Post-classical history


By Envy’s Hand and Murder’s Bloody Axe

One vial full of Edward’s sacred blood,

One flourishing branch of his most royal root,

Is crack’d and all the precious liquor spilt,

Is hack’d down and his summer-leaves all faded,

by envy’s hand and murder’s bloody axe.

Richard II, Act 1, Scene 2

John’s policy of staying with Richard and talking up the usefulness of all his sons was moderately successful. The letter he sent to the pope asking for the Beaufort children to be legitimised met with Richard’s approval as well as the pope’s. Richard also agreed that Henry should accompany the royal family when they went to France to witness his wedding to the French princess. Thus it was that Henry found himself travelling south from Kenilworth to sail across to Calais in early October 1396. Although Froissart asserts that Henry was left behind with the duke of York ‘to guard England’, this is certainly wrong. Payments for Henry’s requisites and luxuries – including candle wax, beer, soap and a chicken for his favourite falcon – were made in Calais, Guines and Saint-Omer.1

The meeting of the kings of England and France, preceding the wedding, was one of the spectacles of the age, foreshadowing the later Field of the Cloth of Gold.2 Both kings brought enormous retinues. Huge quantities of food and drink were sailed by barge to Calais for the occasion. New clothes were made for all, and gifts liberally dispensed by the monarchs on both sides. Even though the French king had begun to be afflicted by the madness which would characterise his reign – Charles VI suffered intermittently from the delusion that he was made of glass and about to shatter into pieces – it was very important for his people that he was seen to be as magnificent as the king of England. Charles sent the count of St Pol to Calais to greet Richard. When the count returned to Saint-Omer, he was accompanied by most of the English royal family, including Henry, John and Katherine.3 At Saint-Omer they were joined by the duke of Brittany and his duchess, Joan (Henry’s future wife). A magnificent banquet was held by the duchess of Burgundy at which every effort was made to delight the English lords, through wine, food and flattery. The English then escorted the dukes of Berry, Bourbon and Burgundy to a similar reception near Calais.

On 26 October, the two kings and their thousands of companions and retainers assembled in a huge encampment at Ardres. The whole plain was covered with brightly coloured tents and pavilions. Next day the kings met, surrounded by their dukes, knights and guards, and talked while they ate sweetmeats. Richard agreed to support the king of France in his quarrel with the duke of Milan, and to pursue a common policy towards the Church, which was then split between two popes. The following day they met again, and the princess was handed over to the English. Henry attended the royal wedding at Calais on 4 November and a few days later took ship back to Dover.4 Then the various parties split up, Richard going via Rochester to Kennington, Henry travelling via Dartford to London.5

Henry left London on 23 December and spent Christmas at Hertford.6 He was back in London by 6 January 1397. He departed again on the 13th to take part in a joust, probably at Hertford, following which his horses needed medical treatment. He was back in London on 19 January, at ‘the time of the parliament’, as the treasurer of his household noted.7 After his father’s constant efforts to talk up Henry’s usefulness to the king, Henry was once more appointed a receiver of petitions. So he was present at parliament from its opening, on 22 January. But trouble was brewing. Several other lords stayed away.

Henry would have had a lot of sympathy with those who absented themselves. Their reasons concerned Henry’s friend Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the duke of Milan. When Richard had agreed at Ardres to support the king of France in a war against Gian Galeazzo, he had not properly thought through the implications. Now, in parliament, those implications became clear. Richard proposed to demand a full measure of war taxation to pay for an expedition which could do the English no good at all. On 23 January, members of the commons elected Sir John Bussy as their Speaker and he immediately asked for clarification of certain points mentioned in the chancellor’s address. Bussy also asked that those lords who had stayed away from this parliament should now appear. The next day, the king’s officers openly explained that taxation was necessary to finance a war against Milan. The commons were not happy about this, and refused. The next day an irate Richard demanded they reassure him they would not try to resist his war plans.

