An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 8: Accession to the Throne of King Henry IV
|Some early thoughts
If Henry of Bolingbroke was ever sincere in his repeated assertions that he had only returned to England in 1399 to 'claim his own', he did nothing to quell the popular clamour for a change of King. It is difficult to believe that he had learnt nothing from the revolt of the Lords-Appellant in 1387 and from the disasters which had overtaken them in the subsequent years. Whatever he may have said in public, he can have been under no illusions that, if King Richard II remained on the Throne, his head would ever sit safely on his shoulders. Thus in his own private thoughts, there can have been little incentive to give history the chance to repeat itself. It therefore suited him very well to bow to the strident demands of nobles and commoners alike, and to allow himself to be pushed, with a suitable show of reluctance, down the only path that his recent actions had left open to him.
Henry of Bolingbroke was now 34 years of age and in the prime of his life. His appearance is recorded as being stocky with all the handsomeness of the Plantagenets. He was of average height for the times, and he had kept his beautiful auburn hair with a small neatly trimmed beard of the same colour to match. His skill as a military commander was renowned, and he was already famous in the tilt-yard. Besides this, he was well known as an intelligent and shrewd man of considerable honesty of purpose and a good balance of judgement. He had a considerable presence, always an asset. Shortly, all these characteristics were to be tried to the full.
Richard was still the anointed King, and his removal was no easy matter if only lawful means were to be used, and Henry would countenance no other. It must first be asked why the 'Statute' with which the Wonderful Parliament had threatened King Richard II in 1386 [page ] was not used. From Richard's past history, it cannot have been difficult to show that he had offended against it. If in 1399 it had had the status of being the law of the land, it is strange that such an easily invoked measure was not resorted to. It would have been well remembered by Thomas Arundel, then the Bishop of Ely, one of the two messengers who had conveyed its dread terms to Richard, but there appears to be no record that it was even considered. In the circumstances, this must of itself cast some doubt upon its exact status. It is possible that in 1386 it was no more than a 'draft Statute' which had been used to call King Richard II to order. [page ] Effective it may then have been to induce Richard to attend Parliament, but apparently it would not now serve to unseat the King. Other means would have to be found.
[Belief that it was no more than a draft Statute in 1386 gathers force when its terms are closely examined. It was well framed to describe King Richard II's failings at the time.]
At first Henry toyed with the idea of claiming the Crown by right of conquest, but from this idea Thomas Arundel gently dissuaded him. There had been no conquest, and Henry's support had depended on an armed rebellion which, even if it had enjoyed considerable public sympathy, was itself unlawful. Besides, conquest would result in all property reverting to the Conqueror, and the danger to their rights of property was one of the main reasons why men had risen against King Richard II in the first place. They would not welcome a further danger to their property from an usurper. An attempt was then considered to prove that Edmund Crouchback, from whom Henry was descended, was truly the first son of King Henry III who had been passed over in the late 13th-century because of his many disabilities in favour of the second son who then became King Edward I, the so called 'Hammer of the Scots'. No truth was found in this popular legend, and even if there had been it would still not have served. Firstly, nobody would have believed it, and this would have put Henry's House in constant danger of being displaced, and the country in equally constant danger of political upheaval and warfare when all that men wanted, above all else, was peace and stability. Secondly, it would have discredited King Edward I, King Edward III and the Black Prince, all of whom were popular heroes. There was nothing for it but to induce King Richard II to abdicate.
Abdication presented some difficulties of its own.
