‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 4 – Richard II – 18/12/2014


Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s
Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s

Richard II – golden boy who ended the peasant’s revolt
Most vicious Plantagenet of them all, dynasty crashing down around him
1377 decade of turmoil under Edward III until Richard II succeeds “Country’s saviour”
1381 Four years later peasants invade London = king takes refuge in the Tower, and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV)
Rebels not after the king himself
Ruled by councillors – peasants see them as greedy and corrupt and intend to kill them
Councillors are the most senior in the land – most fled or in the Tower with the king
Most desperate councillors hatch a plan and send the king through the streets to create a distraction so that they can escape
Rebels let the king pass unharmed
John of Gaunt is an “evil councillor”, father of Henry Bolingbroke
King gone puts councillors in more danger – mob storms the Tower gates
Treasurer Sir Robert Hales and Archbishop Sudbury dragged into the street while Henry hides in a cupboard in the Tower – remains unfound
Sudbury and Hales beheaded in the street and heads stuck on London Bridge
Precipice of full-blown anarchy – Richard II could lose his crown
King tries once more = rides out to confront the rebel leaders, been told since he was little that he alone can save England, meets them at Smithfield
15th June 1381, Wat Tyler meets the king and makes demands
No more bishops or nobles, common land ownership – completely crazy
Conflicting accounts – scuffle between Tyler and one of Richard’s men, weapons drawn and Tyler hit

Image of the death of Wat Tyler, including Richard II (crowned) and Tyler to the left
Image of the death of Wat Tyler, including Richard II (crowned) and Tyler to the left

Tyler’s army ready to fire, future hangs in the balance
King’s men turn to flee but king doesn’t = Richard II charges towards the rebel ranks and cries out he is their leader, captain and king, commands them to lower their weapons
He is obeyed, astonishing act of bravery?
He has only known adulation, goes to Richard’s head
When rebels kneel to him it confirms everything he ever believed about him – god is on his side, he is right and invincible
Rebels go home happily when instructed to
Waltham Abbey Richard II meets the rebels again, but king has a new deal in mind
Chronicle of Thomas Walsingham = reaction not what peasants expect, “permanent bondage” – worse off than before, intends to torment rebels to stop others rebelling
Hundreds strung up over the following months
Not ever another rebellion against him – not loved about feared
1385 senior nobles becoming nervous, no longer a child and married to Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Emperor
Richard’s reign dominated by struggle to do things his way
Richard and Anne were a good match – Robert de Vere was the king’s favourite and he surrounds himself with young nobles
Council still see him as a child and treat him as such
Archbishop of Canterbury chastises Richard for keeping bad company, so he attacks him, Gloucester intervenes
Split between king and his old councillors
Bolingbroke still notably absent – fighting and learning the business of war
Stands to inherit the most powerful duchy in Richard’s kingdom – more influence than any other
King taking control by replacing them on the council with new friends

John of Gaunt, commissioned by Sir Edward Hoby, often ascribed to Luca Cornelli
John of Gaunt, commissioned by Sir Edward Hoby, often ascribed to Luca Cornelli

1386 crisis in war with France – French poised to invade England, king’s uncle Gloucester charged to tell Richard to get rid of his friends or his old councillors will
Richard accuses his council and parliament of treason and threatens to seek French help
Gloucester asks Richard to think about Edward II – killed in secret
Gloucester called Richard’s bluff, old guard retake control of the council and the country
Richard cunning, devious and ruthless
1387 Richard and de Vere organise a secret meeting with judges = he sees the actions of the old guard as treason but not what law says
Wants to change the law – any opposition to the king is treason
“Tyrant’s charter” – intimidation
Old guard can let treason law stand which gives him complete control over them – Gloucester and his allies raise an army
De Vere raises an army to defend the king
Situation escalates – all leading nobles have to choose a side so Bolingbroke becomes a leading player, Bolingbroke hates de Vere
Bolingbroke waiting for de Vere at Radcot Bridge in Oxfordshire, de Vere flees and never returns
Bolingbroke officially gone against the king
King forced to offer peace talks at the Tower of London – Gloucester, Mowbray and Bolingbroke, amongst other nobles
Richard II negotiating for French peace in secret
Rebels go to the Tower and lock the door behind them – decide what to do with the king
Richard II sent to parliament to await his fate – February 1388
People expect the lords to force Richard to abdicate, but they don’t – lords bow low and swear allegiance to the king, Richard survives
They were going to depose Richard, but there was a fear of civil war
Richard II is the least worst option
Richard II sees this as proof that god is on his side – Richard finally 21 and can take full control
1390 Bolingbroke has left the country on crusade and Richard taken full control of England
Richard II calms down and peace breaks out, including truce with France, and in Henry’s absence he outwardly makes up with Gloucester and the others
Richard raising a private army in the north, private mercenaries with no loyalty other than to Richard – chooses the white hart as their badge