Henry was deeply concerned. He had kept in touch with Gian Galeazzo by letters and gifts since he had met him in 1393, affectionately addressing him as ‘the count of Virtue’.8 He still had not forgotten Lucia Visconti, and would in due course discuss marrying her.9 To him, Richard’s plan to raise an army to fight Gian Galeazzo was absurd. It was unwarranted, a sign of Richard’s weakness for all things French. After all, the reasons for the hatred between Milan and France were hardly any more reasonable than the French king himself when in one of his fits. Gian Galeazzo’s daughter, Valentina, was married to Louis, duke of Orléans, brother of King Charles. One day in 1395, while she was looking after the three-year-old dauphin and her own four-year-old son, a poisoned apple had been slipped through the open window of the chamber, in the hope that the dauphin would eat it. Instead, her own son saw it, ran to it and bit it; he died shortly afterwards. The story sounds like a vicious slander, but the idea that she herself had tried to give the apple to the dauphin in the hope that her own son would succeed, and that he had died out of divine punishment for such an evil act, caught the public mood in France. Despite Valentina’s extreme distress – this boy was her fourth child to die in infancy – she was castigated as a traitor and an enemy of France. So terrible was her treatment that Gian Galeazzo had to demand action to restore her status and honour. He was ignored. This made Gian Galeazzo even angrier, and to spite France he supposedly informed the sultan Bayezid that the Nicopolis Crusade was on its way, giving warning of the French army’s strength and movements. When this became known, the French felt Gian Galeazzo had betrayed them spiritually as well as politically, and there was bitter enmity between Milan and Paris.

Even though there was probably more to the dispute than this account reveals, Froissart’s story shows that it was widely circulated.10 Hence, for the English to set out to fight for the king of France against the duke of Milan was a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money. Henry knew it, so did the commons. But Richard would not be argued with. He had given his word to the French king that he would help him. He had also promised some of his magnates that he would pay for their expenses in going to fight Milan.11 His third reason for insisting on attacking Milan was that Gian Galeazzo was a tyrant, and an unjust ruler (having usurped his uncle’s throne), and an enemy of Christian people everywhere, and it behoved the English to eradicate such an upstart. His fourth reason was that he wished to be ‘at liberty to command his people, to send them to aid his friends, and to dispose of his own goods at his will, where and whensoever he chose’.12

Henry seems to have suffered this outburst in silence. His father had requested that Thomas Talbot be brought to justice and that his Beaufort children be recognised as legitimate by the king. These things had yet to happen. So, although Richard had just outlined the basis for his absolutism, Henry said nothing. But he must have thought hard. He would have thought even harder a few days later, when Richard seized upon a petition presented by one Thomas Haxey. This had been passed by the receivers of petitions in this parliament, including Henry, but the king was infuriated by one clause, which stated that the expenses of his household should be reduced. He demanded that the author of the petition be brought before parliament. On 7 February Haxey was taken before the king and condemned to death as a traitor. Alarmed, the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, immediately stepped forward to plead mercy for Haxey. He also asked that, as a cleric, Haxey be handed over to the archbishop for custody. Richard assented. But the message was clear: to deny the king his unfettered right to rule was punishable by death.


Historians have argued for many years over whether Richard went mad in 1397. In the mid-twentieth century it was thought that he had indeed lost his mind, and the death of Queen Anne was identified as one of the catalysts. But really this is a modern myth: there is no evidence of madness in the king, just an ever-increasing tendency to rule his subjects through the medium of terror. In explaining their actions in 1397–8, the lords who were later arraigned for treason all pleaded that they had been frightened of the king. It was a genuine excuse; anyone in their position would have been scared. Even those intimate and trusted friends of the king, who were given high titles and extensive lands, were only favoured so long as they followed the king’s orders. Modern scholars now see Richard as essentially narcissistic, convinced of his own perfection, and yet deeply insecure. We might elaborate on this slightly and say that he was exceptionally self-conscious: so much so that his own identity, royal personage, ideas, rivalries and feelings formed not only the core but the limit of his entire world. As a result, with no real balance or objective view of himself and his kingdom, he suffered from a chronic lack of self-confidence, which made him by turns unreasonably angry and vengeful, as well as unreasonably generous, unjustifiably kind and increasingly paranoid. Moreover, these characteristics were noticeable from an early age: in his sacking of the chancellor for disagreeing with him, for example. When he rode out in front of the crowd during the Peasants’ Revolt, aged fourteen, he may have been very brave in the eyes of the expectant public, but he was driven by his own narcissistic obsession with himself and his powers as a monarch. Now, sixteen years later, he was wiser and more artful, but no one now believed he was a great leader. He was a thirty-year-old who still had something about him of the boy who pulls the legs off spiders – not because he is interested in insects or likes causing pain but because he has an unending fascination with the contrast between his inner fear and his apparent power.13

