Richard I (September 8, 1157 – April 6, 1199) was King of England from 1189 until his death. 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 the third of five sons of King Henry II of England and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine and seemed unlikely to become king, but all his brothers except the youngest, John, predeceased their father. 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 troubador Bertran de Born also called him Richard Oc-e-Non (Occitan for Yes and No), possibly from a reputation for terseness.
By the age of 16, Richard had taken command of his own army, putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father.
Henry II died in Chinon on September 3, 1189 and Richard the Lionheart succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou. Roger of Howden claimed that Henry’s corpse bled from the nose in Richard’s presence, which was assumed to be a sign that Richard had caused his death.
Richard I was officially invested as Duke of Normandy on July 20, 1189 and was crowned king in Westminster Abbey on September 3, 1189. Tradition barred all Jews and women from the investiture, but some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king. According to Ralph of Diceto, Richard’s courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court.
When a rumour spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London attacked the Jewish population. Many Jewish homes were destroyed by arsonists, and several Jews were forcibly converted. Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape.
Among those killed was Jacob of Orléans, a respected Jewish scholar. Roger of Howden, in his Gesta Regis Ricardi, claimed that the jealous and bigoted citizens started the rioting, and that Richard punished the perpetrators, allowing a forcibly converted Jew to return to his native religion. Baldwin of Forde, Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted by remarking, “If the King is not God’s man, he had better be the devil’s”.
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 failed to retake 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. 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 the eldest daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile, daughter of Alfonso VII, King of León and Castile and his wife Berengaria of Barcelona. As is the case with many of the medieval English queens, relatively little is known of her life.
Richard first grew close to her at a tournament held in her native Navarre. 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.
When Richard married Berengaria he was still officially betrothed to Alys of France the daughter of Louis VII, King of France and his second wife, Constance of Castile.
In January 1169, King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England had signed a contract for the marriage between Alys and Richard the Lionheart. The 8-year-old Alys was then sent to England as Henry’s ward.
In 1177, Cardinal Peter of Saint Chrysogonus, on behalf of Pope Alexander III, threatened to place England’s continental possessions under an interdict if Henry did not proceed with the marriage. There were widespread rumors that Henry had not only made Alys his mistress, but that she had a child with him. Henry died in 1189. After King Richard married Berengaria of Navarre while still officially engaged to Alys.
King Philippe II had offered Alys to Prince John, but Eleanor prevented the match. Alys married William IV Talvas, Count of Ponthieu, on August 20, 1195. They had two daughters: Marie, Countess of Ponthieu, and Isabelle; and a stillborn son named Jean.
King Richard pushed for the match with Berengaria in order to obtain the Kingdom of Navarre as a fief, as Aquitaine had been for his father. Further, 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, and she did not see England until after his death. After his release from captivity by Leopold of Austria, Richard showed some regret for his earlier conduct, but he was not reunited with his wife. The marriage remained childless.
On March 26, 1199, Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow, 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.
The young boy 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 then set his affairs in order, bequeathing all his territory to his brother John and his jewels to his nephew Otto.
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 flayed alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.
Richard produced no legitimate heirs and acknowledged only one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. As a result, he was succeeded by his brother John as king. However, his French territories, with the exception of Rouen, initially rejected John as a successor, preferring his nephew Arthur, as how royal inheritance rules applied to the situation at the time of Richard’s death was unclear. The lack of any direct heirs from Richard was the first step in the dissolution of the Angevin Empire.
Richard the Lionheart remains one of the few kings of England remembered more commonly by his epithet than his regnal number, and is an enduring iconic figure both in England and in France.