Bolingbroke and Mowbray Trial by Combat

Lancelot 1440 BN Manuscript français 120, folio 118 Source: Wikipedia

I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid mesmerized by jousting knights, though I never gave the practice much thought. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Trial by Combat, at least in the 14th century, was a strictly regulated function of the Court of Chivalry, which was the household court of the constable and marshal of England (also known as the Curia Militaris, the Court of the Constable and the Marshal, or the Earl Marshal’s Court). In Richard II’s day, the position was held by Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester and the King’s uncle. He even wrote a treatise on the duties involved with this office.

In court, if evidence in an appeal (accusation), whether of treason or any other offense, was insufficient or unprovable—no witnesses, for example, nor tangible evidence—the case would often be settled by judicial battle. (As far as I can determine, this is the only circumstance where Trial by Combat was invoked.) Some think of this as a precursor to the duel (of honor) fought in later centuries. The most famous trial by combat in the fourteenth century was between Henry of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and Sir Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Of course, the combat never took place; the King stopped it at the last minute. But the ceremony and protocol were all there; we get a colorful description in the Chronicque de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre (the author was probably an eye-witness).

The tournament, to be held at Coventry, was announced far and wide. It was the event of the year; the Duke of Albany’s son came from Scotland; the Count of St. Pol and other nobles came over France. Preparations were extensive; the King’s armory was placed at their disposal. Bolingbroke was sent armorers from the Duke of Milan, and Mowbray engaged armorers from Germany or Bohemia.

According to la Traison, “The lists were to be sixty paces long and forty wide; the barriers seven feet high. The sergeants-at-arms were not to let the people approach within four feet of the lists… the penalty for entering the lists, or making any noise, so that one party might take advantage of the other, was the loss of life or limb, and also of their castles, at the pleasure of the King.” This was serious stuff! Bolingbroke entered the lists on a white charger followed by six or seven knights on white horses, his was caparisoned in blue and green velvet embroidered with swans and antelopes. Mowbray’s horse wore crimson velvet, embroidered with lions of silver and mulberry trees. There was an exact wording the contestants were required to state (I remember it well in Shakespeare): Bolingbroke said, “I am Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, and am come here to prosecute my appeal in combating Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who is a traitor, false and recreant to God, the King, his realm, and me.” The constable opened Henry’s visor to determine he was the man he supposed to be, “the barrier was then opened, and he rode straight to his pavilion, which was covered with red roses, and, alighting from his charger, entered his pavilion and awaited the coming of his adversary.”

Richard II presiding at a tournament, from St. Alban’s Chronicle. Source: Lambeth Palace Library, MS6 f.233

At this point, the King arrived, accompanied by a great retinue. Once they were settled, his herald announced, “Oez, oez, oez… It is commanded  by the King by the Constable, and by the Marshal, that no person, poor or rich, be so daring as to put his hand upon the lists, save those who have leave from the King and council, the Constable, and the Marshal, upon pain of being drawn and hung… Behold here Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, appellant, who is come to the lists to do his duty against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, defendant; let him come in the lists to do his duty, upon pain of being declared false.” At once, Mowbray came forward and swore the same oath as Bolingbroke then went to his own pavilion. The constables measured the length of the lances and the two squires presented them to their knights. According to la Traison, “The weapons allowed by the marshal and constable were the “Glaive”, long sword, short sword, and dagger. The long sword was straight, and called by the French “estoc”, whence estocade, a thrust.” The King ordered that they take away the pavilions and “let go the chargers, and that each should perform his duty”. Apparently Bolingbroke first advanced a few paces when the King threw his threw his staff (warder) into the list, crying, “Ho! Ho!”

For the King to interfere in the duel was not unheard of, though it seems that the crowd was bitterly disappointed to be denied their entertainment; never mind that the fight was to the death. Apparently there were no other amusements on the agenda. The contestants were equally skilled in tournament fighting, and by no means was the result a foregone conclusion. The king withdrew with his council—including Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt—and discussed the matter for two hours while the attendees waited. Finally it was announced that Bolingbroke was to be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life. From most accounts, the crowd was incensed at Bolingbroke’s treatment; after all, he had done nothing wrong. Few seemed to object to Mowbray’s fate; was he guilty until proven innocent? Nonetheless, everybody went home unhappy, not least of all the main contestants. Both were promised large annuities and given a few weeks to put their affairs in order.

Trial by combat seems to have died out by the 15th century, and I haven’t found anything quite as dramatic as this contest. The amount of preparation for such a non-event is staggering. If you happened to be versed in medieval French, you can learn more about tournament ceremonies in this book, reproduced in Google Books: “Ceremonies des gages de batailles selon les constitutions du bon roi Philippe de France”.

Manorial Courts Guest Post by April Munday

British Library MS Royal 2.VII

The manorial courts were one step up in law enforcement from the tithings that we looked at last week. Each manor had a court and the court governed the lives of everyone who lived on the manor, even determining when they could plant and when they could harvest. It fined them if they allowed their animals to stray onto the lord’s demesne, and it was where they took their claims against one another to be judged.