Wilton Diptych c.1395 now in the National Gallery
Wilton Diptych c.1395 now in the National Gallery

Wilton diptych = Richard presented as still 14 at time of peasant’s revolt and surrounded by saints, pictured also with Mary and Jesus, and 11 angels wearing the white hart
Truly believes he can do whatever he wants
Bolingbroke returns three years after he left – king changed a lot
King’s private soldiers and his badges are everywhere = very threatening
Richard welcomes him back and the Tower seems forgotten – makes Bolingbroke a councillor
Richard II ruled peacefully in his own right for 5 years, but all about to change
Anne of Bohemia dies suddenly at age 28, Richard inconsolable and unhinged – Anne was a stabilising influence on Richard so now nothing holding him back
Arendale turns up late to her funeral – he had been in the Tower
Peace-loving image ripped away
Key portrait taken at the time when his wife died – high throne, staring around (if he looked at you, you had to throw yourself to the ground), always been a tyrant?
Backed by a private army he reinstates the treason laws
Monster unleashed
1397, 10 years after the Tower Richard decides to crush the five from the Tower
“This is the year Richard’s tyranny began”
Earl of Warwick went back to the Tower for dinner with the king, but Warwick arrested after the meal
Richard rides through the night to arrest Gloucester on the spot
Gloucester given to the custody of Thomas Mowbray, another of the five, to prove his loyalty
Arendale arrested and imprisoned as well and charged with treason
Gloucester, Warwick and Arendale put on trial – Richard II sits on a special high throne during the trial, surrounded by his private army
Mowbray reports that Gloucester cannot stand trial as he died
Made a full confession before death, admitting to all of the charges = Gloucester had been tortured to death
Bolingbroke has to choose a side – chooses life and condemns Arendale who is sentenced to death
Warwick banished for life
Of the five who stood against the king, only Mowbray and Bolingbroke remain
3 months later fear and paranoia stalk the land – Bolingbroke called to a secret meeting, Mowbray tells him the king is plotting against them, but could be a trap
Bolingbroke goes straight to the king and denounces Mowbray – no witnesses
Case can’t be proven so exiles them both, Mowbray for life, Bolingbroke for 10 years
Revenge complete – believes no one can challenge him
Bolingbroke keeps a close eye = Richard II should have killed him
Richard forces nobles to put their seals on black parchment so he can destroy them all in one fell swoop by putting what he wants under their seals
Bolingbroke’s father, the Duke of Lancaster, dies a year later

Henry IV in the National Portrait Gallery from the 16th century
Henry IV in the National Portrait Gallery from the 16th century

Henry Bolingbroke becomes the most powerful noble in England – Richard takes his lands
Undermines the basis of law and order in England – property and law
Bolingbroke has the excuse to take the king down
1399 Richard II an absolute tyrant – killed or banished everyone who stood against him, and stole his cousin’s inheritance
Richard II is in Wales heading for Ireland to extend tyranny
Massive miscalculation = strongest kings have consent
When he leaves the country Bolingbroke takes his moment and aims to change the regime – enemy with nothing to lose, nobles join Bolingbroke
White hart army no match for armies of English barons
When Richard returns from Ireland he is friendless and exposed – defeated
Surrenders to Henry who locks him in the Tower of London
Bolingbroke doesn’t back away this time – doesn’t repeat the same mistake and takes the throne from Richard II
Richard threatens, but really it’s quite funny – only knows fear and doesn’t know anything else
Technically has a temper tantrum
Parliament next day declares Henry Bolingbroke of Lancaster King Henry IV, and declares it in English, the first to do so since the Norman Conquest
One problem = Richard II still alive so still a dangerous threat
January 6th 1400 last plot to spring Richard was foiled
By 17th February Richard is dead, but safe to assume that Henry is behind it
Richard II left in a room with no food or water and dies of thirst – plenty of time to think about his mistakes
Dies without a mark on him – no one technically has blood on their hands
Technically the end of the Plantagenet line, passed down through eight generations from Henry II
Anyone with a drop of blood can technically claim the throne and means that England will descend into half a century of civil war – the Wars of the Roses

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