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In literature medieval kings embodied bravery, chivalry, and skill. Richard the First met all of these criteria, even if he was not a particularly good or effective ruler.
Born on September 8, 1157, in Oxford, England, Richard I was the third child and second son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Portraits of the then-price show him to have been quite tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. It is said that like his mother, Richard was fond of music and poetry; for this reason, he was beloved by the troubadours. While music and poetry were his pastimes, Richard’s true love was warfare. For his bravery on the battlefield, Richard earned the moniker, “Richard the Lionhearted.” His penchant for battle began incredibly early. At age twelve, he, along with his brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, attempted to overthrow their father. The melee ended only after Henry II invaded Aquitaine a second time and put down his sons’ rebellion. Incredibly, Henry forgave Richard and reinstated him as Duke at Pointiers, where he had been installed the previous year, at age eleven.
Richard continued to hone his battle skills. From 1175 (Richard was then eighteen years old) to 1181, his reputation grew as he successfully quashed a several rebellions in Aquitaine. In addition, Richard conquered castles, driving out their inhabiting nobles, and forcing others, like the Count of Toulouse, to bow to him. Richard’s power began to alarm his brother Henry, especially when Richard refused to acknowledge that Henry was the heir to Aquitaine. Richard’s denial started another family war. Henry invaded Aquitaine until the king came to support his younger son. The feud quickly concluded, however, when the younger Henry died in 1183, rendering the dispute moot.
The younger Henry was no longer a threat and Richard became the heir to both England and Normandy. Richard was not given everything he wanted, however. His father insisted that he give Aquitaine to his younger brother, John. Richard refused to acquiesce to Henry II’s wishes and another civil war ensued. A tenuous truce was established on November 18, 1188; both Henry II and the King Philip Augustus of France witnessed the agreement. Richard, in his now-characteristic pugilist fashion, rejected his father and threw his support to Philip, naming him as “overlord for all his Continental Possessions.” A fight ensued; Henry II was chased to Chinon, where he then acknowledged his son as his successor. Two days later, Henry II was dead.
In 1186, just two years before Richard was crowned, he received the news that Saladin had trounced the Christians in the Battle of Hattin. This victory was a turning point in Richard the Lionhearted’s life. Almost immediately, he took the Cross; but crusades were expensive propositions. He began to raise money in numerous ways, including selling castles, manors, earldoms, and archbishop posts. Even London, Richard claimed, would have been sold if he could have found a buyer.
In the summer of 1190 (now aged 33), Richard set out on the Third Crusade with King Philip Augustus of France. It was not a happy pairing. The two apparently quarreled constantly, even though they had once been rather close friends. A year later, the two parted company in Sicily. Philip sailed directly to Palestine; Richard first conquered Cyprus. The ruler of Cyprus had abducted his bride-to-be after her ship wrecked off the coast of his island. Richard settled matters there, then went to the Holy Land, arriving in the summer of 1191. Again, he paired up with Philip and the two led the siege of Acre. Soon, however, their tempers flared again, making it difficult to strategize. Philip returned home to France with the city of Acre surrendered. Richard stayed behind, and conducted a truce with Saladin. The truce allowed the Christians access to Jerusalem. The Third Crusade was Richard’s greatest achievement, creating the indelible impression of his chivalry.
Richard came home when news arrived of his brother John’s activities in Normandy and England. In 1192, he sailed for England, but a storm caused a shipwreck. Richard was forced to take the more dangerous route home through Germany, a place where he had created many enemies. He tried to travel disguised, but was recognized, then captured by forces loyal to the Duke of Austria. Richard was turned over to the emperor and held for ransom. Although the enormous sum of 150,000 marks was extremely difficult to raise (this number was roughly equivalent to being five times the annual income of the English government), those loyal to Richard paid the ransom. Richard was returned safely to England in 1194.
Although England was Richard’s home and the primary country under his rule, it was only his second appearance there and his stay was not long. Richard set about raising the funds for a new campaigns on the Continent. The last five years of his life were devoted to pointless wars with his former friend, Philip, the king of France. During these years, Richard was responsible for overseeing the creation of the impressive castle called Château Gaillard, a fortress of great protection. Not satisfied with just building castles, Richard became involved in a fight for treasure with a vassal. During a skirmish, Richard was wounded by an arrow. Richard the Lionhearted died a few days later and, by his request, was buried aside his father in the Church of Fontervrault.
Source: Dictionary of World Biography: Middle Ages, ©1999 Salem Press, Inc
Third child of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Henry, Matilda, Richard) following the death of Henry III, Richard I (1157-1199), known to history as “Richard the Lionheart” was one of the most effective military leaders in the long line of English monarchs. During his brief life (he died at the age of 41), he became renowned for his military conquests and for his leadership in the Third Crusade, during which conflict he repeatedly outfought legendary Muslim warrior Saladin, although Richard’s victories failed to reestablish Christian control of Jerusalem. His political skills having been forged during the years of disputes over inheritances between him and his siblings, including older brother Henry, Richard continued to pursue fratricidal conflicts with his father, the reigning king, and his brothers with the political machinations of France’s King Louis VII, whose former wife was Henry II’s current wife, lending an additional component of personal antipathy to the proceedings.
Richard would ultimately rebel against his father by forming an alliance with Philip II of France, Louis VII’s heir, accelerating Henry II’s physical demise and elevating Richard to the throne. Following Richard’s participation in the Third Crusade, he experienced the humiliation of being captured by Duke Leopold of Austria, who in turn gave this prized prisoner to the German monarch, Henry VI, who ransomed Richard back to England. Richard’s return to England was marked by his resumption of the crown. He would live out his brief life in conflict with his former ally Philip II of France over French territory that had long been the subject of intense warfare between France and England.
The significant points of Richard’s reign, then, include his war against his father, the king of England, and subsequent ascent to the throne; his participation in the Third Crusade and successful military leadership despite failing to conquer Jerusalem; his humiliation at being captured and ransomed; and his waning conflict against the king of France, Philip II, with whom he had previously been allied against his father, Henry II.
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