There was some precedent, that of the deposition of King Edward 11 in 1327, but the circumstances had then been so different in one most important particular that it was not so very helpful. The country had become exasperated by the mis-rule of the King and his, in all probability homosexual, favourites. When his Queen Isabel landed at Harwich in September 1326 at the head of an army of English exiles and some mercenaries which she had gathered together in her native France, she found herself at the head of a popular movement which called for the deposition of the King and his replacement by his son, Prince Edward. The King attempted to resist, but was soon captured and confined in Kenilworth Castle. The Great Seal was taken from him and was used by the Prince to summon Parliament in his name. Parliament duly assembled in December 1326, but the King refused to attend. On 13th January 1327 Parliament, which included the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons, listened to a list of the King's misdeeds read by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and declared that they withdrew their homage. A deputation, which included some of the Commons, was dispatched to Kenilworth to make this known to the King who, after an emotional scene, abdicated in favour of Prince Edward. The abdication was reported to Parliament on 27th January 1327, and shortly thereafter the Prince was crowned as King Edward III. [The reader who wishes to study all that was said and done between 13th and 27th January 1327 is referred to "The House of Lords in the Middle Ages" by J. Enoch Powell and Keith Wallis - pp 297-300]
The important difference was that in 1327 the King's abdication promptly put on the Throne his undoubted heir, an impressive youth not quite 15-years old, in whom all had confidence. If Richard abdicated now, the next in line to the Throne was the descendant of King Edward III's second son, Lionel of Clarence. This was an 8-year old boy, Edmund, Earl of March, of whom nobody knew very much but who took precedence over Henry, the scion of the third son, John of Gaunt. [See Family Trees ] As soon as the Deed of Abdication was signed, Edmund would automatically ascend the Throne. Nobody wanted another untried 8-year old as King; they had just had one boy King, and the results once he had grown-up had been disastrous. Henry of Bolingbroke, a mature man who was well known and respected by all, was the popular choice, but how was this to be achieved lawfully? There was not much time. Popular support had carried Henry this far, but it could melt away, and was certain to do so if he was seen to falter. Already there was widespread disorder in the country-side, which Henry and his supporters had tried to put down by orders issued to the Sheriffs under the Great Seal. None of this disorder was in support of Richard, but a counter coup was not impossible. To the anxious Magnates and their legal advisers burning the mid-night oil, there seemed no other course but to persuade Parliament to do what it had never done before; it must constitute itself as the Supreme Lawmaker of the Land, above all existing Law, Custom and Practice and take upon itself the resolution of the issue. If Richard abdicated, it must be asked to accept the Deed of Abdication. If he resisted all pressure to make him abdicate, then it must be invited to depose him. Whichever happened, it must then choose the new King and not simply let the rules of primogeniture take their normal course. Quite possibly Parliament would do all that was asked of it, but if it were done, it was as well that it was done quickly.
King Richard II's Abdication
Some measure of Richard's customary optimism and ebullience had returned whilst he was in the Tower. Edmund, Duke of York and his son Edward, Duke of Aumerle, [This was the man who had been one of Richard's favourites as Earl of Rutland. After a career of turning coats which was remarkable even by the standards of the time, he was to succeed his father as Duke of York and die a hero's death on the battlefield of Agincourt] found Richard in a haughty and autocratic mood who treated with disdain the assertion that Parliament would decide all. This was brushed aside as laughable. It was necessary to frighten him into compliance by threatening the only thing of value that he still had left, namely his life. On the morning of 29th September 1399, a stern faced deputation of 14 magnates, lead by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, two implacable enemies for once able to make a common cause, invited his signature to a document in the following terms:-
"In the name of God Amen! I Richard by the Grace of God Kyng off England and off Ffraunce and Lorde off Ireland,
quyte and assoyle [absolve] Erchebysshopes, Byshopes.....
Dukes, Marquys, Barons, Lordes, and alle my other liegemen both
Spyrituelle and Seculer.....ffrom her othe of ffeute and homage.....I Resigne all my Kyngly Mageste, Dignyte and Crowne.....And I also renounce to the name, Worship and Regaly and Kyngly hynes....and with dede and worde I leve
off and Resigne hem and goo ffrom hem ffor euermore.....for I wete, knowleche, and.... deme my selff to be and have bene
Insuffisant, vuable, and vupfitable, and ffor myn....Desertes
not vnworthely to be putt down. And I swere on the holy
Euaungelis, [Gospels] by me bodely touched, that I shall neuer
contrarye.....to this resignacion.....So God me helpe and thes holy Euaungelis! I Richard, Kyng aforseyd, with myn owne hande have wretyn me vnderneth here"
[Rotuli Pariamentorum Vol III pp 415/424 - Select Documents pp 184/191 - The Great Chronicles of London pp 51/57 - Julius B II MS in Kingsford Chronicles pp 19/47 (21)]
This awesome document had been very carefully prepared. It contained several admissions by Richard that he was unworthy to be King, and obviously its draftsman, quite certainly Thomas Arundel, was looking to its reception by Parliament once it had been signed. Richard was confined in the privacy of the Tower, that fortress that had already been the scene of so many dreadful deeds and hid so many dark secrets. He was surrounded by his enemies who knew what they wanted and would stop at nothing, even his murder, to get their way. He well knew they were themselves desparate men and this added to their urgency. Whether Richard's life was actually threatened or not we do not know, and there was ample reason for keeping no minute of what was said or done, but it was abundantly clear to Richard that, if he was to preserve his life, there was no option but to sign the document. Richard only asked that Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Arundel should visit him, clearly feeling that no guarantee of his life would be worth anything unless it was given by these two men.
