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Baron Carlo Marochetti's
massively dramatic magnificent bronze statue of Richard astride his horse was erected in 1860.
It stands outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London.
The decision to locate it there was made by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband.
It perpetuates the myth in the minds of many of Richard as a great Englishman.
He was, in fact, the "least English of all the kings of England."

Richard I
He's dead but he won't lie down.
The life of the Chivalrous Warrior has always belonged as much to myth as to the realm of reality. Out of the mists of dimly remembered history, Richard the Lion Heart emerged into the daylight of legend and romance.

Bent, not Broken
Damaged by bombing in WW II,
Richard's sword demonstrated,
said Vincent Massey,
Canada's High Commissioner to Britain,
"that democracy under attack will bend but not break."

Two Peers Adorn the Peers' Entrance to Parliament
photo by

Richard I standing six feet tall with his auburn-golden hair and beard embodied the traditional heritage of King Arthur and the age of chivalry. His robust youth, build and bearing cut a royal figure. Designed by nature and prepared by nurture, he was the most charismatic ruler of his day. To admiring contemporaries, Richard was quite simply the greatest of kings. He was more than a match for the best of warriors and his achievements in politics and war were larger than life. His reputation continued to flourish long after his demise. He is without a doubt England's most famous king, made so by legend as much as by life.

Richards's father, Henry II, was one of the most successful administrators ever to sit on the English throne. Richard's mother, Eleanor, was the most celebrated woman of her age. Portrayed by the chroniclers as charming, welcoming and lively, she was a woman well-schooled by life's various experiences. She claimed descent from the great Charlemagne whose effigy adorned the coins of Poitou. It was said that Eleanor was to poets, as dawn is to birds. Suitors sang for Eleanor, swarmed about her and from their host, she chose Henry.

The sweet young queen
Draws the thoughts of all upon her
As sirens lure the witless mariners
Upon the reef.

Henry II was the first of a long line of fourteen Plantagenet kings whose reign stretched over three hundred years of English history. The name "Plantagenet" derived from the gay, yellow flower (planta genista) which Henry's father, Count Geoffrey of Anjou, wore on his helmet. In time this emblem was embodied in the family coat of arms.

"Henry... father of the young king (Henry) who jousted with such ardor; father of Richard, the cunning, who was wise and so shrewd; father of Geoffrey of Brittany who likewise was a man of great deeds; and father of John Lackland because of whom he suffered much strife and warfare." [Ambrose, L'Estoire de la guerre saint.]

Henry assigned to each of his sons except John inheritances in name only. Despite ruling England, a section of Ireland and about two-thirds of France, he refused to trust his sons with any part of his "Angevin Empire." His unwillingness to apportion them power as well as possession only in name resulted in their rancor and recurring resistance throughout his lifetime. They brooded on the wrongs they felt he had done them, and their mother encouraged confrontation so Henry knew whom to blame for the rebelliousness of his sons. Like William the Conqueror before him, Henry made it clear that "although all his strivings were for his sons' sakes, he had no intention of casting off all his clothes until he was ready to take to his bed."

Henry's chose to illustrate his sad predicament with a fresco for one wall in the palace of Winchester. It depicted a great eagle with wings outspread being set upon by four eaglets. Henry explained the eagle was himself and the eaglets, his sons. "Thus they will pursue me till I die and the least one (John) whom I now cherish with so much affection, will be the most malignant of them all."

Henry conversing with Beckett

While he was a great king, Henry II is remembered chiefly for the part he played in the death of Thomas Becket. The two men were once fast friends, boon companions, unitl Henry made Becket, a deacon, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket felt he had a new and greater master to serve than the king and the two men began to have frequent quarrels over the importance of the Church which was considered a state within a state. Becket enraged Henry by advocating the Church's absolute superiority. Their conflicts preyed upon Henry's mind and began to preoccupy many of his waking moments. He had a terrible temper, the "Angevin temper" or "black bile." When he flew into one of his tantrums, he shrieked and screamed, rolled on the ground, spat, dribbled, smashed furniture and tried to strike anyone nearby whether with hand or sword. Were his rages evidence of Angevin madness?/p>

This fury was now directed at Thomas Becket and it became so intense that Becket, fearing for his very life, fled to France and did not return until six years later when there appeared to be a brief reconciliation. In defiance of a storm, a barrier often more effectual than steel, he departed in his little craft guarded by Christ's cross and bobbed across the Straits of Dover from his exile in France, Thomas had second thoughts about his reception by and future relationship with the volatile king who would not abide opposition from anyone.

"The most persistent hate doth generate from love," and in no case was this truer than with Becket and Henry, whose relationshp had gone from love to loathing. No one could guess with what guile Henry beseiged Becket. He fumed that he had raised this ingrate from clerk to chancellor and from chancellor to archbishop and he could bring him down just as easily. Those who looked on awaited with wonder, worry and fear, news of the mounting monstrous struggle between "the lord of their bodies and the shepherd of their souls."

Henry was kept informed of Becket's arrival on the shores of his kingdom. The clergy's greeting of Becket was somewhat restrained and cautious for they were not quite certain where the king stood in all of this. On the other hand the public's reception was unrestrained and rapturous, tantamount to the welcome of a conquering hero. One of Henry's loyal barons summed up their briefing with this ominous comment, "So long as Thomas lives, you will never know an hour of peace."

The exact words uttered by Henry on this occasion are not known, but at this pronouncement, Henry flew into a fit of passion and growled something like, "A curse on all the false varlets I have nursed in my household who leave me thus exposed to the insolence of a fellow that came to my court on a lame sumpter mule and now sits without hindrance upon the throne itself." Shortly thereafter it was noted with consternation that four courtiers, "hotheaded and in the flower of their age" had rushed from the chamber.

