Richard II: The Weak King

Born 6 Jan 1367, in Bordeaux, France (baptized 9 Jan 1367 in Bordeaux Cathedral), he succeeded to the throne on 21 June 1377 and was crowned 16 July. He was forced to abdicate on 30 Nov 1399. He died 14 Feb 1400 at Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire. He asserted his royal power beyond his abilities.


Here’s the table by Dan Jones, The Plantagenets:

The above table gives a good overview of the entire Plantagenet family.

Two more by Jones:



Valois Kings from the Encyclopedia of Medieval France:


After Richard’s father’s death, he was made Prince of Wales, duke of Cormwall and earl of Chester on 20 Nov 1376. He succeeded his father Edward III on 22 June 1377 and was crowned on 16 July.

He married (1) at Westminster 20 Jan 1382 Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia. She was born at Prague 11 July 1366. She died at Sheen in Richmond, Surrey, 7 June 1394, and was buried at Westminster Abbey 3 Aug 1394. They had no issue.

Richard married (2) Isabelle of France, at St. Nicholas, Calais, France, on 4 Nov 1396. She was born at Hotel de Louvre, Paris, 9 Nov 1389, 2nd eldest daughter of Charles VI, King of France. They had no issue.

After Richard died, Henry IV allowed Isabelle to return to France where she married a second time. She died with the title duchess of Orleans at Blois, 13 Sep 1409. She was at first buried at Blois, but in 1624 her remains were reburied in the church of the Celestines at Paris.

Richard’s epitaph:

He was truthful in discourse and full of reason. Tall in body, he was prudent in mind as Homer. He favored the Church; he overthrew the proud and threw down whoever violated royal prerogative. He crushed heretics and laid low their friends.

The last line may refer to Wycliffe and the Lollards.


  1. When Richard was crowned, he was a minor. The power resided with a council, the greatest magnates (generic term for large landowner), and parliament. They did not allow him much money for any chivalrous court or much anything else.
  2. As he grew older, his taste for a splendid court, ceremony, and largesse increased. When he and Charles VI of France met in 1396, after Richard reached his power as a full king, they had a gift-exchange contest. Richard produced a buckle worth £300, and goblet and pitcher at £200, a huge golden cup and pitcher at £470, and necklace of pearls and precious stones belonging to his first queen Anne of Bohemia, as much as £3,300. Exaggerated prices? Maybe, for these are huge It was a good contest to lose, if you are Charles VI! Two tidbits: Richard introduced the handkerchiefs at court, and spoons at courtly banquets.
  3. As noted, three power spheres: (1) The greatest magnates; (2) his councilors appointed by parliament, not the king; (3) parliament. How was Richard going to break free from their control? Would he go too far and alienate them or cooperate? We can predict that things will not go smoothly.
  4. In 1377 John of Gaunt, his uncle, refused to give up on his military ambitions, even though past glorious battles were decades old and rule of Aquitaine had been lost. Taxes were raised. In Nov 1380 parliament voted a flat-rate poll tax of one shilling per head, three times the poll tax of 1377.
  5. The Great Revolt of 1381 ensued, begun at the end of May, led by Wat Tyler. Richard was fourteen.
  6. It is a misnomer to call it a “Peasant Revolt.” As usual, such revolts were driven by educated people—businessmen, administrators, office holder, and individuals of some power. Rebels burned down great houses and archives, destroying legal documents. They even sent messengers demanding the execution of John of Gaunt.
  7. At Smithfield, Richard faced a great host of rebels. Tyler showed no respect, carrying a dagger and demanded and drank from a cup of ale. He reportedly wanted to pick a fight with one of the king’s men. He was about to be arrested, but a scuffle broke out, and Tyler was killed. Richard rode out among the host and shouted that he was their king and they could not wish to kill him (in fact they had thought he was their ally against greedy noblemen and landowners).
  8. Negotiations and promises of amnesty evaporated. One Medieval historian at the time reported that 1500 men were beheaded, hanged, or otherwise put to death. Revolt over in June.
  9. On 20 Jan 1382 he married Anne of Bohemia. When she came into London, the guilds or mysteries or “misteries” (so-called because their craft and skills were secretly passed on from master to apprentice) had to be decked out in grand style, in red and gold. They could not afford it, so they were given the cloth, paid for from the treasury.
  10. John Wyclif or Wycliffe was an Oxford scholar and theologian at this time (d. 1384). He argued from Scripture that since Christ was poor, the Church should be poor too. All the material wealth belonged to the state and laity. The wealth of immoral clerics could be confiscated. Of course the king and government liked this idea, and some of them, like John of Gaunt, bankrolled him. His followers were known as Lollards. Some members of Richard’s household were called “Lollard knights.”
  11. But then Wyclif argued that some were saved, while others were damned, and no one knew who was of the elect. Even churchmen and the pope could be damned and not realize it. Now he lurched over into heresy and challenged the wrong people.
  12. Wyclif’s translation of the Bible into the vernacular meant that people could read it on their own and pronounce judgment on the lax morals of aristocrats and the gentry.
  13. Richard seemed to have changed his mind and fought the “heresy,” but he is not famous for doing so. In other words, he did not stamp it out.
  14. Geoffrey Chaucer lived at this time. In 1389, he was granted a life annuity of £13.6s.8d., which was paid until 1388. He was wealthy in London. In 1389 Richard II made him clerk of the King’s Works in London.. In 1393 he presented the poet with £10 as a gift for good service; in 1394 the king awarded him an annuity of £20. He served the king in diplomatic mission abroad and in administrative duties in London and Kent.
  15. In 1385, Richard wanted to express his chivalry, so he gathered an army of 14,000 men at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to march into Scotland. But the Scots refused to fight and simply retreated or never met the army in the first place. So the invasion turned out to be an ineffective raid.
  16. On the way, he created numerous knights, dukes, and earls, expecting them to be ratified by parliament. But the Commons was critical of Richard’s extravagance. His grandfather used to submit the new aristocrats to parliament. Now it would have to take money from the treasury to maintain the dukes and earls commensurate with their status. Plus, some of the men were elevated beyond their inherited station. Yet another reason is that he had promoted Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, to Marquess of Dublin, a new, grand title, and then to Duke of Ireland, the following year.
  17. In 1386 the “Wonderful Parliament” impeached his royal and corrupt favorites. They told him to remove them. He said no. But by late October, he relented and removed them.
  18. Parliament said no, and Richard could not raise an army when he ordered them to fight for the “Duke of Ireland.” Laughable.
  19. These constraints were too much, and in Aug 1387 he called all the judges of the realm to Nottingham (25 Aug) and coerced them to sign a statement that parliament had passed measures that were unlawful. They did sign or affix their seals.
  20. In 1387 de Vere raised an army from Cheshire and the Welsh borders and marched towards London to reach Richard. He was cut off by the lords and their greater army. In a clash at Radcot Bridge, de Vere escaped by swimming his horse across the river. Defeat happened on 20 Dec.
  21. Richard struggled with a series of parliaments.
  22. On 3 Feb 1388 parliament opened the “Merciless Parliament” (later became known as that). They impeached more of Richard’s friends like Robert de Vere (he died in exile at Louvain in 1395). Then they voted themselves a subsidy on wool and other goods £20,000. Corruption all around.
  23. The main lords who inflicted this punishment on Richard were his uncle, Thomas, duke of Gloucester; his cousin Henry, earl of Derby (future Henry IV), son of John of Gaunt; Richard, earl of Arundel, brother of Bishop Thomas; Thomas, earl of Warwick; and Thomas, earl Marshall. Henry Bolingbroke joined in when the outcome was inevitable. They were the Lords Appellant because they appealed to the king. They almost deposed him. They executed some of his friends.
  24. In May 1389, he declared himself of age and announced he would rule the kingdom on his own.
  25. In 1394, when Queen Anne died, he ordered the manor house at Sheen to be razed because they had spent the most time there. During the funeral at Westminster Abbey, he thought a delay was caused by the earl of Arundel. Richard grabbed a cane and hit him on the head, felling him and drawing blood. Not cool to humiliate a great lord.
  26. Then in Oct 1394 he departed to Ireland to force the Irish to submit. He was successful while there, but by spring they rebelled again.
  27. Meanwhile, negotiations were going on with Spain, so that Richard might marry a princess, just to form an alliance against France. But Charles VI of France intervened and offered his young daughter Isabelle (Isabella). They agreed in 1396. They dowry was fixed at £130,000, a massive, huge, monumental amount (from France to England). Richard was at the height of his power.
  28. A truce was signed with France for twenty-eight years, in 1396.
  29. In parliament in Jan 1397 he legitimized the children of his uncle John of Gaunt, by his mistress, now wife, Katherine Swynford. He did so “with imperial power in his realm England.”
  30. In Sep 1397 he opened parliament that became known as “Revenge Parliament,” which he packed with his favorites. He employed 2000 archers from Cheshire to surround the building. He took revenge on the “Merciless Parliament” that had eliminated (killed) or exiled Richard’s men. He called on the pope to confirm the new laws and required the Lords and Commons and clergy to swear at the tomb of St. Edward that they would never go back on the new laws.
  31. In the parliament of 1398, Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford, and Thomas, duke of Norfolk, got in a squabble. Thomas said Richard would destroy them, while Henry expressed faith in Richard, saying he had forgiven them.
  32. Word leaked out, and Richard said they should get into a legal combat, each presenting their case. Clearly he wanted the dukes to admit in public that Richard was trustworthy. At the last minute, he declared they were not guilty of the charges of distrusting the king (maybe in Henry’s case it was wrong to get in such a discussion in the first place).
  33. Henry was exiled for ten years, Thomas for life (so apparently they were not completely guiltless).
  34. Richard took the symbol of the White Hart, a male deer. He gloriously presided over various tournaments, though he never took part as his father and grandfather had done. In the latter years of his reign he built up an “affinity” or group of knights and men-at-arms, who wore his livery badge. They were his praetorian guard.
  35. Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, died in Feb 1399, and Richard confiscated Lancastrian lands and the title, to widespread condemnation.
  36. Then he went to Ireland to win submission of the Irish lords. He achieved little. In early July 1399 he received news in Dublin that Bolingbroke had landed back in England, in Yorkshire, with a large and growing army, with French aid.
  37. Richard held Henry’s son Henry as hostage (future Henry V). He asked the twelve-year-old boy why his father had done this thing to him. Henry the elder was about to lose his inheritance. The boy replied, “Gracious king and lord, I am truly aggrieved at these rumors, but it is obvious to your lordship, in my estimation, that I am innocent of my father’s actions.” Richard declared, “I accept that you have no responsibility for that deed.” In other words, chroniclers were eager to show that overseeing the deposition and death of a king was serious, and Henry V had nothing to do with it.
  38. Richard returned and his army abandoned him. At night he and his followers ran to Conway Castle. The remainder of his forces left. Richard agreed to meet the duke at Flint Castle. He saw Henry’s forces and lost all hope. He was taken to Chester and then to the Tower of London. A London mob pelted him with refuse.
  39. The first parliament under Henry removed Richard and placed Henry on the throne. He promised to rule through and with parliament and by the advice and counsel of the magnates.
  40. Richard died on 14 Feb 1400; was he assassinated or did he starve himself or was he starved? He was at first buried at Kings Langley and then Bolingbroke’s son Henry V had him reburied with much ceremony in Westminster Abbey, in 1413.