While we may have some sympathy for Richard, his psychological problems had a disastrous effect on the political situation in England. Haxey’s plight was just the tip of a very big iceberg. The Nicopolis Crusade (in which Bayezid defeated and massacred a Franco-Hungarian army) had plunged all France into grief, so they cancelled the intended expedition against Milan. Richard’s response was to follow their lead and reverse his declaration of war. Even though he had justified his bellicosity towards Milan in terms of his moral responsibility to remove Gian Galeazzo from power, he now justified his change of mind by saying he had always sought peace. Such a mercurial ruler could hardly be an inspiration to his people. Wise men do not follow leaders whom they suspect might later reproach them for their loyalty.

Following the parliament, Richard summoned a meeting of the royal council. He had decided to change his mind on another issue: the pursuit of a single policy towards the Church of Rome. Richard had recently decided his priority was to be elected Holy Roman Emperor, and this required some diplomatic shifting.14 Both the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Arundel refused to attend the council meeting, both claiming they were ill.15 Richard was furious, and sought a means whereby he could stop his regal authority being treated with such disdain. He fixed on the fact that his uncle and the earl of Arundel had been Appellants. Richard now sought to be revenged on the Lords Appellant, to make them an example to anyone who would question his authority, as he had done with Haxey.

Henry, as a former Appellant, had every reason to be afraid. Even though he had been pardoned for any action against the king in 1388, he knew that it would not take much for Richard to reverse all the pardons he had granted and to sentence all five Lords Appellant to death. Besides, his alienation from Richard was growing more serious. In February 1397 Richard adopted his cousin, Edward, earl of Rutland, as his ‘brother’.16 This was perhaps in emulation of Edward II’s adoption of Piers Gaveston as his brother.17The implications of Richard actually having a brother would have been enormous – a real brother would automatically have become heir to the throne – and it is surprising that historians have tended to overlook this formal adoption.18 With Richard making Rutland’s father keeper of the realm in 1394 and 1396, the adoption was the clearest indicator yet that Richard wanted the succession to the throne to pass to the house of York, not the Lancastrians or the Mortimers.

Wisely, Henry disappeared off to the Lancastrian estates in the Midlands after the council meeting. He went to Leicester in March, then moved to Tutbury at the end of the month, and returned to Leicester at the beginning of May.19 These cannot have been happy days. Indeed, one of the reasons why he did not marry at this time may have been his preoccupation with his own fate. Even though Edward ‘the king’s brother’ was commissioned to negotiate a marriage between Henry and the daughter of the king of Navarre, and there were rumours of his marrying Lucia Visconti (which Henry himself may have started), he stayed single.20 No doubt at Leicester he reflected sadly on the tomb of his dead wife. In June he returned south to Hertford, to discuss the looming crisis with his father.21 Within two weeks they were both summoned to Westminster. Richard wanted to know exactly where their loyalties lay. In this dispute between the king and the leaders of magnate opposition, would John and Henry defend the duke of Gloucester? Or would they remain dutifully quiet?

For John there was no question. He was loyal through and through, in both policy and instinct. He had not joined the Appellants in 1387, having been out of the country, and even though he had protested his loyalty on every occasion it had been called into doubt. Moreover, he hated the earl of Arundel. His only predicament concerned his son, Henry. If Richard revoked the pardons granted to the senior Appellants, then what was to stop him revoking the one granted to Henry too? What was there to stop Richard from accusing Henry of treason at a later date? If Henry did anything to incur Richard’s wrath, then he too would find himself on the wrong end of the executioner’s axe.22

Henry had even less choice. When Richard outlined his plans to him in the summer of 1397, he made it quite clear that he could either support the impeachment or be impeached along with the others. Eight lords would appeal the three senior Lords Appellant of treason. Henry did not join these Counter-Appellants, but was with the king at Westminster on 5 July and stayed for the next month in his household.23 Thus we may be sure that he had prior knowledge of the king’s actions on 10 July. That night Richard and a contingent of men-at-arms left Westminster and went to Pleshey Castle in Essex, where his uncle Duke Thomas was staying, and dragged him out of bed. Those at Pleshey, seeing the king there in the middle of the night, immediately knew that this was no ordinary arrest. The duchess, Lady Eleanor, wept copiously, and pleaded with the king to be merciful. Richard declared – whether to her or not is unclear – that he would show him as much mercy as the duke had shown Simon Burley nine years earlier.24 He took him to Tillingbourne, and handed him over the next day to Thomas Mowbray, constable of Calais, with orders to take the duke across the Channel.

