Deposing Richard II

30 September 1399, England’s last Plantagenet monarch Richard II was finally deposed with the acceptance of his abdication by parliament and Henry of Bolingbroke as the the first king of the House of Lancaster.
“Was this face the face / That every day under his household roof / Did keep ten thousand men? Was this the face / That like the sun did make beholders wink? Is this the face which fac'd so many follies / That was at last out-fac'd by Bolingbroke? / A brittle glory shineth in this face; / As brittle as the glory is the face” (William Shakespeare, “King Richard II”)

The handover of the crown from Richard to Henry,
illustration from Froissart’s Chronicle (late 15th century)

The untimely death of his son Edward of Woodstock, later known as the Black Prince, left King Edward III of England in quite a dilemma in regards to his succession in 1376. He was 65 years old and had ruled his domains for almost 50 years and probably heard Joe Black sneaking around already on the premises of Woodstock Palace, his favourite lodgings. There was the Black Prince’s younger brother, the bustling John of Gaunt, and his son, Richard of Bordeaux, both with a legitimate claim to succeed Edward III as the next King of England. Edward finally decided on Richard, probably heavily influenced by the prince’s mother, the charming and equally bustling Joan of Kent. A year later, Edward III died, the boy Richard became King Richard II at the age of 10 and the foundations were laid for the coming Wars of the Roses that broke out two generations later.

Contemporary depiction of Richard II as king

However, the king’s uncle John of Gaunt seemed to have taken his getting set back in succession like a man and became first Richard II’s regent and later his most important counsellor and right hand during the ups and downs of his rule. And despite a major peasant revolt, a completely scattershot way of conducting the Hundred Years’ War on the continent and invading Ireland for good measure on top of it, England had seen far worse kings than Richard II, even though he was a ruthless powermonger who went back on his word on a regular basis. Nevertheless, he introduced English as court language, promoted the arts and held court in a civilised manner that was not seen again until the days of the Tudors. However, after the death of John of Gaunt and the ostracism of his son Henry of Bolingbroke to get at the immense fortune his uncle had amassed under a rather ridiculous pretext, things went downhill for the childless king during a time known as “Richard’s Tyranny”.

Richard taken into custody, again from Froissart's chronicle

While Richard II was away campaigning in Ireland again, Bolingbroke landed with a small army in Ravenspur in Yorkshire in June 1399, initially to reclaim his patrimony. But most of the important families sided with Henry and what was planned to be an inheritance dispute became a full-fledged rebellion within weeks. On 19 August Richard II surrendered at Flint Castle in North East Wales to Bolingbroke and abdicated informally. Unfortunately, Bolingbroke was actually not closest to inheriting the throne. That would have been Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, another grandson of Edward III. He was by-passed though with a juristic dodge, much to the dismay of his descendants, the future House of York. Bolingbroke was crowned on 13 October. The formal agreement of parliament on 30 September was given after the un-king read aloud and signing his deed of abdication 
in the Tower, describing himself as “insufficient” and “useless”  and transferring his body politic, his kingship, to Henry IV. Richard II remained in prison and, being still a threat to Henry IV’s rule, probably starved to death in 1400, since even his body natural was not to be harmed. But might even have been alive until 1419, although his cousin Henry V, to atone for his father’s coup d’etat, had his – or someone else’s - remains buried in Westminster Abbey in 1413.

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