Richard was crowned king in September 1189, succeeding his father Henry II. He ruled less than 10 years. Histories written in the 19th-20th centuries complain he spent only 6 months of his reign in England, but Richard was a man of his times and should be judged according to 12th century standards. His realm stretched from the Pyrenees to the Scottish border and there were major issues that kept him away from England:
1) He took the Cross in 1188, answering the Pope’s call to free Jerusalem, which had fallen to Saladin’s army and was on crusade from spring 1190 – October 1192; and
2) He was captured by Leopold of Austria in December 1192 and subsequently imprisoned until February 1194 by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, on his way back from the Holy Land.
3) King Philip of France took advantage of – even encouraged, along with Richard’s brother John – Richard’s imprisonment, by attacking and capturing many of Richard’s holdings on the continent. Richard had to deal with rebellious castellans in England in March 1194, and then returned to Normandy to take back and defend his lands.
Richard was a warrior king who fought on the front lines. He appointed capable administrators (for the most part) who kept England running during his absence. The last 5 years of his life were spent defending his birthright on the continent against King Philip. He died during the siege at Chalus-Chabrol after being struck by a crossbow bolt 10 days earlier.
His contemporaries thought well of him, as seen in this tome from the 13th century biographer of William Marshal:
But Fortune, ever quick to bring down
good men and raise the fortunes of the bad,
had no wish to let things rest for so long;
she overwhelms and destroys
everyone in a trice.
King Richard . . . went straight to the Limousin,
where the viscount was launching an assault
on his castles. What a pity they were ever built!
… Richard went to Lautron and laid siege to it,
but he had not been there very long at all
when a demon, a traitor,
a servant of the devil,
up there on the top of the castle walls,
fired a poisoned bolt
which inflicted such a wound
on the best prince in the world
that his death was the inescapable outcome.
That was a source of grief to all.
…the noble King Richard died,
a man of high enterprise, a conqueror,
who had he lived, would have won for himself
all the renowned going in this world. . .
Marshal was on the point of retiring. . .
when the news arrived,
news which struck him to the quick.
He was in a state of violent grief. . .
Gillingham, J. (2002). Richard I. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Holden, A.J., ed., (2002). History of William Marshal [L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal. French and English]. London: published by the Anglo-Norman Text Society: Birkbeck College.
Effigy of Richard I at Fontevrault Abbey – by Adam Bishop – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17048652
Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart.
Char also writes science fiction. Echoes of the Storm was published in July 2020.
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