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King Richard the Lionheart

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Château Gaillard is a ruined medieval castle in Normandy, France.

It was built built in limestone c. 1196–1198 by the master military strategist Richard I (Richard Coeur de lion, the Lionheart). Some historians think that he designed it himself. It was an early Concentric castle and one of the first to feature machicolations, and flanking towers. The castle consists of three enclosures separated by dry moats, with a keep in the inner enclosure.

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Richard I was well known for his bravery which earned him the nickname “The Lionheart”


His shield, displaying three lions is that on the great seal of King Richard Lionheart

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While there are many figures in history, King Richard the Lionheart has always captured my attention. Although he is not a Templar, he was a Crusader. His strong leadership and fortitude has always impressed me.

In the early 1180s, Richard faced baronial revolts in his own lands. He displayed considerable military skill and earned a reputation for courage. Those qualites that led to his nickname of Richard the Lionheart

He was a King who reigned from 1189-1199. He earned the title ‘Coeur-de-Lion’ or ‘Lion Heart’ as he was a brave soldier, a great crusader, and won many battles against Saladin, the leader of the Muslims who were occupying Jerusalem at that time.

While Richard Plantagenet is revered as one of the great warrior kings of England, he is perhaps best known as “the absent king.” This is due to the fact that during his reign from 1189-1199, he spent a total of six months in England.

Richard the Lionheart had become King of England; but his heart wasn't in the sceptred isle. Ever since Saladin had captured Jerusalem in 1187, Richard's greatest ambition was to go to the Holy Land and take it back. His father had agreed to engage in the Crusades along with Philip, and a "Saladin Tithe" had been levied in England and France to raise funds for the endeavor. Now Richard took full advantage of the Saladin Tithe and the military apparatus that had been formed; he drew heavily from the royal treasury and sold anything that might bring him funds—offices, castles, lands, towns, lordships. In less than a year after his ascension to the throne, Richard the Lionheart raised a substantial fleet and an impressive army to take on Crusade.

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Richard the Lionheart was the son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was born on September 8, 1157, in Oxford, England.

In July of 1190 the Crusaders set off. They stopped at Messina, Sicily, in part because it served as an excellent point of departure from Europe to the Holy Land, but also because Richard had business with King Tancred. The new monarch had refused to hand over the bequest the late king had left to Richard's father, and was witholding the dower owed to his predecessor's widow and keeping her in close confinement. This was of special concern to Richard the Lionheart, because the widow was his favorite sister, Joanna.

Richard the Lionheart and his fleet ran into a terrible storm. When it was over, about 25 ships were missing, including the one carrying Berengaria and Joanna. In fact the missing ships had been blown further on, and three of them (though not the one Richard's family were on) had been driven aground in Cyprus. Some of the crews and passengers had drowned; the ships had been plundered and the survivors were imprisoned. All of this had occurred under the governance of Isaac Ducas Comnenus, the Greek "tyrant" of Cyprus, who had at one point entered into an agreement with Saladin to protect the government he'd set up in opposition to the ruling Angelus family of Constantinople.

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Queen Berengaria of Navarre

After having rendezvoused with Berengaria and secured her and Joanna's safety, Richard demanded restoration of the plundered goods and the release of those prisoners who hadn't already escaped. Isaac refused, rudely it was said, apparently confident in Richard's disadvantage. To Isaac's chagrin, Richard the Lionheart successfully invaded the island, then attacked against the odds, and won. The Cypriots surrendered, Isaac submitted, and Richard took possession of Cyprus for England. This was of great strategic value, since Cyprus would prove to be an important part of the supply line of goods and troops from Europe to the Holy Land. Before Richard the Lionheart left Cyprus, he married Berengaria of Navarre on May 12, 1191.

Richard's first success in the Holy Land, after having sunk an enormous supply ship encountered on the way, was the capture of Acre. The city had been under siege by Crusaders for two years, and the work Philip had done upon his arrival to mine and sap the walls contributed to its fall. However, Richard not only brought an overwhelming force, he spent considerable time examining the situation and planning his attack before he even got there. It was almost inevitable that Acre should fall to Richard the Lionheart, and indeed, the city surrendered mere weeks after the king arrived.


Shortly afterward, Philip returned to France. His departure was not without rancor, and Richard was probably glad to see him go. Although Richard the Lionheart scored a surprising and masterful victory at Arsuf, he was unable to press his advantage. Saladin had decided to destroy Ascalon, a logical fortification for Richard to capture. Taking and rebuilding Ascalon in order to more securely establish a supply line made good strategic sense, but few of his followers were interested in anything but moving on to Jerusalem. And fewer still were willing to stay on once, theroretically, Jerusalem was captured.

Matters were complicated by quarrels among the various contingents and Richard's own high-handed style of diplomacy.

Acre fell in July 1191, and on September 7 Richard’s brilliant victory at Arsūf put the Crusaders in possession of Joppa. Twice Richard led his forces to within a few miles of Jerusalem. But the recapture of the city, which constituted the chief aim of the Third Crusade, eluded him. There were fierce quarrels among the French, German, and English contingents. Richard insulted Leopold V, duke of Austria, by tearing down his banner and quarreled with Philip II, who returned to France after the fall of Acre. Richard’s candidate for the crown of Jerusalem was his vassal Guy de Lusignan, whom he supported against the German candidate, Conrad of Montferrat.

Richard continued with the Crusade, landing and taking the city of Acre on 8 June 1191. Whilst reports of his daring deeds and exploits in the Holy Land excited the folks back home and in Rome, in reality he failed to achieve the main objective which was to regain control of Jerusalem. He also lead his forces at the Battle of Jaffa, August 1192.




After considerable political wrangling, and a year’s unproductive skirmishing (September 1192), Richard came to the unavoidable conclusion that the conquest of Jerusalem would be far too difficult with the lack of military strategy he'd encountered from his allies; furthermore, it would be virtually impossible to keep the Holy City should by some miracle he manage to take it.


He negotiated a truce with Saladin that allowed the Crusaders to keep Acre and a thin strip of coast that gave Christian pilgrims access to sites of sacred significance, then headed back to Europe.

So in early October, after concluding a three years’ peace deal with Saladin he set off alone on the long journey home. During the journey Richard was shipwrecked in the Adriatic and eventually captured by the Duke of Austria. A heavy ransom was demanded for his release.

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He returned at once to England and was crowned for the second time on April 17, fearing that the independence of his kingship had been compromised. Within a month he went to Normandy, never to return. His last five years were spent in warfare against Philip II, interspersed with occasional truces. The king left England in the capable hands of Hubert Walter, justiciar and archbishop of Canterbury. It was Richard’s impetuosity that brought him to his death at the early age of 41. The vicomte of Limoges refused to hand over a hoard of gold unearthed by a local peasant. Richard laid siege to his castle of Châlus and in an unlucky moment was wounded. He died in 1199. He was buried in the abbey church of Fontevrault, where Henry II and Queen Eleanor are also buried, and his effigy is still preserved there.

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While besieging Châlus in 1199, Richard I of England was mortally wounded by a crossbow bolt shot by one Pierre Basile.


Ready for battle, King Richard's helm


King Richard I of England, known as "Coeur de Lion", the Lionheart, was the greatest leader of the Third Crusades and a master battlefield tactician. This magnificent sword, is a testimony to this stalwart leader.

Statue marking the burial place of Richard I in the abbey church at Fontevrault-l'Abbaye, France.

5 min Documentary video on the life of Richard the Lionheart, King of England, one of the greatest medieval kings to ever reign.
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