Archive for October, 2021

King Richard II

Monday, October 25th, 2021

Greetings!  Please join me today as we continue to examine topics which arise in King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  This post will focus upon King Richard II of England whose reign of two decades ended during the time in which King Richard’s Sword is set.

King Richard II is probably least known of the three Richards who have ruled England, even though his reign was about a decade longer than that of Kings Richard I and III combined.  Many of us were taught that King Richard I, known as King Richard the Lionheart, was famous as a Crusader.  Yet, he spent little of his almost ten years as king in England itself.  Similarly, we often learned of King Richard III through Shakespeare’s play about him.  This drama is a view of Richard III’s short reign from 1483-1485 which is greatly biased toward the viewpoint of the Tudors who overthrew him.

Few of us as Americans learned much in school about England’s King Richard II who came to the throne at the age of 10 on June 22, 1377, and he gave it up on September 29, 1399.  He was ruling England by 1380, the year when I set my second book, Plague of a Green Man.  The end of his reign in 1399 occurred during the time when King Richard’s Sword was set.  His portrait from the mid-1390’s is shown on the upper left, one of the first portraits of an English monarch that was done in the monarch’s lifetime.

Richard was the last hereditary ruler of England who traced his lineage back to William the Conqueror.  His father, the so-called Black Prince, died in 1376, the year before the death of his grandfather, King Edward III.  Richard, next in line, was always determined to be a great king, but physically unable to be a great knight like his father.  No official regent was named when he became king at age ten; instead regency councils, heavily influenced by his uncles including the wealthy John of Gaunt, guided the country.

When, in 1381 at age 14, Richard faced his first great crisis, the Peasants’ Revolt, he played a critical role in suppressing that uprising.  That revolt was primarily to the south and east of London, and as it moved into London itself, Richard began to assert his independence in dealing personally with the crisis.

Richard II was less inclined to militarism than his father or grandfather and instead created a more refined atmosphere in court.  In the Wilton Diptych, shown above and painted in his lifetime, we see Richard, kneeling on the left, with several saints: John the Baptist, Edward the Confessor, and Edmund the Martyr.  The latter two were patron saints of England before the 15th century when St. George assumed that role.  The left panel of the diptych faces the Virgin Mother and infant Jesus on the right panel surrounded by a group of angels.

In early 1382, Richard II married Anne of Bohemia who was the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor.  This marriage was important for diplomatic reasons but was childless.  It turned into a marriage of love, however, and Richard became quite dependent on Anne.  When she died from the plague in 1394, he was devasted.

Richard II’s early military ventures came to naught, yet he did seek to end the Hundred Years’ War in France.  However, as king, he depended on a small number of courtiers and a private retinue for protection.  This was not popular with much of the nobility.  Richard’s relationship with John of Gaunt was helpful but deteriorated when Gaunt departed England in 1386 to pursue a claim as King of Castile.  For these and other reasons, a crisis developed in 1387 when a group of aristocrats known as the Lords Appellant seized control of the government for two years.  By 1389, Richard was 22 years old and regained control, in part due to mistakes made by the Lords Appellant.

He ruled the next eight years working with the Appellants and others.  John of Gaunt, returned to England and was supportive.  His uncle’s rebuilding of Kenilworth Castle may have inspired Richard to rebuild Westminster Hall into its present form.  Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the present British Parliament Building.  A picture of its vast, open interior without support columns is shown below.  In 1394-1395, Richard intervened successfully in Ireland to bring troublesome Irish into line.

Still, this generally peaceful period was not without its problems.  Betrothal for a second marriage was arranged for Richard, this time with six-year-old Isabella, daughter of King Charles VI of France.  Meanwhile, Richard was secretly waiting for an opportunity to take revenge on the Lords Appellant, and he did just that in 1377 by arranging for Parliament to revoke their pardons of eight years earlier.  The king developed his personal bodyguard of archers in Chester, and as he became pressed financially, he seized the sizable inheritance of John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbrook, Duke of Hereford, who was in exile after his father’s death.   Exhibiting a false sense of security and self-confidence, Richard grew more unpopular even though by 1399 he was requiring loyalty oaths from many people.

