VI. RICHARD II

“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.”81

“Richard II,” says Holinshed, “was seemely of shape and favour, and of nature good enough, if the wickednesse and naughtie demeanour of such as were about him had not altered it.... He was prodigal, ambitious, and much given to pleasure of the bodie.”82 He loved books, and helped Chaucer and Froissart. He had shown courage, presence of mind, and judicious action in the Great Revolt; but after that enervating crisis he lapsed into enervating luxury and left the government to wasteful ministers. Against these men a powerful opposition formed, led by Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, Richard, Earl of Arundel, and Henry Bolingbroke, grandson of Edward III. This faction dominated the “Merciless Parliament” of 1388, which impeached and hanged ten of Richard’s aides. In 1390 the King, still a youth of twenty-three, took active charge, and for seven years he governed constitutionally—i.e., in harmony with the laws, traditions, and chosen representatives of the nation.

The death of Richard’s Bohemian Queen Anne (1394) deprived him oí a wholesome and moderating influence. In 1396 he married Isabelle, daughter of Charles VI, in the hope of cementing peace with France; but as she was a child of only seven years, he spent his substance on male and female favorites. The new Queen brought a French retinue to London, and these brought French manners, perhaps French theories of absolute monarchy. When the Parliament of 1397 sent Richard a bill of complaint against the extravagance of his court, he replied haughtily that such matters were outside the jurisdiction of Parliament. He demanded the name of the member who had proposed the complaint; Parliament, cowed, condemned the proponent to death; Richard pardoned him.

Soon thereafter Gloucester and Arundel suddenly left London. Suspecting a plot to depose him, the King ordered their arrest. Arundel was beheaded, Gloucester was smothered to death (1397). In 1399 John of Gaunt died, leaving a rich estate; Richard, needing funds for an expedition to Ireland, confiscated the Duke’s property, to the horror of the aristocracy. While the King was restoring peace in Ireland, Gaunt’s exiled son and disinherited heir, Henry Bolingbroke, landed in York with a small army that rapidly grew, as powerful nobles joined his cause. On returning to England, Richard found his reduced forces so outnumbered, friends falling away from him in panic, that he surrendered his person and throne to Bolingbroke, who was crowned as Henry IV (1399). So ended the Plantagenet dynasty that had begun with Henry II in 1154; so began the Lancastrian dynasty that would end with Henry VI in 1461. Richard II died in prison at Pontefract (1400), aged thirty-three, perhaps from the winter rigor of his confinement, possibly slain, as Holinshed and Shakespeare thought, by servants of the new King.

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