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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 4: The Lords Appelant and the Merciless Parliament


Richard had arrived back in London in the highest spirits, because he had had promises of support from the City. In November 1387, whilst separated from his Cheshire Archers, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a hostile array where no army should have been. The Indivisable Trio had mustered their men without a word of their intentions reaching Richard's ears. They now forced him to agree that his five friends should be put on trial; they 'appealed' that Robert de Vere, Michael de La Pole, Alexander Neville, the Archbishop of York, Bembre, the Lord Mayor, and Chief Justice Tresilian should be charged with High Treason. Richard had to agree, although he allowed de Vere, de La Pole and Neville to escape to France. Playing for time, he sent for his Cheshire archers and appealed to the City to honour its promises of support. The citizens of London, who had been approached by the Indivisable Trio, suddenly discovered that they had no stomach for a fight in support of King Richard II. The Lords Appellant, as the Indivisable Trio were now known, were joined by two new recruits of the greatest importance, Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, and Henry of Bolingbroke. In December 1387, largely due to Henry's skill, they dispersed the Cheshire archers and marched on London, where King Richard II was entirely at their mercy. There were scenes of the wildest joy when they entered the City and took Richard with them into the Tower to have things out with him there.

For ten terrible days, Richard thought he was going to share the fate of his great-grandfather, King Edward II. He was under no illusions of the character of the three older men, whom he had himself had manouvred into positions where their lives were at stake. That he was not put to death was due to the persuasion of Mowbray and Henry, who induced their more vengeful elders that the better course was to leave Richard in place, under the strictest control, and not deviate from the original purpose, namely to put his favourites on trial. Such a proposal could, and in the event did, meet with the entire approval of the citizens , who cheered the Lords Appellant to the echo when they left the Tower to arrest Richard's favourites in preparation for their trial. The most important and most deeply hated, Robert De Vere, Alexander Neville and Michael De La Pole, had escaped beyond their reach. There was however a rich haul of men of the second rank who would nonetheless look good on the gallows, and these were sent to the Tower to await their fate. 0ther favourites, men and women, were summarily dismissed from the Court. Later the hated Chief Justice Tresilian was discovered hiding in an apothecary's shop. He too was sent to the Tower to join his companions in misfortune.

At the beginning of February 1388, Richard had the chagrin of presiding over the aptly named Merciless Parliament to try his dearest friends. The trials were most carefully stage-managed, and in this Henry of Bolingbroke played a large hand. There was nothing that King Richard II could do to save his friends. Robert De Vere, Michael de La Pole, and Robert Tresilian were to be hanged drawn and quartered, whilst Alexander Neville, protected by his cloth, was deprived of his temporal goods and was to be handed over to the Church. 0f the chief offenders, sentence could only be executed on Tresilian, but of the lesser fry Bembre, Sir John Beauchamp of Holt, Sir John Salesbury, Sir James Bermers and Sir Simon Burley were also sentenced to die in disgrace. Burley's was a particularly hard case. Although thought to have been the instigator of 'Richrd's first tyrany', he had a distinguished record of military service under King Edward II1 and the Black Prince, and was well known as a kindly man of letters. His only real offence seems to have been his passion for fine clothes and the haughty airs he gave hinself. In any other situation, these would have only called for some ribald merriment at his expense. In the atmosphere of 1388 however, these failings were seen as a danger by the ancient nobility from a counter-jumper. Henry of Bolingbroke made an impassioned plea for his old tutor, for whom he had a great fondness. It was all to no avail.

Thus the Lords-Appellant purged King Richard II's Court. The time had now come to put things back together again so that the Government could continue. The Lords-Appellant retook their coronation oaths in a solemn ceremony, and required everyone else throughout the length and breath of England, including the King himself, to do the same. They secured an indemnity from the Merciless Parliament for their actions, and rested content that they had done all that was necessary to protect themselves. The Government could continue with themselves as the dominent force on the Council. Men could say that the 'tyrany of King Richard'had come to an end, little aware that there was a second, and worse, period of tyranny to follow. 

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003