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On this day in 1399 King Richard II of England was forced to abdicate in favour of his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke.
Acceding to the throne at the age of ten, Richard had played a major part in suppressing the Peasants Revolt, when aged only 14. Upon the death of the influential John of Gaunt in 1399, Richard moved swiftly to disinherit Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke. Henry fought back against little resistance and Richard was deposed and locked up in Pontefract castle where he died in February 1400; he is believed to have been starved to death.
Much of our view of Richard comes from Shakespeare’s play and most historians agree that it gives a fairly accurate account of the events. Here is part of old, dying John of Gaunt’s speech – lines that can make strong men weep:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting-farm.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Today I give thanks for the love I have for my country.