Gateway to the Classics: Richard II by Jacob Abbott
Richard II by  Jacob Abbott

Richard's Deposition and Death

It was not long after Richard's marriage to the little queen before the troubles and difficulties in which his government was involved increased in a very alarming degree. The feuds among his uncles, and between his uncles and himself, increased in frequency and bitterness, and many plots and counterplots were formed in respect to the succession; for Isabella being so young, it was very doubtful whether she would grow up and have children, and, unless she did so, some one or other of Richard's cousins would be heir to the crown. I have spoken of his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke as the principal of these claimants. There was, however, another one, Roger, the Earl of March. Roger was the grandson of Richard's uncle Lionel, who had died long before. The Duke of Gloucester, who had been so bitterly opposed to Richard's marriage with Isabella, and had, as it seemed, now become his implacable enemy, conceived the plan of deposing Richard and making Roger king. Isabella, if this plan had been carried into effect, was to have been shut up in a prison for all the rest of her days. There were several great nobles joined with the Duke of Gloucester in this conspiracy.

The plot was betrayed to Richard by some of the confederates. Richard immediately determined to arrest his uncle and bring him to trial. It was necessary, however, to do this secretly, before any of the conspirators should be put upon their guard. So he set off one night from his palace in Westminster, with a considerable company of armed men, to go to the duke's palace, which was at some distance from London, planning his journey so as to arrive there very early in the morning. The people of London, when they saw the king passing at that late hour, wondered where he was going.

He arrived very early the next morning at the duke's castle. He sent some of his men forward into the court of the castle to ask if the duke were at home. The servants said that he was at home, but he was not yet up. So the messengers sent up to him in his bed-chamber to inform him that the king was below, and to ask him to come down and receive him. Gloucester accordingly came down. He was much surprised, but he knew that it would be very unwise for him to show any suspicion, and so, after welcoming the king, he asked what was the object of so early a visit. The king assumed a gay and unconcerned air, as if he were out upon some party of pleasure, and said he wished the duke to go away with him a short distance. So the duke dressed himself and mounted his horse, the king, in the mean time, talking in a merry way with the ladies of the castle who had come down into the court to receive him. When they were ready the whole party rode out of the court, and then the king, suddenly changing his tone, ordered his men to arrest the duke and take him away.

The duke was never again seen or heard of in England, and for a long time it was not known what had become of him. It was, however, at last said, and generally believed, that he was put on board a ship, and sent secretly to Calais, and shut up in a castle there, and was, after a time, strangled by means of feather beds, or, as others say, by wet towels put over his face, in obedience to orders sent to the castle by Richard. Several other great noblemen, whom Richard supposed to be confederates with Gloucester, were arrested by similar stratagems. Two or three of the most powerful of them were brought to a trial before judges in Richard's interest, and, being condemned, were beheaded. It is supposed that Richard did not dare to bring Gloucester himself to trial, on account of the great popularity and vast influence which he enjoyed among the people of England.

Richard was very much pleased with the success of his measures for thus putting the most formidable of his enemies out of the way, and not long after this his cousin Roger died, so that Richard was henceforth relieved of all special apprehension on his account. But the country was extremely dissatisfied. The Duke of Gloucester had been very much respected and beloved by the nation. Richard was hated. His government was tyrannical. His style of living was so extravagant that his expenses were enormous, and the people were taxed beyond endurance to raise the money required. While, however, he thus spared no expense to secure his own personal aggrandizement and glory, it was generally believed that he cared little for the substantial interests of the country, but was ready to sacrifice them at any time to promote his own selfish ends.

In the mean time, having killed the principal leaders opposed to him, for a time he had every thing his own way. He obtained the control of Parliament, and caused the most unjust and iniquitous laws to be passed, the object of which was to supply him more and more fully with money, and to increase still more his own personal power. He went on in this way until the country was almost ripe for rebellion.

Still, with all his wealth and splendor, Richard was not happy. He was harassed by perpetual suspicions and anxieties, and his conscience tortured him with reproaches for the executions which he had procured of his uncle Gloucester and the other noblemen, particularly the Earl of Arundel, one of the most powerful and wealthy nobles of England. He used to awake from his sleep at night in horror, crying out that the blood of the earl was all over his bed.

He was afraid continually of his cousin Henry, who was now in the direct line of succession to the crown, and whom he imagined to be conspiring against him. He wished very much to find some means of removing him out of the way. An opportunity at length presented itself. There was a quarrel between Henry and a certain nobleman named Norfolk. Each accused the other of treasonable designs. There was a long difficulty about it, and several plans were formed for a trial of the case. At last it was determined that there should be a trial by single combat between the parties, to determine the question which of them was the true man.

