Entering the Council he suddenly asked his uncle to tell him how old he was. "Your Highness," replied Gloucester, "is in your twenty-fourth year." "Then I am old enough to manage my own affairs," said Richard coolly. "I have been longer under guardianship than any ward in my realm. I thank you for your past services, my lords, but I need them no longer".
For eight years the King wielded the power which thus passed quietly into his hands with singular wisdom and good fortune. On the one hand he carried his peace policy into effect by negotiations with France, which brought about a truce renewed year by year till it was prolonged in 1394 for four years, and this period of rest was lengthened for twenty-five years by a subsequent agreement on his marriage with Isabella, the daughter of Charles the Sixth. On the other he announced his resolve to rule by the advice of his Parliament, submitted to its censure, and consulted it on all matters of importance. In a short campaign he pacified Ireland; and the Lollard troubles which had threatened during his absence died away on his return. But the brilliant abilities which Richard shared with the rest of the Plantagenets were marred by a fitful inconstancy, an insane pride, and a craving for absolute power. His uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, remained at the head of the opposition; while the King had secured the friendship of John of Gaunt, and of his son Henry, Earl of Derby. The readiness with which Richard seized on an opportunity of provoking a contest shows the bitterness with which during the long years that had passed since the flight of Suffolk he had brooded over his projects of vengeance.
The Duke of Gloucester and the Earls of Arundel and Warwick were arrested on a charge of conspiracy. A Parliament packed with royal partizans was used to crush Richard's opponents. The pardons granted nine years before were recalled; the commission of regency declared to have been illegal, and its promoters guilty of treason. The blow was ruthlessly followed up. The Duke was saved from a trial by a sudden death in his prison at Calais; while his chief supporter, Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was impeached and banished, and the nobles of his party condemned to death and imprisonment. The measures introduced' into the Parliament of the following year showed that besides his projects of revenge Richard's designs had widened into a definite plan of absolute government. It declared null the proceedings of the Parliament of 1388. He was freed from Parliamentary control by the grant to him of a subsidy upon wool and leather for the term of his life. His next step got rid of Parliament itself.
A committee of twelve peers and six commoners was appointed in Parliament, with power to continue their sittings after its dissolution and to "examine and determine all matters and subjects which had been moved in the presence of the King, with all the dependences of those not determined." The aim of Richard was to supersede by means of this permanent commission the body from which it originated: he at once employed it to determine causes and carry out his will, and forced from every tenant of the Crown an oath to recognize the validity of its acts and to oppose any attempts to alter or revoke them. With such an engine at his command the King was absolute, and with the appearance of absolutism the temper of his reign suddenly changed. A system of forced loans, the sale of charters of pardon to Gloucester's adherents, the outlawry of seven counties at once on the plea that they had supported his enemies and must purchase pardon, a reckless interference with the course of justice, roused into new life the social and political discontent which was threatening the very existence of the Crown.
By his good government and by his evil government alike, Richard had succeeded in alienating every class of his subjects. He had estranged the nobles by his peace policy, the landowners by his refusal to sanction the insane measures of repression they directed against the labourer, the merchant class by his illegal exactions, and the Church by his want of zeal against the Lollards. Richard himself had no sympathy with the Lollards, and the new sect as a social danger was held firmly at bay. But the royal officers showed little zeal, in aiding the bishops to seize or punish the heretical teachers, and Lollardry found favour in the very precincts of the Court; it was through the patronage of Richard's first queen, Anne of Bohemia, that the tracts and Bible of the Reformer had been introduced into her native land, to give rise to the remarkable movement which found its earliest leaders in John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Richard stood almost alone in fact in his realm, but even this accumulated mass of hatred might have failed to crush him had not an act of jealousy and tyranny placed an able and unscrupulous leader at the head of the national discontent.
Henry, Earl of Derby and Duke of Hereford, the eldest son of John of Gaunt, though he had taken part against his royal cousin in the earlier troubles of his reign, had loyally supported him in his recent measures against Gloucester. No sooner, however, were these measures successful than Richard turned his new power against the more dangerous House of Lancaster, and availing himself of a quarrel between the Dukes of Hereford and Norfolk, in which each party bandied accusations of treason against the other, banished both from the realm. Banishment was soon followed by the annulling of leave which had been given to Henry to receive his inheritance on John of Gaunt's death, and the King himself seized the Lancastrian estates. At the moment when he had thus driven his cousin to despair, Richard crossed into Ireland to complete the work of conquest and organization which he had begun there; and Archbishop Arundel, an exile like himself, urged the Duke to take advantage of the King's absence for the recovery of his rights.
Eluding the vigilance of the French Court, at which he had taken shelter, Henry landed with a handful of men on the coast of Yorkshire, where he was at once joined by the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, the heads of the great houses of the Percies and the Nevilles; and, with an army which grew as he advanced, entered triumphantly into London. The Duke of York, whom the King had left regent, submitted, and his forces joined those of Henry; and when Richard landed at Milford Haven he found the kingdom lost. His own army dispersed as it landed, and the deserted King fled in disguise to North Wales, to find a second force which the Earl of Salisbury had gathered for his support already disbanded. Invited to a conference with the Duke of Lancaster at Flint, he saw himself surrounded by the rebel forces. "I am betrayed," he cried, as the view of his enemies burst on him from the hill; "there are pennons and banners in the valley." But it was too late for retreat. Richard was seized and brought before his cousin. " I am come before my time," said Lancaster, "but I will show you the reason.
Your people, my lord, complain that for the space of twenty years you have ruled them harshly: however, if it please God, I will help you to rule them better." "Fair cousin," replied the King, "since it pleases you, it pleases me well." But Henry's designs went far beyond a share in the government of the realm. The Parliament which assembled in Westminster Hall received with shouts of applause a formal paper in which Richard resigned the crown as one incapable of reigning and worthy for his great demerits to be deposed. The resignation was confirmed by a solemn Act of Deposition. The coronation oath was read, and a long impeachment, which stated the breach of the promises made in it, was followed by a solemn vote of both Houses which removed Richard from the state and authority of King. According to the strict rules of hereditary descent as construed by the feudal lawyers, by an assumed analogy with the descent of ordinary estates, the crown would now have passed to a house which had at an earlier period played a leading part in the revolutions of the Edwards. The great grandson of the Mortimer who brought about the deposition of Edward the Second had married the daughter and heiress of Lionel of Clarence, the third son of Edward the Third. The childlessness of Richard and the death of Edward's second son without issue placed Edmund, his grandson by this marriage, first among the claimants of the crown; but he was a child of six years old, the strict rule of hereditary descent had never received any formal recognition in the case of the crown, and precedent had established the right of Parliament to choose in such a case a successor among any other members of the Royal House. Only one such successor was in fact possible.
Rising from his seat and crossing himself, Henry of Lancaster solemnly challenged the crown "as that I am descended by right line of blood coming from the good lord King Henry the Third, and through that right that God of His grace hath sent me with help of my kin and of my friends to recover it: the which realm was in point to be undone for default of governance and undoing of good laws." Whatever defects such a claim might present were more than covered by the solemn recognition of Parliament. The two Archbishops, taking the new sovereign by the hand, seated him upon the throne, and Henry in emphatic words ratified the compact between himself and his people. "Sirs," he said to the prelates, lords, knights, and burgesses gathered round him, "I thank God and you, spiritual and temporal, and all estates of the land: and do you to wit it is not my will that any man think that by way of conquest I would disinherit any of his heritage, franchises, or other rights that he ought to have, nor put him out of the good that he has and has had by the good laws and customs of the realm, except those persons that have been against the good purpose and the common profit of the realm".