Richard II’s second expedition to Ireland

In late 1397, with the Irish lords of both Ulster and Leinster once more at war, Richard was already planning to return. His second expedition, in June and July 1399, again brought a significant army to Ireland, albeit less than half the size of the force he brought with him on his previous visit. Richard II had left Ireland in a precarious state in 1395, and his diplomatic attempts at solving the problems there quickly unravelled.

  • His deal with Art MacMurrough Kavanagh was not honoured, and so the King of Leinster could not be relied upon to refrain from his usual activities. Again the Pale and the surrounding earldoms were the subjects of raids and attacks, again they lacked the strength to adequately defend themselves and their holdings
    • The Earldoms and the Irish clans quickly ‘re-started’ their endless war
      • On the borders of The Pale of Dublin, especially in Wicklow and Carlow, the English lords found themselves, once again, having to fight the native Irish septs for survival
      • Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh had grown no less powerful since he swore allegiance to Richard, while the Pale just seemed to get weaker. Left in the control of Roger Mortimer, who was only 24, the English position came under weak administration, much like the monarchy itself across the water

Roger Mortimer – former Lord of Ireland – was a marked man after Richard II left for England in 1395. It is said he would have been little safer back in England when he was killed at Kellistown, Co Carlow, on 20 July 1398, the political situation in Ireland was suddenly, and as it turned out, completely transformed.

  • At the Battle of Kellistown, Roger Mortimer rashly led out a force of Anglo-Normans to face the O’Byrne and O’Toole clans
    • He is recorded as leading from the front and dying in foolish circumstances
    • It is also said that he engaged in the combat dressed in the Irish style – without body armour !
  • A “great number” of English also fell in this battle, yet another military disaster, but the death of Mortimer was the critical point. Aside from throwing the administration of the Pale into crisis – Roger’s heir Edmund was only a child – Roger had also been the heir presumptive to the English crown itself.
    • Now that honour passed to the seven year old Edmund along with all of the Mortimer’s estates in Ireland
    • Ironically both were direct descendants of Aoife Murchada, whose father King Diarmait Mac Murchada had let the English in back in 1169. Thus he was a distant relation of his nemesis Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh

Meanwhile, back in England on 27 July, and still apparently unaware of Mortimer’s death, Richard II issued letters dismissing him from the lieutenancy of Ireland. In his place Richard appointed his nephew—and the brother of the widowed countess of March and Ulster—Thomas Holand.

  • Thomas Holand was Richard II’s nephew, the son of his half-brother, Thomas, earl of Kent, who had died in 1397
  • Throughout the 1380s and 1390s Richard II had been very close to his elder half-brother Thomas, whom he had appointed constable of the Tower of London.
    • Although Holand had only recently inherited the earldom of Kent and a handsome, landed inheritance worth at least £2000 annually, his support for Richard II earned him the newly created dukedom of Surrey, and one of the finest spoils of the recent royal triumph—Warwick Castle and its wealthy estates
      • Before Holand could capitalise on any of the income from these estates, he was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by Richard II but he was not ‘personally’ endowed with great estates in Ireland
      • Instead, he was entrusted with the keeping, rent-free, of all the Mortimer estates, including the lordships of Ulster and Trim, for the duration of the minority of the infant earl of March and Ulster, who would not in fact attain his majority until 1413 – a huge income for Holand !
        • And, one unprecedented for a Lord Deputy of Ireland
A medieval depiction of an army sailing to Waterford city (from Jean Creton, Histoire rimée de Richard II)

A medieval depiction of an army sailing to Waterford city (from Jean Creton, Histoire rimée de Richard II)

  • Richard II landed at Waterford on 1 June 1399, and it has long been accepted that the purpose of the mission was to bring to heel those Irish princes who had broken their submissions of 1394–5.
    • Richard’s army was smaller than it had been in 1394 – probably due to a lack of volunteering nobles – but was still massive for the country he was essentially invading
      • He marched to Kilkenny first, there to await reinforcements from Edmund, Duke of Aumale, reinforcements that never arrived. Richard didn’t know it just yet, but events elsewhere were already overtaking him
        • Richard moved his army off without Aumale’s men
        • The aim was very clearly the destruction of MacMurrough’s armed force
        • MacMurrough saw the size and strength of Richard’s force and retreated, refusing open battle, resorting again to the tactics of raid, ambush and scorched earth. The terrain of mountains, forest and bog still did not suit large armies.
          • Though Richard had some partial success, forcing relatives of Art to surrender and swear him allegiance he could not do the same for the King of Leinster
          • After a time, supply started to become an issue for Richard’s army
          • Between Art’s moving of resources, burning of others and sweeps of the countryside by the English, little provisions remained. Hunger began to severely affect Richard’s army, just as it had five years previously.
          • Soon, they were starving, the armies size now being more of a drawback then an advantage
            • Richard was forced to march his army to Dublin before complete disaster occurred. It must have been an utter humiliation for the young King, to see his designs torn asunder in Ireland again
            • For Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh, his reputation was sealed – the man who had faced down the military might of England, not once, but twice.
            • The English were harried all the way to the safety of Dublin by the Irish raid, ambush and scorched earth tactics
  • However, some sources suggest that Richard II’s visit was intended to pave the way for the coronation of Thomas Holand as king of Ireland, in the Great Hall of Dublin Castle, on 13 October 1399
    • The indentures for the army of 1399 show that it numbered about 3,000 men at arms
    • Even more striking is the composition of the army’s leadership—three dukes (including Thomas Holand), three earls, and all five captains of the king’s bodyguard

