The Life and Times of Richard the Lionheart


Richard 1 – commonly referred to as Richard the Lionheart, was born on September 8, 1157. He was the third lawful son of King Henry II of England. According to West and Gaff (2005), Richard was the third son of King Henry II and therefore was never expected to rise to the throne of power. But due to his strong-willed nature, Richard ascended the ladder to become the King of England from July 6 1189 until April 6, 1199. According to West and Gaff (2005), Richard also ruled as the duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Lord of Ireland, Count of Nantes, Count of Anjou, and Overlord of Brittany.

Richard was reputed as a great military leader and warrior in his lifetime, hence the name Richard the Lionheart. For example, Richard was commanding his own army at the age of 16, which helped him to quell rebellions against his own father, King Henry II in Pointou. Richard is greatly remembered for his role in the Third Crusade, where he led a campaign to defeat his Muslim counterpart, Saladin. This was a crucial victory as it helped in earnest to mold up the Christianity history. He is also remembered also for spending little time in his Kingdom, favoring to use the time he had as a source of income to support his troops. He will be remembered forever for his enduring, iconic figure and for his epithet (glorified nickname). According to Hilliam and Hancock (2004), Richard spoke very little English due to his French background.

Life and Family

According to Folda (2005), Richard was the legitimate third son of King Henry II; younger brother of Henry the young king, William the Count of Pointers, and Matilda of England; and an older brother of Leonora of England, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, John Plantagenet, and John, Count of Mortain. John succeeded Richard as king. Richard was also the younger maternal half-brother of Alix of France and Marie de Champagne. His mother’s name was Eleanor of Aquitaine. According to West and Gaff (2005), Richard, like many other Plantagenets, was born at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, England. When his parents separated, he was left with his mother. According to Folda (2005), Richard’s elder brother was crowned the king of England in 1170 in line with traditions.

According to Hilliam and Hancock (2004), Richard married Berengaria, the first-born offspring of King Sancho VI of Navarre, at the chapel of St. George, Limassol on May 12 1191. This was before he left for Cyprus. The wedding was attended by his sister Joan from Sicily. In reality, Richard was officially engaged to Alys. But having an extremely bright mind, he chose to marry Berengaria in order to obtain Navarre for his father. His marriage with Berengaria was also sanctioned by his mother Eleanor, who desired to secure her ancestral lands’ borders to the south. This was because Navarre bordered on Aquitaine. They went for a brief episode of the third crusade but returned separately because Berengaria found much difficulty in making the journey back home to England (Hilliam & Hancock 2004).

Richard was an extremely well-informed man. Much of his time was used in composing poetry in Limousin and French. The former was an Occitan language spoken and understood by about 402, 000 people in a location of southern France known as Limousin. According to Setton, Wolf, and Hazard (2005), Richard was a very gorgeous man, light-eyed with a pale complexion, and having hair that bordered between blond and red. Even in his childhood, Richard was extremely gifted as he exhibited significant military and political abilities. His courage and chivalry was exhibited from a very tender age in his fights to manage the insubordinate nobles of his own territory (Hilliam 2004).

Revolt against King Henry II

In the company of his brothers, Richard frequently challenged his father’s authority. Richard joined his brothers Geoffrey and Henry to revolt against their father with the aim of dethroning him at the age of 16. After some confrontation, Henry II was successful in crushing the rebellion. According to West and Gaff (2005), Richard concentrated on quelling internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine after he failed to overthrow his father. This was particularly done in the territory of Gascony. In 1179, a major revolt was held there in response to what was perceived as Richard’s increasing cruelty. In the hope of dethroning Richard, the rebels sought the help of Richard’s brothers, Geoffrey and Henry. According to Hilliam and Hancock (2004), Richard fought off the rebellion by destroying and looting the lands and farms surrounding the fortress of Taillebourg, Charente Valley in the spring of 1179. This left the rebels with no where to retreat to. The rebels’ reinforcements were also greatly hampered. In a fight that lasted for two days, Richard was able to effectively subdue the opponent’s army. This forced many barons to shelve any arrangements they had for rebelling and declared their loyalty to Richard.