The manor was made up of the lord’s demesne as well as the land that he leased to tenants. The demesne was the farm that the lord kept for his own benefit.  The people who worked the manor’s land were both freemen and serfs (cottagers, smallholders or villeins). The manorial court dealt with the serfs’ issues, while the freemen were able to go to other courts, which we’ll come to later.  It was also able to create new bylaws for the manor.

Some lords had more than one manor and could not look after all of them closely, or they were away at war or absent for some other reason. The manorial court was one of the ways in which the manor could be managed whether the lord was there or not. He had a steward, who looked after his interests in his absence, but it was the village officials (reeve, hayward and beadle amongst others) who made sure that things happened as they should.

The manorial court decided the land boundaries and the days on which animals could graze in the fields. The steward presided over the court, but the village elected the officials from among themselves. The steward could not tell the court what to do and the court could appeal to the lord if necessary. Usually the business transacted by the court had no direct reference to the lord’s own affairs since it dealt with village problems such as loans not being repaid; men not turning out to work on the lord’s demesne; theft; the erection of a fence in the wrong place; or one villager injuring another.

The court was run by the rich villeins who provided the jurors and officials. The court was supposed to meet every three weeks, but some met less often. All the serfs in the village had to attend. Those who did not were fined. The court was often held in the nave of the church, the part that ‘belonged’ to the village. There were not many places in the village large enough to hold the court and many were simply held in the open air, often in the churchyard. Some manorial courts met in the hall of the manor house itself.

The jurors pronounced judgement on their fellow villagers (and occasionally on the lord) and this was sometimes put to the rest of the village as well for their assent. When making a judgement they had to take into account what they knew of the law, the customs of the manor and the manor’s bylaws. All the jurors and everyone else in the court knew both parties in every case that was brought before them, which was supposed to make it easier to come to a correct judgement. The system of justice was mostly based on the way in which society worked. People lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else’s business and character. If you, as a villein, were asked whether your neighbour, Peter, had stolen from another neighbour, John, you would know the characters of both men and could assess whether John was making a false claim against Peter or whether Peter was a known thief. You did not have to have seen the (alleged) crime take place in order to be able to work out what had happened, nor did you need any evidence.

Villagers had to pay a fee to the lord get their case heard. The lord of the manor benefited from any fines issued by the court and the court was often the source of a large part of the lord’s income. The manorial court also required payments to the lord on all kinds of occasions – death, inheritance and marriage all had their appropriate fee. When these things happened part of the lord’s land was transferred from one person to another and the fee was to obtain the lord’s permission for that transfer. The court could generate a lot of income for the lord, and fines and fees tended to increase after the Black Death when there were fewer tenants to pay rents. The steward’s clerk recorded the cases and any fines or fees. As well as fines which went into the lord’s coffers, the court could also award damages to be paid by the guilty party in a case to the injured party.

One of the commonest cases to come before a manorial court was the accusation that someone was selling ale before it had been tasted by the ale taster. Ale was brewed at home and sold to the neighbours, who came to the brewer’s house to drink it. The ale taster’s rôle was to ensure that a consistent quality and price were maintained.

It is thanks to the surviving manor court rolls that so much is known about everyday life in the Middle Ages in England. What they show, however, is the things that went wrong and not the things that happened exactly as everybody thought they should.

 

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L. Waugh

Medieval Lives – Terry Jones

Life in a Medieval Village – Frances and Joseph Gies

Making a Living in the Middle Ages – Christopher Dyer

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

 

APRIL MUNDAY is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Heirs-Tale-Soldiers-Fortune-Book-ebook/dp/B075KQ3HX4/

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Website: https://aprilmunday.wordpress.com/

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Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s unfortunate chamberlain

Queen Anne Intercedes for Sir Simon Burley, from A Chronicle of England (Source: Wikimedia)

Sir Simon Burley is one of those unfortunate historical personages who is better remembered for his death than for his life. He is a bit if an enigma to us, if only because he was able to inspire extremes of love, friendship and hate all at the same time. Although he was of humble origin, through his exceptional abilities and loyalty to the royal family, he rose to be Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Constable of Dover Castle, and Knight of the Garter. He was also tutor and vice-chamberlain (acting chamberlain) to Richard II, and in this role he inspired so much envy and resentment that he paid for the privilege with his life.

Born around 1336, Simon and his older brother John were brought up in court alongside young Edward (the Black Prince); Simon served Edward throughout the Prince’s life. When Edward returned to England a sick man, Burley became chamberlain of his household and served as tutor to young Richard. In 1377, ten year-old Richard became king; Burley carried the king’s sword at the coronation procession, and after the ceremony he carried the exhausted child on his shoulders—where Richard infamously lost one of his ceremonial slippers. Burley transferred his service to Richard’s chamber and was given the posts of Master of the Falcon and Keeper of the Mews. Then he was appointed constable of Windsor Castle for life and given a residence on Thames Street and grants of land in Gloucester and Kent. In 1384, he was appointed constable of Dover Castle the wardenship of the Cinque Ports. Not bad for an up-and-coming knight!

