King Richard II

The king of England when the play begins, Richard is a young man who has not matured much since his adolescence. Stately and poetic, he enjoys the trappings of kingship and has an flair for poetic language. However, he is disconnected from his land and its people. He is overthrown by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and eventually assassinated in the remote castle of Pomfret.

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Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford

Bolingbroke is King Richard’s cousin and the son of Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt. He is less poetic but far more pragmatic and capable than his cousin. He returns from his banishment abroad, sways the loyalties of both the English nobility and the common people to his side, and stages a revolution against Richard II. He is eventually crowned King Henry IV. In some texts, thanks to the vagaries of Renaissance spelling, Bolingbroke is called “Bullingbrook,” and Hereford is “Herford.” He is also occasionally referred to by his nickname, “Harry.”

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John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

Called either “Gaunt” or “Lancaster.” An important nobleman, John of Gaunt is Richard’s uncle and the father of Richard’s banished cousin Bolingbroke, who eventually usurps the throne. Gaunt is very old when this play begins, and he dies in act 2, scene 1, after his son’s banishment—but not before delivering a withering curse against Richard.

Edmund of Langley, Duke of York

Called “York.” Richard’s uncle, and a brother of John of Gaunt and of the late Thomas of Gloucester. He is made Lord Governor of England by King Richard while he is away at war, but Bolingbroke eventually convinces him to defect and join his rebel army. A traditionalist who is loyally devoted to the crown, he is deeply upset by any kind of treason against the crown.

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The Duke of Aumerle

Also called “Rutland” late in the play since he is the Earl of Rutland. He is the son of Edmund, Duke of York, and thus a cousin to both King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. He remains loyal to Richard throughout the war and, after Richard’s deposition, is involved in a failed scheme against the life of the newly crowned King Henry IV.

Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk

Mowbray, sometimes called “Norfolk,” is a nobleman whom Henry Bolingbroke accuses, early in the play, of treason against the state and of complicity in the earlier death of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester (the uncle of the current king). Mowbray is banished at the same time as Bolingbroke and dies in exile.

Bushy, Bagot, and Green

Richard’s friends and loyal backers in the court. Bushy and Green are trapped by Bolingbroke and executed in act 2, scene 2. Bagot, also captured, turns into an informer in act 4, scene 1, and apparently survives the play. (These three names are sometimes mentioned alongside that of the mysterious Earl of Wiltshire, a character whom Shakespeare apparently meant to be another of Richard’s friends but neglected to write into any actual scenes.)

Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; Lord Ross; and Lord Willoughby

Noblemen who join Bolingbroke’s rebel army early to fight against King Richard. Northumberland (occasionally called “Percy”) is the father of young Harry Percy (also called “Percy”).

Duchess of York

The wife of the Duke of York and mother of the Duke of Aumerle. She goes before King Henry to plead for her son’s life.

Duchess of Gloucester

The aged widow of the late Thomas of Gloucester, and the sister-in-law of John of Gaunt and the Duke of York. She resides in a house at Plashy. We learn of her death in act 2, scene 2.

Queen Isabel

King Richard’s wife. She was born into the French royal family and flees to France when Richard is deposed.

Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester

Called “Worcester.” He does not appear in the play, but he is a powerful figure to whom other characters frequently refer. The Lord Steward of the king’s household, he is also the brother of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and thus the uncle of young Harry Percy. When Northumberland is declared a traitor for having joined Bolingbroke’s army, Worcester also resigns his stewardship and defects to Bolingbroke, taking the servants of the king’s house with him.

Lord Berkeley

The ruler of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where York’s army meets Bolingbroke’s army in act 2, scene 3. He is loyal to King Richard.

Lord Salisbury

A lord loyal to King Richard. After trying unsuccessfully to manage Richard’s troops in Wales, he joins Richard in Wales, after Richard returns from Ireland. He is later beheaded for his part in the conspiracy against the life of the newly crowned King Henry IV.

Bishop of Carlisle

A clergyman loyal to Richard. He speaks out against Bolingbroke’s usurpation of the throne in act 4, scene 1, for which he is arrested. He is later indicted in the conspiracy against King Henry’s life, but the king pardons him and sends him away from the court.

Sir Stephen Scroop

A nobleman loyal to Richard. He brings Richard the bad news of Bolingbroke’s invasion when Richard returns from Ireland.

Abbot of Westminster

A clergyman loyal to Richard. He is beheaded for his participation in the conspiracy against King Henry’s life.

Sir Pierce Exton

A nobleman who assassinates the former King Richard in Pomfret Castle in act 5, scene 5, believing he is acting under King Henry’s orders.

Lord Fitzwater

A minor lord who throws down a gage during act 4, scene 1. He also throws his weight around in act 5, scene 6.