Thomas Mowbray, Bolingbroke’s adversary

Richard II makes Thomas Mowbray the Earl Marshal, BL Cotton MS Nero D VI, f.85r.

Considering that Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham (and later 1st Duke of Norfolk) participated in almost every major event of Richard II’s reign, it’s surprising that he’s been given so little attention by historians. It is evident that Thomas had a checkered career, in favor then out of favor then back again until his final outlawry. He is often depicted as a slippery character, though it’s not clear whether he was motivated by ambition, jealousy, or was he driven by circumstances? It’s hard to say, considering how difficult it was to maintain one’s equilibrium during Richard II’s tempestuous reign.

Orphaned at age two, Thomas and his elder brother John were  brought up in the royal court alongside future rival Robert de Vere (another ward). All became close friends with Prince—soon to become King—Richard. John died in 1383, passing on the title Earl of Nottingham to Thomas, who was elected knight of the Garter in the same year. Two years later he was granted the title of Earl Marshal for life. Not bad for a nineteen year-old. He even had an apartment all his own at Eltham, the royal palace—reserved, naturally, for high-ranking nobles.

Nonetheless, trouble was brewing. Robert de Vere had managed to capture Richard’s affection and Thomas was increasingly left out. Rather than fight a losing battle he went over to the opposite court faction and married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. I would assume he couldn’t have found a wife more calculated to alienate the king, though Richard did “distribute liveries of cloth to the earl’s wedding guests in 1384” (1). Nonetheless, Mowbray’s  association with Arundel put him squarely in the Lords Appellant camp, just in time to march against Robert de Vere who was attempting to bring a force from Cheshire to protect the king against his rebellious nobles. Alas, de Vere was no general and his army made a pitiful showing at Radcot Bridge, eventually surrendering with very little loss of life. Robert fled to the Continent; that thorn in Mowbray’s side was removed forever.

Robert de Vere fleeing Radcot Bridge, from Gruthuse Froissart, BN FR 2645, fol.245V

By then, Henry of Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV) had joined forces with the Lords Appellant, making their number five. After Radcot Bridge the victors confronted King Richard in the Tower, forcing their agenda down his throat and threatening to depose him. Cowed after three days’ isolation in the Tower, the king agreed to call parliament. It met in January of 1388, ushering in the worst year of Richard’s life.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the junior Appellants, mainly kept quiet during the Merciless Parliament, only asserting themselves against their elders when it came time to condemn Richard’s beloved vice-chamberlain, Sir Simon Burley. By now, the Merciless Parliament had become a bloodbath and the senior Appellants knew that unless their purge was total, the survivors would demand retribution. Too bad for them that the king himself would take on the mantle of avenger ten years later.

But Richard had noted Mowbray’s reticence and decided to bring him back into the fold. In 1389 he made Mowbray Warden of the East March toward Scotland; later Thomas became Captain of Calais and royal lieutenant in the north-east of France.  He accompanied the king to Ireland in 1394 and was credited with many successful assignments;  he even came within a hair’s breadth of capturing Art MacMurchadha abed with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mowbray went to France to negotiate a truce and Richard’s marriage to Princess Isabella.

But Mowbray’s uneasy favor with Richard was sorely tested in 1397 when the king launched his tardy retribution against the senior Lords Appellant. Conniving with his new affinity of noble supporters (including Mowbray), Richard initiated a new Appeal against Gloucester, Warwick, and Arundel. Capturing Warwick was easy; the king invited all three to a formal dinner and Warwick was the only one who showed up. A polite, entertaining evening ensued, at the end of which the king ordered the unwary Warwick’s arrest. Immediately afterwards, Arundel was persuaded to give himself up. Richard dealt with Gloucester in person. Collecting a large retinue including Mowbray, the king rode all night to Gloucester’s Pleshy residence, dragging the sick duke out of bed and arresting him as well. Gloucester was placed into Mowbray’s charge and taken to Calais where he was imprisoned in the castle.

