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Richard II

(1367—1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine


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(1367–1400),

king of England (1377–99). Richard became king in 1377 aged 9. There was no formal regency, but the government during his early years was dominated by his uncle John of Gaunt. The imposition of the third poll tax was a major cause of the outbreak of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381; this was the occasion of Richard's first independent political action, when he faced the rebels at Smithfield, witnessed the slaying of Wat Tyler, and saved the situation by his own intervention. The king's subsequent moves to play a greater political role led to escalating crises. In 1386 the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, was impeached; Richard infuriated Parliament by declaring that he would not dismiss even a kitchen boy at its request. He provocatively appointed his favourite, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, to be duke of Ireland. The defeat of de Vere at Radcot Bridge in the autumn of 1387 left Richard defenceless in the face of his aristocratic opponents. The so‐called Merciless Parliament of 1388 conducted a purge of government, using the weapons of appeal and impeachment against a range of royal ministers and favourites, including de la Pole and de Vere.

The return of John of Gaunt from Spain in 1389 brought a renewed sense of purpose and direction to government. The work of the Merciless Parliament was undone, as far as was possible, in 1389, and Richard wisely did not revert to the excesses which had led to crisis in 1387. The final crisis of the reign began in September 1397 when Richard moved against those he regarded as his enemies in a carefully managed Parliament. Archbishop Arundel was impeached and exiled. Royalist magnates brought appeals against the earls of Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick. Arundel was executed, Warwick exiled, and Gloucester almost certainly murdered. In 1398 a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford (later Henry IV), and the duke of Norfolk led to the exiling of the two men, after Richard prohibited a judicial duel between them at Coventry. In March 1399 Bolingbroke's Lancastrian inheritance was confiscated. In May the king embarked on a new expedition to Ireland. This was disastrous for, in June, Bolingbroke, now duke of Lancaster after his father's death, invaded England. In the king's absence, there was little resistance. On his return from Ireland, Richard was taken in north Wales, and on 30 September, a broken man, agreed to abdicate, and was deposed in Parliament. Richard did not long survive his deposition, dying at Pontefract, probably early in 1400.


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