It seemed that Richard had successfully carried out a coup against the Appellants. Henry was utterly disempowered. When announcing to the Londoners that he had arrested the duke of Gloucester, and the earls of Arundel and Warwick, Richard could say that not only had he the approval of the eight Counter-Appellants but also John, Henry and the duke of York (even though these three did not join the appeal).25 Henry’s acquiescence to the arrests, and his subsequent elevation to a dukedom, have led a number of historians to think that in 1397 Henry was again in favour with the king. However, there was still no amicable grounding to their relationship. Henry’s loyalty to Richard at this time was simply life-preserving, not approving, as can be seen by his refusal to join the Counter-Appellants. Richard’s lack of action against him was, rather, a matter of expediency. Had Richard threatened Henry and Mowbray as well as the leading Appellants in July 1397, he would have forced John also into revolt, and with him the entire Lancastrian confederacy. As it was, Richard broke the opposition by dividing Thomas and Henry from the other Appellants.

Everyone was nervous. No one knew what was going to happen. Even with their accord with the king worked out, Henry and his father were in danger. With the duke of York, they raised a large body of men which they brought to Dale Abbey for five days while the king was at Nottingham.26That this was with the king’s approval is shown by various payments in Henry’s accounts and by the king’s later explicit instructions.27 However, the raising of a Lancastrian army was a sure sign of uncertain times. On 28 August, Richard issued a letter patent specifically ordering John and Henry to bring an army to the next parliament ‘for the king’s protection’.28 John was to raise three hundred men-at-arms and six hundred archers; the duke of York one hundred men-at-arms and two hundred archers; and Henry was to assemble two hundred men-at-arms and four hundred archers. These forces, plus another two thousand of the king’s Cheshire archers, effectively destroyed any chance of men rallying to defend the accused lords.29

Then came the shocking news. The duke of Gloucester was dead. He had died, it was said, of natural causes in Calais.30 That sounded suspicious, coming so soon after his arrest. What were John and Henry to think? If Thomas was really dead, there was nothing they could do now to save him. If he was being kept alive – as, in fact, he was – the best they could do was to persuade Richard of his loyalty.31


On St Lambert’s Day, 17 September 1397, parliament assembled in a great marquee which had been set up in the yard of Westminster Palace. The old hall was being refashioned and rebuilt, so it was not possible to gather in the usual place. Outside there were many ranks of armed men. The two thousand Cheshire archers held their bows ready, arrows notched.

With the empty throne towering above them at one end, the members stood and waited. Then the king entered. The chancellor began to explain why parliament had been summoned. It was, he said, ‘to the honour and reverence of God and the salvation and correction of the realm’. If anyone there thought that it sounded like a crusade, they were not far wrong. ‘One king shall be king to them all’, declared the chancellor, ‘and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more.’32

The atmosphere was tense. There were many new faces, many men appointed by Richard. The rumours went around among the older hands that the king had arranged the return of as many pro-royalist members as possible.33 Rumours of the duke of Gloucester’s survival circulated too, as did speculation as to the earl of Arundel’s fate. More certain was the tension throughout the city. Thousands of archers and men-at-arms created an atmosphere of nervous hostility. The inns in the city had been overrun, with many of the Cheshire archers getting drunk and violent, and taking advantage of their favoured position as the king’s men.

The chancellor continued. ‘Our lord the king – considering how many high offences and misdeeds have been committed by the people of his kingdom against their allegiance and the estate of our lord the king and the law of his land in the past … and willing in his royal benignity to show and do grace to his said people, so that they should have greater courage and will to do good, and bear themselves the better towards the king in time to come – so he wills and agrees to make … a general pardon to his lieges … excepting fifty persons whom it would please the king to name, and all those who will be impeached in the present parliament.’

