Richard I was King of England from 1189 until his death. He was the second king of the House of Plantagenet. He 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 of his brothers, including Henry “the Young King”, 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.
Henry the Young King instigated rebellion against Henry II; he wanted to reign independently over at least part of the territory his father had promised him, and to break away from his dependence on Henry II. There were rumours that Eleanor might have encouraged her sons to revolt against their father.
Henry the Young King abandoned his father and left for the French court, seeking the protection of Louis VII; his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, soon followed him, while the five-year-old John remained in England. Louis gave his support to the three brothers and even knighted Richard, tying them together through vassalage.
The alliance with Louis was initially successful, and by July 1173 the rebels had captured Dol in Brittany. Richard went to Poitou and raised the barons who were loyal to himself and his mother in rebellion against his father. Eleanor was captured, so Richard was left to lead his campaign against Henry II’s supporters in Aquitaine on his own. He marched to take La Rochelle but was rejected by the inhabitants; he withdrew to the city of Saintes, which he established as a base of operations.
In the meantime, Henry II had raised a very expensive army of more than 20,000 mercenaries with which to face the rebellion. Louis retreated from his forces. At this point Henry II made an offer of peace to his sons; on the advice of Louis the offer was refused. Henry II returned to France and raised the siege of Rouen, where Louis VII had been joined by Henry the Young King after abandoning his plan to invade England. Louis was defeated and a peace treaty was signed in September 1174.
After his failure to overthrow his father, Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine, especially in the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his rule led to a major revolt there in 1179. Hoping to dethrone Richard, the rebels sought the help of his brothers Henry and Geoffrey. The turning point came in the Charente. Richard first destroyed and looted the farms and lands surrounding the fortress, leaving its defenders no reinforcements or lines of retreat. The garrison sallied out of the castle and attacked Richard; he was able to subdue the army and then followed the defenders inside the open gates, where he easily took over the castle in two days. Richard the Lionheart’s victory at Taillebourg deterred many barons from thinking of rebelling and forced them to declare their loyalty to him. It also won Richard a reputation as a skilled military commander.
In 1188, after Henry the Young King´s death, Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John. But Richard objected. He felt that Aquitaine was his and that John was unfit to take over the land once belonging to his mother. This refusal is what finally made Henry II bring Queen Eleanor out of prison. He sent her to Aquitaine and demanded that Richard give up his lands to his mother, who would once again rule over those lands.
The following year, Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip II´s (the king of France) expedition against his father. On 4 July 1189, the forces of Richard and Philip defeated Henry’s army at Ballans. Henry, with John’s consent, agreed to name Richard his heir apparent. Two days later Henry II died in Chinon, and Richard the Lionheart succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou.
After his coronation, Richard, having already taken the crusader’s vow, set out to join the Third Crusade to free the Holy Land from Saladin, the leader of the Turks.
Whilst wintering in Sicily, Richard was met by his mother along with a potential bride to-be Berengaria of Navarre, although he initially resisted the match.
On the way to the Holy Land, part of Richard’s fleet was wrecked off Cyprus. The island’s ruler Isaac I made the mistake of upsetting Richard by badly treating his surviving crews. Richard had landed in Rhodes but immediately sailed back to Cyprus where he defeated and deposed Isaac. It was in Cyprus that Richard relented and married Berengaria of Navarre. An unlikely place perhaps for an English king to get married, nevertheless Berengaria was crowned Queen of England and Cyprus.
Richard continued with the Crusade, landing and taking the city of Acre on 8 June 1191. Whilst reports of his daring deeds and exploits in the Holy Land excited the folks back home and in Rome, he failed to achieve the main objective which was to regain control of Jerusalem.
So in early October, after concluding a three years’ peace deal with Saladin he set off alone on the long journey home. During the journey Richard was shipwrecked in the Adriatic and eventually captured by the Duke of Austria. A heavy ransom was demanded for his release, it took a quarter of every man’s income for a whole year to raise the funds for Richard’s release. He eventually returned to England in March 1194.
In Richard’s absence, his brother John revolted with the aid of Philip; amongst Philip’s conquests in the period of Richard’s imprisonment was Normandy. Richard forgave John when they met again and named him as his heir in place of their nephew, Arthur. At Winchester, on 11 March 1194, Richard was crowned a second time to nullify the shame of his captivity.
Determined to resist Philip’s designs on contested Angevin lands such as the Vexin and Berry, Richard poured all his military expertise and vast resources into the war on the French King. He organised an alliance against Philip, including Baldwin IX of Flanders, Renaud, Count of Boulogne, and his father-in-law King Sancho VI of Navarre, who raided Philip’s lands from the south. Partly as a result of intrigues, Richard won several victories over Philip.
On 26 March 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 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. It is unclear whether the pardon was upheld following his death. 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 6 April 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”.
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