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Useful Notes / Richard The Second

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"You shall have no captain but me!"

King of England. He was ten when he ascended the throne in 1377, after the deaths of his father Edward the Black Prince and his grandfather Edward III. Through most of his reign his uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, worked behind the scenes to keep him in line. Richard was an autocrat, seeking to centralize the monarchy, which didn't suit well with the nobility, who saw him as a threat to their traditional privileges.

He first came to prominence when he crushed the Peasants' Revolt when he was only 14; he showed great bravery in facing the rebels, but after the revolt was put down, the promises he had made went unfulfilled. As Richard grew older, tensions developed between the young king and his aristocratic advisers, who disapproved of Richard's inner circle of royal favorites. A group of five noblemen, including his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, retaliated by charging Richard's cronies with abusing his youth and innocence and had some of them executed. Richard himself stood at risk of being overthrown, but since nobody could agree on who should succeed him and all suspected that John of Gaunt would disapprove when he returned from his wars in Spain, he managed to hang on to his crown.


The King held his peace for ten years, but in the meantime, his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, died; Richard had been greatly in love with Anne, and she had clearly been a good influence on him. He remarried for political reasons a few years later — to the French princess Isabel, as part of a treaty that would end the war with France, an on-and-off enterprise which began in 1337 and which had made many of the barons rich. Their criticism of this move prompted him to take revenge on the leaders of the "Merciless Parliament" who were either executed or exiled. He even had his own uncle smothered in his bed.

The clincher came when John of Gaunt died and, in order to finance an expedition to Ireland, Richard seized his estates which were to go to his son, Henry Bolingbroke. This triggered a revolt which would eventually end with Richard resigning the crown and dying in prison. His death is what ultimately led to the Wars of the Roses.


William Shakespeare did a play about him.


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