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The succession to Richard II

There was no ‘constitutional’ arrangement in place in the 14thcentury. For many years, father had been succeeded by son, and there had been no need to set out any arrangements for any other contingency.

Late in Edward III’s reign, the king, who was losing his faculties and very much under the influence of Gaunt, produced a document which purported to settle the crown on Gaunt in the event of Richard II’s death. Richard was, of course, only a boy at the time. The arrangement was not binding on Richard II, or on Parliament, and it seems to have been forgotten. Surprisingly, Henry IV did not use it as one of the supports of his claim.

Of course, everyone expected Richard to have a son, and it was only when it became clear he wasn’t going to have one – at least by Anne of Bohemia – that it became an issue. Richard appears to have nominated Roger Mortimer, Earl of March as his heir and this is stated as outright fact by the Westminster Chronicler, writing at a time when all these people were alive. Mortimer was the ‘right heir’ by the standards we use today, but his claim came through his mother, who was Gaunt’s niece.

The snag was that Gaunt was incredibly powerful. He had vast lands, a whole army of retainers – originally recruited, in many cases, to help him conquer Castile, and an almost unlimited amount of cash. He made Warwick the Kingmaker look like a country squire.

Hence the politics of the 1390s began to get interesting. Had Richard died in (say) 1395, there might well have been a civil war.

Then several things happened in quick succession. Richard, to secure peace with France, married an eight year old girl, meaning that there was no hope of a direct heir for 7-8 years at best. Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s heir, was banished. March died in Ireland, leaving a young son to succeed him. Gaunt died. Richard appears to have nominated Edmund of Langley his heir, and after him Edward of York ‘the King’s brother’ – later 2nd Duke of York. Richard toddled off to Ireland, leaving Langley in charge of the shop. Bolingbroke invades England – collapse of stout party.

Only two earls (Northumberland and Westmorland) backed Bolingbroke, but the vast army of Lancastrian annuitants, retainers and general hangers-on crushed all organised resistance. After some acts of terror that make Richard of Gloucester seem perfectly moderate by comparison, Henry captured Richard and his remaining supporters. In the circumstances it was inconceivable that anyone but Henry would be chosen by the Parliament as the new King. His armed supporters outside, and the backing of the majority of the Londoners made sure of that; his actual claim though was based on inheritance, and although Ian Mortimer has attempted to spin it otherwise it appears he relied mainly on his descent through his mother from Henry III. (Because in Henry’s fantasy world, Edmund ‘Crouchback’ was older than Edward I.) In other words Henry himself claimed through the female line! At no point (bewilderingly) did he claim to be the heir male of Richard II. Though on the face of it, he was just that, and many peerages were inherited on heir-male terms, so it would have been a perfectly reasonable argument.

He then spent the next eight years or so fighting an intermittent civil war against the assorted people who thought his claim was invalid. Some believed (or pretended to believe) that Richard II was still alive. The rest were for Mortimer.

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One thought on “The succession to Richard II

  1. Hi – yes, this is all spot on. Actually I’ve written quite a long article on it myself (hitherto unpublished) which some readers may wish to look at. I’ll be posting it in a day or two on my website/blog, which now has the new name http://www.annettecarson.co.uk. Hope you’ll find it interesting.

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