The king refused to name the fifty. Fear struck all those present.

It intensified the following day.

‘My lord king’, said Sir John Bussy, after the commons had re-elected him Speaker, ‘since we are bound by your command to tell your royal highness who undermined your power and transgressed against your regality, we tell you that Thomas, duke of Gloucester, and Richard, earl of Arundel, in the tenth year of your reign, with the assistance of Thomas Arundel, then chancellor of England and now archbishop of Canterbury, compelled you to concede a commission touching the government and state of your kingdom which was to the prejudice of your regality and majesty, whereby they did you great injury.’34

With that, the king demanded the commission of 1386 be read out. When everyone had heard it, the king declared in cold anger that it was hereby revoked, repealed and perpetually annulled, and so was every single Act which had been passed as a consequence.

Next the king demanded that the pardons against those who had risen in revolt in 1387 be read out aloud. When they had been heard, these were all revoked also. So too was the special pardon granted to the earl of Arundel in 1394. The pro-royalist commons, through Bussy, demanded that Richard be informed that the archbishop of Canterbury had advised the granting of this pardon to his brother, the earl, and so he too should be declared a traitor. Immediately the archbishop rose to his feet and began to speak. But Richard silenced him, declaring he could answer tomorrow. He never had the chance. As Bussy had said to the king, the archbishop was too clever; he should not be allowed to speak.

What Henry thought of this can be seen in the charges he later brought against Richard. But for the moment he kept quiet. He had to. His own pardon had just been revoked, and although Richard was prepared to forgive him on the grounds that he had tried to restrain the others, this provided him with little reassurance. In this mood of terror, it would take barely a word against Richard to incur the penalty of death. When the chancellor went on to announce that the matters that were about to be discussed were criminal offences, and that the prelates need not be present, it was clear that someone was going to die. The bishops and abbots withdrew. Outside the Cheshire archers were nervous. Someone spread the word that the king was under attack. Shouts went up, bows were drawn. Some arrows may even have been let fly. Not until the king himself appeared did the Cheshire men settle down.

On the third day, Wednesday 19 September, the tension rose higher still. The clergy were ordered to put their authority into the hands of a lay representative. They chose Sir Thomas Percy. Satisfied, the king turned to the Speaker and stated that, although certain people had asked to know who were the fifty men to be impeached, he refused to say. Moreover, anyone even asking for such information was a traitor and would be sentenced to death. The guilty men would take flight, the king explained, and men who were not on the list might also flee.35 In fact there was no list of fifty names, or, if there was, it was never produced. The king was purposefully creating the maximum amount of fear. In Richard’s mind, the fear of his subjects equated to his own sense of power.

On Thursday the 20th the terrified archbishop of Canterbury returned to parliament, prepared to speak against the accusations of treason and defend his life. The last two days must have been an ordeal for him, no less than they had been for his brother, the earl, locked in the Tower. But when he appeared at his seat in the parliamentary marquee, the king ordered him to leave. This was shocking: the king was acting as if he really was going to impeach the archbishop of Canterbury. Yet what had the archbishop done? He had acted as the spokesman for parliament in 1387. He had not ridden in arms against the king or de Vere or anyone else. He had been sent by parliament, along with the duke of Gloucester, to speak on their behalf when it had emerged that Richard was planning to waylay and murder the parliamentary embassy. He had dutifully served as chancellor for seven of the last ten years. How could this man be called a traitor?

Nevertheless, the trial went ahead. No one dared speak up for the archbishop. Bussy, speaking on behalf of the commons, in accordance with instructions given to him by the king, accused the archbishop of high treason.36 Following the recital of his actions in 1386, the proctor acting on behalf of the clergy was required to speak on their behalf. Sir Thomas Percy had no option but to do as the terrified clergy told him, and declared that the archbishop was a traitor. Richard then announced that he would take advice on how to punish the archbishop. A few days later he announced that he had decided to confiscate all of his lands, chattels, income and other possessions, and banish him from the kingdom for life.

On Friday 21 September Richard’s adopted brother, the earl of Rutland, entered parliament with the king’s half-brother, the earl of Huntingdon, the earls of Kent, Nottingham, Somerset and Salisbury, and Lord Despenser and William Scrope. They were all dressed in red silk robes banded with white silk, which was powdered with letters of gold. These men were the Counter-Appellants, and now they appealed six men of treason in direct emulation of the Merciless Parliament of 1388.

