Richard I the Lionheart

King of England

Despite his faults, which were many, Richard I was the archetypal medieval warrior king. Noble, fierce and of matchless courage, he captured the imagination of his age. Richard 'the Lionheart' has left behind a name which echoes down the centuries and has passed into the realms of legend.

Parentage and Early Life

Richard was born at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, on 8th September, 1157, the third son of Henry II and his French wife, 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. Richard the LionheartRichard the Lionheart

From the first, Richard was his mother's favourite son. His wet nurse, Hodierna, was the mother of Alexander Neckham, who was to become Abbot of Cirencester and a famous writer. After the birth of their youngest child, John, Richard's parents drifted into open enmity. King Henry made the beautiful Rosamund Clifford his mistress, it was said that he truly loved her, deeply wounding Richard's mother, Queen Eleanor. The neglected Queen returned to her native Aquitaine, there establishing her own court and taking Richard along with her, who was designated her heir.

Richard was known to be fond of music and was nurtured in the troubadour culture of his mother's southern homeland. From the outset, he exhibited the volatile disposition and energy inherent in the Plantagenet family. He was said to be fond of quoting the Angevin family legend "From the Devil we sprang and to the Devil we shall go."

In 1172, when he was fourteen years old, Richard was invested with his mother's inheritance of Aquitaine and Poitou at Limoges. He joined his discontented elder brother Henry in rebellion against their father, when Eleanor of Aquitaine attempted to join them in Paris, travelling dressed as a man, she was captured by one of her husband's patrols and was imprisoned for the remainder of Henry II's reign. The untimely death of Henry, the Young King later made Richard heir to the entire Angevin Empire. In 1187, caught up in the crusading spirit which spread through Christendom, Richard made a solemn vow to free the Holy City, Jerusalem, from the clutches of the Moslem leader Saladin, by whom it had been captured.

Richard's appearance and character

Richard Plantagenet grew to be a tall man of around six feet four inches, a graceful figure with long legs and an athletic build, in later years he had a tendency to grow stouter. He had an abiding appreciation of poetry and music and a love of fine clothing probably inherited from his mother, Queen Eleanor. His hair was red, like his father's, his eyes grey and furious, he had also inherited his full quota of the infamous Plantagenet temper, causing him to be ever at odds with his equally fiery-tempered father.


Richard was in open rebellion against Henry II when the latter died in 1189 but on succeeding to the throne he acted generously to William Marshall and to all who had remained loyal to his father and honoured his last wishes. One of his first actions as king was to order the release of his much-loved mother, Queen Eleanor, from the captivity she had endured for the last ten years.

Richard the LionheartRichard the Lionheart

His coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on the 3rd of September 1189. During the ceremony, a bat was seen to zig-zag around the King's head in its erratic flight. Many in those suspicious days saw this as an evil omen.

Richard honoured another of his father's dying wishes in having his illegitimate half-brother Geoffrey Plantagenet, nominated as Archbishop of York. Geoffrey was a man of talent and ambition but was possessed of a genius for tactlessness, he had a fiery temper and was incapable of compromise. He became embroiled in disputes with the canons of York and others of the clergy. The only spiritual function of his office that the new Archbishop seemed to apply himself to with vigour was that of excommunicating those whom he quarrelled with, and they were many.

When the Pope summoned Geoffrey to Rome, he characteristically refused to comply and was accordingly suspended from his office. Geoffrey turned to Richard for help, asking him to intercede with the Pope, the new King listened sympathetically to his half-brother's complaints until Geoffrey went on to rebuke the King for the immoral life he had led, warning him he ought to mend his ways. Richard, exasperated, could stand no more, he flew into a violent rage, confiscated his estates and ordered him from his presence.

The Third Crusade

Richard's attention was captivated by the Third Crusade which he had promised to lead. England seems to have been regarded as little more than a source of revenue. He is reported to have said, "I would sell London itself if only I could find a rich enough buyer." Richard made out a will leaving his nephew, Arthur of Brittany as heir to the entire Angevin Empire. All preparations being carried out by July 1190, the English and their French allies led by Phillip Augustus set out on their momentous enterprise.

The Crusaders stopped en route at Sicily, where Richard's sister, Joanna, Queen of Sicily, was being held captive by her nephew, Tancred, the new King, who was also refusing to return her dowry. Tancred became more amenable when Richard arrived on the scene and when he captured the city of Messina, Tancred was forced to release her. Phillip, outshone by Richard, sulked. He raised the issue of his sister, Alys, who had been betrothed to Richard since childhood. Gossip claimed that Richard refused to marry Alys as she had been seduced by his father and was even rumoured to have borne the late King's child.

Queen Berengaria of Navarre at L'Epau AbbyBerengaria of Navarre

The English King informed Phillip that he intended to marry the Princess Berengaria of Navarre, the daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre, whom his mother was escorting to Sicily. Richard and Berengaria had met only once prior to their espousal, at a tournament at Pamplona held by her father. There was little the slighted Phillip could do other than simmer.

