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Richard the Lion heart - Famous and Infamous Rulers
4316    Dibyendu Banerjee    02/07/2018

Outside the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, stands a majestic statue of Richard I, seated on his horse, as a testimony of England’s one of the bravest and greatest kings, who reigned the country from 1189-1199. Apart from being a brave soldier and a great leader, he was a dedicated crusader and won numbers of fierce battles against Saladin, the leader of the Saracens, occupying Jerusalem, the holy land during those days. Later in his life, he was bestowed with the title ‘Coeur-de-Lion’ or ‘Lion Heart’ for his courage and his devotion and contribution to the country.


However, it is evident that, the King had not much interest in being the king. In his ten years as the monarch, he spent only a few months in England, and it is doubtful that he could actually speak the English language.

Born on 8 September 1157 in Oxford, Richard was the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and ex wife of King Louis VII of France. Henry was Eleanor's second husband. She was eleven years his senior and their marriage proved to be a stormy one. Ultimately, after the birth of John, their youngest child, they drifted into open enmity. King Henry II made the beautiful Rosamund Clifford his mistress, deeply wounding Richard's mother, Queen Eleanor. The neglected, insulted and humiliated Queen finally left her palace and returned to her native Aquitaine, there establishing her own court and taking Richard, her favourite son along with her.

As Richard’s eldest brother died at a young age, the next in line, Henry, was declared as the heir. Thus, since his early days Richard did not have any expectation of achieving the throne of England. In fact, Richard was rather interested in the family's French holdings than the throne. He was given the duchy of Aquitaine, his mother’s inheritance in 1168 and was enthroned as the duke at Poitiers in 1172. He spent much of his youth in his mother’s court at Poitiers.

Richard The Lionheart

Gradually, Richard grew to be a very attractive man. He was tall, around six feet four inches in height, a graceful figure with long legs and an athletic build. In later years he had a tendency to grow stouter. His hair was between red and blond, he was light-eyed with a pale complexion. He inherited the fiery temper of his father, causing him to face avoidable troubles. However, he had an affinity for poetry and music and a love of fine clothing, probably inherited from his mother, Queen Eleanor. From an early age he also showed significant political and military ability.


Richard had limited respect for his father and had one major reason for discontent with him. Henry II tricked French King Louis VII into handing over his 9-year-old daughter Princess Alais, promising her marriage with Richard, when she had come of age. However, like most of his futile promises, this was never fulfilled, and for 25 years of her life, poor Alais was used by Henry II as his mistress. Practically, this arrangement made a marriage between Richard and Alice technically impossible. But, as Henry did not wish to create any diplomatic problem, he avoided confessing his misdeed. On the other hand, Richard was discouraged from renouncing Alice, because she was the sister of Richard’s friend, Philip.

In 1173, encouraged by his mother, Richard joined his brothers Henry and Geoffrey in rebelling against his father. The rebellion ultimately failed, Eleanor was imprisoned, Richard submitted to his father and was pardoned. In the early 1180s, Richard faced baronial revolts in his own lands. Apart from his increasing cruelty, Richard had a terrible reputation, including reports of various rapes and murders. His harshness infuriated the Gascons, who revolted in 1183 and called on his brothers, young Henry and Geoffrey to drive Richard out from Aquitaine, his duchy. This move alarmed King Henry II about the possible threat of the disintegration of his empire and he gathered his continental armies together in support of Richard. However, with the sudden death of his younger brother Henry, the possible uprising collapsed and as the oldest surviving son, Richard became the new heir to England and to Normandy and Anjou.


Richard’s father, King Henry II, wished him to yield Aquitaine to his youngest brother, John, who had never had any territory to govern and was known as ‘Lackland.’ But, Richard had a deep attachment to the duchy in which he had grown up. Rather than give it up, he turned to the young king of France, Phillip II, with whom he had a personal friendship. In November 1188 he paid homage to Philip for all the English holdings on French soil and in 1189 openly joined forces with Philip to drive his father into abject submission. They chased him, forced him to acknowledge Richard as his heir, and at last harried him to his death on July 6, 1189.

Richard The Lionheart

Finally, Richard had become King of England, but his heart was not in the isle. Ever since Saladin had captured Jerusalem in 1187, he had only one ambition in his heart, to lead the Third Crusade and recapture Jerusalem at any cost. To raise funds for the war, he drew heavily from the royal treasury and put up everything for sale to buy arms for the Crusade. He sold offices, castles, lands, towns and even lordships. He once remarked that he would have sold the whole country if he could have found a buyer. With all the accumulated wealth, Richard raised a formidable fleet and an army, and in the year 1190, departed for the Holy Land, traveling via Sicily.

Richard The Lionheart
King Richard I's Great Seal of 1189

During that time, the Sicilians had elected the native Tancred of Lecce, who had imprisoned the late king’s wife, Joan of England. Their intention was to prevent the German emperor Henry VI from ruling their country. As Joan was Richard’s sister, he took Messina by storm and by the Treaty of Messina obtained the release of Joan and her lifelong share of her husband's estate. However, he accepted Tancred as the king of Sicily, declared Arthur of Brittany (Richard’s nephew) to be his own heir, and arranged the marriage of Arthur with Tancred’s daughter. Richard married Berengaria of Navarre on May 12, while he was in Limassol, on the southern coast of Cyprus, and joined the other Crusaders at Acre on June 8, 1191, having conquered Cyprus on his way.

Finally, Richard arrived the Holy Land in the month of June 1191 and Acre fell the following month. On 9th September, his brilliant victory at Arsuf gave the crusaders possession of Joppa. Twice Richard led his forces within a few miles of Jerusalem. But the recapture of the city, the crusade's main objective, eluded him. Richard’s friend, Phillip II of France, returned to France after the fall of Acre. Moreover, fierce quarrels among the French, German and English contingents created further troubles. In an attempt to break the year long deadlock situation, Richard made a truce for three years with Saladin on September 1192, which permitted the Crusaders to hold Acre and also a thin coastal strip and gave Christian pilgrims free access to the holy places.

Richard The Lionheart

Richard sailed home by way of the Adriatic, but a violent storm drove his ship ashore near Venice. As he was apprehensive about the enmity of Duke Leopold of Austira, Richard disguised himself, but he was discovered at Vienna in December 1192 and imprisoned in the duke’s castle at Dürnstein on the Danube. Later, he was handed over to the German emperor Henry VI, who kept him at various imperial castles. In lieu of a colossal ransom of 150,000 marks, Richard was released in February 1194.

On his release, Richard immediately returned to England and was crowned for the second time on April 17, fearing that the ransom payment had compromised his independence. Yet, within a month he went to Normandy, never to come back again. His last five years were spent in intermittent warfare against Philip II,

In March 1199, Richard was in Limousin, in France, sieging castle of Chalus-Chabrol of Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. It is said that, on the early evening of 25 March 1199, while Richard was walking around the castle perimeter investigating the progress of sappers on the castle walls, suddenly one of the defenders, a crossbowman, struck him in the left shoulder near the neck. He tried to pull it out, while he was alone in his tent, but failed and later a surgeon removed it carelessly, mangling the King's arm in the process. Soon the wound became gangrenous and Richard asked to have the crossbowman brought before him. The archer, named Betram, said, he intended to kill him to take revenge, as Richard had killed his father and two brothers. Richard pardoned the man, gave him a hundred shillings and ordered to set him free. King Richard died at the age of 41 from the wound and despite the King’s pardon, the poor archer was flayed alive and then hanged, as soon as Richard died on 6th April, 1199. Because of the nature of Richard's death, he was later referred to as ‘the Lion killed by the Ant’.

Richard The Lionheart
Tomb containing the heart of King Richard at Rouen Cathedral

Richard's body was buried in Fontervrault Abbey, where Henry II and Queen Eleanor were also buried, but his heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy and entrails in Châlus, where he died. His effigy is still preserved there, in Fontervrault Abbey,

In history Richard the Lionheart is considered as a courageous fighter and a competent military leader, who fought fiercely against Saladin during the Crusades. At the same time, he was considered prone to lust, greed, pride and cruelty. He was hot-tempered, possessed of tremendous energy, a skillful politician, and capable of inspiring his men and at the same time he was a lyric poet of considerable power. His name has become an English legend, and there have been numerous portrayals of the king in fictions and films over the years.

Richard The Lionheart
Tomb at Fontevraud
Richard The Lionheart
Muhammad Ghauri Genghis Khan
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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