Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Richard I

Richard I, known to posterity as "Coeur de Lion" or "Lionheart", was King of England for ten years at the end of the 12th century.

He has been thought of by most people over the centuries as a national hero, as the archetypal "Good King Richard" who greatly loved his country and was much loved by his subjects.

The truth is very different. Apart from his undoubted physical bravery, it would be difficult to find much about Richard that could possibly be termed admirable.

He was King for ten years, during which time he spent a whole six months actually in England. For the last five years of his reign he was entirely absent.

He could speak no English.

Richard was born at the long vanished Beaumont Palace at Oxford in 1157. He was the third son of Henry II. The eldest, William, died as a small boy before Richard was born, but the next son, Henry, was expected to succeed to the throne of England.

Tradition in France insists that as a teenager Richard was unpopular and feared, being guilty of both rape and murder.

In 1172, Henry II created him Duke of Aquitaine, the inheritance of his mother, the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine. This failed to lead to any love, respect or loyalty towards his father.

Richard joined his brothers Henry, who had by this time been crowned as Henry the Young King, and Geoffrey in the rebellion against their father, encouraged by Eleanor. This was the rebellion that led, after the King's victory, to the vindictive destruction of Leicester in 1173.

His love of warfare led him to a number of successful battles against rebellious barons in Aquitaine, and his military skill culminated in the successful siege of Taillebourg, previously thought impregnable, in 1179.

It was at this time that Richard's homosexuality became evident. Although there were undoubtedly women in his life, he clearly preferred men, and a good number were attracted to him.

Henry the Young King died in 1183, leaving Richard as heir to the throne. Henry II believed that Richard would hand on Aquitaine to his younger brother John, but he had no intention of doing so.

Further warfare involved Henry II fighting against a coalition led by Richard and Phillippe II of France, one of his intimate friends. They were joined by John, the old King's favourite.

It was this last circumstance that finally broke him, and after defeat in battle in 1189, Henry II died with curses against his sons on his lips.

Richard returned to England, pausing in Normandy to be acknowledged Duke. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey without delay.

Violent anti-Semitism broke out in London, York, Lincoln and Norwich at this point, but Richard was little interested. The Muslim Saladin had recently captured Jerusalem and there were calls across Europe to free the Holy Land for Christendom.

As might have been expected, the resulting Crusade attracted the holy and the bloodthirsty.

Richard stayed in England only long enough to raise money. The large number of town and market charters granted at this point were an important part of this policy, as was the creation of the port at Portsmouth, and the selling back of rights in Scotland to William the Lion.

Richard declared that he would be prepared to sell London if he could get a good enough price, but nobody came up with a sufficient offer.

Much of the taxation levied by "Bad Prince John" at this point was on behalf of his brother, "Good King Richard".

On the way to the Holy Land, Richard and Phillippe of France became involved in a skirmish in Sicily against the island's King Tancred, involving the treatment of Richard's sister Joanna, widow of the previous King. This resulted in Tancred, as a settlement, giving more money for the Crusades, while Richard did penance for unspecified vice.

Richard and Phillipe quarrelled over the French King's sister Alice, to whom Richard was betrothed. He had been less than pleased when Alice had borne his father, Henry II, four children, and declined to marry her. When Eleanor turned up with a new bride for her son, Berengaria of Navarre, Phillippe went off in a huff.

When Richard followed, in 1191, he got into a fight in Cyprus, which he conquered and sold to Guy de Lusignan, former King of Jerusalem.

While in Cyprus, Richard married Berengaria. He seems to have been only marginally interested in her, but recognised that it would look better if he had a Queen. Besides, he could thus get closer to her handsome brother Sancho.

On arrival in the Holy Land, Richard's forces helped end the two-year Siege of Acre, where the besiegers had themselves been besieged by Saladin.

Richard fell out with Duke Leopold of Austria, and insulted him, with the result that Leopold and Richard's erstwhile friend Phillipe went home.

Killing the three thousand prisoners whom he had taken at Acre, Richard marched to Jaffa, winning a victory at Arsuf along the way. But he was unable to get as far as Jerusalem, and was obliged to conclude a three-year truce with Saladin.

Returning to Europe, having achieved little but done a lot of killing, Richard was shipwrecked in the Adriatic and had to travel overland, unfortunately entering Austria, where Leopold, whom he had insulted, handed him over to the Emperor Henry VI, who demanded an enormous ransom.

More money of course then had to be raised from England, and in the meantime his minstrel Blondel travelled from castle to castle singing Richard's favourite song, until he got a response from the imprisoned King. It is a nice story, and probably essentially true.

Richard arrived back in England in 1194, forgave his brother John for the revolt which he had attempted while he was away, was crowned again at Winchester Cathedral, and went over to France, where he spent the rest of his life.

From time to time, he made peace with Phillippe, before fighting broke out again. He died aged 41 after a skirmish at Chalus in 1199, when an arrow wound became infected.

He was buried at Fontevrault Abbey, and was succeeded by his brother John.

Richard was quite possibly the worst King that England ever had the misfortune to be "ruled" by. He was arrogant, vicious, bloodthirsty, petulant, selfish and severely lacking in moral values. His only interest in England, where he spent a fragment of his reign, was as a means of making money. He was, though, physically brave.

The legend is enhanced today by there being a heroic equestrian statue of him outside the Houses of Parliament.

The stories of Robin Hood are usually set in Richard's time, and involve a belief that everything will be all right when Good King Richard returns. If Robin has any basis in truth, he probably lived later, during the reign of Edward II.

Richard, unsurprisingly, had no children by his wife Berengaria. However, he had a son named Fulk by Joan de St. Pol, and another son, Philip, Lord of Cognac, by an unknown mother.

As is often remarked, Berengaria never visited England while she was Queen, but did do so a number of times after Richard's death, although she was as fluent in English as her husband. She died as a nun at Le Mans at an unrecorded date, but at least thirty years after being widowed.