Richard FitzAlan, 4th Earl of Arundel, 9th Earl of Surrey

Born: c. 1346

Died: September 21, 1397

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 51)

Earl of Arundel

The Fitzalan family had long been powerful and wealthy members of the English nobility, and Robert would most certainly benefit from his family connections. Upon his father's death in early 1376, Robert inherited the earldoms of Arundel and Surrey, as well as all of the vast Fitzalan wealth and estates, despite a short battle with his half-brother over the inheritance. When Richard II was crowned in 1377, Arundel played a part in the coronation ceremony, acting as butler, and was a member of the minority council (since the new king was only ten at the time of his accession). Arundel was with the king during the peasant's revolt (1381) and served in the unsuccessful expeditions to France (1378) and Scotland (1385).

By the time of the latter expedition, Arundel was emerging as one of most outspoken critics of the king's government and his constant favoring of men such as Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford (and soon to be Duke of Ireland) and Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, while men such as himself were ignored and shown no royal favor. This, combined with Arundel's objections to the king's peace policies towards France prompted the earl to join forces with the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Gloucester, one of the king's uncles, to protest against Richard's shabby government. The problems were addressed in the Wonderful Parliament (1386), and it was promised something would be done to fix the issues at hand, but little changed (though the Earl of Suffolk was impeached as speaker). By late 1387, the royal party and the lords appellant, as Arundel, Warwick and Gloucester (as well as Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke) were referred to, were to engage in open battle.

The two sides met at Radcot Bridge, and the appellants won a decisive victory over the royal army. At the subsequent Merciless Parliament several months later, the lords put a number of the king's favorites on trial and had them exiled or executed (though de Vere and de la Pole had fled the country) and supposedly even deposed Richard II for two or three days. Humiliated, the king was forced to remain a mere figurehead while the appellants controlled the government. Fortunately, Richard was able to wrestle back power from the increasingly unpopular appellants the following year with the help of his eldest, and most powerful uncle, John of Gaunt (who was no friend of Arundel's), and the earl was stripped of is position of admiral of the English fleet, which he had held for several years. Whereas the other appellants reconciled themselves with the king, Arundel remained distant and continued to be a very vocal opponent against the regime, harshly criticizing the king and John of Gaunt on a number of occasions. When Richard's wife, Queen Anne, died in 1394, Arundel committed the ultimate act of disrespect by arriving late to the funeral and then asking the king's permission to leave early. This earned the earl a severe beating at the king's hand, a week in prison and a astronomically large bail payment. The situation only made relations between the two men worse.

By 1397, Richard II made the decision to take revenge on the three senior appellants, and Arundel, Warwick and Gloucester were all promptly arrested for treason. Rumors circulated that the appellants were plotting to depose the king (again), but there is no evidence to support this, and the only real theory for the appellants' arrest is that the king had simply been biding his time and waiting for the right moment to strike against his old enemies. When Arundel was brought in for trial, he defended himself admirably but too many men, including John of Gaunt and his son, the former appellant Henry Bolingbroke, wanted him out of the way. The earl was convicted, sentenced to death and beheaded in September 1397. Warwick was exiled and Gloucester died under mysterious circumstances in Calais, most likely murdered under Richard's orders. Arundel's son was disinherited and was not able to reclaim his inheritance until after Richard II's deposition in 1399. Unfortunately, the deposition came two years late for the elder earl; Arundel's brother, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was exiled to France.

Arundel in Woodstock

The Earl of Arundel plays a minor role in Thomas of Woodstock and is an ally of the royal uncles in opposition of the king and his royal favorites. A bit of confusion surrounds the character of Arundel considering the fact that, historically, he was also Earl of Surrey. Within the play, there is a completely separate character named the Earl of Surrey, prompting one to believe that the play's author made a mistake and possibly meant for the character to represent the Earl of Warwick, Arundel's close political ally against the king's party in history.


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