King Richard I of England (the Lionheart)

by Susan Flantzer

Effigy of King Richard I; By Adam Bishop – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

King Richard I of England was born on September 8, 1157 at Beaumont Palace in Oxford, England, the third son and the fourth of eight children of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Richard had seven siblings:

  • William IX, Count of Poitiers (1153 – 1156), died in childhood
  • Henry the Young King (1155 – 1183), married Marguerite of France, no issue
  • Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria (1156 – 1189), married Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, had issue including Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor
  • Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (1158 – 1186), married Constance, Duchess of Brittany, had issue
  • Eleanor, Queen of Castile (1162 – 1214), married King Alfonso VIII of Castile, had issue including King Henry I of Castile; Berengaria, Queen Regnant of Castile and Queen of León; Urraca, Queen of Portugal; Blanche, Queen of France and Eleanor, Queen of Aragon
  • Joan, Queen of Sicily (1165 – 1199), married (1) King William II of Sicily, no surviving issue (2) Raymond VI of Toulouse, had issue
  • King John of England (1166 – 1216), married 1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester, marriage annulled, no issue (2) Isabella, Countess of Angoulême; had issue, including King Henry III of England; Richard, King of the Romans; Joan, Queen of Scotland and Isabella, Holy Roman Empress

13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (l to r) William, Young Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan, and John; Credit – Wikipedia

He also had two half-sisters from his mother’s first (annulled) marriage to King Louis VII of France:

Richard probably spent his childhood in England. His first recorded visit to the European mainland was in May 1165, when his mother took him to Normandy. Little is known about Richard’s education. Although he was born in Oxford and it appears he was brought up in England until the year he turned eight, it is not known to what extent he used or understood English. Richard was an educated man who composed poetry and wrote in his mother’s Occitan language and also in French. A contemporary Latin prose narrative of the Third Crusade said of Richard: “He was tall, of elegant build; the color of his hair was between red and gold; his limbs were supple and straight. He had long arms suited to wielding a sword. His long legs matched the rest of his body.” From an early age, Richard showed significant political and military ability.

During the reign of Richard’s father, the Angevin Empire was vast and consisted of an area covering half of France, all of England, and parts of Ireland and Wales. The last part of Henry II’s reign was taken up by disputes with and between his sons, often encouraged by their mother Eleanor. As Henry and Eleanor’s children grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by King Louis VII of France and then his son King Philip II of France. In 1173, Henry the Young King rebelled in protest and was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey and by their mother, Eleanor. France, Scotland, Flanders, and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels. Henry eventually defeated the revolt and had Eleanor imprisoned for the next sixteen years for her part in inciting their sons. In 1182–83, Henry the Young King had a falling out with his brother Richard when Richard refused to pay homage to him on the orders of King Henry II. As he was preparing to fight Richard, Henry the Young King became ill with dysentery (also called the bloody flux), the scourge of armies for centuries, and died. In 1186, Henry II’s third son Geoffrey was trampled to death during a jousting tournament in Paris.

Angevin Empire around 1172, solid yellow shows Angevin possessions, checked yellow shows areas where there was Angevin influence; By Cartedaos (talk) 01:46, 14 September 2008 (UTC) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By the time King Henry II turned age 56 in 1189, he was prematurely aged. Two sons were left: Richard, the second son, Eleanor’s favorite and the heir since his elder brother’s death, and John, the youngest child and Henry’s favorite. King Philip II of France successfully played upon Richard’s fears that Henry would make John king, and a final rebellion broke out in 1189. Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard and suffering from a bleeding ulcer, Henry retreated to his favorite residence, the Château de Chinon in Anjou. There he was told that John had publicly sided with Richard in the rebellion, and this broke his heart. Only his illegitimate son Geoffrey, Archbishop of York was at Henry II’s deathbed when he died on July 6, 1189.

Upon hearing of his father’s death, Richard set out for England, stopping at Rouen, the capital of the Duchy of Normandy, where he was invested as Duke of Normandy on July 20, 1189. He was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on September 3, 1189. However, Richard spent very little time in England, perhaps as little as six months, during his ten-year reign. Rather than regarding the Kingdom of England as a responsibility requiring his presence as the king, Richard saw England as a source of revenue to support his armies. Most of his reign was spent on Crusade, in captivity, or in actively defending his lands in France. Richard was back in Normandy by Christmas of 1189, preparing to leave on the Third Crusades.

Richard I being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey, from a 13th-century chronicle; Credit – Wikipedia

Richard had met his future wife Berengaria of Navarre years before their marriage at a tournament in the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre, Pamplona.  Berengaria was the fourth of the seven children of King Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile, daughter of King Alfonso VII of León and Castile and his first wife Berengaria of Barcelona. When Richard became king in 1189, he was urged to marry and his thoughts turned to Berengaria.

In the summer of 1190, Richard left to participate in the Third Crusade and asked his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to go to Navarre and arrange his marriage with Berengaria, and then escort her to whatever point he reached on his way to the Crusades. In 1190, Eleanor met Berengaria’s brother King Sancho VII in Pamplona and where hosted a banquet in the Palacio Real de Olite in her honor. Richard had been betrothed to Alys of France, sister of King Philip II of France for many years, so his betrothal to Berengaria could not be celebrated until he terminated his betrothal to Alys, which he did when he arrived in Messina, Sicily. Eleanor escorted Berengaria as far as Messina where she handed her over to her recently widowed daughter Joan, Queen of Sicily.

Richard and Berengaria were to have married in Sicily, but  Richard postponed the wedding and set off for the Holy Land along with Berengaria and Joan who were on a separate ship.  Two days after setting sail, Richard’s fleet was hit by a strong storm. Several ships were lost and others were way off course.  Richard landed safely in Crete, but the ship Berengaria and Joan were on was marooned near Cyprus.  Berengaria and Joan were about to be captured by the ruler of Cyprus when Richard’s ships appeared to rescue them.  On May 12, 1191, King Richard I of England married Berengaria of Navarre at the Chapel of St George in Limasol, Cyprus and then his fleet, along with Berengaria and Joan, traveled to the Holy Land. Berengaria and Richard’s marriage was childless.

Richard and Berengaria on the way from Cyprus to the Holy Land; Credit – Wikipedia

The Third Crusade also known as The Kings’ Crusade, was an attempt by European leaders to wrest the Holy Land from Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the Muslim military leader. However, the Third Crusade failed to capture Jerusalem and the only significant achievement was the capture of Acre in 1191. A truce was concluded with Saladin, against Richard’s wishes, and the Crusaders left for their homes.

Richard and Philip II of France at Acre; Credit – Wikipedia

On his way home from the Crusades, Richard was shipwrecked, forcing him to take a dangerous land route through central Europe. On his way to the territory of his brother-in-law Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, Richard was arrested near Vienna in December of 1192 by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, who had also participated in the Third Crusades and suspected Richard of murdering his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Acre.  Leopold had also been offended by Richard throwing down his standard from the walls of Acre.

In March of 1193, Richard was transferred to the custody of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who demanded that a ransom of 150,000 marks (100,000 pounds of silver) be delivered to him before he would release Richard. This was an enormous amount, equal to two – three times the annual income for the English Crown at that time. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, worked to raise the ransom. At the same time, Richard’s brother John and King Philip II of France, Richard’s offered the emperor 80,000 marks to hold Richard prisoner until September of 1194, but the offer was rejected. Finally, with the ransom in the emperor’s possession, Richard was released on February 4, 1194. Philip II of France warned Richard’s brother John, “Look to yourself. The devil is loose.”

Depiction of Richard being pardoned by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, circa 1196; Credit – Wikipedia

When Richard arrived in England in March of 1194, he found that his brother John had been depleting the treasury and was planning to overthrow him. However, when Richard and John met in person, Richard forgave John and named him as his heir in place of their nephew, Arthur, Duke of Brittany.  Arthur was the posthumous son of Richard’s younger brother, but John’s older brother Geoffrey, and had a better primogeniture claim to the English throne than John.

During Richard’s long absence, his French possessions had been threatened by his enemies, including King Philip II of France. Richard found it necessary to spend most of his time regaining lost territory and strengthening his hold over his French possessions. Richard had the great fortress in Normandy, the Château Gaillard built and it is possible that he may have been the architect. The purpose of the Château Gaillard was to guard the border between Normandy and France.

Ruins of the Château Gaillard; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

In March of 1199, Richard was suppressing a revolt by Aimar V, Viscount of Limoges by besieging a castle, the Château de Châlus-Chabrol in Châlus in the present-day Limousin region in western France. In the evening of March 25, 1199, Richard was walking the perimeter of the castle observing the trenches that were being dug. Not wearing his chainmail, Richard was hit by an arrow from a crossbow shot by a soldier on the castle battlements. Richard unsuccessfully tried to pull out the arrow and a doctor did a less than adequate job of treating the injury which became infected with gangrene. Knowing he was dying, Richard forgave the man who shot the arrow and asked him to be set free. Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, arrived before Richard’s death. He died in his mother’s arms on April 6, 1199 at the age of 41. After Richard’s death, the forgiven crossbowman was flayed alive and hanged by one of Richard’s mercenary captains, Mercadier.

Richard’s heart was buried at Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, his entrails in the chapel at Châlus where he died, and the rest of his body was buried at Fontevrault Abbey in Anjou. All the remains at Fontevrault Abbey are believed to have been scattered by Huguenots in 1562 when they sacked and pillaged the abbey, although the effigies remain. A search in 1794 by French Revolutionaries of the vaults found no remains. Richard’s heart monument survived both the Huguenots and the French Revolution and his entrails remain in Châlus. Richard’s youngest brother John succeeded him as king.

Richard I’s effigy at Fontevrault Abbey near Chinon, France; Photo Credit – Wikipedia