Shakespeare the Historian: Richard II and the War of the Roses
Who was Richard II?
Reign: 1377 – 1399 (deposed)
Death: 1400 (murdered)
Historical Context surrounding Richard II
Richard II was born in 1367, in Bordeaux which was then part of the English principality of Aquitaine. He was the second son of Edward, the Black prince, and his wife Joan of Kent. Edward was in line to the throne, after his father Edward III. The Black Prince was a distinguished military leader like his father, bringing about victories at in the Hundred Year’s War against France. However, Edward died in 1376, and as his first son had died in 1371, Richard was therefore the heir to the throne. Richard ascended to the throne in 1377 at the age of ten. Richard, at the age of ten, was not prepared to be king. It was usual for such a young monarch to have a regent rule in their place, an older relative. However, it was feared that John of Gaunt – Richard’s uncle – would try to usurp his throne, so instead of a single regent a council of noblemen were put in place to rule on Richard’s behalf. (Turn to page 178 of Year 7 History textbook)
1381 Peasant’s Revolt – a poll tax was imposed on every person over the age of 15. This resulted in a revolt across Essex and Kent, led by Wat Tyler. The rebels, numbering 100,000 men marched on London, pillaging houses as they went. They burnt the records of their bondage and put to death lawyers, justices and other officials. The king met the men in Essex and granted their demands, which were: abolition of villeinage; reduction of rent to fourpence an acre; free access to all fairs and markets; a general pardon. The men dispersed. Meanwhile some of the men were still rampaging about London, so the king met them at Smithfield where Tyler was killed. Their demands were met and they also dispersed. Once the rioting had calmed down Richard quickly revoked the Charter of Freedom and Pardon. 1388 Merciless or Wonderful Parliament – the king was being ruled by a select few, who had become the king’s favourites. Amongst them was the Earl of Oxford, Robert de Vere, with whom it the king was said to have had a homosexual relationship by Walsingham, a chronicler of his own era. Five lords, known as the Lords Appellant, rid the parliament of the king’s favourites. Richard, now aged 23, dismissed his guardians and ruled for himself. He ruled well for 8 years. 1397 - Richard had established himself as an absolute monarch, and took revenge on three of the Lords Appellant for having exiled his favourites nine years ago. A quarrel then arose between two of the lords, Norfolk and Hereford. Hereford accused Norfolk of uttering treasonable words against the king, and although parliament agreed it should be settled through single combat Richard took matters into his own hands and banished Norfolk for life and Hereford for ten years. 1399- Hereford returned from exile to reclaim his lands. He was supported by the Duke of York and the mass of the people, and succeeded in overthrowing Richard, becoming Henry IV. 1400 – Richard was kept as a prisoner in the Tower of London, before being moved to Pontefract Castle. After men still loyal to Richard had made an attempt at overthrowing King Henry and reinstating Richard as king, Henry realised the potential threat of keeping Richard alive. He starved to death in captivity, and died 14th February 1400. His body was displayed in the old St Paul’s Cathedral before being buried. Henry’s body was finally moved to Westminster Cathedral under the reign of King Henry V, where Richard had designed an elaborate tomb. His first wife Anne was already buried there. In more recent news regarding King Richard, in 2010 the National Gallery discovered in their own archives discovered drawings and artefacts relating to the king. In the 1891 Richard had been exhumed to satisfy a Victorian curiosity as to how the king had been killed. Whilst doing so they took sketches of his skeleton, from...
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