Fey, vain and foolish, young Richard initiates his downfall by banishing Henry Bolingbroke and the Earl of Mowbray as a resolution to their feud and then confiscating the lands of his uncle, Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt,on John's death, to pay for a war in Ireland which he loses. This angers many courtiers including the Duke of York, who welcomes Bolingbroke back to England, where he executes Richard's flatterers. The king himself is soon taken prisoner and murdered in his cell. Bolingbroke, now proclaiming himself Henry IV, vows a pilgrimage to atone for his part in the regicide.
The incompetent Richard II is deposed by Henry Bolingbroke and undergoes a crisis of identity once he is no longer king.
- Richard II on his throne. He greets John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who has brought his son Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, to accuse Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, of treason. The two are willing to fight, but Richard implores them to make peace. When they refuse, the king sets a date for a duel between the two at Coventry.
The two prepare for their battle. At Coventry, Bolingbroke asks for a final kiss from Richard, which is granted, and Bolingbroke and Mowbray mount their horses. They reject lances, and begin their attack armed with a mace and a sword. Before they meet, the king throws down his warder and stops the battle. He orders them back to his pavilion, where he sets a sentence of banishment for the two: ten years for Bolingbroke, but life for Mowbray. They swear to forego meeting again, and also to forego rebellion against Richard. Richard then cuts four years from Bolingbroke's sentence out of respect for his father.
Later, Richard asks of his cousin, the Duke of Aumerle and son and heir of the Duke of York, how Bolingbroke left the land, and comments that he, as well as courtiers Bushy, Bagot, and Green, had seen Bolingbroke courting the common people as though he were king. Richard then makes plans to leave for Ireland to put down rebellions there, and ruminates on the problems of paying for soldiers. A messenger comes to tell him that John of Gaunt is grievously ill. Richard thinks of this as good news, as he would like to take John's assets in service of the war. The court goes to visit John.
At Ely House, the home of John of Gaunt, John wishes for the king to come. The Duke of York comments that the king takes advice from no one, but John hopes he may listen to a dying man. The king arrives, and Gaunt rebukes him for leasing out the lands of England for money. Richard angrily draws his sword and a fight almost ensues, but he leaves. Northumberland runs after him to tell him that John of Gaunt has passed away, and Richard makes plans to seize his assets. York protests, saying that they should pass to Bolingbroke, and warns Richard that seizing the assets may foment rebellion. Richard ignores the advice, but makes York Governor of England in his absence, hoping to secure York's loyalty. Northumberland, Ross, and Willoughby discuss the king's shortcomings, and Northumberland reveals that Bolingbroke is returning to England to attempt a coup.
As the queen sits for a painting, Bushy and Green reveal that Bolingbroke has arrived back in England. York is at a loss of how to defend the crown. Bushy, Green, and Bagot debate what to do; Bushy and Green make for Bristol Castle for refuge, while Bagot makes for Wales to rouse the Welsh troops for the king.
In the woods, Bolingbroke and Northumberland discuss plans, when York arrives and rebukes them, hoping to turn them from their path of rebellion. Bolingbroke begs York's indifference, telling him that he looks upon him as a father, and that he claims the title Duke of Lancaster. York is unable to stop them, but tells them that he cannot support them and will remain neutral.
In Wales, the army has mustered at the call of the Earl of Salisbury, but after waiting ten days for Richard's appearance, they return home, assuming he is dead.
Bolingbroke returns to Ely House, finding it barren. His men capture Bushy and Green. Bolingbroke accuses them of misleading the king and has them beheaded.
Richard finally arrives in Wales. Aumerle warns him that Bolingbroke is strong, but Richard assumes that his majestic presence will quell the rebellion. Salisbury tells him that the Welsh army has dispersed. Sir Stephen Scroop arrives to tell him that the war is going poorly. Richard asks after Bushy and Green, and upon finding they are dead, despairs. Aumerle recommends inquiring of his father, the Duke of York, but Scroop tells Richard that York has also gone to Bolingbroke's side and all of the northern castles are lost. Richard makes plans to take refuge at Flint castle.
Later, Bolingbroke and Northumberland arrive at Flint Castle. Bolingbroke sends a message to Richard suggesting he will support Richard if his banishment is repealed. They meet, and Richard unwillingly agrees to Bolingbroke's terms. They plan to return to London.
In Langley, the Queen and her lady-in-waiting listen to gardeners gossiping. They suggest King Richard will be deposed, much to the Queen's horror. She also makes plans to go to London.
Later, in Westminster Hall, Bolingbroke, already Duke of Lancaster, is informed that Richard has abdicated and named Bolingbroke his successor - now King Henry IV. The bishop of Carlisle objects, and is arrested forthwith. Bolingbroke summons Richard who gives him the royal crown, although admitting his ambivalence. Henry asks him if he is sure that he wants to resign, and Richard affirms it. Northumberland gives Richard an accusation that he is required to read and accept, to show that he was deposed for cause. Richard asks for a looking-glass to see how his no-longer-royal face looks. He breaks the glass to indicate the ephemerality of kingship. Henry sends him to the Tower and orders plans made for his coronation.
At the Tower, the Queen waits for Richard. Aumerle confers with the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of Carlisle; they plan to recover the crown for Richard. Richard tells the Queen to fly to France. Northumberland meets Richard and tells him that Henry has decided to send him to Pomfret rather than the Tower. The Queen asks that Richard be sent to France or that she be allowed to go to Pomfret, a request which is denied.
At the palace of the Duke of York, York and the Duchess discuss the coronation and humiliation of Richard. Their son the former Duke of Aumerle - now demoted for his friendship to Richard - enters and York asks to see a letter he has. York is shocked to find the letter holds a plot to kill Henry at Oxford, and makes plans to immediately go to Henry and warn him, over the objections of the Duchess. She urges Aumerle to go to the King himself and ask forgiveness before York can reach him. York and Aumerle reach Henry at the same time, and Henry forgives the son for the sake of the father - over York's objections. The Duchess of York also arrives at the throne room to plead for Aumerle. Henry forgives Aumerle but plans to destroy the other traitors at Oxford.
Aumerle now is convinced Henry has ordered him to remove Richard as a threat. At Pomfret Castle, Richard muses upon his fate. A groom comes to see him and they discuss the royal horse, Barbary. Aumerle appears and kill Richard.
Back at Windsor Castle, Northumberland brings the heads of the traitors Oxford, Salisbury, Blunt, and Kent. Willoughby has taken the heads of Brocas and Sir Bennet Seely, and Percy brings the body of the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of Carlisle, still alive. Henry forgives him. Aumerle enters bearing the coffin of Richard. Henry is displeased, and, guilt-stricken, plans a penitent voyage to the Holy Land.