They came that very afternoon and saw Richard in private. We are told that Richard signed the Deed of Abdication 'with a gladde chere', no doubt after getting a promise of his personal safety. He withdrew the gold Signet Ring from his finger and put it onto Henry's as a sign that he wished Henry to be his chosen successor. His proverbial cunning had still not deserted him. He attempted to qualify the Deed of Abdication to the effect that he resigned the Government but not the Throne. As Government and Throne were then indivisible, this qualification was quite meaning-less, and Henry and Thomas remembered all too clearly that day in 1389 when Richard had asked the Council how old he was and had then answered his own question. [page ] Parliament was quite right in ignoring this attempted qualification (if indeed it ever heard of it) when it came to consider the Deed of Abdication.
If Henry of Bolingbroke was to become King by lawful means, then Parliament was the only body which could confirm him in his title. In 1399 this was not a straightforward matter, and arguably such powers lay well outside its jurisdiction. Appendix contains the treatise of Chief Justice Fortescue, the leading authority on constitutional matters in the latter half of the 15th-century, and his views must, to a large extent, have been formed by what was done by Parliament in 1399. It does not touch on the question of Parliament as the Supreme Lawmaker, but it does indicate how high Parliament stood. In the whole management of this Parliament, we can see the careful hand and wise head of Henry's close friend and chief adviser, Thomas Arundel, who was shortly to be restored to his See of Canterbury. A formidable personality and one of the foremost intellects of his time, he would have had to consider three particular difficulties in his planning. In such desperate circumstances, it is always sensible to base one's planning on the emergence of the worst possible scenario, and not simply to hope that all will be 'alright on the night.' It was only to be expected that constitutional points would be raised, and as always these would be difficult to answer. Nevertheless, the answers must be ready, and be comprehensible and convincing.
Parliament and the Deed of Abdication
We can only surmise what was going through the minds of Henry of Bolingbroke, Thomas Arundel and their supporters in the anxious days leading up to the meeting of Parliament on 30th September 1399, the day after the Deed of Abdication was signed. How were they to answer or otherwise deal with constitutional points should any be raised? There were three particular problems:-
1. Parliament must assemble
It turned out to have been a wise precaution to summon Parliament to meet shortly after the arrival in London with Richard as a prisoner. Elections, then as now, were a time-consuming process, and the journey of the members, once elected, to London was never quickly completed.
Only the King could summon Parliament, and whilst none of the Lords who received summonses or the sherrifs who received Writs requiring election to take place can have been under any illusions that King Richard II issued these summonses or writs as a free agent, there was nothing wrong with them on their face. The whole process was complete, and Parliament was ready to meet, whilst Richard was still the King. It seemed that Parliament was, without question, properly summoned and lawfully assembled.
2. Parliament must depose the King
This question was entertwined with another, and prior, question. Was Parliament, even though lawfully summoned and assembled, able to sit and conduct business in the absense of the King? He was an essential part of Parliament, setting as he did its agenda. [page ] There was now no King, and the sight that would have greeted the members at the opening of Parliament was his gorgeous chair standing empty and untenanted.
Assuming that it could sit and conduct business, was Parliament entitled to depose the King? It was originally intended to invite Parliament to do this, and the Deed of Abdication may have made the task easier, but only to slight degree. Parliament must be asked to accept the Deed. Could it do this?
