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Richard I - 1189-1199

Key Facts about Richard I

Richard, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, is a King whose reputation is legendary. He was a hero King and great warrior who comes only second to St George as a national icon, but whose contribution to the development of his English kingdom seems rather sparse.

Known as the Lionheart for his courage in battle, Richard, who, like his father, spoke, and wrote in French, spent little time in his English kingdom. One of his uses for his cross Channel domain was for the extraction of revenue for his crusading zeal.

The images commonly presented of Richard I are perpetuated by the romantic and idealised statue of him on horseback that stands just outside the Houses of Parliament. But is this a true picture? Sadly, it has to be said that Richard was one of our worst kings. He simply hadn't the slightest interest in being king. He was in England for only a few months of his ten-year reign, and he openly admitted that he would have sold the whole of London if he could have found a rich enough buyer. And, of course, if he had sold it he would have rushed off at once on one of his interminable wars.

For Richard, life was just one long series of military adventures. Indeed, it must be admitted that he was a brilliant soldier. From his earliest boyhood he was constantly practising the arts of war in tournaments and knightly games. He was only sixteen when he first campaigned with his brothers against his father, Henry II, in France. Encouraged by his mother, Eleanor, he continued to battle frequently against his father, allying himself with King Philip of France. Eventually, Richard and Philip forced the ageing King Henry to surrender. The anguish of defeat almost certainly killed the old king, who died of cerebral haemorrhage.

After his coronation, Richard immediately made plans for a crusade to free the Holy Land from the Turks under Saladin. Off he went, with his gay friend Philip of France, hoping for the glory and spoils of war. However, when they got to Sicily the two kings quarrelled, partly because Richard refused to marry Philip's sister, Alys. Just then, his indefatigable mother turned up with an alternative bride, Berengaria of Navarre, whom she had personally escorted from Spain, having negotiated the marriage herself. Philip left Sicily in a rage.

Then began a series of wildly improbable adventures for Richard. He sent his mother back home to England and pushed on to the Holy Land, still unmarried, but taking Berengaria with him. Berengaria's ship was nearly seized by the Greek ruler of Cyprus, providing Richard with a perfect excuse for invading and capturing the whole island. So it was in Limassol in Cyprus that Richard and Berengaria got married: surely the most unlikely place for the wedding of an English king. Berengaria was actually crowned Queen of England and Cyprus.

Although brides were not much use on a crusade, Richard took Berengaria to the Holy Land: he pressed on to win victories at Acre and Jaffa; just failed to capture Jerusalem; and negotiated a valuable truce with Saladin, to make it possible for Christians to gain access to Jerusalem. Richard then left Berengaria to sail alone to England, while he himself started to make the journey by land to Europe. On the way back he was captured by the Duke of Austria, who sold him to Emperor Henry VI for 150,000 marks. Back in England it took a quarter of every man's income for a whole year to raise the necessary ransom money. Pigs were killed, sheep shorn, church plate sold. It was an expensive business rescuing Richard.

When eventually he got back home, Richard gave himself a second coronation, in Winchester Cathedral. However, England still meant nothing to him, and he spent virtually the rest of his life in France, trying to recapture the lands and castles that his former friend King Philip had seized from him during his absence. Queen Berengaria never even set foot in England, and didn't meet Richard again for years. Although a sort of reconciliation was made, no children came. It must have been a miserable marriage.

It was almost inevitable that Richard should be killed in some skirmish or other, as fighting was his perpetual lifestyle. One day, as he was besieging an insignificant little castle at Chalus in France, an archer shot him in the shoulder. The arrow was hacked out, but gangrene set in. Richard, with romantic generosity, ordered the archer, whose name was Bertram, to come to his deathbed. He pardoned him, gave him a hundred shillings and set him free. Then he died.

Richard the Lionheart, finest crusader of all time, died without a legitimate heir, and in agony, aged forty-one, leaving his neglected throne to his younger brother, John. Berengaria, his equally neglected queen, spent the rest of her life in a French nunnery.

As for Bertram the archer, despite the king's pardon he was flayed alive and hanged.

Key Events during the Reign of Richard I

1189 - Richard I becomes King of England upon the death of his father, Henry II. William Longchamp is appointed Chancellor of England and governs the country while Richard is abroad. Richard sets out with Philip of France on the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

1191 - Richard captures the city of Acre, in Palestine, and defeats Saladin at Arsouf, near Jaffa.

1192 - The Third Crusade ends without regaining Jerusalem. On his way back to England from Palestine, Richard is captured by the Duke of Austria, who hands him over to Henry VI. Henry demands a ransom of 100,000 marks from England for Richard's release from prison.

1193 - Hubert Walter becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.

1194 - The ransom is raised in England and paid to Henry. Richard is released from captivity. He returnshome for a brief period before leaving to fight in France.

1198 - Hubert Walter reintroduces the idea of a land tax.

1199 - Richard dies from a arrow wound received while besieging Chaluz Castle, in France.

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