Richard I

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Recurring image of Richard I - brave, chivalrous and warlike

Richard I (1189-1199), commonly known as Richard the Lionheart to Europeans and Melich Rich to Arabs, was a medieval King of England and Duke of Aquitaine at the height of the Angevins power in England. He assumed the throne in 1189 and reigned until he died, although he spent only ten months of his ten year long reign in England. His interests were not in England however, but in Aquitaine, where he finally died when a commoner shot him in the chest with an arrow. Richards legacy of chivalry is largely defined from this moment, as he pardoned the young man before he died. He is perhaps best known for his foray into the Holy Land and being the ultimate leader of the Third Crusade. His struggle with Saladin has been long regarded to be a romantic conflict, one which clearly demonstrated the virtues of chivalry. Upon investigation, however, it is obvious that atrocities were committed on both sides, and neither men can claim ultimate virtuousness.

Richard died in 1199, and he passed the throne on to his brother, John.

Early Life

Dealing with Aquitaine

Richard's association with the duchy of Aquitaine began early. Henry II's conquest of the Quercy at the expense of Raymond (V), count of Toulouse, in 1159 had been preceded by an alliance with the house of Aragon–Barcelona involving Richard's betrothal to a daughter, whose name is unknown, of Raymond-Berengar (IV), count of Barcelona, on the understanding that in due course he would inherit Aquitaine. Until 1196 much of Richard's life was to be shaped by the diplomatic configuration of 1159. By the late 1160s Henry was planning a division of his dominions between his sons and he needed the consent of Louis VII of France. In January 1169, as part of the treaty of Montmirail, Richard's betrothal to Louis's daughter Alix was confirmed and he did homage to Louis for Aquitaine. In June 1172 he was formally installed as duke.

However, the status of his duchy was put in doubt as early as February 1173 when Raymond (V) did homage to Richard's older brother Henry, the Young King, as well as to both Henry II and Richard. In this crisis Louis knighted Richard, now fifteen years old. In July 1173 he took part in an invasion of eastern Normandy—his first known military action. In the autumn Henry offered Richard four castles and half the revenues of Aquitaine (and similar terms to his brothers). On Louis's advice they rejected this offer and the family war continued. After Eleanor's capture in November 1173, Richard took command of the revolt in Aquitaine, establishing his headquarters at Saintes. Here at Whitsun 1174 he was taken by surprise by his father's sudden attack. He and a few followers managed to escape to Geoffroi de Rancon's formidable castle of Taillebourg and despite the loss of the 60 knights and 400 archers, whom Henry captured at Saintes, he fought on stubbornly. However, when he learned that both Louis VII and the Young King had made peace, further resistance became pointless. On 23 September 1174 he submitted. At a Michaelmas peace conference at Montlouis, Richard and his brothers accepted terms slightly less generous than the ones they rejected the year before; their mother remained her husband's prisoner (as she had rebelled against her husband in favour of Richard earlier).

The following year Richard was given full control of the duchy's armed forces, and orders to punish rebels and to ‘pacify’ Aquitaine, in particular those parts of the duchy that lay south of the more securely governed Poitou. In 1175 one of Henry's deeds was to cause Aimar, vicomte of Limoges, to join the ranks of the disaffected nobles. As son-in-law of Reginald, earl of Cornwall, Aimar felt disinherited when the earl died that year, and Henry II reserved his estates for his youngest son, John I (1167–1216). However, Henry II responded generously to Richard's request for the resources to meet this additional threat. In 1176 the young duke rapidly routed the rebels, defeating Brabançons hired by Guillaume, count of Angoulême, in battle at Barbezieux in May, and then capturing both Limoges and Angoulême as well as a number of castles. Guillaume and Aimar surrendered and were dispatched to seek mercy from Henry II. Immediately after Christmas, Richard took up arms against the count of Bigorre and the vicomtes of Dax and Bayonne, capturing their towns and strongholds as far south as the castle of St Pierre at ‘the gate of Spain’ at Cize. In a report sent to his father on 2 February 1177 Richard announced that he had made safe the road to Santiago de Compostela, forced Basques and Navarrese to swear not to molest pilgrims, and had brought peace to all parts of Aquitaine.

At Christmas 1182, as in 1173, Henry II lost control of his family. He asked Richard and Geoffrey to do homage to their elder brother. Richard reluctantly consented to do so as long as it was agreed that Aquitaine should belong to him and his heirs. But the Young King refused to accept Richard's homage on these terms; in a series of explosive quarrels it emerged that he wanted to be duke of Aquitaine himself, and that to this end he had already encouraged Viscount Aimar and other rebels to take up arms again. In the hope of imposing peace on both Aquitaine and his own family, Henry sent Geoffrey to the Limousin to prepare the ground for a conference. Instead Geoffrey joined the rebels. When Henry then allowed his eldest son to go to Limoges, also ostensibly in the role of peacemaker, Richard refused to remain at court any longer. After an angry scene with his father he rode off to fight for his duchy. Aristocratic resentments and fraternal tensions had combined to bring Richard's rule to crisis point.

On 12 February 1183 Richard surprised Aimar's routiers near Limoges and put them to the sword. Belatedly Henry II remembered that his son's view of ducal authority was his own. He joined Richard and they laid siege to the citadel of St Martial at Limoges, where Viscount Aimar was entrenched with virtually all the rebel leaders. At this stage Philip Augustus of France (r. 1180–1223), Raymond (V), count of Toulouse, and Hugues, duke of Burgundy, moved to help the Young King; Alfonso II of Aragon came to the aid of Henry and Richard. A massive showdown seemed to threaten, but the unexpected death of the Young King on 11 June deprived the rebels of their public cause, the replacement of a tyrannical duke by an easy-going one. On 24 June Aimar surrendered to Henry and Richard; other rebels, including Bertran de Born, followed suit and were forced to see their strongholds confiscated or dismantled. In the following years Richard continued to extend ducal authority. By 1189 there were fifteen ducal provostships in Aquitaine compared with ten in 1174.