The voyage to the Holy Land continued, but the ship carrying Berengaria and Joanna was shipwrecked on the coast of Cyprus in the course of a violent storm. The Cyprians besieged the English survivors of the wreck at Limassol. A large amount of treasure, intended for use on the crusade, was appropriated by Isaac Comnenus, the Emperor of Cyprus. Richard dispatched a letter to Isaac, which was arrogantly ignored. Outraged, he unleashed the full force of the famed Plantagenet fury on the unfortunate Isaac. The Cyprian Emperor was overthrown and English governors were set up over the island which was used as a garrison for the crusade.

The English contingent of the Third Crusade arrived at Acre, in the Holy Land, at Whitsun, 1191. Richard's reputation seems to have arrived before him and on the 11th of July, the Moslem defenders surrendered the city to the Christian army. Richard, Philip, and Leopold V of Austria, leader of the German contingent to the Crusade, disagreed over the distribution of the spoils of their victory. Richard deeply insulted Leopold when he threw down his standard from the walls of Acre, an action that was to have dire consequences for him in the future. A further cause of dissension among the leaders of the crusade was Richard's support of Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, while Philip Augustus and Leopold supported his rival for the title, Conrad of Montferrat.

King Phillip Augustus of France was anxious to return home, he did not enjoy being eclipsed by Richard and was piqued at the repudiation of his sister. He set sail for France on the 3rd of August, abandoning the Crusade. An exchange of prisoners from Acre was arranged with Saladin, but problems arose in the arrangements. Richard believed Saladin to be creating delays. He consequently ordered the massacre of all the Moslem prisoners. This act of cruelty remains a bloody stain on his reputation.

On 7th September, at Arsuf, the armies of Richard and Saladin clashed in battle. Saladin was forced to retreat. Richard then marched on Jaffa and began to strengthen it as a garrison for Jerusalem. The army arrived at the foothills of the Holy City on 3rd January 1192. They were, however, exhausted, short of supplies and sickness was rife in their ranks and were consequently obliged to return to the safety of the coast.

Eleanor of Aquitaine at Fonteveraud AbbyEleanor of Aquitaine

A truce was negotiated with the Moslems. A superlative general but a poor politician, Richard proposed that Saladin should give the Holy Land to his nephew Saphadin, whom he suggested should marry his sister Joanna, forming a peaceful alliance between Christian and Moslem. The bemused Saladin, unable to believe his luck, accepted. Joanna, however, who possessed the famed family temper in full measure, refused outright to contemplate marriage with a Moslem, resulting in a heated family dispute.

Richard made attempts to negotiate with Conrad of Montferrat, but Conrad, who distrusted him due to his support of Guy de Lusignan, refused. Following an election of the nobles of the kingdom in April, Conrad was unanimously voted as King of Jerusalem, however, before his coronation could take place, he was murdered at Tyre by two Hashshashin. Conrad held his claim to the throne through his marriage to the heiress Isabella of Jerusalem, who just over a week later was married to Henry II of Champagne, the nephew of both Richard and Phillip, (through Eleanor of Aquitaine's first marriage to Louis of France). Rumours circulated that Richard had had some involvement in Conrad's murder.

Richard received disquieting news from England, his younger brother John was plotting against him. He made a further approach to Jerusalem but again realised he could not take the city and that he must now urgently return home. Heartened, Saladin then re-took Jaffa. Richard staged a daring counter-attack and although heavily outnumbered, put the Moslems to flight. Having negotiated a three-year truce, which retained his conquests and gave Christians access to Jerusalem, the King sailed for England.

On the return journey, he was shipwrecked and taken prisoner by Duke Leopold of Austria, whom Richard had insulted gravely in the early stages of the crusade. He incarcerated Richard in his castle of Durrenstein and England was forced to pay a hefty ransom of a hundred and fifty thousand marks to free him. Phillip and John in the meantime had attacked Normandy. On the release of his brother, John quickly deserted Phillip. The King of France, no match for Richard, was soon in retreat.

Chateau GaillardChateau Gaillard

The Last Years of Richard's Life

The last phase in Richard's life was spent in strengthening the Angevin Empire from the machinations of Phillip Augustus. He built the famed Chateau Gaillard, his "saucy castle " to guard his dominions, on a strategic position, high on a rock at Les Andelys. Richard chose the position of his fortress carefully, it is built on a site where the River Seine curves sharply, in the curve in front of the peninsula on which the castle stands, a hundred-metre high cliff juts out over the river. The construction of the castle took a little over a year. Phillip boasted he would take it, " if its walls were made of steel", Richard retorted he would hold it from Phillip "even if its walls were made of butter".

Chateau GaillardChateau Gaillard

Philip Augustus had long cast covetous eyes on the French Angevin Empire and nourished ambitions of regaining these lands for the crown of France. The contested lands of the Vexin and Berry became a bone of contention between the two kings. Richard formed an alliance against Phillip with his father-in-law, Sancho VI of Navarre, who conducted raids on the French king's lands from the south.

Richard gained several victories over the French. At Freteval in 1194 and at the Battle of Gisors in 1198, when he adopted the motto "Dieu et mon Droit" "God and my Right" which is still used by British monarchs today.

