Lionheart: 8 Facts About Britain’s Bravest King

Richard I (1157-1199) was King of England from 1189-1199. He ruled also as the Duke of several French territories and participated in the Third Crusade as a military leader. As a result of his heroic deeds and martial prowess shown in his quest to recover the Holy Land, Richard was nicknamed “Coeur de Lion” or, in English, “the Lionheart.” He was succeeded by his younger brother, John I, after he died during a castle siege in France.

#1 He only spent a few months of his reign in England.

Before his ascendancy to the throne, Richard had pledged to the Pope and to his people that he would embark on the Third Crusade to recover the holy city, Jerusalem, from the hands of the Muslim armies who had conquered it several years prior. Furthermore, at the time of the reign of Richard, his predecessor and his successors, the English throne actually held several territories in France, most notably the Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine. At its peak, this collection of territories united under the crown was known as the Angevin Empire. For most of his reign, Richard spent his time in either the French territories, or in the Levant where he crusaded with mixed success for several years.

#2 He raised a rebellion against his father… twice!

An unruly child to be sure, Richard raised a rebellion against his father twice within his reign. The first was an unsuccessful attempt, but his father, Henry II, forgave him. The second was more successful, and came at the end of Henry’s reign, with an intent to force his father into naming Richard as his successor, which he did.

#3 He was captured on his way home from the Crusade.

After Richard failed to capture the main objective of his crusade, Jerusalem, he made travel arrangements to return to England in disguise. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out as planned for him, and in Austria he was recognised and captured by Duke Leopold V. Leopold, seeing an opportunity to earn favour and riches, handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who ransomed Richard back to England for a hefty price.

#4 He may have been homosexual.

Despite living to almost forty years old, Richard never actually married until the last few years in his life. Uncustomary for a man of his status, the theory is further reinforced by accounts of Richard “bed-sharing” with Philip II in his young adult days. He also did not have any children with his wife, and died heirless, leaving his younger brother John to the throne. However, other historians have rebuked this suggestion with the fact that Richard did have at least one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac, and that he was known to have had sexual relations with numerous local women during his campaign in the Holy Land.

#5 He is not considered to have been a “good” king.

While his martial prowess and his effectiveness as a military leader are unquestionable, having won some major victories in both the Holy Land and France during his reign, Richard’s actual rulership has been questioned and often criticised by historians. The fact that he only spent six months of his ten year long reign in England, and that he used much of the kingdom’s coffers in order to fund his overseas military endeavours (which in the case of the Third Crusade, ultimately failed) while failing to implement any significant social or economic reforms place him a little lower in the rankings than one might expect. However, the ineffectiveness of his reign is also eclipsed by that of his younger brother’s, John, who is generally considered by the consensus to have been England’s worst all-time king.

#6 He did not speak English.

Not uncustomary for the Anglo-Norman royals of the time, Richard is believed to have not actually have spoken or known English. Since William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England in the late 11th century, many old Anglo-Saxon traditions were rooted out and much French and Latin culture had been “imported” into England. As a result of this, courts often conversed in either French or Latin, and Richard and his family were no exception to this rule.

#7 He knighted his cook.

As a king, Richard’s two primary interests were war and partying. During a celebration in which Richard was recorded to have drunken quite a bit of ale, he was so pleased with the food that had been prepared that he impulsively knighted his cook! Specifically, he declared him to be, “Lord of the fief of the kitchen of the counts of Poitou.” Perhaps the most tremendous honour that a chef in his time could strive for!

#8 His legacy.

His reign has sparked a lot of debate between historians, and his deeds mark a divisive figure. While he remains seen as a gallant and brave warrior king for his martial accomplishments in both France and the Holy Land, many historians argue for the fact that he was an irresponsible king who took very little time to actually rule the vast empire he had inherited. Ultimately, Richard the Lionheart remains to this day one of England’s most popular yet uniquely complex kings, leaving behind a legacy that is certain to weather through another thousand years.

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