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Richard II
RICHARD II (1367-1400), king of England, younger son of Edward the Black Prince by Joan "the Fair Maid of Kent," was born at Bordeaux on the 6th of January 1367. He was brought to England in 1371, and after his father’s death was, on the petition of the Commons in parliament, created prince of Wales on the 20th of November 1376. When Edward III. died, on the 21st of June 1377, Richard became king. Popular opinion had credited John of Gaunt with designs on the throne. This was not justified; nevertheless, the rivalry of the boy-king’s uncles added another to the troubles due to the war, the Black Death and the prospect of a long minority. At first the government was conducted by a council appointed by parliament. The council was honest, but the difficulties of the situation were too great. The ill-considered poll-tax of 1381 was the occasion, though not the real cause, of the Peasants’ Revolt in that year. The ministers were quite unequal to the crisis, and when Wat Tyler and his followers got possession of London, it was Richard who showed a precocious tact and confidence in handling it. It was the boy-king who met and temporized with the rebels on the 13th of June at Mile End, and again next day at Smithfield; and he who, with courageous presence of mind, saved the situation when Tyler was killed, by calling on them to take him for their leader. From this time Richard began to assert himself. His chief ministers, appointed by parliament in 1382, were the earl of Arundel and Michael de la Pole. Arundel Richard disliked, and dismissed next year, when he began his personal government. Pole, whom he retained as chancellor and made earl of Suffolk, was a well-chosen adviser. But others, and especially his youthful favourite Robert de Vere, promoted by unheard-of honour to be marquess of Dublin and duke of Ireland, were less worthy. Further, Richard made his own position difficult by lavish extravagance and unseemly outbursts of temper. He chafed under the restraint of his relatives, and therefore encouraged John of Gaunt in his Spanish enterprise. This gave the less scrupulous Thomas of Gloucester his opportunity. Gloucester, supported by Arundel, attacked his nephew’s ministers in the parliament of 1386, and by open hints at deposition forced Richard to submit to a council of control. When Richard, with the aid of his friends and by the advice of subservient judges, planned a reversal of the parliament, Gloucester at the head of the so-called lords appellant, anticipated him, Richard had been premature and ill-advised. Gloucester had the advantage of posing as the head of the constitutional party. The king’s friends were driven into exile or executed, and he himself forced to submit to the loss of all real power (May 1388). Richard changed his methods, and when the lords appellant had lost credit, asserted himself constitutionally by dismissing Gloucester’s supporters from office, and appointing in their place well-approved men like William of Wykeham. In the next parliament of 1390 the king showed himself ready to meet and conciliate his subjects. The simultaneous return of John of Gaunt from Spain put a check on Gloucester’s ambition. For seven years Richard ruled constitutionally and on the whole well. The opposition was quiescent except for two outbreaks by Arundel: the first was a violent attack on John of Gaunt, which rather strengthened Richard’s position; the second was a wanton insult to the king at the funeral of his queen.