The king was adamant; he did not dare appeal Gloucester in person in front of parliament. Politically, that was too volatile. But he needed proof of the duke’s guilt relating to the Merciless Parliament of 1388. A lot of suspicious activities took place in Gloucester’s prison under the unwilling direction of Thomas Mowbray, Captain of Calais. Eventually a confession was extracted from the duke, and shortly thereafter a sullen Mowbray announced before parliament that Gloucester was dead. No further explanation was forthcoming and after the confession was read Gloucester was condemned as a traitor in absentia. But naturally rumors abounded and Mowbray was implicated beyond a doubt.

After the Revenge Parliament, as it came to be called, the king created a slew of dukes to reward his supporters—sneeringly called “the duketti” by contemporaries. Even Mowbray was created Duke of Norfolk. But it wasn’t enough to reassure Thomas. After all, he was one of the five Appellants; now that the king was finished with the instigators he was bound to cast his vengeful eye on the remaining two. From then on, Thomas feared for his own life and stayed away from court as much as he could.

The Challenge of Mowbray and Bolingbroke from Froissart Chronicles, BnF ms. Francais 2646, fol.295

But he finally broke under the stress. In December that same year, Mowbray caught up with Bolingbroke on the road to London. He wasted no time in getting to the point. “Henry, we are about to be undone!” he is said to have declared. When Henry asked him why, he replied, “for what was done at Radcot Bridge”.(2) Pretending astonishment (or was he pretending?) Bolingbroke objected: look at the honors Richard showered them with; they had all received pardons. But Mowbray believed none of it. He even told Henry there were men plotting the destruction of him and his father. He hoped Henry would help devise a plan for their mutual defense.

But poor Mowbray had badly miscalculated. Far from allying himself with his former Appellant, Bolingbroke made a report to the king (or he told his father who went to the king). Then followed a series of accusations and denials, counter-accusations and further denials. Unable to settle this argument amicably, the court of chivalry decided on a trial by combat. It was to be the event of the decade. Held at Coventry, the tournament was attended by knights from as far away as France, and the two challengers went to great lengths to acquire the very best and most expensive armor and trappings. But all was for naught. As depicted by Shakespeare, as soon as Mowbray and Bolingbroke started their charge, King Richard threw in his baton and halted the fight. After discussing the matter with his council, the king declared that Bolingbroke would be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life.

It was a devastating decision for the Duke of Norfolk. He took his leave shortly thereafter with a small retinue, forbidden to make any contact with Bolingbroke—not that he was very likely to. One wonders if he would have been recalled to England after Henry became king, but we’ll never know. He died in Venice just a year later, somewhere around the 22nd or 27th of September in 1399—just a few days before Richard was forced to abdicate. His young son, another Thomas, was not permitted to assume his father’s titles and soon involved  himself in political turmoil, finally joining the ill-fated revolt of Archbishop Scrope in 1405, where he was beheaded alongside the prelate.

  1. “The Politics of Magnate Power” by Alastair Dunn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 40
  2. “Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400” by Chris Given-Wilson, p.86

Who—and What—were the Lords Appellant?

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

When I first bumped into the Lords Appellant I was confused because as far as I knew, an appeal was filed after a court conviction in an attempt to reverse the decision. But as it turns out, in the fourteenth century an appeal was the starting point—an indictment or an accusation against someone, initiating a legal procedure. What made the case of the Lords Appellant so special was that this was the first time the appeal was introduced into Parliament; up until then, it was used in common and civil courts.

When you see the words Lords Appellant capitalized, it refers to those involved in the first legal crisis of Richard II’s reign. Their case was against Richard’s friends, counselors, and officers who were accused of giving the king bad advice—misleading and deceiving him. Most historians agree that the Appellants were driven by resentment, ambition, and dissatisfaction. Here they were, some of the most powerful magnates in the realm, shut out of Richard’s inner circle. No influence with the king, no power, no opportunities to reward their retainers—all these obstacles put them in a bad position. However, they weren’t powerful enough to go after Richard directly; there was no popular swell of discontent as in the case of Edward II. The second best solution was to eliminate the king’s despised supporters and get him under their control.

