Title: A KING UNDER SIEGE
Author: Mercedes Rochelle
Genre: Historical Fiction
Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants' Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard's inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.
Ten thousand or more crowded the banks of the Thames near the king's manor of Rotherhithe, shrieking and howling like the demons of hell. The royal barge, hung with the Plantagenet lions, floated safely in the middle of the river, while King Richard gripped his sword, trying to emulate his royal forefathers. His elders would agree that the fourteen year-old monarch looked every bit the Plantagenet successor; he was tall for his age, with delicate features and red hair like his father. Richard was born to be king and now he must prove it—though at the moment he felt more like a lamb than a lion.
He waited for the frenzy to exhaust itself. "Why are you here and what do you want?" The young voice, clear and shrill, reached its listeners who broke out once again into a clamor, shaking their farm tools and rusty old blades.
"Come to the shore!" One voice carried over the din. "Speak with us in person!"
Standing under a large red canopy with his counsellors, Richard glanced upriver at the four smaller barges serving as his escort. The boats had hung back, not daring to come any closer. This was a sorry plight his advisors had led them into! Sighing, Richard turned to Archbishop Sudbury; he could see the terror in the prelate's face. This wasn't helping.
"I p-promised I would speak with them," the king said uncertainly. "I must at least try."
Bristling under two great banners with St. George's cross and forty pennons, the mob continued its uproar while the king turned to his other advisors. Sir Robert Hales, England's treasurer, stepped up beside the archbishop. "We can't expect any mercy from them. They are out for blood." Richard frowned, dissatisfied. Hales might be Lord Grand Prior of the Knights Hospitaller, but today his courage seemed to have fled. The man's eyes were almost bulging from his head.
Richard then turned to the Earl of Salisbury, the most experienced soldier on the barge. "And what is your advice?" he asked, trying to keep a brave face.
"You cannot go ashore. They might restrain you—hold you hostage, or worse. This is an undisciplined rabble."
This was the best counsel they could give him? He had to do something, though his advisors would probably criticize him for making the wrong choice—with the utmost courtesy, of course, and polite language. Taking a deep breath, Richard turned back to the crowd. He hoped he could control his stutter. "What is it you want from me?" he shouted. "Tell me, now that I have come this far."
He stood, arms crossed, while the men closest to the river conferred with each other. Finally, coming to a decision, the apparent leader got into a boat with a couple of rowers. They brought their craft as close as they dared. "Here is what we want," the man called. "We demand the heads of John of Gaunt, Archbishop Sudbury, Treasurer Hales, Chief Justice Robert Belknap, Robert Plesington Baron of the Exchequer, John Legge and Thomas Brampton."
"Why, you seek to deprive me of my chief ministers," Richard cried. Behind him, he could hear Sudbury calling down God's curses on their heads.
"We seek to save you from corrupt officials," the rebel shouted back.
"By killing them all? How would that help me?"
"They are destroying the country with their dishonest administration."
"This is too dangerous," Salisbury spoke in Richard's ear. "We must leave."
Nodding in agreement, the king tried one last time. "If you wish to continue negotiations," he called, less sure of himself, "you may do so at Windsor on Monday next." While he was speaking, the barge was already turning around. Stunned at losing their advantage, the crowd howled in anger and the rebel boat fell back in confusion. But Richard no longer cared. He was headed for the safety of the Tower, though for the first few minutes they were at the mercy of any archer who might choose to draw his bow. Fortunately, nothing happened aside from the shouts of "Treason! Treason!" that diminished as they gained speed.
The king stared at the receding mob, biting his lip, until they were out of range. He had never felt so alone. This debacle was not of his making, yet everyone was looking to him for a solution. It just wasn't fair. Even though he had been king for four years, he was in leading reins just as assuredly as any young horse. He sat in council meetings—even presided at Parliament—but his opinions were politely dismissed. They said he was too young, too inexperienced to make decisions. He was expected to watch and learn while his chief ministers made a mess of things. Well, they certainly taught him what not to do! And now, with half the country in an uproar, all they could do was dither. No one had taken the rising seriously enough to gather a force to confront the rebels, and now that the angry multitude was at the gates of London, no one had a suggestion what to do about it. Obviously, this attempt had failed disastrously. But at least he had tried.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
I think it's best said by a BookBub reviewer:
" Historical fiction can be dry, but this book never felt that way. It read like a fictional narrative, when, in fact, it is a seamless account of fact and fiction that creates a clear and engaging portrait of a young King Richard II."
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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