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Richard I of England

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Richard the Lionheart
King of England (more..)
Reign 6 July 1189 – 6 April 1199
Coronation 3 September 1189
Predecessor Henry II
Successor John
Regent Eleanor of Aquitaine; William Longchamp ( Third Crusade)
Consort Berengaria of Navarre
House House of Plantagenet
Father Henry II of England
Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine
Burial Fontevraud Abbey, France

Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany at various times during the same period. He was known as Cœur de Lion, or Richard the Lionheart, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior. The Saracens called him Melek-Ric or Malek al-Inkitar - King of England.

By age 16, Richard was commanding his own army, putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father, King Henry II. Richard was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, effectively leading the campaign after the departure of Philip Augustus and scoring considerable victories against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, but was unable to reconquer Jerusalem.

Although only speaking French and spending very little time in England (he lived in his Duchy of Aquitaine, in the southwest of France, preferring to use his kingdom as a source of revenue to support his armies), he was seen as a pious hero by his subjects. He remains one of the very few Kings of England remembered by his epithet, rather than regnal number, and is an enduring, iconic figure in England.

Early life and Duke of Aquitaine

Family and youth

Richard was born on 8 September 1157, probably at Beaumont Palace. He was a younger brother of William IX, Count of Poitiers; Henry the Young King; and Matilda, Duchess of Saxony. As the third legitimate son of King Henry II of England, he was not expected to ascend the throne. He was also an elder brother of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany; Leonora of England, Queen of Castile; Joan of England; and John, Count of Mortain, who succeeded him as king. Richard was the younger maternal half-brother of Marie de Champagne and Alix of France. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's oldest son, William IX, Count of Poitiers, died in 1156, before Richard's birth. Richard is often depicted as having been the favourite son of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. His father, Henry, was French and great-grandson of William the Conqueror. The closest English relation in Richard's family tree was Edith, wife of Henry I of England. Contemporary historian Ralph of Diceto traced his family's lineage through Edith to the Anglo-Saxon kings of England and Alfred the Great, and from there linked them to Noah and Woden. According to Angevin legend, there was even infernal blood in the family.

17th-century portrait of Richard I

While his father visited his lands from Scotland to France, Richard probably stayed in England. He was wet-nursed by a woman called Hodierna, and when he became king he gave her a generous pension. Little is known about Richard's education. Although born in Oxford, Richard could speak no English; he was an educated man who composed poetry and wrote in Limousin ( lenga d'òc) and also in French. He was said to be very attractive; his hair was between red and blond, and he was light-eyed with a pale complexion. He was apparently of above average height, according to Clifford Brewer he was 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m) but his remains have been lost since at least the French Revolution, and his exact height is unknown. From an early age he showed significant political and military ability, becoming noted for his chivalry and courage as he fought to control the rebellious nobles of his own territory. His elder brother Henry was crowned king of England during his father's lifetime, as Henry III. Historians have named this Henry "the Young King" so as not to confuse him with the later Henry III of England, who was his nephew.

The practice of marriage alliances was common among medieval royalty: it allowed families to stake claims of succession on each other's lands, and led to political alliances and peace treaties. In March 1159 it was arranged that Richard would marry one of the daughters of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona; however, these arrangements failed, and the marriage never took place. Richard's older brother Henry was married to Margaret, daughter of Louis VII of France and heiress to the French throne, on 2 November 1160. Despite this alliance between the Plantagenets and the Capetians, the dynasty on the French throne, the two houses were sometimes in conflict. In 1168, the intercession of Pope Alexander III was necessary to secure a truce between them. Henry II had conquered Brittany and taken control of Gisors and the Vexin, which had been part of Margaret’s dowry. Early in the 1160s there had been suggestions Richard should marry Alys (Alice), second daughter of Louis VII; because of the rivalry between the kings of England and France, Louis obstructed the marriage. A peace treaty was secured in January 1169 and Richard’s betrothal to Alys was confirmed. Henry II planned to divide his kingdom between his sons, of which there were three at the time; Henry would become King of England and have control of Anjou, Maine, and Normandy, while Richard would inherit Aquitaine from his mother and become Count of Poitiers, and Geoffrey would get Brittany through marriage alliance with Constance, the heiress to the region. At the ceremony where Richard's betrothal was confirmed, he paid homage to the King of France for Aquitaine, thus securing ties of vassalage between the two.

After he fell seriously ill in 1170, Henry II put in place his plan to divide his kingdom, although he would retain overall authority of his sons and their territories. In 1171, Richard left for Aquitaine with his mother and Henry II gave him the duchy of Aquitaine at the request of Eleanor. Richard and his mother embarked on a tour of Aquitaine in 1171 in an attempt to placate the locals. Together they laid the foundation stone of St Augustine's Monastery in Limoges. In June 1172 Richard was formally recognised as the Duke of Aquitaine when he was granted the lance and banner emblems of his office; the ceremony took place in Poitiers and was repeated in Limoges where he wore the ring of St Valerie, who was the personification of Aquitaine.