From 1180 to 1183, Richard challenged his father for the throne again. Richard had refused to pay homage to his brothers Geoffrey and Henry the young King. This necessitated the duke of Brittany to invade Aquitaine in the hope of subduing Richard. But Richard, with the help of his armies, was able to fight off the rebellion. After the death of Henry the young king, Richard became the eldest son of King Henry II and heir to the clown. But he still continued to fight his father. Richard allied himself with Philip II, the son of Eleanor’s ex-husband Louis VII in 1187. The two established a strong relationship, which some historians say was most probably a homosexual relationship. According to the treaty, Richard was to concede to Philip his rights to both Anjou and Normandy if Philip helped him to overthrow his father. Richard was named the heir to the throne after the combined forces defeated the King’s army at the Balkans on July 4 1189. Dethroned, Henry II died two days later, and Richard effectively replaced him as King of England, Count of Anjou, and Duke of Normandy (Folda 2005).

His contribution to Christian history

During the third crusade, Richard was a central Christian commander. He took the mantle after the departure of Philip Augustus and won several conquests against Saladin, his Muslim counterpart. It was around 1188 when word went out that Jerusalem – the holy city in the holy land had fallen to Saladin, also known as Salahuddin Ayyubi. This sultan of Syria and Egypt lived from 1138 to 1193 and was crucial in leading the Islamic opposition to the third crusade. Saladin was a strict practitioner of Sunni Islam who conventionally led the Muslim resistance to the European crusaders. He was instrumental in recapturing the Palestine from the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. He was very different from Richard and other Christian crusaders in that he never maimed, killed, or retaliated against those whom he defeated with the exception of a few instances (West & Gaff 2005).

With the exception of Tyre and Jerusalem, nearly all the other crusader cities had been captured by Saladin and his Muslim forces. Due to the importance of Jerusalem to Muslims, Saladin chose to capture it instead of capturing Tyre which was more strategically placed. The fall of Jerusalem prompted the third crusade, which was basically financed by England. According to Herrin (1989), Richard I of England led the siege, surmounted the city, and executed over 3000 Muslim prisoners, including children and women. Continued occupation of Jerusalem by Muslim forces under the leadership of Saladin could have brought negative effects to Christianity. Jerusalem is the spiritual centre of the Jews as well as the holiest city in Judaism. It contains a number of important ancient Christian sites and therefore taking it away from the crusaders amounted to taking the origins of Christianity from them. However, Muslims consider it as their third holiest city (Folda 2005).

The army of Saladin was defeated at the Battle of Arsuf on September 7, 1191. However, Richard the Lionheart attempts to re-take Jerusalem failed. But Richard and Saladin mutually respected one another. This was exhibited by the fact that Saladin offered the services of his personal physician when Richard got ill with a fever and also sent him fresh fruit and snow to chill the drink. It is under this mutual affection that the two men reached an agreement in 1192 in the treaty of Ramla. It was agreed that while Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands, it would be open to Christian pilgrimages due to its historical importance to Christianity. In essence, Christians were to be allowed admission to the consecrated places of Jerusalem (Herrin 1989).

Significance of Jerusalem to Christians today

Giving the Christians a chance to access Jerusalem and leaving the pilgrims’ route to Mecca open for Muslims was an idea whose ramifications are still felt today. Today, many Christians all over the world converge to Jerusalem every year to view the origins of their faith and doctrine. Jerusalem contains very many Christian historic sites. In fact, Jerusalem is a sacred city for three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Jerusalem exclusive nature of holiness bestows it with a special vocation of calling for harmony and reconciliation among pilgrims, visitors, or citizens. Jerusalem has been a hotbed of religious fundamentalism because of its emotive and symbolic value (Memorandum 1994). This explains why the city has been a source of disharmony and conflict even in modern times. Israel and Palestine continue to fight over the ownership of the city. While the mystical nature of the city draws believers, its present undesirable condition scandalizes many people.

