Archive for April, 2008

I hope you’ve all got your red lapel roses for today – Happy St. George’s Day!

I’d also like to send out a thank you to listener Wayne in Oxfordshire, who is so very generous and sent me another item from my Wish List. I’ll be spending the next day or so cackling at Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder. Thanks, Wayne!


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Edward I

Thanks to Audible.com for sponsoring British History 101! Check them out at audiblepodcast.com/british101 and get a free audiobook of your choice when you sign up!

Hello, this is Michael Anthony and you’re listening to British History 101, brought to you by Audible.com. Audible is the Internet’s leading provider in spoken-word entertainment and you can get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up at audiblepodcast.com/british101. Check out Audible NOW and browse their extensive library when you logon at audiblepodcast.com/british101.
Tonight, we will discuss a man far away from his homeland when he received news that he had become King of England. Prince Edward was born to Henry III and Eleanor of Provence in the evening of 17 June 1239 at the Palace of Westminster. He grew up to be an able and athletic boy, known for his physical strength and endurance but also for his impatience and sometimes cruelty in his youth. He eventually gained a leading role in his father’s royal council, thus gaining valuable insight into royal and political dealings long before he was to wear the crown himself. His political prowess was matched by his ability on the battlefield, and by the important year of 1265 he was already an accomplished general. This year is significant to our understanding of British (in this case, more specifically English) history because it saw the downfall of one of the country’s most powerful rebel lords, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. The Earl had revolted against Henry III’s government and captured the king and his entourage at Lewes in 1264, when he began a period of “protectorate” rule, lasting a little over a year. However, during the protectorate Edward escaped imprisonment and raised an army, facing de Montfort at Evesham on 4 August 1265. The King’s son was victorious, and soon Henry III was released and returned to his rightful reign over England.
Prince Edward was in Sicily on the return voyage from crusade (during which he survived an attempted assassination) when on 20 November 1272 he ascended to the throne of his father, King Henry III of England, who had died 4 days prior. As the new king was away, some sort of government naturally had to fall into place to run the country until the monarch returned, and that duty was shouldered by the Archbishop of York (as representative of the clergy), his brother Edmund of Cornwall (as representative of the royalty), and Gilbert of Gloucester (to represent the baronage). With the country in safe hands, Edward saw little reason to hurry back and took his time doing so. On the way, he stopped in France to do homage to his feudal lord, the King of France – as Edward held land in France but was not the sovereign overlord of those lands, he was technically subordinate to Phillip III. He finally set foot in his realm on 2 August 1274 at Dover, almost two years after he had ascended the throne. His coronation was 15 days later on 17 August at Westminster, where he received the homage of his English barons and – importantly, as we will later see – that of Alexander III, King of Scotland.
Edward was well-suited for the crown for his attributes aside from his imposing physique (although he suffered from lisp and a drooping eye) and penchant for tournaments. He believed in a strong monarchy (as was the fashion in Europe, similar to the times of Richard II that we discussed two weeks ago), but within the limits of the law. One should not interpret this, however, to mean that Edward was concerned solely with a system of fair justice and righteous legal code – this king had a brilliant mind when it came to the law, and he knew all of the nooks and crannies of laws and statutes that he could technically invoke to his own advantage. Regardless of this caveat, though, Edward’s reign would be marked by its legal achievements and contributions to English law.
King Edward’s kingship began with a threefold policy encompassing good government, a sense of nationality, and (probably most appealing to him) absolute monarchy. The King succeeded in two out of the three foci. Administrative enactments made Edward’s government more efficient and effective, correcting some of the problems which plagued that of his predecessor. Edward’s promotion of nationality was effective as well, with his conquest of Wales and extensive campaigning against Scotland. We’ll discuss those two in more detail momentarily. The final point, absolute monarchy, was where Edward failed. Problematic finances and the English entanglement in French politics due to Edward’s landholdings across the Channel prevented him from being completely in charge. As we’ve discussed before, wars are terribly expensive undertakings and somebody’s got to pay for it. As wealthy as the English monarchy was (and is), it maintained insufficient funds to pay for large-scale, protracted conflicts. Enter Parliament. Parliaments had to be called in order to raise enough money to go on campaign, and it wasn’t as though the King had simply to announce a session in order to fill his coffers – these things took time, and naturally not every session resulted in the monarch getting exactly what they wanted. We mentioned Magna Carta in our last episode and its relevance to Richard’s reign; the Great Charter was even more significant to Edward, as it had been signed during the reign of his grandfather and was still on the minds of the English baronage.