Revolt against Henry II

According to Ralph of Coggeshall, Henry the Young King was the instigator of rebellion against Henry II; he wanted to reign independently over at least part of the territory his father had promised him, and to break away from his dependence on Henry II, who controlled the purse strings. Jean Flori, a historian who specialises in the medieval period, believes that Eleanor manipulated her sons to revolt against their father. Henry the Young King abandoned his father and left for the French court, seeking protection from Louis VII; he was soon followed by his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, while the 5-year-old John remained with Henry II. Louis gave his support to the three sons and even knighted Richard, tying them together through vassalage. The rebellion was described by Jordan Fantosme, a contemporary poet, as a "war without love".

Geoffrey de Rancon's Château de Taillebourg, the castle Richard retreated to after Henry II's forces captured 60  knights and 400 archers who fought for Richard when Saintes was captured.

The three brothers made an oath at the French court that they would not make terms with Henry II without the consent of Louis VII and the French barons. With the support of Louis, Henry the Young King attracted the support of many barons through promises of land and money; one such baron was Philip, Count of Flanders, who was promised £1,000 and several castles. The brothers had supporters in England, ready to rise up; led by Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester, the rebellion in England from Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, Hugh de Kevelioc, 5th Earl of Chester, and William I of Scotland. The alliance was initially successful, and by July 1173 they were besieging Aumale, Neuf-Marché, and Verneuil and Hugh de Kevelioc had captured Dol in Brittany. Richard went to Poitou and raised the barons who were loyal to himself and his mother in rebellion against his father. Eleanor was captured, so Richard was left to lead his campaign against Henry II's supporters in Aquitaine on his own. He marched to take La Rochelle, but was rejected by the inhabitants; he withdrew to the city of Saintes which he established as a base of operations.

In the meantime, Henry II had raised a very expensive army of over 20,000 mercenaries with which to face the rebellion. He marched on Verneuil, and Louis retreated from his forces. The army proceeded to recapture Dol and subdued Brittany. At this point, Henry II made an offer of peace to his sons; on the advice of Louis the offer was refused. Henry II's forces took Saintes by surprise and captured much of its garrison, although Richard was able to escape with a small group of soldiers. He took refuge in Château de Taillebourg for the rest of the war. Henry the Young King and the Count of Flanders planned to land in England to assist the rebellion led by the Earl of Leicester. Anticipating this, Henry II returned to England with 500 soldiers and his prisoners (including Eleanor and his sons' wives and fiancées), but on his arrival found out that the rebellion had already collapsed. William I of Scotland and Hugh Bigod were captured on 13 July and 25 July respectively. Henry II returned to France where he raised the siege of Rouen, where Louis VII had been joined by Henry the Young King after he had abandoned his plan to invade England. Louis was defeated and a peace treaty was signed in September 1174, with the Treaty of Montlouis.

When Henry II and Louis VII made a truce on 8 September 1174, Richard was specifically excluded. Abandoned by Louis and wary of facing his father's army in battle, Richard went to Henry II's court at Poitiers on 23 September and begged for forgiveness, weeping and falling at the feet of Henry, who gave Richard the kiss of peace. Several days later, Richard's brothers joined him in seeking reconciliation with their father. The terms the three brothers accepted were less generous than those they had been offered earlier in the conflict (when Richard was offered four castles in Aquitaine and half of the income from the duchy) and Richard was given control of two castles in Pitou and half the income of Aquitaine; Henry the Young King was given two castles in Normandy; and Geoffrey was permitted half of Brittany. Eleanor would remain Henry II's prisoner until his death, partly as insurance for Richard's good behaviour.

Under Henry II's reign

After the conclusion of the war began the process of pacifying the provinces that had rebelled against Henry II. He travelled to Anjou for this purpose and Geoffrey dealt with Brittany. In January 1175, Richard was dispatched to Aquitaine to punish the barons who had fought for him. According to Roger of Howden's chronicle of Henry's reign, most of the castles belonging to rebels were to be returned to the state they were in 15 days before the outbreak of war, while others were to be razed. Given that by this time it was common for castles to be built in stone, and that many barons had expanded or refortified their castles, this was not an easy task. Gillingham notes that Roger of Howden's chronicle is the main source for Richard's activities in this period, although he notes that it records the successes of the campaign; it was on this campaign that Richard acquired the name "Richard the Lionheart". The first such success was the siege of Castillon-sur-Agen. The castle was "notoriously strong", but in a two-month siege the defenders were battered into submission by Richard's siege engines.

