Richard II was the grandson of King Edward III of England and came to the throne in 1377 because Edward's son had died before Edward had. A council served as regent for Richard while he was still a minor. At the age of 14 in 1381, Richard showed great courage by going out in person to speak to a large group of rebelling peasants led by Wat Tyler, and he was actually able to calm the rebels down.

Richard was married at 15 to Anne of Bohemia, but she died of bubonic plague in 1394, without having given birth to an heir. Richard's official heir was one of his cousins, Roger Mortimer, but all three of Richard's uncles, including John of Gaunt, felt they had a better claim and worked to consolidate their own power. Richard married again, but to Princess Isabelle of France who was only seven, so there could be no heir for a while even though peace with France was made secure by the marriage.

Around 1396, Richard tried to get rid of Parliament and start an autocracy, according to some sources. Others (such as the historians contributing to Terry Jones' Who Murdered Chaucer?) describe it more as some powerful members of the aristocracy feeling that Richard was not the kind of king they wanted. In September 1399, Richard was deposed in favor of his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV), John of Gaunt's son and Edward III's grandson. Henry had been exiled from England after a dispute with another noble, and was supposedly returning to England just to claim his inheritance now that his father had died (despite the fact that to return without Richard's summons was considered treason).

Richard was imprisoned and depending on who you believe, lost the will to live and starved himself to death, or was starved by his captors; he died about 14 February 1400. (His child bride was also imprisoned at first, but allowed to go back to France two years later after Henry had taken her jewels.)