Richard II King 1377-1399

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Plantagenet Monarchs

Richard II King 1377-1399, the last of the Plantagenets?

Richard II reigned 1377 – 1399 as King of England, last of the Plantagenet Period and whilst he started too young and brave confronting peasants revolt early in his reign under the guidance of his Uncle John of Gaunt, his success would be short lived. Most of us learn as we live longer but the reverse seems to be true of Richard.

Richard II King of England from 9 years oldHis avarice and greed consumes his life and once again the King fails to administer with reasonable balance amongst his nobles, the Barons and the outcome is not good. He would be usurped by his own cousin, Henry Bolingbroke and from there would would follow the trouble and strife of civil war in the period known as the War of the Roses But how does his life end in such a demise and what happens between his privileged birth and its sad conclusion.

Follow his timeline and chronology of events with links and a brief narrative scroll below. You can also find out more about the Plantagenets here, and the War of the Roses to help scan the time before Richard and the period after. Click here for the House of Lancaster, House of York and of course the coming of the Tudors.

Richard II Timeline Difficult Beginnings

Richard II inherited the throne when Edward III’s heir, the Black Prince died following a protracted period of illness before he could inherit. His mother was Joan of Kent, known as the ‘Fair Maid of Kent.’ Richard was still a boy aged just aged 10 years old. No father, no grandfather and facing an uncertain future as yet another Boy King.

  • 1328 Phillipa of Hainault married Edward III (grandparents to Richard II)
  • 1337 Start of the Hundred Years War

Richard’s Uncles, sons of Edward III born:

  • 1340 John of Gaunt, future Duke of Lancaster and father of Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) initially a help to Richard in holding on to power subsequently his son usurps Richard. Was this always the plan?

    John of Gaunt uncle to Richard II son of Edward III

    Uncle to Richard II and father to Henry IV

    • 1340 Edward III asserted his claim to the French Crown, a familiar cry from an English king and his 4th son John of Gaunt (future Duke of Lancaster) is born Richard’s Uncle
  • 1355 Thomas of Woodstock. future Duke of Gloucester: Richard would conflict with Thomas and would not forgive and forget.
  • 1361 Richard II’s parents marry Edward’s eldest son the Black Prince and Joan of Kent (known as the ‘Fair Maid of Kent’), who was the widow of Sir Thomas Holland and mother of his son also Thomas Holland and later the Earl of Kent and John Holland, later Earl of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter.

Richard II Born in Bordeaux 1367, King in less than 10 Years

  • 1367 Richard II is born in Bordeaux the only son of Joan and Edward the Black Prince.
  • 1369 Richard’s Mother Queen Philippa dies
  • 1374 Marriage of Thomas of Woodstock to Eleanor de Bohun, daughter and co-heiress of the earl of Hereford
  • 1376 – 1377 Richard’s father (The Black Prince) and grandfather (Edward III) die in quick succession.
  • 1377 Richard aged 9 ascends to the throne having lost both his father, grandmother and grandfather in quick succession and with no siblings to help him at hand. His mother is his only living immediate family member and at age 9 he must look quickly to his Uncles if he is to survive his minority.
    • Edward III died  21st June 1377 at Shene Palace (Richmond in Surrey) ‘Parishes: Richmond (anciently Sheen).‘ A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3. Ed. H E Malden. London: Victoria County History, 1911. 533-546. British History Online. Web. 3 March 2015.
    • John of Gaunt is a powerful regent and provides stable protection for the child king.
  • 1378 Papal schism begins: rival Popes, Urban VI in Rome and Clement VII in Avignon
  • 1380 Both a death and a marriage of some consequence:
    • Marriage of Henry of Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, son of John of Gaunt, to Mary de Bohun, daughter and co-heiress of the earl of Hereford. Her sister is married to his Uncle Thomas of Woodstock.
    • Death of Charles V of France, accession of Charles VI Valois aged twelve, Charles VI  suffers a severe mental illness and by 1422 will have given his daughter to Henry V as his wife, together with his French crown, having disowned his own son the Dauphin under the terms of the Treaty of Troyes
  • 1381 Peasants Revolt, Uncharacteristic show of strength by Richard II, when the peasants revolt murdering the Archbishop of Canterbury and Treasurer of England.
  • 1382 Richard II marries Anne of Bohemia, Richard II and Anne a happy marriage and favourite Palace of Sheen (Shene) in Surreythe daughter of Emperor Charles IV and sister of King Wencelas of Bohemia

