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Second crisis of 1397–99

After having his Royal authority clipped Richard gradually worked to re-established royal authority in the months after the deliberations of the Merciless Parliament. The aggressive foreign policy toward France of the Lords Appellant failed when their efforts to form a wide, anti-French coalition came to nothing. Shorty thereafter the north of England fell victim to a Scottish incursion. In 1389 the king’s ncle, John of Gaunt, returned to England and settled his differences and made peace with the king, after which the old statesman acted as a moderating influence on English politics.

Richard was now over twenty-one years old and could with confidence claim the right to govern in his own name. Therefore, on May 3rd, King Richard II assumed full control of the government, claiming that the difficulties of the past years had been the result of listening to bad councillors. He outlined a foreign policy that reversed the actions of the Lords Appellant by seeking peace and reconciliation with France instead of war. Richard promised to lessen the burden of taxation on the people significantly. These decisions allowed Richard II to rule peacefully for the next eight years, the most tranquil part of his reign.

King Richard II of England

With national stability secured, Richard began negotiating a more permanent peace with France. A proposal put forward in 1393 that would have greatly expanded the territory of Aquitaine, possessed by the English crown, failed because it included a requirement that the English king pay homage to King Charles VI of France – a condition that proved unacceptable to the English public. Instead, in 1396, a 28 year truce was agreed to, wherein Richard agreed to marry Isabella, daughter of the King of France, when she came of age. There were some misgivings about the betrothal, in particular because the princess was then only six years old, and thus would not be able to produce an heir to the throne of England for many years.

Despite the peaceful years of Richard’s rule he had not forgotten or forgiven the indignities he perceived. In particular, the execution of his former teacher Sir Simon de Burley was an insult not easily forgotten. These resentments simmered within the king.

The period referred to as the “tyranny” of Richard II began towards the end of the 1390’s. The king had the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl’s of Arundel and Warwick arrested in July 1397. The timing of these arrests and Richard’s motivation are not entirely clear. Although one chronicle suggested that a plot was being planned against the king, yet there is no evidence that this was the case. The most likely scenario is that Richard had simply come to feel strong enough in his powers and position as king and to safely retaliate against these three men for their role in events of 1386–88 and eliminate them as threats to his power. In simpler terms it was time for the king’s revenge.

The Earl of Arundel was the first of the three to be brought to trial, at the parliament of September 1397. The Earl of Arundel and Richard II had a antagonistic relationship that began during the First Crisis.

In August 1387, the time known as the First Crisis, the King dismissed the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Arundel from the Council and replaced them with his favourites – including the Archbishop of York, Alexander Neville; the Duke of Ireland, Robert de Vere; Michael de la Pole; the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Robert Tresilian, who was the Chief Justice; and the former Mayor of LondonNicholas Bremb

Radcot Bridge

The King summoned Gloucester and Arundel to a meeting. However, instead of coming, they raised troops and defeated the new Councilors of the king at Radcot Bridge on December 22, 1387. During that battle, Gloucester and Arundel took the favourites prisoner. The next year, the Merciless Parliament condemned the favourites.

Arundel was one of the Lords Appellant who accused and condemned Richard II’s favorites. He made himself particularly odious to the King by refusing, along with Gloucester, to spare the life of Sir Simon de Burley who had been condemned by the Merciless Parliament. This was even after the queen, Anne of Bohemia, went down on her knees before them to beg for mercy. King Richard never forgave this humiliation and planned and waited for his moment of revenge.

By 1394, Arundel was again a member of the royal council, and was involved in a quarrel with John of Gaunt, in the parliament of that year. Arundel, further antagonized the King by arriving late for the queen’s funeral. Richard II, in a rage, snatched a wand and struck Arundel in the face and drew blood. Shortly after that, the King feigned a reconciliation but he was only biding his time for the right moment to strike.

Arundel was persuaded by his brother Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, to surrender himself and to trust to the king’s clemency. On July 12, 1397, Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel was arrested for his opposition to Richard II as well as plotting with Gloucester to imprison the king. He stood trial at Westminster and was attainted. He was beheaded on September 21, 1397 and was buried in the church of the Augustin Friars, Bread Street, London.

Thomas of Woodstock (The Duke of Gloucester) was imprisoned in Calais to await trial for treason. During that time he was murdered, probably by a group of men led by Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, and the knight Sir Nicholas Colfox, presumably on behalf of Richard II. This caused an outcry among the nobility of England that is considered by many to have added to Richard’s unpopularity.