Henry seemed unwilling to entrust any of his sons with resources that could be used against him. It was suspected that Henry had appropriated Princess Alys, Richard's betrothed, the daughter of Louis VII of France by his second wife, as his mistress. This made a marriage between Richard and Alys technically impossible in the eyes of the Church, but Henry prevaricated: Alys's dowry, the Vexin, was valuable. Richard was discouraged from renouncing Alys because she was the sister of King Philip II of France, a close ally.

After his failure to overthrow his father, Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine, especially the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his reign led to a major revolt there in 1179. Hoping to dethrone Richard, the rebels sought the help of his brothers Henry and Geoffrey. The turning point came in the Charente Valley in spring 1179. The fortress of Taillebourg was well defended and was considered impregnable. The castle was surrounded by a cliff on three sides and a town on the fourth side with a three-layer wall. Richard first destroyed and looted the farms and lands surrounding the fortress, leaving its defenders no reinforcements or lines of retreat. The garrison sallied out of the castle and attacked Richard; he was able to subdue the army and then followed the defenders inside the open gates, where he easily took over the castle in two days. Richard’s victory at Taillebourg deterred many barons thinking of rebelling and forced them to declare their loyalty. It also won Richard a reputation as a skilled military commander.

In 1181–1182, Richard faced a revolt over the succession to the county of Angoulême. His opponents turned to Philip II of France for support, and the fighting spread through the Limousin and Périgord. Richard was accused of numerous cruelties against his subjects, including rape. However, with support from his father and from the Young King, Richard succeeded in bringing the Viscount Aimar V of Limoges and Count Elie of Périgord to terms.

After Richard subdued his rebellious barons, he again challenged his father for the throne. From 1180 to 1183 the tension between Henry and Richard grew, as King Henry commanded Richard to pay homage to Henry the Young King, but Richard refused. Finally, in 1183, Henry the Young King and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany invaded Aquitaine in an attempt to subdue Richard. Richard’s barons joined in the fray and turned against their duke. However, Richard and his army were able to hold back the invading armies, and they executed any prisoners. The conflict took a brief pause in June 1183 when the Young King died. However, Henry II soon gave his youngest son John permission to invade Aquitaine. With the death of Henry the Young King, Richard became the eldest son and heir to the English crown, but still he continued to fight his father.

To strengthen his position, in 1187 Richard allied himself with 22-year-old Philip II, the son of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis VII by Adele of Champagne. Roger of Hoveden wrote:

"The King of England was struck with great astonishment, and wondered what [this alliance] could mean, and, taking precautions for the future, frequently sent messengers into France for the purpose of recalling his son Richard; who, pretending that he was peaceably inclined and ready to come to his father, made his way to Chinon, and, in spite of the person who had the custody thereof, carried off the greater part of his father's treasures, and fortified his castles in Poitou with the same, refusing to go to his father."

Overall, Hoveden is chiefly concerned with the politics of the relationship between Richard and King Philip. The historian John Gillingham has suggested that theories that Richard was homosexual probably stemmed from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of France and England had slept overnight in the same bed. He expressed the view that this was "an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it; ... a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity".

In exchange for Philip's help against his father, Richard promised to concede to him his rights to both Normandy and Anjou. Richard paid homage to Philip in November of the same year. With news arriving of the Battle of Hattin, he took the cross at Tours in the company of other French nobles.

In 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John. The following year, Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. On 4 July 1189, Richard and Philip’s forces defeated Henry's army at Ballans. Henry, with John's consent, agreed to name Richard his heir. Two days later Henry II died in Chinon, and Richard succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou. Roger of Hoveden claimed that Henry's corpse bled from the nose in Richard's presence, which was taken as a sign that Richard had caused his death.

King and Crusader

Anti-Jewish violence

Richard I was officially crowned duke on 20 July 1189 and king in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189. When he was crowned, Richard barred all Jews and women from the ceremony, but some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king. According to Ralph of Diceto, Richard's courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court. When a rumour spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London began a massacre. Many Jews were beaten to death, robbed, and burned alive. Many Jewish homes were burned down, and several Jews were forcibly baptised. Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape. Among those killed was Jacob of Orléans, a respected Jewish scholar. Roger of Hoveden, in his Gesta Regis Ricardi, claimed that the rioting was started by the jealous and bigoted citizens, and that Richard punished the perpetrators, allowing a forcibly converted Jew to return to his native religion. Archbishop of Canterbury Baldwin of Exeter reacted by remarking, "If the King is not God's man, he had better be the devil's," a reference to the supposedly infernal blood in the House of Anjou.

Realising that the assaults could destabilise his realm on the eve of his departure on crusade, Richard ordered the execution of those responsible for the most egregious murders and persecutions. (But those hanged were rioters who had accidentally burned down Christian homes). He distributed a royal writ demanding that the Jews be left alone. However, the edict was loosely enforced, as the following March there was further violence, including a massacre at York.

