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Richard I

(1157—1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou


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(1157–99),

king of England (1189–99). Richard has attracted legends in a way that bees are proverbially attracted to the honey‐pot. The process began in his own lifetime. Already, by 1199, the epithet Cœur de Lion/Lionheart was being applied.

In the popular imagination today, Richard is a national English hero, the valorous warrior and glorious crusader who struggled against all the odds to come within an ace of recapturing Jerusalem from the equally legendary Saladin on the Third Crusade. The massive bronze statue of Richard in Westminster Palace Yard captures superbly the Ricardian qualities admired for centuries. A powerfully muscular Richard, imposing and magnificent, sits on horseback, in full armour and wearing a crown, his sword triumphantly raised aloft.

Yet English Richard was not, nor even Anglo‐Norman. Although born in Oxford, he briefly visited England just twice before his accession in 1189. As king, he spent a mere six months in England. He was born of French parents, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard spoke no English; he willed his body for burial in Fontevraud abbey (Poitou), his heart for interment in Rouen cathedral (Normandy). He was French through and through.

Yet despite this, most modern historians have judged him from an Anglocentric viewpoint. He might have been a warrior second to none, they argue, but he was an utterly irresponsible king of England, who plundered English wealth in pursuit of his own glory in France and the Holy Land, and who recklessly endangered the security and stability of his island realm.

Modern scholarship is at last beginning to reveal another Richard, one free from the excessive adulation or denunciation of the past, more balanced and credible. This has only become possible by considering him as not first and foremost an English king, but rather the lord of the French‐based Angevin empire which he inherited as a whole in 1189. His military reputation remains intact. Indeed, it has been enhanced. The inspired battlefield commander of tradition, and brilliant tactician—as evidenced, for example, by the march from Acre to Jaffa and the battle of Arsuf (1191)—is also coming increasingly to be seen as a master of planning and logistics. His crusade, in particular, involving the raising, fitting out, and dispatch of a fleet from northern waters to the east Mediterranean, is a superb example of administrative efficiency.

It has also become apparent that had Richard not been shipwrecked and captured, he would have returned home to find the governmental structure of the Angevin empire intact as he had established it before departure for the crusade in 1190. Far from setting out on crusade without a care for the security of his various dominions, England included, Richard did what he could in the short time available to him.

Subjects: British History.


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