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The disaster of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem sent shock waves through Christendom. Pope Gregory VIII proclaimed the Third Crusade, an appeal that was surprisingly popular among the European monarchy. While Emperor Frederick Barbarossa led a German army towards the Holy Land, Richard I the Lionheart of England and Philip II Augustus of France led the contingents from western Europe, two men who began in friendship and ended as bitter enemies.


In England and France a tax called the ‘Saladin Tithe’ was introduced to help fund the Third Crusade, but King Henry II of England (1154–89) was too embroiled in his war with France to take up the cross. Instead, his eldest son Richard answered the call, but before he could leave, his father died and the prince became Richard I, King of England (1189–99), Duke of Normandy and Earl of Anjou.


Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204), had taken part in the Second Crusade with her first husband, King Louis VII of France. Following a scandal in Antioch and their divorce in 1152, she married Henry of Anjou Plantagenet, who became Henry II two years later. Although born in England, Richard never spoke English, since French was the language of the Angevin (or Plantagenet) court. He became Duke of Aquitaine at 15, and promptly joined his elder brother Henry and younger brother geoffrey in revolt against their father.  

It failed, but Henry forgave his sons. A second conflict – this time between the brothers – ended when Prince Henry died of influenza in 1183.


Despite his rebellious past, Richard remained his father’s anointed successor. He was described as handsome and gracious, and was a renowned soldier. The young king had such little care for England that he was prepared to place the realm in the hands of his loathed youngest brother Prince John so that he could go on the Crusade. He was joined by Philip II Augustus of France (1180–1223). The two were close friends (Richard spent hardly any time in England, preferring to reside in his French possessions), although they were both rivals for the control of the French Angevin lands. The friendship soon turned sour.


As described in Winning His Spurs, in 1190, Richard and Philip met in Vézelay to assemble their national contingents and plan their journey. While Philip elected to move his troops by sea from Genoa, Richard preferred to rely on English ships, which were ordered to meet his army in Marseilles. Richard travelled on ahead through Italy and joined his army at Messina, Sicily, where he met again with Philip, whose fleet had already arrived from Genoa. Messina, however, was in uproar.


King Tancred of Sicily had recently inherited the island from his illegitimate cousin and had imprisoned the former monarch’s wife, Queen Joan. Joan, however, was Richard’s sister, so the king used the local hostility as an excuse to launch an attack on Tancred, after letting his men sack Messina. Joan was released and joined Richard’s retinue. At this point his mother Eleanor arrived with Princess Berengaria of Navarre, her intended bride for Richard, since this would add adjacent Navarre to Angevin Aquitaine. This posed the king with a problem, since for political reasons he had allowed himself to become betrothed to Philip’s sister Alice (Alys). However, Richard had evidence that proved Alice had been his father Henry’s mistress.


Philip reluctantly agreed to Richard’s betrothal to Berengaria, but in reality the English king’s rejection of his sister bit deep. A coolness came between them that in time led to outright hostility and influence the outcome of the Third Crusade. The winter season being over, Philip’s fleet set sail for Acre on March 30, 1191. Because time was pressing, the marriage of Richard to Berengaria was put off until later. As the English fleet departed Messina on 10th April, Berengaria was given her own ship, which also happened to carry Richard’s war chest.


As also depicted in Winning His Spurs, The fleet encountered severe storms in the eastern Mediterranean and several vessels were wrecked on the coast of Cyprus, including Berengaria’s. The resulting battles against the tyrant Isaac Comnenus resulted in Cyprus falling into Richard’s hands, which he later gifted to Guy of Lusignan after his forced resignation from the throne of Jerusalem.


Winning His Spurs details Richard’s travails after leaving the Holy Land, particularly his former friend Philip’s attempts to have him kept imprisoned by Duke Leopold and Emperor Henry. On his eventual return to England, where his treacherous brother John had come close to seizing the throne, Richard forgave him when they met again and, bowing to political necessity, named him as his heir in place of Arthur. Arthur’s mother, Constance of Brittany, was suspected of being in contact with Philip of France, who was attacking Richard’s French possessions.


Hardly returned to England, Richard crossed the Channel prepared to take war to Philip and won several victories over the French, including battles at Freteval in 1194 and Gisors four years later. In the following year, while besieging the castle of rebelling Viscount Aimar V of Limoges, Richard was shot by an arrow fired from the walls as he patrolled the English perimeter on 25th March 1199. The wound festered, became gangrenous and he died, it was said in his mother’s arms on the 6th April, having bequeathed his lands to his brother John but all his treasury to his nephew Otto of Saxony. The king’s brain was buried at Charroux Abbey in Poitou, his lion-heart at Rouen in Normandy and the rest of his body at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.

© 2010–2016 Reckless Books, England

King Richard I and King Philip II

Detail from a medieval manuscript depicts King Richard the Lionheart wielding a sword — a suitable symbol for a king who did little more than make war all his reign.

Richard-Iionheart Richard-Henry

In this miniature from a manuscript written by Peter of Eboli, probably in 1195, Richard the Lionheart is seen kissing the feet of Emperor Henry VI, while a servant holds the prisoner's pilgrim's cloak in which he disguised himself while travelling incognito through Austria.