We first hear grumbling against him during the Peasants’ Revolt. In Rochester, a villein was seized while living in town and imprisoned in the castle. (This was a common imposition on an escaped laborer from the lord’s manor; if he could survive in town for one year without capture, he became a free man.) In this case, the villein was a popular man, and provided the excuse for the peasants to overwhelm the castle and spring him from jail. Simon was blamed for imprisoning the man, even though at the moment he was on the continent; it must have been his servants who created such a ruckus.

And what was Burley doing on the Continent? Nothing less than negotiating the marriage between King Richard and Anne of Bohemia. He missed the Peasants’ Revolt altogether, returning with the bride-to-be in December. By now, just turning 15, Richard wanted to reward his closest adherents but had no resources to distribute. Consulting his lawyers, the King managed to pull some strings and get his hands on the Leybourne inheritance—a considerable endowment willed by Edward III to his favorite religious houses. Through some clever shenanigans, Richard was able to grant Burley several manors, from which he immediately ejected the resident canons and took possession. (Burley wasn’t the only recipient of Edward III’s illegally appropriated endowments.) He was to hang onto his ill-gotten gains until his death in 1388.

As vice-chamberlain, Burley had great influence over Richard. He was accused by some of being the power behind the throne. He controlled access to the King, most certainly advised him; his was a position that easily inspired antagonism. By 1386 there had grown two clear political factions: the court party and what was to become known as the Appellant party, controlled by Richard’s uncle the Duke of Gloucester, the powerful Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Warwick. Henry Bolingbroke (future  Henry IV) and Thomas Mowbray joined the Appellants later.

Although Simon was of the court party, he wasn’t immediately challenged. The Lords Appellant had bigger fish to fry. Gathering an army, they confronted the King and appealed (accused) five men of treason. Richard sent his favorite, Robert de Vere to collect a force from Chester and the two armies met at Radcot Bridge. Alas, de Vere was not a soldier and his army was easily overcome, leaving the King isolated and alone. Victorious, the Appellants confronted the King and appealed a second batch of men, Burley among them; they wanted to make sure their palace coup was complete. Richard refused and they threatened his crown—actually, it appears they informally deposed him for three days but couldn’t agree on a successor! Beaten, Richard acquiesced to their demands.

Froissart Execution from BL Harley 4379 f. 64

The Merciless Parliament of 1388 was a nasty affair, and by the time it was over all of Richard’s adherents, from earls to knights, were either killed or outlawed. Burley’s trial was prominent because of the incredible resistance that was raised. He was well respected by many of the magnates who vociferously objected to his treatment. Even the Duke of York created a public row in front of Parliament with his brother Gloucester, threatening him to a duel; their argument was broken up by the King.  Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Simon’s sentence. Richard refused to sign the warrant and the wrangling went on for weeks. In a back room, the King and Queen begged for mercy; she even went down on her knees to Gloucester and reportedly stayed there for three hours. It was all to no avail. The Appellants were unrelenting.

The only thing that broke the deadlock was the people of Kent. According to reports, the populace of his own estates marched on London demanding his execution, threatening to start another riot too reminiscent of the Peasants’ Revolt to be ignored. The opposition caved in and Richard reluctantly signed Burley’s death sentence; he insisted that Burley be beheaded instead of the full traitors’ punishment and the Appellants benevolently agreed. What did they care? They got what they wanted. But the King never forgave the Appellants for their brutal and humiliating treatment of him and his friends; in the end, retribution would be his.

Ill Prepared for war: Shortages, the Fencibles and fear of revolution over here! Guest post by Dominic Fielder

I’ve found that it’s easy to misjudge history, to confuse timelines from the relative luxury of the twenty-first century because we know the outcome of events in the nineteenth. When I started research for a series of books called the King’s Germans, I felt certain of both the timeline and the narrative. But research has that uncanny knack of unseating you. A story that flowered in 1808, was firmly planted in 1803. But the seed of the story was set in 1793. By 1808, Napoleon has conquered the major powers of Europe, except Russia and Great Britain. With the former, he has a treaty and a framework for co-operation, or at least non-aggression. With Great Britain, his intention is to turn the British blockade into a continental blockade of British trade. The French army numbers hundreds of thousands of men, with an array of experienced and highly capable leaders. And of course, Napoleon himself! So far, not too radical a narrative.

But this is not the world of 1793. Then the fledgling republic that declares war on Great Britain and every other royal house in Europe is hardly united. It does have a large army, men forced into uniform by the Levée en masse. John Lynn (The Bayonets of the Republic) suggests that the volunteers of 1792 gave the French around 275 battalions, a field strength of 220,000. By February 1793, manpower is estimated between a paper-strength of 450,000 and worse case estimates of 290,000. But how does this affect Great Britain? Again, that firmly held conviction that I had before research was of the unquestioned superiority of the Royal Navy. As I sat and read Fortescue’s British Campaigns in Flanders, the narrative was rather different. The fleet was under tremendous strain, policing Great Britain’s global interest. Manpower was the most crippling deficiency, despite the greatest efforts of the press-gang.

