Richard 1189-1199

Born: Beaumont Palace, Oxford, 8 September 1157.

Titles: King of England, Duke of Normandy and Duke of Aquitaine (from 1172).

Crowned: Westminster Abbey, 2 September 1189.

Ruled: 6 July 1189-6 April 1199.

Married: 12 May 1191, at Limassol, Cyprus, Berengaria (c1163-after 1230), dau. of Sancho VI, king of Navarre: no children. Richard had one, possibly two illegitimate children.

Died: Chalus, Aquitaine, 6 April 1199, aged 41.

Buried: Fontevrault Abbey, Anjou. his heart at Rouen.

Richard like no other historical king of England, has so much legend attached to him and so much reputation, which is ill founded. We know Richard as the Lionhearted, or Coeur-du-Lion, the brave and intrepid champion of Christendom against the infidel, and he is one of our national heroes. And yet the truth is so very different.

Richard had little interest in England and certainly not in the administrative demands of government. In his youth he had not expected to become king, as his elder brother Henry (the young king) was heir to the throne. In 1172 he was invested with the duchy of Aquitaine, the inheritance of his mother, Eleanor. Like all the sons of Henry II, Richard seemed a less than grateful child. He was devoted to his mother and, when she was imprisoned, Richard joined in the rebellion of his brothers against their father seeking to gain more authority. Henry was still able to rebuff them at this time, but the relationship between father and sons soured over the years, with Richard's brother John being the favourite. Richard had one passion in life. He loved to fight. The thrill of battle never left him. In his youth he had trained as a knight and was a champion of the tourney. His courage and strength soon became the wonder of Aquitaine where he spent several years in battle against the rebellious barons. His military skill was evident when he took the hitherto impregnable castle of Taillebourg in 1179. Richard was tall, with handsome features and tousled red hair. He seems to have attracted as much attention from men as from women and there is almost certainly some truth in the belief that Richard had homosexual inclinations.

After the death of his elder brother Henry in 1183 Richard became his father's heir. Henry hoped that Richard would pass Aquitaine on to John, but Richard had no such intention. Henry's efforts to gain land back from his sons for John only led to warfare between Richard and his father. In 1189 Richard joined forces with Philippe II of France and beat his father into submission. Henry died a few days later and Richard travelled promptly to England to be crowned, pausing briefly in Normandy to be acknowledged Duke.

Richard's coronation was marred by the persecution of the Jews that broke out in London and later in other cities, especially York. Two years earlier Saladin's forces had captured Jerusalem, and the cry went up across Europe to regain the heart of Christendom from the infidel. Henry II had originally been asked to lead the Crusade, and Richard had been anxious to take part, but with them both fighting each other nothing had happened. With Henry's death, Richard's one ambition now was to lead an army against the Saracens. His stay in Britain was brief, sufficient to raise finances and resources for the Crusade. This included the infamous Quit-claim of Canterbury whereby Richard sold all rights in Scotland back to William the Lyon for ten thousand marks. He returned to France in December 1189 and would not set foot in England again for four years, and then only for two months. Although king of England for ten years he spent only six months in his kingdom. He left the administration of England in the hands of William Longchamp, a loyal and capable chancellor whose short temper and arrogance caused considerable friction with other barons and for a period forced him to retreat to Normandy.

