Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Death of Anne of Bohemia and the quarrel with Arundel.

Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, was one of the richest men in the kingdom, and had further boosted his income by marrying Philippa, Countess of Pembroke, a young lady with 'extensive grounds' in the right of her former husband. (When she died in 1400, still only 25, she was seised of lands in twenty-three counties.)

Arundel married her without the King's permission, and was landed with a heavy fine, as usual in such circumstances. Philippa had been born a Mortimer, sister to no less a person than Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, one of the potential candidates for the succession.

It seems that Arundel was rather fond of his young wife, and he started rebuilding one of his castles in her honour, naming it Castle Philippe. Well, fair enough, it was likely her cash that was paying the contractors. It might have been better for him if he'd stuck to this new hobby, but being Arundel, he had an irresistible urge to start kicking off again. In the Parliament of 1394 he pretty well accused John of Gaunt of treason, or at least of having far too much influence over, and too little respect for, the King. Coming from Arundel this was very much a case of the pot informing the kettle that it had a black bottom. King Richard made Arundel publicly apologise to Gaunt in front of the whole Parliament, and we can probably take it as read that Gaunt and Arundel were not on each other's Christmas card list after this episode!

In the early summer of 1394 Queen Anne - Anne of Bohemia - died suddenly at Sheen. It's usually put down to plague, but if so it was a funny sort of plague as no one else at court seems to have caught it.

King Richard was devastated. He was deeply attached to Anne, and indeed she was one of his few close companions to have made it unscathed through the upheavals of 1386-88. He had even built a special house on an island in the Thames next to Sheen Palace so they could escape to it together. This sort of privacy was unprecedented, and indeed was not to be repeated for several centuries. Royals were expected to live in grandeur, surrounded by the important members of their court - not to hide away! Richard gave orders that the whole palace of Sheen was to be demolished. It was, and he never went there again.

A state funeral was arranged, and all the nobility, plus their wives, invited for the occasion. Arundel and his countess arrived late, and then asked permission to leave early. This was at best impolite - it smacks of a deliberate insult. The King lost his temper, snatched a staff from one of the Abbey officers, and laid Arundel out on the tiles. Because the earl's blood flowed onto the floor the Abbey had to be reconsecrated and the funeral was delayed until this could be done.

Arundel spent a week in the Tower before being released, but the quarrel was far from over. The difference now was that he was not just up against the King, but Gaunt as well. A wise man might have 'lain low and said nuffin'.

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