- There is also a play entitled Richard II by Shakespeare.
Richard II (January 6?, 1367 – February 14, 1400) was the son of Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales, and Joan "The Fair Maid of Kent". He was born at Bordeaux and became his father's heir when his elder brother died in infancy.
Out of the fact that Richard was born at Epiphany and that three kings were present at his birth came a legend that, despite being a second son, he was destined for great things. He became heir to the throne of England, and was created Prince of Wales, when the Black Prince died suddenly in 1376. The following year his grandfather King Edward III of England also died, leaving Richard as king at the age of only ten.
John of Gaunt, his uncle, ruled on Richard's behalf for the first years of his reign and it was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 that brought Richard into the limelight. It fell to him personally to negotiate with Wat Tyler and the other rebel leaders and their massed armed ranks of several thousand, which must undoubtedly have required some personal courage, aged only fourteen as he was. His disingenuous tactics certainly had the desired effect of dispersing the rebel forces from the streets of London back to the shires whence they came and bringing the disorder to an end. The young king seemed to be showing great promise. As he matured into adulthood, however, he proved a weak and deluded politician, and at the same time a rather tyrannical king.
In 1382 he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Elizabeth of Pomerania, but they had no children, and she died in 1394. Richard is said to have been devoted to her. In 1396 he married Princess Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau de Bavière, but their marriage was likewise without issue.
First Crisis of 1387-88
As Richard began to take over the business of government himself, he sidelined many of the established nobles, such as Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick , Richard Fitzalan, 11th Earl of Arundel and Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester. Instead he turned to his inner circle of favourites for his council, men such as the his beloved Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford and Michael de la Pole whom Richard created Earl of Suffolk and made chancellor of England.
In 1387, the English Parliament demanded that Richard remove his unpopular councillors. When he refused, he was told that since he was still a minor, a Council of Government would rule in his place. Richard had the Earl of Arundel, leader of the Lords Appellant, arrested, but Richard's small army led by de Vere was overpowered by the forces of the Lords Appellant outside Oxford, and Richard was apprehended in the Tower of London. Richard’s unpopular councillors were thus disposed of (eight were executed for treason in 1388 and others exiled), and he was forced to accept new ones. Richard was stripped of almost all his authority.
A Fragile Peace
In the years which followed, Richard appeared to have heeded the lessons of 1387 and became more cautious in his dealings with the barons. In 1390, a tournament was held to celebrate Richard’s coming of age and the apparent new-found harmony since Richard's uncle John of Gaunt's return from Spain to lead the Lords Appellant. Richard’s team of knights all wore the identical symbol – a white hart – which Richard had chosen for himself. Richard himself favoured genteel interests like fine food, insisting spoons be used at his court and inventing the handkerchief. He beautified Westminster Hall with a new ceiling. However, many began to see him as another Edward II figure, somehow unworthy of his Plantagenet inheritance, with his delicate 'unkingly' tastes. Richard also lacked the thirst for battle of his grandfather: his Scottish campaign in 1385 was not decisive, and he signed a 28-year truce with France in 1396 which was hugely unpopular at home.
Richard, on the other hand, cultivated an idea of himself as above all others, insisting on being addressed as ‘majesty’ and ‘highness’ and sitting alone for hours wearing his crown; those addressing him were required to direct their eyes downwards in deference. After the death of his queen, Anne, in 1394 he became still more rigid. He commissioned the first royal portrait, a very solemn affair in which he looks downwards unsmiling. In The Wilton Diptych he was portrayed alongside the Anglo-Saxon saint kings St Edmund and Edward the Confessor, which reflected not only his attitude to his own kingship but his genuine religious devotion.
Second Crisis of 1397-99 and Richard's Deposition
In 1397 Richard decided to rid himself of the Lords Appellant who were confining his power, on the pretext of an aristocratic plot. Richard had the Earl of Arundel executed and Warwick exiled, while Gloucester died in captivity. Finally able to exert his autocratic authority over the kingdom, he purged all those he saw as not totally committed to him, fulfilling his own idea of becoming God’s chosen prince.
Richard, however, was still childless. The heir to the throne was Roger Mortimer the Earl of March and grand-son of Lionel of Antwerp, and after his death in 1398, his seven-year-old son Edmund Mortimer. However Richard was more concerned with Gaunt's son and heir Henry Bolingbroke whom he banished for ten years on a spurious pretext in 1399. After Gaunt's death, Richard also confiscated Bolingbroke's lands, distibuting them among his own followers.
At that point Richard left for a campaign in Ireland, allowing Bolingbroke to land in Yorkshire with an army provided by the King of France to reclaim his father's lands. Richard’s autocratic ways were worrying too many and deeply unpopular, and Bolingbroke soon had control of most of southern and eastern England. Bolingbroke had simply wanted his inheritance and a reimposition of the power of the Lords Appellant, accepting Richard's right to be king and March's right to succeed him. But by the time Richard finally arrived back to the mainland in Wales a tide of discontent had swept England. In the King's absence, Bolingbroke, who was generally well-liked, was being urged to take the crown himself.
Richard was captured at Conway Castle in Wales and taken to London where crowds pelted him with rubbish. He was held in the Tower of London and forced, eventually, to abdicate. He was brought, on his request, before parliament where he officially renounced his crown and thirty-three official charges (including ‘vengeful sentences given against lords’) were made against him. He was not permitted to answer the charges. Parliament then accepted Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) as the new king.
Richard was placed in Pontefract Castle, and probably murdered (or starved to death) there in 1400. He was dead by February 17.
Richard's body was displayed in the old St Paul's Cathedral for all to see that he was really dead, and he was then buried in Kings Langley Church. His coffin was badly designed, however, and it proved easy for disrespectful visitors to place their hands in to several openings in the coffin and interfere with what was inside. It is said that a schoolboy walked off with Richard's jawbone. Rumours that Richard was still alive persisted well into the reign of Henry V, who decided to have his body moved to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey with much ceremony in 1413.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:35:04