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Richard II of England

Roifield Brown February 14, 2014


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Richard II of England

Richard II (6 January 1367 – ca. 14 February 1400) was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed on 30 September 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, “the Black Prince” and was born while his grandfather, Edward III, was ruler. Richard was born third in line to the throne but on the death of his elder brother, Edward of Angoulême, at four years of age, he became second in succession after his father. Richard’s father died before King Edward III, making Richard first in line for the throne. With Edward III’s death the following year, Richard succeeded to the throne, aged just ten.

Because of Richard’s young age, during his first years as king, government was run by a series of councils. The political community preferred this situation tothe country being led by the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt, yet Gaunt remained highly influential. Just three year’s into the young King’s rule came the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Richard took a major role in the successful suppression of this crisis, however, in the years following, the king’s continued dependence on a few selected courtiers created discontent in the political community. In 1387 governmental control was taken over by a group of noblemen known as the Lords Appellant. By 1389 Richard had regained control and for the next eight years governed in relative harmony with his former opponents.

Isabelle of France (1389-1409), oldest daughter of King Charles VI, was not quite seven years old when she married Richard II as his second wife in 1396. Then, in 1397, he took his revenge on the appellants, many of whom were executed or exiled. The next two years are widely regarded by historians as Richard’s “tyranny”. After John of Gaunt died in 1399, the king disinherited Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, whom he had previously exiled. From his exile, Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers, claiming initially that his only goal was to reclaim his patrimony, but it soon became clear that he intended to stake a claim for the throne. Facing little resistance, Bolingbroke deposed Richard and had himself crowned as King Henry IV. Early the next year, Richard died in captivity and was probably murdered.

As a person, Richard was said to have been tall, intelligent and good-looking. Earlier historians used to believe he was insane but it is more likely that towards the end of his reign, he may have suffered from a personality disorder. He was less of a warrior than his father or his grandfather but he he sought to end the Hundred Years’ War that Edward III had started. He strongly believed in the royal prerogative, which was something that led him to restrain the power of his nobility, and to rely on a private retinue for military protection instead. He also developed a courtly atmosphere in which the king was regarded as an elevated figure, and culture and art were at the centre, which was in stark contrast to the fraternal, martial court of his grandfather. Posthumously, Richard’s reputation has to a great extent been shaped by Shakespeare, whose play Richard II presents Richard’s misrule and his deposition by Bolingbroke as being responsible for the fifteenth-century Wars of the Roses. The consensus of present day historians do not accept this interpretation, although they do not exonerate Richard from responsibility for his own deposition. Most authorities agree that, even though his policies were not unprecedented or entirely unrealistic, the way in which he carried them out was unacceptable to the political establishment, and this led to his downfall.

For further listening

Mark King on Richard II: landlord, not king?

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