The only answer to both these questions was that Parliament owed its authority, in the case of the Lords to the ancient nobility of the Land, and in the case of the Knights of the Shires and the Burgesses to their elections.
They were thus mandated by the Nation as a Whole. Where there was no law, custom or precedent to deal with a particular question, then Parliament was expected, and (perhaps arguably) authorised, to assume the role of Supreme Lawmaker and deal with it, in this instance until Parliament was once again properly constituted in its three elements, the King, the House of Lords and the Common House, when its role as Supreme Lawmaker would cease and it would revert to its normal status. If Parliament could be persuaded thus far, could it be persuaded to go one step further, and dispose of even the Crown itself?
This could have been a big step for a medieval Parliament to take, because nothing like this had ever happened before. It was unfamiliar ground, and being unfamiliar, was frightening as well. It could be treason, and this was attended by dire penalties, both in this World and the next. Possibly even the powerful advocacy of Thomas Arundel may have proved inadequate to the task of persuading Parliament to accept the role of Supreme Lawgiver, and if it did, to dispose of the Crown.
Yet there was some precedent, which was 200 years old, for saying that the highest organs of the State, and Parliament was certainly one of these, did have the power to place themselves above all laws and do what needed to be done in order that the State should once more be placed on a firm and proper footing. The King was the fountainhead of all justice, although he had irrevocably delegated this task to the Courts. In the 12th- and 13th-centuries, the Courts of Common Law had become very rigid, and had ceased to develope the Common Law to meet new needs. If a case was crying out for justice as this was normally understood to be, but did not come within the well defined limits of the existing Common Law, then the clerks in Chancery would refuse the issue of a Writ. If the Courts of Common Law neither could nor would give a remedy where one should clearly be given, then litigants addressed themselves to the King, pleading that his delegation was not entirely complete. There was thus a lacuna, or gap, between his delegation and the needs of justice. He referred the petitions to the Chancellor, invariably a churchman, as 'The Keeper of the King's Conscience'. The fearsome powers of the medieval church, including excommunication and torture, were freely used to lead wrongdoers to a better understanding of the errors of their ways. Out of this were born the Courts of Equity, which wielded a paralell jurisdiction the the Courts of Common Law. [This continued until 1873, when all judges were given jurisdiction to apply both systems]
3. Parliament must put another King in Richard's place
There was no doubt in the minds of Thomas Arundel and the Great Magnates, and at this stage equally no doubt in the mind of Henry of Bolingbroke, who the new King should be; it should be Henry of Bolingbroke himself. Could Parliament be persuaded to continue in its role of Supreme Lawmaker for long enough to by-pass Edmund, the young Earl of March, and put Henry on the Throne? This was more doubtful, because here there was law, custom and precedent, all of it favouring Edmund. Parliament might have found this inhibiting. It remained to be seen. [Reference should be made to Appendix 1. It is not easy to explain why the 1376 Charter was never used. It would have made Henry's problems much easier to resolve.]
No doubt Thomas Arundel's lobbyists had been actively at work on the members of the Common House as each had arrived in London, and had a fair idea of their mood. There was no inclination by the members to engage in long and philosophical discussion on the actual powers of Parliament, and it began to seem that Thomas Arundel had nothing to dread from the difficulties which he had feared might arise. They were there to depose an unsatisfactory King and put another, in whom they had confidence, in his place; it was as simple as that. It also seems that no constitutional lawyers were present, contradicting themselves and each other in the tedious manner of their kind. If there were, then the lobbyists, who no doubt included some 'heavy gentlemen', seem to have persuaded them to stay away or else keep quiet. The fact that the whole proceedings were concluded in one day suggests that they took this hint.
