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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 5: King Richard II after the Merciless Parliament


If the Lords-Appellant had proved themselves brave and resolute in an action where they had rightly interpreted the feelings of the people and had secured the people's support, it is difficult to understand how they failed to appreciate the character of King Richard II, or failed to foresee the tactics he would use to out-wit them. By now they had had many examples of the devious and vengeful nature of the King, of his inability to forget or forgive any slight, of his refusal to learn from his mistakes, and of his absolutist view of his kingship. There can be no excuse for their failure to understand that Richard would be bent on revenge for its own sake, and in the meantime would do something that he was supremely good at; he would bide his time. A glimmer of hope for Richard was raised when Parliament met in Cambridge in September 1388. It critisized the Lords-Appellant for failing to protect the Country from the recent Scotch invasion, and angrily demanded an end to the private armies which the great magnates maintained. There were already laws against 'livery and maintenance' to prevent the common abuse of pillaging and robbing the countryside and even of intimidating juries, and they should be strengthened and enforced. It seemed that the power-base of the Lords-Appellant was beginning to melt away.

Those who know how to bide their time are also good at chosing the right time to strike, and Richard's sense of timing was perfect. In May 1389, at a meeting of all the great magnates in Westminster, Richard swept in to the chamber and demanded to be told how old he was. Everyone knew he was 22, and said so. The King then continued:-

"By that y may conclude that y am of fulle age to governe my selfe, my howseholde, and my realme, for me thenke hit is not ryzhtefull that y scholde be of moore vile condicion then eny person in my realme. For every heire of my realme havynge xxti yere in age after the dethe of his fader is permitte to governe hymselfe and his londes..."

[Subsequently the Chancellor, William of Wykham, Bishop of Winchester, made a similar announcement in Parliament]

This was uncontrovertibly the concept of medieval kingship, and there was nothing the Lords-Appellant,  speachless with fury as they may have been, could do to prevent their summary dismissal from the Council. The King had an absolute right to choose his Counsellors and to dismiss them, and Richard was doing no more than he was entitled to do. But Richard was not yet ready to strike to the full extent that he intended. John of Gaunt had just returned from a most successful campaign in Spain, and he was a political force to be reckoned with. Richard may have welcomed his supporters back to Court, apart from those who dared not return just yet, and over the next few years he may by degrees have brought back the Lords-Appellant themselves with grace and fair words to the Council. He may have lulled everbody into a sense of false security with the charm of which he possessed ample measure. He had not however abandoned his purpose; he was just not yet ready to strike. Even so, Henry of Bolingbroke still felt it was safe for him to leave the country and go on his travels, first to the Teutonic Knights, and then on a pilgrimage in Europe and the Holy Land, where he reached Jerusalem as a humble pilgrim.

A peaceful period

King Richard II meanwhile found a new way of raising money to pay for the vast expenses of his Court, and this without any Parliamentary sanction. Under a law of 1354, the City authorities could be fined if they did not keep order. London was a turbulent city in the late 14th-century, and there was soon the riot which the King had been waiting for. In May 1392, he imprisoned the Lord Mayor and the Sherriffs and appointed his own nominees in their place.The City had to pay a huge fine, and this, coupled with the indignity to their officers, created lasting resentment in those Richard needed as friends. There is no sign that Richard knew this, or if he did know it, that he cared. There were several other untoward incidents where Richard made himself needlessly unpopular with his subjects, but we can regard the trouble with the City as typical of them, and turn to the international scene, where, if some of Richard's ideas were fanciful, others were far more soundly based.

Richard considered that a formal peace with France was an absolute necessity even though there had been no serious fighting for some time, and to this end he made a proposal that Acquitaine should be returned to the French King, although John of Gaunt should hold it as his liegeman. This idea was not so strange as it might at first sound, because Acquitaine was slipping towards France in any event, and it was only a question of time before England would have to realise that it could not be held without a military effort she was in no position to make. The French King warmly welcomed the proposal, even offering to extend its boundaries. Peace with France would open the way to a joint effort to resolve the scandal of the two popes, called by the lampoonists who flourished in this age, Maleface and Maledict, and to securing the election of one proper Pope in Rome. This in turn would open the way to a joint expedition into Eastern Europe to quell the Turks who were threatening to become a dangerous nuisance. If Richard's aspirations to become Holy Roman Emperor were a bit far-fetched, his basic desire for peace in Europe, war torn and ravaged as it was, must have been sound. The key to everything was peace with France and, in 1393,  an embassy, headed by John of Gaunt, was dispatched to negotiate its terms.

