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Richard I (September 8, 1157 – April 6, 1199) was King of England from 1189 until his death in 1199. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, and Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine, and Nantes, and was overlord of Brittany at various times during the same period.

Richard was born, probably at Beaumont Palace, in Oxford, England, son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a younger son of King Henry II, he was not expected to ascend the throne.

Henry II and Eleanor’s eldest son William IX, Count of Poitiers, died before Richard’s birth. He was a younger brother of Henry the Young King and Matilda, Duchess of Saxony. He was also an elder brother of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany; Queen Eleanor of Castile; Queen Joan of Sicily; and John, Count of Mortain, who succeeded him as king.

Richard was the younger maternal half-brother of Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, and Alix, Countess of Blois. Richard is often depicted as having been the favourite son of his mother. His father was Angevin-Norman and great-grandson of William I the Conqueror, King of England and Duke of Normandy.

Richard is known as Richard Cœur de Lion (Norman French: Le quor de lion) or Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior. The troubadour Bertran de Born also called him Richard Oc-e-Non (Occitan for Yes and No), possibly from a reputation for terseness.

Richard I, the Lionheart, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, and Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine, and Nantes, and overlord of Brittany.

By the age of 16, Richard had taken command of his own army, putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father. Richard was an important Christian commander during the Third Crusade, leading the campaign after the departure of Philippe II of France and achieving considerable victories against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, although he finalised a peace treaty and ended the campaign without retaking Jerusalem.

Richard probably spoke both French and Occitan. He was born in England, where he spent his childhood; before becoming king, however, he lived most of his adult life in the Duchy of Aquitaine, in the southwest of France.

Early in the 1160s there had been suggestions Richard should marry Alys, Countess of the Vexin, fourth daughter of Louis VII of France and Constance of Castile. The Marriage was meant to sooth the rivalry between the kings of England and France.

Louis VII obstructed the marriage. A peace treaty was secured in January 1169 and Richard’s betrothal to Alys was confirmed.

Following his accession, he spent very little time, perhaps as little as six months, in England. Most of his life as king was spent on Crusade, in captivity, or actively defending his lands in France. Rather than regarding his kingdom as a responsibility requiring his presence as ruler, he has been perceived as preferring to use it merely as a source of revenue to support his armies. Nevertheless, he was seen as a pious hero by his subjects.

Before leaving Cyprus on crusade, Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, Richard first grew close to her at a tournament held in her native Navarre.

Berengaria was the eldest daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. As is the case with many of the medieval English queens, relatively little is known of her life.

Traditionally known as “the only English queen never to set foot in the country”, she may in fact have visited England after her husband’s death, but did not do so before, nor did she see much of Richard during her marriage.

The wedding was held in Limassol on May 12, 1191 at the Chapel of St George and was attended by Richard’s sister Joan, whom he had brought from Sicily. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendour, many feasts and entertainments, and public parades and celebrations followed commemorating the event.

Berengaria of Navarre from History Reimagined

When Richard married Berengaria he was still officially betrothed to Alys, and he pushed for the match in order to obtain the Kingdom of Navarre as a fief, as Aquitaine had been for his father.

Further, Richard’s mother, Eleanor, championed the match, as Navarre bordered Aquitaine, thereby securing the southern border of her ancestral lands.

Richard took his new wife on crusade with him briefly, though they returned separately. Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did.

After his release from German captivity, he had been imprisoned by Leopold of Austria, Richard showed some regret for his earlier conduct, but he was not reunited with his wife. The marriage remained childless.

In March 1199, Richard was in Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he “devastated the Viscount’s land with fire and sword”. He besieged the tiny, virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol. Some chroniclers claimed that this was because a local peasant had uncovered a treasure trove of Roman gold.

On March 26, 1199, Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt, and the wound turned gangrenous. Richard asked to have the crossbowman brought before him; called alternatively Pierre (or Peter) Basile, John Sabroz, Dudo, and Bertrand de Gourdon (from the town of Gourdon) by chroniclers, the man turned out (according to some sources, but not all) to be a boy.

He said Richard had killed his father and two brothers, and that he had killed Richard in revenge. He expected to be executed, but as a final act of mercy Richard forgave him, saying “Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day”, before he ordered the boy to be freed and sent away with 100 shillings.

Richard died on April 6, 1199 in the arms of his mother, and thus “ended his earthly day.” Because of the nature of Richard’s death, it was later referred to as “the Lion by the Ant was slain”. According to one chronicler, Richard’s last act of chivalry proved fruitless when the infamous mercenary captain Mercadier had the boy who shot the king flayed alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.

Richard’s heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, his entrails in Châlus (where he died), and the rest of his body at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.

In 2012, scientists analysed the remains of Richard’s heart and found that it had been embalmed with various substances, including frankincense, a symbolically important substance because it had been present both at the birth and embalming of the Christ.

Henry Sandford, Bishop of Rochester (1226–1235), announced that he had seen a vision of Richard ascending to Heaven in March 1232 (along with Stephen Langton, the former archbishop of Canterbury), the King having presumably spent 33 years in purgatory as expiation for his sins.

Richard produced no legitimate heirs and acknowledged only one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. He was succeeded by his brother John as King of England and Duke of Normandy.

His French territories, with the exception of Rouen, initially rejected John as a successor, preferring his nephew Arthur. The lack of any direct heirs from Richard was the first step in the dissolution of the Angevin Empire.

King Richard I remains one of the few kings of England remembered more commonly by his epithet, Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart, than his regnal number, and is an enduring iconic figure both in England and in France.

King Richard I 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.”