Gateway to the Classics: Richard II by Jacob Abbott
Richard II by  Jacob Abbott

The Little Queen

King Richard's second wife was called the little queen, because she was so young and small when she was married. She was only about nine years old at that time. The story of this case will show a little how the marriages of kings and princesses in those days were managed.

It was not long after the death of good Queen Anne before some of Richard's courtiers and counselors began to advise him to be married again. He replied, as men always do in such cases, that he did not know where to find a wife. The choice was indeed not very large, being restricted by etiquette to the royal families of England and of the neighboring countries. Several princesses were proposed one after another, but Richard did not seem to like any of them. Among other ladies, one of his cousins was proposed to him, a daughter of the Duke of Gloucester. But Richard said no; she was too nearly related to him.

At last he took it into his head that he should like to marry little Isabella, the Princess of France, then about nine years old. The idea of his being married to Isabella was calculated, to surprise people for two reasons: first, because Isabella was so small, and, secondly, because the King of France, her father, was Richard's greatest and most implacable enemy. France and England had been on bad terms with each other not only during the whole of Richard's reign, but through a great number of reigns preceding; and now, just before the period when this marriage was proposed, the two nations had been engaged in a long and sanguinary war. But Richard said that he was going to make peace, and that this marriage was to be the means of confirming it.

"But she is altogether too young for your majesty," said Richard's counselors. "She is a mere child."

"True," said the king; "but that is an objection which will grow less and less every year. Besides, I am in no haste. I am young enough myself to wait till she grows up, and, in the mean time, I can have her trained and educated to suit me exactly."

So, after a great deal of debate among the king's counselors and in Parliament, it was finally decided to send a grand embassage to Paris to propose to the King of France that he should give his little daughter Isabella in marriage to Richard, King of England.

This embassage consisted of an archbishop, two earls, and twenty knights, attended each by two squires, making forty squires in all, and five hundred horsemen. The party proceeded from London to Dover, then crossed to Calais, which was at this time an English possession, and thence proceeded to Paris.

When they arrived at Paris they entered the city with great pomp and parade, being received with great honor by the French king, and they were lodged sumptuously in quarters provided for them.

The embassadors were also very honorably received at court. The king invited them to dine with him, and entertained them handsomely, but many objections were made to the proposed marriage.

"How can we," said the French counselors, "give a Princess of France in marriage to our worst and bitterest enemy?"

To this the embassadors replied that the marriage would establish and confirm a permanent peace between the two countries.

Then there was another objection. Isabella was already engaged. She had been betrothed some time before to the son of a duke of one of the neighboring countries. But the embassadors said that they thought this could be arranged.

While these negotiations were going on, the embassadors asked permission to see the princess. This at first the king and queen, Isabella's father and mother, declined. They said that she was only eight or nine years old, and that such a child would not know at all how to conduct at such an interview.

However, the interview was granted at last. The embassadors were conducted to an apartment in the palace of the Louvre, where the princess and her parents were ready to receive them. On coming into the presence of the child, the chief embassador advanced to her, and, kneeling down before her, he said,

"Madam, if it please God, you shall be our lady and queen."

The princess looked at him attentively while he said this. She was a very beautiful child, with a gentle and thoughtful expression of countenance, and large dark eyes, full of meaning.

She replied to the embassador of her own accord in a clear, childish voice,

"Sir, if it please God and my lord and father that I be Queen of England, I should be well pleased, for I have been told that there I shall be a great lady."

Isabella then took the kneeling embassador by the hand and lifted him up. She then led him to her mother.

The embassadors were extremely pleased with the appearance and behavior of the princess, and were more than ever desirous of succeeding in their mission. But, after some farther negotiations, they received for their answer that the French court were disposed to entertain favorably the proposal which Richard made, but that nothing could be determined upon the subject at that time.

"We must wait," said the king, "until we can see what arrangement can be made in regard to the princess's present engagement, and then, if King Richard will send to us again, next spring we will give a final answer."

