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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Richard I of England


Richard was born on September 8, 1157 at Beaumont Palace, Beaumont, Oxford.

His mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, his father King Henry II.

Richard was the third of five brothers in addition to three sisters. He was a younger brother of William, Count of Poitiers, Henry the Young King and Matilda of England. He was also an older brother of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, Leonora of Aquitaine, Joan Plantagenet and John of England.

He was the favourite son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and was bought up at his mother's court at Poitiers in Aquitaine, speaking French and Provencal. Richard spoke very little English during his lifetime.

Richard was highly educated and trained in knightly chivalry at his mother’s court. He'd displayed a rare political ability from an early age and from early on was writing verse.

Richard spent much of his earlier life with his brothers fighting his father, Henry II. He was dissatisfied with the lands his father had granted him.


A very poor ruler, Richard spent only six months of his ten year reign in England, claiming it was "cold and always raining." He left his kingdom to take care of itself whilst gallivanting abroad on Crusades and the like.

The phrase 'from time immemorial' has specific legal meaning in British law, and begins on July 6, 1189, the day Richard I ascended to the English throne. The statue of Westminster in 1275 fixed the beginning of the Lion's Heart's reign as the "extent of time memorial", that is to say the time limit for bringing certain types of action.

Richard I was officially invested as Duke of Normandy on July 20, 1189 and crowned king in Westminster Abbey on September 3, 1189.

Richard I being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey, 

At King Richard I's crowning in London all Jews were prohibited from attending the coronation feast. The people, already influenced by Crusade fever (the Jews were seen as the historical enemies of Christ), were in the mood to threaten, beat up and kill as many Jews as they could find. Many of them barricaded themselves in their homes, but mobs throughout the country sought the Jews out and set their houses on fire. Soon there was a full-scale riot and five hundred Jews were slaughtered after they took refuge in York Castle whilst other riots occurred over the length and breadth of England, including London which for a time was in danger of being left in ruins.

Richard was lionized back home despite his almost total neglect of his country's administration. His good looks and brave reputation made him into romantic hero.

Richard used England's coffers as a treasure chest for his hobby of fighting battles. He controversially claimed that to fund the Third Crusade he would sell London if he could find a suitable purchaser.

While returning overland from the Third Crusade, Richard was captured by the Duke of Austria and for a time no one knew where the English king was, until according to legend, he was located by the minstrel Blondel.

Richard was handed over to the emperor Henry VI,  and the English people had to pay a huge ransom to set him free.

After 1194, Richard spent the rest of his reign fighting in France including 1198 at the Battle of Gisons, where he was honored with the phrase "Dieu et Mon droit." ("God and my right.") This later became the royal motto of England.

Richard constructed the massive Chateau Gaillard at Les Andelys, Normandy, 50 miles north west of Paris. It was built into the rocks overlooking the Seine river in Normandy, France. When it was completed it was considered to be the greatest castle of its day. Its location is ideally suited for controlling access to the valley river.

Richard was the first English monarch to use the royal "we". He would speak on behalf of his subjects as well as himself.


In 1187 Richard became a Crusader, the first Prince in northern Europe to do so. Richard and Philip II of France, the son of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis VII with their Christian soldiers set off from Marseilles together. Richard stopped off in Cyprus and joined Philip later in Acre. He quarreled with his fellow crusaders including Philip who went off in a sulk back home.

The Near East in 1190 (Cyprus in purple)

At the 1191 siege of Acre during the Third Crusade, King Richard I was struck with fever. He was carried to the scene of the battle on a mattress. It was claimed that as he lay there he discharged his arrows killing many Turks.

When Richard went down with fever in the Holy Land, his arch rival, Saladin, sent him peaches, pears and snow from Mount Hermon.

As a symbol of unity between their two countries during the Third Crusade, Phillip II of France and Richard I of England slept in the same bed.

Richard and Philip of France, French manuscript of 1261

Richard managed to hold onto a few coastal towns, retook Acre with the help of a giant catapult and a grappling ladder and Jaffa and of course gained Cyprus. However, due to a dwindling, sick army he failed with the Crusade's main aim of retaking Jerusalem. So in 1192 Richard made a truce with his opponent, Saladin.

As a Crusader, Richard would have worn a conspicuous cross on his tunic. The English monarch and his fellow crusaders were the first “team” to wear sponsor’s logos on their chests.

Richard forbade gambling to all soldiers below the rank of knight during the crusade.

Though his sultan opponent Saladin always kept his word, Richard and his fellow Saracens habitually broke theirs. They were absolved by their priests on the grounds that an oath to an infidel was invalid.

Richard was not a popular man in the Holy Land for generations; his name was used as the bogey-man to frighten the Middle Eastern children.


King Richard was a magnificent physical specimen; Tall, long legs and arms, golden auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. His height is estimated to have been six feet four inches (1.93 m) tall.

Effigy of Richard I of England in the church of Fontevraud Abbey

Richard was intelligent, shrewd, kind, brave, romantic and not surprisingly with all those qualities, arrogant.

He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.

A highly cultured man, Richard spoke several languages and was able to compose poetry in French and Provençal,

A famous wit in his era, he was admired for his repartee.


