R ichard I, better known as Richard the Lionheart or Richard the Lion-Hearted, was one of the Middle Ages' most celebrated and romantic figures. He was immortalized in the tales of Robin Hood and in countless legends, and centuries later in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Yet when one studies his actual career and character, it is hard to understand why.
Richard deserves a place among England's worst kings, though perhaps he cannot be judged in those terms since he spent all but six months of his ten-year reign away from England. In fact he cared much for France, his homeland, and for his wars in faraway places, most notably the Third Crusade (1189–92). Despite the fact that he was a sometimes talented military leader—one of his few actual merits—the crusade was a disaster, and for Richard it ended with his being kidnapped by a noble he had insulted. He allowed the English people to pay his ransom, a sum that has been estimated as the equivalent of $100 billion in today's dollars.
Richard was the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (see entry), both of whom were French by birth, and throughout his lifetime he remained more emotionally attached to France than to England. Not only did he hold the title "duke of Aquitaine" (Aquitaine was a region in France), but his first language was French, and some historians maintain that he despised his adopted country, England—the country he hoped one day to rule.
Richard was one of four brothers, all of whom fought constantly with one another; thus when his younger brother John (see box in Eleanor of Aquitaine entry) later seized the throne in Richard's absence, he was only carrying on a family tradition. Richard's fortunes were helped by the death of his two older brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, and this left him with only one other significant male rival: his father.
In his early twenties, Richard allied himself with a contemporary, Philip II Augustus of France (ruled 1179–1223) against Henry. By the time he was thirty-two, in 1189, Richard had his father on the run, and chased him across France. Forcing his father to surrender, he demanded that the latter declare him his rightful heir, and when Henry died a few weeks later, Richard mourned little. (It should be noted that Henry was no saint: in 1170, he had ordered the murder of Thomas à Becket , Archbishop of Canterbury [see English Scholars, Thinkers, and Writers entry], and had treated Eleanor so badly that she became his sworn enemy.)
Setting off for the crusade
More than ninety years before, armies from Western Europe had subdued parts of the Holy Land in the Middle East, declaring that the birthplace of Christ had finally been placed under Christian rule. In fact Jesus, with his message of love and compassion, would hardly have recognized his alleged followers' "Christian" behavior, which included looting and murder. In the years since, European gains in the Holy Land had slowly melted in the face of a growing Muslim resistance, and in Richard's time the Saracens (as Europeans scornfully called Muslims) had an especially formidable leader in Saladin (see entry). The latter had scored a particularly humiliating victory against the crusaders in 1188, and this sparked the Third Crusade.
From the moment he heard about the crusade, Richard wanted to take part; but as with many another crusader, he was motivated more by worldly aims than by spiritual ones. Richard was a gifted if sometimes reckless warrior, and he longed for the glory of battle. Therefore he began setting his affairs in order, preparing to leave. He placed John in charge during his absence, and began raising money wherever he could find it. Richard's upkeep would prove costly for the English people, particularly the country's sole ethnic minority, the Jews. The latter were taxed heavily by Richard, and it was an ill omen for his reign that his coronation on September 3, 1189 sparked a wave of anti-Semitic riots that lasted for half a year.
Finally Richard was prepared to leave for the crusade, in which he would be joined by Philip and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (see Holy Roman Emperors entry). The latter drowned on his way to the Holy Land, however, and Duke Leopold of Austria—a man who was destined to figure heavily in Richard's future—took his place.
The journey to Acre
Philip arrived in Palestine ahead of Richard, who had taken a couple of detours on his way. Traveling by sea, he stopped in Sicily to visit the king there, an unwise move that angered Barbarossa's successor, Henry VI, a foe of Sicily; and he also managed to get married. His bride was Berengaria (bayr-un-GAR-ee-uh), daughter of the king of Navarre (nuh-VAHR) in Spain, and this too was an unwise political move. Richard had promised Philip that he would marry a French princess, and Philip rightly saw that intended marriage—kings in the Middle Ages usually married for power, not love—as a means of strengthening his power base.
