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On this day in history in 1367, was born Richard II.
Richard was a king who, as a boy, pacified The Peasantsí Revolt but, as an adult, was unable to solve disputes amongst the nobility and was deposed and murdered.
Richard was born on the Epiphany and, it is said, there were three kings present at his birth. This gave Richard the idea that he was exceptional and destined for greatness. When his elder brother died, Richard came in direct line for the throne. When his father, Edmund the Black Prince, died, Richard became Prince of Wales and when his grandfather, Edward III, died, Richard became king at the age of ten.
As Richard was not of full age, the government was vested in a council dominated by his uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt was the richest man in the kingdom, far wealthier than the king and probably the richest person ever in Britain, if counting wealth as a proportion of total national wealth. Richardís first major civic duty was to deal with the Peasantís Revolt. When confronted by rebels marching on London, Richard rode out to the leaders and, with great presence of mind, pacified them with disingenuous promises.
When Richard grew to manhood, he confronted the council and often queried their decisions. On one occasion, Richard demanded to know how old he was and, being told that he was twenty-one, he dismissed the council and ruled in his own right.
Richard surrounded himself with frivolous and vain courtiers who were not popular in the country. He favoured a policy of peace with France, which was offensive to the warrior earls. His court was effete. He made spoons and other cutlery mandatory at table and even invented the handkerchief. He banished his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, on a pretext of fomenting rebellion. When Gaunt died, Richard illegally seized his assets and distributed his property amongst the flattering courtiers.
This was Richardís downfall. The nobles were enraged, because if Richard could take Gauntís property, he could take theirs too. Henry Bolingbroke raised an army and landed in Yorkshire, claiming that he was coming to claim only what was his. He received such support from the nobility, that he realised he could take the crown. He captured Richard and led him to London, where the crowd cheered Henry and threw rubbish at Richard. Richard was deposed and Henry took the crown as Henry IV.
Richard was banished to Pontefract castle, where he died in mysterious circumstances. He was buried in an undignified manner in Kings Langley church. His coffin was full of cracks and could be interfered with. Some say that his jawbone was removed. Henry V later reburied his body in Westminster Abbey.
Richardís successor, Henry IV, could not stop the bitter wrangling amongst the nobility, especially since he was not the true heir to the throne. The disputes continued in the reign of Henryís son, Henry V, and into the reign of Henry VI, when the true heirs to the throne, the House of York, disputed the title of the Lancastrians. Thus began the war of the Roses, which was to plague England for centuries.
Schama, Simon. A History of Britain 1 3000BC-AD1603 At the Edge of the World? London: BBC Worldwide Ltd, ISBN 0-563-48714-3
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