Richard II (England)

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Portrait of Richard in Westminster Abbey (first original portrait of an English king)
Signature of Richard II.
royal coat of arms of Richard II.

Richard II (born January 6, 1367 in Bordeaux , † February 14, 1400 Castle Pontefract , Yorkshire ) was King of England from 1377 until his deposition in 1399 .

Childhood and youth

Richard's parents were Edward of Woodstock , Prince of Wales (known to posterity as the "Black Prince"), and Joan of Kent ( The Fair Maid of Kent ). He was probably the first English king to speak English as a mother tongue , although he too probably spent the first few years of his life in Aquitaine . Because Richard was probably born on Epiphany and three kings were present at his birth, legend has it that shortly after his birth it was generally believed that although he was second born, he was destined for great deeds. In fact, his older brother Edward died at the age of six in 1371. In the same year the family returned to England. Richard became the third Prince of Wales and second Duke of Cornwall after his father died in 1376 after years of illness. On April 23, 1377 Richard was accepted into the Order of the Garter. Two months later, his grandfather Edward III also died. , and ten-year-old Richard became King of England.

An uncertain line of succession

Richard's succession to the throne was controversial from the start. His father had never been an English king, but as the firstborn he was firmly in favor of the successor to Edward III. intended. Since the Black Prince died a year before his father, it remained unclear whether his son Richard or a younger brother should ascend the throne. Edward III. However, Richard's succession to the throne was still decreed during his lifetime, which was later implemented, but by the sons of Edward III. and their offspring was never fully accepted. Nevertheless, the child came to the throne as Richard II. Reasons were the support of Parliament, which at the time was in dispute with Richard's uncle John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster , who was for Edward III. had conducted the business of power and vigorously tried to assert the rights of the king against the power of parliament. In addition, there was the almost mythical adoration for the Black Prince and the great influence of Joan of Kent at the royal court. Nevertheless, the uncertainty about the succession to the throne laid the foundation for the collapse of the Plantagenet house and the Wars of the Roses after the death of Richard II.

Richard II was crowned on July 16, 1377 just eleven days after his grandfather's funeral. Despite his minority, no regent was appointed because Parliament distrusted John of Gaunt. The day-to-day business was instead taken over by a royal council, in the background of which, however, John of Gaunt and Richard's mother, Joan of Kent, pulled the strings.

In 1380, at the instigation of the Commons, the young king was prematurely declared of legal age in parliament. A year later he had to overcome his first serious crisis. During the Peasants' Revolt , insurgent farmers under Wat Tyler managed to invade London with the help of allied townspeople. The life of the young king was threatened, and some of his closest advisers were slain. According to tradition that was no longer fully verifiable, Richard II managed to calm the situation down through personal negotiations. He promised the rebels extensive concessions, up to and including the abolition of serfdom . This led to the withdrawal of some of the insurgents and gave the king time to bring in new troops, which then smashed the remaining peasant armies. Although the punishment that followed was moderate, Richard did not keep his promises.

In terms of foreign policy, the war with France determined events. Military successes remained largely absent, so that Richard's advisors increasingly used diplomatic means. As part of these negotiations, Richard II married Anne of Böhmen , daughter of Emperor Charles IV, in 1382. The marriage barely fulfilled the political expectations placed on it, as it did not induce her brother Wenzel to take military action against France and Anne died childless in 1394 .

A campaign by John of Gaunt against the Kingdom of Castile, which was allied with France, in 1386 initially seemed to promise success. In the summer of 1387, however, John was defeated militarily and had to withdraw again.

Confrontation with the parliaments

During the absence of John of Gaunt, who was often attacked by Richard but acted as an experienced negotiator, the relationship between Richard II and the Lords suddenly deteriorated. Richard had entrusted personal favorites with high state offices and preferred them to the high nobility. Then there was the threat of a French invasion fleet that was gathering in Flanders . During the negotiations of the “Wonderful Parliament” in the autumn of 1386, the Chancellor Michael de la Pole , who came from a merchant family and had been sent by Richard to the highest office of the state, demanded unusually high cash benefits for national defense. The Lords and Commons refused indignantly and forced the dismissal of de la Poles and the treasurer John Fordham. In addition, the parliament, which itself only met sporadically, ensured that the king should be provided with a permanent supervisory body. The king went on a tour of England in February 1387 in order to gain support against Parliament. First he formed a college of judges, which declared the resolutions of the “Wonderful Parliament” to be invalid and prepared high treason proceedings against the opposition leaders. They reacted promptly and pulled together troops who captured Richard II in London. A loyal relief army was broken up at Radcot Bridge in Oxfordshire in December 1387. In February 1388 the opposition convened the “Merciless Parliament”. It passed several death sentences against advisors and allies of the king on a legally poorly secure basis . Central spokesmen for this opposition were Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester , an uncle Richards, Henry Bolingbroke , Earl of Derby, a cousin of the King, Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick , Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel , and Thomas Mowbray , Earl of Northampton. They went down in history as Lords Appellant . Richard was affected in his personal power structure, personally humiliated and was even deposed for a few days around the turn of the year 1387/88, but then recognized again as king because his opponents could not agree on a successor. Soon after the work of the “Merciless Parliament”, however, Richard II was able to slowly regain influence. The sympathies that had previously been clearly on the part of the opposition wandered back to the young king. Gradually he was able to remove the advisors imposed by parliament from their offices. In December 1389, John of Gaunt also returned to England.

