In Richard II, anger at a king’s arbitrary rule leads to his downfall—and sets in motion a decades-long struggle for the crown that continues in several more history plays.
Richard II begins as Richard’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, charges Thomas Mowbray with serious crimes, including the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, privately blames the king for Gloucester’s death. At Richard’s command, Bolingbroke and Mowbray prepare for a trial by combat. The king halts the fight at the last minute, banishing both men from England.
When John of Gaunt dies, Richard seizes his possessions to help finance a war in Ireland, thus dispossessing Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke returns to England, quickly gathering support. By the time Richard returns from Ireland, many of his former allies have joined Bolingbroke. Richard abdicates, yielding the crown to Bolingbroke.
Richard is held at Pomfret Castle and Bolingbroke becomes King Henry IV. A murder plot against him is uncovered and stopped. Richard is murdered by a follower of Henry.