Richard also took time to fight a war on the island of Cyprus, but finally he arrived in Palestine—just in time to catch a case of malaria that rendered him too sick for battle. Philip was in the middle of a siege, or a sustained assault, on the city of Acre (AHK-ruh), and Richard had to be carried to the siege on a litter, a decorated contraption resembling a stretcher.
By mid-1191, Richard had recovered from his illness sufficiently to lead the troops, and he was rightly given much of the credit when the city fell to the crusaders on July 12. But now it was Philip's turn to get sick, or at least that was what he claimed. He made a hasty retreat to France, where he spread rumors that Richard was living a life of ease in the Holy Land. Worse, he began plotting with John to help the latter take the English throne.
Richard and Saladin
Richard, meanwhile, created more troubles for himself when he insulted Leopold of Austria. In his view, the latter was a mere duke, and not qualified to place his standard, or royal flag, alongside that of a king; therefore Richard ordered that Leopold's standard be flung down into the mud. He would later regret his haughty action, but in the meantime he faced another formidable enemy: Saladin.
Many legends would later circulate concerning these two great leaders, though in fact they never actually met. They fought several battles, and at the city of Arsuf Richard scored a brilliant victory against Saladin's much larger force. He also displayed his ruthlessness in killing Muslim prisoners, reasoning that since they were "infidels" or ungodly people in his view, the same rules did not apply to them as to Christians.
Richard's war in Palestine was as much a matter of negotiation as it was of battle. His dealings were with Saladin's brother Saphadin (sah-fah-DEEN), to whom he took a liking. At one point he even suggested that his sister Joan marry Saphadin, a highly unorthodox move since she was a Christian and he a Muslim. But neither was willing to convert, so the idea was dropped.
A hasty retreat
Like many another crusader, Richard hoped to attack the holy city of Jerusalem, but as he prepared for his assault, he met with a number of problems. His most trusted lieutenant, Conrad of Montferrat (mawn-fay-RAHt), was killed by the Assassins, a fanatical sect of Islamic terrorists. Then an
epidemic spread among his men, who were not accustomed to the climate in Palestine; and finally, he learned about Philip and John's plot against him. He gave up his plans for the attack, and began preparing to return home.
The Third Crusade had ended in disaster, and Richard, who had managed to make even more enemies among his allies than among the Muslims, needed to make a hasty retreat. He paid a group of pirates from Romania to smuggle him out, but on the way they were shipwrecked on the Adriatic Sea, which lies between Italy and the Balkan Peninsula. In Vienna, Austria, he became aware that his old foe Duke Leopold was in pursuit, but by then it was too late: Leopold's soldiers had captured him.
Kidnap and ransom
Leopold turned Richard over to Henry VI, the emperor, who had him imprisoned. His kidnappers sent word to England demanding a ransom of 100,000 marks (the German currency) and 200 hostages. If the estimate of $100 billion is to be believed, this would be the equivalent of a foreign power kidnapping the U.S. president and demanding to receive more than half of all the income tax paid by corporations to the federal government, or more than a third of the total defense budget, in the late twentieth century—an almost inconceivable sum.
Richard, however, seems to have never been in doubt that his subjects would pay the ransom, which of course meant raising their already high taxes. "I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God," he told the emperor. Meanwhile John tried to seize the throne, but Eleanor prevented him; and Richard, who had made friends with the emperor, ensured that Henry would give no aid to John. Henry was so taken with Richard, in fact, that after receiving the first installment of the ransom money, he released him.
An expensive ruler
One reason for his early release was the fact that Henry knew Richard would make war on the French, enemies of the Holy Roman Empire—and this is in fact what Richard spent the six remaining years of his life doing. He built a huge network of castles across England and France, and when he had trouble raising a fighting force among the knights of England, he employed mercenaries (soldiers who will fight for whoever pays them) to help him.
