Richard the Lion-Hearted

Richard the Lion-Hearted


The greatest Christian warrior of the Middle Ages was born in 1157, the third child of King Henry II of England and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (southeast France). Richard grew up in a stormy house¬ hold environment that has been vivid¬ ly recreated in the movie The Lion in Winter (released in 1968).

From an early age, Richard was the favorite child of his mother, but he also fought with his father on numerous occasions.As duke of Aquitaine, Richard revolted against his father in 1173—1174 and again in 1188—1189.

He was close to success on the second occasion when his father died, leaving Richard king of England as well as duke of Aquitaine and Normandy. He was crowned in England on September 3, 1189.Though he is acclaimed as a national hero by the English, Richard was essentially a Norman knight, and he spoke French far more readily than English.

A true warrior-king, in 1187, Richard heeded the call of the Third Crusade, a war intended to recapture Jerusalem from the Arab leader Saladin (see no. 28). Richard allied with other Christian rulers, including King Philip Augustus of France and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (“Frederick the Red Beard”) of Germany.

The three kings planned the joint crusade together. Philip and Richard sailed to the Holy Land while Barbarossa marched overland. Barbarossa drowned in a stream in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), and most of his army turned back.

After the Christians captured Acre in the Holy Land, Richard ordered the slaughter of 2,600 prisoners, whom he could not afford to feed. Philip Augustus pled illness and returned to France, where he immediately began to chip away at Richard’s lands in Aquitaine and Normandy.

The Christian king outfought and outmaneuvered Saladin in two important battles, but was unable to capture Jerusalem itself. Feeling pressure from Philip’s incursions on his homelands, Richard signed a three-year truce with Saladin and returned home.

He made the mis¬ take of going through Germany. He was spot¬ ted, captured and held prisoner by the duke of Austria, who was an ally of Philip Augustus. England was forced to raise 150,000 marks of silver to ransom Richard.

Released in 1194, he went to England only briefly, then went to Normandy and spent the next five years fighting against Philip. Richard won nearly every battle and retook all the land and castles that had been lost in his absence. Richard was struck in the left shoulder by a crossbow arrow while trying to capture the castle of Chalus in Limoges.

The wound became infected, and he died 10 days later. He had spent only six months of his 10-year reign in England itself.