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Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413
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Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413Richard II (1377-99)
Born in the French city of Bordeaux in 1367, Richard was the youngest son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent. The Black Prince died in 1376, and a year later the death of Edward III left his ten-year-old grandson as England’s king.

Richard’s first public act was courageous. In 1381 he rode out from London to confront a rebel army at Smithfield during the Peasants’ Revolt. The peasant leader Wat Tyler – wounded by London’s mayor, William Wallworth – was later beheaded. Peace was restored, but the Speaker of the House of Commons voiced a general fear of rule by a boy-king: “The whole kingdom will be lost and utterly destroyed for ever, and the King and Lords and Commons with it”.

In 1382, Richard married Anne of Bohemia (who died in 1394). Artistic and sensitive, he was patron of the writers Chaucer and Gower and oversaw the rebuilding of Westminster Hall. But militarily he was inept, and disastrously alienated his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Factional infighting pushed Richard to declare that he would rule alone, without the aid of quarrelsome elders. In 1396 he married Isabella of France, and then turned on his noble enemies, banishing among them his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son. In 1399 the king recklessly moved to seize the Gaunt estates, playing into the hands of ambitious Bolingbroke, who invaded England to seize the Crown, while Richard was in Ireland.

Richard fell helplessly into the trap. He surrendered the throne and was imprisoned at Pontefract Castle. There he died in February 1400, possibly murdered, but more likely starved to death.

Henry IV (1399-1413)
Henry IV was born in 1367 at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. With a debatable claim to the throne, Henry’s gasp on the throne was fragile and until 1405 his reign was plagued by uprisings in Wales, led by Owen Glyndwr, and in the north. The king was ill, fearful of assassination and troubled by a guilty conscience.

Despite these problems, Henry IV was successful. He survived to pass on England’s Crown to his heir, whose youthful misdemeanours had taxed his patience. Though Henry’s death caused little grief, and his reign lacked ambition or achievement, his son was to write a very different story in the annals of English history.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown…”
Henry IV Part II, William Shakespeare


The king in court
Richard II holding court after his coronation. Cynicism, corruption and perfidy seem to have surrounded the young king.

Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413


Richard the king
This painting of Richard II is the earliest portrait of a reigning English king. Talented and inventive, he made a brave beginning at Smithfield.

Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413


Henry IV in funeral grandeur
Henry IV’s effigy on his Canterburry Cathedral tomb suggests a rather stately regality, not the dashing power-hunter that was the youthful Bolingbroke.

Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413


Richard’s capture
A French manuscript illustrates the arrest of Richard II in 1399 at Flint castle. His captor, Bolingbroke, proclaimed himself king.

Richard II and Henry IV: 1377-1413




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