The six accused men were the archbishop of Canterbury, the duke of Gloucester, the earls of Arundel and Warwick, Lord Cobham and Thomas Mortimer.37 The last of these, although he was not one of the Lords Appellant, had slain Thomas Molyneux at Radcot Bridge. Henry had been there too. There was no doubt now that he was on very dangerous ground indeed. When the king ordered Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lieutenant of Ireland, to arrest Thomas – the uncle who had raised him from infancy – and to surrender him as a traitor, Henry could see that the king was prepared to test to destruction the loyalty of everyone whose past was questionable. The earl of March had three months to give up his uncle or be declared a traitor himself. The Mortimers were doomed. Henry must have known then that it was only a matter of time before he too would be forced into a similarly impossible situation.

Thomas Mowbray was equally nervous. On the face of it, as one of the Counter-Appellants, he was firmly and safely in the king’s camp. But he, like Henry, was one of the original Lords Appellant, and if the original three were guilty of treason, then he and Henry were too. Moreover, Mowbray had been entrusted with the custody of the duke of Gloucester. This had also entailed him supposedly murdering the duke on Richard’s orders. As Mowbray confessed to William Bagot a month later, he had never been so scared in his life as the day he had returned to England from Calais having received the order to murder the king’s uncle, and having failed to carry it out.38

When the earl of Arundel was dragged before parliament that Friday, he had heard nothing of the earlier proceedings. As far as he was concerned, he was an innocent man wrongfully arrested. Nevertheless, he knew he had many enemies, and since he had failed to do anything to stop Thomas Talbot from plotting the assassination of John and Henry, the Lancastrians were among them. Knowing this, Richard now looked to John, as hereditary high steward of England, to accuse the earl formally. The ensuing argument was recorded by the author of the anonymous but contemporaryHistoria Vitae et Regni Ricardi Secundi.39 When the appeal had been read out, Arundel insisted that he had been pardoned for any wrongdoing in 1388, and again in 1394.

‘Those pardons have been revoked, traitor’, John responded.

‘Truly, you lie’, replied the earl. ‘I was never a traitor.’

‘Then why did you seek a pardon?’ asked John.

‘To silence the tongues of my enemies, of whom you are one’, replied the earl. ‘And to be sure, when it comes to treason, you are in greater need of a pardon than I am.’

‘Answer the appeal’, interrupted the king angrily.

The earl now realised he was alone. Far from being pardoned, he was already a condemned man. He looked around him. He – unlike everyone else there – had nothing to lose.

‘I see it clearly now’, he said. ‘All those who accuse me of treason, you are all liars. Never was I a traitor.’ Then he faced the king. ‘I still claim the benefit of my pardon, which you, within these last six years, when you were of full age and free to act as you wished, granted to me of your own volition.’

Richard was in no mood for bargaining. ‘I granted it provided that it were not to my prejudice’, he said coldly.

‘Therefore the grant is worthless’, added John.

The earl could not believe what was happening to him. ‘In truth’, he said to John, ‘I was as ignorant about that pardon as you were – and you were abroad at the time – until it was willingly granted to me by the king.’

This was true. John could say nothing. But Bussy could. ‘That pardon has already been revoked by the king, the lords and us, the faithful commons.’

The earl shook his head. ‘Where are those faithful commons?’ Turning to them, he exclaimed, ‘You are not here to act faithfully. You are here to shed my blood. If the faithful commons were here they would without doubt be on my side, trying to help me from falling into your clutches. They, I know, are grieving greatly for me while you, I know, have always been false.’

Bussy, seeing the earl running away with the debate, and knowing he did indeed have sympathisers among the terrorised commons, and more sympathisers outside among the Londoners, interjected hurriedly. ‘Look, lord king, how this traitor is trying to stir up dissent between us and the commons who stayed at home.’

‘Liars, all of you!’ shouted back the earl. ‘I am no traitor.’

At this point Henry rose to his feet. ‘Did you not say to me at Huntingdon, when we first gathered in revolt, that before doing anything else it would be better to seize the king?’