So slow are the movements and operations in such a case as this among the great, that the embassadors were occupied three weeks in Paris in advancing the business to this point. They were, however, well satisfied with what they had done, and at length took their leave, and returned to London in high spirits with their success, and reported the result to King Richard. He himself was well satisfied too.

The negotiations went on prosperously during the winter, and in the spring another embassage was sent, larger than the preceding. The attendants of this embassage were several thousand in number, and they occupied a whole street in Paris when they arrived there. By this embassage the arrangement of the marriage was finally concluded. The ceremony was in fact performed, for Isabella was actually married to Richard, by proxy as it is called, a customary mode of conducting marriages between a princess and a king. One of the embassadors, a grand officer of state, personated King Richard on this occasion, and the marriage was celebrated with the greatest possible pomp and splendor.

Besides the marriage contracts, there were various other treaties and covenants to be drawn up, and signed and sealed. All this business required so much time, that this embassage, like the other, remained three weeks in Paris, and then they returned home to London, and reported to Richard what they had done.

Still the affair was not yet fully settled. A great many of the nobles and the people of England very strenuously opposed the match, for they wished the war with France to be continued. This was particularly the case with Richard's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. He had greatly distinguished himself in the war thus far, and he wished it to be continued; so he did all he could to oppose the consummation of the marriage, and the negotiations and delays were long protracted. Richard, however, persevered, and at length the obstacles were so far removed, that in the fall of 1396 he began to organize a grand expedition to go with him to the frontiers of France to receive his bride.

Immense preparations were made on both sides for the ceremonial of this visit. The meeting was to take place on the frontier, since neither sovereign dared to trust himself within the dominions of the other, for fear of treachery. For the same reason, each one deemed it necessary to take with him a very large armed force. Great stores of provisions for the expedition were accordingly prepared, and sent on beforehand; portions being sent down the Thames from London, and the rest being purchased in Flanders and other countries on the Continent, and forwarded to Calais by water. The King of France also, for the use of his party, sent stores from Paris to all the towns in the neighborhood of the frontier.

Among the ladies of the court on both sides there was universal emulation and excitement in respect to plans and preparations which they had to make for the wedding. Great numbers of them were to accompany the expedition, and nothing was talked of but the dresses and decorations which they should wear, and the parts that they should respectively perform in the grand parade. Hundreds of armorers, and smiths, and other artisans were employed in repairing and embellishing the armor of the knights and barons, and in designing and executing new banners, and new caparisons for the horses, richer and more splendid than were ever known before.

There was a great deal of heartburning and ill-will in respect to the Duke of Lancaster's new wife, with whom the other ladies of the court had declared they would not associate on any terms. The king was determined that she should go on the expedition, and the other ladies consequently found themselves obliged either to submit to her presence, or forego the grandest display which they would ever have the opportunity to witness as long as they should live. They concluded to submit, though they did it with great reluctance and with a very ill grace.

At length every thing was ready, and the expedition, leaving London, journeyed to Dover, and then crossed the Straits to Calais. A long time was then consumed in negotiations in respect to the peace; for, although Richard himself was willing to make peace on almost any terms, so that he might obtain his little bride, his uncles and the other leading nobles made great difficulties, and it was a long time before the treaties could be arranged. At length, however, every thing was settled, and the preparations were made for delivering to Richard his bride.

Two magnificent pavilions were erected near the frontier, one on the French and the other on the English side. These pavilions were for the use of the two monarchs respectively, and of their lords and nobles. Then, in the centre, between these, and, of course, exactly upon the frontier, a third and more open pavilion was set up. In this central pavilion the two kings were to have their first meeting. For either of the kings to have entered first into the dominions of the other would have been, in some sense, an acknowledgment of inferiority on his part. So it was contrived that neither should first visit the other, but that they should advance together, each from his own pavilion, and meet in the central one, after which they could visit each other as it might be convenient. The first interview therefore took place in the centre pavilion. It was necessary, however, to take some strong precautions against treachery. Accordingly, before the meeting, an oath was administered to both monarchs, by which each one solemnly asseverated that he was acting in good faith in this transaction, and that he had no secret reservation or treachery in his heart, and pledged his sacred honor that the other should suffer no violence, damage, molestation, arrest, constraint, or any other inconvenience whatever during the interview.