Warwick was also condemned to death, but his life was spared and his sentence reduced to life imprisonment. Arundel’s brother Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was exiled for life. Richard then took his persecution of adversaries to the localities. While recruiting retainers for himself in various counties, he prosecuted local men who had been loyal to the appellants. The fines levied on these men brought great revenues to the crown, although contemporary chroniclers raised questions about the legality of the proceedings.

Despite the destruction of the Lords Appellant a threat to Richard’s authority still existed in the form of the House of Lancaster, represented by John of Gaunt and his son Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford. The House of Lancaster not only possessed greater wealth than any other family in England, they were of royal descent and, as such, likely candidates to succeed the childless Richard II.

John of Gaunt had been at the centre of English politics for over thirty years, and when he died on February 3, 1399 at the age of led to insecurity within the government. Rather than allowing Bolingbroke to succeed to his father’s title, Duke of Lancaster, Richard extended the term of his exile to life and confiscated all of John of Gaunt’s his properties. The king felt safe from Henry Bolingbroke, who was residing in Paris, since the French had little interest in any challenge to Richard and his peace policy. Richard II left the country in May for another expedition in Ireland.

In 1398 Richard summoned a packed Parliament to Shrewsbury—known as the Parliament of Shrewsbury—which declared all the acts of the Merciless Parliament to be null and void, and announced that no restraint could legally be put on the king. It delegated all parliamentary power to a committee of twelve lords and six commoners chosen from the king’s friends, making Richard an absolute ruler unbound by the necessity of gathering a Parliament again.

Overthrow and death

In June 1399, Louis, Duke of Orléans, gained control of the court of Charles VI of France who had become debilitated by his mental Illness. The policy of rapprochement with the English crown established by Richard II did not suit Louis’s political ambitions, and for this reason he found it opportune to allow Henry Bolingbroke to leave for England. With a small group of followers, Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire towards the end of June 1399.


Men from all over the country soon rallied around the duke. Meeting with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who had his own misgivings about the king, Bolingbroke insisted that his only object was to regain his own land and titles. Percy took him at his word and declined to interfere. The king had taken most of his household knights and the loyal members of his nobility with him to Ireland, so Henry experienced little resistance as he moved south. Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was acting as Keeper of the Realm, had little choice but to side with Bolingbroke. Meanwhile, Richard was delayed in his return from Ireland and did not land in Wales until July 24, 1399.

The king He his way to Conwy, where on August 12, he met with the Earl of Northumberland for negotiations. On August 19, Richard II surrendered to Henry at Flint Castle, promising to abdicate if his life were spared. Both men then returned to London, the indignant king riding all the way behind Henry. On arrival, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on September 1, 1399.

King Henry IV of England

Henry was by now fully determined to take the throne, but presenting a rationale for this action proved a dilemma. It was argued that Richard, through his tyranny and misgovernment, had rendered himself unworthy of being king. However, Henry was not next in line to the throne; the heir presumptive was Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who was descended from Edward III’s third son, the second to survive to adulthood, Lionel of Antwerp. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, was Edward’s fourth son, the third to survive to adulthood. The problem was solved by emphasising Henry’s descent in a direct male line, whereas the Earl of March’s descent was through his grandmother.

According to the official record (read by Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, during an assembly of lords and commons at Westminster Hall on Tuesday September, 30, 1399), Richard gave up his crown willingly and ratified his deposition citing as a reason his own unworthiness as a monarch. On the other hand, the Traison et Mort Chronicle suggests otherwise. It describes a meeting between Richard and Henry that took place one day before the parliament’s session. The king succumbed to blind rage, ordered his release from the Tower, called his cousin a traitor, demanded to see his wife and swore revenge throwing down his bonnet, while the duke refused to do anything without parliamentary approval.

When parliament met to discuss Richard’s fate, the bishop of St Asaph read thirty-three articles of deposition that were unanimously accepted by lords and commons. On October 1, 1399, Richard II was formally deposed and on October 13, the feast day of Edward the Confessor, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, was crowned Henry IV of England. Henry had previously agreed to let Richard live after his abdication.

Coat of Arms of King Henry IV of England

This all changed when it was revealed that the earls of Huntingdon, Kent and Salisbury and Lord Despenser, and possibly also the Earl of Rutland – all now demoted from the ranks they had been given by Richard – were planning to murder the new king and restore Richard in the Epiphany Rising. Although averted, the plot highlighted the danger of allowing Richard to live. He is thought to have starved to death in captivity on or around February 14, 1400, although there is some question over the date and manner of his death. His body was taken south from Pontefract and displayed in the old St Paul’s Cathedral on February 17, before burial in King’s Langley Priory on March 6, 1400.

King Richard II of England did not live long after his abdication. Although he was removed from the throne he did retain his title of King of England.

Royal Standard of King Henry IV of England