In the presence of King Richard, Henry Bullingbrook accuses Thomas Mowbray of embezzling crown funds and of plotting the death of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. They will not be reconciled and are about to fight, but Richard stops the combat before it can begin. Bullingbrook is exiled for ten years (later reduced to six); Mowbray is exiled for life. John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster, uncle to the king and father to Bullingbrook) dies after accusing Richard of improper government. Richard orders the seizure of Gaunt's property, thus denying Bullingbrook his inheritance. He then departs for Ireland, appointing his other uncle York to govern in his absence. Northumberland reveals that Bullingbrook has returned to England with an army. Bullingbrook persuades his uncle York that he has returned for his rightful inheritance, not to start a rebellion against the crown. Richard returns from Ireland to discover that his Welsh troops have deserted him, that York has allied himself with Bullingbrook, and that the common people are rising against him. Bullingbrook and his supporters meet with Richard. Bullingbrook promises to surrender his arms if his banishment is repealed and his inheritance restored. Richard agrees to his demands. Richard's cousin Aumerle is accused of murdering the Duke of Gloucester. Bullingbrook arrests everyone involved in the allegations. Richard agrees to abdicate. Bullingbrook announces his coronation. A plot is hatched to restore Richard to the throne. York discovers that his son Aumerle is involved in a plot to kill Bullingbrook. Aumerle confesses to Bullingbrook, and is pardoned. Richard is killed whilst imprisoned in Pomfret Castle. Bullingbrook receives news of his supporters' efforts to defeat his detractors. Exton presents Richard's body to Bullingbrook, only to be rewarded with banishment. Bullingbrook promises to undertake a pilgrimage to expiate his sins.
In history, one of de Vere's ancestors was a favourite of King Richard the Second and the recipient of many kingly favours. The rebellion was to some extent about the wealth that nobles like de Vere's ancestor were acquiring. In the rebellion, de Vere's ancestor escaped capture and ran away, later to die in Europe. Richard's infatuation continued, as he caused the corpse of de Vere's ancestor to be embalmed and returned to England. Ironically, de Vere makes no mention of his ancestor in the play.
The historical Shakespearean plays were the product of de Vere's arrangement with Queen Elizabeth in which she paid de Vere an annuity of £1,000 and in return de Vere writes propaganda plays for the masses to promote the virtues of and loyalty to the regime.