Crusade plans

Richard had already taken the cross as Count of Poitou in 1187. His father and Philip II had done so at Gisors on 21 January 1188, after receiving news of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. Having become king, Richard and Philip agreed to go on the Third Crusade together, since each feared that, during his absence, the other might usurp his territories.

19th-century portrait of Richard

Richard swore an oath to renounce his past wickedness in order to show himself worthy to take the cross. He started to raise and equip a new crusader army. He spent most of his father's treasury (filled with money raised by the Saladin tithe), raised taxes, and even agreed to free King William I of Scotland from his oath of subservience to Richard in exchange for 10,000 marks. To raise even more money he sold official positions, rights, and lands to those interested in them. Those already appointed were forced to pay huge sums to retain their posts. William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely and the King's Chancellor, made a show of bidding £3,000 to remain as Chancellor. He was apparently outbid by a certain Reginald the Italian, but that bid was refused.

Richard made some final arrangements on the continent. He reconfirmed his father's appointment of William Fitz Ralph to the important post of seneschal of Normandy. In Anjou, Stephen of Tours was replaced as seneschal and temporarily imprisoned for fiscal mismanagement. Payn de Rochefort, an Angevin knight, was elevated to the post of seneschal of Anjou. In Poitou, the ex-provost of Benon, Peter Bertin was made seneschal, and finally in Gascony, the household official Helie de La Celle was picked for the seneschalship there. After repositioning the part of his army he left behind to guard his French possessions, Richard finally set out on the crusade in summer 1190. (His delay was criticised by troubadours such as Bertran de Born.) He appointed as regents Hugh, Bishop of Durham, and William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex—who soon died and was replaced by Richard's chancellor William Longchamp. Richard's brother John was not satisfied by this decision and started scheming against William.

Some writers have criticised Richard for spending only six months of his reign in England and siphoning the kingdom's resources to support his crusade. According to William Stubbs:

He was a bad king: his great exploits, his military skill, his splendour and extravagance, his poetical tastes, his adventurous spirit, do not serve to cloak his entire want of sympathy, or even consideration, for his people. He was no Englishman, but it does not follow that he gave to Normandy, Anjou, or Aquitaine the love or care that he denied to his kingdom. His ambition was that of a mere warrior: he would fight for anything whatever, but he would sell everything that was worth fighting for. The glory that he sought was that of victory rather than conquest.

Richard claimed that England was "cold and always raining," and when he was raising funds for his crusade, he was said to declare, "I would have sold London if I could find a buyer." However, although England was a major part of his territories—particularly important in that it gave him a royal title with which to approach other kings as an equal—it faced no major internal or external threats during his reign, unlike his continental territories, and so did not require his constant presence there. Like most of the Plantagenet kings before the 14th century, he had no need to learn the English language. Leaving the country in the hands of various officials he designated (including his mother, at times), Richard was far more concerned with his more extensive French lands. After all his preparations, he had an army of 4,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 foot-soldiers, and a fleet of 100 ships.

Occupation of Sicily

In September 1190, Richard and Philip arrived in Sicily. After the death of King William II of Sicily, his cousin Tancred of Lecce had seized power and had been crowned early in 1190 as King Tancred I of Sicily, although the legal heir was William's aunt Constance, wife of the new Emperor Henry VI. Tancred had imprisoned William's widow, Queen Joan, who was Richard's sister, and did not give her the money she had inherited in William's will. When Richard arrived, he demanded that his sister be released and given her inheritance; she was freed on 28 September, but without the inheritance. The presence of foreign troops also caused unrest: in October, the people of Messina revolted, demanding that the foreigners leave. Richard attacked Messina, capturing it on 4 October 1190. After looting and burning the city, Richard established his base there, but this created tension between Richard and Philip Augustus. He remained there until Tancred finally agreed to sign a treaty on 4 March 1191. The treaty was signed by Richard, Philip and Tancred. Its main terms were:

  • Joan was to receive 20,000 ounces of gold as compensation for her inheritance, which Tancred kept.
  • Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, son of Geoffrey, as his heir, and Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age, giving a further twenty thousand ounces of gold that would be returned by Richard if Arthur did not marry Tancred's daughter.

The two kings stayed on in Sicily for a while, but this resulted in increasing tensions between them and their men, with Philip Augustus plotting with Tancred against Richard. The two kings finally met to clear the air and reached an agreement, including the end of Richard's betrothal to Philip's sister Alix (who had supposedly been the mistress of Richard's father Henry II).

Conquest of Cyprus

The Near East in 1190 (Cyprus is highlighted in purple)

In April 1191 Richard, with a large fleet, left Messina in order to reach Acre. But a storm dispersed the fleet. After some searching, it was discovered that the boat carrying his sister and his fiancée Berengaria was anchored on the south coast of Cyprus, together with the wrecks of several other ships, including the treasure ship. Survivors of the wrecks had been taken prisoner by the island's despot Isaac Komnenos.

