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Richard II (r. 1377-1399)

Edward III's eldest son, Edward, later known as 'the Black Prince', died in 1376. The king's grandson, Richard II, succeeded to the throne aged 10, on his grandfather's death in 1377.

In 1381 the Peasants' Revolt broke out, and Richard, aged 14, bravely rode out to meet the rebels at Mile End and at Smithfield, London. Wat Tyler, the principal leader of the peasants, was killed and the uprisings in the rest of the country were crushed over the next few weeks. Richard was later forced by his Council's advice to rescind the pardons he had given.

Highly cultured, Richard was one of the greatest royal patrons of the arts; patron of Chaucer, it was Richard who ordered the technically innovative cantilevered roof transforming the Norman Westminster Hall to what it is today. (Built between 1097 and 1099 by William II, the Hall was the ceremonial and administrative centre of the kingdom; it also housed the Courts of Justice until 1882.)

Richard's authoritarian approach upset vested interests, and his increasing dependence on favourites provoked resentment. In 1388 the 'Merciless Parliament', led by a group of lords hostile to Richard (headed by the King's uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester), sentenced many of the king's favourites to death and forced Richard to renew his coronation oath. The death of his first queen, Anne of Bohemia, in 1394 further isolated Richard, and his subsequent arbitrary behaviour alienated people further.

Richard took his revenge in 1397, arresting or banishing many of his opponents; his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, was also subsequently banished. On the death of Henry's father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, (a younger son of Edward III) in 1399, Richard confiscated the vast properties of his Duchy of Lancaster (which amounted to a state within a state) and divided them among his supporters.

Richard pursued policies of peace with France (his second wife was Isabella of Valois); Richard still called himself king of France and refused to give up Calais, but his reign coincided with a 28-year truce in the Hundred Years' War. His expeditions to Ireland failed to reconcile the Anglo-Irish lords with the Gaels.

In 1399, whilst Richard was in Ireland, Henry of Bolingbroke returned to claim his father's inheritance. Supported by some of the leading baronial families (including Richard's former Archbishop of Canterbury), Henry captured and deposed Richard. Bolingbroke was crowned King as Henry IV.

Risings in support of Richard led to his death, either by murder or by self-starvation in Pontefract Castle; Henry V had his body reburied in Westminster Abbey.