Inscription around his tomb:

Sage and elegant, lawfully Richard II, conquered by fate he lies here depicted beneath this marble. He was truthful in discourse and full of reason: Tall in body, he was prudent in his mind as Homer. He showed favour to the Church, he overthrew the proud and threw down anybody who violated the royal prerogative. He crushed heretics and laid low their friends. O merciful Christ, to whom he was devoted, may you save [Richard], through the prayers of the Baptist, whom he esteemed.


Anne of Bohemia’s inscription:

Beneath a broad stone now Anna lies entombed; when she lived in the world she was the bride of Richard the Second. She was devoted to Christ and well known for her deeds; she was ever inclined to give her gifts to the poor; she calmed quarrels and relieve the pregnant. She was beauteous in body and her face was gentle and pretty. She provided solace to widows, and medicine to the sick. In 1394 on a pleasant seventh day of the month of June, she passed over. Amen



Henry II Plantagenet: Interesting Facts and Stories

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Interesting Facts and Stories (married to Henry II)

King Richard I, Lion-Heart: Interesting Facts and Stories

King John: Interesting Facts and Stories

Henry III: Interesting Facts and Stories

Eleanor of Provence: Interesting Facts and Stories (married Henry III)

Edward I: Interesting Facts and Stories

Eleanor of Castile: Interesting Facts and Stories (married to Edward I)

Edward II: A King of Bad Judgment

Edward III: Better Than Most

Richard II: The Weak King

Henry IV King of England

Henry V King of England

Henry VI King of England

Edward IV King of England

Edward V: Prince in the Tower

Richard III, King of England


Rolf or Rollo the Viking



(They lived before Henry II, above)

Richard I, Norman Marquis and Count

Richard II, Duke of Normandy

Robert I, Duke of Normandy

William the Conqueror: Interesting Facts and Stories

Matilda: Wife and Queen of William the Conqueror

King William II, Rufus: Interesting Facts and Stories

King Henry I: Interesting Facts and Stories

King Stephen: Interesting Facts and Stories

Empress Matilda and Three Henrys


Laura Ashe, Richard II: A Brittle Glory (Allen Lane, Penguin P, 2016).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (New York: 2014).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).

Michael Prestwich, Edward I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 1997, 1998).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).

John Sumption, Edward III: A Heroic Failure (Allen Lane, Penguin, 2016).

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