On 1 May 1191, Richard's fleet arrived in the port of Lemesos ( Limassol) on Cyprus. He ordered Isaac to release the prisoners and the treasure. Isaac refused, so Richard landed his troops and took Limassol.

Various princes of the Holy Land arrived in Limassol at the same time, in particular Guy of Lusignan. All declared their support for Richard provided that he support Guy against his rival Conrad of Montferrat.

The local barons abandoned Isaac, who considered making peace with Richard, joining him on the crusade, and offering his daughter in marriage to the person named by Richard. But Isaac changed his mind and tried to escape. Richard then proceeded to conquer the whole island, his troops being led by Guy de Lusignan. Isaac surrendered and was confined with silver chains, because Richard had promised that he would not place him in irons. By 1 June, Richard had conquered the whole island. He named Richard de Camville and Robert of Thornham as governors. He later sold the island to the Knights Templar and it was subsequently acquired, in 1192, by Guy of Lusignan and became a stable feudal kingdom.

The rapid conquest of the island by Richard is more important than it seems. The island occupies a key strategic position on the maritime lanes to the Holy Land, whose occupation by the Christians could not continue without support from the sea. Cyprus remained a Christian stronghold until the battle of Lepanto (1571). Richard's exploit was well publicized and contributed to his reputation. Richard also derived significant financial gains from the conquest of the island.

Richard left for Acre on 5 June, with his allies.


Before leaving Cyprus, Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. Richard I first grew closer to her at a tournament held in Berengaria's native Navarre. The wedding was held in Limassol on 12 May 1191 at the Chapel of St. George. It was attended by his sister Joan, whom Richard had brought from Sicily. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendor, and many feasts and entertainments, and public parades, and celebrations followed, to commemorate the event. Among the other grand ceremonies was a double coronation. Richard caused himself to be crowned King of Cyprus, and Berengaria Queen of England and of Cyprus too. When Richard married Berengaria he was still officially betrothed to Alys, and Richard pushed for the match in order to obtain Navarre as a fief like Aquitaine for his father. Further, Eleanor championed the match, as Navarre bordered on Aquitaine, thereby securing her ancestral lands' borders to the south. Richard took his new wife with him briefly on this episode of the crusade. However, they returned separately. Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, and she did not see England until after his death. After his release from German captivity Richard showed some regret for his earlier conduct, but he was not reunited with his wife.

In the Holy Land

King Richard landed at Acre on 8 June 1191. He gave his support to his Poitevin vassal Guy of Lusignan, who had brought troops to help him in Cyprus. Guy was the widower of his father's cousin Sibylla of Jerusalem and was trying to retain the kingship of Jerusalem, despite his wife's death during the Siege of Acre the previous year. Guy's claim was challenged by Conrad of Montferrat, second husband of Sibylla's half-sister, Isabella: Conrad, whose defence of Tyre had saved the kingdom in 1187, was supported by Philip of France, son of his first cousin Louis VII of France, and by another cousin, Duke Leopold V of Austria. Richard also allied with Humphrey IV of Toron, Isabella's first husband, from whom she had been forcibly divorced in 1190. Humphrey was loyal to Guy and spoke Arabic fluently, so Richard used him as a translator and negotiator.

Richard and his forces aided in the capture of Acre, despite the king's serious illness. At one point, while sick from scurvy, Richard is said to have picked off guards on the walls with a crossbow, while being carried on a stretcher. Eventually, Conrad of Montferrat concluded the surrender negotiations with Saladin and raised the banners of the kings in the city. Richard quarrelled with Leopold V of Austria over the deposition of Isaac Komnenos (related to Leopold's Byzantine mother) and his position within the crusade. Leopold's banner had been raised alongside the English and French standards. This was interpreted as arrogance by both Richard and Philip, as Leopold was a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor (although he was the highest-ranking surviving leader of the imperial forces). Richard's men tore the flag down and threw it in the moat of Acre. Leopold left the crusade immediately. Philip also left soon afterwards, in poor health and after further disputes with Richard over the status of Cyprus (Philip demanded half the island) and the kingship of Jerusalem. Richard suddenly found himself without allies.

19th-century depiction of Richard leaving the Holy Land

Richard had kept 2,700 Muslim prisoners as hostages against Saladin fulfilling all the terms of the surrender of the lands around Acre. Philip, before leaving, had entrusted his prisoners to Conrad, but Richard forced him to hand them over to him. Richard feared his forces being bottled up in Acre, as he believed his campaign could not advance with the prisoners in train. He therefore ordered all the prisoners executed. He then moved south, defeating Saladin's forces at the Battle of Arsuf on 7 September 1191. He attempted to negotiate with Saladin, but this was unsuccessful. In the first half of 1192, he and his troops refortified Ascalon.