In the event, things went much better than Thomas Arundel can have dared to hope. The members do not seem to have been unduly concerned at the sight of the King's empty chair as they filed in to take their places on that fateful day of 30th September 1399. They listened in a sombre mood as the Deed of Abdication was read, not untinged with relief that Richard had so tamely surrendered. There then followed a reading of some 32 (by some accounts 33) specific instances where Richard had failed as a King. Those who have read the outline of his reign in Chapters can imagine the form that these took, but it should be noted that even now, when it was necessary to present him in the worst possible light, there were no allegations of homosexual practises. Even so, it was all too much for Thomas Merks, Bishop of Carlisle who, in the only protest raised on Richard's behalf, rose angrily to protest that Richard was denied the right enjoyed by the meanest criminal in the land to hear and answer if he could the charges made against him.
He was silenced by a shout of disapproval, which must have been encouraging to Thomas Arundel, and Parliament went on to declare in a resolution, which Thomas had ready:-
"We pronounce, discerne and declare the same Kyng Richard.....to have be and yitt to be vnprofitable, vnable,
vnsfficient and vnworthy to the Reule and gouernance off the fforseyd Rewmes and lordshippes.....we pryve hym off alle kyngly dignyte, and worship, yiff eny kyngly worship leffte in
hym....we depose hym.....fforbedyng expressly to alle.....
subgetes and his lieges.....that noon off hem ffrom this tyme fforth to the fforseyd Richard as kyng and lorde off the fforseyd kyngdomes and Rewmes, neyther obeye, ne in no manere wyse be entendaunt".
This declaration met with the approval of Parliament, as did other resolutions that since Richard had excused his former liegemen from their oaths, they might withdraw their loyalties to him. Richard would now have the status of a knight, to be known as Richard of Bordeaux. The most critical moment of all had now arrived. Would Henry of Bolingbroke now volunteer to accept the Crown as everyone wanted him to do?
Accession of King Henry IV
In dead silence which added to the solemnity and drama of the occasion, Henry of Bolingbroke rose in his place, made the sign of the Cross on his head and his breast, and in the name of Christ so addressed the assembly:-
"In the name of Fadir, Son and Holy Gost, I Henry of Lancastre chalenge this rewme of Yngland and the corone with all the membres and the appurtenances als I that am disendit be right lyne of the blode comyng fro the gude lorde Kyng Henry therde, and thorgh that ryght that God of his grace hath sent with helpe of my kyn and of my frendes to recover
it, the whiche rewme was in poynt to be undone for defaut of governance and undoyng of the gode lawes."
[The reference to King Henry III could be read in two ways; to Edmund Crouchback, and to King Edward III. Again the cunning hand of Thomas Arundel is revealed]
[Rotuli Parliamentorum Vol III pp 422/423 - Select Documents pp 191]
To the general relief, Henry had at last proclaimed himself as an aspirant to the Crown itself, an office which all had wished him to assume, but which he had publically refrained from claiming or committing himself to claim. He tactfully left the choice to Parliament, even if there was no real choice. Now he was loudly acclaimed as the King, and as such was helped to the King's Chair which all the while until this moment had stood empty. In a dramatic gesture, Henry held up his hand so that all might see the golden ring on his finger. With what vestige of authority that still remained in him, Richard had chosen him as his successor. He who was departing had expressed some measure of approval of his successor.
All this business was completed within the space of one single day, 30th September 1399, which is some indication that constitutional points were not gone into in any depth. A week later, Parliament met again, this time with a King present. The proceedings opened with confirmation of what had passed on 30th September. Of itself, this did not make them any the more lawful (if indeed anyone thought that what they had done was unlawful), as no amount of confirmation of an unlawful act can give it the characteristic of being right and proper. Parliament, without labouring the point, had taken upon itself the status of Supreme Lawgiver of the Land with ample power to confer and dispose, even of the Crown itself. If this troubled anybody, they did not express their concerns, and it may not have been wise to do so. Outwardly, no doubt was expressed that Parliament had acted perfectly properly within its powers in what it had done a week before. As the proper representative of the Nation as a whole, both the hereditary Lords and the elected members of the Common House, it could act as a Sovereign body, and make lawful that which would otherwise have been unlawful. It was content indeed to hear from Thomas Arundel an assurance that King Henry IV would govern by the 'common advise of the most sage and discreet persons of the Realm', and not 'by his own individual will.' This was repeating no more than a medieval King was expected to do, and come as close as anything to the compact on which Bishop Stubbs and Mowat set so much store.