The influx of émigrés saw the formation of communities in Marylebone, Richmond and St. Pancras. The government’s response to the threat of spies and revolutionaries embedding themselves within London, was the Aliens Act, 1793. Immigrants had to provide their names, ranks, occupations, and addresses. Anyone who shared a room or house with an immigrant was also required to do likewise. Failure so to do was to risk being held without the prospect of bail and the possibility of deportation.

The wider debates on the very essence of society and rights were popular and real arguments. Edmund Burke had expressed the fears of the gentry in his essay Reflections on the revolution in France, an essentially conservative treatise condemning the revolutionaries. It sold well, with some 30,000 copies going into circulation. The rebuttal, by Thomas Paine, both defended the revolution and set out costings for welfare for the poor and the means to educate over one million children. At the time the population of the United Kingdom was estimated at around eight million. It’s also estimated that after the initial printing of the Rights of Man were withdrawn in February 1791. A new printing, in March of the same year, was estimated to have sold around a million copies. Paine was tried in his absence for sedition and sentenced to death by hanging. He declined the invitation to return from France and meet such a fate.

How were the fear of invasion and the possible treachery from within were to be avoided? The answer was in the expansion of Fencible units, where the gentry were encouraged to raise infantry and cavalry formations, for the protection of the homeland. Life as a Fencible had certain advantages, a man was exempt from both the press-gang and drafting into the army. Thus, the estates of many landed estates were preserved of their workers and the sons of the nobility received military half-pay and pension safe from the prospect of ever been posted abroad. The ire that Fortescue directs to the obvious junket is worth reading. There was at least one case of an individual claiming a lieutenant’s half-pay for over sixty years. Nineteen thousand men were drafted into militia and Fencible units in 1793, according to Fortescue.

The net result for an army destined for the continent was that only one brigade of two thousand men, drawn from the Foot Guards, was available for deployment. A second under Major-general Abercrombie was being prepared but these were so awful that the Adjutant-general wrote to the Duke of York and to Abercrombie to apologise.

“I am afraid that you will not reap the advantage that you might have expected from the brigade of the Line just sent over to you, as so considerable a part of it is composed of undisciplined and raw recruits; and how they are to be disposed of until they can be taught their business I am at a loss to imagine… I was not consulted upon the subject until it was too late to remedy this evil.”

Such a letter shows the deep division between Horse Guards and Dundas, the War Minister. It exposes the fault lines over which the Duke of York was to attempt to exercise control of his army and a strategy to successfully conclude the war, with no firm indication of what such war aims might look like.

The Black Lions of Flanders
(King’s Germans Book 1)

In the war of the First Coalition, friend and foe know one simple truth: trust your ally at your own peril.

February 1793.

Private Sebastian Krombach has joined the army to escape the boredom of life in his father’s fishing fleet. Captain Werner Brandt yearns to leave his post and retire into civilised society and Lieutenant Erich von Bomm wants nothing more than to survive his latest escapade that has provoked yet another duel. Each man is a King’s German; when they are called to war, their lives will become inextricably linked.

The redcoats of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, must survive the divisions that sweep through their ranks before they are tested in combat. On the border of France, the King’s Germans will face an enemy desperate to keep the Revolution alive: the Black Lions of Flanders.

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The King of Dunkirk
(King’s Germans Book 2)

May 1793: The French border.

Valenciennes, Paris then home! Every common soldier knows the popular refrain so why can’t the commanders see sense?

The protracted siege of Valenciennes exposes the mistrust between the allies. National interests triumph over military logic. The King’s Germans find themselves marching north to the coast, not east to Paris. Dunkirk has become a royal prize, an open secret smuggled to the French, who set a trap for the Duke of York’s army.

Lieutenant Erich von Bomm and Captain Werner Brandt find themselves in the thick of the action as the 14th Nationals, the Black Lions, seek their revenge. In the chaos of battle, Sebastian Krombach, working alongside Major Trevethan, the engineer tasked with capturing Dunkirk, must make a dreadful choice: to guide a battalion of Foot Guards to safety across the Great Moor or carry a message that might save the life of a friend.

The King’s Germans and the Black Lions do battle to determine who shall be crowned the King of Dunkirk.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07N6B7XRN/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07N6B7XRN/

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/King-Dunkirk-Kings-Germans-Book-ebook/dp/B07N6B7XRN

 

AUTHOR BIO:

The King’s Germans is a project that has been many years in the making. Currently I manage to juggle writing and research around a crowded work and family life. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. The King of Dunkirk will soon be released and I hope that the response to that is as encouraging as the reviews of Black Lions have been.
While I’m self-published now, I have an excellent support team that help me to produce what I hope is a story with professional feel, and that readers would want to read more than once. My family back-ground is in paperback book sales, so I’m very keen to ensure that the paperback design is something that I would be proud to put on my bookshelf.
I live just outside of Tavistock, Devon, where I enjoy walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both inspiration and relaxation.

