History of Europe

Henry IV "Bolingbroke", usurper of the throne of England

Entry taken from the book The Plantagenets

In today's blog post, there are many characters that I have already talked about in other articles, so there will be plenty of links to the posts that I dedicated to them.

England, year 1399; The country is governed by King Richard II, who inherited the crown on the death of his grandfather Edward III, due to the premature death of Richard's father, known as The Black Prince.

Ricardo was barely ten years old when he came to the throne in 1376 and from a very young age he had to deal with problems such as the so-called Peasants' Revolt of 1381. In the first years of his reign he had the help of his father's brothers Edmundo and Juan from Ghent, a character closely linked to Spain. since his daughter Catherine of Lancaster was the first princess of Asturias.

Ricardo's success in putting down the peasants' revolt and his physical and mental growth led him to free himself little by little from the tutelage of his uncles; This was also influenced by his strong character, typical of the kings of the Plantagenet dynasty. However, his strong and in some cases violent personality does not help him in the difficult dealings with his subjects. Ricardo has several tug-of-wars with both his nobles and Parliament, causing many of them to turn against him. In 1386 they even threaten Ricardo with his deposition from the throne; in fact, only the lack of agreement among their nobles on the form of government that would replace Richard prevents them from carrying out his threat.

Throughout the years of his reign, Richard II made enemies both among the nobility (death in more than suspicious conditions of the Earls of Gloucester and Warwick and banishment for life of the Earl of Arundel), as well as among the middle classes. as a consequence of the punitive policy of its judges and sheriff.

The essential event for Ricardo to lose his throne and his life occurred at the end of 1397 when two of the characters who had supported the king the most, the Earl of Norfolk Thomas Mombray and Richard's cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (son of John of Ghent ) got into a verbal dispute in which both accused each other of treason; conversation in which the king's role in the death of the Earl of Gloucester came up. The issue led to a duel to the death between the two, in a kind of judgment of God.

Ricardo was in a sticky situation; Mombray's victory would fuel rumors of his involvement in Gloucester's death; Bolingbroke's would give him wings in the succession race, since Ricardo had no heir.

The king decides to prevent a duel that could not favor him at all and passes sentence banishing Mombray for life and Bolingbroke for ten years. However, when Bolingbroke's father John of Ghent dies in 1399, he decrees that his cousin be banished for life and that his extensive estates go to the crown.

And that was when Richard II made the terrible mistake that cost him his throne and his life. On June 1, 1399, he sailed for Ireland to put down a small rebellion. Possibly he trusted that the king of France, in whose court Henry was exiled, would not allow him to endanger peace with England and the throne of his daughter, but Charles VI, known as Charles the Mad, suffered attacks in which he lost the reason and, taking advantage of the fact that he was in one of those periods, Henry requested and obtained permission from the Duke of Orleans to return to England and claim his rights.

Henry Bolingbroke, outraged by the sentence that deprived him of his inheritance and prevented him from returning to England, landed on July 4 in Yorkshire. It seems that his initial intention was to claim his father's inheritance, but the lack of resistance to his advance when Richard found himself in Ireland, and the fact that he was being joined by more and more forces dissatisfied with the king's capricious rule led him to Rethink your goal. His aspirations to the throne took a decisive step when the Duke of York Edmund of Langley, uncle of the king and of Bolingbroke himself, joined his cause.

Richard returned to England, but it was too late. He took refuge in the Welsh castle of Conwy where he received a visit from the Earl of Northumbria, Henry Percy. He laid out Bolingbroke's terms:he was summoned to appear at his own will in a parliament presided over by his cousin as "high judge" of England and in which his five principal allies would be tried for treason. . After his usual fit of rage, Richard had no choice but to accompany Percy and meet his cousin at Flint Castle. There Henry informed him that he had returned with the consent of the Commons to help him govern well, because in the last twenty-two years he had not done so. Richard accepted, formally surrendered to Bolingbroke, and was transferred to the Tower of London.
At a meeting of Parliament on 30 September, the Archbishop of York read a statement by the absent Richard II making knowing that he had agreed to give up the crown for not being the right person to wear it. It was claimed that this document was signed by Ricardo himself before witnesses, although it seems likely that it was forged or obtained under duress. The Archbishop of Canterbury asked those present if they accepted this statement, to which they all answered yes.

A list of the errors committed by the king during his reign was then read, a list that amounted to thirty-three very serious accusations. The same Parliament named Bolingbroke king of England, from that moment officially Henry IV.

But the deposed king was still a threat to the usurper. After being secretly transferred to the castle of Pontefract, there was a rebellion in favor of Richard II in February 1400. Henry cut to the chase. Richard died mysteriously in his Pontefract cell, possibly of starvation, as an essential part of the plan was that his lifeless body be displayed along its way to London so that his supporters would be left in no doubt that they had no cause. to fight for; and for that it was necessary that there were no signs of violence on the king's corpse.

The usurpation of the English throne by Henry IV is the origin of the conflict known as the War of the Roses, to which I have dedicated more than one blog post... but that is another story.

Dan Jones. Plantagenets, The Kings Who Made England. London:William Collins Ed.; 2012.
Peter Ackroyd. A History of England. Volume I (Foundations). London:McMillan Ed.; 2011.
Roy Strong. The Story of Britain. London:Pimlico Ed.; 1998.
Simon Schama. A History of Britain. London:BBC Worldwide Limited; 2000.
Derek Wilson. The Plantagenets, The Kings That Made Britain. e-book edition. London:Quercus Edition Ltd.; 2014.