Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Accession of Richard II

The crisis entered a new phase when King Edward himself died in June 1377. He was succeeded by the Black Prince’s only surviving son and heir, Richard II (1377–99), who was ten years of age. England was faced with the prospect of only the second royal minority since 1066 and the first since 1216. On the latter occasion there had followed a period of political turbulence centring on the young Henry III; a similar situation developed after 1377 and played its part in precipitating the Peasants’ Revolt (1381) in eastern and south-eastern England. A series of poll taxes was imposed during 1377–80 to finance the war. These taxes were at a rate higher than was usual and the tax of 1379 was popularly known as ‘the evil subsidy’. They sparked off violence in East Anglia against the tax-collectors and the justices who tried to force compliance on the population. But what turned these irritations into widespread rebellion was the prolonged dislocation of unsuccessful war, the impact of recurrent plagues, and the anticlerical temper of the times. Hopes of remedy placed by the rebels in the young King Richard proved to be vain, though he showed considerable courage in facing the rebels in London during the summer of 1381.

Richard was still only 14, and the aristocratic rivalries in the ruling circle continued, not least among the king’s uncles. This and the lack of further military success in France damaged the reputation of the council that governed England in Richard’s name and even affected the king’s own standing in the eyes of his subjects. Richard, too, was proving a self-willed monarch whose sense of insecurity led him to depend on unworthy favourites reminiscent of Edward II’s confidants. As he grew older, he naturally wanted to expand his entourage and his household beyond what had been appropriate for a child. Among his friends and associates were some who were new to the ranks of the aristocracy, and all were generously patronized by the king at the expense of those (including his uncle Gloucester) who did not attract Richard’s favour. In 1386 Parliament and a number of magnates attacked Richard’s closest associates and even threatened the king himself. With all the stubbornness of the Plantagenets, Richard refused to yield. This led to further indictments or appeals of his advisers by five leading ‘appellant’ lords (the duke of Gloucester, and the earls of Warwick, Arundel, Nottingham, and Derby, the king’s cousin), and a skirmish took place at Radcot Bridge in December 1387 when the king’s closest friend, the earl of Oxford, was routed. At the momentous ‘Merciless Parliament’ (1388), the king was forced to submit to aristocratic correction which, if it had been sustained, would have significantly altered the character of the English monarchy. Once again, the pressures of war, the tensions of personal rule, and the ambitions of England’s magnates had produced a most serious political and constitutional crisis. The institution of hereditary monarchy emerged largely unscathed after a century and more of such crises, but criticism of the king’s advisers had reached a new level of effectiveness and broader sections of opinion had exerted a significant influence on events. These were the political and personal dimensions of more deep-seated changes that were transforming England’s social and economic life in the later Middle Ages

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