LINKS:

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Review of A KING UNDER SIEGE by Mary Anne Yarde

“With spades and hoes and ploughs, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, to fright poor men in town,

The gentry must come down and the poor shall wear the crown…”

It was the age-old question, who should sit on the throne of France? Everyone in England knew that the French crown belonged to the English King — Richard II. Unfortunately, the House of Valois did not agree with the English consensus.

The French were a formidable foe. If the House of Plantagenet wanted to win this war, then they desperately needed to find more money. Parliament was called, and on the request of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and uncle to the young King Richard II, a tax was agreed upon. Regrettably, this Poll tax was a very regressive tax. An unfair burden that the poor simply could not pay. It was really no surprise when the peasants revolted in 1381.

Richard II was only ten years old when he succeeded to the throne. He was too young to rule on his own. But instead of a regent, it was decided that the government should be placed in the hands of a series of councils, but even then, there were those who thought Gaunt had too much power. But it wasn’t Gaunt who rode out to meet with Wat Tyler (the leader of the rebels) at Smithfield. It was the fourteen-year-old King.

A child Richard may still be, but he was the King of England, and he believed in the royal prerogative. He had also had enough of being told what to do by men he no longer respected. Richard was old enough to know his own mind and to choose his own advisors. However, not everyone was happy with the way the monarchy was heading, and the discontent of those who had been influential rumbled around Richard’s realm like a threatening biblical storm from days gone by. It was only a matter of time before men such as Gloucester and Warwick had their retribution…

From small beginnings to disastrous ends, A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy by Mercedes Rochelle is the compelling account of the Peasant Revolt of 1381 and the following turbulent years of Richard II’s early reign.

What an utterly enthralling story A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy is. This is the story of a very tempestuous time in English history. Rochelle paints a vivid picture, not only of the peasantry and the hardship they faced but also the corruption and the dangers of court life in the reign of Richard II. These were treacherous times, and Rochelle has demonstrated this with her bold and an exceptionally riveting narrative.

The book is split into three parts, which gave the book a firm grounding of time and place. Part 1 explores the first major challenge in Richard II reign, which was the Peasant Revolt. Rochelle gives a scrupulously balanced account about the revolt. The story explores both sides of the argument, which I thought gave this book a wonderful depth and scope. Part 2 is aptly named “Resistance,” and this section was very compelling as Richard tried to take control of his throne. Part 3, was perhaps the most moving and upsetting as those who thought themselves slighted took revenge upon the King. Rochelle has this tremendous eye for writing very emotional scenes that certainly made me shed a few tears. I thought it was masterfully written.

As I have already touched upon, I thought the portrayal of Richard II was a historical triumph. Richard grows from this unsure youth to a man who is facing a war from those who should be on his side. Forget the war with France, it is the war within parliament that Richard has to try to win.

This story is rich in historical detail. It has so obviously been meticulously researched. I cannot but commend Rochelle for this exceptional work of scholarship.

A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy is one of those books that once started is impossible to put down. This book is filled with non-stop action. There are enough plots and conspiracies to satisfy any lover of historical fiction. This is storytelling at its very best.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Richard II and his Queens

BL Harley ms4431-f003r Source: Wikipedia

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. The consummate storyteller, Shakespeare gave us a grown queen who threw herself into his arms as he was led to prison following his humiliating surrender to Henry of Bolingbroke. Imagine my surprise to learn that in reality, Richard’s queen was only ten years old! Ah, and she was his second queen. His first, Anne of Bohemia, had died five years before his deposition and two years before he remarried. How in the world did that happen?

We don’t know very much about Anne of Bohemia. She was of impeccable ancestry, the eldest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. But the real reason Richard married her was for politics. By then, the Great Schism had occurred and Europe had two popes. Clement VII moved to Avignon, and was supported by the French. Urban VI was in Rome and was supported by England as well as the Holy Roman Empire. After much negotiating, Richard was betrothed to Anne so he could gain the Emperor’s support against their mutual enemies. This was far from a popular match; Anne’s brother, the wily Wenceslaus, had succeeded her father in 1378 and was in financial straits. Not only would Anne come without a dowry, Richard was obliged to loan Wenceslaus £12,000. Many argued against the marriage, but for some reason Richard was adamant.

Anne’s journey to England was perilous. Accompanied by Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and a slew of Bohemian ladies and knights, Anne had to wait on the Calais side of the Channel for a couple of months. She was a prize, and Norman privateers were trolling the waters looking for her—stopping and pillaging every ship they could get their hands on. Finally, her uncle the Duke of Brabant managed to persuade King Charles of France to provide a safe-conduct for her, as she was the King’s distant relative. Once the wind was favorable they crossed to Dover and landed on December 18, 1381—just in time to meet her future husband for Christmas at Leeds Castle.

Coronation of Anne and Richard from The Liber Regalis, Source: Wikipedia

By all accounts, theirs was a love match from the first. Although she was not considered a great beauty, Anne had a sweet disposition. At age fifteen she was one year older than Richard and their closeness in age (and inexperience) probably contributed to their affection for each other. Unlike most kings of the middle ages, he was not unfaithful to her. She provided him with love and support even during his most troublesome episodes with his overbearing uncles. They were rarely apart during their twelve year marriage. He built a private getaway on a little island in the Thames across from Sheen Palace (same site as Richmond Palace) called Le Neyt—a rarity in times when royalty was almost never alone. Even so, sadly, she never conceived.