Henry II Arguing with Thomas a Becket

About a month later riders flocked foaming to the castle door with urgent news for the king. They breathlessly recounted that in the dim hour of vespers on the very steps of the altar, four knights for glory at the hands of a grateful king, had shed the blood of the martyrs. Becket's skull had been cleaved in Canterbury Cathedral at the hour of evensong on 29 December 1170. The king on hearing this horrid news,------- uttered loud lamentations, promptly went into seclusion, fasted and caused fear and dread among his court that he would surely die.

Canterbury Cathedral
photo by
G. Wilson

Canterbury Bell Tower
photo by
G. Wilson

Becket's Murder Made Him A Martyr

Place of Thomas Becket's Murder
photo by
G. Wilson

Becket Brutally Butchered Here
photo by
G. Wilson

Artist's impression of Becket's Tomb

Becket's Window in Canterbury Cathedral

Becket martyred was far more to be feared than Becket alive and kicking. His blood stained the stones cried out from the Cathedral of Canterbury and the murder most foul cost Henry loss of respect among nobles who wondered just what part the king had played in this terrible sacrilege.

"Oh, how I wish I had said that."

To add insult to injury, Henry had neither pursued nor punished the assassins whose murderous mayhem had been motivated by his mutterings. Did his failure to decapitate these hotheads result from fear of being twice reviled for mobilizing men to butcher Becket and then killing them for doing his will? Henry knew he needed to atone for appearing to condone the murder of the man who became a martyr, so he ingratiated himself before the clergy and took his stripes.

Henry doing penance before the tomb of Becket

Henry also promised contritely to conduct a crusade to the Holy Land, but his death in 1189 intervened and his promise was passed on to his son, Richard, whose two older brothers, : William, died in infancy and Henry died of natural causes in 1183.

Richard Plantagenet, third son of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was born 854 years ago on 8 September 1157 at Beaumont Palace in Oxfordshire, England and ruled as Richard I from 1189 to 1199.

Coronation Procession of Ricahrd I
[From an old manuscrip]

In addition, Richard bore the titles Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Anjou and Poitou. He ruled over an empire that stretched from the Scottish border to the PyreneesHe While King of England, he was bred for a different destiny and early on, showed little interest in that country and never even bothered to learn its language, Saxon. His native tongue was French and his first thought was to put the Channel between himself and Southampton. Son of the adventurous, impulsive, irrepressible Eleanor, he followed in her footsteps and became a child of Aquitaine, that part of Southern France whose name resulted from the abundance of its water. It became the political centre of his realm.

Richard's Feudal Possessions in France

While heralded as the bravest and best king of England, Richard, spent only six months of his ten-year (1189-1199) reign there. He used the country as a cash cow for funds to finance his many military exploits in Europe. His regard for the land was such that, to quote his own words, "I would sell London if I could find a buyer." Less affable in crowds, Richard lacked charm and often ruffled his peers with his avarice and brusqueness. Yet his memory has aways stirred English hearts and throughout the centuries he was the ultimate fighting man. Richard's renowned courage and bravery earned him the nickname "Lionheart", a name that reached epic and legendary proportions. He belonged as much to myth as to historical reality. His life, said Winston Churchill, "was one magnificent parade which when ended left only an empty plain."

Eleanor of Aquitaine

The Coronation Procession of Richard I in 1189.

At the age of 31 Richard was crowned in Westminster Abbey. "Such as I see you, thus I deem you." That Poitou proverb motiviated his mother to stage manage a magnificent coronation. Eleanor realized how important Richard's appearance would be in a nation that neither knew nor loved him, so she spared no expense to ensure his crowning would be a glorious occasion. To many in the Abbey, Richard, as he moved amidst the clouds of incense and the flickering glow of tapers, appeared less like the heir to the throne than a soldier of Christ.

Coronation of Richard I.

Richard I

They did not have long to wait before learning that his landing in England had more to do with money than memories. "The King then offered for sale everything he had: castles, villas and estates." [Hoveden] As part of his atonement for contributing to the death of Becket, Henri promised to conduct a Crusade, promised to become a milite Christi, a knight of Christ. Death decided otherwise. On death bed, Henry bequeathed this noble task to his son..Richard had inherited his father's bad temper and the two men were at swords' points for years. Despite having willfully disobeyed most of his father's earlier orders, Richard eagerly undertook the task his father had bequeathed him.

Richard relished war for its own sake and rode into battle as if riding to a tournament. In fact, for knights in the 12th century, the two were twins. To win salvation with one's sword was the call of the crusade and Richard responded with alacrity. Dedicated from the day of his crowning to the rescue of holy places, Richard's heart lept up at the thought of conducting a new Crusade. Immediately following his coronation, he took the Crusader's Vow. His prowess in the field aroused fear and fascination. He was an excellent administrator but he was no statesman.


An obscure pilgrim, at first a soldier, then a married man and father of several children, then a monk and a vowed recluse, Peter the Hermit, who was born in the neighborhood of Amiens, about 1030, had gone, as so many others had, to Jerusalem "to say his prayers there." His experience there instilled in him the samd burning religious zeal that swept Christian countries in the Middle Ages: to attempt to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim control. Peter the Hermit becamae one of the church's leading advocates of the First Crusade {1096-99}, a key figure in the the conquest of Jerusalem, the First Crusaade's miraculous Christian success.

Statue of Saint Peter the Hermit in Amiens.

Peter the Hermit calls for a crusade

Peter the Hermit points the way to Jerusalem.