As an additional precaution, a strong force, consisting of four hundred knights on each side, all fully armed, were drawn up on opposite sides of the central pavilion, the English troops on the English side, and the French on the French side. These troops were arranged in such a manner that the King of England should pass between the ranks of the English knights in going to the pavilion, and the French king between the French knights.

Things being thus arranged, at the appointed hour the two kings set out together from their own pavilions, and walked, accompanied each by a number of dukes and nobles of high rank, to the central pavilion. Here the kings, both being uncovered, approached each other. They saluted each other in a very friendly manner, and held a brief conversation together. Some of the accounts say that the French king, then taking the English king by the hand, led him to the French tent, the French dukes who had accompanied him following with the English dukes who had accompanied Richard, and that there the whole party partook of refreshment.

However this may be, the first interview was one mainly of ceremony. Afterward there were other interviews in the different pavilions. These alternating visits were continued for several days, until at length the time was appointed for a final meeting, at which the little queen was to be delivered into her husband's hands.

This final grand ceremony took place in the French pavilion. The order of proceeding was as follows. First there was a grand entertainment. The table was splendidly laid out, and there was a sideboard loaded with costly plate. At the table the kings were waited upon by dukes. During the dinner, Richard talked with the King of France about his wife, and about the peace which was now so happily confirmed and established between the two countries.

After dinner the cloth was removed and the tables were taken away. When the pavilion was cleared a door was opened, and a party of ladies of the French court, headed by the queen, came in, conducting the little princess. As soon as she had entered, the King of France took her by the hand and led her to Richard. Richard received her with a warm welcome, and, lifting her up in his arms, kissed her. He told the King of France that he was fully sensible of the value of such a gift, and that he received it as a pledge of perpetual amity and peace between the two countries. He also, as had been previously agreed upon, solemnly renounced all claim to the throne of France on account of Isabella or her descendants, forever.

He then immediately committed the princess to the hands of the Duchess of Lancaster and the other ladies, and they at once conveyed her to the door of the tent. Here there was a sort of palanquin, magnificently made and adorned, waiting to receive her. The princess was put into this palanquin, and immediately set out for Calais. Richard and the immense train of knights and nobles followed, and thus, at a very rapid pace, the whole party returned to Calais.

A few days after this the marriage ceremony was performed anew between Richard and Isabella, Richard himself being personally present this time. Great was the parade and great the rejoicing on this occasion. After the marriage, the little queen was again put under the charge of the Duchess of Lancaster and the other English ladies who had been appointed to receive her.

In the mean time, all London was becoming every day more and more excited in expectation of the arrival of the bridal party there. Great preparations were made for receiving them. At length, about a fortnight after taking leave of her father, Isabella arrived in London. She spent the first night at the Tower, and on the following day passed through London to Westminster in a grand procession. An immense concourse of people assembled on the occasion. Indeed, such was the eagerness of the people to see the queen on her arrival in London, that there were nine persons crushed to death by the crowd on London Bridge when she was passing over it.

The queen took up her residence at Windsor Castle, where she was under the charge of the Duchess of Lancaster and other ladies, who were to superintend her education. King Richard used to come and visit her very often, and on such occasions she was excused from her studies, and so she was always glad to see him; besides, he used to talk with her and play with her in a very friendly and affectionate manner. He was now about thirty years old, and she was ten. He, however, liked her very much, for she was very beautiful, and very amiable and affectionate in her manners. She liked to have Richard come and see her too, for his visits not only released her for the time from her studies, but he was very gentle and kind to her, and he used to play to her on musical instruments, and sing to her, and amuse her in various other ways. She admired, moreover, the splendor of his dress, for he always came in very magnificent apparel.

In a word, Richard and his little queen, notwithstanding the disparity of their years, were both very well pleased with the match which they had made. Richard was proud of the youth and beauty of his wife, and Isabella was proud of the greatness, power, and glory of her husband.

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