The town of Coventry, which is in the central part of England, was appointed for this combat. The lists were prepared, a pavilion for the use of the king and those who were to act as judges was erected, and an immense concourse of spectators assembled to witness the contest. All the preliminary ceremonies were performed, as usual in those days in personal combats of this character, except that in this case the combatants were to fight on horseback. They came into the lists with horses magnificently caparisoned. Norfolk's horse was covered with crimson velvet, and the trappings of Henry's were equally splendid. When all was ready, the signal was given, and the battle commenced. After the combatants had made a few passes at each other without effect, the king made a signal, and the heralds cried out, Ho! Ho! which was an order for them to stop. The king then directed that their arms should be taken from them, and that they should dismount, and take their places in certain chairs which had been provided for them within the lists. These chairs were very gorgeous in style and workmanship, being covered with velvet, and elegantly embroidered.

The assembly waited a long time while the king and those with him held a consultation. At length the king announced that the combat was to proceed no farther, but that both parties were deemed guilty, and that they were both to be banished from the realm. The term of Henry's banishment was ten years; Norfolk's was for life.

The country was greatly incensed at this decision. There was no proof whatever that Henry had done any thing wrong. Henry, however, submitted to the king's decree, apparently without murmuring, and took his departure. As he journeyed toward Dover, where he was to embark, the people flocked around him at all the towns and villages that he passed through, and mourned his departure; and when finally he embarked at Dover and went away, they said that the only shield, defense, and comfort of the commonwealth was gone.

Henry went to Paris, and there told his story to the King of France. The king took his part, very decidedly. He received him in a very cordial and friendly manner, and condemned the course which Richard had pursued.

Another circumstance occurred to alienate the King of France still more from Richard. There was a certain French lady, named De Courcy, who had come from France with the little queen, and had since occupied a high position in the queen's household. She was Isabella's governess and principal lady of honor. This lady, it seemed, lived in quite an expensive style, and by her influence and management greatly increased the expense of the queen's establishment, which was, of course, entirely independent of that of the king. This Lady De Courcy kept eighteen horses for her own personal use, and maintained a large train of attendants to accompany her in state whenever she appeared in public. She had two or three goldsmiths and jewelers, and two or three furriers, and a proportionate number of other artisans all the time at work, making her dresses and decorations. Richard, under pretense that he could not afford all this, dismissed the Lady De Courcy from her office, and sent her home to France. Of course she was very indignant at this treatment, and she set out on her return home, prepared to give the King of France a very unfavorable account of his son-in-law. It was some time after this, however, before she arrived at Paris.

About three months after Henry of Bolingbroke was banished from the realm, his father, the Duke of Lancaster, died. He left immense estates, which of right should have descended to his son. Richard had given Henry leave to appoint an attorney to act as his agent during his banishment, and take care of his property; but, instead of allowing this attorney to take possession of these estates, and hold them for Henry until he should return, the king confiscated them, and seized them himself. He also, at the same time, revoked the powers which he had granted to the attorney. This transaction awakened one general burst of indignation from one end of England to the other, and greatly increased the hatred which the people bore to the king, and the favor with which they were disposed to regard Henry.

It must be admitted, in justice to Richard, that his mind was greatly harassed at this time with the troubles and difficulties that surrounded him, and with his want of money. To complete his misfortunes, a rebellion broke out in Ireland. He felt compelled to go himself and quell it. So he collected all the money that he could obtain, and raised an army and equipped a fleet to go across the Irish Sea. He left his uncle, the Duke of York, regent during his absence.

Before setting out for Ireland, the king went to Windsor to bid the little queen good-by. He took his leave of her in a church at Windsor, where she accompanied him to mass. On leaving the church after service, he partook of wine and refreshments with her at the door, and then lifting her up in his arms, he kissed her many times, saying,

"Adieu, madame. Adieu till we meet again."

As soon as Richard was gone, a great number of the leading and influential people began to form plans to keep him from coming back again, or at least to prevent his ever again ruling over the realm. Henry, who was now in Paris, and who, since his father was dead, was now himself the Duke of Lancaster, began to receive letters from many persons urging him to come to England, and promising him their support in dispossessing Richard of the throne.

Henry determined at length to comply with these proposals. He found many persons in France to encourage him, and some to join him. With these persons, not more, it is said, than sixty in all, he set sail from the coast of France, and, passing across the Channel, approached the coast of England. He touched at several places, to ascertain what was the feeling of the country toward him. At length he was encouraged to land. The people received him joyfully, and every body flocked to his standard.

The Duke of York, whom Richard had left as regent, immediately called a council of Richard's friends to consider what it was best to do. On consultation and inquiry, they found that the country would not support them in any plan for resisting Henry. So they abandoned Richard's cause at once in despair, and fled in various directions, intent only on saving their own lives.

The Duke of York went to Windsor Castle, took the queen and her attendants, and conveyed them up the river to the Castle of Wallingford, where he thought they would be more safe.