Here in an image from the c1286 Historie Universelle he is depicted at the head of a group of soldiers.

In order to find the money needed for the forthcoming fighting, Richard literally put his realm up for sale. In addition to selling and re-selling offices in England, he imposed a tax on the people called a Saladin tithe which amounted to one-tenth of everyone's income for three years. These funds financed what became known in history as the Third Crusade, the most famous of the numerous attempts to free the Holy Land from the Muslem Turks led by a supreme warrior named Saladin, who captured Jerusalem in 1187..


Saladin Celebrating the Capture of Jerusalem

The contest to come was between the two greatest figures of the twelfth century. Richard and Saladin became fearsome foes who savoured the furious fighting, but they also admired each other's courage and cunning. As a result their confrontations became a confused series of campaigns in which blows and battles alternated with compliments and kindnesses.

Saladin depicted on a Statue in Damascus, Syria [***]

Richard's Capetian colleague on this crusade was his one-time friend and oft-time rival, Philip Augustus of France.

Philip Augustus of France carved on Rouen Cathedral

Richard and Philip met at the church at Vezelay in Burgundy, France on 1 July 1190 to plan the Third Crusade. Richard's banners bore golden lions on red background. Philip's contained golden fleur de lis against a blue background. Richard, whose physical strength was proverbial, was tall of stature and graceful figure. He was by far the more commanding figure in his "magnificent trappings." He thrilled the crowd by his very presence and left a very frustrated Philip fuming. Jealousy fostered his anger and his concern for the Crusade lessoned. Chroniclers blamed the festering fight between the two men on the devil intent on stopping the Crusade.

Richard's fleet comprised great ships with well-protected broadsides manned with stout crews able to defend them. "On board was an abundance of gold and silver, rich furs, utensils, precious vestments, arms of all sorts, supplies of bacon, wine, cheese, flour, biscuit, pepper, cumin, wax, electuaries, various drinks, spiced meats, and syrups." Included were 50,000 horseshoes from an ironwork in England called Forest of Dean. [Guillaume le Marechal, III p. 124] Foremost among his forces were his knights.

In this 'feudal' period , the king awarded land grants or 'fiefs' to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies. The knights were appointed to do battle, the clergy to pray and the people to work and woe betide any who attempted to overstep their station in life. Peasants took up arms to assist their Emperor, Heny IV, and after their defeat, they were all castrated for their presumption to bear arms reserved for knights. During this period, the warrior was permanent but not the army. When the fighting ceased, the noble returned to his castle. Always awaiting trial of his strength, to which he was bound by duty, inclination and training, the knight assembled at arms when summoned by his sovereign. They fought in a single line, la haie, the hedge, each insisting on a front position. The glory of death on the battlefield was reserved for the armoured man on horseback

On 30 June, 1190 to the strains of the crusader's song, Wood of the Cross, the English fleet raised its sails and departed for the Mediterranean Sea. Because the Bay of Biscay was noted for its wild storms and the Strait of Gibraltar was dominated by Moslem pirates, only an awesome armada whose oars churned the water white would dare the daunting trip. Such a fleet had not been seen since Agamemnon's approached the shores of Troy.

First verse of Crusader's song
Wood of the Cross
Behold, the wood of the cross,
On which is hung our salvation.
O come let us adore.

The so-called 'Mask of Agamemnon
Discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae

The Holy War warriors with their armies proceeded to Lyons en route for the final gathering of their fleets in Sicily. All along the route the crowds that flocked to bid them farewell were "as thick as drops of rain." From Lyon they parted company. There were two routes to Palestine - the hot, exhausting route overland or the fast, cool but unpredictable way by sea. Philip had a horror of the sea, so he and his French forces set off overland eventually to rendezvous with the English at Messina in Sicily where King William had offered a port and facilities for the expedition. Philip's fear of the sea was not peculiar to him alone. The sea was a alien environment to many crusaders, containing it was thought, mythical creatures such as sirens and mysterious monsters. The physical force and danger of the sea was an ever-present threat, its storms dispersing fleets and grounding the king's ships. The fear felt by Christians of travel by water was shared by their Muslim enemies, whose leaders questioned any king's willingness to risk a sea-crossing. To do so indicated a mental defective according to Muslim law.In addition to death on the sea, crusaders feared the fate of dying in a state of mortal sin.

Travel was tough and treacherous by land too and fearing the fatigues and perils of the overland route, Eleanor urged Richard to go by sea, so he and the English army proceeded to Marseille where they intended to embark on the ships of his fleet en route from England.

Line(s) on left Richard en Route to Saladin

A fanciful illustration showing Richard I Unhorsing the Great Saracen, Saladin.

The Church at Vezelay

Nave of Church at Vezelay
Plans were made here by Richard Coeur de Lion and Philp Augustus for the Third Crusade

Richard's Wax Seal Showing Him on Horseback

On arriving in Marseille Richard was annoyed to learn that the ships he had dispatched from Dover and the squadrons that had been recruited in continental harbours were labouring in winds whiffing off the Pillars of Hercules. After waiting two weeks, a resigned Richard dispatched his troops to Sicily by various routes and set off himself on his galley Piombone for Sicily to meet Phillip II, better known as Phillip Augustus (1180-1222).

Until the autumn of 1189 Sicily had been the realm of King William who had married Joanna Plantagenet, Richard's sister. William's untimely death in November widowed Joanna and resulted in the seizure of Sicily by Tancred, a cousin of William's. To guard against any backlash to his takeover, Tancred decided to detain Joanna in Palermo.