Some later doubts
There were of course some doubts, even if nobody took the risk of raising them at the time, whether Parliament had acted properly and within its powers in what it had just done. This was only natural when Parliament had taken the entirely novel step of promoting itself to be the Supreme Lawgiver and, in this guise, making lawful that which was otherwise entirely unlawful. How, the doubters would have argued, could a body whose normal functions extended no further than making Statutes or granting taxation take such an exalted role upon itself? As will be seen from the earlier sections to this Chapter, these were not doubts which assailled the assembly on 30th September 1399. This was only concerned with deposing a tyrant whom everyone, with good reason, had come to fear and putting another King in his place. The only objection which was raised was on an entirely different point; if King Richard 11 was not to be heard in his own defence, then how could it be said that he was being treated fairly?
It was still a very big step for men of 1399 to take, and a very brave one as well. What Parliament had done was unquestionably treason, whether this was judged by the wording of the Treason Act 1351 or the wider bounds of the Common Law, and if by some mischance Richard had been restored to the Throne, every member of Parliament, whether Lord or Commoner, could have found himself consigned to the horrible death of a traitor. It had a wider dimension however, because treason was punished not only in this World but the next one as well, by the permanent consignment of the immortal soul to the torments of Hell without any prospect that it would ever reach the joys of Heaven. To medieval man, Heaven was very close to the crown of his head, and Hell was equally close to the soles of his feet. Even if nobody had ever seen Heaven or Hell, there was always the real risk that the Churchmen were right in their teaching, and they really did exist, and what was said to go on in either place was not just superstition but a reality.
Doubts on the propriety of the doings of the 1399 Parliament were expressed in 1460, when the question again arose of deposing an unsatisfactory King, but only on the grounds that the 1399 Parliament, by passing over the rights of Edmund Mortimer, had reached the wrong decision. [pages ] What is worthy of note is that while the heavenly laws of primogeniture, with which no mortal man might meddle, and even the Lord's annointed King, were both set aside by the 1399 Parliament, there was no widespread objection to the rule of the usurping Lancastrian Kings provided that they ruled wisely, justly and well.
The Lancastrian Kings were the descendants of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster the third son of King Edward III, whereas there was a living descendant of the second son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, and he could be said to have a superior right to the Throne. This was the 8-year old Edmund Mortimer, later Earl of March, and when he died in 1425 Richard, Duke of York, who lived until 1460, took his place. Yet neither sought to assert any claim to the Throne until 1460, and then only in the context of the oft-proven incapacity and incompetance of the reigning Lancastrian King. Edmund served in the armies of King Henry V in France where he gained the reputation of a brave and efficient military officer in whom the King reposed great trust. Richard also served in France as the King's Lieutenant- General, and later as the King's Lieutenant in Ireland. He carried out his duties conscientiously and with distinction, and even when he thought it necessary in 1450 to take active steps to correct the many abuses of the government, he only insisted that the corrupt ministers of the King should be dismissed, not that the King should vacate his Throne. The opportunity to seize the Throne for himself arose during his two Protectorates and after his victory at the First battle of St Albans 1455; he did not take them, being concerned to effect reform only by constitutional and peaceable means. It was not until 1460 that he laid claim to the Throne itself, [pages ] and then only when he considered that the enmity of the Queen and the hatred of his enemies threatened the very existence of his House and all that was his.
Thus it can be said that, even though the King might be an usurper, and that he was sitting on the Throne contrary to the sacred laws of primogeniture, his rule was acceptable if he was a good King; only when his failings became insufferable was any challenge raised. The 1415 plot to depose King Henry V, and restore Edmund Mortimer to the Throne, [pages ] should be seen in this light, when the plotters were thought to have richly merited being sent to the block and there beheaded.
King Henry IV's Coronation
Henry arranged the Coronation with the greatest care.