The first years of Edward’s reign were spent on restoring order to English law and making appropriate changes to the royal financial situation – Edward surely didn’t want to run a country with red ink abounding in his ledgers. The first parliament of Edward’s reign was called in 1275 and resulted in a broad legislation now known as the First Statute of Westminster. One of the most important results of this was, as Bright’s History of England puts it, that it “improved tardy processes of law,” thus streamlining judicial proceedings and meting out justice more efficiently. Edward must have been delighted when the same parliament also granted him an export tax on wool and leather, and hence more money right into the King’s wallet. The next three or four years saw Edward taking advantage of the legal system as mentioned a few minutes ago by assessment of property ownership all across the land: Edward wanted to know who owned what and, more importantly, who owed him what for those lands. These assessments were enacted to discern the proper royal revenue according to the law. An interesting part of this process was the passing of the Statute of Mortmain in 1279, which forbade the transference of property to the Church without the king’s explicit consent. This is fascinating because it was put into place to close something of a loophole that was used at the time. In order to avoid the high legal costs associated with land ownership, it could be arranged to donate land to the Church and receive it back as a Church fief, thus escaping the necessity of paying taxes and fees to the government. Edward saw that this bit of trickery was costing him a lot of money and needed to put a stop to it; thus, the Statute of Mortmain.
Let’s backtrack a few years. In 1274 at Edward’s coronation, one of the men expected to do him homage was Llewelyn, the dominant prince of the Welsh regions. At this time, the Prince of Wales was not a title held by a member of the English royal family – Llewelyn was, theoretically, prince over Wales in his own self-claimed right, but nonetheless was still expected to come to Westminster and honor the new king as Edward’s subject. Llewelyn did not. Edward apparently gave this recalcitrant prince six chances to save face and do homage to his king; Llewelyn didn’t use a single one. Aside from being interpreted as extremely rude, this gave rise to much more serious suspicions; after all, why wouldn’t Llewelyn come to Westminster, either for the coronation or any of the other five times he was invited to do so? What could he possibly be planning?
Royal suspicions were added to by the fact that Llewelyn was married to Simon de Montfort’s daughter. While this was obviously a problem to Edward, who had defeated de Montfort a decade earlier at Evesham, it also presented an opportunity to “flush out” Llewelyn. The girl and her brother, Almeric, were captured in 1276 on their way to Wales. Llewelyn (understandably) demanded her release, although he did so as an independent prince – he made this demand of Edward as though the two were equals, something toward which Edward would naturally be disinclined. This was Edward’s much-needed excuse, and he rallied an army about him and set off for Wales, with Llewelyn’s brother David joining the royal cause. Apparently, there was no love lost in that family. Llewelyn had little choice but to surrender was allowed to keep only a fraction of his former realm. He was confined to Anglesey and a few baronies around Snowdon; in addition, he was charged 52,000 marks for fines, war costs, and tribute. By some accounts, though, these fines were returned to Llewelyn once he finally submitted to King Edward. Perhaps all was well? Of course not. It’s never that simple.
Before we get any further, I want to thank Audible.com for their support of British History 101. Audible.com is the leading provider in spoken word entertainment and has over 35,000 titles to choose from to be downloaded and played back anywhere — just like British History 101! Logon to Audiblepodcast.com/british101 to get a FREE Audiobook download of your choice when you sign up. Several of the podcasts I listen to myself are also sponsored by Audible.com, and that’s definitely for a reason. If you are a podcast listener, there’s no reason you wouldn’t like Audible. It makes it very easy to “read” on the go when you don’t have time to dedicate to sitting down and reading a physical book. None of this is just empty advertising, either – I really do support Audible and love the convenience that audiobooks provide. I do a lot driving and the campus of Indiana University is a big place with a lot of walking distance, so it’s great to be able to enjoy a book during those times in the day that you’re in between things but don’t have time for a regular book. Check out audiblepodcast.com/britishhistory101 today and try it out for yourself – I know you’re going to like it, and you’ll get a free audiobook when you sign up!
David, his brother’s old enemy and ally of the King, switched sides within a few years’ time and joined his former nemesis. Together, the two attacked Hawardyn Castle, also besieging Rhuddlan and Flint. The war was back on. David fought in the north, while his newly reconciled brother defended southern Wales. Alas, it was a futile effort, and Llewelyn was killed on the River Wye. His head was sent to London and put on public display, crowned with ivy. His brother was soon to suffer the same fate. He surrendered to the English forces but was condemned to death anyway. David was executed in 1283. I’d like to read an excerpt from The Autobiography of England and give a contemporary account of the events:
Finally, Edward had rid himself of his Welsh enemies. To give his victory an even deeper foundation, Edward forced the Welsh into something of a second-class status, prohibiting them from bearing arms and forcing English institutions upon the fiercely proud people. To cap it all off, he built a famous circle of castles around the nation, some pictures of which you can see by going to the blog and clicking on the link I’ve provided there. Furthermore, Edward would make the Welsh (as Simon Schama put it) as English as could be – his son, the future Edward II, was born in 1301 at Caernarvon Castle and given the title Prince of Wales. The heir to the English throne was now head Welshman, and Edward’s subjugation was complete.
The Welsh weren’t the only ones to suffer from Edward’s malice. By the time the extremely expensive war was over, those who had financed it were simply out of money – the Jews with whom Edward had contracted loans had nothing left to give. Thinking they were apparently of no further use to him, Edward simple had a few executed and the rest exiled from England; thousands upon thousands of Jews were forced out of their homes and away from the king. Edward had just ethnically cleansed England.
Edward faced another challenge in 1290. The king of Scotland, Alexander III, was killed when he fell from his horse. His only living was his granddaughter Margaret, whose mother had married the King of Norway in 1285. Edward saw his opportunity: if he could marry his son to Margaret, the Maid of Norway, he would be king of Scotland by right of marriage – and thus, the crowns of England and Scotland would be united. Edward’s family could rule a united kingdom.
Unfortunately for Edward’s ambitions, this was not to be. Margaret died en route from Norway in September 1290, and Edward’s plan was ruined. Only a few weeks later, his beloved wife Eleanor of Castile died. The usually hard-hearted king was deeply distraught, so much so that he ordered the erection of 12 crosses, one at each site at which Eleanor’s funeral procession stopped on the way to London for her funeral. The most famous of these is the one at London’s Charing Cross Station (which is actually a 19th century replica of the original). Eleanor was buried on 17 December 1290 at Westminster Abbey. With his wife dead and his future hopes for Scottish rule, Edward must have been rather upset. Had the marriage taken place, a peaceful alliance could have been built between the two crowns. Violence, instead, would argue the question for centuries.
The King decided that he would make a judgment as to who would sit on the Scottish throne now that Margaret was dead. Many claimants came forward, but the two most significant were John Balliol and Robert Bruce. After deliberation it was decided that Balliol had the stronger claim on the throne and he was crowned on 30 November 1292. Edward gave his assent with the condition that Balliol do him homage. Even with a new king, however, Edward was bent on Scottish domination and repeatedly humiliated and undermined Balliol’s authority. This led eventually to Edward’s nightmare of 1295. Facing military action against France, Edward demanded Balliol’s military service in the fight against the enemy beyond the Channel. Balliol refused; in fact, the Scottish signed the Auld Alliance with France in support of the French king against Edward. Balliol held out for two years against Edward’s resulting invasion. He renounced his allegiance to Edward in 1296; in that same year, he was defeated and deposed by the English king, with the incredibly symbolic Stone of Scone being moved from Scotland to Westminster to be housed in a special chair built by Edward I to commemorate his defeat of the Scots. This chair can, in fact, still be seen today – it is the chair in which all English monarchs have been crowned since Edward, and the Stone is still kept beneath it. Having submitted to the man he had so long resisted, Balliol lived on the rest of his life under supervision in the Tower of London.
The man immortalized by Mel Gibson soon came to prominence (although in some different ways than the film Braveheart may have you believe). Regardless of the film’s inaccuracies, however, the war against the Scots raged on, and William Wallace proved to Edward that England was, in fact, not invincible at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The English were soundly beaten, and it appeared for the moment that Wallace would indeed put up great resistance to Edward. Unfortunately it was not to last, and Wallace was defeated at Falkirk in 1298. The Scottish wars continued on, Edward always trying to dominate his northern neighbor.Wallace was eventually executed in 1305, publicly humiliated in front of the English but made a martyr for the Scottish, a legend which lives today. We’ll go into greater detail about William Wallace in a later episode.
Wallace’s death in 1305 certainly wasn’t the end of Scottish resistance. The following year, Robert the Bruce, John Balliol’s old rival for the throne was crowned King of the Scots. Edward set out once again to put down an enemy, but never saw it happen. He died on 7 July 1307 at Burgh-on-Sands near Carlisle. One of his final requests was that his flesh be boiled away from his bones, which were to be carried wherever his army fought – that way, should the Scots be defeated, Edward would still be leading them. His tomb today bears the title “Hammer of the Scots,” although that is certainly inaccurate. A letter from the Scots to the pope in 1320 declared “We will never on any conditions submit to the dominion of the English.” Despite the modern situation, Edward made a good effort but was most definitely not the “Hammer of the Scots” he wanted to be remembered as.
That’s all for this episode of British History 101. If you’d like to get in touch with me, send questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. Check out the website at BritishHistory101.com, where you’ll find a transcript of this and past episodes and links to a few sites related to this show. You can also reach me by snail mail through the address:

Michael Anthony
British History 101
P.O. Box 1177
Bloomington, IN 47408
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I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to listener Michele from California. I was delighted when checked the mail last week to find a copy of Those Damned Rebels: The American Revolution as seen through British Eyes waiting in the box for me. I can’t wait to read it and use it for the show! Thanks again, Michele!
Thank you so much for joining me tonight – I appreciate everyone’s time, whether you’re one of our listeners in Texas, Florida, Brazil, Zambia, Spain, Switzerland, Jakarta, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, or the Sceptred Isles themselves. I can’t tell you how much I always look forward to this chat with my friends from all around the globe. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll talk again soon.

MP3 File

Edward I’s Welsh castles

Stirling Bridge

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Grazie mila!

A most grateful thank you goes out to listener Michele in California, whose generosity delighted me with a book from the British History 101 wishlist. I’m now the happy owner of Michael Pearson’s Those Damned Rebels:

I can’t wait to dig into this one! Thanks again, Michele!

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I mentioned in the latest podcast that listeners Teri and Buster sent me a book from the Amazon wish list – I opened the mailbox today and to my delight, there it was!

I can’t wait to enjoy it with a pint of Guinness or Bass. Thanks again!

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Farmer loses cow to mine shafts

What a terrible thing to have to deal with! I wonder how often this happens? While there are serious safety concerns with people walking about the fields, I can’t help but chuckle a bit as I think of a cow simply disappearing into the earth. Here’s hoping the farmer can recoup the losses quickly!

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Richard II

Thanks to Audible.com for supporting British History 101! Check them out today at audiblepodcast.com/british101

