Richard II; Possessor of the Divine Right to Rule, or Maniacal Tyrant?

Richard II is quite the interesting Shakespearean figure. For the majority of the play, Richard views himself as the one and only true anointed King, and the sole heir to the throne of England. As most Kings did during the time period, Richard perceives himself as a gift from God, and that his presence in itself is a blessing to his subjects, whom Richard believes should be unwaveringly loyal to him, and him alone. In Act 3, when Richard uncovers that Bolingbroke has began his invasion of England, instead of taking immediate defensive measures, Richard does not implement any defensive strategies, which ultimately proves to be fatal for the young King. Richard goes as far to say; “Not all the water in the rough rude sea Can wash the balm off from an anointed king; The breath of worldly men cannot depose The deputy elected by the Lord”(3.2.50). Richard firmly believes here that no one, not even Bolingbroke, bears any threat to one and only true, anointed king, since God has already proclaimed Richard as the one true sovereign of England. In Richard’s skewed sense of reality, not even his cousin Bolingbroke, who has royal ancestry, has any just claim to the throne. Believing this with all his heart and mind, Richard does not feel it necessary to defend his claim to the throne against Bolingbroke. This is Richard’s last great mistake, which definitely contributes to his tragic demise.

Another costly mistake the monarch made earlier on in the play, would without a doubt be his banishment of Bolingbroke at the outset of the tragedy. Richard banishes Bolingbroke in an attempt to quell the dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, which originated due to Bolingbroke accusing Mowbray of the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray is innocent in this crime, and in fact, it was Richard himself who gave the order for the murder of the Duke. Mowbray however does not snitch on his King, and remains loyal to Richard, despite Richard’s dastardly secrets and crimes. Mowbray is far from rewarded for his loyalty, and is banished for life, while Bolingbroke is banished for five years. At this point, Mowbray predicts that Bolingbroke will return to England and prove trouble for the King, saying to Bolingbroke; “But what thou art, God, thou, and I do know, And all too soon I fear the King shall rue” (1.3.197). This cryptic prophecy correctly foretells of Richard’s fall from grace, as a result of his rash and immoral decisions concerning blood and land, two of the most prevalent aspects of Richard II.

Richard made some crucial mistakes during his time as King of England, his biggest perhaps being failing to realize the attack being made against his rule, as a result of the criminal decisions he made in regards to solving a dispute that he was originally responsible for. You reap what you sew, and Richard was met with fatal consequences after committing heinous acts which he thought were justified due to his status as the one and only heir to the throne. Richard’s confidence in his own rule would definitely have to be his tragic flaw, and the reason for his eventual demise.


4 thoughts on “Richard II; Possessor of the Divine Right to Rule, or Maniacal Tyrant?

  1. paragwagle

    Richard II was very interesting to me. My initial feelings was him easily being the most hated antagonist of the play. Upon further reading, I began to feel sympathetic for him in a way. He started off strong, arrogant, full of authority and power. As the play progressed, you saw a man of power slowly begin to crumble. It’s almost as if he started realizing his mistakes of being king, though he had to bow down to Bolingbroke regardless of the matter. He went from king, then stripped of his power, and eventually being murdered. This drastic turn of events oddly made me sympathize for Richard II.

  2. Amanda M.

    I enjoyed your post 🙂 I liked that point you make about how Richard does not take immediate action when he hears that Bolingbroke invaded England. How different could the results have been? It seems that Richard truly believed that god would not allow anyone to take the crown from him.

  3. gagnonr1

    Yes, Richard made mistakes in his quest for ultimate power in England, but I think we forget that these famous kings are also human – and Shakespeare does a good job in finding the humanity in Richard II. However, Richard had no army to defend against Bolingbroke so your point isn’t really valid as his army was gone simply because Richard landed in England from Ireland a day later than would’ve been ideal. Had he landed just a day sooner, Richard likely would’ve retaliated with his army, but by landing a day later any attempt for fighting off Bolingbroke would’ve been futile. Also, Bolingbroke was banished for six years, not five, which was originally ten years but four were taken off due to John of Gaunt’s distress over the banishment terms. Though, I do like your point of how Mawbray was loyal to Richard II even after his banishment while Bolingbroke was clearly displeased with it and a mere little time later was returning back to England to take the throne from Richard. Bolingbroke clearly had some profound motivations.

  4. mcoh31g

    Great post, I agree with “paragwaggle” in the sense that my views of Richard began with animosity and ended with sympathy. Especially after watching the clip in class where he officially gives up his thrown; it’s as if he is throwing away his identity. He did some very questionable things at the end of the play, but it seems like he begins to regret some of his rather unintelligent acts as a king by the end of the play.


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