Anne is best known for introducing the sidesaddle to England—a strange contraption which consisted of a little bench strapped to the horse with a footrest. Each lady’s palfrey was led by a footman who managed the bridle-rein while the lady held onto a pommel; this meant that they could proceed at no faster than a walk. But this was no matter; the sidesaddle was merely used for ceremonial purposes. The Bohemians also introduced those funny shoes with elongated points called Crakows, or sometimes Poulaines because they were originally from Poland (the extreme version was attached to the knee with a gold chain). They were also the first ladies in England to wear the outrageous headdresses with wires and pasteboard horns extending two feet high and two feet wide and shaped like a wide-spreading mitre, draped with fine glittering veils.

Queen Anne died suddenly in 1394, possibly from the plague because it all happened so quickly — but this seems unlikely to me since nobody else was ill. Richard was inconsolable and ordered his workmen to destroy Le Neyt (or maybe even the whole palace; no one knows for sure). He swore he wouldn’t enter any building they lived in for a whole year, excepting the churches. Anne was buried at Westminster Abbey and her gilt bronze effigy (alongside Richard) can still be seen.

But a kingdom without an heir left itself open to civil war, as Richard knew all too well. At the same time, for many years he had been leaning toward peace with France, even though many of his militaristic subjects strongly disagreed. Two years after the death of Queen Anne, Richard concluded a 28 year truce with France, and part of this agreement was his offer to marry King Charles’s seven year-old daughter Isabella. Why did he do this? I’m inclined to think that this gave Richard plenty of time to grieve for Anne while accomplishing an alliance that was very important to him. At 29 years of age, he felt that he still had plenty of time to beget an heir.

A great ceremony was held on a large field at Andres, eight miles south of Calais. Ironically, this was exactly the same site as the Field of the Cloth of Gold attended by Henry VIII and Francis the First 124 years later. It was said that Richard’s pageant was every bit as elaborate and expensive as his successor’s. Interestingly, on opening day Richard’s retinue was dressed in red velvet with heraldic trappings from Queen Anne’s livery. He was determined not to forget her.

Little Isabella came back to England with her handsome new husband and was housed at Windsor Castle. She was crowned at Westminster the following year. Richard doted on his Queen and it was said she adored him, but there was no question that many years would pass before he took on his conjugal duties. As it turned out, of course, he was dead in four years, leaving her a prisoner of the usurper Henry IV; the new King wanted her to marry his son, the future Henry V. But she showed amazing fortitude for someone so young; Isabella refused and went into mourning. A year later Henry allowed her to go back to France but he kept her dowry. When she was sixteen she married her cousin Charles, Duke of Orléans who was only eleven. And yet, three years later she died in childbirth. Poor Isabella never got a break. If they had been given more time and had Richard II managed to sire an heir, it would have been much more difficult for anyone else to usurp the crown. And perhaps the Wars of the Roses would never have occurred.

Book Review of RICHARD II AND THE IRISH KINGS by Darren Mcgettigan

This is a book written by an Irish man for the Irish reader. It’s a very interesting angle, because it helps to demonstrate that Richard II’s part of the history is not necessarily at the foremost of everybody’s mind (“In 1397 Roger Mortimer’s uncle, Sir Thomas Mortimer, fell foul of the king in some palace intrigue…”). The contemporary Irish kings are what matter most here, and how they interacted with the intrusive English. This is the best book I’ve found so far that actually gives us a good idea just went on in the Irish campaigns, how Richard caught the famous Art MacMurchadha Caomhanach totally by surprise, and how Art later put his hard-earned lessons to good use. We also see that much of the violence that wracked Ireland after Richard left in 1395 was associated with Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March and lord lieutenant of Ireland: “By 1396 Roger Mortimer was at war with many of the Irish kings of north Leinster and south Ulster. The annals record that in that year he attacked the Clann Sheoain… He also attacked the O Raighilligh kingdom of East Breifne, where he cut passes through two forests and killed the noble Mathghamhain O Raighilligh… In early 1396 Mortimer ‘made a treacherous raid on O Neill before launching a larger assault on Tyrone…’” This sounds quite contrary to Richard’s policy of tolerance, justice and good government. Mortimer may well have done more harm than good, and his death precipitated Richard’s second expedition to Ireland in 1399.

Although I found the Irish names difficult to grasp, the author wisely gave us maps that helped locate the chieftains and kingdoms, as well as all the towns and castles, mountains and forests that Richard had to negotiate. I consulted them regularly! As a reference book, if you are researching the Irish campaigns, this book is invaluable. For light reading, you may get bogged down (pardon the pun!) in a hurry.

Shakespeare’s Richard II

Richard II Westminster portrait. Source: Wikipedia

Like many of us, I first learned of Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally moved during the prison scene while he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. He tells us nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted and they were sent into exile. This was indeed the crisis that led to the king’s downfall, but Richard’s story is much more complicated than you would ever think from watching the play.