The earl glared at his erstwhile comrade-in-arms. This was betrayal. ‘You, Henry, earl of Derby, you lie in your teeth! I never said anything to you or to anyone else about my lord king, except what was to his welfare and honour.’

But this reply only gave the king himself the opportunity to testify. ‘Did you not say to me at the time of your parliament, in the bath behind the White Hall, that Simon Burley was worthy of death? And I replied that I neither knew nor could discover any reason for his death. And even though the queen, my wife, and I interceded tirelessly on his behalf, yet you and your accomplices, ignoring our pleas, traitorously put him to death.’

To this the earl had no answer. Henry had asked him a question to which he obviously knew the answer. The king had then asked him another, to which there was no answer.

‘Pass judgement on him’, snapped the king.

Then the earl heard John, in his capacity of steward of England, sentence him to be drawn to the gallows, hanged, beheaded and quartered. To which the king added that, out of regard for his rank, he need only be beheaded.

The earl did not flinch. He walked to his death, smiling at those who lined the streets to see him go.

With the earl of Arundel executed, Thomas Arundel banished, and Thomas Mortimer in exile in Ireland, only the duke of Gloucester, the earl of Warwick and Lord Cobham were left for Richard to deal with. Cobham, who had been a commissioner in 1386, was accused on the same day as Arundel, but his trial was postponed. The earl of Warwick was led into parliament and broke down in tears, weeping and wailing. He was a sixty-year-old man, and unable to function in the atmosphere of terror which Richard had created. So much did he confess, and so many tears did he shed, and so abject was his apology, that, although he was sentenced to death by John, as was required, the king granted him his life, and only ordered that he spend it on the Isle of Man.

That left Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester. The king had announced his death in late August or early September, after ordering Mowbray to murder him, but Mowbray had not been able to do the deed, and had returned to England. On being told this, Richard had insisted that Mowbray had to kill the duke. To make sure, Richard sent his own chamber valet, William Serle, with Mowbray to Calais. Just before the parliament began, having made a confession on 9 September, Thomas of Woodstock was smothered to death under a featherbed in the back room of an inn in Calais. Although the duke had been kept secretly alive, he was dead by 21 September, when Richard ordered Mowbray to bring him to parliament. Three days later, Mowbray announced that the duke had died in custody in Calais. This time it was true.

In return for his loyalty during this parliament, and in return for his and his father’s cooperation in the lead up to it, Henry was raised to a dukedom. On the last day of parliament, 29 September, he became the duke of Hereford, in recognition of his late wife’s inheritance of the title of Hereford. He was also permitted to bear the arms of St Edward the Confessor, along with certain other men of royal descent. At the same time seven of the eight Counter-Appellants were given new titles. The king’s adopted brother, Edward, was made duke of Aumale; Mowbray became duke of Norfolk, and the king’s half-brother, John Holland, became duke of Exeter. Richard’s nephew, Thomas Holland, son of his recently deceased half-brother of the same name, became duke of Surrey. The earl of Somerset became the marquis of Dorset, Lord Despenser became the earl of Gloucester, and William Scrope became the earl of Wiltshire. In return for doing Richard’s bidding, these men were well rewarded. But even now Henry could not feel at ease. On the very day that he was raised to a dukedom, one of his men, William Laken, was murdered by Sir John Hawkston, one of Richard’s Cheshire knights, in Fleet Street. In fact, Laken was killed while he was waiting to meet Henry, and if Henry believed that the king was secretly plotting against his own life at this time, he would have been correct.40

After years of rivalry and jealousy, Richard could at last feel that he had brought Henry to heel. Richard had always lived in the shadow of his cousin’s achievements. Henry had sired sons, was a jousting champion, had been on a crusade, led an army and travelled to Jerusalem. It had taken many years, but at last Richard had proved to himself that he could master him. As far as Richard was concerned, he had finally achieved the sort of power which he believed a king ought to wield over his subjects.

For Henry the parliament of September 1397, and the lead up to it, had been like nothing he had ever known. He had seen the workings of his cousin’s mind finally revealed in all their terrifying selfishness and cruelty. The duplicity which Richard had demonstrated was anathema to a logical, honest man like Henry. But more than anything else, it was the murder of his uncle that stuck in his mind. This time, Richard had not just threatened to kill a member of the royal family. He had actually done it.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!