Useful Notes: Richard the Lionheart

aka: Richard The Lion Heart
Statue of Richard outside Parliament.

"Spread your wings
King of the kings"
— "Lionheart" by Grave Digger

King Richard I of England, called Cœur-de-Lion (or the Lion-Heart(ed)), was born at Oxford, England, September 8, 1157, and died at Chalus-Chabrol, France, April 6, 1199. The son of Henry II of The House of Plantagenet, Richard came to the throne in 1189, and thereafter spent no more than six months of his ten years' reign in England. Both in his life and after his death, Richard's reputation has fluctuated wildly, from champion of Christendom and paragon of chivalry to blood-thirsty butcher, from beef-witted thug to poet and musician, from feckless political blunderer to shrewd diplomat and statesman, from insatiable womanizer to (latterly) insatiable Nevertheless, one aspect of his fame has remained constant — his reputation as a particularly badass warrior.

Richard's political career began when he was enthroned as the ruler of his mother Eleanor's duchy of Aquitaine (his elder brother Henry being the inheritor of his father's kingdom and duchy of Normandy). Their father's refusal to share power drove both boys to join their mother in rebellion against him; even after Prince Henry (the Young King) died, the rebellion smoldered on to no real conclusive effect, until Henry II died in 1189, his heart broken (it was said) by the rebellion of his sons — particularly John, his youngest and favorite.

On coming to the throne, Richard immediately took in hand the greatest of his projects — the preparations for the Third Crusade (the so-called "Crusade of the Kings," as it was to be jointly led by Richard, King Philip II Augustus of France, and the aged Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire). Unfortunately for the Christian cause, Barbarossa died en route (either drowning or submitting to a heart-attack in the river Saleph in Turkey) and the Kings of France and England, who had already quarreled when Richard had refused to marry the French king's sister Alice to whom he was betrothed (on the not entirely unreasonable grounds that she had been his father's mistress for years), refused to pull together, and were in fact plotting against each other continuously until Philip's early departure. Richard stayed on, winning some victories, both military and diplomatic, against his great Muslim opponent, Saladin, but unable finally to recapture Jerusalem or to gain any decisive dominance for the Christians in the Holy Land. News of his brother John's intrigues with Philip forced him reluctantly to withdraw.

On his way home, he was captured by Leopold I, Archduke of Austria (whom he had insulted in the Holy Land), and held to ransom by Leopold and his master, the Emperor Henry VI. He was released two years later after paying a huge ransom, collected by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine; John's conspiracy against him immediately collapsed.

The final five years of his reign were spent fighting against Philip's incursions into various disputed territories in France, his death occurring as a result of a crossbow bolt to the shoulder at the siege of a not particularly important castle during a side campaign against the rebellious Viscount of Limoges. The surgeons removing the bolt bungled the operation; gangrene set in, and Richard died, reportedly forgiving his killer — who was nonetheless supposedly flayed alive after the king's death by Richard's enraged followers.

Since Tudor times, Richard has been associated particularly with the Robin Hood legend, though most modern scholarship associates Robin with one of the Edwards — and Richard, at any rate, saw Sherwood Forest for the first time only after his release from captivity and second coronation in 1194.

In popular culture, Richard usually appears as the Crusader king. In older works he is apt to be treated positively as a chivalrous figure and just ruler, but later works tend to be more cynical.

Fun fact: Infamous American President Richard Nixon was named after him.

Tropes Associated With Richard the Lion-Heart:

  • Annoying Arrows: Averted by his painful death
  • Bad Ass: Whatever else they think of him, no one denies that Richard could fight. He defeated Saladin in every pitched battle during the Third Crusade until the fateful decision to turn back from Jerusalem, cowed his rebellious brother, then went to France and proceeded to do the same to Phillip Augustus until his untimely death. According to certain chronicles during the sea landing at Jaffa he was so eager to join the battle that he leaped from his ship and waded ashore before his bodyguards could catch up with him.
  • Bi the Way: Some historians agree that there is enough evidence to suggest that Richard had homosexual tendencies (which would explain why he didn't handle his marriage very well), relying in particular on reports that he slept with King Philip II of France, and on two public confessions the king made that seem to indicate that he was in danger of "the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah." On the other hand, Richard was also a fervent Catholic (which should be obvious, he being a Crusader king and all that), which means he probably would have spent his life repressing his sexuality.
    • He was almost certainly not exclusively homosexual; the evidence for his intercourse with women is far stronger than that for his intercourse with men. He had at least one bastard son whom he acknowledged, and his depredations on women in Aquitaine were among the matters of complaint among his vassals that they brought to King Philip's attention. Bedding women was commonly attributed to him both in his own time and long afterward. He may, of course, have been bisexual.
    • His sleeping with men might have been a case of Situational Sexuality as the only time he did it was during the Crusade and there were not female soldiers with him at the time. On the other hand, many camp followers were female, and there are repeated references in medieval sources where females were expelled from the camps, particularly after defeats, due to the perception that they were tempting the soldiers into sin. The homosexual theory is a very recent one that emerged in the hypersexualised world of the 1960s, so it's best to take it with a pinch of salt.
    • Sharing your bed with a fellow man in the Medieval era was not seen as sexual and not suspicious. It was in fact a declaration of trust, particularly if you offered this to an erstwhile enemy who could easily kill you in your sleep.
  • BFS: Richard, no doubt, was associated with many swords of various kinds in his lifetime - he is supposed to have given Excalibur to the King of Sicily - but he is very likely to be portrayed with a BFS in later depictions.
  • Cain and Abel: Was backstabbed by his younger brother, John, who conspired with Philip of France while Richard was on Crusade, though he immediately backed down and surrendered when Richard turned up, knowing that he couldn't stand against his brother.
  • The Crusades: Richard, from the mediæval period to the present, has been considered almost as embodiment of the idea of the Crusades; interpretation of his character is therefore linked with one's interpretation of the Crusades themselves.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Richard was actually known as something of a wit in his own time; for instance, the Benedictine preacher, Fulk of Neuilly, once excoriated the King for his Pride, Greed, and Lust, which he called Richard's "three daughters" — to which Richard replied, "True, and like a good father, I will give my daughters to the husbands who love them the most: Pride to The Knights Templar, Greed to the Cistercian monks, and Lust to the Benedictine preachers."
  • Exalted Torturer
  • Fiery Redhead
  • Friendly Enemy: With Saladin, with both exchanging Worthy Opponent remarks - Richard said that while loss in the 3rd Crusade was hard to take, at least he'd lost to a ruler like Saladin. Saladin reportedly responded by saying that if he ever lost the Holy Land, he hoped that it would be to a warrior of Richard's calibre.
  • Genius Bruiser:
  • Genius Ditz: Many historians have held that Richard was horrible at governing, budgeting, tolerating, judging, and anything else that did not involve war, fighting and tactics, at which he was a genius. Other historians dispute this. It is worth bearing in mind, however, even if he was a terrible administrator he did have an eye for those who were good at it, and those he appointed to rule in his stead are generally acknowledged to have been good at it. Except for John.
  • The High Middle Ages: The period of Richard's life.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Richard is a favourite for use in historical fictions.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade: Historians, both professional and amateur, differ wildly about Richard's character. He has been depicted as everything from a wise, saintly father of his people to a bloodthirsty brute deliberately slaughtering innocents. The truth presumably lies somewhere in between.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Was killed by Frenchmen with crossbows, having previously been responsible for introducing the crossbow to France.
    • This is disputed; the accusation is made by William the Breton, the court historian of Richard's Arch-Enemy Philip II. It is inserted by him into the mouth of the Fate Atropos, when she is justifying to her sisters why she is bringing Richard's life to an end. Not exactly the most reliable source.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: In certain mediæval legends, Richard eats the flesh of his enemies — and, allegedly, the lion's heart from which he derives his name.
  • King Incognito: Richard certainly disguised himself among his enemies (according to some accounts, as a woman); in legend, he becomes identified with the common folklore hero of the disguised king who goes among his people to observe them.
  • Knighting: Richard is often used as a convenient chivalric figure to knight the hero at the finale of a work.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: While on Crusade, Richard (who had a habit of bossing the other commanders around, although they were technically equal) used to pick on Leopold, the Duke of Austria, commander of the remnants of the Germans' army and a man who was opposed to Richard in politics.note  After much political quarreling their animosity culminated when, after the capture of Acre, Richard had Leopold's banner thrown down from the wall of Acre into the city moat.note  Leopold instantly packed up his army and left for Europe. – Fast-forward one and a half year, when Richard, the last of the commanders to return to Europe, was journeying back to England. Philip had finally broken his bonds to Richard and planned to take Richard captive before he could reach England. Also, the new Emperor and King of Germany, Henry VI, approved of the scheme. Richard, knowing this, could not go by sea to France, but had to take a land route, traveling incognito with very few companions in the guise of common pilgrims. The journey eventually led him through Austria, where Duke Leopold was on alert. Richard was not very good at playing a commoner, and after another pilgrim claimed to have recognized King Richard in Carinthia, Leopold knew what was going on. Richard was finally caught by Leopold’s guards in an inn in the vicinity of Vienna, only miles away from Leopold’s doorstep. - It is not known what the Duke said when he saw Richard again, but it is entirely possible amusing to imagine something like I Have You Now, My Pretty. In addition to sweet revenge, Leopold also received massive financial gain from Richard’s capture: his overlord Emperor Henry VI extorted a ransom fee for reconciling Richard with his overlord Philip II of 65,000 pounds of silver (about 23 tons of metal), of which Leopold received half.note 
    • Leopold was subject to Laser-Guided Karma, himself, in that shortly afterwards, his horse fell, crushing his leg. Gangrene set in, and the Duke could find no one willing to amputate the limb — so he had to do it himself. Death followed rapidly. In order to receive Last Rites, he had to pledge to restore the ransom-money he had received.
  • The Magnificent: Richard's epithet Cœur-de-Lion ("Lion-Heart") is first recorded during his lifetime by the troubadour Ambroise, who also calls him "Richard the Great."
  • The Middle Ages: Sometimes Richard's depiction is entirely fabulized, as in Walt Disney's Robin Hood.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: If your opponent were called "Lionheart," you'd be nervous.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The character of Gahmuret "of Anschouwe" (i.e., Anjou) in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (circa 1210) is believed by some scholars to have been inspired by Richard.
  • Robin Hood: Scottish historian John Major first placed Robin in the time of the Lion-Heart in 1520, but it was Sir Walter Scott who first directly associated the characters, in his Ivanhoe.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Richard, in all interpretations, was at least a Bad Ass warrior; a case has been made for Richard being in addition a skilled poet and musician, a brilliant general, and even a wily diplomat and politician.
    • Richard is one of only three Kings of England in the last thousand years to die in battle (or be mortally wounded in battle, at least). The other two are Harold Godwinson, killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and Richard III, cut down at Bosworth Field in 1485.
  • Straight Gay: Assuming that Richard was gay, he was nevertheless not openly effeminate or "camp" in behavior.
  • The Strategist: Richard has a mixed legacy as a king, but he was a brilliant general.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Stood in front of a castle without armor as proof of his courage and gets killed by Annoying Arrows.
  • Wandering Minstrel: The (unhistorical) tale of Blondel the Minstrel has him wandering from castle to castle in Europe, seeking to locate Richard by singing the verse of a song they had composed together and listening for the refrain.
  • Warrior Poet: Richard was reputed to be a skilled troubadour in his own time; at least two of his poems have survived, one with its original music.
  • Worthy Opponent: He and Saladin are usually presented as regarding one another as this.
  • You Killed My Father: The young crossbowman who killed Richard did so to avenge his father and brothers.

