Richard II and Edward II
by Mercedes Rochelle
Capture of Edward II, from Froissart Chronicles, BN MS Fr. 2675 Source, Wikipedia. -->
It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to connect the two English usurpations of the fourteenth century—both Plantagenets, both accused of letting their favorites unduly influence them, both probably murdered while in prison. (And both of whose murders are debated to this day.) We can be sure the association was very much on Richard II's mind, especially during the latter half of his reign. But Edward's fate was most forcibly shoved in his face during the standoff between him and the "Wonderful" Parliament in 1386. This was when the Commons decided to impeach the chancellor, Michael de la Pole—the first official in English history to be removed by impeachment.
Richard was highly indignant that the Commons dare pass judgment on his great officers. He was quoted as saying, “I will not dismiss so much as a scullion from my kitchen at your request!” And he meant it. Taking his friends and household to Eltham, he removed himself from Parliament, making it impossible for them to get any business done without his presence. But this state of affairs could not last long, and the Lords and Commons sent the Duke of Gloucester and Thomas Arundel, Bishop of Ely to persuade the king to return. Richard hated Gloucester, his youngest uncle, who was overbearing, arrogant, and brutal with his criticism. This day proved no exception. Unbeknownst to Richard, before he left Parliament, Gloucester had sent for the archives to see if he could find a precedent from Edward II’s deposition which he might use against his nephew. He found none, but proceeded to fabricate one anyway, to frighten Richard into cooperating. He told Richard, “If ever the king, through evil counsel or wanton ill will, alienates himself from the people—if he does not wish to be ruled by the laws of the land, then it is lawful for them by common consent to remove that king from the royal throne, and substitute another close relative of the royal line in his place." It worked. Shocked and intimidated, Richard meekly returned to London and permitted Parliament to impeach Michael.
Medieval Parliament, Royal Collection, RCIN 1047414: Source, Wikipedia.
However, Richard was no milksop. He soon learned about Gloucester’s deception and used it against him, precipitating the whole Lords Appellant episode that nearly cost him his throne. Time and again, Gloucester threatened Richard with usurpation like his great-grandfather. The menace never lost its effectiveness. However, the boy king grew up. After he achieved his majority and began reigning in his own name, one of his primary concerns was redeeming Edward II’s reputation and restoring dignity to the crown; it had been badly tarnished by the usurpation and Edward III’s dotage. What would be the best method to redeem Edward II? Why, nothing less than declaring him a saint. Then nobody could cast aspersions on him again.
Richard sent agents to Pope Urban VI, petitioning him to start the canonization process. Needless to say, the pontiff was lukewarm, but he needed the king’s support so his answer was for Richard to gather evidence of miracles. Edward’s tomb was erected in Gloucester Abbey Church, and soon after his death pilgrims visited the site in great numbers, leaving so many offerings that the church was able to complete St. Andrew’s aisle with their contributions. Richard commissioned a book of miracles performed at Edward II’s tomb and it took five years to complete; by then, there was a new pope and the supposed proof was presented to Boniface IX, who was unimpressed. A second embassy in 1397, headed by Richard Scrope, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, fared no better than the first.
Execution of Thomas of Lancaster: Source, Wikipedia.
It was certainly not unusual to attempt to confer saintly attributes on high-profile medieval “martyrs”. Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II’s arch enemy—whose decapitated body at Pontefract attracted thousands of pilgrims—was serious competition for Edward II. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham even stated in 1390 that he had been canonized (he had not). They couldn’t both be saints! It seemed that popular candidates for sainthood were usually those who rebelled against the crown, and Lancaster fell squarely into that category. After much consideration, Richard concluded that his best chance to beat Thomas Lancaster’s cult was to reverse the judgments of 1326-27 that had vindicated Thomas (and morally condemned Edward II). This reversal would serve two simultaneous purposes: rehabilitate his great-grandfather, and uphold the forfeiture of the Lancastrian inheritance—thereby returning all the estates to the crown. Naturally, this would disinherit all Lancastrian heirs down to Bolingbroke.
Easier said than done! Ultimately, Richards’s grand schemes blew up in his face and his greatest fear came to pass: Bolingbroke came back from exile to reclaim his inheritance and Richard ended up a dethroned prisoner. Apparently, no one aside from the king was interested in Edward II. As historian Chris Given-Wilson said, “With the King's downfall in 1399, his great-grandfather's canonization process stopped dead in its tracks, never to be revived.”*
*C.Given-Wilson’s “Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 432 (Jun., 1994), pp. 553-571
A King Under Siege
Book 1 of The Plantagenet Legacy
by Mercedes Rochelle
Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants' Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless; he would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard's inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.
(when Gloucester is told about Richard’s questions to the Judges)
"They declared that anyone guilty of these trespasses against the king's royalty should be punished as traitors."
"What!" Gloucester sprung to his feet, throwing his goblet into the fireplace. "That little bastard has gone too far!" He started pacing while the other quietly sat, watching him. "Damn, his father would have knocked some sense into him if he had been alive. What have we come to when a spoiled, ungovernable child can wield such power?"
"I would dare remind you that Richard is twenty years old."
"And acts like a fool!" He paced some more before sitting back down. "All right, let us consider exactly what happened. Where did this take place?"
"The first conference was at Shrewsbury. Then a week later, he repeated the questions at Nottingham."
"Hmm. Why did he do it twice?"
"I believe the king wanted to demonstrate that the judges were not acting under duress."
"They were the same judges both times?"
"All but one."
"And they used the word 'traitor'?"
"Ah, the distinction was purposeful. They said the guilty should be punished as traitors, not that they were traitors," said Wickford, priding himself on his legal knowledge.
"It is a fine difference, but a difference, nonetheless. By speaking so, they skirted the precise definition of the Treason Act of 1351...
"Which defined traitors as those who attacked the king directly, aided the king's enemies or levied war against the king in his realm. Since our recent acts of Parliament were directed against the king's friends—"
"They were therefore not treasonous, as per the Statute."
"However, my nephew seeks to redefine treason—"
"Which brings us back to the terrible days of Edward II—"
"God forbid!" Thomas stood again and started his pacing. King Edward's rein was infamous; he encouraged his favorites—the Despenser father and son—to run rampant throughout England. They illegally seized lands, tortured and imprisoned their enemies, and murdered their victims—among other atrocities. The potential parallels between Edward II's favorites and Richard's favorites rose before him like a specter.
Wickford sighed. "There is one more thing..."
Gloucester stopped, his back to the archbishop.
"One of the questions referred to 'the person who sent for the Statute concerning the deposition of Edward II'."
The wind pounded the windows as Gloucester gasped, appalled. He turned, staring at Wickford as if seeing him for the first time. Both men knew this was a direct attack on Thomas. "Is this person to be punished as a traitor, then?"
The archbishop nodded, reluctantly.
"Then there is no turning back is there? We must retaliate before it is too late."
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Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx