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Richard the Lionheart

richard the lionheartRichard I (September 8, 1157 – April 6, 1199) was King of England from 1189 to 1199. He was often referred to as Richard the Lionheart, Coeur de Lion. He was considered a hero in his day and has often been portrayed as one in works of literature.

Early life

The third of King Henry II's legitimate sons, Richard was never expected to accede to the throne. He was, however, the favourite son of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although born in Oxford, England, he soon came to know France as his home. When his parents effectively separated, he remained in Eleanor's care, and was invested with her duchy of Aquitaine in 1168, and of Poitiers in 1172. This was his consolation prize for the fact that his eldest brother, Henry the Young King, was simultaneously crowned as his father's successor. Richard and his other brother, Geoffrey, duke of Brittany, thus learned how to defend their property while still teenagers. As well as being an educated man, able to compose poetry in French and Provençal, Richard was also a magnificent physical specimen, his height is estimated at six feet four inches (1.93 m) tall, and gloried in military activity. From an early age he appeared to have significant political and military abilities, became noted for his chivalry and courage, and soon was able to control the unruly nobles of his territory. As with all the true-born sons of Henry II, Richard had limited respect for his father and lacked foresight and a sense of responsibility.

In 1170, his elder brother Henry the Young King was crowned king of England as Henry III. Historians know him as Henry "the Young King" so as not to confuse him with the later king of this name who was his nephew.

In 1173, Richard joined his brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, in a revolt against their father. They were planning to dethrone their father and leave the Young King as the only king of England. Henry II invaded Aquitaine twice. At the age of seventeen, Richard was the last of the brothers to hold out against Henry; though, in the end, he refused to fight him face to face and humbly begged his pardon. In 1174, after the end of the failed revolt, Richard gave a new oath of subservience to his father.

After his failure Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the dissatisfied nobles of Aquitaine, especially the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his reign led to a major revolt of Gascony in 1183. Richard had a terrible reputation, including reports of various rapes and murders. The rebels hoped to dethrone Richard and asked his brothers Henry and Geoffrey to help them succeed. Their father feared that the war between his three sons could lead to the destruction of his kingdom. He led the part of his army that served in his French territories in support of Richard. The Young King's death on June 11, 1183, ended the revolt, and Richard remained on his throne.

Young Henry's death left Richard as the eldest surviving son and the natural heir when the old King died. However, there was some uncertainty over King Henry's intentions. When Geoffrey also died, Richard was the only realistic possibility, his youngest brother, John, being too weak and inexperienced to be considered as an alternative. From the Young King's death Richard was considered -- though not officially proclaimed -- heir to the joint thrones of England, Normandy and Anjou. In 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John Lackland, later King John of England. In opposition to his father's plans, Richard allied himself with King Philip II of France, the son of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis VII by his third wife, Adela of Blois. In exchange for Philip's help against his father, Richard promised to concede his rights to both Normandy and Anjou to Philip. Richard gave an oath of subservience to Philip in November of the same year. In 1189 Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. They were victorious. Henry, with John's consent, agreed to name Richard his heir. On July 6, 1189 Henry died in Chinon, and Richard succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou. He was officially crowned duke on July 20 and king in Westminster on September 3, 1189.


richard the lionheartedAs a result of an incident during Richard's coronation celebrations, religious and political persecution of the Jews took place throughout the country. Richard has been criticised for doing little for England, siphoning the kingdom's resources by appointing Jewish moneylenders to support his tirades away on Crusade in the Holy Land, indeed, he spent only six months of his ten year reign in England, claiming it was "cold and always raining."

See image of Effigy on tomb in Fontevrault Abbey ->

Richard had one major reason for discontent with his father. Henry had appropriated Princess Alice (not the same Alice as Richard's half-sister), the daughter of the French king and Richard's betrothed, as his mistress. This made a marriage between Richard and Alice technically impossible - at least in the eyes of the church, but Henry, not wishing to cause a diplomatic incident, prevaricated and did not confess to his misdeed. As for Richard, he was discouraged from renouncing Alice because she was Philip's sister.

Leaving the country in the hands of various officials he designated (including his mother, at times), Richard spent only a small fraction of his reign in England, being far more concerned with his possessions in what is now France and his battles in Palestine. He had grown up on the Continent, and had never seen any need to learn the English language. Soon after his accession to the throne, he decided to join the Third Crusade, inspired by the loss of Jerusalem to the "infidels" under the command of Saladin. Afraid that, during his absence, the French might usurp his territories, Richard tried to persuade Philip to join the Crusade as well. Philip agreed and both gave their crusader oaths on the same date.

Richard did not concern himself with the future of England. He wanted to engage in an adventure that would cause the troubadours to immortalise his name, as well as guaranteeing him a place in heaven. The evidence suggests that he had deep spiritual needs, and he swore an oath to renounce his past wickedness in order to show himself worthy to take the cross. He started to raise a new English crusader army, though most of his warriors were Normans, and supplied it with weapons. 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. He finally succeeded in raising a huge army and navy. After repositioning the part of his army he left behind so that it would guard his French possessions, Richard finally started his expedition to the Holy Land in 1190. Richard appointed as regents Hugh, Bishop of Durham, and William de Mandeville, 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.

The struggle for Sicily

In September 1190 both Richard and Philip arrived in Sicily. In 1189 King William II of Sicily had died. His heir was his aunt Constance, later Queen Constance of Sicily, who was married to Emperor Henry VI. But immediately after William's death, William's cousin, Tancred, rebelled, seized control of the island and was crowned early in 1190 as King Tancred I of Sicily. He was favored by the people and the pope but had problems with the island's nobles. Richard's arrival caused even more problems. Tancred had imprisoned William's widow, Queen Joan Plantagenet, who was Richard's sister, and did not give her the money she had inherited according to William's will. Richard demanded that his sister be released and given her inheritance. Meanwhile the presence of two foreign armies caused unrest among the people. In October, the people of Messina revolted, demanding that the foreigners leave the island. Richard attacked Messina and captured it on October 4, 1190. After looting and burning the city Richard established his base in it. He remained there until March 1191 when Tancred finally agreed to sign a treaty. The treaty was signed during the same month by Richard, Philip and Tancred. According to the treaty's main terms:

  • Joan was to be released, receiving her inheritance along with the dowry her father had given to the deceased William.
  • Richard and Philip recognized Tancred as legal King of Sicily and vowed to keep the peace between all three of their kingdoms.
  • Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, the son of Geoffrey, Arthur of Brittany, as his heir, and Tancred promised to later marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age (Arthur was only four years old at the time).

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 after this point.

Richard on the Third Crusade

During April Richard stopped on the Byzantine island of Rhodes to avoid the stormy weather. He left in May but a new storm drove Richard's fleet to Cyprus. On May 6, 1191, Richard's fleet arrived in the port of Lemesos (now Limassol). Richard captured the city. When the island's despot Isaac Dukas Comnenus arrived to stop the Crusaders he discovered he was too late, and retired to Kolossi. Richard called Isaac to negotiations but Isaac broke his oath of hospitality and started demanding Richard's departure. Richard ordered his cavalry to follow him in a battle against Isaac's army in Tremetusia. The few Roman Catholics of the island joined Richard's army and so did the island's nobles who were dissatisfied with Isaac's seven years of tyrannical rule. Though Isaac and his men fought bravely, Richard's army was bigger and better equipped, assuring his victory. Isaac continued to resist from the castles of Pentadactylos but after the siege of his castle of Kantaras he finally surrendered. Richard became the new ruler of Cyprus.

Richard looted the island and massacred those trying to resist him. Meanwhile, Richard was finally able to marry the woman to whom he was engaged, who had been brought by his mother to join him on the crusade route. His marriage to Princess Berengaria of Navarre, first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre, was held in Limassol on May 12, 1191. It was attended by his sister Joan, whom Richard had brought from Sicily. There were no children from the marriage; opinions vary as to whether it was ever a love match. The unfortunate Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, and did not see England until after his death.

Richard and most of his army left Cyprus for the Holy Land early in June. In his absence Cyprus would be governed by Richard Kamvill. King Richard arrived at Acre in June 1191, in time to relieve the siege of the city by Saladin. Deserted by Philip and having fallen out with Duke Leopold V of Austria, he suddenly found himself without allies.

Richard's tactics ensured success at the siege of Acre and on the subsequent march south, Saladin's men being unable to harass the Crusader army into an impulsive action which might not have gone their way. However, the desertion of the French king had been a major blow, from which they could not hope to recover. Realising that he had no hope of holding Jerusalem even if he took it, Richard sadly ordered a retreat. Despite being only a few miles from the city, he refused, thereafter, to set eyes on it, since God had ordained that he should not be the one to conquer it. He had finally realised that his return home could be postponed no longer, since both Philip and John were taking advantage of his absence to make themselves more powerful.

Having planned to leave Conrad of Montferrat as "King" of Jerusalem and Cyprus in the hands of his own protégé, Guy of Lusignan, Richard was dealt another blow when Conrad was assassinated before he could be crowned. His replacement was Richard's own nephew, Henry I of Champagne.

Captivity and return

On his return to Europe in the autumn of 1192, Richard was captured by Duke Leopold — whom he had publicly insulted in the course of the crusade — and was handed over as a prisoner to the Emperor Henry VI after being held captive at Dürnstein. Although the circumstances of his captivity were not severe, he was frustrated by his inability to travel freely. Nevertheless, he spent the remainder of his reign attempting to regain the territory he had lost in France. After his departure in May 1194, he never returned to England.

Overall assessment

There is no doubt that Richard had many admirable qualities, as well as many bad ones. He was a military mastermind, and politically astute in many ways; yet incredibly foolish in others, and unwilling to give way to public opinion. He was capable of great humility as well as great arrogance. He loved his family, but behaved ruthlessly to his enemies. He was revered by his most worthy rival, Saladin, and respected by the Emperor Henry, but hated by many who had been his friends, especially King Philip. He was often careless of his own safety: the wound which killed him need not have been inflicted at all if he had been properly armoured. Almost the same thing had happened, ten years earlier when, while feuding with his father, he had encountered William Marshal while unarmed and had to beg for his life. Richard's existence had been one whole series of contradictions. Although he had neglected his wife and had to be commanded by priests to be faithful to her, she was distraught at the news of his death.

During his absence, his brother John had come close to seizing the throne; Richard forgave him, and even named him as his heir in place of Arthur, who was growing into an unpleasant youth. With his 77 year-old mother at his side, Richard died on 6 April 1199 from the after-effects of an arrow wound received during the siege of Chalus in France and was buried next to his father at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon and Saumur, France. It is said that he summoned Pierre Basile, the crossbowman who had delivered the fatal wound to his bedside, and was so impressed with the man's refusal to be cowed that he pardoned him.

Richard 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 was technically better than John's.


Over the years the figures of Robin Hood and Richard I have become closely linked. However, the in the earliest Robin Hood ballads the only king mentioned is "Edward our comely king", presumably Edward I, II, or III. It was not until much later that a connection came to be made between the two men. The typical usage of the link is that the major political goal of Robin's war is to restore Richard to the throne after Prince John usurped it.


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