The King spent very little time with his neglected wife, Berengaria of Navarre and there was no issue of the marriage. In fact, there is reason to believe that Richard was bi-sexual. Rumours abounded regarding his homosexuality in his lifetime and he once did penance for the sin of sodomy. Richard did have at least one illegitimate son, known as Phillip of Cognac, who steps into the pages of history in Shakespeare's King John.

In the spring of 1199, a horde of Roman treasure was discovered by a peasant ploughing a field by Chalus, near Limoges, which was delivered to his lord, Archard of Chalus. Richard, as overlord, claimed the find as his and when it was not forthcoming besieged Chalus with his mercenary captain, Mercadier. On the evening of the 26th of March while Richard was walking around the castle directing the siege, an archer, using a frying pan as a shield, fired a crossbow bolt at him from the battlements, he ducked too late and the bolt embedded itself in his left shoulder. In attempting to pull the bolt out, the shaft broke, leaving the iron head in his flesh. A clumsy surgeon working by torchlight, although succeeding in removing the arrowhead, made the wound far worse and gangrene set in.

When the Castle fell, the archer was brought before Richard, who, aware that he was soon to meet his maker, forgave him, stating "Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day," he gave orders that he was to be set free and given a hundred shillings. Richard's devoted mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, rushed to his side and was with him to the end, he died in her arms on 6th April 1199. His wife, Berengaria, was not even summoned. Mercadier had the archer sent to Richard's youngest sister, Joanna, who had him flayed alive and torn apart by wild horses.

Richard was interred at Fontevraud, the grieving Eleanor accompanied her son's body there, burying him, as he had requested, at the feet of his father. The sooner to ask his forgiveness in another world. His heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, his entrails he bequeathed to Poitou.

Richard the Lionheart's Tomb at Fonteveraud AbbyRichard the Lionheart

Berengaria of Navarre

After Richard's death, his widow Berengaria experienced great difficulties in acquiring the pension owed to her as Queen Dowager from Richard's successor, John. Eleanor of Aquitaine attempted to mediate and the Pope intervened, threatening to place England under an interdict. Berengaria settled at Le Mans, she never remarried, eventually entering the convent of L'Epau Abbey. She died at L'Epau on 23rd December, 1230.

Richard the Lionheart's Tomb at Rouen CathedralRichard the Lionheart

Philip of Cognac

Richard left an illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac, born in the early 1180s to an unknown mother. Richard had married him to his ward, Amelia, daughter of Itier V, Seigneur of Cognac and heiress of Cognac in Charente, but she died without issue. Philip is reported to have killed Ademar V, Viscount of Limoges, in 1199 in revenge for his father's death. The chronicler Roger of Howden claimed that later that same year, "Philip, the illegitimate son of King Richard of England, to whom the aforesaid king his father had granted the castle and honour of Cognac, slew the previously mentioned Viscount of Limoges in vengeance for his father. Philip's name comes up once more in the Pipe Rolls for 1201 of his uncle, King John "And to Philip, son of King Richard, one mark as a gift". A transaction dated 1201 relates that Philip sold his Lordship of Cognac to King John and then disappeared from the records forever.

The Heart of Richard I

On 2nd March 2013, French scientists revealed the results of a nine-month-long study on the mummified heart of Richard I, which was rediscovered on 31st July 1838, by the local historian Achille Deville. The heart was found in a small lead box, complete with his engraved name, close to the memorial to Richard, beneath the choir in Rouen Cathedral, during an excavation. The embalmed heart was separated from Richard's body at his death.

Although the heart's condition was too poor to reveal the cause of death, it is now reduced to a quantity of grey-brown coloured powder, the study did rule out the possibility that the crossbow bolt that caused Richard's death was poisoned, an allegation a medieval chronicler had made at the time. Dr Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist from Raymond Poincare University Hospital explained "Our toxicological analysis showed no presence of any arsenic or any other metals, so we haven't found any proof of any contamination during the end of Richard the Lionheart's life," he explained." Pollen grains found in the sample included poplar and bellflower, confirming that he died in April.

The heart was wrapped in linen, spices and vegetables used in the embalming process were directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ. Traces of Frankincense, myrtle, daisy, mint and possibly lime were detected, believed to have been used to give the heart an odour of sanctity.

The Ancestry of Richard I

Henry III

Father: King Henry II of England

Paternal Grandfather: Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou

Paternal Great-grandfather: Fulk of Jerusalem

Paternal Great-grandmother: Ermengarde of Maine

Paternal Grandmother: Empress Matilda

Paternal Great-grandfather: Henry I of England

Paternal Great-grandmother: Edith of Scotland

Mother: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Maternal Grandfather: William X, Duke of Aquitaine

Maternal Great-grandfather: William IX, Duke of Aquitaine

Maternal Great-grandmother: Philippa of Toulouse

Maternal Grandmother: Aenor de Châtellerault

Maternal Great-grandfather: Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault

Maternal Great-grandmother: Dangereuse de L' Isle Bouchard

The Third Crusade