Richard II was son of Edward, The Black Prince and grandson of Edward III. As his father pre-deceased his grandfather, it was Richard, aged just ten, who became king when Edward III died in 1377. Richard II’s reign is remembered for the Peasants Revolt and the image of the then 12 year old king meeting the rebels. As a young king his country was ruled at first by Regents. As he grew older he formed a group of favourites around him. These men were given prominent roles when he declared himself of age. Arguments over the role of his favourites led to confrontation and reprisals which led to his deposition, imprisonment and possible murder in 1400.
Richard II and the Peasants Revolt
Just two years into the young kings reign the great Peasants Revolt broke out. A combination of taxes, low wages, shortages of labour and radical preaching combined to bring about the uprising. The revolt began in Kent, in 1381. It’s causes can be traced back to the Black Death and Statute of Liberties. These created a labour crisis and solution. It was a platform from which radicals such as John Ball could preach and be listened to.
The Revolt began with Poll Tax evasion. Enforcing the collection of the tax became a priority for the treasury. Angered by the tax, which was widely seen as unfair, the people of Fobbing refused to comply. Violence erupted in which treasury clerks and several jurors were killed. News of the rioting spread quickly. Others, of a like mind, met on June 4th at Bocking. The group was growing larger and it now began to challenge the justice system and tax collectors. The gaol at Maidstone was stormed to free a prisoner. Rochester Castle was taken, without force as it surrendered to the rebels.
With Wat Tyler now installed as their leader the rebels marched on Canterbury. Here they deposed the absent Archbishop, attacked the property of Royal Councillors and forced the monks to swear allegiance to their cause. Now a host of rebels were marching on London from several directions, Kent, Suffolk and East Anglia. The Royal Household moved to the Tower of London. A delegation was sent to meet the Rebels to see what their demands were.
The rebels complained about the church, tax and the improper application of law by parliament’s men. They stated that they were ‘true’ to the king. They were not willing to return home though. Insead they marched into London. Here they destroyed buildings and made their way to the places where they believed they would find members of the Kings Council.
Richard II had by this time moved from the Tower. It was taken by the rebels and a number of leading members of the Royal Household were dragged to Tower Hill and unceremoniously beheaded. (Note: The rebels found the Kings mother and sister but did them no physical harm. The future King Henry IV was also spared.)
The following day, Richard II met the rebels at Smithfield. A large crowd was present and Richard was accompanied by an entourage. King Richard II and Wat Tyler spoke. Tyler made further demands whilst also claiming to be Richard’s kinsman. Tyler appears to have succeeded in getting refreshments for the rebels. However as he made to move away from Smithfield, suggesting that this stage of the revolt, if not all, was over, an argument broke out between Tyler and some servants.
The Mayor of London intervened. An order was given for Tyler’s arrest at which Tyler made a signal or movement in the direction of the king. He then attempted to strike the Mayor. Tyler was soon mortally wounded as the Mayor and Royal Guards stabbed him repeatedly.
Tyler’s death left an angry and confused crowd. Richard II defused the situation. The Mayor then took control of matters and the revolt, in London, was over.
Richard II and the promotion of favourites
Richard’s reign as a child had seen Government run by senior nobles. As he came of age he developed a group of his own supporters who he wanted to promote to high ranks. This led to confrontation. Richard needed Parliament to grant new taxes for the continued war in France. Parliament, unhappy at his promotion of favourites, declined to allow these taxes. They also called for the dismissal of his favourites. In the chaos that followed the king being turned down, parliament was accused of treason. Parliament in 1388, banished, imprisoned or executed the favourites. Richard II was left as a king forced to rule as Parliament saw fit.
The Lords Appellant
Parliament’s rule in Richard’s minority was through the 5 Lords Appellant and John of Gaunt. The Lords Appellant were senior nobles who held much land, wealth and power. It was these Lords Appellant who were responsible for Richard’s favourites being exiled or even executed.
Richard at first opted for a route of moderate change. With relative peace elsewhere, he chose to assert English power in Ireland. By 1395 he had achieved domination of the island, gained homage from most Irish nobles and acquired new found military backing.
With the kingdom seemingly secure, Richard now felt able to take revenge on the Lords Appellant. The Duke of Gloucester was arrested and sent to Calais, never to be seen again. The Earl of Arundel was beheaded and his brother, who was Archbishop of Canterbury, exiled. The Earl of Warwick was also banished. These lords were stripped of rank, title and income. Their lands, and those of their associates, were taken from them and given to Richard’s favourites and the ex-Appellants who remained.
Richard’s men worked to ensure that this moved quickly. It was an impressive show of strength and decisive action. So much so that Parliament voted him a lifetime right to customs duties.
Richard II is deposed by Bolingbroke
In September 1398 an argument broke out between the Duke of Hereford, Henry Bolingbroke, and the Duke of Norfolk. These two ex-Appellants accused each other of treason. It provided Richard II with an opportunity. Both men were exiled. Lands again stripped. In January of 1399, John of Gaunt died. His lands were seized by the crown. Richard, seemingly safe and satisfied with his revenge, went to Ireland.
Bolingbroke had not taken his exile, or loss of inheritance from Gaunt, lightly. He gathered an army and landed on the Yorkshire coast. The City of York surrendered to Bolingbroke. Word was sent from York, by Richard’s own men, to other strongholds to submit to Henry Bolingbroke. Richard II returned from Ireland to find that he had no support. He was captive within his own kingdom. Henry Bolingbroke was proclaimed King in September 1399. Richard was taken to Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire, where he died in 1400.
|Henry II||Richard I||King John|
|Henry III||Edward I||Edward II|
|Edward III||Richard II|
|House of Lancaster|
|Henry IV||Henry V||Henry VI|
|House of York|
|Edward IV||Edward V||Richard III|
|Murder of Thomas Becket||Magna Carta||Ten Facts about the Black Death|
|Edward I's Conquest of Wales||Madog ap Llywelyn||Causes of the Peasants Revolt|
|Timeline of the Peasants Revolt|
|Sources and Interpretations|
|Paston Letters||John Rous|
BBC – Biography of Richard II