The denouement at Penmaenhead in 1399….


When we think of Colwyn Bay today, we don’t think of vital historic events in August 1399, when a King of England, Richard II, was captured. This fact led to his deposition, imprisonment and suspiciously convenient death…culminating in the rise of the House of Lancaster in the form of his usurping first cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, who was crowned King Henry IV in October two months later.

As my friend Sighthound has pointed out, Richard must have kicked himself that almost exactly a year earlier he’d brought to a halt a judicial duel between Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. See here.  If only he’d let them hack each other to death! But he hadn’t. And now, in Colwyn Bay, he was reaping the unwelcome harvest. Bolingbroke’s death back then would have left Richard safe on his throne. His child-queen, Isabelle of France, would have grown to be of age, and Richard might have had an heir. Oh, how different our history would have been then. No Wars of the Roses conflict….and thus no Yorkist kings. But on the plus side there wouldn’t have been any Lancastrian kings either.

Richard II (who’d have shuddered to be depicted with long hair and bushy beard) presiding at a tournament, from St. Alban’s Chronicle. Source: Lambeth Palace Library, MS6 f.233

It all began with Richard having banished Bolingbroke after the duel débâcle mentioned above, and then seizing his lands and much else. Well, whether or not he seized them is debatable. Again, Sighthound puts it succinctly:-

“Richard did not seize Henry’s lands absolutely, nor did he grant them away in an unconditional way. The grants were effectively custody ‘until Henry, Duke of Lancaster shall sue for the same.’ That is very interesting wording as it implies that Richard had not ruled out recalling Bolingbroke at some future point. Bolingbroke was not attainted, and even his title of Duke of Lancaster was acknowledged. It is something not normally given much of a highlight.”

No, it isn’t. In fact it always earns Richard a lot of jabbing with bony accusing fingers, yet it’s quite clear that Richard wasn’t simply sinking his royal claws into everything he could. Sighthound quotes The Yorkist Age blog: “as late as 20 June in that year of 1399 the Duke of York’s (he was acting for Richard during the latter’s absence in Ireland) government paid a sum of £1586 to two of Bolingbroke’s squires, towards the £2000 a year allowed to Henry in his exile. (That’s an annual salary of more than £800,000 modern money.)” Richard had clearly agreed to this, so he (equally as clearly) wasn’t seeking to do away with Bolingbroke. Pity.

But then Richard made the HUGE mistake of leaving England to go on a campaign in Ireland (leaving his uncle, York, in charge). While he was away, Bolingbroke returned “to claim his patrimony”. Hm, I’ve always believed he came back with the express intention of taking the throne. That too is debatable, of course. But far from Richard seeking to dispose of Henry, it was Henry seeking to dispose of Richard!

Richard II’s fleet departing from Ireland; the sail of the king’s ship bears the emblem of the sun in splendour. From f. 18 of La Prinse et mort du roy Richart (Book of the Capture and Death of King Richard II), The Chronicle of Jean Creton.

Richard seems to have gone from mistake to mistake after this. He returned to Wales (Milford Haven), left his army and then dashed north with only a few close supporters. Why, for Pete’s sake? This blunder led to the denouemont described in the above article. At Penmaenhead he was ambushed and then deceived by the duplicitous Earl of Northumberland, who’d been sent by Bolingbroke and swore all manner of chivalrous treatment. Whether he was fooled or not, today—16th August—in 1399 Richard surrendered, was captured and demeaned, and “escorted” to Flint Castle.

Richard II and the Earl of Northumberland, who bears a message from Lancaster. From f. 37v of La Prinse et mort du roy Richart, Chronicle of Jean Creton.

Two months later Bolingbroke was crowned in Westminster Abbey. After which Richard II was thoughtful enough to die while imprisoned at Pontefract. Oh, by the way, during all these events (except his coronation) Bolingbroke appears to have worn a Very Strange Black Hat. I gather it was to do with still being in mourning for his father. Said Strange Black Hat can be seen in his hand as he pretends to show respect for Richard at Flint Castle.

from illuminated manuscript of Jean Creton’s La Prinse et Mort du roy Richart (“The Capture and Death of King Richard”)

My sympathies have always lain with Richard, who’d come to the throne as a child and was kept in subjugation by his uncles, including Bolingbroke’s ambitious father, John of Gaunt. Richard wanted peace, and his character wasn’t suited to the warlike times in which he lived. He simply could not cope. But he tried, and for that I admire him. I don’t admire Bolingbroke or his father. Or York, who simply handed Richard’s realm to Bolingbroke on a golden platter.

Portrait of Richard II at present in Westminster Abbey

If you have a spare hour, go to the National Archives. In it you’ll find a video of the late, great Terry Jones—of Monty Python fame but also a serious and excellent historian—giving his opinion of Richard II, whom he believes to have been hard-done-by through the centuries.

Terry is a great loss.



  1. ” At Penmaenhead he was ambushed and then deceived by the duplicitous Duke of Northumberland,”

    Enjoyed this very much. Have wished that Richard II had a site devoted to him as some other Plantaganets have. Hate to be a nitpicker but in 1399 the title of Northumberland was held by Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, who would lose his son and brother to Henry at the Battle of Shrewsbury and would lose his head to Henry in 1408.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gary for spotting the blooper about Northumberland, which I’ve now put right. Consider your (friendly) ruler to have rapped my careless fingers! 😄 I agree with you about Richard II. He and Richard III are neck-and-neck in my estimation. Both are monarchs wronged by centuries of untruths, and because what befell Richard II had such vital implications for Richard III and the House of York, you’ll find a number of pro-RII articles from me here on Murrey & Blue.


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