6 Surprising Richard The Lionheart Facts You Won’t Learn in School
“Palace of Westminster Statue of Richard I Lionheart“, by Gary Todd, is licensed under CC0 1.0
King Richard I, who was also known under his popular nickname Richard the Lionheart, was a King of England from 1189 until his death in 1199. Richard was born in 1157 in Oxford, and he died in 1199 in Chalus, modern-day France at the age of 41 after being shot by an arrow in his shoulder.
Besides being the King of England, Richard I was also the Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, and Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine, and Nantes. Richard I was the third out of five sons of King Henry II of England, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was very unlikely that Richard would ever become the king, but all three out of his five brothers died before their father did, besides him and his youngest brother, John, who will eventually succeed him.
Richard I is best known as Richard Cœur de Lion, or Richard the Lionheart, which he earned because of his reputation as a great warrior and military leader. He was perceived as an extremely brave person, who wasn’t afraid of going into battles, no matter who was on the other side. He remains one of just a few kings of England that’s widely known after his nickname, rather than his regnal number. Today, he’s still a bit of an iconic figure both in France and in England.
When he was just 16 years old, he had taken command of his first army. The purpose of his first battles was to put down rebellions in Poitou against his father, which he successfully managed to do.
Richard the Lionheart was one of the important Christian commanders during the Third Crusade between 1189 and 1192. After the departure of Phillip II France, Richard I led the campaign and achieved some significant victories against Saladin, his Muslim counterpart.
Even though Richard was born in England, he spent the majority of his life in the Duchy of Aquitaine (southwest of France), and it’s most likely that he never knew the English language. Once he became the king, he only spent six months in England, and most of his life as king was spent on Crusade, in captivity, or defending his lands in France. (1) (2) (3)
You probably already know many facts about Richard the Lionheart. In this article, you’ll have a chance to learn something new about him and brush up on your knowledge.
Without any further ado, let’s find out a bit more about Richard the Lionheart!
1. Richard the Lionheart died without producing an heir
As you already know, when an heir to the throne gets married, everyone’s eyes are turned towards the young couple, waiting to hear the news about the future heir to the throne. Medieval Britain was no different. Richard I succeeded Henry II when he was 31 years old. It was his obligation to have a son who would become an heir to the kingdom.
Even though Richard I was one of the most wanted bachelors, with a lengthy list of princesses hoping to get a proposal, he wasn’t interested in getting married just for the sake of being married. When Richard I was coronated, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine played the part of the queen at the ceremony.
He would eventually marry Berengaria, the first daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre in 1191, two years after he became the king. However, the couple didn’t have children, and Richard the Lionheart was eventually succeeded by his youngest brother, John. (1) (4)
2. His parents betrothed him to a French princess when both of them were just 9 years old
One of the interesting facts about Richard the Lionheart is that his parents got him engaged without his consent.
It’s not quite clear why Richard I wasn’t interested in marriage, but it could have something to do with the fact that his parents got him engaged when he was only 9 years old. In a power play between the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England, France, and the Capetian French kings in Paris, Prince Richard and Princess Alais were just pawns.
Princess Alais was the daughter of the French King Louis VII. Richard’s father, Henry II, was the Duke of Normandy, and a Count of Anjou. On the other side, his mother of the Duchess of Aquitaine. Because they had French possessions, both were vassals to King Louis VII.
By making a promise that she’ll become the queen one day, King Henry II tricked King Louis VII to handle his 9-year-old daughter. Henry II didn’t fulfill this promise, and he kept Alais for 25 years as a prisoner. There are rumors that the king used her as his mistress and produced an illegitimate child with her. However, these rumors were never confirmed. (5) (6)
Richard’s parents eventually got divorced, which might’ve indicated to Richard that getting married wasn’t such a great idea after all, but we’ll probably never know the true reasons for his choices.
3. Richard I spent the majority of his life in a war
During Richard’s time, the idea of chivalry and protecting the poor didn’t exist in the 12th century. Instead of gaining power by going into battles with the equally matched enemies, the armies at the time had a different idea of fair game. The power under a territory was obtained by slaughtering peasant men, women, and children.
The armies would have their homes burned, their fields wasted, and their orchards completely cut down. The goal was to deprive the enemy of their support base and bring starvation to the survivors of the attacks. Richard the Lionheart spent the majority of his life in such wars, during the Third Crusade, and battles that were meant to save his lands in modern-day France. (7)
4. He only spent six months in England, even though he was the country’s ruler for more than ten years
Richard the Lionheart was the King of England from 1189 to 1199. Out of these ten years he spent on the throne, he only lived in England for six months, and he barely spoke the English language.
As mentioned before, most of Richard’s life was spent in military expeditions, and as a ruler in France. On one occasion, he said that England was a source of income that would fund his war expenses and that he would even sell the country if he could find a buyer. (8)
5. Richard I knighted his cook
One of the strangest facts about Richard the Lionheart is that he knighted his cook, which was even more unusual at the time.
Similar to many members of the Royal family, Richard was also a huge fan of partying and tasty food. During his ten years as a King of England, a cook was one of the most important members of his household.
After one of the royal celebrations, Richard was extremely pleased with the tastiness and quality of the food that he decided to show appreciation to the cook. He knighted his cook and made him “lord of the fief of the kitchen of the counts of Poitou.” (9)
6. His heart melted on his deathbed and he died in his mother’s arms
Contrary to the popular belief that Richard I died on the battlefield, that never happened. Richard the Lionheart was besieging the castle of Chalus in France, he was shot in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt.
While he was on his deathbed, Richard’s heart started to melt. The first thing he asked for is to meet the archer who shot him, Bertram. When Bertram showed up, Richard told him that he forgave him, set him free, and gifted him a hundred shillings. That didn’t save the archer, though. Once Richard passed away, Bertram was executed.
Richard’s parents were divorced, and he spent much more time with his mother. Some claim that she was the only woman he ever loved, and he died in her arms. During his final days, Richard started to feel guilty about the way he treated his father after the divorce. He asked to be buried next to his father, and his last wish was granted. (2) (10) (11)
Richard the Lionheart Facts
There you have it – those were some of the most interesting facts about Richard the Lionheart. Today, you learned that he had a heart of steel, but it melted while he was on his deathbed. Richard I never wanted to marry, and the only woman he ever truly loved was his mother. He died childless and was succeeded by his youngest brother, John. Even though he was born in Oxford, Richard barely spoke English.
Which one of these facts did you know about, and which ones are completely new to you? Have we missed some of your favorite facts about Richard the Lionheart? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below!
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out some of our other stories. If you liked the story about Richard the Lionheart, you’ll probably also like the articles about Henry VIII and Vlad the Impaler!