A Brief History
On February 14, 1400, England’s King Richard II (aka Richard of Bordeaux) died in captivity, most likely starved to death. Ruling England since 1377, Richard had in his last 2 years on the throne (1397-1399) become a bloodthirsty tyrant, ruthlessly killing his enemies. Usurped in 1399 by Henry of Bolingbroke (who became King Henry IV), Richard was imprisoned under harsh conditions until he died at the age of 33, just one more lousy King written off and replaced by another.
As you may infer from my previous articles, I am not a fan of monarchy. Kings and Queens claim Divine Right as a basis for their rule, but clearly Divinity has nothing to do with who ascends to the throne and when. More often it is murder, intrigue, and conspiracy, resulting in ever changing royal families.
Richard became King of England at the age of 10, having become the heir apparent to King Edward III when Richard’s own father, Edward the Black Prince, died before King Edward III, the Black Prince’s father. Of course, at the tender age of 10, Richard was under a sort of regency, advised by John of Gaunt (Richard’s uncle) and a series of councils. England experienced hardships during the reign of Richard II, including incessant war with France, ongoing battles with Scotland, and the effects of the Black Plague. The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 was another crisis faced by Richard. (“Sire, the peasants are revolting!” “Yes, they are, I agree!” so goes the joke…) In 1387 a group of nobles and aristocrats called “Lords Appellant” attempted to seize power from Richard, apparently not convinced that God Himself wanted Richard on the throne. Richard put down this challenge, and in 1397 began a murderous campaign against those that had opposed him.
After John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard disinherited John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, whom he had previously exiled and had been the heir apparent. Henry returned to England from France and began a campaign to seize the throne for himself, successfully usurping Richard and imprisoning him. Henry became King Henry IV, and Richard died in miserable conditions of confinement.
Much of modern ideas about Richard II stem from the Shakespeare play, Richard II, blaming Richard’s ineptness for the War of the Roses, though historians only partly agree. For the next 500 years, it was widely believed that Richard had gone insane, though the more forgiving historians of the 21st Century more gently label him as having “a personality disorder.” Richard’s own actions are considered to have led to his own downfall, and not merely bad luck.
Meanwhile, Henry IV had his own problems during his 14 year reign, dealing with at least 5 rebellions, revolts and attempts to unseat him, as well as assassination plots! Henry was beset by persistent medical problems, including a debilitating skin disorder (perhaps psoriasis or leprosy) and died at the age of 45.
With such a volume of conniving, plotting, murder, conspiracy, lying, duplicity, and extraneous shenanigans involved in making and breaking monarchs, it is baffling to a non-monarchist how any common person could put up with such an institution! Wow, do people not read History? (Or more to the point, are they not reading History and Headlines???) Question for students (and subscribers): Please share your thoughts about monarchy, especially the British throne, and tell us why or why not there should or should not be a King or Queen in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bennett, Michael J. Richard II and the Revolution of 1399. Sutton Publishing, 1999.
Gillespie, James; Goodman, Anthony, eds. The Age of Richard II. Sutton Publishing, 1997.
Tuck, Anthony. Crown and Nobility 1272–1461. Fontana, 1985.