An election forced Richard to accept Conrad of Montferrat as King of Jerusalem, and he sold Cyprus to his defeated protégé, Guy. Only days later, on 28 April 1192, Conrad was stabbed to death by Hashshashin before he could be crowned. Eight days later, Richard's own nephew, Henry II of Champagne was married to the widowed Isabella, although she was carrying Conrad's child. The murder has never been conclusively solved, and Richard's contemporaries widely suspected his involvement.

Realising that he had no hope of holding Jerusalem even if he took it, Richard ordered a retreat. There commenced a period of minor skirmishes with Saladin's forces while Richard and Saladin negotiated a settlement to the conflict, as both realized that their respective positions were growing untenable. Richard knew that both Philip and his own brother John were starting to plot against him. However, Saladin insisted on the razing of Ascalon's fortifications, which Richard's men had rebuilt, and a few other points. Richard made one last attempt to strengthen his bargaining position by attempting to invade Egypt—Saladin's chief supply-base—but failed. In the end, time ran out for Richard. He realised that his return could be postponed no longer, since both Philip and John were taking advantage of his absence. He and Saladin finally came to a settlement on 2 September 1192—this included the provisions demanding the destruction of Ascalon's wall as well as an agreement allowing Christian access to and presence in Jerusalem. It also included a three-year truce.

Captivity and return

Bad weather forced Richard's ship to put in at Corfu, in the lands of the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who objected to Richard's annexation of Cyprus, formerly Byzantine territory. Disguised as a Knight Templar, Richard sailed from Corfu with four attendants, but his ship was wrecked near Aquileia, forcing Richard and his party into a dangerous land route through central Europe.

On his way to the territory of his brother-in-law, Henry of Saxony, 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 offended Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls of Acre. Richard and his retainers had been travelling in disguise as low-ranking pilgrims, but he was identified either because he was wearing an expensive ring, or because of his insistence on eating roast chicken, an aristocratic delicacy.

Ruins of Dürnstein Castle, where Richard was kept captive

Duke Leopold kept him prisoner at Dürnstein Castle. His mishap was soon known to England, but the regents were for some weeks uncertain of his whereabouts. While in prison, Richard wrote Ja nus hons pris or Ja nuls om pres ("No man who is imprisoned"), which is addressed to his half-sister Marie de Champagne. He wrote the song, in French and Occitan versions, to express his feelings of abandonment by his people and his sister. The detention of a crusader was contrary to public law, and on these grounds Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold.

On 28 March 1193, Richard was brought to Speyer and handed over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who was aggrieved both by the support which the Plantagenets had given to the family of Henry the Lion and also by Richard's recognition of Tancred in Sicily, and who imprisoned him in Trifels Castle. Henry VI, needing money to raise an army and assert his rights over southern Italy, continued to hold Richard for ransom. In response, Pope Celestine III excommunicated Henry VI as he had Duke Leopold, for the continued wrongful imprisonment of Richard.

Richard famously refused to show deference to the emperor and declared to him, "I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God". Despite his complaints, the conditions of his captivity were not severe.

The emperor demanded that 150,000 marks (65,000 pounds of silver) be delivered to him before he would release the king, the same amount raised by the Saladin tithe only a few years earlier, and 2–3 times the annual income for the English Crown under Richard. Eleanor of Aquitaine worked to raise the ransom. Both clergy and laymen were taxed for a quarter of the value of their property, the gold and silver treasures of the churches were confiscated, and money was raised from the scutage and the carucage taxes. At the same time, John, Richard's brother, and King Philip of France offered 80,000 marks for the Emperor to hold Richard prisoner until Michaelmas 1194. The emperor turned down the offer. The money to rescue the King was transferred to Germany by the emperor's ambassadors, but "at the king's peril" (had it been lost along the way, Richard would have been held responsible), and finally, on 4 February 1194 Richard was released. Philip sent a message to John: "Look to yourself; the devil is loose".

The affair had a lasting influence on Austria, since part of the money from King Richard's ransom was used by Duke Leopold V to finance the founding in 1194 of the new city of Wiener Neustadt, which had a significant role in various periods of subsequent Austrian history up to the present.

Later years and death

In Richard's absence, his brother John revolted with the aid of Philip; amongst Philip's conquests in the period of Richard's imprisonment was Normandy. Richard forgave John when they met again and, bowing to political necessity, named him as his heir in place of Arthur, whose mother Constance of Brittany was perhaps already open to the overtures of Philip II.

