In 1397, he had Woodstock (referred to in the play as Gloucester) arrested and imprisoned at Calais, France, under the watchful eye of Mowbray. Bolingbroke and Mowbray now seemed ripe subjects for the kings crackdown.
Woodstock was later murdered in mysterious circumstances, probably at the behest of the vengeful king. Worried, Mowbray foolishly disclosed his fears to Bolingbroke, an ambitious man who took advantage of the situation by accusing Mowbray of killing Woodstock. Shakespeares play begins with a hearing on these accusations before King Richard.
Bolingbroke throws down his gauntlet, challenging Mowbray to a jousting duel, and Mowbray quickly takes it up.
Unable to persuade the adversaries to put aside their differences, Richard sanctions the duel: On the appointed day at Coventry, a crowd surrounds the fenced-in field to observe the joust.
When they appear, Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of being a traitor and a miscreant" (1. 42) for supposedly misusing government money and for plotting the death of the Duke of Gloucester, Thomas Woodstock. Bolingbroke wants to demonstrate that he is a loyal subject of the king even though he formally participated in schemes to limit the kings power.
Mowbray, in turn, calls Bolingbroke a slanderous coward and a villain" (1. 64) and declares that Bolingbroke most falsely doth he lie" (1. Mowbray, too, is eager to impress the king; hence, he vigorously denies charges that he betrayed the king.
When he was only ten, he acceded to the throne as the grandson of King Edward III and ruled under the protection and guidance of John of Gaunt (1340-1399), Duke of Lancaster.
In the first two decades of Richards reign, Gaunt spent much of his time fending off or pacifying other nobles seeking to control the young monarchand England.
They had been allies as part of a powerful faction of five nobles that gained control of Parliament in 1386 and attempted to manipulate the young king, then twenty-one.
Richard, now thirty-one, orders John of Gauntthe Duke of Lancaster and father of Bolingbroketo summon Mowbray and Bolingbroke to court for a hearing.