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Henry IV and the Revolt of the Earls, 1400

Alan Rogers tells the story of a plot to capture and kill the Lancastrian sovereign and restore his dethroned cousin, Richard II.

By December, 1399, Henry IV could feel reasonably satisfied with the way things had worked out for him. Just over a year ago, when he had been at the height of his popularity, he had been unjustly exiled by his royal cousin, Richard II; and six months later, after the death of his father John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and so-called ‘King of Castile’, Henry’s inheritance of the Duchy of Lancaster, preserved to him by special act of Richard II, had been confiscated.

Henry, living in style in Paris with a few faithful followers, could do little but wait and plan with Thomas Arundel, the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury who joined Henry from Rome. But Richard had left England for a campaign in Ireland, May 1399, and at the end of June with a small retinue Henry landed in Yorkshire—after leaving his esquire John Pelham on the Sussex coast to hold the Duchy castle of Pevensey and to distract attention—having ‘come to claim his own’. Everything went his way.

The nobles flocked to his banner; the commons turned out to cheer him; the march from Pickering to Bristol, where he captured and executed three of Richard’s more unpopular favourites, became a triumphal procession. The Duke of York, keeper of the realm in Richard’s absence, made efforts to protect the kingdom and then himself joined Henry at Berkeley Castle. Richard, landing in Wales, was deserted by almost all his supporters and was tricked into submission. With the support of the London mob, Henry usurped the throne and on the anniversary of the day he sailed into exile, October 13th, he was crowned Henry IV in Westminster Abbey.

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