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Anne of Bohemia-part 2

MY BELOVED BOHEMIAN

The Story of Anne of Bohemia

By Douglas Bond

 

How to be powerful... part 2

...But here’s the good news! God has designed a way for women to be powerful—and it works! It really does empower women to do the greatest good. But what is God’s way for women to have power? So many things in God’s Word are counterintuitive, that means they work in the reverse of the way we think they should work. Allow me to illustrate from history.

 

Empowered wife and queen

On May 11 of 1366, in the palace of the court of Wenceslas, a cute little baby girl was born in Prague, in what was then called Bohemia. Her father was both the king of the realm and the Holy Roman Emperor, the most influential role in all of Europe. That made baby Anne a princess! But she was still a woman, entirely subject to her father, to dukes, popes, kings, and the powerful in her world.


As Anne grew older, and more lovely, Pope Urban VI made a proposal. In the providence of God, there was a Great Schism afoot in the Western Church. A rival pope, scrambling for power, Clement VII, had set up his own papal palace in Avignon in France. There were two popes (at one point there were actually four!), both excommunicating the other, damning each other to the inferno! The Roman Catholic Church was in shambles. The Pope in Rome wanted Bohemia (the Czeck Republic today) and its king, Emperor Charles IV (Anne’s Daddy), the most influential man in Europe, to take his side in the ecclesiastical fiasco. So, the pope proposed a betrothal between Anne and the King of England, Richard II. Such an alliance would ensure his power over Central Europe and over England, so he hoped.


But you’re wondering: Did Anne have anything to say about this proposal? Not a word. I’d be willing to bet, she felt like a pawn on a continental chessboard, to be moved wherever the powerful wanted her to be moved. Though a princess, she was entirely powerless. She was a woman. And she was only sixteen years old! Richard was fifteen! They’d never met. They weren’t even social media friends. In a day when it was required of fathers of brides to pay a dowry, often chests full of gold, to get their daughter married off to a powerful man—this time the tables were turned. Since Anne was daughter of the most powerful man in Europe, Richard had to pay 20,000 florins to secure Anne’s hand in marriage (in today’s money, that’s over 4,000,000 GBP!).  Anne didn’t get a dime of it, just so you know.


The plot thickens. Many English nobles didn’t want a queen from what they considered backwater Bohemia! One disdainful noble called Anne “a tiny scrap of humanity,” and another hopefully prophesied that her voyage to England would end in disaster and she would be drowned in the sea. Can you imagine leaving your home, your mother and father and siblings, everything you knew and loved—and going to an entirely new country, with a cobbled-up language, to marry a man you had never met, who was a year younger than you, likely a lecherous fifteen-year-old, spoiled-rotten brat, who would treat his wife like a commodity; after all, he had “purchased” her for a considerable sum of money. What was Anne to do?

 

What should Anne do?

Maybe she should have petitioned the government to create an amendment to the Bohemian constitution, equal rights for women, or burned her undergarments and marched in the streets for the empowerment of women, or maybe she should have found new interpreters of those distasteful biblical passages that command wives to submit to their husbands. Those texts are so out of step with the times. They need to be re-envisioned and deconstructed and read through a new lens for a new age. What would Anne do?


To answer that important question, we need more backstory on this extraordinary young woman. She had grown up in a royal court where her father the king had encouraged poets to write their poetry, no longer in Latin, but in the language the people spoke and understood in Bohemia. What a concept! As much sense as that makes to us, this was a newly recovered idea in 14th century Europe. But here’s the most important part. In 1347, almost twenty years before Anne was born, her father Charles IV had commissioned scholars to create a vernacular Bible, that is, a Bible in the language of the common people. Hence, the Bible played a central role in the first sixteen years of Anne’s life. She read the Bible (in both Latin and in Czeck), and she memorized vast portions of the Bible. She had ladies-in-waiting who read with her, who believed in Jesus with her, believed that the words they were reading in the Bible were actually the very words of God. And there were passages in the Bible that tell wives what God’s will is for them in their marriages. She was about to get married. She needed to hear those verses!


Imagine her reading this: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  …let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (I Peter 3:1-7).


