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This play opens with King Richard II and his uncle John of Gaunt trying to convince Henry Bolingbroke (Gaunt's son) and Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk) settle a quarrel, wherein Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of murdering Richard's brother the Duke of Gloucester (Thomas of Woodstock). Although Mowbray didn't kill him, he could have prevented it or at least told the truth that Richard II had ordered it. Richard II cannot calm them, so he allows them to compete in a joust, then stops the joust while it is starting and sentences the two to banishment from England Mowbray forever and Bolingbroke for five years. Mowbray predicts while leaving that Bolingbroke will retaliate and defeat Richard II. In despair, Bolingbroke's father Gaunt dies, and Richard II seizes all of Gaunt's lands and money. The Earl of Northumberland (Henry Percy), his son Henry Percy (Hotspur), Lord Ross, and Lord Willoughby all criticize Richard II of wasting England's money, for taking Gaunt's money to fund a war with Ireland, of taxing the commoners, and of fining the nobles for crimes their ancestors committed. Bolingbroke secretly returns to England with their help to usurp Richard II and correct these problems. Gaunt's brother (Richard's last surviving uncle) Edmund of Langley (1st Duke of York) tells Bolingbroke that he is doing wrong to defy Richard's order of banishment.
Bolingbroke defeats and executes Sir John Bushy, Sir Henry Green, and the Earl of Wiltshire, all accused by Bolingbroke of being favorites to Richard II and of misleading him. Edmund's (York's) son the Duke of Aumerle helps Richard II defend the crown, gaining courage from the hope that Heaven will support the "right", since Richard II feels he is the rightful King of England. Unfortunately, Richard's 12,000 Welsh soldiers disperse when they hear a false rumor that he is dead. Furthermore, the commoners revolt and Edmund (York) joins Bolingbroke. Consequently, Richard II flees to Flint Castle with Aumerle, the Earl of Salisbury, Sir Stephen Scroop, and Bishop Carlisle. There Richard II meets Bolingbroke asks Richard to repeal his banishment in exchange for peace. Richard, regretfully, replies, then becomes deeply depressed feeling Bolingbroke will usurp the throne. Bolingbroke does, by practically forcing Richard II to hand over the crown to him, renaming Bolingbroke to King Henry IV. Bishop Carlisle echoes Richard's prediction that England will fall to disorder because of the usurpation, so Northumberland arrests him. Aumerle wishes Richard II were still king and Lord Fitzwater falsely accuses Aumerle of killing Gloucester.
Richard II is ordered by Henry IV (Bol.) to go to Northern England and Richard's wife (the Queen) is ordered to return to her native France. Edmund (York) tells his wife (Duchess of York) of Richard's tragic journey to the north where the commoners threw dust at him. Their son Aumerle (renamed Rutland by Henry IV for being a friend to Richard II) plots with others to poison Henry IV at Oxford. Edmund (York) informs Henry IV and Aumerle and his mom plea for Aumerle's pardon, which Henry IV reservedly grants. Sir Pierce of Exton murders Richard II (in prison at Pomfret Castle) thinking it is Henry IV's wish that Richard II is dead. Richard II manages to kill two of Exton's helpers before dying himself, however. Henry IV has the Earl of Salisbury, Lord Spencer (formerly the Earl of Gloucester), Sir Thomas Blunt, and the Earl of Kent executed for treason. Sir Leonard Brocas and Sir Bennet Seely are also executed for plotting with Aumerle to poison Henry IV. The Abbot of Westminster kills himself, to avoid capture by Henry IV, though Bishop Carlisle is captured, then released by Henry IV and ordered to hide away in some secret place. Finally, Exton shows Richard II's body to Henry IV, whereby Henry IV reveals that though he sort of wanted Richard II dead, it will now only slander him and may bring repercussions. Henry IV banishes Exton.
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