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101, brought to you by Audible.com. Audible is the Internet’s leading provider in spoken-word entertainment, and you can get a FREE audiobook download of your choice when you sign up at audiblepodcast.com/british101. Check out Audible NOW and browse their extensive library when you logon at audiblepodcast.com/british101.
On 16 July 1377, a new king was crowned in Westminster Abbey. His father had been Edward, the Black Prince (of Wales), and his grandfather was King Edward III. The young man, born on 6 January 1367 in France, had been in line for the throne since his elder brother died in infancy; however, the time he would have to wait before becoming king was drastically reduced when his father died from a long, debilitating illness in 1376 (there is speculation that Edward had cancer). The boy was thus directly next in line for the crown upon the death of his grandfather, which came the following year on 21 June. The new king, Richard II, was but 10 years old. Legend has it that the exhausted little boy fell asleep during his own coronation and had to be carried from the Abbey. On the way out, one of his slippers fell off; history’s treatment of Richard has shown this to be an ill omen for the king’s future.
The stage was set for trouble from the get-go. Richard’s mother, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, loved her son but was unable to resist the power plays that accompanied a regency kingship. She was well-connected with the country’s elite, and being friends with the mother of a boy king presents a tempting chance to get what one wants. As Richard was 10 upon his accession, the country was ruled at first by Parliament and then by Richard’s uncles, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.. As long as Lancaster was around, everything was fine – he was a staunch supporter of the young king and apparently had no plans of usurpation or extensive control over the boy. However, as we will later see, when Lancaster left the country, things got rather more interesting.
Richard’s reign was one of great religious importance for the nation. John Wyclif and his apparently heretical teaching was gaining momentum in 1380, enough so to worry Church authorities and force the bishops to silence him. Although Wyclif was officially condemned, his teachings were taken out of England and spread to the Continent, where they would reach the likes of John Huss of Bohemia. It was John Wyclif who played a great role in sowing the seeds of the Protestant Reformation; unfortunately for his legacy, however, the events beginning with Martin Luther have come to eclipse Wyclif in many modern histories.
Richard received his first real test of kingly power when he was but 14 years old. In June 1381, English subjects were faced with taxes imposed on them to finance wars against the French and the Scottish; although they were unpopular, the taxes were tolerated. However, a tax collector was killed in Kent – supposedly – in retribution for attacking a girl whose father was a man named Wat Tyler. I have a great suspicion, however, that the hated tax man was probably killed out of anger over the tax itself, with the attack on Tyler’s daughter being a later-added justification. Either way, this sparked a conflagration led by a “Great Society” rumoured to have been plotting for months to do something about the taxes; this conflagration would later come to be known as the Peasants’ Revolt. An armed band of now-rebels marched off from Kent, stopping in Rochester and Maidstone to destroy government records. This is a telling set of events: these men knew precisely what they were doing, as destroying records made it impossible to accurately collect any sort of taxes or even know who to look for in a given town. Although many of them were illiterate, the rebels knew what importance the rolls they destroyed had. In Maidstone, the band took Wat Tyler, the man whose daughter had apparently been attacked by the tax collecter, as their leader. Off they were for London.
Unfortunately for those on rebels’ list of enemies, several high officials of London let them in or simply did nothing to stop them – another clue from which we should learn, as this exposes the popularity of the sentiment borne to extremes by the peasants. Upon entering the city, chaos was released. Two members of the Royal Council, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor Simon Sudbury and Treasurer Sir Robert Hales were dragged to the Tower and beheaded. The Savoy palace of John of Gaunt was ransacked; although the man ruling in Richard’s stead was apparently hated, it is interesting to note that the rebels felt themselves to still be totally loyal to the king himself. Never was Richard a target of their malice. The king invited them to a parley at Smithfield, just outside the city proper; here, the rebels made several demands: 1) the repeal of oppressive taxes 2) the abolition of villeinage 3) the division of Church property. During the discussion between King Richard and the rebel leader Wat Tyler in the middle of the field, a scuffle broke out, although today there are few who claim to know exactly why. In any case, the Mayor of London, William Walworth, thought Wat Tyler had made a threat against the king; at this, Walworth rode out and struck Tyler down. Several other of the King’s men followed suit, and soon Tyler was dead where he lay. The band of peasants prepared to fight, but young Richard, again we recall he was only 14 years old, rode out to meet them where he famously declared “I shall be your captain. You shall have from me all you seek. Only follow me to the fields outside.” The peasants believed him. For the moment, the tide had turned, and the rebels began to make their way home – and were harassed and attacked the entire way by royal soldiers.
Although Richard had calmed the peasants at Smithfield after they had seen their leader slain, the Revolt still carried on violently throughout the country. Riots sprung up all over the country, but government resistance was more prepared this time round – no more unexpected burning of local records by fed-up peasants. Orders were sent from London commanding local authorities to maintain order and mete out justice to insurgents. All in all, about 150 rebels were actually executed; a general amnesty was extended in 1382. Much to Richard’s advantage, nothing really changed. In fact, he annulled the promise he had given to those gathered at Smithfield, taking back his guarantee and giving another memorable quote: “Villiens ye be, and villiens ye shall remain.” Concluding our discussion of the Peasants’ Revolt, it is interesting (and a bit ironic) that very few of the men who marched on London were actually peasants – most were wealthy “middle class” (although what we know today as the middle class didn’t really exist yet) landowners upset by the heavy taxes being imposed on them and resentful of the government’s intrustion on their own fortunes.