It is all because of King Richard I of Britain that Christians lay claim to Jerusalem city, the epicenter of their faith and doctrine. Christians recognize in their belief and faith that the long history of God’s people, with Jerusalem as its hub, is the salvation history which accomplishes God’s design in and through Jesus Christ. The Bible, which is the backbone of Christianity, says that God had already chosen Jerusalem to be the city where His name only will reside in the midst of His followers so that they grant to him acceptable worship (Memorandum, 1994). There are many more verses in the bible which expounds on the importance of the city of Jerusalem to Christians. To Christians, Jerusalem represents the image of the new conception and the ambitions of all people.

Without the city of Jerusalem, Christians would be having no grounds of basing their faith. It should be remembered that during the first centuries of the gospel, the liturgy of Jerusalem became the base for all the other liturgies in the world. The Jerusalem liturgy later intensely influenced the development of varied liturgical traditions basically because of the symbolic meaning of the holy city and the many pilgrimages that visited Jerusalem. Were it not because of King Richard I and the 1192 treaty of Ramla, the Christian faith could be like a fairy tale. There would be no Christian pilgrimages going to view the holy sites in Jerusalem. It is right to point out that if the 1192 treaty was not agreed upon, Christians today would be finding it quite difficult to explain the origins of their faith. The bible could also be contradicting itself if Richard the Lionheart did not lead a third crusade onslaught which bore the treaty (Herrin 1989).


Jerusalem continues to occupy a huge place in the hearts of Christians everywhere. It is my take that that was precisely the reason why King Richard I of Britain collected huge sums of money and resources from Britain in its defense. He delegated his powers of leading Britain to other people, including his mother, to lead the onslaught of ensuring that Jerusalem returned to Christendom. Though his objectives were not met, the treaty he signed with the Muslim leader has been influential in making Christianity retain its focus and direction. Pilgrims can now go to Jerusalem to view the historic sites that has continued to make Christianity faith and doctrine even more popular (Herrin 1989).

Christians can amicably relate what they read in the bible to what is already in the ground. If Jerusalem could have been made out of bounds for Christian crusaders, like it was before Richard Lionheart got involved, Christianity would be very weak. This is because Jerusalem is the centre of its faith and teachings. Before Jesus was crucified, he entered Jerusalem on a Sunday riding on a donkey. This occasion continues to be revered by many Christians around the world today as they celebrate the Palm Sunday. What if Jerusalem was kept out of bounds to Christians? Such occasions would seem frivolous. The Christian doctrine would lack any form of justification whatsoever.

Though many scholars have tarnished King Richard I as a self seeker who wanted to torment people more than to lead, Christians owe it to him that they are still able to access the holy city of Jerusalem. Was it not for the Richard the Lionheart and others who led the third crusade onslaught, Christianity would be lacking in its origins and practice. But thanks to the good King; Christians are now able to relate what they read in the bible to what they see on the ground after paying homage to the city of Jerusalem.


Folda, J 2005. Crusader Art in the Holy Land, from the Third Crusade to the fall of Acre, Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521835836.

Herrin, J 1989. The Formation of Christendom, Princeton University Press. ISBN: 0691008310.

Williams, D., & Hancock, L 2004. Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade: The English King Confronts Saladin, AD 1191, Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN: 0823942139. Web.

Memorandum of their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and of Heads of the Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Significance of Jerusalem for Christians 1994. 2008. Web.

Setton, K.M., Wolf, R.L., & Hazard, H.W 2005. A history of the Crusaders: The Later Crusades of 1189-1311, University of Wisconsin Press. Web.

West, D., & Gaff, J 2005. Richard the Lionheart: The life of a King and Crusader, Rosen Classroom Publishers. ISBN 1404251685. Web.