Richard began his reconquest of Normandy. The fall of Château de Gisors to the French in 1196 opened a gap in the Norman defences. The search for a fresh site for a new castle to defend the duchy of Normandy and act as a base from which Richard could launch his campaign to take back the Vexin from French control began. A naturally defensible position was identified perched high above the River Seine, an important transport route, in the manor of Andeli. Under the terms of the Peace of Louviers (December 1195) between Richard and Philip II, neither king was allowed to fortify the site; despite this, Richard intended to build the vast Chateau Gaillard. Richard tried to obtain the manor through negotiation. Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen, was reluctant to sell the manor as it was one of the diocese's most profitable, and other lands belonging to the diocese had recently been damaged by war. When Philip besieged Aumale in Normandy, Richard grew tired of waiting and seized the manor, although the act was opposed by the Church. Walter de Coutances issued an interdict against the duchy of Normandy which prohibited church services from being performed in the region. Roger of Howden detailed "the unburied bodies of the dead lying in the streets and square of the cities of Normandy". Construction began with the interdict hanging over Normandy, but it was later repealed in April 1197 by Pope Celestine III, after Richard made gifts of land to the Walter de Coutances and the diocese of Rouen, including two manors and the prosperous port of Dieppe.

During Richard's reign, royal expenditure on castles declined from the levels spent under Henry II, Richard's father. This has been attributed to a concentration of resources on Richard's war with the king of France. However, the work at Château Gaillard was some of the most expensive of its time and cost an estimated £15,000 to £20,000 between 1196 and 1198. This was more than double Richard's spending on castles in England, an estimated £7,000. Unprecedented in its speed of construction, the castle was mostly complete in just two years, when most construction on such a scale would have taken the best part of a decade. According to William of Newburgh, in May 1198 Richard and the labourers working on the castle were drenched in a " rain of blood". While some of his advisers thought the rain was an evil omen, Richard was undeterred:

the king was not moved by this to slacken one whit the pace of work, in which he took such keen pleasure that, unless I am mistaken, even if an angel had descended from heaven to urge its abandonment he would have been roundly cursed.
—William of Newburgh

As no master-mason is mentioned in the otherwise detailed records of the castle's construction, military historian Allen Brown has suggested that Richard himself was the overall architect; this is supported by the interest Richard showed in the work through his frequent presence. In his final years, the castle became Richard's favourite residence, and writs and charters were written at Château Gaillard bearing "apud Bellum Castrum de Rupe" (at the Fair Castle of the Rock). Château Gaillard was ahead of its time, featuring innovations that would be adopted in castle architecture nearly a century later. Richard later boasted that he could hold the castle "were the walls made of butter". Allen Brown described Château Gaillard as "one of the finest castles in Europe" and military historian Sir Charles Oman wrote that:

Château Gaillard, as we have already had occasion to mention, was considered the masterpiece of its time. The reputation of its builder, Coeur de Lion, as a great military engineer might stand firm on this single structure. He was no mere copyist of the models he had seen in the East, but introduced many original details of his own invention into the stronghold.
—Oman 1924

Determined to resist Philip's designs on contested Angevin lands such as the Vexin and Berry, Richard poured all his military expertise and vast resources into war on the French King. He constructed an alliance against Philip, including Baldwin IX of Flanders, Renaud, Count of Boulogne, and his father-in-law King Sancho VI of Navarre, who raided Philip's lands from the south. Most importantly, he managed to secure the Welf inheritance in Saxony for his nephew, Henry the Lion's son Otto of Poitou, who was elected Otto IV of Germany in 1198.

The ruins of Château Gaillard. Even a rain of blood – considered a bad omen – did not dissuade Richard from building his vast and expensive fortress in Normandy.
Tomb at Fontevraud

Partly as a result of these and other intrigues, Richard won several victories over Philip. At Freteval in 1194, just after Richard's return from captivity and money-raising in England to France, Philip fled, leaving his entire archive of financial audits and documents to be captured by Richard. At the battle of Gisors (sometimes called Courcelles) in 1198 Richard took "Dieu et mon Droit"—"God and my Right"—as his motto (still used by the British monarchy today), echoing his earlier boast to the Emperor Henry that his rank acknowledged no superior but God.

In March 1199, Richard was in the Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he "devastated the Viscount's land with fire and sword". He besieged the puny, virtually unarmed castle of Chalus-Chabrol. Some chroniclers claimed that this was because a local peasant had uncovered a treasure trove of Roman gold, which Richard claimed from Aimar in his position as feudal overlord.

