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#OnThisDay in 1377: King Richard II succeeds King Edward III

On June 21, 1377, ten-year-old Prince Richard of England succeeded his grandfather, King Edward III, to become King Richard II. At the time of his death, King Edward was 64 years old and had ruled England for half a century.

Prince Richard was born in Bordeaux, in France, on January 6, 1367. He was the younger son of Edward, Prince of Wales, and Joan of Kent, and at the time of his birth, he was third in line to the throne after his father and older brother, Edward of Angouleme. It was presumed by all that it would be many years before he was crowned King, if at all.

Richard’s paternal grandfather was the illustrious King Edward III, the warrior King who had led the English army in the Hundred Year’s War. In his heyday, King Edward had secured many spectacular victories in France, most notably at Crécy and Poitiers. But by the late 1360s, the King had begun to slow down and was ready to pass the mantle onto his sons.

King Edward III ruled England for 50 years.

King Edward III ruled England for 50 years.

His oldest son, Richard’s father, was known as the Black Prince owing to the dark colour of his armour and was an experienced military commander. Since 1392, the Black Prince had kept a court in France, serving as the King’s representative in Aquitaine. That was where Prince Richard spent the first few years of his life, with his parents and brother.

But by his fourth birthday, things had begun to go seriously wrong for the small royal family. In 1370, the Black Prince contracted dysentery while fighting in Spain. Although he returned hold right away, he never really recovered from the illness, which continued to affect him for half a decade. Less than a year later, his older son Edward came down with the plague and died at the age of five. His death was a devastating blow to his parents, who, along with Richard, returned to England right away.

Meanwhile, the King’s wife Queen Philippa had also died. In her absence, the ageing King had begun to rely increasingly on his favourite mistress, Alice Perrers. However, his closest advisors decided that Alice had far too much influence over the King, and she was banished from court. With King Edward unable to run the country and the Black Prince incapacitated by illness, it fell to the King’s younger son, John of Gaunt, to look after the welfare of England.

For the last few years of his life, King Edward played a limited role in the affairs of the country. In 1376, the Black Prince succumbed to his long illness, predeceasing his father by a year. On June 21, 1377, the King suffered a stroke and died at Sheen Palace.

He was succeeded by his grandson, Richard. He was crowned less than a month later and ruled England for 22 years. At the time of his ascension, Richard was popular with the people, who were excited at the prospect of a new, young King who could revive the glory days of his aged grandfather. However, unlike his ancestors, King Richard was not interested in continuing the war.

What started off as a bright reign proved to be filled with challenges. In addition to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 there was the continuous threat of a French invasion, and after the death of his Queen, King Richard began to exhibit signs of a tyrant, sending his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke into exile. In 1399, the King was deposed by Bolingbroke, who succeeded him as King Henry IV, and he died in captivity a few months later.

Photo credit: Kim Støvring via Flickr