The “official” version of Richard II’s death is straightforward. After his deposition he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, and, following a rebellion of his followers in early January 1400, starved to death. The date of death is usually given as 14th February 1400. His body was subsequently taken by stages to London, being publicly exhibited (as is the tradition for deposed, dead kings in England) culminating in a final display in St Paul’s Cathedral prior to a relatively obscure burial at King’s Langley, Hertfordshire. However, rumours persisted that he was still alive, and the promise of his return was often, if not invariably, attached to the various conspiracies of Henry IV’s reign.
Although Richard’s body was displayed, only part of his face was actually visible, and he was presented on a high catafalque. This may have led to some suspicion that the corpse had been substituted as it would have been impossible for anyone to study the King’s features with any degree of thoroughness.
Richard II had a known “double”, his clerk, Richard Maudelyn, the son of no less a person than Hawise Maudelyn, sometime waiting-woman to Katherine Swynford, mistress and later third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The family resemblance suggests that Maudelyn’s father may well have been John of Gaunt himself, or perhaps one of the other royal uncles, and it is reasonable to assume that Maudelyn was at the least a cousin to Richard II, and maybe rather closer in blood to Henry IV.
Maudelyn was used by the January 1400 conspirators to impersonate Richard II in the hope of drawing out support. This suggests that the resemblance was at least strong enough to deceive country gentlemen and the like, if not people who knew Richard really well. Maudelyn was captured and executed by the usual method of hanging, drawing and quartering. It seems improbable that his body could have been used as a substitute for Richard’s, unless this was decided upon almost immediately and the remains embalmed. One might expect the bones of Maudelyn would show signs of his violent execution. As far as I am aware, no such signs were discovered when (what is presumed to be) Richard II’s body was examined in the 19th century.
The “Scottish Richard II” was found wandering about on the island of Islay, of all places. He was “recognised” by a woman who claimed that she had seen him while visiting Ireland the previous year, and following this was conveyed to the Scottish Court, where he lived out his life as a pensioner of the Scottish Crown.
Islay is a small and relatively remote island off the west coast of Scotland, nowdays best known for the production of the incomparable Laphroaig whisky. Assuming that Richard II escaped from Pontefract, is it likely that he would make his way to such an obscure place? Surprisingly, the answer is – yes, he might.
Richard saw himself primarily as emperor of the British Isles, and his complex diplomacy in the 1390s had as one of its principal objectives the detachment of Scotland from the Franco-Scottish alliance and its subordination to England. This proved impossible because of the attitude of the French, and the Scots were eventually included in the 28 year truce concluded in the autumn of 1396. However, as part of his diplomacy Richard had secured an alliance with the semi-independent Lord of the Isles, valuable in strategic terms for both his Scottish and Irish pretensions. (Since the Lord of the Isles came close to destroying the Scottish Crown’s forces at Harlaw, 1411, it seems likely that the Lord of the Isles plus England would have been able to complete the job!)
Therefore Richard had some reason to expect help in the Western Isles. That the supposed imposter should turn up there is surely significant.
The Grey Friars in England were persistent in spreading the rumour that Richard II was alive, and several were executed for their trouble. Several nobles are known to have received letters from “Richard II”, bearing one of his authentic seals, which had somehow been carried away to Scotland. And in 1403 the Percys – in effective alliance with Scotland – promised the men of Cheshire that Richard II would appear at their rendezvous at Sandiway, Cheshire. Needless to say he did not, and the Percys were defeated, but the rumours of his survival went on.
Bolingbroke claimed that the “Scottish Richard II” was one Thomas Warde of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, and continued to execute those foolish enough to spread the word that Richard was alive. (It is not explained how Thomas Warde came to be on Islay.) As late as 1415 the Southampton Conspirators were still talking of bringing “Richard II” back from Scotland while in December 1417 Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, refused to recognise the authority of his judges “so long as his liege lord King Richard was alive in Scotland.”
Thomas Warde was a real person. His few acres of land in Trumpington were forfeited in 1408. However the evidence to prove he was the same individual as the Scottish Richard II no longer exists, if it ever existed in the first place.
It appears that the man responsible for many, if not all, of the rumours of Richard II’s survival was William Serle who had been a minor member of Richard’s household. When captured he admitted he had stolen Richard’s seal and forged a number of letters. Of course it entirely possible that this confession was extracted by torture so it is not necessarily conclusive. Bolingbroke, who was rarely generous to traitors unless they shared his blood, had Serle half-hanged several times in different locations before his eventual execution.
When the “Scottish Richard” died at Stirling in 1419 he was buried with full honours close to the High Altar of the Blackfriars. Whether he was the “real Richard” we shall probably never know, but it remains a fascinating possibility.
(Reblogged from English Historical Fiction Authors).