Monday 3 September 2012

Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel

School is back in session, so it’s time to feature a more academic Dick. To that end, I give you Richard Fitzalan, fourth earl of Arundel (and third earl of his family to have been named Richard), a medieval magnate who lived from 1346 to 1397.

Some of you might well be thinking, “That name. Those dates. I think I’ve heard of this guy before.” You would be correct! Richard, earl of Arundel was one of the wealthiest, most important magnates during the reign of Richard II, with whom Arundel did not get along at all. The two supported radically different policies; for instance, Richard II sought peace with France while Arundel objected, believing the terms of the peace were not favorable enough to England. Richard II also sought advice from younger, less high-ranking men, which irritated Arundel – he was the type of man (older, from an old noble family) that the king should have been consulting.  

Arundel became earl in 1376 at the death of his father (another Richard). The elder Richard and Edward III had gotten along quite well, and the elder earl had loaned the king a lot of money over the years. The younger Richard provided the crown with a substantial loan in early 1377 (before Edward III’s death), but from then on, he didn’t really lend any money to the king. That was surely a sore spot with Richard II – while his grandfather had been able to count on the Fitzalans for money, Richard II could not. It rankled him.

But the two men were already off to a bad start when Richard II was just a young’un. In the 1384 Parliament, Arundel gave an impassioned speech in which he claimed England was in a state of decay and desperately needed to be rescued from “the stormy whirlpool in which it is engulfed.”* The king was present for this outburst, and naturally, Richard II did not take too kindly to this. According to the Westminster Chronicle, he retorted, if “it is supposed to be my fault there is misgovernment in the kingdom, you lie in your teeth. You can go to the Devil!”* An eerie silence followed (everyone was probably thinking “oh shit”) until one of Richard’s uncles stepped up, cleared the air, and made everything better.

* Westminster Chronicle 1381-1394, edited by L.C. Hector and B.F. Harvey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 69. 

Sorry, but I love this meme. And it actually works fairly well for Richard and Richard.

But things weren’t better for long. From late 1386 to 1389, a group of five magnates (called the Appellants (because they “appealed” Richard’s friends for treason) essentially took over the government. The Appellants were: Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (and Richard’s uncle); Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel; Thomas de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick; Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby (later Henry IV); and Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham. Arundel, however, was one of the ringleaders (Bolingbroke and Mowbray were less involved and are often termed the ‘junior Appellants”). These men took away Richard’s power, nearly deposed him, and executed or sentenced to death (in absentia) several of Richard’s friends. These friends included Richard’s best friend Robert de Vere (who was spared execution so long as he never returned to England), and the king’s old tutor Sir Simon Burley. Richard’s wife, Anne of Bohemia, begged on her knees for Arundel to spare Burley’s life, but it was to no avail. Burley was beheaded, and Richard never forgot (and certainly never forgave) what Arundel had done.

The two Dicks, however, managed not to have a major blow-up until the funeral of Anne of Bohemia (I wrote about this on August 3). In short, Arundel arrived late, asked to leave early, and Richard hauled off and smacked him. The king drew blood, and the funeral service was delayed while Westminster Abbey was cleaned and reconsecrated. Arundel then had to spend a week in prison in the Tower of London and was only released after paying a huge bail.

But it wasn’t until 1397 that Richard II really struck back. In July of that year, Richard arrested three of the Appellants (Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick). Gloucester was shipped over to Calais (an English possession at the time) and secretly murdered; Arundel and Warwick were charged with treason. Warwick admitted guilt and received a sentence of life imprisonment, but Arundel denied the charges. He was accordingly tried and convicted in Parliament in September 1397. Although sentenced to have been drawn, hanged, and quartered, Arundel (thanks to his nobility) was beheaded on Tower Hill – on the very same day he was declared guilty (they didn’t waste time back in the day). Shortly after Arundel’s execution, there were rumors of miracles happening at his tomb. Richard II had the body exhumed and reburied elsewhere in an unmarked grave.

Although Richard II had taken down Arundel (and disinherited the man’s family) in 1397, Arundel ultimately had the last laugh. When Richard was deposed in 1399, Arundel’s son and heir was restored to the family’s wealth and titles. Since Arundel was so often at odds with Richard II, the earl’s reputation improved with the king’s deposition (in a sort of “the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” fashion).    

For more on Richard, earl of Arundel, check out:

C. Given-Wilson, ‘Fitzalan, Richard (III), fourth earl of Arundel and ninth earl of Surrey (1346–1397)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

Chris Given-Wilson, “The Earl of Arundel, the War with France, and the Anger of King Richard II,” in R.F. Yeager and Toshiyuki Takamiya, eds, The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 27-38.

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