After years of fighting in the Holy Land, the warrior king Richard I would lose his life closer to home. Commonly called ‘the Lionheart’, Richard I has been an enduring figure in both fact and fiction. Son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard was born in England but spent the majority of his life either fighting abroad or living in the duchy of Aquitaine. In 1173, he joined his brothers and mother in a rebellion against his father, and in 1189 they defeated a fatally ill Henry, just days before his death.
Barely able to stay on his horse, Henry reluctantly named Richard as his heir. Within a year of his coronation, Richard had left for the Third Crusade – intended to recapture Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land from the Muslim sultan Saladin. Taxes were raised across England to fund Richard’s escapades. While some now view this as Richard’s disregard for being an active ruler, at the time his people saw him as a chivalrous emblem of Christianity.
Although Jerusalem wasn’t regained, Richard achieved safe passage for Christian pilgrims who visited the city. He had to return to England as his brother, John, was plotting against him by stirring up rebellion and forming an alliance with Philip II of France.
On his journey home, Richard was imprisoned by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Remarkably, the enormous ransom of 150,000 marks – roughly three times the income the English Crown – was raised, and Richard was released in 1194. He returned to England, but the visit was short-lived, and within months he was fighting to protect his lands in Normandy against Philip. He would never return to England, and continued fighting on and off in France for five years.
In late March 1199, he laid siege to the castle at Châlus-Chabrol and was shot in the shoulder with an crossbow bolt. The wound turned gangrenous, and he died on 6 April 1199. Legend has it that the bolt was fired by a young boy who sought revenge for his father and brothers, and who was subsequently pardoned by Richard.
The king was buried at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, where his father – and later his mother – were buried, while his heart was kept at Rouen Cathedral to commemorate his love of Normandy. During his ten-year reign, he is believed to have spent no longer than six months in England, and probably couldn’t speak English. The triumphant appearance he makes in many Robin Hood films is unlikely to have occurred in reality – if indeed the hooded hero existed.
This article was taken from the April 2019 BBC History Revealed magazine