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Richard II

Richard II (1367–1400), king of England (1377–99). Richard's failures have attracted more interest than the successes of greater rulers. His reign was characterized by aristocratic opposition and political ineptitude.

Richard became king in 1377 aged 9. There was no formal regency, but the government during his early years was dominated by his uncle John of Gaunt. The French war was going badly, and royal finances were in an unsatisfactory state. The imposition of the third poll tax was a major cause of the outbreak of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381; this was the occasion of Richard's first independent political action, when he faced the rebels at Smithfield, witnessed the slaying of Wat Tyler, and saved the situation by his own intervention. The king's subsequent moves to play a greater political role led to escalating crises. In 1386 the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, was impeached; Richard infuriated Parliament by declaring that he would not dismiss even a kitchen boy at its request. He provocatively appointed his favourite, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, to be duke of Ireland.

There has been much debate whether Richard had high, possibly novel, concepts of the nature of monarchy. In the summer of 1387 he asked the justices questions about the constitutional position and the right of Parliament to act as it had done in 1386, which suggests that he was very conscious of the problems he faced. The issues were settled less by legal argument than by force, for the defeat of de Vere at Radcot Bridge in the autumn of 1387 left Richard defenceless. He may even have been deposed for a brief period after Christmas 1387, until his opponents fell out over the question of who should replace him. The so-called Merciless Parliament of 1388 conducted a purge of government, using the weapons of appeal and impeachment against royal ministers and favourites, including de la Pole and de Vere. Richard was clearly deeply angered by what took place, and his desire for revenge provides one explanation for some of the later events of the reign.

The return of John of Gaunt from Spain in 1389 brought a renewed sense of purpose and direction to government, although relations between John and the king were not always easy. The work of the Merciless Parliament was undone, as far as was possible, in 1389, and Richard wisely did not revert to the excesses which had led to crisis in 1387. He was prepared to allow some control of affairs by the council; the regime was relatively financially stable, and significant efforts were made to deal with problems of lawlessness. There was barely any overt opposition to Richard between 1388 and 1397, although from 1393 discontent began to develop once again, partly as a result of hostility to the king's policy of negotiating a peace with France, and also because of resistance to his plans for re-establishing strong English rule in Ireland. In 1397 the refusal of the earls of Gloucester and Arundel to attend a council made their displeasure at royal policy all too evident, and the final crisis of the reign began.

In September 1397 Richard moved against those he regarded as his enemies in a carefully managed Parliament, at which the threatening presence of his Cheshire archers ensured that all would go his way. Archbishop Arundel was impeached and exiled. Royalist magnates brought appeals against the earls of Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick. Arundel was executed, Warwick exiled, and Gloucester almost certainly murdered. Forfeited lands were granted out to Richard's supporters, and five new dukes created. The Arundel lands in north Wales were combined with the earldom of Chester, and a powerful new principality and royal power base was created. Charters were extracted at Shrewsbury early in 1398 from representatives of the southern counties, giving the king virtually unlimited powers. The grant of the principal customs revenues for life in 1398 gave Richard's regime new financial strength. The 1397 Parliament had dealt with the senior appellants of 1388; in 1398 a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford (John of Gaunt's son, later Henry IV), and the duke of Norfolk led to the exiling of the two men, after Richard prohibited a judicial duel between them at Coventry. In March 1399 Bolingbroke's Lancastrian inheritance was confiscated. In May the king embarked on a new expedition to Ireland. This was disastrous for, in June, Bolingbroke, duke of Lancaster after his father's death, invaded England. In the king's absence, there was little resistance. On his return from Ireland, Richard was taken in north Wales, and on 30 September, a broken man, agreed to abdicate, and was deposed in Parliament. Since 1397 his regime had been narrowly based, with men such as the knights Bushy, Bagot, and Green playing a dominant part. Government was conducted by means of threats and fear, with a high-handed use of legal form. Richard certainly thought the law should be on his side. Suggestions that he had an elevated and clearly articulated theory of royal government are not convincing; arguments which see Richard as reacting to the humiliations he had suffered during the years up to 1388 are more plausible. Richard did not long survive his deposition and died at Pontefract, probably early in 1400.

