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Richard II [r. 1377 1399]

Edward, Prince of Wales, surnamed the Black Princ,e was the eldest son of Edward III. and Philippa of Hainault. This the brave and chivalric prince was born in 1330, and at the age of fifteen accompanied his father in his invasion of France and received from him the honor of knighthood. The victory of Crecy, which King Edward left principally to the exertions of the force under his son's command, to use that king's language, "showed that he merited his spurs". The Black Prince died on the 8th of June, 1376, in his forty-sixth year, leaving an only son, afterwards Richard II.

This unfortunate monarch, grandson of Edward III, was born in 1366. He succeeded in 1377, in his eleventh year, the chief authority of the state being in the hands of his three uncles, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; Edmund, earl of Cambridge, afterwards duke of York; and Thomas of Woodstock, subsequently duke of Gloucester. The earlier years of the king's minority passed in wars with France and Scotland, the expense of which led to exactions that produced the insurrection headed by Wat Tyler. During the troubled reign of Richard II, the economic troubles of the period culminated in that Peasant Revolt of 1381 which, even in its failure, was to ring the knell of villeinage and the old social system.

Its termination in the death of its chief leader in Smithfield, by the hand of the lord mayor of London, in the presence of the young king, afforded the latter an opportunity to exhibit a degree of address and presence of mind which, in a youth of fifteen, was very remarkable. While the rioters stood astonished at the fall of their leader, the young king calmly rode up to them, and declaring that he would be their leader, drew them off almost involuntarily into the neighboring fields. In the meantime an armed force was collected by the lord mayor and others, at the sight of which the rioters fell on their knees and demanded pardon, which was granted them on the condition of their immediate dispersion. Similar insurrections took place in various parts of the kingdom, all of which were, however, put down.

Richard, now master of an army of 40,000 men, collected by a general summons to all the retainers of the crown, found himself strong enough to punish the ringleaders with great severity, and to revoke all the charters and manumissions which he had granted as extorted and illegal. The promise of conduct and capacity which he displayed on this emergency was but ill answered in the sequel, and he very early showed a predilection for weak and dissolute company and the vicious indulgences so common to youthful royalty. In his sixteenth year he married Anne, daughter of the emperor Charles IV., and, soon after, was so injudicious as to take the great seal from Scroop for refusing to sanction certain extravagant grants of lands to his courtiers. Wars with France and Scotland, and the ambitious intrigues of the duke of Lancaster, disquieted some succeeding years.

The favorites of Richard were Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk and chancellor, and Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, the latter of whom he created duke of Ireland, with entire sovereignty in that island for life. The duke of Lancaster, being then absent, prosecuting his claim to the crown of Castile, the king's younger uncle, the duke of Gloucester, a prince of popular manners, and unprincipled ambition, became the leader of a formidable opposition, which procured an impeachment of the chancellor, and influenced the parliament so far that it proceeded to strip the king of all authority, and obliged him to sign a commission appointing a council of regency for a year.

As Richard attained manhood, he ventured upon the most serious effort made by a later mediaeval king to overthrow the constitutional system, and strove to make himself an autocrat like his ancestors and his contemporaries, the French kings. Being now in his twenty-first year, this measure was very galling to Richard, who, in concert with the duke of Ireland, found means to assemble a council of his friends at Nottingham, where the judges unanimously declared against the legality of the extorted commission. Gloucester, at these proceedings, mustered an army in the vicinity of London, which being ineffectually opposed by a body of forces under the duke of Ireland, several of the king's friends were executed, and the judges who had given their opinion in his favor were all found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to imprisonment for life in Ireland.

A reaction was soon produced by the tyranny of the ascendant party; so that, in 1389, Richard was encouraged to enter the council, and, in a resolute tone, to declare that he was of full age to take the government into his own hands; and no opposition being ventured upon, he proceeded to turn out the duke of Gloucester and all his adherents. This act he rendered palatable to the nation by publishing a general amnesty, and remitting the grants of money made by the late parliament. Several years of internal tranquillity ensued, which was promoted by the return of the duke of Lancaster, who formed a counterbalance to the influence of the duke of Gloucester; and Richard prudently kept on the best terms with him. However, by his fondness for low company, spending his time in conviviality, and amusement with jesters and persons of light behaviour, the king forfeited the respect of his subjects, while his weak attachment to his favorites placed all things at their disposal, and made a mere cipher of himself.

Encouraged by these follies, the duke of Gloucester once more began to exercise his sinister influence, and, the most criminal designs being imputed to him, Richard caused him and his two chief supporters, the earls of Arundel and Warwick, to be arrested. The earl of Arundel was executed, and the earl of Warwick condemned to perpetual banishment. The duke of Gloucester had been sent over to Calais for safe custody, and was there suffocated.

A quarrel between the duke of Hereford, son of John of Gaunt, and the duke of Norfolk, was the incidental cause of the revolution which terminated this unsettled reign. The king banished both the dukes Norfolk for life, and Hereford for ten, afterwards reduced to six years. It was, however, declared that each of them should be duly entitled to any inheritance which might fall to them during their absence; but, on the death of John of Gaunt, in 1399, the unprincipled Richard seized his property as forfeited to the crown.

The king having embarked for Ireland, to revenge the death of his cousin, the earl of March, who had been killed in a skirmish with the natives, Henry of Bolingbroke, as the duke of Hereford was now called, made use of this opportunity to land in Yorkshire, with a small body of forces, and, being joined by the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, and other influential leaders, proceeded southward, at the head of 60,000 men, nominally to recover his duchy of Lancaster.

When Richard, upon this intelligence, landed at Milford Haven, he found himself so much deserted, that he withdrew to North Wales, with a design to escape to France. He was, however, decoyed to a conference with Henry, seized by an armed force, and led by his successful rival to London. As they entered the capital, Henry was hailed with the loudest acclamations, and the unfortunate Richard treated with neglect and even contumely.

His deposition was now resolved upon, to be preceded by a forced resignation of the crown. Thirty-five articles of accusation were accordingly drawn up against him, of which several were exaggerated, false, and frivolous, but others contained real instances of tyranny and misgovernment; and King Richard was solemnly deposed on the 30th of September, 1399. Henry then claimed the crown, which was awarded to him, and Richard was committed, for safe custody, to the castle of Pomfret. Of the manner of his death no certain account has been given; but a popular notion prevailed that his keeper and guards killed him with halberds. It is more probable that starvation or poison was had recourse to, for his body, when exposed, exhibited no marks of violence. He died in the thirty-fourth year of his age, and twenty-third of his reign. His boldness drove him from his throne to a prison where he soon met his fate.

With the Revolution of 1399 England was brought back permanently to the constitutional path. The Revolution of 1399 was a conservative reaction in at least two directions. It restored the old parliamentary Constitution and insured the loyal continuance of a limited monarchy by establishing on the throne with a parliamentary title that house of Lancaster, which since the days of Earl Thomas had almost continuously led the constitutional opposition to the sovereign. Under the Lancastinian kings the mediaeval constitutional monarchy attained its height.





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Page last modified: 25-01-2013 18:56:33 ZULU