King Richard II.

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Richard II., King of England, Lord of Ireland, was born at Bordeaux, 3rd April 1366. His reign commenced 22nd June 1377. In 1394, finding it necessary to assert his supremacy in Ireland, he came over with a large fleet and an army of 4,000 men-at-arms and 30,000 archers, and entered the Suir on 2nd October. He was accompanied by his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, the Earls of March, Nottingham, and Rutland, and other nobles. Of the descendants of the adventurers amongst whom Henry II. had divided Ireland two centuries before, there remained in the direct male line only the Geraldines of Kildare and Desmond, and the Butlers. Most of the Anglo-Norman families had become, according to an often-quoted saying, "more Irish than the Irish themselves."

The native Irish chieftains had to a great extent regained their lands in Ulster, Connaught, and Munster; and "all Leinster trembled" at the "might and puissance" of Art MacMurrough. Immediately after the King's landing, MacMurrough made a descent upon New Ross; and the English troops were discomfited by the attacks of the O'Conors and O'Carrolls. In November Richard despatched letters to the Privy Council, informing them that he had made many long journeys since he had taken the field, and had marched to Dublin through the country of the "rebel Makemurgh," and directing them to transmit money for the payment of his army, and to defray his personal expenses. Owing to the character of the country, and the irregular mode of warfare of the natives, his large force, led by experienced commanders, was able to make but little progress in the subjugation of Ireland beyond the borders of the Pale.

King Richard, as Henry II. had done on one occasion, spent Christmas in Dublin in a sumptuous palace fitted up on Hoggin [College] Green, where he entertained such of the native chiefs as paid court to him. Concerning the country he wrote to his uncle, the Duke of York, on 1st February 1395: "In our land of Ireland there are three kinds of people: wild Irish, our enemies; Irish rebels; obedient English. To us and our Council here it appears that the Irish rebels have rebelled in consequence of the injustice and grievances practised towards them, for which they have been afforded no redress; and that, if not wisely treated, and given hope of grace, they will most likely ally themselves with our enemies." Finding it impracticable to reduce the Irish by force of arms, Richard sought to conciliate the chiefs, and laying aside the English banners, quartered with leopards and fleurs-de-lis, he substituted flags bearing a golden cross on an azure ground, surrounded by five silver birds, the arms of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor.

On 16th February 1395, Richard met MacMurrough in the open plain of Ballygorry, near Carlow. A proposed treaty having been read and explained in English and Irish, MacMurrough did homage, received the kiss of peace from the Earl of Nottingham, and promised allegiance, conditional on the restitution of his wife's lands, the payment of an annuity, and the grant of territories for those he might surrender. At Drogheda Richard met O'Neill with the northern chiefs, and Brian O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, and he forwarded to the Lord Treasurer of England two hampers, containing seventy-five agreements, entered into with them. In March he again entertained with great splendour some of the chiefs in Dublin, Henry Castede (a knight, the particulars of whose captivity amongst the Irish are related by Froissart) acting as their principal attendant and interpreter. Froissart gives an interesting recital of the efforts made to induce these tribal magnates to adopt English manners and customs. O'Neill, O'Conor, MacMurrough, and O'Brien were knighted by the King, after keeping their vigils in Christ Church Cathedral.

The English Privy Council, while expressing satisfaction at the King's efforts to settle affairs in Ireland, complained of his admitting the Irish chiefs to grace without payment of fines, which would have defrayed a portion of the heavy costs of his expedition. After nine months spent in Ireland, Richard left in the summer of 1395, committing the government of the colony to his cousin, Roger Mortimer. Froissart says that the great expenses of the campaign were "cheerfully defrayed by the kingdom; for the principal cities and towns in England thought it was well laid out when they saw their King return home with honour." On the other hand, Grafton, the chronicler, says, under date 1394: "This yere King Richard made a voyage into Ireland, which was nothing profitable or honourable vnto him, and therefore the wryters seeme to thinke it scant worth the notying."

In 1399 Richard prepared for another expedition, partly to avenge Mortimer, who had fallen in an engagement with the Irish, and partly to suppress MacMurrough, who had taken up arms in consequence of the King having given away to the Duke of Surrey portions of his territories near Carlow. A large fleet carrying an army of some 30,000 was again collected at Milford Haven. It sailed on the 29th May, and anchored at Waterford on the 2nd June. The King took with him the English regalia, to impress the native chiefs, and was accompanied by many of the first ecclesiastics and nobles of England. After resting a few days, he rode with some 20,000 men in close array to Kilkenny, where he waited fourteen days in vain for the arrival of the Duke of Albemarle, who was to have been accompanied by 140 chosen men-at-arms, knights, and esquires, and 200 mounted archers, besides a corps of carpenters and masons.

On the 23rd June Richard marched in the direction of Leighlin Bridge against Art MacMurrough, who retreated before him into the fastnesses of Wicklow. The King's 2,500 axe-men with difficulty cleared a road, while Art's followers cut off his scouts and foraging parties, and scoured the hills and valleys with a fleetness that astonished the English. In an open cleared space (probably near Tullow) and beside a burning native village, Richard set up his standards, and knighted Henry, son of the Duke of Lancaster, and other young nobles who had come to win their spurs in Ireland. MacMurrough successfully eluded all efforts to bring him to an engagement, and continued to cut off the King's supplies, so that, but for their meeting some vessels of the English fleet at Arklow, most of the army might have perished.

A contemporary picture, in a chronicle preserved in the British Museum, "represents the arrival of three vessels laden with provisions from Dublin, and the rush made by the soldiers for them. Here the chronicler represents the men as fighting among themselves, plunging into the sea, and parting with clothes and money for food and drink. On that day, he believes, there were more than a thousand men drunk, seeing that it was just then the vintage of Spain, 'qui est bonne contree.'.. In this drawing the scramble in the water is given with great spirit; three men are already in the sea, which, however, appears to be rather shallow, (helmets, gauntlets, coats of mail, hoods, and all), and a sailor is depicted stretching over the bows of one of the vessels, and holding out a loaf of bread to the nearest soldier. This is the only sailor who appears to take any interest in the matter, the rest of the crews, two men to each vessel, wear an expression of profound indifference." Abandoning further attempts against MacMurrough, Richard proceeded to Dublin, amidst loud war cries and shouts of defiance from the Irish; who according to a French eye-witness, were "as bold as lions, and gave many a hard blow to the King."

In the midst of plenty in Dublin, during July, Richard's army forgot the hardships to which they had been subjected. The Duke of Albemarle arrived with the expected reinforcements in 100 barges, bringing news of the revolt of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, and Richard was obliged to make immediate preparations for return. He took shipping from Waterford, and arrived in Milford Haven, 5th August, after a two days' passage. He left Sir John Stanley as Lord-Lieutenant. King Richard was dethroned on the 29th of the following September, and is supposed to have been murdered at Pontefract, on 14th February 1400. He was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.

Sources

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

139. Froissart, Sir John, Chronicles. 2 vols. London, 1844.

152. Grafton, Richard: Chronicle of the History England. 2 vols. London, 1809.

229. MacMurrogh, Life and Conquests of Art: Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Dublin, 1847.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

335. Viceroys of Ireland, History: John T. Gilbert. Dublin, 1865.

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