Since Richard was now his principal heir, with expectations of inheriting Anjou, England, and Normandy, Henry sought a new family settlement. He reconciled Richard with Geoffrey Plantagenet and then, at Michaelmas 1183, he ordered him to transfer Aquitaine to his youngest brother, John. Richard however, would not do this. From now on Richard's relations with his father were tense. Angrily Henry gave John I permission to take the duchy by force. In discussions with Philip Augustus he raised the possibility of the marriage of Alix (who had remained in his custody ever since 1169) with John instead of Richard. During 1184 Richard found himself at war with both John and Geoffrey, while his father negotiated a new marriage for him with a daughter of Frederick Barbarossa—she, however, died before the end of the year. Henry summoned all three brothers to England and in December 1184 they were publicly reconciled. But almost immediately Henry revived the rivalry between Richard and Geoffrey by giving the latter a command in Normandy which seemed to threaten Richard's expectations there. Richard's reaction was to take up arms against Geoffrey. In April 1185 Henry began to muster an army against Richard but then thought better of it, released Eleanor of Aquitaine from custody, and commanded Richard to surrender Aquitaine to his mother, the lawful duchess. Richard obeyed. This was followed not only by a confirmation of Richard's betrothal to Alix in March 1186, but also by a renewal of the Aquitanian claim to Toulouse. In April 1186, with a large subsidy from his father and in alliance with Alfonso II, Richard invaded the county and made substantial conquests—in part at least reconquests, since it seems that the rebellions and distractions faced by Richard in and after 1182 had allowed Raymond (V) to recover the territory lost in 1159.

However, now that he was his father's principal heir, Richard found himself increasingly involved with his father's chief opponent: the king of France. Episodes such as Philip's threat to invade if he were not given custody of Geoffrey of Brittany's daughters following their father's death in August 1186 drew Richard north to help with the defence of Normandy. In June 1187 Philip invaded Berry, precipitating a confrontation at Châteauroux which nearly led to a pitched battle. In the event both sides drew back and a two-year truce was agreed. When Philip returned to Paris, Richard rode with him. This was the beginning of the rumours of Richard's alleged homosexuality, as many sources alluded to Richard having a very close relationship with Phillip, which some people regarded to be romantic in nature. This infuriated his father.

This political demonstration had the desired effect. Henry promised to grant Richard all that was rightfully his, but Richard, still distrusting his father, rode to Chinon, took possession of the Angevin treasure stored there, and spent it on restocking the castles of Aquitaine. When he was eventually reconciled with his father, he admitted that he had been listening to people (presumably Philip Augustus above all) who were out to sow dissension between them.

That autumn Richard took the cross in response to the news of the catastrophe that had overwhelmed Jerusalem. North of the Alps he was the first prince to do so—the first of many indications of his commitment to the crusading cause. That he took the cross without consulting his father added to the tension between them, so much so that it was alleged that early in 1188 Henry encouraged Geoffroi de Lusignan, Count Audemar of Angoulême, and Geoffroi de Rancon to rebel in order to detain Richard in the West. No sooner had he suppressed this revolt, once again capturing Taillebourg in the process, than a quarrel with Raymond (V) of Toulouse escalated into war. In a brief campaign Richard took no fewer than seventeen castles and installed garrisons in Cahors and Moissac to ensure firm control of the Quercy. Raymond appealed for help to Philip, who invaded Berry in June and captured Châteauroux. Richard then joined his father in Normandy, and cross-border raids and peace conferences followed in swift succession. Philip consistently offered to return his gains in Berry, if Richard would restore his conquests to Raymond. Since the Quercy meant more to Richard than it did to Henry, Philip's offer was shrewdly chosen to drive a wedge between father and son. Diceto believed that Richard had in any case been dismayed by the reports that the recent revolt had been inspired by Henry. Richard began to negotiate directly with Philip. At a conference held at Bonsmoulins on 18 November 1188 Philip offered to return all his gains on condition that Henry gave Alix in marriage to Richard, and had his barons swear an oath of fealty to Richard as heir. Whatever Henry's real intentions, his blunt refusal to do this inevitably appeared to be public confirmation of the rumours that he was planning to disinherit Richard in favour of John. Richard at once did homage to Philip for all the Angevin continental dominions, including his own recent conquests in Toulouse.

War broke out when the truce expired in mid-January 1189. As his barons began to transfer their allegiance to Richard, Henry, now a sick man, favoured John's cause more openly. A papal legate, Giovanni di Anagni, arrived to bring the kings to peace for the sake of Jerusalem, but, at a conference held at Whitsun, Richard said he would not go on crusade unless John went too. Henry's reply was to suggest that John should marry Alix. This brought negotiations to an abrupt end. Philip and Richard attacked at once, and by advancing on Le Mans forced Henry to flee. The capture of Tours on 3 July brought him to submission. Next day he acquiesced in the terms they dictated, including a payment of 20,000 marks to Philip and an agreement that the marriage of Alix and Richard would take place after Richard's return from crusade. On 6 July Henry died at Chinon.

Work in Progress!

Popular Culture

Richard has been used as a character in fictional literature in works such as Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. He has also appeared in the PC video game Medieval Total War 2 in a battle scenario in the Battle of Arsuf.


Full list will soon be published

preceded by
Henry II
succeeded by
John I