Richard’s Mother dies and he begins to keep the wrong kind of company

  • 1385 Richard’s mother Joan of Kent dies:  he has no close kin left alive. No one to reel him in and control his ostentatious lifestyle.
    • 1385 Robert De Vere 9th Earl of Oxford  made Marquess of Dublin by Richard, he was a feckless young man and had become a favourite of Richard. It was not that long ago that Edward had become King deposing his own father over such grave errors of patronage. He received further honours in 1387 and would lead Richard’s forces against the Appellant Lords at the Battle of Radcott Bridge.
    • 1386 Richard Makes De Vere Duke of Ireland:  a Dukedom was a serious matter normally reserved for members of the Royal line with few exceptions. It was not a popular appointment and was clearly about a personal favouritism and nothing to do with service to the country and kingdom itself.
    • 1386 – 1387 Wonderful Parliament This is led by his uncle Thomas of Woodstock and Richard Earl of Arundel. There are two major reasons for seeking to control the king , his financial extravagance and his policy of making peace with France. They impose a council to restrict and control the King. Richard’s Minister Michael de la Pole was  impeached and a commission was established  to control the following year’s expenditure and patronage. Richard sought to oppose the decision citing the Royal Prerogative to be able to determine the proceedings as illegal and those involved as traitors. A panel of judges was formed to confer and determine on the Royal Prerogative, their findings leaked and this led to De Vere’s army moving towards London and the subsequent battle. The age old debate back to Magna Carta and before was central to the issue here. The King be subject to God and the Laws of the Land as with all his subjects and judgement by their peers.
  • Parliament November 1387: The Appellant Lords in an unprecedented procedure brought an appeal or accusation of treason against the King’s friends, not the King himself. In effect accusing them of bining the monarchy into disrepute. It was this that led to those friends unde De Vere raising an army and the Battle of Radcott.
  • Battle of Radcott Bridge 1387:  aware that the Lords were rising against Richard’s excesses De Vere was leading an army he had raised to try to get to aid Richard in London. De Vere’s army tried to cross the Thames but was attacked and defeated. De Vere escaped and fled abroad. The defeat destroyed Richard’s ability to resist the Lords Appellants.
  • 1388 ‘Merciless Parliament’: the Lords Appellant Gloucester, Arundel, Thomas, earl of Warwick, Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, and Henry of Bolingbroke, attack the king’s close advisors, several of whom are executed but whilst Richard suffers humiliation and censure he is not deposed. He narrowly avoids the same fate as Edward II full deposition but fails to learn from his mistake and determines to revenge himself against the Appellants
  • 1389 Richard regains control 1389 Richard II declares himself to be of age and takes charge of government. John of Gaunt helps him reassert his reign,as loyal Uncle and Councilor (ex-regent) peaceful period maintained for some 8 years.Peace negotiations with France begin.
  • 1393 Westminster Hall rebuilt with a magnificent new roof:  the decoration prominently features Richard’s Arms in the decoration and this was unusual but it seems Richard wanted his feat emblazoned with his arms.Westminster Hall Hamberbeam roof
  • Richard’s White Hart emblem “The King’s personal emblem, the white hart, was repeated along the Hall’s string course, and the roof was decorated with 26 angels carved out of solid beam. They bore shields carved with the royal arms of the period: the fleur-de-lys of France quartered with the three lions, or leopards, of England.”
  • He also ‘impales’ his arms with the purported arms of Edward the Confessor during this period by about 1395.

