Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox


RICHARD II. (1377.)

RICHARD II. (1377.)



IN the early troubles of Richard II.'s reign the Tower was his chief residence, and on more than one occasion proved his safest protection against the London mob. It was from the Tower stairs that the young King embarked when he first attempted, from his barge on the Thames, to pacify the armed crowds which had assembled on the shore at Rotherhithe. But the tumult overpowered his endeavours to address them, and he had no option but to return to the Tower. The excited mob followed him along the bank, and, crossing the bridge, occupied the ground about St. Katherine's, "hooting," as Froissart tells us, "as loud as if the very devils were in them."

The gallant Mayor, Walworth, who was in the fortress with the King, proposed to make a sally at night, when most of the mob would be drunk; but other advisers induced the King to attempt a further parley, and to meet the leaders at Mile-end, in order to hear their grievances. Scarcely had he passed out of the gate, when a party of rebels placed in ambush made a rush and burst into the Tower. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir R. Hales, and other knights, betook themselves to the Sanctuary of


St. Peter, but were torn from the very altar, and their heads struck off upon the spot, after which great plunder was committed, and the King's mother, the widow of the Black Prince, treated with insolence and brutality. Historians have given detailed accounts of the result of the young King's spirited behaviour, after Walworth had struck down Wat Tyler; and there is the following quaint narrative of what passed afterwards, in the ' Chronicle of London:'-

" And on the morrow after, that is to saye Fryday, and than on the Satirday after Corpus Christ.-day, the Kyng anon after, rood into Smythfield, and Willm. Walworth, than beinge Maire of London, Sir Robert Knollys, and Aldermenne, and other citezeins with hym ; and there they metten with Jake Straw, leder of the uprysers; and this Jake Strawe spak to the Kyng hoded, as it hadde bene to his fellawe; and John Blyton that bar the Maire's swerd, bad him don his hodde, while he spak to the Kyng; whereat Jack Strawe wax angred and mynte to caste his dagger at Blyton. And than Wm. Walworth drewe his 'baselard' and smote Jack Strawe on his hed; and with that Rauf Standyshe, that bar the King's swerd, roof Jack Straw through his bodye, and there he fel down ded."

At a later period (1387) Richard had to seek safety again within the Tower walls, from his uncle the Duke of Gloucester and the Barons, whom his recklessness and misgovernment had exasperated against him. The Duke of Ireland marched a force to his assistance, while the Barons drew near London with 40,000 men. The Duke


secretly sent three of his knights into the city, to test the temper of the citizens. They quitted their horses and followers at Kennington, and, taking boat near Vauxhall, were rowed down to the Tower, and entered by the watergate unobserved by the rebels. But learning from the Governor, the strong animosity of the citizens of London against Richard, they withdrew, as privately as they had come. The Duke of Ireland was attacked and defeated, and the King besieged again in the Tower, where a parley having been held with the rebel leader in the council-room, the King found himself obliged to accept their terms, and to submit to the sorrow and humiliation of giving up Sir Simon Burley, his oldest and most devoted adherent, to the vengeance of Gloucester and Arundel.

This noble veteran of Edward III.'s wars, who had been placed about Richard's person by the Black Prince, as his governor and tutor, was beheaded on Tower Hill, though the "good Queen Anne" fell on her knees in tears before Gloucester, to obtain his life.

Richard never forgave this outrage; and when Gloucester's party were afterwards overthrown, the death of Burley was one of the chief reasons which led him to take so terrible a revenge on Gloucester, by causing him to be secretly put to death in prison in the Castle of Calais. Richard II. also seized his leading adherents, the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, and both were condemned to die as traitors. Arundel was beheaded in Cheapside, where he was led from the Tower; but so much intercession was made for Warwick, on account of his former military services in France, that Richard spared


his life, on the condition (a very curious one it appears in these days) that he should go into perpetual exile in the Isle of Wight; an island, observes Froissart, in his narrative of these events, "where there is room enough for a great nobleman's establishment, only he must take with him every kind of provision and furniture, or he would find himself under much discomfort!"

But Richard's prosperity was of short duration. Henry of Bolingbroke raised an army against him, and after various successes made him prisoner and lodged him in the Tower, where, with a barbarous refinement of cruelty, four or five of his most faithful adherents, accused of having been concerned in the death of Gloucester, were brought under the window of the King's prison, tied to horses' tails, and dragged through the streets to Cheapside, there to suffer an ignominious death. After this humiliation, Richard was compelled to go through a formal ceremony in the Council-chamber of the White Tower, of resigning his crown and sceptre to the Usurper. He was kept close prisoner during the magnificent pageant of Henry IV.'s coronation, when an attempt at a rising having been prematurely made by some who still adhered to him, he was removed to Leeds Castle, and thence to Pomfret, where, according to Hollingshed, he was murdered. Froissart's version is, however, different, for he states that he perished "somehow " in the Tower. His remains however were, as both agree, eventually conveyed from the Tower, in a procession to St. Paul's Cathedral, "where he lay," says Froissart, "his head on a black cushion, and his visage open to view.


Some had pity on him, and some had none, but said he had long ago deserved his death." He was carried to Langley and there buried, but his corpse was afterwards removed to Westminster Abbey.

Shakespeare's pathetic scene of the parting between Richard and his unhappy queen was doubtless drawn with little alteration of fact from the chronicles and traditions current in his day.[1] 


[1] RICHARD II., act v. scene 2. A Street leading to the Tower.