Richard combined forces with Philippe II of France and set off for the Holy Land in July 1190. The vast army encountered transportation difficulties when their fleet was delayed and they decided to winter in Sicily. Richard's sister Joanna was the recently widowed queen of Sicily and Richard was less than satisfied with her treatment by the new king Tancred. A skirmish broke out between the crusaders and the inhabitants of Messina which resulted in Richard capturing the town. This enabled him to negotiate favourable terms with Tancred, which not only brought the release of Joanna, but much needed funds for the Crusade. It was not a happy winter in Sicily, however. Richard and Philippe quarreled over Richard's planned marriage with Philippe's sister Alys. They had been betrothed for over twenty years, but during that time Alys had almost certainly become the mistress of Richard's father Henry. She was not exactly a shining example of virtue and Richard, who had little interest in the fair sex, declined to marry her. In the midst of this quarrel, Eleanor of Aquitaine arrived in Sicily with a new bride for her son, Berengaria of Navarre. Incensed, Philippe sailed on ahead to the Holy Land. Richard followed in April 1191, but en route the ship carrying his young bride and his sister was nearly captured by Isaac Comnenus, a Byzantine rebel who had usurped power on Cyprus. In the resultant battle Richard conquered Cyprus, which he subsequently sold to Guy de Lusignan, the exiled king of Jerusalem. While in Cyprus, Richard married Berengaria. There were to be no children of this marriage. Although Richard may have been homosexual (and he certainly had a fascination for Berengaria's brother Sancho) he had at least one illegitimate child, Philip, who became lord of Cognac, probably the offspring of a lady at court in Aquitaine, a child of Richard's youth.

Richard reached the Holy Land in June 1191 and his forces helped conclude the siege of Acre, which had been deadlocked since August 1189, and where the besiegers were themselves besieged by Saladin's army. Richard however fell out with Duke Leopold of Austria, whom he insulted. Both Leopold and King Philippe of France soon returned home. Richard killed the prisoners taken at Acre and marched down the coast to Jaffa, winning a victory at Arsuf en route. However his forces were unable to penetrate inland to Jerusalem and, in September 1192, Richard was forced to conclude a three-year treaty with Saladin. Although Richard's Crusade failed in its prime objective, his exploits were amplified in their telling so that his English and French subjects elevated him to the status of a super-hero. In fact he was an extremely arrogant, petulant king, with a vicious temper and a total lack of moral scruples.

Richard returned to Europe in October 1192 but his ship was wrecked in the Adriatic and he was forced to travel across land. When he entered the territories of his enemy Leopold of Austria he apparently disguised himself as a woodsman, but he betrayed himself because of his fine gloves and was handed over to the Emperor Heinrich VI, who demanded a ransom of 150,000 marks. Richard was held captive for fifteen months while negotiations ensued and the ransom was raised. The negotiations were conducted by Richard's new justiciar, Hubert Walter, who had accompanied him to Palestine and who had arrived safely home. Hubert not only succeeded in raising the ransom but also quashed the attempted revolt by John to gain the throne. John's ineptitude nevertheless lost him lands in northern France. It is to this period that the romantic legend belongs of Richard's minstrel Blondel travelling from one castle to another in Austria and singing Richard's favourite song until he heard Richard sing back in response from the castle of Diirrenstein. Like most legends it probably has a core of truth.

Richard was eventually released and returned to England in March 1194. Despite John's treachery, Richard forgave him, merely admonishing him for acting like a child. He devoted the remaining years of his life to regaining his lost territories in France. He left for France in May 1194 and never returned to England. He seemed little concerned about the problems that his absence had caused elsewhere in Britain, particularly in Wales where warfare had broken out between the various rulers, and also in the Irish Sea where Ragnald of Man ruled as a pirate. Henry II had held these upstarts in check, but Richard showed no such interest.

Although Richard made peace with Philippe II on more than one occasion, war always broke out again. Nevertheless Richard reconquered all of his former territories and, in building new fortifications, left them stronger than before. He received an arrow wound during a skirmish at the castle of Chalus in the Limousin, and he died from the infection a few days later in April 1199. Richard spent his entire life as a warrior. He was an excellent soldier, fearless, brave and a great tactician, but he was useless at anything else. He left no heir, and had also spent a considerable fortune on his exploits. The English, in their usual way of preferring the legend to the facts, have long cherished the memory of a man who, in fact, had no interest in England other than as a source of revenue, and who was a ruthless fighting machine who made enemies of most of the royalty of Europe.

Berengaria survived Richard by over thirty years. She settled in Le Mans where she helped finance the construction of the Abbey of L'Epau where she was later buried. It is often stated that Berengaria was the only queen of England never to set foot in the country. She never did so during Richard's reign, but she made occasional visits after his death until she settled down as a nun at L'Epau.


By kind permission of "The Kings and Queens of England Website" (