For this blog post and those in the weeks to come, I plan on writing in greater detail about the crisis years of 1386-1388 and eventually the 1390s, since it seems likely that this is the time period I will end up focusing on in my research. To begin, I will discuss the tensions that erupted in 1386 as a result of the threat of a French invasion.
In March 1386, the French began preparations for an invasion of England after the most recent round of negotiations between the two governments, which happened intermittently throughout the Hundred Years War, broke down. Throughout the spring and early summer, much of England fell into somewhat of a panic as rumors circulated regarding the impending arrival of the French. In response to the threat, the government took measures to fortify coastal defenses and prepare for a potential siege in the capital. However, it appears as though the king himself was occupied with other matters during the summer of 1386, specifically the organization of an expedition to Ireland under the leadership of his closest friend, Robert de Vere. It was not until August that Richard finally found he could ignore the French threat no longer and summoned parliament. Since taxes were granted through parliament, and the English government had little money available to pay for defense against the invasion, this was a necessary measure.
While waiting for parliament to convene, the government made an attempt to take out loans, but the sum they managed to amass was inadequate. Consequently, the royal council made the counties pay for half of the men needed for defense and forced the towns to provide loans for the other half. These measures, being of questionable legality, prompted dissatisfaction with the government.
When parliament finally gathered at Westminster on October 1, the English government was still under the impression that they would be facing a French attack at any moment. However, fortunately for the English, a combination of a lack of money and poor weather prevented the French from sailing and the anticipated invasion never actually occurred. Nonetheless, the royal government, represented by Chancellor Michael de la Pole, proceeded as if the invasion was imminent. The pressure on the government was heightened by the fact that the parliamentary commons had made a grant of taxation, part of which was specifically designated towards defense, just a year earlier. Therefore, they could easily refuse to grant the further taxation that the government so desperately needed on the grounds that they had already provided the means for raising sufficient funds.
In what would bring about his downfall, Chancellor de la Pole’s opening address to parliament lacked the persuasiveness necessary to achieve as generous a response as the government required. Instead, he presented the government’s request for taxation in a manner that enraged his audience, requesting a grant two times the size of what would have normally been the limit. According to the Leicester chronicler, the lords and the commons responded with a joint call for de la Pole’s dismissal from his post, which Richard refused to accede to. The enraged king then left Westminster and retreated to Eltham, ordering Parliament to return to its duties.
The tomb of Michael de la Pole and his wife
Parliament refused to continue its business until the king returned and dismissed Michael de la Pole. Two men who would go on to emerge as some of the king’s leading opponents in the years to come, Thomas Arundel, Bishop of Ely and the Richard’s own uncle, Thomas Duke of Gloucester, were sent to speak to the king on behalf of parliament. After Gloucester and Arundel made several untrue claims, falsely asserting that the king was required to hold parliament at least once a year and that parliament could dissolve itself if the king was absent without reason for more than forty days, Richard boldly threatened to call upon his cousin, the king of France, for aid in dealing with the resistance of his subjects. Unsurprisingly, Gloucester and Arundel were aghast that Richard would suggest colluding with England’s enemy against his own subjects. They responded with a thinly veiled threat of their own, advising the king to remember the statute that allowed the people to depose a king who “alienated himself from his people and refused to be governed by the advice of his lords”. This was a clear reference to Richard’s great-grandfather, Edward II, who had been removed from power and murdered in prison.
Evidently frightened at the mention of deposition, Richard returned to Westminster on October 23 and dismissed Michael de la Pole, who was replaced as chancellor by Bishop Arundel. The commons proceeded to impeach de la Pole on charges of embezzlement, obligating Richard to imprison his trusted councilor and friend (though de la Pole was free and back by the king’s side by Christmas). It seems very likely that de la Pole’s outrageous request for taxation was not the root cause of his impeachment, but rather the excuse used by the commons and lords to attack a widely resented figure in Richard’s government. His approach to foreign policy in the war against France had failed and he had neglected to implement a series of reforms passed in the parliament of 1385 which essentially called for greater supervision of the king’s spending habits. It is likely that Richard played a significant role in these measures. Thus, de la Pole’s removal was also an attack on the king himself, a fact that became clear in the second phase of parliament beginning in mid-November.
During this latter stage, parliament imposed on the king a set of reforms that effectively took government out of his hands, albeit for a limited period of time. Most significantly, a continual council with wide reaching powers was appointed for a term of one year, primarily for the purpose of overseeing the financial reforms that Richard had earlier circumvented through Michael de la Pole (Saul 152-162).
As a result of the restrictions forced upon him, Richard grew frustrated and began searching for ways not only to regain his authority, but to enact revenge upon those who had taken it from him. By doing so, he aroused the suspicion of the lords, ultimately leading to the eruption of the Lords Appellant crisis.
Deben Dave. Tomb of Michael de la Pole and His Wife Katherine de Stafford in St
Andrew’s parish church, Wingfield, Suffolk. 15 Aug. 2007. Wikimedia
Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.
Saul, Nigel. Richard II. Yale UP, 1997. Yale English Monarchs.