Michael Prestwich

Bibliography

Saul, N. , Richard II (New Haven, 1997);
Tuck, J. A. , Richard II and the English Nobility (1973).

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"Richard II." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Richard II

Richard II

Richard II (1367-1400) was king of England from 1377 to 1399. His reign, which ended in his abdication, saw the rise of strong baronial forces aiming to control the monarchy.

Richard II, known as Richard of Bordeaux from his birthplace, was born on Jan. 6, 1367, the younger son of Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), and Joan, daughter of Edmund, Earl of Kent. After his father's death, Richard became the heir apparent, was created Prince of Wales in the later part of 1376, and on June 22, 1377, succeeded Edward III, his grandfather, as king of England. While he was underage, the control of the government had been left to a regency that came increasingly under the influence of the Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt), one of his uncles. In 1381, during the revolt led by Wat Tyler, Richard showed his leadership potential by going out to meet the rebels and pacifying them after Tyler was killed.

After his marriage on Jan. 20, 1382, to Anne, the sister of King Wenceslaus and daughter of the emperor Charles IV, Richard attempted to end the regency's control of his minority and to take the leadership in national affairs, but Parliament was not eager to give up its powers. The following year, without consulting Parliament, Richard appointed Michael de la Pole as chancellor; and in 1384, hoping to check the opposition of his uncle Lancaster, he made his other uncles dukes of York and Gloucester.

As the barons under Gloucester's leadership hoped to rule Richard, he started to create a "new" nobility, raising Pole to Earl of Suffolk and Robert de Vare to Duke of Ireland, which resulted in Gloucester's forcing the King to accept a commission of 11 nobles with powers for reform in 1386. Using the law courts, Richard was able to have the commission declared unlawful in August 1387, but the barons were determined to retain the upper hand, and in the "Merciless" Parliament, which met that winter, those who supported the King were attacked, and some were executed.

Although he was able to regain ministers of his own choosing in the spring of 1389, Richard hoped to win over the barons by a policy of conciliation, but this failed partly because of his own weakness and partly because of the death of his first wife in June 1394 and his second marriage to Isabella, daughter of Charles VI of France, in November 1396. This marriage to the traditional enemy caused a loss of popular goodwill, and Gloucester called for the resumption of the French war. Fearing that a second attempt might be made by the barons to limit his royal powers, Richard was able to get the leaders of the opposition, Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick, in his power by July 1397, and in the Parliament that met in the autumn of the following year these men were condemned to death. This Parliament, after moving from Westminster to Shrewsbury in 1398, undid the acts of the Merciless Parliament. Now Richard was in full control and started to act in an arbitrary manner, alienating both barons and lesser subjects.

In February 1399, on the death of the Duke of Lancaster, Richard refused the inheritance to Lancaster's son, the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke; 2 months later Richard went to Ireland to avenge the death of the Earl of March, who had been killed on royal service. As soon as Henry of Bolingbroke heard of the King's absence, he landed in Yorkshire and raised a force to try to replace the King. Richard returned but, failing in an effort to raise an army, went into hiding in the north and after several months surrendered to Henry on Aug. 19, 1399, in North Wales. Henry, already acting as Henry IV, forced Richard's abdication on September 29 and imprisoned him. Richard died on Feb. 14, 1400, while at Pontefract.

Further Reading

Of the many biographical studies of Richard II, the most important is Anthony Steel, Richard II (1941). See also Harold F. Hutchison, The Hollow Crown: A Life of Richard II (1961). Gervase Mathew, The Court of Richard II (1969), is a scholarly and interesting study of the court life, the social milieu, and the arts of the time; and Richard H. Jones, The Royal Policy of Richard II: Absolutism in the Later Middle Ages (1968), plays down Richard's personality and emphasizes the political imperatives of the time. For general historical background see Sir James H. Ramsay, Genesis of Lancaster, 1307-1399 (2 vols., 1913); May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959); and the excellent work of Arthur Bryant, The Atlantic Saga, vol. 2: The Age of Chivalry (1964).

Additional Sources

Bevan, Bryan, King Richard II, London: Rubicon Press, 1990.

Matthews, John, Warriors of Christendom: Charlemagne, El Cid, Barbarossa, Richard Lionheart, Poole, Dorset: Firebird Books; New York, NY: Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling Pub. Co., 1988.

