King Richard II was a narcissist and this trait cost him his throne.
Prince Richard of Bordeaux
Prince Richard of Bordeaux, the future King Richard II of England, was born at the Archbishop’s Palace in Bordeaux, Aquitaine (modern-day France) on the 6th January 1367. His parents were Joan of Kent and Edward of Woodstock, the first-ever Prince of Wales, better known as the Black Prince.
Richard’s elder brother Edward died from the plague aged five so from September 1370 Richard was second in the line of succession to the English throne. His grandfather King Edward III ruled between 1327 and 1377.
Richard was the first future English monarch to speak to the English court in English rather than in Norman French and he enjoyed music and literature. He grew tall, athletic, fair-haired, volatile, extravagant and narcissistic. Always pious, as a king he viewed his parliament as a trial sent to him by God.
On the 8th June 1376, the Black Prince was killed in battle. Richard was swiftly awarded his father’s titles so that his uncle John of Gaunt had less opportunity to persuade courtiers that he and not Richard should rule after Edward III’s death. John felt he had a greater right because Richard was not the son of a king but he was Edward III's son. His view was greeted with a degree of merit.
However, when Edward III passed away on the 21st June 1377 Richard ascended the throne, aged ten. His coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on the 16th July that year.
The Scene Set for the Wars of the Roses
Richard’s allies tried to protect him from his uncles John, Edmund and Thomas’ influences. They were not permitted official roles on Richard’s councils during his early reign but they aired their views in his company which angered parliament.
It was at this point in history that the foundations were laid for the Wars of the Roses between John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York as they and their descendants jostled to rule England.
In 1380 the councils were abolished because there was great distrust between Richard’s friends and favourites and parliament.
The Peasants Revolt of 1381
May 1381 brought the Peasant’s Revolt led by Wat Tyler in defiance of a recently introduced poll tax of one shilling for everyone aged 15 years and older. During the revolt two of Richard’s principal advisors were slain, Flemish traders were slaughtered and John of Gaunt’s palace was destroyed. Richard II faced the rebels in person at Mile End, just outside London and he acceded to their demands to abolish the tax and outlaw forced labour and serfdom.
They were unconvinced and continued to loot and act violently so the king met with them again the next day, this time at Smithfield in the capital, to reiterate his intentions. Some of the king’s party sensed a threat to Richard from the crowd and fighting broke out.
Wat Tyler was pulled from his horse and killed by the Mayor of London. Richard managed to calm the rebels, led them away from Tyler’s body and instructed them to go home in return for clemency. Remaining factions in East Anglia were subdued by the end of May.
Richard honoured none of his promises to the rebels.
Richard II Marries, Richard Grieves
Fifteen-year-old Richard was contracted into an unpopular match with Anne of Bohemia, also fifteen, to secure an ally against France in the ongoing Hundred Years War. On the 22nd January 1382, Richard and Anne were married at Westminster Abbey.
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Their twelve-year marriage produced no children. She died of the plague in June 1394 and Sheen Palace, her place of death, was razed to the ground on a distraught Richard's orders.
Richard II’s second wife was seven-year-old Isabella of Valois who married Richard in 1396. This marriage was childless as she was far too young to bear children but Richard treated her well. After Richard's death, Isabella of Valois returned to France, married again and died in childbirth aged nineteen.
The Lords Appellant Form
In 1386 Richard and his favourite advisors lobbied for a peaceful end to the Hundred Year’s War against the wishes of the nobility. The king’s popularity hit a dangerous low. Parliament blamed Richard’s sycophantic advisors for the English defeats in battle and accused them of misusing funds. Several of them were executed.
A new council was appointed named the Lords Appellant. This initially consisted of Richard’s uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, Henry Fitzalan, 11th Earl of Arundel and Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (John of Gaunt’s son) and Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk joined later. Richard refused to acknowledge the Lords Appellants, attempted to overthrow them and secure peace with France himself. He failed.
The Lords Appellant launched a rebellion against the king in 1387. As a result, Richard remained the king but he was stripped of his powers. The “Merciless Parliament” removed Richard’s key friends from his side and two of his favourites were executed.
New Royal Titles
In 1397 the Lords Appellant were destroyed by Richard with the help of John of Gaunt and he reclaimed his power. Uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester was murdered on Richard’s orders, the Earl of Arundel was beheaded and the Earl of Warwick was imprisoned, he lost his title and lands.
Richard vowed never to fall prey to a group like the Lords Appellant again. He quickly garnered funds and implemented titles including “royal highness” and “your majesty” that he believed exalted him and showed invincibility against foes. His allies bore hats with white deer (the white hart) on them to show their allegiance.
Henry Bolingbroke: Challenger to the Throne
Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt's son and Richard’s first cousin, plotted revenge on Richard after the king exiled him and revoked his inheritance in 1398. The following year John of Gaunt died and the king challenged Henry to travel to England to lay claim to his estates which would have constituted treason. He probably thought he had his cousin over the proverbial barrel.
Not so, Richard was in Ireland when Henry landed in England and began the popular military campaign that caused Richard’s downfall. The king was abandoned by his followers, parliament demanded that Richard be abdicated and name Henry Bolingbroke as the new king of England.
On October 13th 1399 King Henry IV of the House of Lancaster was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Richard’s fate has always been the subject of conjecture. He died in February 1400 but today the cause remains unclear. Was he murdered? Did he starve to death whilst incarcerated at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire? Did he fall ill?
Richard was buried on the 6th March 1400 at King’s Langley Church in Hertfordshire. King Henry V, son of Henry IV, relocated Richard’s body to Westminster Abbey in 1413. He was laid to rest beside his first wife Anne.
- Richard II | Biography, Reign, & Facts | Britannica
- King Richard II of England | Unofficial Royalty
- Peasants’ Revolt | History, Facts, Causes, & Significance | Britannica
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Joanne Hayle