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Richard the 2nd.

Updated on August 7, 2012

Richard the 2nd

Richard was born in January 1367, the son of Edward, the Black Prince and Joan the 'Fair Maid of Kent.' His grandfather was King Edward 3rd.

The Black Prince did not get his turn on the throne as he contracted dysentery in Spain in 1370, and suffered years of illness from it, finally dying in 1376. When King Edward 3rd died in 1377, Richard, at ten years of age was proclaimed king.

When Richard came to the throne the country was riven by unrest, grievances and general fury at the ruling classes who had introduced a new poll tax in the name of the king. In 1381 the peasants of Essex and Kent refused to pay the new poll tax, levied to pay for the war with France, and they went on the rampage, killing and burning property on their march to London to protest to the king. Their leader, Wat Tyler was killed when he threatened the king in a face to face meeting, and the revolt was squashed. The nobles then scoured the country seeking out ringleaders and organisers and slaughtered them all.

Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt had been in Scotland during the peasants revolt and he now hurried back to London. His home, the Savoy Palace had been burned to the ground by the rebels, who blamed him for most of their grievances as he was advisor to the king. He set out to take as much power and control away from the king as he could.

King Richard 2nd


Young Richard the 2nd

Richard married on January 20th 1382, his bride was Anne of Bohemia. John of Gaunt met her from her ship at Dover and escorted her to Leeds Castle in Kent. She was crowned queen two days after the wedding. Richard was starting to display the nasty side of his character, becoming arrogant, insolent and disdainful of the advice of his elders, like teenagers everywhere. He preferred to listen to young people of his own age, and to certain courtiers who worked on his suspicions and hostility towards his uncles, stirring him up against them, in particular John of Gaunt. It was rumoured that John of Gaunt wanted the throne for himself.

In 1384 John of Gaunt had to defend himself against the accusation that he was trying to take the crown, and that he intended to murder the king. Gaunt's defence was that he was being framed by the courtiers. Tension and bad feeling was everywhere in the palace. One solution was for Gaunt to take up the crown of Castile, as he had married the infanta Constance of Castile in 1371, and the crown was now vacant. He departed for Spain in 1386.

With Gaunt gone, the unofficial leadership of the growing dissent against the king and his courtiers passed to Buckingham who had by now been created Duke of Gloucester, and Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel.

King Richard's friend Michael de la Pole had been the organiser of Richard's marriage negotiations, as he had the king's confidence, and he gradually became more involved in affairs of the court and the government. De la Pole came from a merchant family therefore he was a commoner, and when Richard made him Chancellor in 1383, and bestowed upon him the title of Earl of Suffolk, this infuriated the established nobility. Another of Richard's close circle, Robert de Vere. was also disagreeable to the establishment. This displeasure was exacerbated by the earl's elevation to the new title of Duke of Ireland in 1386.

The war in France was not going well. Buckingham urged a large-scale campaign to protect English possessions. Instead, the Bishop of Norwich was dispatched to negotiate with the French. He failed miserably and the French armies started to threaten the English coastline.

Wat Tyler's death


Richard the Rebel

At Parliament, Michael de la Pole in his capacity as chancellor, requested taxation of an unprecedented level for the defence of the realm. Parliament responded by refusing to back him up; they wanted him removed from office. Parliament was working with the support of Gloucester and Arundel. King Richard famously responded that he would not dismiss as much as a kitchen scullion at parliament's request. Only when threatened with deposition was Richard forced to give in, and let de la Pole go.A commission was set up to review and control royal finances for a year.

Richard was deeply offended by this affront to his royal prerogative, and from February to November 1387 set about on a journey around the country to muster support for his cause. By installing de Vere in Chester as a Justice, he began the work of creating a loyal military power base . He also assured a legal ruling from his Chief Justice, Robert Tresilian, that parliament's conduct had been both unlawful and treasonable.

On his return to London, the king was confronted by Gloucester, Arundel and the Earl of Warwick who brought an appeal of treason against de la Pole, de Vere, Tresilian, and two other loyalists: the mayor of London, Brembre, and the Archbishop of York. Richard gained time by stalling, as he was expecting de Vere from Cheshire with military reinforcements. The three earls then joined forces with Henry, Earl of Derby, John of Gaunt's son and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham. On 20th December 1387, they intercepted de Vere at Radcot Bridge where he was routed and forced to flee the country.

Richard now had no choice but to comply with their demands; Brembre and Tresilian were condemned and executed, while de Vere and de la Pole had both fled the country. They were sentenced to death in absentia. The Lords had now succeeded completely in breaking up the circle of favourites around the king.

In 1388 Richard became 21 years old and he was able to rule on his own. He never forgave Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick for their heavy handed opposition to him, though, and he bided his time to take revenge on them. In 1397 he accused them all of treason, swearing that they plotted against his life. Arundel was put on trial and castigated the king. He was executed. Warwick was banished from the country and Gloucester, who had been imprisoned in France, died there.

A threat to Richard's authority still existed in the form of John of Gaunt and his son Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. Discord broke out in the inner circles of court in December 1397, when Bolingbroke and Thomas de Mowbray had a violent row. A parliamentary committee decided that the two should settle the matter by battle, but Richard decided to exile the two dukes instead; Derby for life and Bolingbroke for ten years.


On 3rd February 1399, John of Gaunt died. Rather than allowing Bolingbroke to succeed him, Richard extended his exile to life, and had him disinherited. Henry was living in Paris, so King Richard felt safe and left the country in May for an expedition in Ireland.

With a small group of followers, Bolingbroke landed in Yorkshire at the end of June 1399 and men from all over the country soon rallied around him. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who was opposed to Richard believed Henry when he insisted that his only object was to regain his own inheritance. Percy took him at his word and joined up with him. The king had taken most of his household knights and the loyal members of his nobility with him to Ireland, so Henry experienced little resistance as he moved south. The Duke of York, who was acting as keeper of the realm had little choice but to side with Bolingbroke. Meanwhile Richard the 2 nd hurried from Ireland and landed in Wales on 24th July. He made his way to Conwy where he met with the Earl of Northumberland for negotiations. A week later Richard the 2nd surrendered to Henry's superior forces at Flint Castle on 19th August, promising to abdicate if his life was spared. Both men then returned to London; the indignant king riding all the way behind Henry. On arrival, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Richard was kept in the Tower until he was taken to Pontefract Castle shortly before the end of the year. Although King Henry might have let him live, his attitude changed when a plot was uncovered to murder Henry. The earls of Huntingdon, Kent, Somerset and Rutland, and Thomas Despenser, who had all been demoted from the ranks they had been given by King Richard were planning to murder Henry and restore Richard to the throne. Although the plot was averted, it highlighted the danger of allowing Richard to live. He is thought to have starved to death in captivity on or around 14th February 1400, although there is some question over the date and manner of his death. The body was taken south from Pontefract, and displayed in St. Paul's Cathedral before burial at King's Langley in Buckinghamshire.


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    • scarytaff profile imageAUTHOR

      Derek James 

      8 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks, hello,hello. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      A brilliantly written piece of English history and I have learned a lot from it. Thank you.


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