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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 6: The Second Tyranny of Richard II


Haxey's petition

Richard put up show of deep affront. His household was his own to control, and anyone who critisized it was guilty of a great offense, meaning treason. He had nothing to lose in taking this stance. If supported, the petition would show Richard that the opposition was still too strong for him to take on. If there were crawling apologies, then he would be able to take the next step in his plan for revenge. There were handsome apologies, with Thomas Arundel himself, by now the Archbishop of Canterbury, assuring the King that no disrespect was intended. It must have been very pleasant to Richard to see one of the two men who had brought him the message that he was about to be deposed grovelling at his feet, [page ] and he agreed that Haxey should be punished by the Church. Other Lords followed in the Archbishops wake, and Richard, his purpose fulfilled, allowed his outward anger to abate. A further opportunity arose shortly afterwards when Gloucester insulted him in public. The Duke of Brittany had handed over Brest as part of the security for a loan from the Crown. He had now repaid the loan, and Brest had to be handed back to him. Gloucester taunted Richard with never taking part in a campaign; if he had ever had to do any fighting, he would not be so keen to return conquests. The assembly braced itself for one of Richard, 's famous rages. Instead the King mildly reminded his uncle that security for a loan had to be handed back once the loan was repaid. Surely the Duke could understand that. Gloucester, unable or unwilling to grasp this, departed in a tremendous rage.

If Richard now saw the opportunity for which he had waited so long, his devious and subtle mind told him that he was also in danger. Following Haxey's petition, a new and more far reaching definition of treason was current, and this might of itself inspire trouble for him. The'second period of King Richard's tyranny'now began. He was in any case quite unable to overlook the dinner party at Arundel Castle. It was certainly attended by the Richard, Earl of Arundel as host, and Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester as guests. It is not known if Henry of Bolingbroke or Thomas Mowbray attended, but this seems probable, as also seems probable that Mowbray informed the King that treason was being plotted. Egged on by his new young favourite,  Edward, Earl of Rutland, Richard resolved to strike. He invited Warwick, Arundel, and Gloucester to a banquet in honour of the German Ambassadors. Only Warwick attended; Gloucester pleaded illness and Arundel simply stayed away. After a sumptuous repast, Warwick was arrested and sent to Tintagel Castle. Arundel allowed himself to be persuaded that it was all a charade to impress the Germans, and duly went to Court. He too was arrested and sent to the Tower. Richard that same night rode to Gloucester's castle in Essex and personally arrested him. He was sent off to Calais, Richard judging, rightly as it transpired, that there would be considerable public sympathy for him. There were indeed processions and demonstations in protest. These Richard quelled by a mixture of threatening their participants with charges of treason, and proclamations that the three lords were to be charged with crimes commited since the time of the Merciless Parliament in 1388.

When, however, the Council met in Nottingham Castle to prepare the charges, all pretense that the three lords would be tried for new crimes committed since 1388 was dropped. The King now had 8 new Lords-Appellant, all his favourites prepared to do his bidding, Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham (a turn-coat if ever there was one), Edward, Earl of Rutland, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, his two half-brothers John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent, John Montague, Earl of Salisbury, Thomas, Lord Despenser, and Sir William Lescrope. It was easy to be sure of their loyalty; the property of the three accused lords would be devided up between them. The 1388 pardons would be 'recalled',  and new pardons would be issued in favour of Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray who had shown a merciful stance towards the King 10 years before. Parliament was to assemble at Westminster in September 1397 to hear the 'appeal'. In the meantime, Thomas Mowbray and Henry of Bolingbroke were to be left in suspence with a clear indication that, if they valued their skins, they had better do as the King required them to do. If old pardons could be recalled, then so could the new ones. Henry in particular could regard himself as being in grave peril, although he put a brave face on it and entertained the King to dinner in his London Mansion.

The event was most carefully stage-managed, with 2, 000 Cheshire archers (their recent rebellion conveniently forgotten) and strong forces from other Lords, among them Henry of Bolingbroke, present throughout. By now it was abundantly clear to all that treason encompassed any course that touched upon the King's prerogative, or any act that forced him to do that which he did not intend to do, and that pardons counted for nothing. It was even clear that advice to the King in Council which he might find uncongenial could amount to treason. The tension was allowed to rise with the disclosure that there was a list of 50 names which the King declined to read out publically. A deliberate leak revealed that Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury's, name was one of the 50. If not even an Archbishop was safe, then who was? The Archbishop rose in his place to refute the allegation. Richard silenced him with a dismissive wave of his hand. The King had not finished with him however. He took his place as a co-defendant when Parliament heard the 'appeal' at its session which began on 17th September 1397.

Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, did not attend the hearing of the 'appeal'. He was already dead of, it was said, natural causes. The suspicion that he had been murdered was strong, but there was a full admission of his guilt. It is impossible to say whether this was obtained by torture, or was simply written up to suit the King's purposes, but either way its effect needed no emphasis. He was postumously declared a traitor at the hearing which is recorded as taking place on 20th October 1397. The Earl of Arundel defended himself with great vigour and dignity, causing a lot of discomfort among some members of the assembly with his statements, particularly Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. Naturally it availed him nothing, and he was duly beheaded on Tower Hill. Warwick, although comdemned to death was spared. Richard had taken two lives, had given a clear message which none could misunderstand, and could afford to be merciful. Warwick was simply banished to the Isle of Man.

Thomas Arundel, protected by his cloth, was likewise banished.

Richard now rewarded his supporters. Cheshire became a Duchy. Henry of Bolingbroke, up to now the Earl of Derby, became Duke of Hereford. Edward, Earl of Rutland, was promoted to be Duke of Aumerle, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent,  became Duke of Surrey. John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon,  became Duke of Exeter. Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham,  became Duke of Norfolk. John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, became Marquis of Dorset. Thomas Despenser became Earl of Gloucester. Sir William Lescrope became Earl of Wiltshire. Sir Thomas Percy became Earl of Worcester. Ralph, Lord Neville became Earl of Westmorland. This was yet a further declaration to the ancient nobility that King Richard II did not care for the previous conventions. Dukes had only been appointed in England during the reign of King Edward II1, and it was understood that they should always be of Royal blood. The King was now strong enough to defy any feelings of disapproval.

In late 1397, King Richard II was at the pinacle of his power. If he had used that power wisely, he would have reigned to the end of his life. In all probability the infant Queen would in time have bourne him an heir of his own, and this would have ruled out any question of the succession to the Throne of Henry of Bolingbroke. If he had been content to build on the power base that he had now created, and concentrated on ruling his subjects wisely justly and well, he would never have been deposed, and the dynastical upheavals that we know as the Wars of the Roses would never have happened. The Country was now obedient to his will, and if it was truculently so, the time had come to win men's hearts and make them believe that they willingly accepted his rule and loved him for it. Events however took a different course, and this was because self restaint was foreign to Richard's nature. Here we can detect the first of the two failures of Kingship which lead directly to the Wars and all the misery and disaster that they brought in their wake.

The second Tyranny of King Richard deepens

Richard, instead of chosing the wise and just way of rule, chose that of oppression instead and therein lay his downfall. He began by making it clear that the recalling of the pardons for the events of 1387 did not affect just the great lords; everybody who had hand in the events leading to the Merciless Parliament, however humble of station, had to appear before a committee consisting of Sir John Bushey, Sir William Bagot and Sir Henry Green [satirically immortalised by Shakespeare as Bushey, Bagot and Green] and pay whatever fine was demanded. These three knights had themselves ridden against the King and, although they were now the King's favourites, it was a double twist to the knife that they were now presiding over the issue of pardons. No doubt Richard greatly enjoyed the irony of it all, and revelled in the thought that these three men, together with the Treasurer, Sir William Lescrope, were making themselves the most hated men in England. The men of Essex and Hertfordshire were required to pay a fine for all their misdeeds against the King's Majesty before 1st October 1397. The same treatment was meted out to London and the 16 adjoining counties and caused much resentment. Most sinister of all were the 'blank charters', where a person suspected of riding against the King was forced to sign a document admitting his guilt. It mattered not whether he was actually guilty, and none dared to protest when the Charters were secreted away in locked coffers to be used when the King saw fit to do so. Not only life, but property too was put in jeopardy at the whim of the King. Letters to adressess abroad were opened and read, and anyone heard speaking ill of the King was thrown into prison. Now that treason had such a broad definition, who could be certain of the consequences of an unfortunate word or turn of phrase from which the malicious might infer a treasonable intent?

