Richard I


Henry II had planned to divide his extensive lands between his four sons. However, the death of Henry the Young King in 1183 and of Geoffrey in 1186, left only Richard and John.
Military defeat at his rebellious son's hands had forced Henry reluctantly to recognize Richard as his sole heir just before his death (6 July 1189).
Richard spent most of his life fighting abroad - he spent only six months of his ten-year reign in England. Four of those months he spent there immediately after his accession - selling offices and honors so as to raise money for his Crusade.
[For 10,000 marks, Richard sold the overlordship of Scotland that had been extracted from William the Lion by Henry II; the buyer was the Scottish king - William the Lion].
The Third Crusade was organized by Pope Clement III (1187-91) in response to the conquest of the Christian states by Saladin (Salah al-Din Yusuf, 1137-93) culminating in the fall of Jerusalem (September 1187). Not only Richard I but the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa and Philip II of France supported the Crusade

Richard the Crusader

Richard sailed first to Sicily, where he agreed the Treaty of Messina with Philip II (Augustus) of France (1191). In it Richard conceded the French king's feudal overlordship of Richard's French territories. Richard then went to the Holy Land via Cyprus.
Richard arrived at Acre, June 1191.


Richard took command of the French forces surrounding Acre and completed the siege of the City. His main aim was the recapture of Jerusalem, and his first move was to march to towards Jaffa.
Richard I disposed his troops carefully - the column transporting supplies marched closest to the sea, his knights formed a central column, and the infantry (armed with spears and crossbows) marched furthest inland where Saladin's army awaited its chance to attack.

Saladin's forces stormed from the Forest of Arsuf (7 September 1191):  Richard's outnumbered, but disciplined infantry picked them off with crossbow fire. Only when Saladin's army was dissolving into disorder did Richard order his knights to charge the Turkish light horsemen. The Battle of Arsuf was Saladin's first serious defeat.

Richard's attempts that winter to take Jerusalem failed in the face of Turkish reinforcements and unfavorable weather.
Although massively outnumbered, Richard organized a tenacious defense of Jaffa (August 1192), and in September 1192, Saladin and Richard concluded a peace treaty in which both sides made concessions.

Richard the Captive

Richard wanted to return to England but heard rumors that  his own brother John, Philip Augustus, and the Count of Toulouse were conspiring to ambush him. So instead of going overland all the way to France, he set sail in the Adriatic, but was shipwrecked near Venice. He reached Vienna in December 1192 with almost no companions and was soon seized by Leopold IV, Duke of Austria.
In exchange for a cut of Richard's prospective ransom, Leopold handed Richard over (February 1193) to Emperor Henry VI.

Castle Dürnstein
where Richard I was imprisoned

There is a romantic legend that Richard I was found by his faithful minstrel Blondel, who sang the first verse of a favorite song beneath the castle walls, to which Richard responded with the second verse.

A troubadour called Blondel de Nesle did exist, but the legend dates from much later (1260's) and has no foundation in fact.


Henry VI exacted a considerable price for Richard I's freedom - 150,000 marks of silver and Richard's acknowledgment of his feudal overlordship.

Richard was released in February 1194


Retaliation and death


While Richard was imprisoned, his brother John and Philip Augustus of France had set about trying to seize Richard's lands. Richard's English supporters, led by his illegitimate half-brother, Geoffrey held off John until Richard's return (March 1194).
Richard only stayed in England until early May - just long enough to dismiss all John's supporters from power; then he sailed for Normandy.
Richard not only organized armies to fight Philip Augustus, he tried to isolate him diplomatically. This was made easier by a succession dispute following the death of Emperor Henry VI (September 1197).

The castle at Gaillard
built by Richard I to defend Rouen (the capital city of Normandy) from Philip


From 1194 to 1198, Richard fought Philip almost continuously. He defeated him decisively at the battles of Fréteval (1194) and Courcelles (1198). A five-year truce was concluded in 1199 with Richard in a very strong position.


Richard's successes meant nothing after he was hit in the shoulder by a cross-bow bolt fired from the ramparts of the castle of one of Philip's allies at Châlus-Chabrol.  Gangrene set in, and Richard was dead in ten days (6 April 1199).

Richard I was a highly capable military commander, but he had created no institutions to preserve his personal gains. Administrative advances had been made in England precisely because of his absence. Bureaucratic systems and record-keeping had improved, but many political problems remained and nothing had been done to resolve the problem of the succession.


     Next section