The only person that stood between the Appellants and the king was John of Gaunt, the eldest surviving son of Edward III and a stickler for protocol. However, in 1386 when he sailed for Spain to pursue a crown of his own, his absence left Richard exposed to his enemies. They immediately went on the offensive and the young king was too inexperienced to know how to deal with them. Nonetheless, the Lords Appellant had a problem. If they went through the courts, the rulings wouldn’t be permanent enough. The only way to completely destroy their enemies, take away their titles, lands—even their lives—and dispossess the heirs was through Parliament. Not only were their motives questionable, but the whole process had no legal basis from which to act, and the Appellants were forced to make up the rules as they went along, twisting the system to accommodate their self-serving objectives.

Woodstock receives King Richard from Froissart Chronicles BL MS Harley 4380, f.117

The driving force behind the Lords Appellant was Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III). One would think that the king’s uncle would not be his worst enemy, but Gloucester was a bitter, aggressive man. He reminds me of John Lackland because he, too, came out on the losing end of land distribution after all his siblings were taken care of. He only became duke two years before all this unpleasantness started, and even so he was dependent on the exchequer for his revenue. If it weren’t for his wife, one of the great Bohun heiresses, he would have had nothing at all. His only hope of prominence would have been from the French wars like his brother the Black Prince and his father Edward III; but here, too, the king disappointed him. There was to be no major campaigning in this reign, and Gloucester became the spokesman for warmongers amongst his peers. As the Appellants gained the upper hand, Gloucester even went so far as to put himself forward as a possible replacement (after having deposed Richard), but young Henry of Bolingbroke put an end to that scheme. There were stronger claimants to the throne, himself included.

Richard Fitzalan, from Froissart Chronicles, Getty MS Ludwig xiii, fol.311v.

In almost total accord with Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel was a stout collaborator. He was an experienced, if unexceptional warrior and served under John of Gaunt, mostly as admiral. Although he won brief popularity by sharing a year’s worth of wine with all of England at rock-bottom prices (from 100 captured Flemish vessels), his brusque and overbearing personality made him few friends. From the beginning of Richard’s reign he was on the council of regency, and in 1381 he was appointed co-councilor in constant attendance upon the young king, ironically alongside his future victim Michael de la Pole. Although Richard warmed up to Michael he found Arundel detestable, which I suspect contributed to the crisis.

Thomas Beauchamp (Luminarium.org)

The third original Appellant was Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. He was the son of the famous Thomas Beauchamp known for his bravery at Crecy and Poitiers. Rather mediocre and undistinguished, Thomas never lived up to his father’s reputation. But he was, after all, a noble from a great family and hence valuable as an ally. He pretty much went along with everything Gloucester said and didn’t rock the boat.

The three Appellants originally appealed five of Richard’s supporters: Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and chancellor of England, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Richard’s closest friend, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Sir Nicholas Brembre, wealthy London magnate and former Mayor, and Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York. After the Lords Appellant made their formal appeal, Richard arranged for Neville, de la Pole, and Tresilian to slip away, and secretly sent Robert de Vere to Cheshire to raise an army to defend him. Brembre stayed put, certain of his innocence, and sought to gain support in London for the king (he paid for that with his life).

Once the Appellants discovered that de Vere was putting together an army, the last two “junior” members came on board. Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (son of John of Gaunt and the future Henry IV) posted himself at Radcot Bridge and succeeded in blocking de Vere from crossing the Thames; the royal army dispersed after a brief and pathetic battle and de Vere escaped over the Channel. Why did the non-political Bolingbroke join the Appellants? He later claimed he needed to protect this father’s interests. It’s also difficult to discover the motives of Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, 1st Duke of Norfolk (great-great grandson of Edward I and son-in-law to Arundel). He could have been driven by jealousy of Robert de Vere, who supplanted him in Richard’s esteem. His early friendship with the king had definitely cooled, especially after he married Arundel’s daughter; I imagine his father in-law put pressure on him to join the party of resistance. These last two Appellants tended to take a back seat, so to speak, and never wholeheartedly agreed with all the knavery that attended these trials. Nonetheless, they were committed and so the three became five.