Richard was under no illusions that he was endearing himself to his subjects, and he now had a permanent guard of Cheshire archers, behind whom he withdrew himself ever more from his subjects. He treated these men, and they treated him, with great familiarity, whilst his relations with the members of his Council, other than his favourites,   became cold and distant. The discipline of the archers themselves left a lot to be desired. They pillaged, burnt and raped with impunity, and even on occasions threatened juries. They were totally loyal to Richard, and they were commonly loathed and feared. It was against this background that the famous quarrel, which did so much to bring matters to a head and to lead to the depostion of King Richard II, arose between Henry of Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, the equally new Duke of Norfolk.

Richard's desire for vengence against the men who had so humiliated him 10 years before was not sated by the doings of the 1397 Parliament. Gloucester, Warwick and the two Arundels had been dealt with, but there still remained Thomas Mowbray and Henry of Bolingbroke to punish. It is not known how the matter was started, but there could have been a deliberate 'leak' to the ears of Thomas Mowbray. Shortly before Christmas 1397, Henry of Bolingbroke was riding to London with the Court when Mowbray warned him that they were both about to be undone. The King's new favourites had persuaded him to put Henry to death. Both Henry of Bolingbroke and his father, John of Gaunt, thought it was a trick by a man who had so often proved himself untrustworthy in the past to get Henry to utter treasonable words. They boldly reported the matter to Richard, who professed amazement. He could easily have told both not to be so silly, and not to imagine such things again. Instead, he saw his chance of getting rid of the last two of the original Lords-Appellant. He confronted Mowbray with the incident, and in a short while he had the satisfaction of Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray calling each other liars before him. Other accusations flowed thick and fast, and in the end there was nothing for it but trial by battle, which would have meant the death of whichever of them was false to His Majesty.

Banishment of Henry of Bolingbroke

All was set in Coventry for this murderous duel in September 1398. The two contestants, clad on the best armour and armed with the most ferocious weapons that money could buy, with a huge and expectant crowd looking on, were awaiting the signal for the contest to start. As the Herald was on the point of giving it, the King himself flung down his warder and thus stopped the contest. Once the cries of disappointment had died away and the King could once again make himself heard, he pronounced sentence of banishment on both, Mowbray for life, and Henry for ten years. It would be death for either to venture back into the Realm. Banishment was quite a usual way of punishing the great of the land, and in this way Richard signified that he considered there was guilt on the part of both. Mowbray he had no further use for, and his heavier punishment could be a useful warning to his favourites, of whom Mowbray had been one of the most prominent, that they had better continue to give satis- faction. Mowbray in any case disappears from the story; he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on his return died of the Plague in Venice within a year of his banishment. There cannot be much sympathy for a man who had turned his coat so often, and had the reputation of being thoroughly untrustworthy. Henry's period of exile was reduced to six years before his departure. King Richard II did not explain his reasons for doing this, and it would seem that the consideration that Henry of Bolingbroke was the present heir to the Throne weighed less with him than the desire to prolong the pain of one the King had loathed since childhood. The period of banishment could be extended at any time the King chose to do so, and the temptation to use the ultimate torture, that of hope and hope deferred, was too much to resist.

Henry's departure was attended by a vast throng of people, who made it clear that they thought his sentence most unjust. He had always been popular with the commons, and they made it plain where their sympathies lay. His farewell from his Father was sad, and both seemed to sense that they would not meet again. Henry took up residence with the French Court, where he was kindly received by King Charles VI and his nobles, who had held him in great esteem from the time of the treaty negotiations. Life for an exile is never pleasant, but at least Henry's was comfortable, surrounded as he was by friends and sustained by a considerable income. The days passed in hunting, feasting, jousting, staying in the country with friends, and enjoying all the pleasures of the French Court. King Charles VI never took Henry's banishment seriously, and was not averse to making a close friendship with a man who would surely be restored to favour soon. There was even talk of a marriage to the Duke of Berri's daughter Mary. Then disaster struck. In February 1399, John of Gaunt, the great Duke of Lancaster, died. If that was not enough grief for Henry of Bolingbroke, King Richard II disinherited him, shared out his vast wealth among his favourites, and increased the sentence of banishment to one for life. It is said that revenge is a repast best eaten cold. King Richard II could reflect with satisfaction that this was just what he had done.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003