I’ve gotten to the point in the year where the need to give my research a specific direction has become quite pressing. That is to say, I need to come up with a thesis very soon. Since this is a big and somewhat intimidating step that will determine what I will be doing for the rest of this project, I thought it would be useful to lay out some possible directions I could go in before making any decisions.
Option #1: The mental and emotional effects of kingship
One possible concept that I could examine in my research is the effect of Richard’s early entrance into kingship on his mental and emotional development, particularly in regard to his conception of himself. I think this could be an interesting topic because many scholars touch on the lofty, almost godlike way in which Richard saw himself and expected others to see him. It seems quite reasonable to me to assume that this extraordinarily elevated self-image was the result of Richard having spent his formative years as the most powerful man in England. There are several downsides to taking my project in this direction, however. First, it might require an understanding of psychology that I lack. Second, it may be too obvious a conclusion to have any academic value. After all, I think I would be hard pressed to find a scholar who would argue that Richard’s young age at his ascension had no effect on the development of his self-image. If I had more time, I would love to compare Richard’s conception of himself to that of the other medieval kings who came to the throne as children or teenagers (Henry III, Edward III, and Henry VI).
Option #2: Anne of Bohemia
Another aspect of Richard’s reign that is of particular interest to me is his relationship with his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, a princess of the Holy Roman Empire. Richard and Anne married in 1382, when they were both aged 14, meaning that they grew into adulthood together. Perhaps as a result of this fact, they were said to have had an especially close relationship (see here for more details). However, at the time of Anne’s death in 1394, the marriage had produced no children. Thus, Anne was denied the principal route to political power available to a medieval queen – sons. Yet it is possible that the strong affection Richard had for her gave her a level of influence nonetheless. It is this influence, or lack thereof, that I would seek to analyze if I decide to focus my research on Richard’s marriage to Anne. The one major problem with this route is the unfortunate lack of information available about Anne.
Richard II and Anne of Bohemia depicted in the Liber Regalis
Option #3: Royal policy in the 1390s
When Richard’s reign is divided into separate time frames, as is commonly done by historians, the period which interests me most is that which lasted from his resumption of power from the Lords Appellant in May 1389 until the beginning of his tyranny in July 1397. This is because it was during this time that Richard began to really exert his own will in politics. There has been a good deal of debate among historians about the actual nature of Richard’s rule at this time. Some, such as Christopher Fletcher, have claimed that Richard actually remained under many of the same restrictions forced upon him when the Appellants took power. Others, like A.K Gundy, have argued that Richard was fully in control of government and setting in motion the tyrannical policies that would go on to manifest themselves more clearly from 1397 onwards. I would be interested to look first at the extent to which Richard was directing government at this time and second at whether or not the policies he pursued can be considered part of his tyranny. The principle issue with pursuing these research questions is the extent to which they have already been debated. Because of the vast quantity of literature already published, I am unsure whether or not I would be able to offer up any new insight regarding this period of Richard’s reign.
Option #4: The Lords Appellant Crisis
One of the most critical moments of Richard’s reign was the Lords Appellant Crisis of 1387-1388. In response to concerning behavior on the part of the king, five magnates, now know as the Lords Appellant, mustered an army which defeated the forces of Richard’s close companion Robert de Vere at the Battle of Radcot Bridge in December 1387. In the wake of this victory, they went on to use an appeal of treason to prosecute numerous favorites of the king during what became known as the Merciless Parliament. As a result, many of the king’s friends were executed as traitors, and those who had fled abroad, such as de Vere, were sentenced to death in their absence. It is very likely that there was a point during this coup at which the Appellants were seriously considering deposing Richard. This event in the reign has always been a bit puzzling to me, since I’ve never been fully able to grasp exactly what warranted the Appellants to take such severe action against the king, especially since Richard had only just turned 21 at the time and thus had the potential to correct his behavior as he grew older and wiser. Consequently, I think it could be interesting to explore this crisis while guided by the question of exactly what behaviors Richard exhibited that justified such a violent and decisive response from the nobility. My greatest concern regarding this approach is my lack of legal knowledge, since legal intricacies played a large role both leading up to and during the crisis.
The above contains just four preliminary ideas for the future direction of my project. It may very well be the case that I find a line of inquiry superior to all of them and end up pursuing that instead. For the time being, my next step will be to look into the research already published on these four topics, as well as the extent to which relevant primary source material is available for each of them. If you have any suggestions or criticisms regarding these ideas, please share them with me in the comments section!
Unkown English painter. Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in the Liber Regalis.
14th century. Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Richard2_Anna.jpg. Accessed 27 Oct. 2017.