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From the Emperor’s Desk: Today and Tomorrow I will assesses the reign of Richard the Lionheart.


Character and sexuality

Contemporaries considered Richard as both a king and a knight famed for personal martial prowess; this was, apparently, the first such instance of this combination. He was known as a valiant, competent military leader and individual fighter who was courageous and generous. At the same time, he was considered prone to the sins of lust, pride, greed, and above all excessive cruelty. Ralph of Coggeshall, summarising Richard’s career, deplores that the King was one of “the immense cohort of sinners”. He was criticised by clergy chroniclers for having taxed the clergy both for the Crusade and for his ransom, whereas the church and the clergy were usually exempt from taxes.

Richard was a patron and a protector of the trouvères and troubadours of his entourage; he was also a poet himself. He was interested in writing and music, and two poems are attributed to him. The first one is a sirventes in Old French, Dalfin je us voill desrenier, and the second one is a lament that he wrote during his imprisonment at Dürnstein Castle, Ja nus hons pris, with a version in Old Occitan and a version in Old French.

In the historiography of the second half of the 20th century, much interest was shown in Richard’s sexuality, in particular whether there was evidence of homosexuality. The topic had not been raised by Victorian or Edwardian historians, a fact which was itself denounced as a “conspiracy of silence” by John Harvey (1948). The argument primarily drew on accounts of Richard’s behaviour, as well as of his confessions and penitences, and of his childless marriage.

Richard did have at least one illegitimate child, Philip of Cognac, and there are reports on his sexual relations with local women during his campaigns. Historians remain divided on the question of Richard’s sexuality. Harvey argued in favour of his homosexuality but has been disputed by other historians, most notably John Gillingham (1994), who argues that Richard was probably heterosexual.

Flori (1999) again argued in favour of Richard’s homosexuality, based on Richard’s two public confessions and penitences (in 1191 and 1195) which, according to Flori, “must have” referred to the sin of sodomy.

Flori, however, concedes that contemporary accounts of Richard taking women by force exist, concluding that he probably had sexual relations with both men and women. Flori and Gillingham nevertheless agree that accounts of bed-sharing do not support the suggestion that Richard had a sexual relationship with King Philippe II, as had been suggested by other modern authors.


The second Great Seal of Richard I (1198) shows him bearing a shield depicting three lions passant-guardant. This is the first instance of the appearance of this blazon, which later became established as the Royal Arms of England. It is likely, therefore, that Richard introduced this heraldic design. In his earlier Great Seal of 1189, he had used either one lion rampant or two lions rampants combatants, which arms he may have adopted from his father.

Richard is also credited with having originated the English crest of a lion statant (now statant-guardant). The coat of three lions continues to represent England on several coins of the pound sterling, forms the basis of several emblems of English national sports teams (such as the England national football team, and the team’s “Three Lions” anthem), and endures as one of the most recognisable national symbols of England.