First of all, did you realize that Henry of Bolingbroke was Richard’s first cousin? The clues are all there but it’s not easy to put them together. The old John of Gaunt (“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…”) was the eldest of Richard’s surviving uncles, and because Richard was childless he was next in line to the throne (debatable, but that’s another story). Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s eldest son, was next after him. This did not appeal to Richard; in fact, according to all reports, having Bolingbroke as his heir was anathema. Why? Events in my book, A KING UNDER SIEGE, will give you a good idea. Richard and Henry were never friendly, but during the second crisis in Richard’s reign, Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant—the five barons who drove the Merciless Parliament to murder the king’s loyal followers.

Arundel, Gloucester, Nottingham, Derby, and Warwick, Before the King Source: Wikimedia

Richard’s minority was not easy. The doddering Edward III was hardly a role model, and neither was his father, the ailing Black Prince who languished for years, disabled and debilitated. On Edward III’s death, Parliament insisted on Richard’s coronation instead of a regency; many feared that John of Gaunt would seize the throne. Nonetheless, what could one expect from a ten year-old? Four years later, the boy king proved himself worthy during the Peasants’ Revolt, but his subsequent attempts to assert himself led to conflict with his magnates. His bad temper, sharp tongue, and impetuous nature gave the restive barons plenty of excuses to hold him down. Richard’s solution was to surround himself with cooperative friends and advisors and exclude the self-righteous lords from his inner circle, which infuriated them. The king needed proper guidance, they insisted; his household needed purging.

The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, threatened Richard with abdication—humiliating him and destroying his power base. At first there were three of them: Richard’s uncle Thomas Duke of Gloucester, Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, and Richard FitzAlan Earl of Arundel.  After Richard’s aborted attempt to raise an army in defense, Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray joined their ranks—the same who challenged each other in Shakespeare’s play.

Richard Stops the Duel Between Hereford and Norfolk from “A Chronicle of England” illustrated by James William Edmund Doyle. Source: Wikimedia

So you can see that Shakespeare’s trial by combat had a lot more going on than could easily be explained. Richard may have appeared detached while he observed the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, but under his regal bearing he must have been shivering with glee. The altercation between these two knights was actually the result of their involvement in the Merciless Parliament. A year before the play took place, Richard had already succeeded in wreaking revenge on the original three Appellants. Mowbray feared that their turn was next, and when he voiced his concerns to Bolingbroke, the latter tried to save his skin by telling the king. The argument escalated from there, giving Richard the perfect opportunity to get rid of both of them. He made his fatal error when he went too far and deprived Bolingbroke of his inheritance.

Shakespeare gave us the poignancy of Richard’s last days. Historians have left us more of a conundrum which may never be sorted out. Richard’s 22-year reign can be divided into two parts: the 12 years of his minority and the ten years of his majority—each of which are brought to a tragic climax. Hence, it will take two books to cover his story. As you might guess, volume two will be called THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

New Release: A KING UNDER SIEGE

BOOK BLURB: Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.

Richard II has proved to be one of the most enigmatic kings in the Middle Ages. Just like that other Richard (III, as we know him) his reputation was demolished by the person that usurped him. Historians are destined to muddle through documents that have been altered or written by hostile chroniclers. They must search for missing records and interpret passages written by survivors anxious to curry favor with the new king—or at least escape censure. It doesn’t help that there is such a wide range of conflicting opinions about him.

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally moved during the prison scene when he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. We know nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted by the king and they were sent into exile. Once I did my research, I was astounded at how complicated Richard’s life really was. His 22-year reign can be divided up into two parts: the 12 years of his minority and the ten years of his majority—each of which are brought to a tragic climax. Hence, it will take me two books to cover his story. As you might guess from the book blurb, volume two will be called THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

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Richard II and Primogeniture

British Library: MS Harley 4205 f.6V

At first glance, one might not question the law of succession in England during the Middle Ages, but in reality the rules were open to interpretation, which is one reason the Wars of the Roses were fought with such intensity. As far back as King John, we see the youngest brother of a previous king mount the throne rather than the son of an elder brother (Arthur of Brittany—son of Geoffrey—should have ruled if the tradition of primogeniture were followed). Even Edward I, after the death of his three eldest sons, declared an order of succession that included his daughters. When it was Richard II’s turn, the issue was far from settled.

In 1376, Edward the Black Prince was dying. His child Richard, who was himself the second son (the first son Edward had died two years previously), was only nine years old. The Black Prince took nothing for granted, and on his deathbed he asked both his father and his brother John of Gaunt to swear an oath to protect Richard and uphold his inheritance. Even this precaution didn’t guarantee Richard’s patrimony, and Edward III felt obliged to create an entail that ordered the succession along traditional male lines. This meant that the Mortimers, descendants of Gaunt’s deceased elder brother Lionel (through his only daughter Philippa) were excluded. It also meant that John of Gaunt was next in line after Richard, and after him, Henry of Bolingbroke.