Tancred, who was reputed to look more like a monkey than a man, was small and "villainously ugly," but he had considerable energy and ability. This would normally have helped him hold onto the crown but for one thing: Joanna was Richard's favourite sister and no one riled Richard. King William, a very rich and ardent crusade supporter had earlier promised Richard's father a significant sum to assist with the cost of the crusade. Richard was determined that his sister should get the huge dowry William had settled upon her and that he would collect the gold promised his father. Tancred thought differently and foolishly fiddled while his Rome was about to be badly burned.

Richard was not one to take no for an answer and he immediately prepared to "assault the city by land and by sea." Disdaining a boat to ferry him to land, Richard performed a dangerous and difficult feat by striding ashore in full armour. Tancred seeing him suddenly had second thoughts about it all and decided to give Joanna her dowry and Richard his funding for the coming fight with Saladin. Richard accepted Tancred's funds and his forced friendship and in return gave him a gift that many believed was unwarranted. The gift was a sword but not just any sword. As a result of Henry II having urged the monks of Glastonbury Abbey to search for King Arthur's tomb, a wondrous weapon had recently been uncovered in a king's grave at Glastonbury. It was reputed to be Excalibur.[*]It was never seen again.

Enter Eleanor, Richard's mother, the richest woman in Europe described as "the most fascinating woman in feudal society," Her incredible career included crusading with her first husband, King Louis VII of France. Unfortunately for France he divorced her. Eleanor said of this union that she thought she had wed a king but had instead married a monk.

Louis VII and Eleanor
King and Queen of France
Chartres Cathedral

At the age of twenty-nine this spirited woman then married the nineteen-year-old Henry of Anjou, the future Henry II of England and great-grandson of William the Conqueror. The union was not a loving one. Henry spent much of his reign fighting his four sons whose alienation he blamed on Eleanor. The two had fallen out of love, caused it was whispered by Henry, who spread his love among the ladies of the court. Eleanor fretted and fumed at his infidelity and her jealously led to contempt and finally hatred.

Eleanor and sons Richard, Geoffrey and John fought the King over his attempt to settle prematurely succession on his son Henry. King Henry pleaded for Eleanor to end the suicidal strife and restore her sons amity to him. Failure to do so, he warned, would result in her, "being the author of general ruin if she persisted in inciting them." He forgave the boys for their bother, but not Eleanor. When she ignored his warning, she was captured and incarcerated in a draughty castle at Old Sarum in Westshire where she languished for fifteen years but it never broke her will.

Prior to the departure of King Richard on the Crusade, Eleanor became concerned about her son's failure to marry and produce an heir. Aspirants to the crown were many and mediocre and Eleanor decided that Richard needed to wed and secure his dynasty with issue of his own. She learned that when Richard had jousted in Navarre as Count of Poitou, he had paid court in Pamplona to Berengaria, the first-born daughter of Sancho the Wise, King of Navarre. It was said that Richard greatly admired the accomplishments of Beringaria's mind as well as the attractions of her person. He even addressed a passionate verse to her. She was described by one chronicler as "a prudent maid, a gentle lady, virtuous and fair, neither false nor double-tongued." A second scribe less enchanted with her charms noted somewhat unchivalrously that she was more accomplished than beautiful.

Navarre bordered on Aquitaine and their union would have the added advantage of securing Eleanor's ancestral lands' southern border. Eleanor, who was in her sixties, set off to bring him his bride. She travelled to Navarre where she convinced Berengaria of Richard's love. Undaunted by danger or dotage, Eleanor and the princess passed over the peaks of the Pyrenees and the valleys of the Alps and in the course of time made their way to Pisa, to Naples and finally to Brindisi where on 30 March 1191 AD Richard dispatched a ship to bring them to Messina on the island of Sicily. Richard's initial reaction to matrimony was muted, but either the magic of the moment or the manipulation of his mother finally resulted in him relenting and agreeing to wed the wondrous maid.

Because the Lenten season prevented an immediate marriage and Eleanor thought she should return to settle serious threats to the throne from her scapgrace son, John, she left Messina for England on 3rd April 1191. Eleanor left details in the very capable hands of her daughter, Joanna, Queen of Sicily, whom Richard brought from Sicily to oversee the ceremony on Cyprus. Thirteen years later after her son John had ascended the throne of England, Eleanor retired to a convent at the Abbey of Fontevrault near Tours in France.

Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France

Following Eleanor's departure, Richard saw the Princess of Navarre and the Queen of Sicily safely off to Cyprus on a large dromon with suitable escort.

"The wind was high and lofty were the waves...
Swift as the swallow fliet, so sped the ship with bended mast."

After being repaired and de-wormed, the Crusaders' beached boats of various shapes and sizes, tugged at their moorings for the take-off.

Off we Go, Into the wide, blue yonder.

King Richard marshalled the one hundred and fifty vessels laden with life, loads of food, fodder, horses and weapons of war. The great fleet included as many as 50 double-banked galleys, the main warship of the time, a cross between the Viking longships and the Roman galleys of antiquity. At Richard's clarion call, oars strained and sails straightened and the fleet bounded forward for "God's unhappy country." With the king at the prow of the foremost galleon, the ships sailed away, a trumpet keeping the ships more or less united during the day, a lantern by night. Storms and wild waves beset Richard's fleet and the flames and horns were lost to each other as they toiled in the tempest. Tossed about by spring winds, the ships struggled in their separate courses with some being imperilled on the rocks of Cyprus.


