R ICHARD was only a boy of fifteen when he faced the rioters at Smithfield so bravely, and afterward broke his promises so basely. It would have been better for England if he had always been brave as he was the day he faced the rioters, and never base as he was afterward.
It was not until Richard was twenty-one that he really ruled. Until then his uncles ruled for him.
"How old do you think I am, uncle?" he said suddenly to one of them at a feast.
"Your highness is in his twenty-second year," replied he.
"Then I am surely old enough to rule. I thank you for your past help, uncle. I require it no longer." And before his uncle could recover from his surprise, Richard had asked for the great seal and keys of office, and had proclaimed to the people that in the future he himself should rule. And for a time Richard ruled well. He made peace with France, and the taxes on the poor were made lighter. But this was not for long. It was soon seen that he intended to do exactly as he liked, and would take advice from no one. He banished and outlawed those who tried to keep him in check. As he was always in need of money, he seized the lands and money of these banished people, and did many other wicked and dishonest things. At last the King, who had been placed upon the throne amid so much rejoicing, came to be hated and despised.
One of the people whom Richard had banished was his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, the son of his uncle, John of Gaunt. Soon after Henry had been banished John of Gaunt died, and Richard, in spite of having promised not to do so, seized his land and money.
When Henry heard of this he came back to England to take possession of his own inheritance, he said, but really to try to win the crown of England. The people had always loved Henry, and had been very sorry when he was banished, and now they welcomed him back with joy, hoping that he would free them from their hated King. Henry came with only fifteen knights, but as soon as he landed, many people flocked to him.
Richard, at this time, was in Ireland, trying to put down a rebellion there. As soon as he heard that Henry was in England he hurried home. But he was too late. Henry was already master of the country.
Richard brought a large army with him from Ireland, but many of the soldiers deserted almost as soon as they landed and joined the standard of Henry.
At last, forsaken by all, in utter despair, without food or clothes, or even a bed upon which to sleep, Richard was forced to submit to his cousin.
They met at the castle of Flint in Wales. Henry knelt to Richard as to his king and kissed his hand.
"Fair cousin of Lancaster," said Richard, looking down upon him, "you are right welcome."
"My lord," replied Henry, "I am come somewhat before my time." By which he meant that he had a right to the throne after the death of Richard, but that he had not waited until then. "But," he went on, "I will tell you the reason. Your people complain that you have ruled them badly these twenty years. Please God, I will now help you to rule them better." And the poor, broken, spiritless king replied, "Fair cousin, if it pleaseth you, it pleaseth me right well."
But when Richard was left alone he burst out in furious rage, "Would to Heaven that I had killed when I might this false cousin, this Henry of Bolingbroke."
Amid the curses of his people, forsaken even by his
favourite dog which left him for Henry,
Richard was afterwards sent to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, where, it is believed, he was cruelly murdered.