In the mean time, the king's expedition to Ireland resulted disastrously, and he returned to England. To his utter dismay, he learned, on his arrival, that Henry had landed in England, and was advancing toward London in a triumphant manner. He had no sufficient force under his command to enable him to go and meet his cousin with any hope of success. The only question was how he could save himself from Henry's vengeance. He dismissed the troops that remained with him, and then, with a very few attendants to accompany him, he sought refuge for a while among the castles in Wales, where he was reduced to great destitution and distress, being forced sometimes to sleep on straw. At length he went to Conway, which is a town near the northern confines of Wales, and shut himself up in the castle there—that famous Conway Castle, the ruins of which are so much visited and admired by the tourists of the present day.

In the mean time, Henry, although he had marched triumphantly through England at the head of a large, though irregular force, had not proclaimed himself king, or taken any other open step inconsistent with his allegiance to Richard. But now, when he heard that Richard was in Wales, he went thither himself at the head of quite a large army which he had raised in London. He stopped at a town in North Wales called Flint, and, taking his lodgings there, he sent forward an earl as his messenger to Conway Castle to treat with Richard. The earl, on being introduced into Richard's presence, said that his cousin was at Flint Castle, and wished that he would come there to confer with him on matters of great moment. Richard did not know what to do. He soon reflected, however, that he was completely in Henry's power, and that he might as well make a virtue of necessity, and submit with a good grace; so he said he would accompany the earl to Flint Castle.

They had not gone far on the road before a large number of armed men appeared at the road side, in a narrow place between the mountains and the sea, where they had been lying in ambush. These men were under the earl's command. Little was said, but Richard saw that he was a prisoner.

On his arrival at Flint Castle, Richard had an interview with Henry. Henry, when he came into the king's presence, treated him with all due reverence, as if he still acknowledged him as his sovereign. He kneeled repeatedly as he advanced, until at length the king took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, at the same time,

"Dear cousin, you are welcome."

Henry replied,

"My sovereign lord and king, the cause of my coming at this time is to have again the restitution of my person, my lands, and my heritage, through your majesty's gracious permission."

The king replied,

"Dear cousin, I am ready to accomplish your will, so that you may enjoy all that is yours without exception."

After some farther insincere and hypocritical conversation of this sort, breakfast was served. After breakfast, Henry conducted the king to a window on the wall, from which, on looking over the plain, a vast number of armed men, who had come from London with Henry, were to be seen. Richard asked who those men were. Henry replied that they were people of London.

"And what do they want?" asked Richard.

"They want me to take you," said Henry, "and carry you prisoner to the Tower; and there will be no pacifying them unless you go with me."

Richard saw at once that it was useless to make any resistance, so he submitted himself entirely to such arrangements as Henry might make. Henry accordingly set out with him on the journey to London, ostensibly escorting him as a king, but really conveying him as a prisoner. On the journey, the fallen monarch suffered many marks of neglect and indignity, but he knew that he was wholly in the power of his enemies, and that it was useless to complain; indeed, his spirit was completely broken, and he had no heart to make even a struggle. On reaching London, he was conducted to the Tower. He was lodged there as he had often been lodged before, only now the guards which surrounded him were under the command of his enemies, and were placed there to prevent his escape, instead of to protect him from danger.

Henry immediately convened a Parliament, issuing the writs, however, in the king's name. This was necessary, to make the Parliament technically legal. When the Parliament met, articles of accusation were formally brought against Richard. These articles were thirty-three in number. They recapitulated all the political crimes and offenses which Richard had committed during his life, his cruelties and oppressions, his wastefulness, his maladministration of public affairs, the illegal and unjust sentences of banishment or of death which he had pronounced upon peers of the realm, and various other high crimes and misdemeanors.

While these measures were pending, Richard's mind was in a state of dreadful suspense and agitation. Sometimes he sank into the greatest depths of despondency and gloom, and sometimes he raved like a madman, walking to and fro in his apartment in his phrensy, vowing vengeance on his enemies.

He had interviews from time to time with Henry and the other nobles. At one time Henry went with the Duke of York and others to the Tower, and sent a messenger to the king, requesting him to come to the apartment where they were, as they wished to see him.

"Tell Henry of Lancaster," said the king, "that I shall do no such thing. If he wishes to see me, let him come to me."

So they came to the king's apartment. Henry took off his cap as he came in, and saluted the king respectfully. The Duke of York was with Henry at this time. Richard was very angry with the Duke of York, whom he had left regent of England when he went away, but who had made no resistance to Henry's invasion. So, as soon as he saw him, he broke forth in a perfect phrensy of vituperation and rage against him, and against his son, who was also present. This produced a violent altercation between them and the king, in which one of them told the king that he lied, and threw down his bonnet before him in token of defiance. Richard then turned to Henry, and demanded, in a voice of fury, why he was placed thus in confinement, under a guard of armed men.