All of these measures proved extraordinarily costly, and placed additional burdens on his people. Normally the English king received 30,000 pounds (the English unit of money) in a year—but Richard spent 49,000 pounds one year just on building castles. Richard placed ever-increasing demands for money on England, and these only stopped when he died from a battle wound that developed gangrene.
The legend and the reality
Handsome and dashing, Richard was in some ways ideally suited to become a figure of legend, as he did. But his character could not be more different from that of the noble, valiant knight that the legends made him. It was particularly ironic that he was linked with Robin Hood, the fictional robber who took from the rich and gave to the poor.
Actually, Robin Hood may not have been so fictional: a headstone on the grave of Robert, Earl of Huntington (died 1247), proclaims that he was the "real" Robin Hood. But this Robin Hood was as different from his legend as Richard was from his: Robert stole from both the rich and the poor, and gave to himself.
For More Information
Jessop, Joanne. Richard the Lionhearted. Illustrated by Martin Salisbury. New York: Bookwright Press, 1989.
Storr, Catherine. Richard the Lion-Hearted. Illustrated by Peter Gregory. Milwaukee, WI: Raintree Children's Books, 1987.
Suskind, Richard. The Crusader King: Richard the Lionhearted. Illustrated by William Sauts Bock. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1973.
Löwenherz, Richard. "Richard Lionheart." [Online] Available http://www.ping.at/kessler/index1.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"Richard the Lion Heart." [Online] Available http://intranet.ca/~magicworks/knights/richard.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
In the popular imagination today, Richard is a national English hero, the valorous warrior and glorious crusader who struggled against all the odds to come within an ace of recapturing Jerusalem from the equally legendary Saladin on the Third Crusade. On returning from crusade, he was shipwrecked and captured by Duke Leopold of Austria, who shamelessly sold him on to Emperor Henry VI. This allowed John, Richard's evil brother, to scheme with Philip II of France. But Richard so impressed his imperial captor by his courtesy, dignity, bearing, and self-possession that he was soon released—to turn the tables on his enemies at home. The massive bronze statue of Richard in Westminster Palace Yard captures superbly the Ricardian qualities admired for centuries. A powerfully muscular Richard, imposing and magnificent, sits on horseback, in full armour and wearing a crown, his sword triumphantly raised aloft.
Yet English Richard was not, nor even Anglo-Norman. Although born in Oxford, he briefly visited England just twice before his accession in 1189. As king, he spent a mere six months in England. He was born of French parents, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and only from Edith (Matilda), his great-grandmother, wife of King Henry I, did he derive any ‘English’ blood. Richard spoke no English; his vernacular tongue was the French of Poitou, in which he composed troubadour poetry. He willed his body for burial in Fontevraud abbey (Poitou), his heart for interment in Rouen cathedral (Normandy). He was French through and through.
Despite this, most modern historians have judged him from an Anglocentric viewpoint. He might have been a warrior second to none, they argue, but he was an utterly irresponsible king of England, who plundered English wealth in pursuit of his own glory in France and the Holy Land, and who recklessly endangered the security and stability of his island realm. In lighter vein, but just as telling, are the words of Sellar and Yeatman: ‘he went roaring about the Desert making ferocious attacks on the Saladins and the Paladins, and was thus a very romantic king. Whenever he returned to England he always set out again immediately for the Mediterranean and was therefore known as Richard Gare de Lyon.’
Since 1948 another legend has grown up. This was when J. H. Harvey, in his book The Plantagenets, sought to prove that Richard was homosexual. His claims have come to be widely accepted, and it is as a homosexual that Richard appears in many modern novels, films, and plays, and even in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Gillingham has effectively demolished Harvey's claims, but this one has taken deep root.
