Thursday, 13 February 2014

An unromantic end for one of England's least loved kings

February 14th, St Valentine's Day, is traditionally a celebration of hearts and flowers and love.  But for one English king, already deeply unpopular with many of his subjects, the date marked a sad and unromantic event to a life and reign that had promised much and faded into disaster via anger and rebellion.  Richard II died on February 14th 1400, just a few months after he had lost his throne to a distant cousin.  The deposed king was most likely starved to death and died in Pontefract Castle.

Richard II with his first wife, Anne of Bohemia.  The king had been a boy when he ascended the throne and he died, imprisoned, at the age of 33 after being deposed by his cousin, Henry IV

Richard II had the most romantic of parents.  His father was Edward, the Black Prince, the great hero of England at the start of the Hundred Years War.  His mother was Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent - the name is enough of a clue as to the romance that surrounded her.  They had married for love and Edward had fought opposition to his bride - his parents were concerned as Joan had already been married to two men.  At the same time.  Her complex marital past was resolved to allow a wedding and the couple had two sons, Richard being the youngest.  After the deaths of his older brother and his father, he became heir to Edward III and king at the age of just ten.  And like many boy kings before and since, he was pulled between different factions.  When he decided to rule for himself, his erratic and autocratic behaviour alienated just about everyone and by 1399 he had lost his throne to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke who had the king arrested.  As the winter began, Richard was confined to the castle and the sad end of his unromantic tale began.

Richard II is arrested by the Earl of Northumberland.  He was eventually taken to Pontefract Castle where he died on February 14th 1400

His imprisonment was just that for several months until a group of earls were found to be plotting to put him back on the throne he had lost.  Some historians believe that at that point, Henry IV decided to have Richard starved to death.  The boy king who grew into a popular figurehead then a despised autocrat died on February 14th 1400 and his body was taken to St Paul's Cathedral to be displayed - to show that the king really was dead.  Richard was buried in Kings Langley, a romantic sounding place for a king whose story had nothing like a happy ending.

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