In 1399, the king embarked on another expedition to Ireland, but this time, rebellion began in England, led by Henry Bolingbrook, returned from exile, and seeking to regain his inheritance.  As support mounted against the king in England, Richard returned to Wales from Ireland.  Bolingbrook’s strong forces moved westward into Wales where Richard and his weak forces were intercepted.  At Flint, Richard resigned his throne on September 29, 1399, leading to Bolingbrook becoming King Henry IV.  Richard was held, eventually in Pontefract Castle where he died around February 1400, probably from starvation.

Please join us next time when I will deal with several other interesting medieval topics from King Richard’s Sword.

The History of Worcester, part 3

Monday, October 11th, 2021

Greetings!  Today, we continue to examine some of the topics which arise in King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery series.  We are currently discussing the ancient city of Worcester, the setting for the novel.  This posting will continue the medieval history of Worcester by focusing on Worcester Cathedral.

I mentioned in my posting of August 23, 2021, that Worcester Cathedral has a history going back to AD 680.  That is 1341 years ago, over a millennium and a third.  Those of us who are Americans find such longevity amazing and can hardly imagine an organization existing and thriving for such a period.  It is true that there are no longer any remnants of the first cathedral building in Worcester, but the cathedra, that is, the throne of the Bishop of Worcester, has been at this same site throughout these many centuries.

In my earlier postings about Worcester, I mentioned that two Saxon bishops, Oswald and Wulfstan, later became saints after each contributed to the development of the cathedral.  Oswald, in the late 10th century, brought the running of the cathedral under a single monastic order, the Benedictines.  Thus, Worcester Priory and Worcester Cathedral became linked together before the end of the first millennium, a situation that continued up to and beyond the time of my novel at the end of the 14th century.  Wulfstan started a new church building, a model of which is shown above at the start of this post.  The crypt of that 11th century church does survive under today’s mostly Gothic church building.

King John of Magna Carta fame took a special interest in Worcester.  On his deathbed, he added a codicil to his will stipulating that he wished to be buried in Worcester Cathedral.  His death occurred in AD 1216 and his wishes were honored, so his tomb, as pictured above, sits today in front of the high altar of Worcester Cathedral.

The present building, called the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin, of Worcester, was constructed between AD 1084 (the crypt) and 1504 and represents architectural styles from Norman to Early English Gothic right through to Perpendicular Gothic.  In the picture to the left, I am sitting in the nave taking in the splendid Gothic interior as it would have appeared at the time of King Richard’s Sword.

The medieval version of the church was much as we see it today, but it did feature a separate tower called the Clochium on the north side of the church.  The Clochium was a massive, octagonal stone structure with a spire on top, probably used to toll the hours of the Opus Dei before the central tower of the Gothic structure was built.  The drawing of the medieval cathedral and priory above shows how the Clochium was higher than any other feature of the medieval buildings.  Early in my novel, when the Lady Apollonia visited the priory, she had to walk past the Clochium to enter the cathedral through the north door.


In 1987, the remains of a medieval pilgrim were found in Worcester Cathedral.  Objects found with his remains indicated that he had traveled to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and made other pilgrimages as well.  He had been wounded on his journeys, but the quality of his clothes indicated that he was comparatively wealthy, although probably not a knight or nobleman.  A drawing of the so-called Worcester Pilgrim is shown on the left.  The pilgrim inspired one of my characters in King Richard’s Sword, a wealthy merchant named Robert Kenwood.

This next picture shows me examining some ruins next to the eastern south transept off the Choir of Worcester Cathedral.  This was once the east wall of the Guesten Hall in Worcester Priory where visitors were lodged under the care of the priory’s Hospitaller.  In my novel, I chose it as a place for Brandon Landow, the pardoner, to stay when he was trying to sell a fake relic to the monks of Worcester Priory.

Please join us next time when I will tell of some of the characteristics of King Richard II whose loss of his crown by usurpation occurred at the time of my story.  For now, however, I leave you with a picture below of the glorious Worcester Cathedral as it appears from across the River Severn.