Pope Urban II

"God Willeth It"

Four Leaders of the First Crusade

The Assault on St.Jean D'Acre

Isaac, the Emperor of Cyprus, had no reason to welcome the western crusaders and he deigned to respond to their distress. That was the wrong thing to do. Richard raged at this inhospitable Greek behaviour, and postponing his progress for a period, he went ashore to deal with this blackguard and his "base rabble of Greeks and Armenians." Before long the Greeks headed for the hills, Isaac was brought to his knees and Richard declared himself sovereign of Cyprus. Richard's capture of Cyprus resulted in food for the famished Christians and riches gallore to recoup the crusaders' costs.

In the lovely city of Limassol, Cyprus, Richard and Berengaria were finally wed on 12 May, 1191. The ceremony, performed just after dawn as was traditional, was conducted by Richard's chaplain, Nicholas, in the small, stone Chapel of St. George in Amathus (modern-day Limassol) in the Medieval Castle of Limassol. It was a glittering occasion with everyone attempting to outdo others in the brilliance of their apparel. While chroniclers paid little attention to the attire of Beringaria, they waxed lyrically about the magnificence of Richard's raiment. He wore a tunic of rose-coloured samite, a mantel "bedight with small half-moons of solid silver set in rows interspersed with shining orbs like suns." He bounded into the saddle of his imposing Spanish stallion, its saddle glittering with gold spangles interspersed with red, while the hinder part was decorated with two small golden lions, each poised to devour the other. The king's feet were adorned with golden spurs and he was girt with golden-hilted sword in a scabbard edged with silver. Atop his head he wore a scarlet bonnet. The matchless bearing of the lofty Lionheart bedazzled the brilliant crowd.

Great was the joyance and the night was clear.{Ambrose}

Following the wedding Beregaria underwent her coronation as Queen of England in the same, small stone chapel of Amathus with the Norman bishop of Evreux officiating. Beringaria's was the first coronation and the first royal marriage to be held beyond England's shores. When Richard appealed in a ringing voice to the assembled crusaders for their acceptance of the new queen, the rocks rang with a thousand voices replying in unison, "Vivat Regina." Beringaria accompanied Richard for a brief period during part of the crusade, but she returned separately, having almost as much difficulty making the journey home as Richard.

Medieval Castle of Limassol, Cyprus
photo by
G. Wilson

Chapel of St. George
photo by
G. Wilson

Stones in the Chapel of St. George
photo by
In the chapel it was a moving moment to stand on the very stones upon which the Coeur de Lion had stood 950 years before, when he wed Beringaria of Navarre before a throng of clergy, nobles and ne'er-do-wells.

St. George's Chapel Arches
Limassol Castle
photo by

Beringaria battled for her husband's love, but never won him or his heart. While he held her in little regard, she appeared to love him and was greatly distressed to learn of his death in 1199. Only after Richard's demise did she see England and even then, she had to sue the Church to be recognized as his widow. King John consented to provide a dowry for his brother's widow, but failed to follow through on his promise even when pressed to do so by the Pope, the natural protector of widows. Ironically, it was Richard's nemesis, King Philip of France, who finally did so by granting to Berengaria the city of Le Mans as a dowry when he conquered the Angevin lands.

When news of Richard's easy conquest of Cyprus reached the ears of Saladin, his quick victory astonished Saladin, who suddenly took serious word that a wondrous warrior was bearing down on him. Deciding to cease their verbal assaults on each other and to bury the hatchet in the heads of their enemies, Richard and Philip II succeeded in capturing Acre. Philip. who the whole time seethed with jealousy at Richard's fame, fortune and ferocity with a sword, feigned illness and returned to France, where he immediately commenced conspiring with John. Their plan was to use their repellent power to depose Richard, whose kingdom included England, Normandy, Brittany, Anjoy, Touraine and Aquitaine, an area three times larger than the minor state of France controlled by Phillip.

Richard Arrives at Acre

When Richard arrived at the besieged city of Acre, "the flowers of the world camped round about it, their coloured banners indentifying every aristocratic family in Western Europe." Richard was greeted by the strains of martial music and the plaudits of thousands thronging the streets. The Christian crowds on shore and in boats at sea went wild with jubilation for they knew he would "quicken the soul of the crusading enterprise." "Pen cannot fully describe nor tongue tell the people's rapture at his arrival."The crusaders' disembarkation was a cause for celebration. It was a most marvellous sight. Knights and sergeants [men-at-arms] swarmed out of the warships, numbers of sturdy war-horses taken out of transports, countless fine tents and pavilions unloaded ready to pitch.

The mysterious east greeted the Crusaders with much that was new and different. They saw and tasted bananas for the first time and called them "apples of paradise."

Richard and his troops assaulted Saladin's beleaguered forces day and night without ceasing with darts, arrows and slung stones. Knights held reins and shields in their left hands and their lances under their right arms as their heavy war horses trailing great plumes of dust plunged into Saladin's lines. Finally after a month of carnage, Saladin's satraps raised the white flag on 12 July 1191. The victorious allies stormed into Acre, each nation racing to take possession of a favourable quarter and its spoils. The standard of Richard went up over the palace of kings. The knights of Duke Leopold of Austria, who "sweated as freely as the others for the victory" were late in arriving at the spoils and were left with no spot to display their flag so they ran up their proud pennant beside that of Richard's. Leopold's banner was almost immmediately torn down and cast into "the filth and debris of the moat." The Coeur de Lion brooked no rival to his supremacy and many who looked on shared the umbrage and the anger at the insult to a fellow fighter's proud flag. The Duke vowed vengeance upon the haughty Plantagenet.

Richard the Lionheart at A Pitched Battle

It was said that Richard atoned for the defects of his troops by the excellence of his generalship, the skill of his engineering and his inspiring valor on the field. Shouting "perish the hindmost," Richard charged swinging his famous Danish ax beating and battering down all who attempted to assail him.

