Biography: King Richard II

mw05302(Born January 6, 1367- Died on or about February 14, 1400). Son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan 4th Countess of Kent. Married to Anne of Bohemia and Isabella of Valois. He had no children.

Richard II was the second son of Edward the Black Prince, but when his older brother Edward died when Richard was three, Richard became second in line to the throne after his father. When Edward the Black Prince and Edward III died, Richard II became king at the tender age of 10. There was no formal regent that could help guide Richard II, but his uncle John of Gaunt did the best that he could, taking a more active political role.

Richard II and his government decided to start taxing the people with poll taxes to pay for the wars in France and the campaigns in Scotland. At first, they were tolerated, but then the people got mad. In June 1381, a man named Wat Tyler had enough and killed a tax collector and raised a force of around 100,000 to march against the king. When the two forces finally met, Wat Tyler was killed by the Lord Mayor of London William Walworth. Richard at the age of 14 stopped the Peasants’ Revolt by promising the people reforms that he, in the end,  did not fulfill the reforms.

He was the champion of England, but inside his court, things were more divisive. Richard II had two very close advisors, Robert de Vere earl of Oxford and Michael de la Pole. He granted favors upon the two men, causing anger in the court. Richard also sought military glory in Scotland, which ended up being a disaster. To top it all off in 1386, Richard made Robert de Vere duke of Ireland and Michael de la Pole was made a chancellor, without consulting Parliament first. This was the last straw for those who opposed Richard II. They decided to act. Five of his strongest opponents; Thomas duke of Gloucester,  the earl of Arundel, Thomas Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, Thomas Mowbray, and Henry Bolingbroke the son of John of Gaunt, became known as the Lords Appellant. They took over the country and they tried to convince Richard to give up his courtiers.

He did comply for a little while, until he became of age. His first wife Anne of Bohemia died in 1394 from the plague, leaving Richard heartbroken. He married his second wife Isabella of Valois as part of a peace treaty with France, strengthening his position in his own country. He went after the Lords Appellant. Most of them were killed, except for Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke. Mowbray was exiled for life while Henry was exiled for ten years. During his reign “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer was published and literature was on the rise.

In 1399, John of Gaunt died and instead of pardoning his son Henry Bolingbroke, Richard banished him for life. Richard left later that same year to quell the unrest in Ireland and Henry Bolingbroke took his chance to invade. Richard’s support dwindled and on August 19, 1399, Richard II forfeited to Henry and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The next in line for the throne, since Richard II had no children, was Edmund Mortimer earl of March, who was only 8 years old at the time. Parliament did not want a similar situation than the one that they were in, so they forced Richard II to abdicate and on September 29, 1399, Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV. Richard II was moved to Pontefract Castle and on or around February 14, 1400, he died. Some believe that he starved to death as there was no evidence of a physical murder.

With Richard II’s abdication and Henry IV’s accession came the rise of the House of Lancaster.

 

Book Review: “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor

the-last-knight-9781439137581_lgWhen we think of knights, we often think of shining armor, King Arthur and his fabulous court, fair maidens, and of course chivalry. These are considered to be literary ideals, almost too fantastic to be real. However, knights did live in the Middle Ages into the 14th century where some of the greatest knights lived. One is known as The Black Prince; the other was John of Gaunt. Both were brothers, sons of Edward III, the one who helped launch the Hundred Years’ War with France. The Black Prince might have a pretty cool nickname, but the one who really stole the show was John of Gaunt. The subject of Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era” is none other than the third son of Edward III, John of Gaunt.

Now I know what you are thinking, why do a book review for about someone who lived in the 1300s when this blog is focused on the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. The answer is simple. It is because John of Gaunt and his children with his third wife and mistress Catherine Swynford would create the Beaufort line, the same family of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty. It was also with John’s first wife Blanche of Lancaster, that the line of Lancaster was formed. He may have only been a third son but he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and his family would shape the future of England forever.

Cantor, in this book, explores the world that John of Gaunt called home. What was it like in not just in England but in all of the medieval world? What about religion and literature? What was life like for women and knights in court? All of these aspects are explored throughout this book as well as elements in John of Gaunt’s life that made him unique, including his wealth and becoming King of Castile after he married his second wife Constance. Through wars and plagues, politics and rebellions, exploration and the beginning of the Renaissance, John of Gaunt navigated through it all.

It sounds like a very complex time, however, Cantor has a way of explaining it all in such a way that is both engaging and educational. Cantor through his writing style makes it easy to understand John of Gaunt’s legacy, not only is his time but how his legacy affected even our time. It was through his patronage that men like Chaucer and John Wyclif were able to complete their best works.

Shakespeare gave John of Gaunt a very patriotic speech, “this sceptre’d isle…This other Eden, demi-paradise”. Shakespeare was speaking as though John of Gaunt was an old man, reminiscing about the good times as the younger generation was taking over like Henry Bolingbroke and Henry the Navigator. Cantor brings to life the legend of John of Gaunt. Towards the end of his book, Cantor nicely sums up John of Gaunt’s life:

Above all, Gaunt’s taste for war, his frenetic energy, and his physical strength, as well as his love of women and his wealth and lifestyle, set the model for European aristocratic behavior, which went unchallenged until the nineteenth century and is still the pattern for all effective and durable social elites. (Cantor, 239).

John of Gaunt was a Renaissance man of his times. He wasn’t just some old man of Shakespearean lore. Cantor makes John of Gaunt and his world of the Middle Ages come alive. If you want to learn more about John of Gaunt, his family, and his world, Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight” is the book for you.

 

Sources

Cantor, Norman F. The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.