Imagine her memorizing this passage of Scripture. After all, she was about to marry a teenage boy king, who in all likelihood did “not obey the word,” was not a true believer in Christ. What was she to do? Wouldn’t he abuse her, treat her like his property (he’d paid tons for her!). She was powerless. She was a woman. And January 22, 1382, she found herself walking down the central aisle of Westminster Abbey to marry Richard II, King of England. She must have been terrified at what lay ahead for her. Who would blame her?

 



A gentle and quiet spirit

What would you have done? What did Anne of Bohemia the Christian teenager do? She went back to the Bible, to what it so clearly says to wives. She subjected herself to her lout of a husband. I’m sure Anne, as a child of Sarah of old who submitted to Abraham her husband, was afraid, but in her fears, she did good. She had grown up learning from God’s Word to have “respectful and pure conduct,” to adorn herself with “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” She made it her joyful obedience to God to win without a word (that is, without nagging, preaching, lecturing, goading, provoking) her unbelieving husband by her pure and respectful conduct. I’m sure it was hard and required great patience and humility for Anne.


How did the sneering nobles who did not like Anne eventually respond to her behavior? One of them described her this way, “…a godly, intelligent young girl with an inquiring mind, renowned for her love of reading and in possession of the Scriptures in three languages (in Bohemian, German, Latin, and eventually Wycliffe’s Middle English). She was kind-hearted and often exerted a good influence on her husband.”


What do you think God thought about Anne’s obedience? God declares that such holy and humble conduct “is very precious” in his sight. That’s all that matters, at the end of the day, at the end of your life. But how did Richard King of England respond to such a godly wife? It is said, he was much pleased with his wife, and in a day when royal infidelities were common place, they were faithful and loyal lovers, and “constant companions.” She was generous with the needy, and implored her husband for the leftovers from their lavish meals, to share with the poor in the streets of London, the food delivered with kind words and directly from her loving hand. Little wonder all England began calling her “Good Queen Anne.”

 

My Beloved Bohemian

Subdued by his wife’s submission, Richard began fondly calling her “My beloved Bohemian.” She came to be called the “Intercessor” for her frequent and humble appeals to her husband who was sometimes a rash and reactionary king. On her royal knees she often appealed for the lives of the condemned, including her spiritual mentor Wycliffe; she always did this with a gentle and quiet spirit, so powerful and precious. Richard would take her hand, raise her to her feet, and seat her next to him, symbolic of the high honor in which he held his godly wife and queen.


Anne developed a friendship with John Wycliffe, Bible translator at Oxford; she felt a kinship with this holy man; they both were lovers of God’s Word. When Wycliffe was being tried for the heresy of translating the Bible into Middle English, the language of the people, and just as he was about to be condemned and burned at the stake, Good Queen Anne interceded and sent her royal decree to end his trial and let him go free. Anne cherished and read her own hand-written copy of Wycliffe’s Bible, and she made it easier for Bohemian students to come and study at Oxford; who in turn took Wycliffe’s gospel sermons back to Prague to be translated and devoured by the people of Bohemia. One of these people was Jan Hus, the man who would prepare the way for Martin Luther and the Reformation of the 16th century; so indebted was Luther to Hus, that he declared himself “a Hussite!” For the wide spread of the gospel throughout Bohemia, Hus gave glory to God—and his servants Wycliffe, and godly Anne of Bohemia.


Do you see how powerful Anne became? Do you want her kind of power? The Bible is the power of God unto salvation, and God’s truth and grace are the only things that empower any of us. Nothing is too hard for God, and in his might alone we can do all things. “One man with God is always a majority,” declared John Knox. The same is true of one woman with God. Anne understood that only God’s way could turn her weakness into strength—the way of fearless submission that “in God’s sight is very precious.” And so it ought to be in ours.


What happened to Anne? There’s more to the story. But no spoilers! Find out in my forthcoming book MY BELOVED BOHEMIAN, and you’ll learn more about her and others at the homeschool conference in Calgary in May, 2024... or join me in Anne's PRAGUE!


Douglas Bond, author of more than thirty-five books, is father of six and grandfather of a growing number of grand lads and ladies. He directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, and leads church history tours in Europe, including to Anne of Bohemia’s Prague. Subscribe at bondbooks.net and watch for his forthcoming books, including MY BELOVED BOHEMIAN.



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