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Richard I, Coeur de Lion (the Lion-Hearted)

King of England, 1189-1199

King Richard I

Richard was born at Oxford, on September 8, 1157, the third son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was given the duchy of Aquitaine at age 11, and spent most of his youth in his mother's court at Poitiers.

Most of Richard's early life was spent fighting his father and/or brothers for control of King Henry's realm. In 1173, Richard joined his brothers Henry and Geoffrey in a rebellion against their father for control of England. Henry and Geoffrey's revolts were crushed relatively easily, but Richard held out stubbornly. He was finally forced to sue for forgiveness at his father's feet on September 21, 1174. Although Henry was fairly lenient with his sons, their attempts to wrest control of England did not end.

In 1175, Richard distinguished himself by crushing a major revolt in Aquitaine and exacting homage from the Count of Toulouse. He spent much of his time over the next several years keeping his dominions under control. In 1183, his brothers instigated a revolt in Aquitaine when Richard refused to pay homage to them, and King Henry had to send troops to battle his sons in order to keep from losing the territory. The death of Prince Henry on June 11, 1183, ended the revolt, and made Richard heir to the throne.

In 1188, Richard joined Philip Augustus of France against King Henry, and defeated him in 1189. The old king died a broken man on July 6, 1189, and was immediately succeeded by Richard.

His Reign

Richard was crowned King Richard I at Westminster Abbey on September 3, 1189, and almost immediately afterward returned to his continental dominions. As King of England, Richard did very little, and spent barely six months of his ten-year reign in the country he ruled. Leaving the governance of England to ministers, King Richard spent most of his time engaged in wars -- against the Moslems in the Holy Land, his ally-enemy King Philip II of France, and his brothers.

In 1190, Richard decided it was time to fulfill a promise he had made to his father and embark on a Crusade to the Holy Land. To raise the necessary funds, he sold as much of England as he could -- sheriffdoms, justiceships, church lands, and appointments of all kinds. He then made his brothers promise to remain out of England for at least three years so he could focus his attention on his goal. He and his current ally King Philip II set out for Jerusalem that same year.

The trip to Jerusalem was interrupted in March 1191, when King Richard decided to conquer Cyprus, after which he married Berengaria of Navarre. After playing a key role in the capture of Acre in June, he and King Philip had a falling out, and Philip decided to return to France, taking his troops with him. Despite the loss of Philip's forces, Richard performed admirably against Saladin, from whom he induced a promise to provide safe passage to the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims. After two failed attempts to take Jerusalem, it was clear that dissensions within Richard's armies would make further attempts hopeless, and he decided to end the Crusade. He had also begun hearing of a treacherous alliance between Philip and his brothers, and desired to get back to England as quickly as possible and end the threats to his rule once and for all.

Richard left for England on October 9, 1192, but his ships were wrecked in a storm in the Adriatic and he was captured by Leopold V of Austria, who then turned him over to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. The Emperor released Richard after England payed a sizable ransom, and the king finally returned to England in 1194.

King Richard left England within two months after his return, and spent the rest of his reign in his continental domains. He crushed a coup attempt by his brother John, and then regained the lands he had lost to France during his captivity. His war with King Philip II continued sporadically until the French were finally defeated near Gisors in 1198.

In 1199, a claim to a treasure-trove embroiled King Richard in a dispute with the Viscount of Limoges. That year he laid siege to the castle of Châlus, and, while directing an assault there, was mortally wounded in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt. He died at Châlus on April 6, 1199. As per his wishes, he was buried at his father's feet in the church of Fontevrault. He was succeeded by his brother, John.

King Richard's nickname, Coeur de Lion, was afforded him by history, not during his lifetime.


The Catholic Encyclopedia

See Also

King John

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The Robinson Library >> England >> 1154-1485

This page was last updated on September 08, 2018.