Modern scholarship is at last beginning to reveal another Richard, more balanced and credible. This has only become possible by considering him as not first and foremost an English king, but rather the lord of the French-based Angevin empire which he inherited as a whole in 1189; by allowing for the international pull of the crusade and the duty to participate therein, an imperative acknowledged by contemporary western princes; and by examining carefully Richard's political and diplomatic skills. His military reputation remains intact. Indeed, it has been enhanced. The inspired battlefield commander of tradition, and brilliant tactician—as evidenced, for example, by the march from Acre to Jaffa and the battle of Arsuf (1191)—is increasingly seen as a master of planning and logistics. His crusade, involving the raising, fitting out, and dispatch of a fleet from northern waters to the east Mediterranean, is a superb example of administrative efficiency. His campaigns in France on his return, to undo the damage wrought by his treacherous brother John in concert with Philip II, reveal not just military competence of the highest order, but also a very sure sense of strategy backed up by effective diplomacy. For Richard set about constructing an international coalition against Philip, designed to enable him to concentrate on the struggle in the crucial heartland of the Angevin empire.
It has also become apparent that had Richard not been shipwrecked and captured, he would have returned home to find the governmental structure of the Angevin empire intact as he had established it before departure for the crusade in 1190. Far from setting out on crusade without a care for the security of his various dominions, England included, Richard did what he could in the short time available to him. In brief, he was one of the ablest men to have sat on the throne of England.
S. D. Lloyd
Gillingham, J. B. , Richard the Lionheart (2nd edn. 1989);
—— Richard Coeur de Lion: Kingship, Chivalry and War in the Twelfth Century (1994).
Richard I (1157-1199), called the Lion-hearted, reigned as king of England from 1189 to 1199. He is famous for his exploits on the Third Crusade.
Born on Sept. 8, 1157, Richard I was the third son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. From an early age he was regarded as his mother's heir and from 1168 lived with her in her duchy, chiefly at Poitiers. He was enthroned as duke in 1172; in the next year he and his brothers allied with the king of France against their father in a wide-ranging conspiracy. They were defeated, but Henry left Richard in Aquitaine, where he made his reputation as a soldier suppressing local risings. The death of his elder brother (1183) made Richard heir to the throne. He resisted by force his father's proposed transfer of Aquitaine to his brother John, being determined to keep for himself all his father's French lands. In November 1188 he did homage for them to Philip II of France and campaigned with him against Henry II. Henry was defeated and had to grant all their demands before his death (July 6, 1189).
Richard succeeded his father without difficulty; he was installed as Duke of Normandy (July 20) and crowned king of England on September 3. His principal object was now to raise money for a crusade; everything was for sale, including offices and privileges, and Richard even released the king of Scots from vassalage for 10,000 marks.
Leaving England to a council of regency, Richard set out in 1190, traveling through Sicily. There he recognized Tancred as king, offending Emperor Henry VI, who was claiming the throne in the right of his wife. On his way east Richard seized Cyprus from its Greek ruler and there married Berengaria of Navarre. Richard twice defeated Saladin, at Arsuf (Sept. 7, 1191) and Jaffa (July 1192), and twice got within 12 miles of Jerusalem, but his military skill was offset by his quarrels with the other leaders. The crusade failed to reestablish the Latin kingdom, and Richard, deeply disappointed, left Palestine (September 1192) after concluding a truce that gave the Christians a narrow coastal strip and access as pilgrims to the holy places. On his way home he was captured and handed over to the Emperor, who demanded £100,000 as ransom and kept him a prisoner till February 1194, when a large part of the money was handed over.
The last years of Richard's life were spent in France, meeting the attacks of the King. Philip made no headway against Richard's superior generalship, but Richard's early death (April 6, 1199) in a minor foray opened the way for the conquest of Normandy and Anjou a few years later.
The standard biography of Richard I is Kate Norgate, Richard the Lion Heart (1924). A popular account is by Philip Henderson, Richard Coeur de Lion (1959). Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. 2 (1952), describes Richard's crusade. A contemporary account is translated by Merton Jerome Hubert, The Crusade of Richard Lion Heart, by Ambroise (1941). A short account of Richard's activities in France by F.M. Powicke is in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 6 (1929); and Austin L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta (1955), describes the government of England. □