Richard I

Richard I
(Richard Plantagenet)
   Although Richard I was born in Oxfordshire, England, on September 8, 1157, and reigned over England from 1189 to 1199, he grew up in Aquitaine, in southern France, spoke native French and very little English, and only spent six months of his kingship in England (he spent the rest of the time on his interests in France and on his crusading activities); thus, he is often referred to as “the absent king.”Perhaps, however, a better testimony to this king’s character is the legendary nickname given to him because of his courage and bravery on the battlefield, Richard “the Lionheart,” as he is referred to in the 14th-century ROMANCE RICHARD COEUR DE LYON, in the legend of ROBIN HOOD, and in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. As a handsome soldier who stood approximately six feet four inches tall, Richard’s physical disposition also suited his nickname. The third of HENRY II’s legitimate sons and the favorite of ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE’s eight children with Henry, Richard became duke of Aquitaine in 1168, and duke of Poitiers in 1172, while his older brother Henry the Young King was named his father’s successor and crowned king of England.
   Along with Henry and his other brother Geoffrey, duke of Brittany, Richard revolted against his father in 1173–74. Later, in 1183, he joined forces with his father and fought against those same brothers when they supported a rebellion against Richard in Aquitaine. Finally, in 1188, Richard allied himself with King Philip of France to fight for Aquitaine, which he believed he (rather than Henry’s youngest son John) should rightly inherit; Richard defeated his father in 1189. Upon his father’s death (caused by a fever in 1189), Richard became duke of Normandy, count of Anjou, and, on September 3, 1189, king of England. Shortly after he inherited the throne, Richard joined the Third Crusade, which led him to capture Messina and Cyprus. In 1191, he met Berengaria of Navarre, and married her later that year; the marriage produced no heirs, perhaps, some argue, because of his homosexuality. On April 6, 1199, Richard signed a treaty with Saladin, the Muslim sultan who commanded the Egyptian troops, that granted Christians access to the holy places in Jerusalem. On his way back to England, in 1192, Richard was shipwrecked, captured, and imprisoned by Leopold V of Austria. Legend has it that while he was imprisoned, he was discovered by a troubadour and turned over to the custody of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who demanded a 150,000-mark ransom from England for the king’s return. The ransom, which was raised through heavy taxation of the British people, was eventually met, and Richard regained his freedom in February of 1194. The king returned to England to suppress the revolt raised against him by his brother John and to participate in a second coro-nation ceremony in April of 1194, to reestablish his control over the country. Shortly after he was crowned for the second time, he left for France to fight Philip to retain control of Normandy, and thereafter he never returned to England. One of the many contradictions of Richard’s life was that he and Philip II were close allies when they were young, but they eventually became enemies. Richard joined forces with Philip Augustus in order to preserve his right to succeed to the throne, but Philip eventually became one of his greatest rivals—some say this is because they once shared an intimate relationship that ended bitterly; others say it is because of Philip’s sister, Alice, whom Richard was supposed to marry but could not after she and Richard’s father, HENRY II (another man Richard shared an inconsistent relationship with), shared a romantic love affair.
   While Richard was in France or fighting in the Crusades, his ministers,William of Longchamp and Hubert Walter, carried on the administration set up by Henry II and ruled the kingdom quite effectively.While the king was actually in England, he impressed the people with his charisma and talent— besides being generous and chivalrous, he was skilled in music, poetry, and martial arts—and with his ability to come up with copious funds and troops for the Third Crusade. He was a patron of poets like the TROUBADOUR BERTRAN DE BORN, as well as the TROUVÈRE BLONDEL DE NESLE, and he also seems to have written verse himself, including one on his imprisonment beginning “Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa reson” (No prisoner will ever speak his mind) (Goldin 1973, 377–379). Richard died of an arrow wound inflicted during the siege of Chaluz in France—the castle was supposedly filled with a treasure trove of gold that one of his subjects had failed to turn over to him. It is believed that if Richard had been properly armed, the wound that killed him would not have hurt him at all. Upon Richard’s death, his brother, called John “Lackland” because he never received an inheritance from his parents, inherited the English crown. Although Richard might have been the “Absent King,” he is fondly remembered for his chivalric nature and bravery in battle. These characteristics have been recorded in the previously mentioned romance, in the legend of Robin Hood and Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, as well as Scott’s The Talisman, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1935 film of The Crusades, and James Goldman’s play and later film The Lion in Winter (1968), starring Katherine Hepburn with Anthony Hopkins portraying Richard.
   ■ Broughton, Bradford B. The Legends of King Richard I, Coeur de Lion: A Study of Sources and Variations to the Year 1600. The Hague:Mouton, 1966.
   ■ Brundage, James A. Richard Lion Heart. New York: Scribner, 1974.
   ■ Gillingham, John. Richard I. Yale English Monarchs. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000.
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Reston, James.Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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