Richard Plantagenet was never meant to rule England. His surviving elder brother Henry had been crowned in 1170 to secure the Angevin succession, but the medieval world was a deadly place and his brother died of dysentery in 1183. This led to Richard becoming his father Henry II’s primary heir.
With so many sons Henry II planned to divide his empire between them whilst still retaining control, with Richard due to inherit Aquitaine. In 1172, when he was around 14 years old, he officially became Duke of Aquitaine with his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine’s support. The next 17 years saw him gain a reputation as a warrior, become embroiled in conflict with his father and brothers, his beloved mother’s imprisonment and taking the cross. Taking the cross meant making an oath to go on crusade and fight in the Holy Land.
Upon becoming King of England in 1189, Richard focused his attentions on the upcoming Third Crusade. Whilst raising money for the expedition “he is alleged to have said that he would have sold London if he could have found a buyer”. I think it’s safe to say Richard wasn’t particularly attached to England, so it puzzles me when he’s listed as one of its most famous monarchs. His wife Berengaria of Navarre* is famously said to have never stepped foot in the country during her brief queenship, but Richard for certain wasn’t in England much either. In his ten-year reign he is thought to have spent as little as 6 months in England!
Richard is not England’s only crusader king, as his great-nephew Edward I would also travel to the Holy Land. So, what is it that makes Richard stand out in the public’s imagination? Well, he was the last king to oversee the vast Angevin kingdom before its eventual crumble under his brother and successor John. He is also seen as the hero to John’s villain in the well-known Robin Hood folklore. Plus, a cool nickname (what other king of England is known as the lion heart?) you can start to see how the legend surrounding Richard began. But a legend is not necessarily built on facts, and Richard was a king of England who barely resided in one of his key domains.
Richard may have had a lion’s heart and been a formidable warrior, but a good king of England? Well, I’ll leave that to you decide!
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*Berengaria of Navarre was pretty formidable herself, fighting tenaciously for her dower rights from her brother-in-law John after the death of Richard. You can see some of her letters on Epistolae, the link is in my sources list.
ODNB: Richard I by John Gillingham
ODNB: Berengaria of Navarre by Elizabeth Hallam
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam
BBC History, Richard I: https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/richard_i_king.shtml
Epistolae, Berengaria of Navarre: https://epistolae.ctl.columbia.edu/woman/79.html
Wikipedia: Richard I
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