Works Associated With Richard the Lion-Heart In The Robin Hood Mythos:

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    Animated Films 
  • In Disney's Robin Hood Richard is an actual lion, with rather a penchant for a bad pun.


  • Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, fittingly, as Scottish historian John Major was one of the earliest writers to associate Richard with Robin. Scott incorporates the episode of the King's exchange of buffets with the outlaw from the ballads.
  • In Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood, he does the traditional dramatic arrival at the end. This version pays more attention to political realities than most; though Richard admires the courage of Robin and his men, he also doesn't want to encourage their lawlessness even if it is in a noble cause.
  • In Angus Donald's The Outlaw Chronicles, the main character Alan Dale is Robin Hood's chief Lieutenant and close ally of the king, being nicknamed Blondel.

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Works Associated With Richard the Lion-Heart Apart From Robin Hood:

    Anime and Manga 

  • Cecil B. DeMille's The Crusades.
  • In 1954 Richard was played by George Sanders in King Richard and the Crusaders the (unimaginatively retitled) film of Scott's The Talisman and by Aleksandr Baluyevone in the (equally unimaginatively retitled) 1992 Russian version Ричард Львиное Сердце ("Richard the Lion-Heart").
  • In Kingdom of Heaven, Richard (played by Iain Glen) appears at the end of the movie, as the story's events are the elements that provoked the Third Crusade.
  • Lionheart, 1987 film by Franklin J. Schaffner (of Patton & Papillon fame).
  • Hellbound: King Richard appears in the opening segment with his band of knights to save his baby son from being sacrificed by the demon Prosatanos.

    Folk Lore 
  • In Muslim folk-lore, Malik Rik was used as a boogeyman to scare children into being good. Obviously, this reflects well on the Muslims' opinion of Richard.

  • Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman. Scott's take on the king is of a not entirely uncultured Boisterous Bruiser.
  • Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series takes place in a modern day Europe with a balance of power between an Anglo-French Empire and the Kingdom of Poland, in which, instead of dying at the siege of Chaluz, Richard survived and returned to England to rule.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Crusade."
    • Funnily enough, Julian Glover also played him here.
  • Dermot Walsh played the king in a 1962 TV series called Richard the Lionheart.

    Popular Music 

  • In 1727, Georg Friedrich Händel produced his Riccardo primo, re di Inghilterra, recounting Richard's capture of the island of Cyprus; the part of Richard was originally sung by the castrato Francesco Bernardi ("Senesino").
  • André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry's 1784 opera, Richard Cœur-de-Lion, re-telling the story of Richard's release from captivity by his faithful minstrel, Blondel; Blondel's aria, « O Richard ! O mon roi ! » became a rallying-cry for Monarchists during The French Revolution.

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Alternative Title(s):

Richard The Lion Heart