other. Unlike most kings of the middle ages, he was not unfaithful to her. She provided him with love and support even during his most troublesome episodes with his overbearing uncles. They were rarely apart during their twelve year marriage. He built a private getaway on a little island in the Thames across from Sheen Palace (same site as Richmond Palace) called Le Neyt—a rarity in times when royalty was almost never alone. Even so, sadly, she never conceived.

Anne is best known for introducing the sidesaddle to England—a strange contraption which consisted of a little bench strapped to the horse with a footrest. Each lady's palfrey was led by a footman who managed the bridle-rein while the lady held onto a pommel; this meant that they could proceed at no faster than a walk. But this was no matter; the sidesaddle was merely used for ceremonial purposes. The Bohemians also introduced those funny shoes with elongated points called Crakows, or sometimes Poulaines because they were originally from Poland (the extreme version was attached to the knee with a gold chain). They were also the first ladies in England to wear the outrageous headdresses with wires and pasteboard horns extending two feet high and two feet wide and shaped like a wide-spreading mitre, draped with fine glittering veils.

Christine de Pisan presenting her book, BL Harley ms 4431 f003r. Source: Wikipedia

Queen Anne died suddenly in 1394, possibly from the plague because it all happened so quickly.  Richard was inconsolable and ordered his workmen to destroy Le Neyt (or maybe even the whole palace; no one knows for sure). But a kingdom without an heir left itself open to civil war, as Richard knew all too well. At the same time, for many years he had been leaning toward peace with France. Now was his opportunity. Two years after the death of Queen Anne, Richard concluded a 28-year truce with France, and part of this agreement was his offer to marry King Charles's seven-year-old daughter Isabella. Why did he do this? I'm inclined to think that this gave Richard plenty of time to grieve for Anne while accomplishing an alliance that was very important to him. At 29 years of age, he felt that he still had plenty of time to beget an heir.

A great ceremony was held on the same site as the Field of the Cloth of Gold attended by Henry VIII and Francis I 124 years later. It was said that Richard's pageant was every bit as elaborate and expensive as his successor's. Interestingly, on opening day Richard's retinue was dressed in red velvet with heraldic trappings from Queen Anne's livery. He was determined not to forget her. 

Little Isabella came back to England with her handsome new husband and was housed at Windsor Castle. She was crowned at Westminster the following year. Richard doted on his Queen and it was said she adored him, but there was no question that many years would pass before he took on his conjugal duties. As it turned out, he was dead in four years, leaving her a prisoner of the usurper Henry IV; the new King wanted her to marry his son, the future Henry V. But she showed amazing fortitude for someone so young. Isabella refused and went into mourning. A year later Henry allowed her to go back to France but kept her dowry. When she was sixteen, she married her cousin Charles, Duke of Orléans, who was only eleven. And yet, three years later she died in childbirth. Poor Isabella never got a break. If they had been given more time and had Richard II managed to sire an heir, it would have been much more difficult for anyone else to usurp the crown. And perhaps the Wars of the Roses would never have occurred.

Grab the Kindle book for only $2.99!

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Mercedes Rochelle graduated with a degree in English literature from University of Missouri. Mercedes learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ, with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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