Richard II is one of those monarchs in history who is remembered for coming to a rather nasty end. Incidentally he is also the first English monarch for whom we have a realistic portrait.
So who was the unfortunate king who lost his throne and starved to death in Pontefract Castle. Richard’s grandparents were Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault. His father was Prince Edward known as the Black Prince on account of the colour of his armour but only from the sixteenth century. The prince died a year before his father of an illness that he’d contracted in Europe. He is best remembered for his military importance at the Battle of Crecy and later on for capturing the french king. He campaigned in Spain and made himself unpopular with the people of Aquitaine when he taxed them for his Spanish campaigns – for that and for the massacre of some 3000 inhabitants of a town that rose up in revolt against him.
Edward was married to Joan who was the daughter of the Earl of Kent. He was the son of Edward I and Margaret of France. So, he was the chap who supported his brother (Edward II) and was executed on the orders of Mortimer and Isabella – so not exactly a peaceful childhood. As if that weren’t enough she’d been married before – twice. Unfortunately the second marriage was bigamous and it took papal decree to sort the tangled matrimonial web out. She produced five children before her legitimate husband Sir Thomas Holland died. She then married the Black Prince and bore two sons. The first child, a boy called Edward, died age six or seven. Her second son, Richard, was born in 1367 in Gascony. He succeeded his grandfather as king, the year after the Black Prince died.
Richard was a minor with lots of half-siblings on his mother’s side of the family and plenty of cousins and uncles on his father’s side of the family – the most notable one being John of Gaunt. The stage was set for a familiar family saga of murder and mayhem.