In January 1169, Louis VII of France and Henry II of England signed a contract for the marriage between the French king's fourth daughter Alys and Richard. The 8-year-old Alys was then sent to England as Henry's ward.

Henry II appropriated Princess Alys as his mistress and there were widespread rumors that she had given birth to his son. Richard was discouraged from renouncing Alys because she was Phillip II of France's sister. However, in 1189, after coming to the throne, Richard upset the French king when he refused to honour his contract to marry Alys.

Richard first grew close to Berengaria of Navarre, first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre at a tournament held in her native Navarre. In 1190, Eleanor of Aquitaine met King Sancho in Pamplona and he hosted a banquet in the Royal Palace of Olite in her honor. The engagement could not be celebrated openly, for Richard was still betrothed at the time to Alys,

Richard terminated his betrothal to Alys in 1190 while at Messina in Sicily. This meant that he was finally able to marry Berengaria, who was sent by Eleanor of Aquitaine, to join him on the crusade route.

Berengaria arrived at Messina in Sicily during Lent (when the marriage could not take place) in 1191 and was joined by Richard's sister Joan, the widowed Queen of Sicily.

En route to the Holy Land, the ship carrying Berengaria and Joan became separated from the main fleet and ran aground off the coast of Cyprus. They were threatened by the island's ruler, Isaac Comnenus, but Richard came to their rescue, captured Cyprus, and overthrew Comnenus.

Richard married Berengaria of Navarre before leaving Cyprus for the Holy Land. The wedding was held in Limassol, Cyprus on May 12, 1191 at the Chapel of St. George and was attended by Richard's sister Joan.

Effigy of Berengaria at L'Épau Abbey, Le Mans By MOSSOT 

Richard's best man was an Armenian prince who became Leo II, the first King of Armenia.

There were no children from the marriage; opinions vary as to whether it was ever a love match. Richard appeared to have little interest in women. He was married to the sword.

Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, and did not set foot in England during his reign.

Berengaria eventually settled in Le Mans, one of her dower properties, after the death of King Richard. She was a benefactress of L'Épau Abbey in Le Mans, entered the conventual life, and was buried in the abbey, following her death on December 23, 1230.


Richard I was well known for his ballads. (Poems telling a tale with a mandolin or similar instrument backing, written in medieval French.)

Richard was captured shortly before Christmas 1192 near Vienna by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, who accused Richard of arranging the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat. Moreover, Richard had personally insulted Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls of Acre.  Duke Leopold kept him prisoner at Dürnstein Castle.

Ruins of Dürnstein Castle, where Richard was kept captive. By Arin

At first no one in England knew where their king was. Legend has it that a minstrel called Blondel searched for his master throughout Europe in vain. Returning home through Austria he learnt there was a closely guarded prisoner whose identity was a secret nearby. Suspecting it could be his master, he located a tiny barred window high up on the castle wall which he thought could be a cell. Under the window he sang the first couplet of a Troubadour's song which he had composed, a voice responded with the second couplet. It was the King.

The detention of a crusader was contrary to public law, and on these grounds Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold.

The track "Ja Nun Hons Pris" on Bryan Ferry's 2002 album Frantic was originally written by King Richard.


Richard was not the most saintly of kings. Until he was lying on his deathbed he went seven years without receiving Holy Communion.

Richard was killed whilst besieging the small castle of Chalus in France. The owner had refused to surrender some gold statues and crowns, which a peasant furloughing some fields had come across.

Richard, who had removed some of his chainmail, was wounded in the left shoulder by a crossbow bolt launched from a tower by Bertrand de Gourdon (called alternatively Pierre Basile by chroniclers) in the early evening of March 25, 1199.

At first the king tried to pull out the bolt himself. It broke off, leaving the iron head in the wound. The injury turned septic and Richard asked to see his killer, he ordered that de Gourdon be set free and awarded a sum of money. As the king lay dying he gasped "Youth, I forgive thee." Then to his attendants he gulped "take off his chains, give him 100 shillings and let him go." Richard survived eleven days before passing away on April 6, 1199 with his 77-year-old mother Eleanor at his side

As soon as Richard died, de Gourdon was flayed alive and then hanged.

Richard's heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy and his bowels were buried at the foot of the tower from which the shot was loosed. The rest of his remains were buried at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.

Tomb containing the heart of King Richard at Rouen Cathedral

Ironically it was Richard who had introduced the crossbow to France.

Sir Richard Baker in his A Chronicle of the kings of England wrote “The remorse for his undutifulness towards his father, was living with him till he died: for at his death he remembered it with bewailing, and desired to be buried as near him as might be. Perhaps as thinking they should meet the sooner, that he might ask him forgiveness in another world."


Richard I was played by Sean Connery with a Scottish lilt, in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Anthony Hopkins portrayed him with a Welsh lilt in The Lion in Winter (1968)

In the 1954 movie King Richard & the Crusaders George Sanders played the Lionheart.

He was portrayed in De Mille's failed epic, The Crusades by Henry Wilcoxin. Loretta Young played his wife, Berengaria, adorned in a ridiculous braided blonde hairstyle.

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