By this time, Edward III was an enfeebled old man and Gaunt had already started attending Parliament in his name. At this stage of his life, John of Gaunt was an overbearing, arrogant bully and he was incredibly unpopular. There were great fears—probably unfounded—that he would usurp the throne from his nephew; most historians believe that because of this, Edward III’s entail was not publicized. Presumably only the inner family and the great officers knew about its existence. After all, why inflame the public unnecessarily? If Richard were to sire an heir, the whole entail would be moot.

Coronation-Richard-BL-Royal-20-C-VII-f.-192v

So the ten year-old Richard was crowned king; nobody wanted to take a chance on a less-than-secure regency. But this was not the end of the story. In the short run, of course, there was no reason to give the succession much thought. Richard married at age fifteen and his queen was only a year older than him. But after five or six years of infertility, it was beginning to look like there might be a problem. Queen Anne’s untimely death after twelve years of marriage and Richard’s subsequent espousal to the 8 year-old Isabella of France made it obvious that a child could not be expected for a long time—possibly never.

Many people, including our primary chroniclers of the period, took it for granted that the Mortimers were next in line for the throne. But Richard made no effort to show favor to Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, nor did he make reference him to him as heir except possibly once in 1385 or 1386 (historians are not in agreement on this). When threatened with deposition, Richard could well have declared Roger his successor, a political ploy to remind his opponents that a 12 year-old would not rule any better than him. Although the Earl of March was well liked by the general population, after 1394 he seemed to have lost political clout. He moved to Ireland, where he served as Lieutenant mostly for the rest of his life. Roger was killed in a skirmish in 1398, leaving behind a seven year-old son. This effectively removed the Mortimers as candidates—for the time being—but they were destined to come back and haunt Henry IV in the rebellions of 1403 and 1405. (Also, their bloodline descended to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York on his mother’s side.)

But even this wasn’t the end of the story. Richard was antagonistic toward John of Gaunt and this ill-will was transferred to his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, especially after Henry joined the Lords Appellant and nearly cost him his throne in 1388. After the Appellant crisis, when Gaunt returned from Portugal, Richard received him joyfully back into the country; he had finally discovered that Gaunt’s presence was the only factor that kept his rebellious magnates at bay. In this time frame, by all indications, he restored Edward III’s entail and treated Gaunt as his heir—at least for the next five years.

John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

But this favor did not extend to Bolingbroke. In 1394, as Richard was planning his expedition to Ireland, Gaunt petitioned Parliament to appoint Bolingbroke as Keeper of the realm. The Keeper was traditionally the heir to the throne, so Gaunt was fishing for a commitment. He couldn’t serve as Keeper himself because he was due to leave for the Aquitaine, so naturally Henry—next in line according to the entail—would take his place. However the Earl of March raised a strong objection, for he felt that he was heir apparent (it is possible he did not know about Edward III’s entail). Richard told them both to be silent and instead decided that his uncle Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (Gaunt’s younger brother) would be Keeper in his absence.

This was a whole new turn of events! Suddenly Gaunt was out and Edmund was in. From that point on, relations between Richard and the House of Lancaster began to sour. The King showered favors on his cousin, York’s son Edward, and created him Duke of Aumale. Whether Richard had intended to make York his heir, as Ian Mortimer concluded, remains speculation. If this was the case, it’s puzzling that Edmund defected to Bolingbroke, thus giving up his own—and his son’s—potential claim to the throne. Perhaps he had no inclination to be king; he was thought by many to be an indolent, irresolute fellow. Nonetheless, it was Edmund of Langley who fathered the House of York which proved so formidable in the Wars of the Roses.

Richard found it useful to keep everyone in suspense about the succession and never did proclaim a definite heir, though for the last several years he favored his fair-weather cousin Edward Duke of Aumale. When Bolingbroke invaded England, Aumale eventually went over to his side. That was the end of Edward’s possible aspirations!

After Richard’s usurpation, Henry IV chose to justify his claim—not by force of arms, but by citing his double descent from Henry III (through Edward III on his father’s side and Edmund “Crouchback”—younger son of Henry—on his mother’s side). Nonetheless, the Lancastrian line petered out in two generations, leaving the country ripe for a dynastic struggle—precipitated, many say, by the murder of the last true Plantagenet king.

In the end, could it be said that Richard II was usurped by his natural heir? He certainly wouldn’t have thought so! His reckless decision to disinherit Bolingbroke showed all the characteristics of personal enmity. Many historians think he was only waiting for Gaunt to drop dead before confiscating the Lancastrian inheritance and eliminating Henry’s influence forever. But he reckoned without his own unpopularity, and without Bolingbroke’s courage and decision. It’s ironic that the one person he strove so carefully to eliminate from the succession turned out to be the very man who destroyed his rule, his life, and his reputation.

 

FURTHER READING:

Bennett, Michael, Edward III’s Entail and the Succession to the Crown, 1376-1471, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 113, no. 452 (June 1998), pp.580-609

Given-Wilson, Charles, Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 1009, No. 432 (June, 1994), pp.553-571

Mortimer, Ian, Richard II amd the Succession to the Crown, from “History”, Vol. 91, No. 3 (303) (July 2006), pp. 320-326