  • 1394 Death of His wife and 1st expedition to Ireland
    • Grief and Heartache for Richard when his wife Anne of Bohemia dies suffering from Leprosy. Richard was genuinely so grief stricken that he demolished Sheen Palace, near Richmond in Surrey where she died. ‘Shene’ as it was known was their favourite palace and their arranged marriage was a love-match. The loss was deep and real but the palace would be rebuilt later and monarchs would come and go with their favouring of the rebuilt palace and its significance in their lives.
    • Anne was buried in their joint tomb in Westminster Abbey, and Richard would be buried there much later when Henry V came to the throne.
    • Richard II’s 1st expedition to Ireland In October 1394, he landed at Waterford with a large army, and demanded the submission of all the Irish lords. They submitted and paid homage faced by the overwhelming size of Richard’s forces. Richard failed to resolve most issues in ireland but in ENgland his expedition was viewed as a success.
  • 1395 Richard II makes the arrogant decision to impale his arms with the supposed ‘arms of Edward the Confessor:
  • 1396 Richard makes a 28 year truce with france, Appeasement his preferred route but at what cost? 100 Years War has rumbled on but Richard calls a truce and yet another French marriage takes place to Isabelle the elder sister of Catherine of Valois who would later marry Henry V under the arrangements of the Treaty of Troyes. The difficulty was that she was just 7 years old at this time.
  • There was a Meeting between Richard II and Charles VI of France at Ardres, near Calais. Twenty-eight year truce sealed. Richard marries Isabelle born 1389, eldest daughter of Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. Isabelle brings a sumptuous trousseau.
  • 1396 Charter for York with status as a County ‘The later middle ages: The city’s franchise and officers.’ A History of the County of York: the City of York. Ed. P M Tillott. London: Victoria County History, 1961. 69-75. British History Online. Web. 3 March 2015.
  • 1397 Richard wreaks havoc and terrible revenge known as the ‘Revenge Parliament.’  With war over Richard acts from what he perceives a position of strength and seeks to make the crown independent of the Commons, possibly a fatal mistake? Richard attacks the Lords Appellant of 1388 Duke of Gloucester (his father’s brother) and the Earl of Arundel is executed. Arundel’s brother Archbishop of Canterbury and the Earl of Warwick are exiled. Henry Bolingbroke and Mowbray are pardoned, with the connection to his Uncle John of Gaunt.
  • In exacting revenge Richard has also seized the forfeited lands and wealth whilst he is indeed a very wealthy king he had dispossessed more than a third of the noble families of the kingdom and hounded to death his old enemies and most heinous murdered his own uncle Thomas of Woodstock, like John of Gaunt a son of Edward III. Not ideal actions for a King who needs to keep a fair proportion of his barons on his side.
  • 1398 Mowbray and Bolingbroke fall out and seek a duel both exiled: Richard II forbids the duel and they are both exiled. Mowbray dies in Venice what will transpire for Henry Bolingbroke son of John of Gaunt the wealthy Duke of Lancaster?
  • 1399 John of Gaunt dies and Richard seizes his estates with Bolingbroke still in exile. Hardly a reasonable action for the one Uncle who had stuck by him and now perhaps a fatal error as this would add fire and fuel to Henry’s motivation to come back and fight for the reinstatement of his birthright to the richest estate apart from the kings, the Duchy of Lancaster. This estate had been his mother’s and inherited by his father through marriage. It made the holder of the estate one of the most powerful men in the land. Whether Henry Bolingbroke comes back to seize the Duchy or the Crown of England is open to debate amongst historians but his return is not good news for Richard. Richard decides to make a 2nd expedition to Ireland and leaves the country having upset many noble families and made them suffer he does not anticipate that whilst away his Crown he will be usurped.
    • Second expedition of Richard II to Ireland. It will be another failure and he manages to lose 2 armies in the matter of a few weeks in Conway.
    • Bolingbroke lands at Ravenspur in Yorkshire and claims the crown of England having worked with the Percys their usurpation is almost unopposed, no one of substance or means wants favours Richard II as king any more.
  • 1399 Henry IV,King of England, Usurper of Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke, grandson of Edward III by John of Gaunt and his wife Katherine Swynsford (former mistress, subsequently legitimised by marriage and royal assent) but could be disputed, is now King of England. It is from this usurpation that the House of Lancaster a branch of Edward III’s (Plantagenet) family becomes known due to the Duchy of Lancaster as the House of Lancaster
  • 1399-1400  Richard returned to England and was captured and deposed and dies either of starvation or murdered. Initially he is held in Ponefract Castle, technically still an anointed King, Henry would have been politically aware of the ramifications of murdering/executing a King as well as the religious and spiritual.
  • 1400-1402  Richard II dies in Pontefract Castle: But what do you do with an ex-King when a plot to free him is a possibility and becomes more than rumour? One way or another Richard dies. His body remained at Kings Langley but is later moved and reburied by Henry V at Westminster abbey. Isabelle was returned to France with the valuables of her trousseau. A generous move by Henry IV given the ruthless times and perhaps at that stage having just taken the throne an attempt to let matters settle before engaging in conflict with France.