To add to insult to injury, Richard II’s disastrous campaign in Leinster was effectively terminated by news of Bolingbroke’s return to England in arms against Richard. The peace policy that Richard pursued during his latter reign led him to believe that the French monarchy would have little interest in supporting a pretender, so it was not worried by this. He should have been. When Henry Bolingbroke landed in England, he found a country that had been largely emptied of Richard’s strongest supporters – they were mostly in Ireland !

  • The bulk of the expeditionary forces withdrew in haste and disorder from Ireland, leaving behind a vulnerable lordship and, for both Gaelic Ireland and the Anglo-Irish community, a message of royal impotence
    • Richard’s Irish aspirations ended in failure, both for himself and for the English interest in Ireland

In 1397, Richard took his revenge on the lords appellant, many of whom were executed or exiled. The next two years have been described by historians as Richard’s “tyranny”. In 1399, after John of Gaunt died, the king disinherited Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who had previously been exiled.

  • Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers
    • Claiming initially that his goal was only to reclaim his patrimony, it soon became clear that he intended to claim the throne for himself … and before too long, Henry had amassed a considerable following of nobles who were opposed to Richard’s recent ‘tyranny’
    • Meeting little resistance, Bolingbroke captured Richard II in Wales in the middle of August 1399
      • On 19 August, Richard II surrendered to Henry at Flint Castle, promising to abdicate if his life were spared
      • However, Henry was not next in the line to the throne; the heir presumptive was Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who descended from Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Antwerp
        • Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, was Edward’s third son
        • The problem was solved by emphasising Henry’s descent in a direct male line, whereas March’s descent was through his grandmother


Richard II renounces his throne (1399) - London-British Library-Harley Ms 1319, f. 53v from Jean Creton; Histoire du roy d'Angleterre

Richard II renounces his throne (1399) – London-British Library-Harley Ms 1319, f. 53v from Jean Creton; Histoire du roy d’Angleterre

  • Henry Bolingbroke then deposed Richard and had himself crowned as King Henry IV.
    • The exact course of Richard’s life after the deposition is unclear; he remained in the Tower until he was taken to Pontefract Castle shortly before the end of the year
      • Although King Henry might have been amenable to letting him live, this all changed when it was revealed that the earls of Huntingdon, Kent, Salisbury, Thomas Despenser (and possibly Rutland) – all now demoted from the ranks they had been given by Richard – were planning to murder the new king and restore Richard in the Epiphany Rising
      • Although averted, the plot highlighted the danger of allowing Richard to live. He is thought to have starved to death in captivity on or around 14th February 1400, although there is some question over the date and manner of his death
    • Once Henry of Bolingbroke declared himself king, the so-called ‘Wars of the Roses’ had begun

Henry’s second son, Thomas, would soon become the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

  • Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh’s position remained as strong as it had been, stronger even, because now he could claim to be the man who defeated the King of England

One other interesting aspect of the whole affair was that of the young cousin that accompanied Richard II on his 2nd invasion of Ireland

  • That Henry was the namesake of his father, a teenager that Richard II had knighted in Ireland while hunting for MacMurrough Kavanagh, would one day be Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, one of the most praised military leaders of his day … and he first saw war in Ireland
    • While surveying the might of the French army that his, by comparison, meagre English force faced in 1415, it is a humbling thought to think that he might have remembered the Irish Chief who bested a King despite numerical inferiority, through using better tactics and making better use of the terrain
Richard II knighting Henry of Monmouth in Ireland. Harl. MS. 1319, f. 5.

Richard II knighting Henry of Monmouth in Ireland. Harl. MS. 1319, f. 5.


2 thoughts on “Richard II’s second expedition to Ireland

    • History is full of “what if’s” such as what if Brian Boru wasn’t killed at Clontarf? and what if Michael Collins wasn’t killed at Beal na mBlath? This is just another example of how the difference between life and death on the battlefield can affect future history. The English have these ‘little moments’ too, e.g. what if Harald survived the Battle of Hastings, or what if Winston Churchill didn’t survive the Boer War?


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