Senior, Michael, The life and times of Richard II, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981. □

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Richard II

Richard II, 1367–1400, king of England (1377–99), son of Edward the Black Prince.

Early Life

After his father's death (1376) he was created prince of Wales and succeeded his grandfather, Edward III, to the throne. During his minority, his uncle John of Gaunt was the most influential single noble, but the struggle for power among several rival lords perpetuated the faction-ridden government inherited by Richard from his predecessor. In 1381, when Richard was 14, there occurred the uprising known as the Peasants' Revolt, led by Wat Tyler and John Ball. The young king acted with great courage in meeting with the insurgents, but the concessions that he made were immediately revoked, and the rebels were ruthlessly persecuted.

Conflicts with the Barons

In 1382, Richard married Anne of Bohemia, to whom he became very much devoted. In the following years the king began to assert his independence from the barons who had dominated the government, gathering about him a new court party, led by Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, and Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (see Pole, family). He had a bitter quarrel with John of Gaunt, his uncle, while on an expedition to Scotland in 1385. The following year, however, when Gaunt went to Spain, Richard found himself at the mercy of a resentful baronial party led by another of his uncles, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester. In the so-called Wonderful Parliament (1386) that group forced the king to dismiss Pole from the chancellorship and imposed on him a baronial council.

Richard did not submit for long. He obtained (1387) a statement from the royal judges declaring the proceedings of the Parliament to have infringed his prerogative and raised an army in N England. However, his supporters were defeated in battle at Radcot Bridge (1387), and the king, threatened with deposition, had to submit to the proceedings of the Merciless Parliament of 1388. His friends, Pole, de Vere, and others, were "appealed" (i.e., accused) of treason by five lords appellant—Gloucester; the earl of Arundel; Thomas de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick; Thomas Mowbray, later 1st duke of Norfolk; and the duke of Hereford (later Henry IV)—and those that did not escape the country were executed.

Revenge and Downfall

The lords appellant ruled the country until 1389, when Richard quietly reasserted his authority. Aided by Gaunt, who returned from Spain later in 1389, Richard ruled in comparative peace for the next seven years. After Anne's death, he went (1394) to Ireland to settle troubles there and in 1396 married an eight-year-old French princess, Isabella, to obtain a truce in the war with France.

In 1397–98, Richard suddenly took his revenge on the lords appellant: Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick were themselves "appealed" of treason and respectively murdered, executed, and banished; Norfolk and Hereford too were banished after a mysterious quarrel between them. The king became increasingly despotic in his methods of government, strengthening his personal army, imposing heavy taxes and fines, and possibly even planning to supersede Parliament.

On the death (1399) of John of Gaunt, he confiscated the Lancastrian estates, to which the exiled duke of Hereford was heir. While Richard was on another expedition in Ireland, Hereford landed in England and rapidly gathered support. Richard hurriedly returned from Ireland, but his cause was lost. He was forced to abdicate, and Hereford was crowned king as Henry IV in Sept., 1399. Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle and there died, very possibly murdered, in 1400.

Character and Legacy

Richard is possibly the most enigmatic of the English kings. Some historians have attributed his behavior in the last years of his reign to madness. He appears to have been a sensitive and intelligent king. Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, William Langland, and John Wyclif made his reign outstanding in the literary and ecclesiastical history of England.

Bibliography

See biography by M. Senior (1981); A. Tuck, Richard II and the English Nobility (1974). Shakespeare's Richard II is a dramatic account of the king's fall from power.

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Richard II

Richard II (1367–1400) King of England (1377–99), son of Edward the Black Prince. Richard succeeded his grandfather, Edward III, and soon faced the Peasants' Revolt (1381). Conflict with the barons marked his reign. Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt, led a council of regency until 1381. On the orders of the ‘Lords Appellant’, the ‘Merciless Parliament’ (1388) executed many of Richard's supporters. Richard reasserted control and reigned ably until he began to assume authoritarian powers. In 1397–98, he exacted his revenge on the Lords Appellant by having the Duke of Gloucester murdered and the Duke of Hereford (son of John of Gaunt) banished. In 1399, Richard confiscated Gaunt's estates. Hereford led a successful revolt and was crowned Henry IV. Richard was imprisoned and died in mysterious circumstances.

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