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

From besieging the king in the Tower of London to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, the Lords Appellant pursued a bloody campaign against the king’s supporters, culminating in the outrageous execution of Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and lifelong mentor. (By then they had gone way beyond their initial condemnations.) Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Burley’s conviction, as well as the Duke of York, Gloucester’s brother; even Queen Anne got on her knees and begged Gloucester for Burley’s life, to no avail. In the end, eight of Richard’s supporters were executed—for no good reason. Three more fled to permanent exile, and over forty others were ejected from court (some returned later as Richard took back his authority). The king was reduced to a figurehead and withdrew to lick his wounds. For one year the three original Appellants tried to run the government their way (Bolingbroke and Mowbray had lost interest by then), but it soon became obvious that they were doing no better than before. Worse, actually: it was under their watch that the disastrous Battle of Otterburn was lost and Henry Hotspur taken prisoner along with his brother Ralph. Their ransom was a huge hit to the already depleted exchequer, which had been obliged to pay the Lords Appellant 20,000 pounds to reimburse them “for their great expenses in procuring the salvation of the realm and the destruction of the traitors”.

When Richard declared his majority in 1389, he was able to take over and dismiss his enemies without a protest. But, though Richard was obliged to “forgive and forget” on the surface, in reality his anger festered for ten years until he was strong enough to wreak revenge on the men who humiliated him.

You can read more about the Lords Appellant in my novel A KING UNDER SIEGE.

Richard II and John of Gaunt

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

Richard’s relationship with his uncle, John of Gaunt was fraught with uncertainties and misunderstandings, though throughout it was bound by strict royal precepts. In retrospect, historians have noted that Gaunt’s behavior showed he would never have done anything against the king’s prerogative, no matter how he felt about him personally. But contemporaries—including the king himself—believed otherwise.

This misunderstanding went back to the reign of Edward III. In the old king’s dotage, Gaunt increasingly took on his father’s responsibilities in Parliament, though unlike Edward III, his conduct was overbearing and threatening. The magnates were so afraid that Gaunt might seize the throne for himself that on Edward’s death they hurriedly crowned the 10 year-old Richard rather than risk a regency.

It’s true that John of Gaunt was interested in a crown, but it was the crown of Castile he coveted, in right of his wife Constance. Ever since his marriage to her in 1371 he took on the title of King of Castile and León, and in 1386, circumstances permitted him to go to Spain and make a bid for his crown. He failed, but succeeded in a different way: John married his eldest daughter Philippa to the King of Portugal and his younger daughter Catherine to the future King of Castile. In return for giving up his claim to the Castilian throne, Gaunt accepted a huge payoff of 600,000 francs of gold which was paid in full over the next three years.

But before he took his family to Spain, John had some unpleasant run-ins with young King Richard. In 1384, there was the infamous scene where a Carmelite friar gained access to the king and told him that John of Gaunt was plotting to kill him. In a fit of rage, Richard ordered his uncle’s execution and was only restrained by the urging of his wife and favorites. When an astonished Gaunt stumbled into this frantic scene he forcibly denied the accusation, giving Richard pause and turning all the attention onto the friar. No one ever found out what prompted this accusation, because the Carmelite died under torture that night. But for Richard, his own conduct cast serious doubts on his judgment. Some months later, after a bungled murder plot against Gaunt (planned by the king’s friends), the duke confronted Richard in person and castigated him for permitting such despicable behavior in his court; he stopped short of accusing the king of involvement. Luckily, Richard’s mother Princess Joan was still alive and able to smooth things between them.

The following year, there was a big ruckus between Richard and Gaunt over the upcoming campaign into Scotland. John wanted the king to invade France, but under heavy resistance from the chancellor and Richard’s counselors, his advice was ignored. At first John stormed out of the council, exclaiming that he would have no part of the Scottish campaign. But he soon relented and brought a huge retinue with him, though the antagonism between him and the king would soon rise to the surface again. They fought bitterly once they reached Edinburgh and discovered that the Scots had withdrawn and ravaged Cumberland instead. John wanted to pursue them and Richard stoutly proclaimed that he wouldn’t expose his army to hunger and deprivation for a pointless venture. It didn’t help that his friend Robert de Vere implied that Gaunt hoped the king would meet with an accident along the way. Chase them if you want, Richard told his uncle, you have enough men. I’m going home. Once again, Gaunt gave in and assured the king he was his faithful servant and would follow where Richard would lead. It must have been very difficult for him to swallow his pride.

