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 Nantes and Overlord of Brittany at various times during the same period. He was known as Richard the Lionheart, or Cœur de Lion, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior. At only 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. While he spoke very little English and spent very little time in his Kingdom, preferring to use it 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, not number, and is an enduring, iconic figure in England.
Richard was an educated man who composed poetry, writing in French and Limousin. 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, but as his remains have been lost since at least the French Revolution, 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.
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 inhabitants of the fortress were so afraid of Richard at this point that they left the safety of their castle and attacked Richard outside its walls. Richard 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: "He carried off by force the wives, daughters and female relatives of his free men, and made them his concubines; and after he had extinguished the ardour of his lust on them, he handed them over to his soldiers for whoring. 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 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.
Hoveden mentions how Richard and King Philip "ate from the same dish and at night slept in one bed" and had a "passionate love between them", which some historians have taken to imply a homosexual relationship. In addition, there are allusions to the Books of Samuel's depiction of Jonathan and David in this passage, though overall, Hoveden is chiefly concerned with the politics of the relationship. The historian, John Gillingham, has suggested that theories that Richard was homosexual were 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, 1189 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. He was officially crowned duke on 20 July 1189 and king in Westminster Abbey on 13 September 1189.
Realising that the assaults could destabilize his realm on the eve of his departure on crusade, Richard ordered the execution of those responsible for the most egregious murders and persecutions. (Most of 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.
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 (The Constitutional History of England, vol. 1, p. 550-1):
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.
After signing the treaty Richard and Philip left Sicily. The treaty undermined England's relationships with the Holy Roman Empire and caused the revolt of Richard's brother John, who hoped to be proclaimed heir instead of their nephew. Although his revolt failed, John continued to scheme against his brother.
On 6 May 1191, Richard's fleet arrived in the port of Lemesos (Limassol) on Cyprus, and he captured the city. The island's despot Isaac Komnenos arrived too late to stop the Crusaders, and he retired to Kolossi. Richard called Isaac to negotiations, but Isaac demanded his departure. Richard and his cavalry met Isaac's army in battle at Tremetusia. The few Cypriot Roman Catholics and those nobles who opposed Isaac's rule joined Richard's army. Though Isaac and his men fought bravely, Richard's army was bigger and better equipped, assuring his victory. He also received military assistance from the King of Jerusalem and Guy of Lusignan. Isaac resisted from the castles of Pentadactylos, but after the siege of Kantara Castle, he finally surrendered. It was claimed that once Isaac had been captured Richard had him confined with silver chains, because he had promised that he would not place him in irons. Isaac's young daughter was kept in the household of Berengaria and Joan. Richard looted the island and massacred those trying to resist him. He and most of his army left Cyprus for the Holy Land in early June, having gained for the Crusade a supply base that was not under immediate threat from the Turks as was Tyre. In his absence Cyprus was governed by Richard Camville.
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.
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, offering his widowed sister, Joan of Sicily, as a bride for Saladin's brother Al-Adil, 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. However, 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 then 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.
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 Henry of Saxony, his brother-in-law, Richard was captured shortly before Christmas 1192, near Vienna, by Leopold V 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.
Duke Leopold kept him prisoner at Dürnstein. While Richard was there, he 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. Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader. The Duke then handed him over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who imprisoned him in Trifels Castle. Pope Celestine III excommunicated Henry VI for wrongfully keeping Richard in prison. However, Henry needed the ransom money to raise an army and assert his rights over southern Italy. 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.
His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, worked to raise the ransom of marks (2-3 times the annual income for the English Crown under Richard) demanded by Henry. 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. The emperor demanded that 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. At the same time, John, Richard's brother, and King Philip of France offered 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."
During his absence, John had come close to seizing the throne. Richard forgave him 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 came into conflict with Philip. When the latter attacked Richard's fortress, Chateau-Gaillard ('The Saucy Castle'), he boasted that "if its walls were iron, yet would I take it," to which Richard replied, "If these walls were butter, yet would I hold them!"
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.
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.
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. Arrows were occasionally shot from the castle walls, but these were given little attention. One defender in particular was of great amusement to the king — 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 an arrow at the king, which the king applauded. However, another arrow then struck him 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. However, 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 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 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.
Richard died on Tuesday, 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'. His last act of chivalry proved fruitless; in an orgy of medieval brutality, the infamous mercenary captain Mercadier had the crossbowman skinned alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.
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
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.
Richard's legacy comprised several parts. First, he captured Cyprus, which proved immensely valuable in keeping the Frankish kingdoms in the Holy Land viable for another century. Second, his absence from the English political landscape meant that the highly efficient government created by his father was allowed to entrench itself, though King John would later abuse it to the breaking point. The last part of Richard's legacy was romantic and literary. No matter the facts of his reign, 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."