September 30th 1399:Richard II abdicates to save his life
Richard II became the second English King to abdicate today, the 30th September, in 1399. He had been King since his grandfather Edward III died in 1377. Both his grandfather and his father, Edward the Black Prince, had been excellent and well respected warriors. Richard, despite an auspicious beginning and his ancestors, was to prove a weak one.
He came to the throne aged ten and was happy for his uncle John of Gaunt to rule as Regent. He grew into a tall, handsome and cultured man, but did not enjoy or love more kingly pursuits, like war and jousting. His manner became almost megalomaniac, as he ignored, then closed Parliament and chose favourites to rule with him and spent extravagantly.
Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son and Richard’s cousin, was one of many who took umbrage. He and four others had Richard’s favourite, Robert De Vere exiled. In turn , Henry was exiled. But he was to return.
Soon after Richard foolishly visited Ireland and in his absence, Henry landed in Yorkshire and quickly gathered support everywhere. When Richard returned to his kingdom, he found he had no choice but to surrender it to his cousin. He was imprisoned in the Tower, still the King of England. He renounced his throne after repeated threats, fearing all the time for his life.
He would die months later in Pontefract castle, Yorkshire, supposedly of starvation, but more probably murdered on orders of his cousin, the new King Henry IV.
Henry never forgave himself for what he had done and died of a horrible, disfiguring disease in 1413, fearing God was punishing him.
Shakespeare’s play about Richard II does a good job of portraying him as self-absorbed, superficial, impulsive, unprincipled and lacking in good judgment. For a more modern take on the same theme, see last week’s Dilbert cartoon in which Dogbert asks the CEO, “How’s your grandiose sense of self-worth?”, to which the CEO responds, “It’s the best! I should kill you for asking!”
Constitutionally, the Richard II affair (at least as portrayed in the play) reflected a clash between two different philosophies of kingship. On one side was the “divine right of kings” principle, which argued that kings held their position by divine sanction and that, no matter how bad a king was, people had to put up with him because to unseat him amounted to a revolt against divine authority. On the other side was what could be called the “Magna Carta” principle (established 162 years prior to Richard’s abdication), which stated that a king’s power was limited by laws which were enforcible by his subjects. When Richard breaks these laws by disinheriting Bolingbrooke when Bolingbrooke’s father dies (and seizing the money to replenish the royal coffers), he is sternly warned by one of his nobles that, in doing so, he is violating the principles of inheritance and succession to which he himself owes his position as king (thus setting himself up for his overthrow later in the play).
His eldest did not of course. He won at Agincourt, only to die of dysentery in France 7 years later.
His early death led to the Wars of the Roses.
Henry IV certainly had three more sons who accompanied their brother to France. I cannot remember their names or titles. One may have been the young Henry VI’s Regent.
Perhaps Flashman can remember.
I have said before, I am fond of the Richards and no lover of the Henrys.