1382 saw the young king marry Anne of Bohemia, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV at Westminster Abbey. The marriage was destined to produce no children, but Richard was rather taken with Anne and loved her dearly. We shall see in a few minutes just how much Richard loved his wife and why she played an interesting role in the relationship between Richard and the country’s elite.
One of the defining characteristics of Richard’s reign was the division that split his court into two. The king gathered about himself a circle of supporters who remained faithful to him; likewise, another group sprung up in direct opposition to the king’s initiatives. The main players behind the king were his eventual chancellor Michael de la Pole, Chief Justice Tresilian, Archbishop of York Alexander Neville, and the young king’s tutor Simon Burley. Leading this pro-crown faction was the king’s chamberlain, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and such were the people Richard found himself surrounded by at the age of twenty when he decided he would be take a more direct role in the Royal Council – his uncle Lancaster, and anyone else with official power, would have to consult Richard more closely than in previous years. On the other side of the coin, the so-called Lords Appellant made it clear that they were the king’s men in name only – they would offer Richard none of the loyality born him by his supporters. This group was made up of Richard’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, Thomas Arundel, Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, and Henry Bolingbroke, who was John of Gaunt’s own son and thus Richard’s cousin. The Lords Appellant were headed up by Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel.
The Lords Appellant were infuriated when in 1386 Richard made Robert de Vere the duke of Ireland. This appointment was such a contentious event because Ireland was out of Parliament’s control – Richard now had his great ally in charge of the Emerald Isle, and there was little legal recourse that the Lords Appellant could pursue. Ireland was an enormous token of power for Richard, and this wasn’t the last time it would play a substantial role in the reign of the Black Prince’s son.
The Lords Appellant found their opportunity for revenge when John of Gaunt left the country to pursue a claim he had laid upon the throne of Castile. With Richard’s guardian out of the country, the Lords pressured the king to get rid of his trusted advisors. Richard withdrew to consult his allies, and with the king out of the country the Lords Appellant were able to exert even more power over Parliament and effectively ruled the country. When Richard made his bid to return to London and reassert his royal authority, the attempt did not go over as well as he would have liked: Robert de Vere and Michael de la Pole were able to escape the wrath of the Lords Appellant, but Simon Burley and Chief Justice Tresilian did not fair as well and were executed. All in all, though, things could have been worse for the still-young king: the older Lords Appellant wanted to execute him as well, but their younger colleagues restrained him. Even if they had no qualms murdering the man, they knew the time was not right to rid the country of the king, and they lacked the support that would have been necessary to survive after such an act. They were probably pushing their luck with what they had already done, anyway. For the time being, the Lords Appellant had gotten what they wanted and held a firm hand on England’s government.
We’ve got some excited history coming up, but before we do let’s take a small break for tea. While you’re making your favorite cuppa, I’d like to thank Audible.com for sponsoring today’s show. Audible.com is the leading provider in spoken word entertainment and has over 35,000 titles to choose from to be downloaded and played back anywhere — just like British History 101! Logon to Audiblepodcast.com/british101 to get a FREE Audiobook download of your choice when you sign up. I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes how I worked in a factory one summer doing a rather monotonous task over and over for eight hours a day. Audiobooks were a wonderful way to pass the time, and Audible made it incredibly easy to find the ones I wanted and download them. Again go to audiblepodast.com/britishhistory101 for your free audiobook – they’re adding more all the time and I know you’ll find something you like there.
Now then. Back to the history. During a session with his Council in 1389, Richard rather drily asked to be told how old he was. Upon a councillor’s answer that the king was 23, Richard announced that he had officially come of age. He was taking control of the country out of the hands of the Council and firmly placing it in his own. Finally, the man who had become ruler of England at the age of ten was truly the King. He had decided that he would wear the crown with much more than symbolic meaning. England was now Richard’s in name and in reality. This went over well with the English people, who were proud of their young, vigorous, and strong leader. Richard must have enjoyed the good PR.
What’s surprising about this assumption of power is the relative lack of action taken against the Lords Appelant. Richard appeared to have simply let things go in favor of a relative calm. John of Gaunt returned to England in October 1389 and his son, one of the Lords Appellant, was reconciled with the king. Things appeared to be going well; however, Churchill’s history of Richard suggests that perhaps he was taking his time to slowly plot his own revenge. Let’s see what happened for the next few years.
Richard apparently tolerated the men who had formerly plotted against him: as we just said, his uncle had reconciled him to his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, and Arundel and Gloucester were something of a necessary evil – Richard definitely didn’t like them, but put up with them anyway. The king did get to enjoy a few occasions of anger with the men, though: when his beloved wife Anne died in 1394, Arundel was late to her funeral. Richard was reportedly so infuriated that he struck Arundel across the face with a rod – it must have felt good to beat the man who had once wanted the king dead. However, one must take into account the sadness Richard felt at the time. Was his outburst due to hatred of Arundel or anger that someone was late to his wife’s funeral, period? After all, this was the king who burned down his queen’s palace at Sheen so as to never be reminded of the joy he felt while she was alive.
The Lords Appellant should have felt a bit of anxiety when Richard left for Ireland in 1394. We said a few minutes ago that Richard’s control of Ireland was a scary thing for Parliament to deal with – Ireland was a huge resource to the king, and his 1394 expedition was made with the intent of raising an army for himself. The King was successful, and so another piece fell into the plan that Churchill thought Richard was setting up for his eventual glorious comeback. The evidence is clear that Richard wanted this army for personal objectives rather than those of the country at large. Wars waged in the name of the country were (as they are now) expensive affairs, and all that money had to come from somewhere. A king would have to approach Parliament to get the necessary money for a war, and Richard did not want to be under Parliament’s thumb, so to speak, with this burden. This attitude was part of why Richard made peace with France in 1396, a deal in which Richard also got another wife. He married 7 year old Isabella, the daughter of Charles VI of France. This marriage would produce no heir, either, a problem that would drastically change the line of English kings in just a few years. In addition, a secret clause was part of the Peace of France – should the English lords rebel again, Charles would come to the aid of Richard. The king was building up more and more insurance for his own power.
At this point, in the mid-1390s, powerful King Richard was still enjoying wide popularity – the country was doing well, and there was no war with France. The people felt that their king was taking care of them, and this was entirely justified. Richard used this time to continue building a strong foundation on which to stand, continuing to build up a circle of supporters around him at court and, in all likeliehood, making sure that members of Parliament would support him, as well. By now, Richard was more powerful than even William the Conqueror had been in the 11th century. He was on top of the world.
It was from this high post that Richard came swooping down upon his old enemies. In 1397 Richard summoned the Esates of the Realm, calling the nobility to Westminster. Here, the Lords Appellant found a nasty surprise waiting for them. Thomas Arundel was declared a traitor to the crown and his shoulders were summarily relieved of his head. Warwick was exiled to the Isle of Man, and the Duke of Gloucester was exiled to Calais. He was murdered there, anyway – probably on the orders of the king. Parliament, by now packed with the King’s men, made sure all of this was legal. Finally, Richard had gotten the revenge he had waited so long for. The King reigned supreme, but his first taste of blood had left him thirsty for more. His wrath was unsatisfied.
September 1398 was a momentous year in English history. Two of the former Lords Appellant, Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke, were discussing the recent near-tyrannical attitude of the king: it seems that a year after his revenge, Richard was looking for anyone to challenge him so he could show off just how powerful he was. Mowbray made the comment that he and Bolingbroke would probably be next, seeing as how they had formerly set themselves against the king. Henry, who fancied himself Richard’s savior after having restrained the older Lords Appellant, accused Mowbray of treason – how dare he speak so about the king! The two argued for a bit, but coming to no conclusion they decided that a duel would settle the matter. They would fight it out between themselves.
The arranged duel was an exciting event for the English people – think of it as a high-profile boxing match or football tournament today, with lots of important people and even the king himself in attendance. One can only guess at their disappointment when, just before the duel was to begin, Richard stood and demanded silence. He proclaimed that the duel was not to take place – he would be the arbiter of this disagreement, and his sentence was harsh. Thomas Mowbray was exiled for the rest of his life. Henry Bolingbroke got off comparatively easier, and had only to leave the realm for ten years.
This was the height of King Richard II’s power. He began to flaunt his power more and more, and it became clear that he was an unopposed despot as he tramped (expensively) about the country, enjoying his wealth and making sure everyone knew that it was he who was in charge in England. The king once adored for his strong leadership was now feared as an abusive tyrant. He showed his face at its cruelest in February 1399 when John of Gaunt died and all of the former guardian of Richard’s lands passed to his son, Henry Bolingbroke. Richard didn’t much fancy this and simply seized the property – in effect, he disinherited Henry of the land that was rightfully his. Aside from being a bold and pompous move, this had deeply resonating ramifications for Englishmen as a whole and English landowners in particular – if the king could take such a highly placed noble’s property, what stopped him from taking that belonging to men lower down the totem pole? Not much, apparently, since the law didn’t stop him from taking Henry’s rightful property. Richard’s Plantagenet arrogance was now on display for all to see. To put a bit of icing on the cake, Richard wanted to make sure Henry would never be able to do anything about his newfound plight – Bolingbroke’s ten year exile was lengthened to life.
May 1399 saw Richard off to Ireland to raise another army: he had effectively unlimited power and could probably just take some money from someone should he run out, so why not go and recruit a physical force of men to enforce his will? Unfortunately for England, Richard left behind a country ripe for trouble – his administration was in tatters due to his iron grasp on the reins of power, the army was in no fighting shape (hence another reason for his Irish jaunt), and his people hated him. The now-exiled-for-life Henry Bolingbroke saw his chance and decided to shorten his Continental vacation. On 4 July, Henry landed at Yorkshire. He was back to take what was rightfully his, and in all likelihood this is all he wanted: his land had been taken from him, and he wanted it back. English landowners, worried that they would suffer the same disinheritance Henry had, rallied to the exiled noble and vowed their support. Henry moved south through the country, gathering more and more supporters as he went. As more and more joined Henry’s caused, fewer and fewer were necessarily left to support the king. Besides, with Richard off in Ireland and Henry marching down the road with a swelling army behind him, who wouldn’t be afraid to stand up for the rightful, though despotic, king?
