1902 Encyclopedia > Richard II

Richard II
King of England
(1366-1400)




RICHARD II (1366-1400), king of England, the only son of Edward the Black Brince and Joan of Kent, was born at Bordeaux, April 13, 1366. He succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather Edward III., on June 21, 1377. He was crowned on July 16. During the first eleven years of his reign, Richard was in a position of tutelage. His uncles, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and Thomas, duke of Gloucester, were the most influential persons in the kingdom. The evils naturally inherent in a minority were intensified by war abroad, religious and social troubles at home, the existence of a turbulent nobility, and the intrigues and rivalries which broke up the royal house. Under the incapable rule of Lancaster, the southern coasts were ravaged by French fleets, the northern frontier was harried by the Scots, and the taxes collected for national purposes were wasted or embezzled. The weakness and unpopularity of the Government produced a ferment among the lower classes, which, aggravated by the heavy taxation of 1379 and 1380, culminated in the Peasants' Bevolt of June 1381. This revolt gave Richard, then a lad of fifteen, his first opportunity of distinguishing himself. On June 14 he met the rebels at Mile End, and, by promising the abolition of villenage, induced the Essex contingent to return home. Next day he met the Kentish men at Smithfield. In the parley which followed, their leader, Wat Tyler, was killed. The mob were about to avenge his death when the young king, riding forward alone, calmed their irritation and induced them to follow him to Islington. Here a body of troops came to the king's aid, but Richard prevented a conflict, and persuaded the rioters to disperse. His presence of mind, extraordinary in one so young, not only saved his own life but averted a general disaster. In January 1382 he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the emperor Charles IV. Meanwhile the influence exerted by John of Gaunt was becoming more and more irksome to him. Charges of conspiracy brought against his uncle in 1384, though denied by Lancaster, so worked upon Bichard that he attempted to seize him, but a reconciliation was soon afterwards effected. In 1385 the king led an expedition to Scotland. His refusal to allow the army to penetrate beyond Edinburgh is said to have caused another quarrel with the duke of Lancaster. The efforts made by Richard to form a party of personal adherents, in opposition to his uncles, are to be seen in the elevation of De Vere to the marquisate of Dublin and of De la Pole, the chancellor, to the earldom of Suffolk. After John of Gaunt's departure to Portugal (July 1386) the quarrel between the king's party and the opposition headed by Gloucester came to a head. Gloucester, supported by a strong majority in parliament, demanded the dismissal of the chancellor and the treasurer, to which Richard was obliged reluctantly to consent. The blow was followed up by the appointment of a committee of government which, like the baronial committee of 1258, practically superseded the monarchy. Richard submitted, but immediately set about making plans for the recovery of his authority. In November 1387 he came to London in order to overthrow the committee, but was anticipated by Gloucester, who, with Henry of Derby and three others, "appealed," or impeached the king's chief adherents of high treason. The party in power always found it easy to manipulate the elections, and the parliament which met in February 1388 was altogether on the side of the "appellants." The leaders of the king's party were executed, banished, or imprisoned, and Gloucester won a complete triumph. He failed, however, to establish his power on a firm basis, and in May 1389 Richard threw off the yoke. On the ground that he was now of full age, he suddenly informed his council that he intended to rule alone. Gloucester made no resistance; the nation acquiesced; and Richard was at last really king.

Richard did not for some time abuse his power. The "appellants" were not punished, and even remained members of the council. William of Wykeham, however, became chancellor, and it was apparently by his advice and that of John of Gaunt, who returned to England in 1389, that Richard regulated his conduct. For eight years he ruled constitutionally. The country was at peace at home and abroad. In June 1394 the queen died. In October of the same year Richard went to Ireland and received the submission of some of the chiefs. He remained in Ireland till May 1395. Next year he concluded a twenty-five years' truce with France, and engaged to marry Isabella, the French king's daughter. In September 1396 he went to Calais and returned with his bride, a child of eight years old. This alliance seems to have encouraged Richard to carry out a stroke of policy which he had probably long contemplated. In July 1397 he suddenly seized the "appellants," Warwick, Arundel, and Gloucester. The parliament, which met in September, repealed the acts of 1386, and declared the "appellants" guilty of high treason. Arundel was executed, Warwick imprisoned Gloucester died, probably by violence, in prison. Next year the parliament conferred on Richard tonnage and poundage for life, and delegated their authority to a committee of eighteen, practically chosen by the king, thus making him an absolute monarch. A treasonable conversation between Hereford and Norfolk, reported by the former, gave a pretext for the banishment of both. In February 1399 John of Gaunt died, and Richard seized the Lancaster estates, thus reducing Hereford to desperation. The latter at once began to prepare to recover his inheritance, and Richard, apparently ignorant of the danger, went over to Ireland (May 29), thus leaving the kingdom open to his rival. Henry landed in Yorkshire early in July, and rapidly collected an overpowering force. Richard returned to find Henry in possession of power and himself deserted by the nation. He surrendered to Henry at Flint (August 19) and was conveyed to London. On September 29 he executed a deed by which he resigned the crown. Next day the deed was read in parliament. Formal sentence of deposition was pronounced, and Henry claimed and received the crown. A month afterwards the late king was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and was removed to Pontefract. The conspiracy against Henry IV., which was discovered in January 1400, sealed Richard's fate. The manner of his death is unknown, but there can be little doubt that he died by violence. He is said to have been buried at Langley, February 14, 1400.
In person Richard was slight, fair-haired, beardless, with rounded face and elegant but rather feminine features. His character, a strange mixture of strength and weakness, courage and irresolution, indolence and energy, remains an enigma to the historian. He protected Wickliffe, encouraged Chaucer, and made a serious attempt to establish an absolute monarchy. His reign, whether we regard it from the religious, the political, or the social point of view, is one of very great importance, and its history has as yet been by no means fully elucidated.

Chief Authorities: —Knighton, De Evcntibus Anglise, ed. Twysden in the Decern Scriptores, 1652 ; Walsingham, Historic/, Anglica.na, ed. Riley (Rolls Series); Adam de Usk, Chronicon, ed. Thompson, 1876 ; Chronicon Anglise, by a monk of St Albans, ed. Thompson (Rolls Series); Historia Vitse ct Rcgni Ricardi II., by a monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne, 1729 ; Cronicgue de la traison et inort de Richart deux, &c., ed. Williams (Engl. Hist. Society); Histoire du Roi d'Angleterre Richard, ed. Webb, in Archseol. Brit., vol. xx.; Froissart, Chronicles; Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. ii. ; Pauli, Oeschichte von England, vol. iv. (G. W. P.)







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