Although it was plain that everyone wanted him to be King, he felt that nothing should be taken for granted. The chosen date, 13th October 1399, was the feast of the Translation of St Edward who was portrayed as the founder of the English line of Kings. It was customary to knight deserving persons on the day before the ceremony, and Henry created a new military order, the Order of the Bath. His four sons, duly knighted, preceded him to Westminster Abbey accompanied by the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen of the City. Several changes to the ceremony had been made. There were the usual three swords born aloft with a fourth added, that of the House of Lancaster. The oil used to annoint him was the oil said to have been revealed by the Holy Virgin to Thomas a Becket during his exile. It had more than usually holy properties, and in those superstitious times conferred an extra sanctity upon the King thus annointed. Henry reached out for the orb and the sceptre, and waited whilst the Crown was placed on his head by his old friend Thomas Arundel, now restored to his See of Canterbury, and Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York. [Later Scrope was to be beheaded as a traitor to the indignation of Arundel and the fury of the Pope] The Great Lords solemnly knelt before Henry to swear their fealty, including some whose loyalty could be doubted.
John Holland, Duke of Exeter, the half brother of King Richard II, his nephew Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey were among those whose oaths could be regarded as lacking in genuine committment. Five of the Lord-Appeallant who had engineered the downfall of Warwick, Gloucester and Arundel in 1397 got off suprisingly lightly with some demotion of their titles. Henry desired no sweeping butchery of such people, and was prepared to give them the chance of living at peace with his new order. This was nearly to cost him his life and his Crown. At the banquet, Sir Thomas Dymock discharged his hereditary office by riding into the hall wearing full armour to challenge anyone to say that Henry was not the lawful King. King Henry rose in his place to say, "If need be Sir Thomas, I will in my own person relieve thee of thine office." Whatever the reason, nobody challenged the foremost jouster of the age to mortal combat.
King Henry IV had several pressing worries, the foremost being what should be done with Richard. To the end of his life Henry had an uneasy conscience on the subject of Richard. He felt that he had wronged his cousin grievously by depriving him of his Crown, and not even the thought that Richard had first wronged him could ease his troubled mind.
Deputations came to him urging that Richard should be put to death. He refused to listen to any such suggestion; quite apart from his promise that Richard's life should be spared, he could not bring himself to agree to cold-blooded murder. The most that his first Parliament could get him to agree was that Richard should be confined for the rest of his life in his own stronghold of Pontefract Castle. This was a remote and fobidding fortress where his own trusty people could protect him from any harm.
This restraint was to put him in great danger. Both King Henry IV and his son and heir, the future King Henry V, fell ill after the Christmas festivities in 1399 at Windsor Castle, and there was widespread speculation that an attempt had been made to poison them. A plot was hatched to murder the King and his sons at the tournament held on 12th night. The conspiritors were those very Lords to whom Henry had been so merciful, the two Hollands, John Montacute, Earl of Salisbury and Thomas.Lord Despencer. The news reached Henry in the nick of time. Gathering up his boys, Henry rode furiously for the safety of the Tower of London, and the conspiritors found that the birds had flown. They then attempted to raise the country-side in revolt, but found that the common people would have none of it. Thomas Holland and Salisbury were taken and beheaded by the townsfolk of Cirencester. Depencer attempted to escape to France. He was recognised by the shipmaster who took him back to Bristol. There the townsmen lost no time in cutting off his head.
John Holland fell into the hands of Henry's mother-in-law who had neither reason nor inclination to show him any mercy. She handed him over to her servants with orders to behead him on the very spot where King Richard II had arrested the Duke of Gloucester in 1397. Only the lesser traitors met the usual and gory fate which the law prescribed for unsuccessful rebels.
Death of King Richard II
Still King Henry IV would not relent, and the matter was now taken out of his hands by some of the more desparate of his following. Sir Piers Exton is credited with having killed Richard with a sword blow to the head, but no trace of such an injury was found when Richard's grave was opened. The likelihood (we really do not know) is that he starved to death, but whether his jailors starved him or he starved himself is uncertain; if he simply went on hunger-strike, then his custodians did nothing to prevent his demise. The King was furiously angry, but realised that the cruel men over whom he reigned were themselves desparate. Whilst Richard lived, there was always the danger of a successful rescue, and with Richard once more on the Throne their positions would have been precarious indeed. However that may be, King Henry IV never forgave himself for Richard's death.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2O03|