In my last blog entry I said that I would discuss the oddity of the downgrading of Edward VIII and his titles for this next blog entry. I have slightly changed plans. I will speak of Edward VIII’s downgrading in my last post of this series. Prior to that I want to discuss other abdications to show just how unique was the abdication and reduction of the Titles of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom.
I’d like to begin with King Richard II of England, for example, who was forced to abdicate after power was seized by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, while Richard was abroad. Today is also the anniversary of the birth of Richard II, January 6, 1367.
There were two crises that brought Richard down. Today we focus on the first crisis.
Richard II, King of England and Duke of Aquitaine.
Richard II (January 6, 1367 – c. February 14, 1400), also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard, a son of Edward the Black Prince, was born in Bordeaux during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III. Richard was not the heir of father as he had an older brother, Edward of Angoulême. Edward died at the age of five in 1370, leaving his three-year-old brother, Richard of Bordeaux, as the new second in line to the throne. After the Black Prince’s death in 1376, Richard became heir apparent to his grandfather Edward III and succeeded the following year. Richard’s advancement through the order of succession ahead of any Royal uncles confirms that the principle of primogeniture was firmly established at that time.
Since Richard II was a minor, his first years as king found governmental responsibilities were in the hands of a series of councils. The majority of the aristocracy preferred this system rather than a regency led by the king’s uncle, John of Gaunt. Despite John of Gaunt not being in power he remained highly influential. England then faced various problems, including an ongoing war against France (which was not going well for the English), border conflicts with Scotland, and economic difficulties related to the Black Death.
Richard II, King of England and Duke of Aquitaine.
A major challenge of the reign was the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, It is only with the Peasants’ Revolt that Richard starts to emerge clearly in the historical annals. One of his first significant acts after the rebellion was to marry Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia and his wife Elisabeth of Pomerania, on January 20, 1382. The marriage had diplomatic significance. With the division within Europe caused by the Western Schism, Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire were seen as potential allies against France in the ongoing Hundred Years’ War. Despite these incentives the marriage was not popular in England. Furthermore, the marriage was childless. Anne died from plague in 1394, greatly mourned by her husband.
Michael de la Pole had been instrumental in the marriage negotiation for the king and this raised the king’s confidence in him which lead to de la Pole gradually becoming more involved at court and in government. This all occurred as Richard came of age. Another member of the close circle around the king was Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who in this period emerged as the king’s favourite. Richard’s close friendship to de Vere was also disagreeable to the political establishment. This displeasure was exacerbated by the earl’s elevation to the new title of Duke of Ireland in 1386. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham suspected the relationship between the king and de Vere was of a homosexual nature, due to a resentment Walsingham had toward the king.
Tensions came to a head over the approach to the war in France. While the court party, (closest advisers to the king) preferred negotiations, John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Buckingham, (uncles of the king) urged a large-scale campaign to protect English possession. Richard’s course of action was to choose a so-called crusade led by Henry le Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, which failed miserably. In response to this setback, Richard turned his attention instead towards France’s ally, Scotland. In 1385, the king himself led a punitive expedition to the north, which also ended in complete failure. Because of these military failures, the relationship between Richard and his uncle John of Gaunt deteriorated further. In response to the tensions John of Gaunt left England to pursue his claim to the throne of Castile in 1386 amid rumours of a plot against his person. With John of Gaunt gone, the unofficial leadership of the growing dissent against the king and his courtiers passed to Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Buckingham – who had by now been created Duke of Gloucester.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
In 1386 The threat of a French invasion did not subside, but instead grew stronger. At the Parliament which convened in October that year, Michael de la Pole – then Chancellor of England – requested taxation of an unprecedented level for the defence of the Kingdom. Parliament responded by refusing to consider any request until de la Pole was removed from office. Unbeknownst to Richard, Parliament was working with the support of the Duke of Gloucester and Arundel. The king famously responded with defiance that he would not dismiss as much as a scullion from his kitchen at parliament’s request. It was when the king was threatened with deposition that he was forced to give in and let de la Pole go. Afterward a commission was set up to review and control royal finances for a year.
Richard was deeply perturbed by this affront to his royal prerogative, and from February to November 1387 went on a “gyration” (tour) of the country to muster support for his causes. By installing de Vere as Justice of Chester, he began the work of creating a loyal military power base in Cheshire. Richard also secured a legal ruling from Chief Justice Robert Tresilian that Parliament’s conduct had been unlawful and treasonable.
On his return to London, the king was confronted by the Duke of Gloucester, Arundel and Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who brought an appeal of treason against de la Pole, de Vere, Tresilian, and two other loyalists: the mayor of London, Nicholas Brembre, and Alexander Neville, the Archbishop of York. Richard stalled the negotiations to gain time, as he was expecting de Vere to arrive from Cheshire with military reinforcements. The three earls then joined forces with Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (John of Gaunt’s son, later King Henry IV), and Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham – this group known to history as the Lords Appellant. On December 20, 1387 they intercepted de Vere at Radcot Bridge, where he and his forces were routed and he was obliged to flee the country.
Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (John of Gaunt’s son, later King Henry IV)
Richard now had no choice but to comply with the appellants’ demands; Brembre and Tresilian were condemned and executed, while de Vere and de la Pole – who had by now also left the country, were sentenced to death in absentia at the Merciless Parliament in February 1388. The proceedings went further, and a number of Richard’s chamber knights were also executed, among these Burley. The appellants had now succeeded completely in breaking up the circle of favourites around the king and thus reducing his power.
Coat of Arm of King Richard II of England, Duke of Aquitaine.