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Richard I (Richard the Lion-Heart)

Richard I (Richard the Lion-Heart)

King of england


Absentee Monarch. Richard I (Richard the Lion-Heart) was the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He inherited the English throne from his father in 1189; from that date until his death in 1199, he spent only five months in his island kingdom. The rest of the time, Richard I spent either administering his French territories (Aquitaine, Poitou, Normandy, and Anjou) or fighting the Muslims in the Holy Land. Despite Richard I’s reputed brave leadership, from which he acquired the sobriquet Lion-Heart, both of these endeavors turned out less than successful, in part because of his impetuous nature and cruelty.

Third Crusade. In 1187 Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria, took the city of Jerusalem, which caused the papacy to call for the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Richard I quickly diminished his royal coffers by purchasing arms and ships and assembling a large army to defeat the Islamic menace. His forces participated in the siege of Acre (which fell in July 1191) and won a brilliant victory over Saladin at Arsuf on 7 September 1191. However, the recapture of the holy city of Jerusalem eluded him. The French, German, and English contingents of the Crusaders’ army distrusted each other. The hot-tempered Richard I argued with Philip II Augustus of France and on one occasion he insulted Leopold V, duke of Austria, by tearing down his royal banner.

Imprisonment. In September 1192 Richard I signed a three-year truce with Saladin and sailed for home via the Adriatic Sea in order to avoid traveling through France. Driven ashore by a storm, he landed in Venice and quickly donned a disguise in order to avoid discovery by Duke Leopold. Unfortunately, his identity was soon revealed and the duke imprisoned him in a castle at Durnstein on the Danube River. Leopold eventually turned his English prisoner over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI who demanded a hefty ransom from Richard I: 150,000 marks.

Return Home. By early 1194 most of the ransom had been paid and Richard I returned to England. After being crowned for a second time, he departed for Normandy to wage war on the French king. He rashly attacked the Vicomte of Limoges’s castle after hearing rumors of local peasants discovering gold and hoarding it there. A bolt fired from an enemy crossbow wounded the English monarch, who died shortly thereafter of an infection.


James A. Brundage, Richard, Lion Heart (New York: Scribners, 1974).

John Gillingham, Richard the Lionheart (London: Weidenfeld & Nicol-son, 1978).

Geoffrey Regan, Lionhearts: Saladin, Richard I, and the Era of the Third Crusade (New York: Walker, 1998).

James Reston, Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade (New York: Doubleday, 2001).

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