"Am I your servant," he demanded, "or am I your king? And what do you intend to do with me?"

"You are thy king and lord," replied Henry, calmly, "but the Parliament have determined that you are to be kept in confinement for the present, until they can decide in respect to the charges laid against you."


Henry of Bolingbroke—King Henry IV.

Here the king uttered a dreadful imprecation, expressive of rage and despair.

He then demanded that they should let him have his wife. But Henry replied that the council had forbidden that he should see the queen. This exasperated the king more than ever. He walked to and fro across the apartment, wringing his hands, and uttering wild and incoherent expressions of helpless rage.


Pontefract Castle, King Richard's Prison

The end of it was that Richard was forced to abdicate the crown. He soon saw that it was only by so doing that he could hope to save his life. An assembly was convened, and he formally delivered up his crown, and renounced all claim to it forever. He also gave up the globe and sceptre, the emblems of sovereignty, with which he had been invested at his coronation. In addition to this ceremony, a written deed of abdication had been drawn up, and, this deed was now signed by the king with all the necessary formalities. Proclamation having been made of Richard's abdication, Henry came forward and claimed the crown as Richard's rightful successor, and he was at once proclaimed king, and conducted to the throne. Richard was conducted back to the Tower, and soon afterward was conveyed, by Henry's order, to a more sure place of confinement—Pontefract Castle, and here was shut up a close prisoner.

Things remained in this state a short time, and then a rumor arose that a conspiracy was formed by Richard's friends to murder Henry, and restore Richard to the throne. A spiked instrument was said to have been found in Henry's bed, put there by some of the conspirators, with a view of destroying him when he lay down. Whether this story of the conspiracy was false or true, one thing is certain, that the existence of Richard endangered greatly the continuance and security of Henry's power. Henry and his counselors were well aware of this; and one day, when they had been conversing on the subject of this danger, Henry said,

"Have I no faithful friend who will deliver me from this man, whose life is death to me, and whose death would be my life?"

Very soon after this, it was known that Richard was dead. The universal belief was that he was murdered. There were various rumors in respect to the manner in which the deed was perpetrated. The account most precise and positive states that a man named Exton, who had heard the remark of the king, repaired at once to the castle of Pontefract, accompanied by eight desperate men, all well armed, and gained admission to Richard's room while he was at table. Richard, seeing his danger, sprang up, and attempted to defend himself. He wrenched a weapon out of the hands of one of his assailants, and fought with it so furiously that he cut down four of the ruffians before he was overpowered. He was felled to the floor at last by a blow which Exton struck him upon his head, Exton having sprung up upon the chair which Richard had sat in, and thus obtained an advantage by his high position.

It was necessary to make the fact of Richard's death very certain, and so, soon afterward, the body was placed upon a hearse, and drawn by four black horses to London. Here it was left in a public place for some time, to be viewed by all who desired to view it. There were no less than twenty thousand  persons that availed themselves of the opportunity of satisfying themselves, by the evidence of their senses, that the hated Richard was no more.

The little queen all this time had been confined in another castle. She was now about twelve years old. Her father, when he heard of the misfortunes which had befallen her husband, and of the forlorn and helpless condition in which she was placed, was so distressed that he became insane. The other members of the family sent to England to demand that she should be restored to them, but Henry refused this request. He wished to make her the wife of his son, who was now the Prince of Wales, but Isabella would not listen to any such proposals. Then Henry wished that she should remain in England as the queen-dowager, and he promised that she should be treated with the greatest respect and consideration as long as she lived; but neither she herself nor her friends in France would consent to this. At length, after long delay, and many protracted negotiations, it was decided that she should return home.

The little queen, on her return to France, embarked from Dover. There were five vessels appointed to receive her and her suite. There were in attendance upon her two ladies of the royal family, who had the charge of her person, her governess, several maids of honor, and two French chambermaids, whose names were Semonette and Marianne. There were many other persons besides.

Isabella reached the French frontier at a town between Calais and Boulogne, and there was delivered, with much form and ceremony, to a deputation of French authorities sent forward to receive her.

She lived in France after this for several years, mourning her husband all the time with faithful and unchanging affection. At length a marriage was arranged for her with her cousin, a French prince. She was married when she was nineteen years old. She was very averse to this marriage when it was first proposed to her, and could only speak of it with tears; but, under all the circumstances of the case, she thought that she was not at liberty to decline it, and after she was married she loved her husband very sincerely, and made a very devoted and faithful wife. Three years after her marriage she had a son, and a few hours after the birth of the child she suddenly died. Her husband was almost distracted when he heard that his beloved wife was dead. His grief seemed, for a time, perfectly uncontrollable; but when they brought to him his infant child, it seemed in some measure to comfort him.

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