John of Gaunt arriving in Spain, from Chronique d’Angleterre, BL Royal MS 14 E IF, f.236r

When the opportunity arose for Gaunt to try his luck in Spain, Richard was so thrilled he gave his uncle a royal send-off, presenting the Duke and Duchess with gold crowns. Finally, his uncle would be out of the way and Richard could rule on his own! Little did he realize that the Duke of Lancaster was the only power propping up his throne. Once Gaunt’s formidable presence was removed, disgruntled magnates—led by Richard’s youngest uncle, Thomas of Woodstock—quickly took his place. There was nothing to hold them back and they immediately went after Richard’s advisors—starting with his chancellor, Michael de la Pole. Over the next two years, powerful nobles known as the Lords Appellant conspired to rid the king of his “bad counselors” and forced him to give up control of his government and accede to their leadership in all things. The judicial murder, outlawry, and dismissal of his friends and advisors left him completely alone and at their mercy. Luckily for the king, the Appellants failed to follow up on their victory. After a year, once it was evident that England was no better off than before, Richard was able to take back full control in a quick coup, reminding the Council that he was well past his majority.

One of the first things he did was recall Gaunt from the continent; Richard had learned his lesson and he needed his uncle’s protection. Although the Duke of Lancaster still had much to accomplish, he obliged his nephew and returned to a hero’s welcome from the king; never again would there be any serious antagonism between them. At the same time, Richard was forced to swallow any antipathy he might have felt against his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who was one of the Lords Appellant, albeit an unenthusiastic one. Any retribution against Henry would have to come later, after his father was dead.

It took several years for Richard to feel comfortable enough to launch his retribution against the Lords Appellant, and when it finally came about in 1397 it all happened like a cyclone. Richard’s primary targets were Thomas of Woodstock the Duke of Gloucester (and Gaunt’s younger brother), Richard Earl of Arundel, and Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick. John of Gaunt, as Lord High Steward of England, presided over the Parliamentary trials of the king’s great enemies. He was spared the litigation against his brother; Gloucester died mysteriously while in prison at Calais and Gaunt seems not to have made a fuss over it—at least not in public. Arundel, on the other hand, was a bitter enemy of Gaunt. Although he put up a lively defense, he was treated most harshly by the Duke of Lancaster. Bolingbroke threw in his two cents as well, reminding Arundel of treasonous statements—even though ten years previously he had been on Arundel’s side.

Richard visits Gaunt on his Deathbed, Watercolor by Alexandre Bida, Folger Shakespeare Library

But Henry of Bolingbroke would not escape the king’s retribution. The following year Bolingbroke faced his fellow Appellant Thomas Mowbray in trial by combat at Coventry. This is another story, but suffice it to say that when the king interrupted the tournament (as portrayed by Shakespeare), he decided to exile both parties—Henry for ten years, and Mowbray for life. Richard made this announcement after consulting with his Council for two hours; Gaunt was among their number and gave his assent. Why did he do this? Some said he disapproved of his son, but I find little verification of this in his biographies. Perhaps he thought to send his son safely away from all the scheming and back-stabbing in Richard’s court. Perhaps he had no choice. Regardless, Henry left the country with a heavy heart, for he knew he would probably never see his father again. And so it was; Gaunt died just a few months later.

It was said that King Richard visited Gaunt just before his end. Shakespeare had him gloating over the sick old man, but I don’t think it happened that way. At least on the surface, he and his uncle had an amiable relationship the last several years. Once Gaunt was back on the scene, there was no way the Lords Appellant could start up their trouble-making again, and Richard knew it. I do believe he was waiting for his uncle to pass on before moving to his next agenda: eliminating the threat of the overpowerful Lancastrians. But that, too, is another story.

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”.

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.

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-up queen who threw herself into Richard’s arms as he was led to prison. 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.

Funeral of Anne of Bohemia. Source, Wikipedia

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.

Meeting of Richard II and Isabella of Valois, from BL Harley 4380 f.89

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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