In October 1396 King Richard II of England married for the second time. His first marriage had been a love match. He and Anne of Bohemia had adored each other and he’d been devastated by her sudden death, possibly of the plague. He was still only 28, a childless widower, and like his namesake the following century, Richard III, he had to marry again to have an heir.
It was clearly a case of what he had to do, not what he wanted to do, and there has been much debate ever since as to why he chose as his second wife Isabella de Valois, a little girl who was still only six years old. Was it to postpone what he might regard as being unfaithful to Anne’s memory? Was it to further the hope of halting the seemingly endless war with France and bring about peace at last? We’ll never know for sure. But we do know that the signing of a peace treaty was part of the three-day celebration that was the culmination of Richard’s quest for a second bride.
My thought is that his reasoning lies somewhere in between. He was always very kind to Isabella and she loved him in her child’s way, for there was no suggestion whatsoever of Richard consummating the marriage until she was of age. When the marriage was first broached it was pointed out that it would be many years before he could hope for an heir with Isabella. He apparently replied that every new day went toward rectifying that problem and he was young enough himself to wait.
Negotiations for the marriage took many months and culminated in a three-day (27-30 October 1396 ) extravagance at a “city” of tents and pavilions in the Forest of Ardres, midway between Calais (English) and the city of Ardres (French). The scene must have been quite something. Coincidentally (or not) it was the very site chosen for the Field of Cloth of Gold in a later century.
The 1396 occasion was also the first time Richard and Isabella’s father, Charles VI, had ever met. They had much in common. Both had been boy-kings and both were beset by powerful uncles. I don’t know what Charles thought of Richard, but I do know that Richard always felt an affinity with Charles.
Extravagant doesn’t seem adequate for the formal marriage celebrations, with the two kings removing their hoods, exchanging kisses of peace and walking hand-in-hand, first on the French side of the tent city and then the English. The second day turned out to be a bit of a washout, literally. 1396 hadn’t been a good day for weather in general, and on 28 October there was such a downpour that it washed away some of the French tents and their occupants fled to the English tents for shelter. A comical scene, you have to admit. For decades the French and English had been snarling at each other on the battlefield, then at a “friendly” occasion a storm has them sheltering together. It actually makes a point of the futility of war.
I digress. I was speaking of extravagance, and this was not only in the lavish spending on clothes, tents, furnishings and so on, but in the gifts exchanged by the two kings. England’s coffers weren’t exactly bulging at this time, but Richard knew he had to make a good show of it, so he did. To give paltry gifts would be to diminish both himself and his realm. Back in England this was much disgruntlement and criticism. The child bride was another matter of contention. The whole point was an heir!
Among the gifts exchanged were gold, gems, gold pouches stuffed with more jewels, a horse with a silver saddle, four tablets encrusted with precious stones and depicting the Trinity, Christ and Saints George and Michael. Charles gave Richard a gold nef, a decorative ship used to collect alms at a feast. But also used as salt cellars! The splendid and costly item stood on a bear and had tigers, the badge of Charles VI, at the prow and stern. The tigers wore jewelled collars and were looking at themselves in mirrors. It had been a gift to Charles from his own uncle, the Duc de Berri, of Hours fame.
In return Richard gave Charles a large gold goblet and matching ewer which had been made for his grandfather Edward III about 30 years before. Richard II also gave Charles VI a gold livery collar that had belonged to Anne of Bohemia and said to be worth, wait for it, 5,000 marks (£3,333 6s 8d) Again, one shudders to think of its value today. I have no description of these, but they must have been quite something with regard to decoration.
There were many other items, of course, but a day or so ago I came upon an example, described as “an image of St Michael”. Richard’s inventory describes it as “[Item, an image of St Michael standing on a foot, set around with seven balas rubies, seven sapphires, fourteen clusters each of three pearls, a shield with a large balas ruby and eight large pearls, a cross with a ruby, four pearls, and a chaplet with a ruby, the gift of the king of France, Troy weight six marks, additional value £1000, total, £1,064.]) £1,064 in total? Heaven alone knows what it would be worth today. I can only imagine it was a gift from Richard to Charles because, alas, it was lost in 1801 in Bavaria, where it had been pawned by the brother of Charles’s queen, Isabeau of Bavaria. All we have today is a painting of it, which you can see at the beginning of this page.
It is affecting to note that amidst all these treasures, Charles VI told Richard he was giving him the greatest treasure of all, his little daughter.
To read more about it, go to this site and here.
And should you feel up to the medieval French, you can read the complete inventory of Richard’s treasure at British History Online.
Richard apparently said he would only marry the daughter of a king. This left him with very few options. The other leading contender was Yolande of Aragon. Although Yolande was older than Isabella, she was still a child. (12 in 1396.)
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Great article, thank you
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Thank you, Glenis.