Richard II, eighth king of England of the house of Plantagenet, born in Bordeaux in 1366, supposed to have been murdered at Pontefract castle in February, 1400. He was the second and only surviving child of Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III., by Joan, sister of the last earl of Kent. The prince dying June 8, 1376, Richard became heir apparent, and succeeded to the crown, June 21, 1377. His coronation took place July 16. A council was appointed to conduct the business of government, from which the king's unpopular uncles were formally excluded, but its members were in part under their influence. The war between England and France was continued, to the disadvantage of England. Scotland was hostile; and the ambition of Richard's uncles, the duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt) and the earl of Cambridge (afterward duke of York), who by right of their wives expected to obtain possession of Spain, was the cause of trouble between England and the peninsula. It was found necessary to lay new and heavy taxes, which were rigorously collected. The first poll tax, which bore upon persons in good circumstances, was submitted to; but when the tax was extended to persons of every condition, three groats being levied on each male and female above the age of 15 years, the returns were small.
This was attributed to negligent collection, and a commission was appointed to enforce the tax. Its proceedings were odious, and resistance was made in Essex and Kent. At Dartford, in Kent, one Walter the Tiler, having, struck dead a tax gatherer who had insulted his daughter, was made chief of the insurgents, and hence the popular rising is known as Wat Tyler's rebellion. The insurrection spread over nine counties, and partook of the character of the Jacquerie that had occurred in France 23 years before. The insurgents marched upon London, and assembled to the number of 100,000 on Black-heath, June 12, 1381. The city was entered, the tower seized, and the archbishop of Canterbury, the treasurer, and several other persons of eminence, were put to death. There was some plundering, and the palace of the duke of Lancaster was destroyed. The early demands made upon the king were deemed reasonable, such as the abolition of slavery, the commutation of the dues of villenage, free trade in the market towns, etc.; and Richard promised that they should all be complied with, whereupon many of the people returned to their homes.
Tyler now became insolent, and made further demands upon the king, compliance with which was impossible; and in an interview with Richard he behaved so arrogantly that he was slain by Sir William Walworth, lord mayor of London. The king, who was in his 16th year, immediately placed himself at the head of the rebels, thereby saving his own life and the lives of his attendants. They accepted him, and he led them into the country, and allowed them to depart without molestation. The promises made to the people were not kept, and they were punished with merciless severity. Richard married Anne of Bohemia, eldest daughter of Charles IV., emperor of Germany. An invasion of Scotland was made in 1385, the king heading a large army, which accomplished little. Lancaster being absent in Spain, the duke of Gloucester, another of the king's uncles, made himself master of the kingdom, but Richard was induced by his favorite, the earl of Oxford, to attempt to throw off the yoke. In the ensuing contest Gloucester triumphed, and was placed at the head of a council of regency in 1386, which held sovereign power. In 1387 the king, who was aided by the judges, sought to recover his power, but Gloucester defeated his soldiers, and slaughtered or banished his immediate supporters.
Two years later Richard was more successful, and changed his ministers, Gloucester himself being removed. The French war languished, and that with Scotland was remarkable only for the battle of Otter-burn, in which the Scotch were victorious. A truce for 25 years was concluded with France, and, Queen Anne having died in 1394, it was provided that Richard should marry Isabella, daughter of Charles VI., in 1396, though the princess was a mere child. Gloucester endeavored to recover his former power, but failed, the king being supported by parliament, and crushing his enemies, some of the most prominent of whom were banished or put to death. Richard banished Henry of Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford, son of the duke of Lancaster, in 1398, for ten years; and on the death of Lancaster he made the term of banishment perpetual, and seized the estates of the exile. Richard had now become very unpopular, and in July, 1399, Henry, now duke of Lancaster, during the king's absence in Ireland, landed at Ravenspur, accompanied by a few eminent Englishmen. He was joined by several powerful nobles and great numbers of people of all degrees. Richard returned, but was seized and imprisoned, and deposed by parliament, after a renunciation of the crown had been obtained from him.
Lancaster was called to the throne, and became king as Henry IV. Parliament thus set aside the legitimate heir to the throne, Roger Mortimer, earl of March (grandson of Lionel, duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III.), upon whom an earlier parliament had settled the crown, in accordance with the received laws of inheritance. Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract castle, and it is supposed that he was there murdered by his keeper, Sir Piers Exton. A corpse, purporting to be that of the ex-king, was exhibited in London for two days, and was buried in Westminster abbey; but the tomb having been accidentally opened long afterward, no marks of violence were found on the skull. One story was that he was starved to death. It has been plausibly maintained that he escaped from Pontefract and fled to the Western islands, was there recognized, and carried to the Scotch court, where he died in 1419, and was buried at Stirling. Richard was a weak prince, and owed his fall to his fondness for favorites, to the vehemence of his despotism in the latter part of his reign, and to the wantonness of his expenditures, which England was then ill able to bear.
He was fond of literature, like most of the Plantagenets, and appreciated and enjoyed the works of Chaucer, Gower, and Froissart. In the 16th year of his reign (1393) the statute of proemunire was enacted.