Inevitably, the King's actions were misconstrued by his subjects, and the peace proposal was intensely unpopular. There was a dangerous revolt in Cheshire, where men could omly remember the past military glories of King Edward II1 and the Black Prince in which their forefathers had played a considerable part. John of Gaunt had to be recalled to put it down. It leader, Sir Thomas Talbot, was treated with great leniency by the King, and ugly rumours were heard that King Richard II was working towards the downfall and death of the Lords-Appellant. Richard strongly denied this, even in public proclamations whose effect on their listeners can be imagined. Outwardly the Lords-Appellant basked in the sunny glow of the King's favour. Had they hung together, he could not have dared to touch them. As it was, they had fallen out among themselves, and Richard must have felt some satisfaction in thinking they would soon hang separately.

[The Talbot family were later Earls of Shrewsbury and were prominent Lancastrian supporters. At the time, they had the reputation of being rowdy and rebellious]

The first signs of trouble among them arose in the Parliament of January 1394 when the draft peace treaty with France was read out. It was all too much for Richard, Earl of Arundel, consumed with jealousy of John of Gaunt as he was, and he rose in his place with a scathing denunciation of the Duke of Lancaster in which he fully lived up to his reputation of being rude and tactless. John was, said Arundel, guilty of many things, such as embezzeling public funds in his expedition to Spain, and overwheening ambition on Acquitaine. He was an interested party in the peace treaty, and it was no wonder that he had negotiated terms so favourable to the French. Richard rebuked him, pointing out that his uncle had gone no further than he was authorised to do by the Council, and ordered him to apologise. Arundel growled something akin to an apology before being ordered out of the chamber by the King. There were other signs that the monolithic solidarity of the Lords Appellant was not quite what it had once been. Gloucester was livid that Mowbray had been given his old and lucrative sinecure as Justice of Chester, and hated him for it. Mowbray and Warwick had fallen out over a land dispute. No doubt Richard thought, a little more of this, and it will be impossible for them to combine against the Crown ever again.

The year 1394 was a black one for the wives of the great of the Land. Constance, the Duchess of Lancaster died. John of Gaunt had never loved her and, her purpose now fulfilled with the realisations of his ambitions in Castile, she could go to another world without any unnecessary show of mourning. The indecent haste with which he married his mistress, Katherine Swynford, shocked the nation and added to his unpopularity among nobles and commoners alike. Henry of Bolingbroke's beloved wife Mary died in childbirth, and he grieved her deeply. He was not to re-marry for another 10 years. The Queen, Ann of Bohemia, also died, probably of the Plague. Richard was crazed with grief, and even ordered the Palace of Sheen, where she had died, to be razed to the ground. He ordered an elaborate funeral, which all the nobles were required to attend without excuse. Arundel, with his usual tactlessness, failed to do so, and when he did turn up he proffered an explanation which was itself a studied insult. Richard in a fury knocked him to the ground and sent him off to prison. Popular sympathy was, for once, very much with the King.

Even so, Richard was not yet ready to strike. His marriage to Ann had been childless, and Henry of Bolingbroke was effectually next in line to the Throne. [For the doubts surrounding the position See Appendix ] The idea of handing Acquitaine back to the French, with John of Gaunt holding it as the liegeman of the King of France, fell through due to the oposition of the Gascons, who, then as now,  had no love for the French. Richard however was in a strong position. He had shown great goodwill to the House of Lancaster, but was now not to be called on to meet his promises. There was another way to secure at least a long truce with France, this time without any concessions to the House of Lancaster. In 1396, he proposed marriage to the 9 year old Pricess Isabel of France, and King Charles accepted him as a son-in-law. Given time, there was every prospect of his own heir, and Henry of Bolingbroke could forget any ambitions he might nurture. A better way to test the tempreture of the waters did however present itself at the Parliament which met at Westminster in January 1397, when one Sir Thomas Haxey presented a petition critisizing the expense of the Royal Household. The Records show that the King complained that Haxey's petition touched upon the Royal Regalia and the King's State and Royal Liberty, matters well outside the concerns of Parliament. From the pure theater which followed, it has been suggested that Richard himself may have instigated the petition simply to test the opposition. Even if he did not do so, the opportunity was too good to miss.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003