In January 1383 Richard had married Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394), daughter of the emperor Charles IV. The marriage, though childless, was happy; had Anne lived or borne a son the course of events might have been different. Her death on the 7th of June 1394 was a great shock to Richard, and incidentally had important consequences. Richard sought distraction by an expedition to Ireland, the first visit of an English king for more than two centuries. In his policy there he showed a wise statesmanship. At the same time he was negotiating for a permanent peace with France, which was finally arranged in October 1396 to include his own marriage with Isabella, daughter of Charles VI., a child of seven. Gloucester criticized the peace openly, and there was some show of opposition in the parliament of February 1397. But there was nothing to foreshadow the sudden stroke by which in July Richard arrested Gloucester and his chief supporters, the earls of Arundel and Warwick. The others of the five lords appellant, Henry of Bolingbroke afterwards King Henry IV., and the earl of Nottingham, now supported the king. Richard’s action was apparently in deliberate revenge for the events of 1387-88. Gloucester, after a forced confession, died in prison at Calais, smothered by his nephew’s orders. Arundel in a packed parliament was condemned and executed; his brother Thomas archbishop of Canterbury was exiled. The king’s friends, including Nottingham and Bolingbroke, made dukes of Norfolk and Hereford, were all promoted in title and estate. Richard himself was rewarded for ten years’ patience by the possession of absolute power. He might perhaps have established it if he could have exercised it with moderation. But he declared that the laws of England were in his mouth, and supported his court in wanton luxury by arbitrary methods of taxation. By the exile of Norfolk and Hereford in September 1398 he seemed to have removed the last persons he need fear. He was so confident that in May 1399 he paid a second visit to Ireland, taking with him all his most trusted adherents. Thus when Henry landed at Ravenspur in July he found only half-hearted opposition, and when Richard himself returned it was too late. Ultimately Richard surrendered to Henry at Flint on the igth of August, promising to abdicate if his life was spared. He was taken to London riding behind his rival with indignity. On the 30th of September he signed in the Tower a deed of abdication, wherein he owned himself insufficient and useless, reading it first aloud with a cheerful mien and ending with a request that his cousin would be good lord to him. The parliament ordered that Richard should be kept close prisoner, and he was sent secretly to Pontefract. There in February 1400 he died: no doubt of the rigour of his winter imprisonment, rather than by actual murder as alleged in the story adopted by Shakespeare. The mystery of Richard’s death led to rumours that he had escaped, and an impostor pretending to be Richard lived during many years under the protection of the Scottish government. But no doubt it was the real Richard who was buried without state in 1400 at King’s Langley, and honourably reinterred by Henry V. at Westminster in 1413.

Richard II. is a character of strange contradictions. It is difficult to reconcile the precocious boy of 1381 with the wayward and passionate youth of the next few years. Even if it be supposed that he dissembled his real opinions during the period of his constitutional rule, it is impossible to believe that the apparent indifference which he showed in his fall was the mere acting of a part. His violent outbursts of passion perhaps give the best clue to a mercurial and impulsive nature, easily elated and depressed. He had real ability, and in his Irish policy, and in the preference which he gave to it over continental adventure, showed a statesmanship in advance of his time. But this, in spite of his lofty theory of kingship, makes it all the more difficult to explain his extravagant bearing in his prosperity. His fall was due to the triumph of national right over absolute government, but it was his personal conduct which made it inevitable. In appearance Richard was tall and handsome, if effeminate. He had some literary tastes, which were shown in fitful patronage of Chaucer, Gower and Froissart. His fancy for splendid dress may have been due to an artistic sense, which found better expression in his great buildings of Westminster Hall and Abbey. Richard’s second queen, Isabella (1389-1409), was born in Paris on the 9th of November 1389, and was married to the English king at Calais in October, or November, 1396, but on account of the bride’s youth the marriage was never consummated. When Richard lost his crown in 1399 Isabella was captured by Henry IV.’s partisans and sent to Sonning, near Reading, while her father, Charles VI., asked in vain for the restoration of his daughter and of her dowry. Tn 1401 she was allowed to return to France; in 1406 she became the wife of the poet, Charles, duke of Orleans, and she died on the 13th of September 1409.

BIBLIOGRAPHY - The best contemporary authorities are the Chronicon Angliae down to 1388, Walsingham’s Hisoria Anglicana, the Annales Ricardi II., Knighton’s Chronicle (all these in the Rolls Series), the Vita Ricardi II. by a Monk of Evesham (ed. T. Hearne), and the Chronique de la traison et mort (English Hist. Soc.). Froissart wrote from some personal knowledge. A metrical account of Richard’s fall, probably written by a French knight called Creton, is printed in Archaeologia, xx. The chief collections of documents are the Rolls of Parliament and the Calendar of Patent Rolls. H. A. Wallon’s Richard II. (Paris, 1864) is the fullest life, though now somewhat out of date. For other modern accounts see W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, and C. W. C. Oman, The Political History of England, vol. iv., and The Great Revolt of 1381.
(C. L. K.)

Contributed by Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
10 July 2006

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