Rampaging Richard

The reckless courage of the king carried the day for he played a very large part in the capture of Acre and in several other minor military victories. The crossbow, which could be shot accurately with very little training, was just coming into its own. It was found to be extremely useful and became a key element of the sophisticated infantry-cavalry teams crafted by Richard to repel the hit-and-run tactics of Saladin's forces.

Jerusalem became the focus for the crusade. Crusaders pictured it as the celestial city of the Book of Revelations, with gates of pearl, walls studded with precious stones and streets paved with gold, with "no need of sun, neither of moon, to shine in it for the glory of God did lighten it." Here the water of life flowed and the tree of life bore leaves "for the healing of the nations."

Jerusalem Under Siege

The longed for entry into Jerusalem was never achieved. Despite twice coming within a few leagues of the Holy City, Richard never defeated Saladin's forces. Jealous conflicts among the leaders, lack of sufficient forces and fear of too lengthy a supply line confined the Christian attackers to a distant view of the Holy City. While he never achieved his primaray objective of liberating the Holy Land from the rule of Moslem Turks, Richard successfully negotiated easier access to the region for Christian pilgrims through a truce signed with Saladin.

Richard Looking Longingly at the Elusive Holy City .

Lionheart bidding farewell to the Holy Land

The formal end of the 3rd Crusade took place on 2 September 1192 with the signing of a treaty by Richard and Saladin. The two men never met face to face. Richard was the greater warrior who never failed to inspire his fighting followers, but he was often petulent, unpredictable, easily angered and frequently thoughtlessly harsh with and disdainful of his allies. Saladin was more stable, kept better control over his emotions and was a more skilled leader of men.

Crusaders by Delacroix

The French 4th Crusaders left with the intention of completing what the 3rd had failed to accomplish - capture Jerusalem. Their forces were transported by Venetian sailors and marines who exacted a fee for their fleet's services. Unable to pay it, the French were convinced by the Venetians to assist them to attack and defeat Constantinople's Emperor Alexius III and replace him with the rightful ruler, Alexius Angelos, the son of the man whom Alexius III had overthrown. When the French and Venetians discove3red that the people of Constantinope did not want Angelos, . Venetian seaborne forces and French crusaders assaulted the city, sacking and burning much of it and succeeded in installing Prince Alexius as Emperor Alexius IV.

Venetian naval forces and French Crusaders raid Constantinople

Crusaders ravaging and savaging Constantinople
Gustave Dore's engraving

1460 Illumination of Christians attacking Constantinople.

Seditious plots involving King Philip of France and Richard's brother, Prince John, were widespread in England. Only seven and a half months since Philip had left for home, he was threatening the borders of Normandy. Richard received a desperate letter from Eleanor on 15 April 1192, imploring him to return on the wings of the wind. Reluctantly he heeded her advice and sailed for home on 9 October 1192.

Ship wrecked in the Adriatic Sea, Richard was forced to make his way across country. While travelling through Germany in disguise, his identity was discovered and he was captured and imprisoned. His captor was a fellow crusader, Leopold, Duke of Austria, whom Richard had needlessly alienated with his insolent attitude and behaviour. Henry VI Hohenstaufen, King of the Germans "those children of perdition," and Holy Roman Emperor also had reason to revel in the capture of the King of England. As Leopold's overlord Henry had every right to take charge of Richard which he promply did and locked the Lionheart away in an undisclosed castle until he decided on his fate.

Adriatic Sea
photo by
G. Wilson

Legend has it that Blondell, a shadowy and elusive figure, was Richard's faithful minstrel. He is reputed to have travelled from castle to castle singing a favourite song of Richard's until he finally heard a familiar response. "And when the first verse was finished,
A voice within the tower took up the second and sang it quaintly.
And it was the voice of Richard."

Another version of Blondel's long search for the Lionheart had him travelling from castle to castle striking chords which the King loved best. Low and behold at one of the fortresses he was ecstatic to be rewarded with a chord from Richard's own harp.

Blondel Kept Harping

For the Emperor, Richard was a prize without peer. This hostage of all hostages had become his "by divine grace." Not only could he be charged with all the "accumulated mischiefs," but as hostage he would help Henry solve a great many troubles he had with his own feudatories. Richard learned from the Emperor that the long list of grievances against him had been filed by French crusaders who left the Holy Land before him and blackened his reputation by telling the Emperor that Richard had betrayed Christianity by making peace with Saladin. By doing so he had committed, they charged, treason and treachery in the "Land of Promise."

Throughout his imprisonment Richard remained in excellent spirits and for the most part was sanquine about his fate. His wrath flared only when he thought about his former French friend and ally, Philip. Richard was tried for his so-called crimes in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor in a court at Speyer attended by an imposing array of lay and clerical vassals. In language searing and forthright, Richard spoke brilliantly in his own defence and appeared to all as shining as his legend. He had lost not an inch of his regal stature nor any of his natural aplomb. His eloquence converted him from being the villain to the victim being persecuted for righteousness' sake. The Emperor was so moved by Richard's tale of his heavy role as count, crusader and king, he burst into tears, came down from his throne and raised the prostrate Richard from humility to honour. Chroniclers say the trial at Speyer was in some ways Richard's finest moment.

The Emperor's touching tears did not diminish his demand for a rich ransom for Richard's release and Richard sent word to Queen Eleanor to raise it quickly. He sent her the armour he had worn on his Crusade hoping the "poor empty scaffolding" in which he had defied the enemies of Christ would motivate his many faithful followers to give generously. Richard wrote passable poetry himself. He burnished his poetic gifts with his favourite lyric form, the sirventes and with disarming grace, suave cadence and delicate strophic schemes, he admonished his fair weather friends to respond respectfully. The Pope considered himself the politically superior of kings and Eleanor sought from him support for Richard's release, but despite her entreaties, his sword "reposed in its scabbard."

