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.

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.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 

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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    Video Games 

Alternative Title(s):

Richard The Lion Heart