Intriguing Objects Made by Richard II An horary quadrant enables the user to tell the time from the height of the sun in the British Museum dated around 1398.

Objects and sources that help us determine the history of Richard II and his demise:

  1. British Library Post on original manuscripts and source documents that tell of Richard II’s downfall.
  2. Scroll through the digital manuscripts online examples here.
  3. British Library Historiated (decorated) Order Book of Richard II in British Library Collection.
  4. William Shakespeare, an undoubted genius, but his History Plays, ironically are not history and too often popular images and perspectives on monarchs are really founded in this work of fiction. It is of course beautifully written but soundbites from Shakespeare are not history but in effect one literary author’s own spin that was fixed to suit the politics and perspective of the Elizabethan environment in which he writes. For the full text, certainly worthy of a read and some reflection but as with all history its written with much bias and a particular perspective. The wrong words could have put the authors life at risk with the Queen, somewhat more serious than just a bad review or two… Here is the MIT version of the full text of Shakespeare’s Richard II but you can download from free also on the Internet Archive lovely 1901 Edition here and the Gutenberg Project Richard II. All of which are excellent and free.
  5. Richard II’s Will was retained and locked away by Henry IV and his son, strange that it should be retained and not destroyed in the circumstances. Ruthless times but an intriguing outcome given it might contain sensitive information. If it was not threat why was it locked away but thats for our later Lancastrian considerations but you can read it on this link and it gives some insight into what the deposed King was thinking if he should die.

A Postscript on Richard II’s life last of the Plantagenet Kings

Richard was another boy King, who inherited the throne having lost his grandfather and father within a year of each other. Guided by wise counsel of his father’s brothers most notably John of Gaunt he showed early promise with bravery confronting the Peasants Revolt of 1381. His marriage was a happy one until his queen was lost to the plague or leprosy when he was grief stricken. But his extravagance would prove his undoing and lead his barons to rise-up to censure his government. He would have his revenge but it would cost him his life ultimately.

What did he achieve in his lifetime?

Most notably and of benefit to us all today was his new roof for Westminster Hall. However the heraldic decorations were really another egotistic flourish as he plastered his arms all over the design. When John of Gaunt dies and Richard cannot resist seizing his fortune and lands,  the rift is beyond mending and the house of Lancaster comes to the fore as Henry Bolingbroke who may have started looking for just his birthright gets carried along with the moment and grasps the kingdon along his way. With no children to inherit or challenge Richard II marks more with a whimper than a bang the end of the Plantagenet era but not of the family. From here would spring the war of the Roses, a period in which more families lives would be decimated by the loss of a generation. It is a period that drags on and caused the decimation of society in England in a way that would not be seen again, on such a scale until Wold War 1. Given the power, wealth and opportunity not much is achieved that changes England for the better during his lifetime. There is little to observe that warrants the sympathy Richard sometimes evokes from historians. These were brutal times but perhaps his 28 year truce with France should be more valued although at the time it was seen as a failing. war was commerce, business and about wealth creation, expansion and building a line of succession. In accordance with the values of his time, Richard’s life caused trouble and strife, he seems to have similar traits to those of his great-grandfather Edward II and again whilst he technically abdicates in reality he was deposed. Not much of a testimony to his father either, Richard II seems at first glance to be a poor reflection of the Black Prince born to be King but dying before his father.

The Last of the Plantagenet Kings?

When you take a look as we will when we consider the life reign and family tree of Edward III, its obvious these were branches of the same family, not really different dynasties, the change of names of the Houses representing the branches and connections specifically the lines via John of Gaunt and Henry IV (Lancastrians) and Yorks via Richard 1st Duke of York. Membrane with genealogy of the kings of England.The consequences of this family rift would of course be profound in shaping the future of England. Richard II is the end of a branch of the Edward III tree but the Plantagenet Blood as we know or thought we did would course in all their veins , or maybe not? Recent genetic research suggests their is a break in Richard III’s line of inheritance but it could be anywhere back in a sequence of patrimonial links over 8 generations. Will we ever really know by science alone whether the Plantagenets and Yorks were ever really one family…Hence we can at least hypothesise that really the family known as the Plantagenets continues across many bloodlines and if you  are interested take an old copy used to be online showing many generations into the 20th century at least, if you find it please do let us know. Will check the archives and see what we can, pardon the pun, dig-up.


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