Richard's emotional speech at Speyer in March 1193.

To reach the ransom England was forced to reach into the very bottom of its purse. The amount required to buy Richard's release cost the country twice the annual revenue of the English crown."No subject rich or poor was overlooked." It required one quarter of every residents' revenue for 1193 and all church vessels of gold and silver to be melted down. It is estimated that 35 tons of silver were collected and calculated that in today's currency, the ransom would have totalled two billion pounds.

Richard's earnest enemy, Philip of France, was amazed at the speed with which the ransom money was raised. Anticipating Richard's early release, Philip dashed off this coded message to his arch conspirator, Richard's brother, Prince John. "Beware, The Devil is now set loose."

Following Richard's release from captivity, he crossed to England where he was re-crowned at Winchester in an even more elaborate ceremony than first performed. Led by Eleanor a great number of ladies attended the Coeur de Lion's second coronation but Beringaria was not among them. Richard and Beringaria were re-united but Richard lived in the saddle and was no captive in the courts of love. Historians suggest that he may have been in the middle of his infatuation with a Cypriot princess or experimenting with more exotic forms of love or he may simply have been distant and aloof. Whatever the reason Eleanor's longed-for heir never resulted from their reunion,

It was during this trip that Richard visited Sherwood Forest which he had never seen before. He stayed in the royal hunting lodge, now a ruin known as King John's Palace. According to legend Richard's visit brought him face to face with Robin Hood. It is believed the original of this outlaw, who robbed the rich to give to the poor, was either an entirely mythical figure or an outlaw who may have lived near the beginning of the 13th century.

Robin Hood & His Merry Men Entertain King Richard in Sherwood Forest

After Richard quickly settled affairs in England, the sails of his fleet bent to the wind and the prows of the ships breasted the swells of the Channel, He was off to defend his French possessions. In the tumult of taking off from England on 12 May, 1194, Richard may never have known he was leaving England for the last time.

"My Fair Child"

In France the war with Philip proceeded. Richard studied the strategic defence of Normandy and decided to build a fort on a high crag rising above the bend in Seine by Andelys, the key to Rouen. In 1196 he set about building the most perfect fortress his experience could devise. He called it Chateau Gaillard or "Saucy Castle" and "my fair child."It was an immense triple-walled stone structure of which substantial ruins are still present on the site. Richard bragged that it was beyond question, the strongest fortress in the world. "If its walls were iron," retorted Philip, "I would take it." Richard responded, "If they were made of butter, I would hold it." Located high above the Seine River about 40 kilometers from Rouen, Chateau Gaillard fell to the Normans in 1204 and was largely dismantled 400 years later by Henri IV.

Beringaria's failure to provide Richard with an heir left her destitute of a role in destiny. She lived out a long widowhood in Le Mans, continually calling upon John to pay her the pension he had promised. She was noted for her work with the poor. Until her death she styled herself as "most humble former Queen of the English." Beringaria closed her eyes upon the world in 1230. Her effigy is that of a woman with long, flowing hair. She is dressed as a virgin bride with her feet resting on a lion and a small dog underneath it. Her remains were discovered in 1960 hidden under the floor of the former chapterhouse of the Abbey at L'Epau, which she founded.

Beringaria of Navarre in effigy on her tomb at L'Epau Abbey
The effigy is not necessarily a likeness, but it may be a guide to her appearance.

A vassal of Richard's, Aymar, Viscount of Limoges, found a treasure trove on his land. It was said to be a set of gold and silver figurines representing a king seated at a table with his family. It was thought to be some relic from the Roman times and of great value. Richard saw it as a source of badly needed funding and claimed it as his right as overlord. When Aymar sent him half the value of the treasure, Richard demanded all and sent sappers and soldiers to undermine and take Aymar's tiny castle of Chalus. One evening while casually checking on the success of their efforts, Richard was struck in the left shoulder near the neck by a bolt from a crossbow. Without uttering a sound of surprise or pain, Richard returned to his tent where his benumbed nobles succeeded in breaking off the blade of the arrow. The barb, however, remained deep within the flesh which festered. A surgeon of sorts known as the 'butcher' in what must have been a ghastly operation, "carelessly mangled the king's arm," finally digging out the barb from deep inside his shoulder. Despite the application of unguents and poulticies, the damage had been done and before long gangerene set in. Richard soon realized the end was just a matter of time and sent for Eleanor who arrived in time to share with him his last day of chivalry before he went the way of all flesh. For one brief decade Richard was King of England and the pride of Christendom.

The Lionheart was an inspiring and skilful commander whose arrogance was often tempered by mercy. When the youthful archer who shot the fatal arrow was identified, he was brought to the dying king's side where Richard forgave and released him. This last act of chivalry was undone by Richard's mercenary captain, Mercadier who had the boy flayed alive. Some sources say it was Richard's sister, Joanna, who ordered the boy's death.

Richard's death in 1199 came not during the glorious clash of combat but from a chance wound received in a greedy grab for gold resulting in "the Lion being slain by the Ant." News of Richard's death took swift wing along the roads and river courses. People emerged from their huts and halls and huddled in wonder and amazement. Could it be that the invincible Coeur de Lion was dead. Richard was widely admired as a knightly exemplar and his contemporaries were conscious of the passing of a great man. In the words of one, "In man trials he proved himself more virtuous and valiant than all other mortals."