By the time Richard decided to come back on 27 July, he found virtually no support. He brought few troops with him from Ireland, and nearly everyone he previous could have counted on was now under the banner of Henry Bolingbroke. The king didn’t last long – less than a month, in fact. Henry saw what a powerful position he was in; with the support he had garnered, he knew he didn’t have to stop at asking for his property back. He demanded Richard’s submission to him, which he received the next month. King Richard II submitted to one of his own nobles on 19 August 1399 at Flint Castle. More and more pressure was applied to Richard, and he caved on the 29th of September – King Richard II became simply Richard. The crown would pass to Henry.
The only problem Henry had to solve was the small issue of legitimacy. He had little trouble, however; the direct heir to the throne, Edmund Mortimer, was only 8. Parliament, which by now hated Richard, had little difficulty putting Henry in Edmund’s place and making him the legal heir to the crown. It was thus that the English line of kings continued in King Henry IV, with Richard left to die of starvation at Pontefract Castle on 14 February 1400. He was buried at Kings Langley but was later transferred to Westminster Abbey in 1413 on the orders of Henry V.
Richard II was a capable monarch but was, unfortunately, corrupted by the power he gained. To quote a cliché, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this was exactly what happened to Richard. Setting aside the interest of an abdication, Richard’s reign is fascinating for other reasons, too. This was an age of high culture and literary merit – Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were being written here (and perhaps we can discuss old Geoffrey in a later episode). His reign was also one of great pomp and majesty. Richard was, in official circumstances, a lofty ruler and set himself high above those around him. During meals, anyone upon whom Richard’s eyes fell was required to fall to their knee in submission. This was fashionable among European monarchies, and Richard was not one to be left behind. A powerful monarch was a way to control rebellious barons – let us remember that not 200 years had passed since John’s ordeal at Runnymede. Interestingly, though, was Richard’s apparent casualness in his non-official capacity. His closest cohorts were non-nobles (or at most very minor nobility). He enjoyed simply “hanging out,” with his friends, as it were, and delighted at informal readings of books in his relatively common company. From what I gather, Richard was probably a pretty likeably guy until a certain point. Perhaps if the Lords Appellant had never made their grab for power, Richard would have fared more favorably in the annals of history.
That’s all for this episode of British History 101. If you would, please bear with me for a few minutes, as I have a few announcements I’d like to make regarding the show. First off, I am very excited to introduce a new closing piece for British History 101. Simon Mulligan, who you have heard before on the show, has generously recorded a piece of music I have long sought after to be used as the outro to the show. Tonight, I’m going to play it in its entirety at the end for your enjoyment, and from then on it will be used as I close each show. Thank you again, Mr. Mulligan – your contribution is truly appreciated and really helps make British History 101 a fun show. Second, I want to ask everyone to check out the blog at britishhistory101.com – in addition to posting the text of each show there, I want it to become a place where I can interact with listeners and post material on a regular basis between actual episodes of the show. Some of the feedback I have received about the show indicates that I spend a bit too much time discussing non-historical matters, and I’ve taken that into consideration. Therefore, check the blog every few days and stay thoroughly up-to-date with British History 101. I’ll post things relating directly to the show and also to British history or Britain in general. I’m not just an historian – I’m a committed Anglophile, so there’s no telling what you’ll find there! I’ve also added a section called “Support British History 101.” This is for those of you who would like to show your support for the show; as the show is not part of a business and as such does not exist unto itself but merely as an extension of me, I can’t get non-profit or incorporated status and offer the opportunity for tax-deductible donations. What I have put up, however, is a link to the show’s Amazon wishlist. If you are so inclined, there are several things there that I could use to directly help the show and some things that are just of general interest to me. Most are books about British history, but there are also books about my other interests and various other items. I have absolutely no expectations from this list; if I never receive anything, the show will not decrease in quality whatsoever. It is entirely optional and it’s there only for those of you who may want to show your support and contribute to the show. I’m in the midst of setting up a PO box and will let you know when it’s available for mailing. I want to send an enormous thank you out to Teri and dog Buster, who very generously gave me an item from my wish list already, before this episode has even hit the proverbial airwaves! Thanks so very much Teri and Buster! Lastly, I’ve recently become part of the Twitter social network and have started to follow a few people; if there’s anyone out there who also enjoys being a part of Twitter and wants to follow my daily (or so) updates, my Twitter username is maskaggs – m a s k a g g s. I’d love for British History 101 to be a part of that network.
That’s it for my rambling. Stay tuned, both to the podcast and the blog, and we’ll talk again soon. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to present to you “Rule Britannia,” performed exclusively for British History 101 by award-winning Sony recording artist Simon Mulligan.

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