Tomb at Rouen Cathedral

In the early evening of 25 March 1199, Richard was walking around the castle perimeter without his chainmail, investigating the progress of sappers on the castle walls. Missiles were occasionally shot from the castle walls, but these were given little attention. One defender in particular amused the king greatly—a man standing on the walls, crossbow in one hand, the other clutching a frying pan which he had been using all day as a shield to beat off missiles. He deliberately aimed at the king, which the king applauded; however, another crossbowman then struck the king in the left shoulder near the neck. He tried to pull this out in the privacy of his tent but failed; a surgeon, called a 'butcher' by Hoveden, removed it, 'carelessly mangling' the King's arm in the process. The wound swiftly became gangrenous. Accordingly, Richard asked to have the crossbowman brought before him; called alternatively Peter Basile, John Sabroz, Dudo, and Bertrand de Gurdon (from the town of Gourdon) by chroniclers, the man turned out (according to some sources, but not all) to be a boy. This boy claimed that Richard had killed the boy's father and two brothers, and that he had killed Richard in revenge. The boy expected to be executed; Richard, as a last act of mercy, forgave the boy of his crime, saying, "Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day," before ordering the boy to be freed and sent away with 100 shillings. Richard then set his affairs in order, bequeathing all his territory to his brother John and his jewels to his nephew Otto.

Effigy at Châlus

Richard died on 6 April 1199 in the arms of his mother; it was later said that "As the day was closing, he ended his earthly day." His death was later referred to as 'the Lion (that) by the Ant was slain'. According to one chronicler, Richard's last act of chivalry proved fruitless; in an orgy of medieval brutality, the infamous mercenary captain Mercadier had the crossbowman flayed alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.

Richard's heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, the entrails in Châlus (where he died) and the rest of his body was buried at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.

A 13th century Bishop of Rochester wrote that Richard spent 33 years in purgatory as expiation for his sins, eventually ascending to Heaven in March 1232.


Before 1948, no historian appears to have clearly affirmed that Richard was homosexual. Historian Jean Flori, however, has analysed the work of contemporary historians, and reports that they quite generally accept that Richard was homosexual. However, not all historians agree regarding Richard's sexuality: indeed Richard's homosexuality was disputed by historian John Gillingham. But Flori analyses the available contemporaneous evidence in great detail, and concludes that Richard's two public confessions and penitences (in 1191 and 1195) must have referred to the "sin of sodomy". There are contemporaneous accounts of Richard's relations with women, and Richard acknowledged one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. Flori thus concludes that Richard was probably bisexual. Flori thus disagrees with Gillingham, although he does agree with Gillingham that the contemporaneous accounts do not support the allegation that Richard had a homosexual relation with King Philip II of France.


The reputation of Richard ... has fluctuated wildly. The Victorians were divided. Many of them admired him as a crusader and man of God, erecting an heroic statue to him outside the Houses of Parliament; Stubbs, on the other hand, thought him ‘a bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler, and a vicious man’. Though born in Oxford, he spoke no English. During his ten years' reign, he was in England for no more than six months, and was totally absent for the last five years.

—John Gillingham, Kings and Queens of Britain: Richard I

Statue of Richard I by Carlo Marochetti outside the Palace of Westminster

Richard's contemporaneous image was that of a king who was also a knight, and that was apparently the first such instance of this combination. He was known as a valiant and competent military leader and individual fighter: courageous and generous. That reputation has come down through the ages and defines the popular image of Richard. He left an indelible imprint on the imagination extending to the present, in large part because of his military exploits. This is reflected in Steven Runciman's final verdict of Richard I: "he was a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier."("History of the Crusades" Vol. III)

During his life, he was criticized by chroniclers (and the clergy) for having taxed the clergy both for the Crusade and for his ransom, whereas the church and the clergy were usually exempt from taxes.

Richard produced no legitimate heirs and acknowledged only one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. As a result, he was succeeded by his brother John as King of England. However, his French territories initially rejected John as a successor, preferring his nephew Arthur of Brittany, the son of their late brother Geoffrey, whose claim is by modern standards better than John's. Significantly, the lack of any direct heirs from Richard was the first step in the dissolution of the Angevin Empire. While Kings of England continued to press claims to properties on the continent, they would never again command the territories Richard I inherited.

Medieval folklore

Around the middle of the 13th century, various legends developed that, after Richard's capture, his minstrel Blondel travelled Europe from castle to castle, loudly singing a song known only to the two of them (they had composed it together). Eventually, he came to the place where Richard was being held, and Richard heard the song and answered with the appropriate refrain, thus revealing where the king was incarcerated. The story was the basis of André Ernest Modeste Grétry's opera Richard Coeur-de-Lion and seems to be the inspiration for the opening to Richard Thorpe's film version of Ivanhoe. It seems unconnected to the real Jean 'Blondel' de Nesle, an aristocratic trouvère. It also does not correspond to the historical reality, since the king's jailers did not hide the fact; on the contrary, they publicized it.

At some time around the 16th century, tales of Robin Hood started to mention him as a contemporary and supporter of King Richard the Lionheart, Robin being driven to outlawry during the misrule of Richard's evil brother John while Richard was away at the Third Crusade. Although this view has become increasingly popular, it is certainly not supported by the earliest ballads.


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