When Richard realized he was about to die, he sent for his mother and she agreed he should bequeath the kingdom to his brother John. [**] The custom in France at the time dictated that the king's body be divided up for burial. Distribution of parts of the body was to elict prayers for the soul in as many churches as possible.

Richard's brain and entrails were interred at Abbey of Charroux between Poitou and Limousin.

Abbey of Charroux, France
Its famous octagonal tower known as 'Charlemagne's' with its remarkable Gothic sculptures and its treasure, is classified among the major historical Poitevin sites of the Middle Ages.

Richard's heart was taken to Normandy and buried beside his elder brother in a tomb in Rouen Cathedral in Normandy. This glorious Gothic structure's builders expressed through great art and fine craftsmanship, man's love of God.

Richard's Tomb in Rouen Cathedral

The new style Gothic was introduced by Abbot Suger of St. Denis outside Paris and copied at Chartes, Notre Dame and Rouen. Among the 12th century's increasingly large numbers of travellers, were itinerant masons in search of the next great Gothic cathedral to construct.

Rouen Cathedral
photo by

Rouen Cathedral
photo by

Stained Glass Window
Rouen Cathedral
photo by

In each cathedral, light poured in through the new stained glass created by grinding up ancient mosaics for exactly the right colours.

Abbey of Fontevrault founded in 1099

At Richard's request, the rest of his remains, along with the crown and his regalia worn at Winchester, were taken to Fontevrault, the Angevin family mausoleum in Anjou, to be buried beside his father and his mother, Queen Eleanor, where in the monastery at Fontevrault, on 1 April of 1204, she died "through sorrow and anguish of mind," at the age of 82. Finally in death, the three, who had quarrelled most of their adult life, lay peacefully beside each other.

Tomb Effigies of Henry II, Eleanor and Richard at Fontevrault Abbey in Anjou

Richard's Effigy on his tomb, now empty, at Fontevrault.
The effigy is not necessarily a likeness, but it may be a guide to his appearance. The clothes provide some idea of the contemporary fashion.

Richard's Tomb at Fontevrault Abbey in Anjou, France

Richard "galloped through the final decade of the 12th century with bravado and bravery," crowding a century of romance into his forty-two years. He was handsome, frank, open and generous and loved adventure and song more than politics and administration. While an attractive individual, he was thoroughly bad king, but his worth as a warrior and general were the talk of all nations. When Richard's contemporaries called him "Coeur de Lion," said Winston Churchill, "they paid a lasting compliment to the king of beasts."

On the other hand, King John, who succeeded Richard and ruled from (1200-1216), had a deservedly bad reputation and earned no accolade from anyone, let alone Winston Churchill. While an unkind and uncared for cad, he was a conscientious king. Despite the fact that Worchester took sides against him, John decided to be buried here and was before the high altar between two saints, Oswald and Wulstan, in October 1216.

Tomb of King John in Worcester Cathedral

Detail from the tomb of King John at Worcester Cathedral

[*]Excalibur, the priceless sword of fabled King Arthur, which archaeological researches of the late King Henry were said to have unearthed in Glastonbury. The searchers dug down at the legendary spot and some way down they found an unusual cross with the inscription, "Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur with Guenevere, his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon." At sixteen feet they found an enormous hallowed oak coffin. At one end were the bones of a woman with golden hair still attached. When a monk grabbed the tresses, they fell to dust. At the other end was the skeleton of a gigantic man whose eye sockets were almost the size of a palm. News spread that the bones of King Arthur had been found.

[**]Richard Pyle, Globe and Mail, December 8, 2007
Another 'priceless' artifact related to King John and his misrule is the Magna Carta. English barons banded together and handed King John a parchment document whose terms reduced somewhat his unlimited power to run roughshod over the barons. Signed under duress by the subdued sovereign at Runnymeade in 1215, Magna Carta sought to restrain somewhat the unlimited power of the king by making him like everyone else, subject to the law. The charter's bedrock principle was that no person including the king was above the law. Considered by many to be "the most important document in the world," it was a declaration of human rights that set some of the guiding principles for democracy as it is known today. Its key ideas included the right of Habeas Corpus,, which protects citizens against unlawful imprisonment. More than 800 years later, about 17 copies survive and one of those, signed by King Edward in 1297, went on sale in December 2007. Written in medieval Latin on sheepskin that remains intact and legible, it was owned by a British family for five centuries. From 1988 until a few months ago, it was exhibited at the National Archives in Washington, a few feet away from its direct descendants: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution. It is expected to be sold for a record $20 to $30 million. [

[***] Saladin was without doubt, the most illustrious of all historical Kurds. It is interesting to note that Sadam Hussein, one-time terror of Iraq, liked to compare himself to Saladin, even adopting his name to glorify himself. This is particularly ironic, for Sadam thought nothing of gasing thousands of Kurds, his own citizens, who live in the northern part of Iroq.

[****]NINE HUNDRED YEARS LATER, A CHRISTIAN APOLOGY FOR CRUSADES An article in the Globe and Mail copied from The Guardian, Jerusalem, described a trip by a number if Western Christians of the Protestant faith, largely from Britain, U.S. and Germany, on what they called, the Reconciliation Walk in Jerusalem. Here they walked about the streets of the Holy City, apologizing to as many people as they met, for the savage acts perpetrated by Crusaders "fueled by fear, greed and hatred". The group received financial assistance from the members of the Roman Catholic Church. who, while they expressed support from the Vatican, did not take part because Pope Urban II had started the Crusades. The walkers traced the original route of the conquerors along the coast through the Crusader city of Acre, in Abraham's footsteps from Nazareth through the West Bank.


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