Meanwhile the war against France had died down. Richard II took advantage of the death of his first wife in 1396 to marry the seven-year-old (born 1389) Princess Isabella of Valois , daughter of the King of France. This marriage, part of an agreement with France that provided for a 28-year armistice during the Hundred Years War, in fact ended in 1399 with Richard II's deposition and also remained childless due to Isabella's age. Although the connection was political, a respectful relationship developed between the king and the child. The temporary military relief from the armistice in France enabled Richard to invade Ireland and re-establish the English structures of rule that had fallen apart since the reign of Henry II .

The diplomatic and military successes strengthened the reputation of the young king, which was also reflected in his lavish court. The court acquired the function of a cultural center under Richard II, which it was only to fill again under the Tudor kings. Refined customs, a luxurious lifestyle and the promotion of literature around England's greatest late medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer were characteristics of the English court under Richard II. Under his rule, English finally prevailed over French as the language of the ruling class.

The tyranny of Richard II

Richard added King Edward the Confessor to his coat of arms in order to continue his tradition

In the summer of 1397, Richard saw the time had come to take revenge for the humiliations caused by the “Merciless Parliament”. A phase began that is generally referred to in English historiography as the "tyranny of Richard II." Thomas Mowbray, one of the Appellants of 1387, informed the king of a conspiracy against him, led in particular by Thomas Woodstock. Woodstock was arrested and taken to Calais. There he was under the supervision of his prosecutor Mowbray and died in unknown circumstances. Mowbray rose to be Duke of Norfolk. A wave of lawsuits against most of the opposition leaders of the “Merciless Parliament” followed, but mostly ended with fines or exile, and more rarely with death sentences. Arundel was one of those condemned as a traitor and beheaded; Warwick was banished. Finally, of the Appellants, only Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt and later King Henry IV , tried to settle with his royal cousin shortly after the events of 1388, and Thomas Mowbray remained. As the wave of lawsuits rolled in, the two suddenly sued each other. Mowbray accused Henry of treason, Henry described Mowbray as Woodstock's murderer. In the end, Mowbray was banned for life, and Henry was banished from England in 1398 for a period of ten years. When John of Gaunt died shortly afterwards, the king extended this banishment for life in order to appropriate Henry's rich legacy. However, when Richard embarked on a second campaign in Ireland, Bolingbroke landed in Yorkshire and immediately received a huge influx from almost all of the English nobility. The king returned immediately from Ireland, but already in Wales his army disbanded and most of the time went over to Henry.

Richard's death

Richard's arrest in 1399
Depiction of Pontefract Castle (around 1620)

When Richard got the assurance from Henry Bolingbroke that he would be left alive, he surrendered on August 19, 1399 at Flint Castle . Richard thus returned to London as a prisoner of Henry and was imprisoned here on September 1st in the Tower of London . In order to enable Henry Bolingbroke's coronation, Richard II was likely forced to abdicate in favor of the new king, Henry IV. What exactly happened to Richard II after his cousin's impeachment can only be guessed at. Richard was likely transferred to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire in late 1399 , where he died in early 1400. The so-called " Epiphany Rising ", in which it became public that loyal relatives of Richards, u. a. the Earls of Huntingdon , Kent and Rutland , as well as Thomas le Despenser , planned a murder plot against Henry IV., could have induced Henry to have Richard II killed. It is believed that Richard died of starvation at Pontefract Castle around February 14, 1400. During the reign of Henry V , rumors arose that Richard might still be alive. This assumption was supported by a man who posed himself as Richard in Scotland and became the figurehead for some intrigues against the House of Lancaster. This unspecified person is said to have a mental illness in contemporary sources. The fact is that Henry V had the body of Richard II moved from King's Langley to Westminster Abbey in 1413 . Richard was buried here in a coffin designed by himself, in which the bones of his wife Anne of Bohemia were already lying.


Richard II is the eponymous main character of William Shakespeare's drama Richard II.

The personal emblem of Richard II, the White Stag , is the model for the fifth most popular inn name in England, " White Hart Inn ". Such a restaurant was probably in turn the namesake of White Hart Lane in London, where the Tottenham Hotspur football stadium is located.


Web links

Commons : Richard II of England  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files


  1. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 1, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 5.
  3. ^ "Richard II, King of England (1367-1400)". (accessed on July 13, 2017).
  4. ^ Nigel Saul: Richard II. Yale University Press (1997), ISBN 0-300-07003-9 , p. 417.
  5. ^ Nigel Saul: Richard II. Yale University Press (1997), ISBN 0-300-07003-9 , p. 424.
  6. ^ Anthony Tuck: Richard II (1367-1400) . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford (2004).
  7. ^ Nigel Saul: Richard II. Yale University Press (1997), ISBN 0-300-07003-9 , pp. 428-9
predecessor Office successor
Edward III. King of England
Henry IV.
Edward III. Lord of Ireland
Henry IV.
Edward III. Duke of Guyenne
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
Edward of Woodstock Prince of Wales
Henry of Monmouth
Edward of Woodstock Duke of Cornwall
Henry of Monmouth