The Life and Death of Richard the Lionheart (Classroom Activity)

Eleanor of Aquitaine suggested that Henry the Young should be given England, Anjou or Normandy to rule. King Henry II refused and Eleanor began to develop plans to overthrow of her husband. Eleanor's sons, Richard the Lionheart and Geoffrey of Brittany, joined the rebellion.

William of Newburgh reported that "the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice of the French King, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him".

Richard was only sixteen and it was his first military campaign. In July 1173 Henry defeated his sons at Verneuil Castle. After their surrender, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey all had their allowances increased. However, all three sons had to promise never to "demand anything further from the Lord King, their father, beyond the agreed settlement... and withdrew neither themselves nor their service from him."

Henry II died on 6th July 1189. Richard the Lionheart now became king of England. One of his first acts as king was to send William Marshal to England with orders to release his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from prison. Richard also restored to her control the lands and revenues that she had enjoyed before the revolt of 1173. Eleanor responded by touring England encouraging the barons to support her son and announced a general amnesty of prisoners. Roger of Howden claims she went from "city to city and castle to castle", holding "queenly courts", releasing prisoners and exacting oaths from all freemen to "be loyal to her son as their as yet uncrowned king".

On 3rd September 1189, Richard was crowned king at Westminster Abbey on 3rd September 1189. Richard stayed in England only long enough to make the necessary financial arrangements for his involvement in the Third Crusade. This involved selling some of his recently acquired land. He even joked that he would sell London if he could find a buyer.

Richard the Lionheart met with his brother John before he left England. King Richard gave his brother the title Count of Mortain and confirmed him Lord of Ireland. He also "bestowed on him other fiefs and castles, and assigned to him the entire royal revenues of six English counties, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Derby and Nottingham". However, John was disappointed that the king had not given him any real power in administering England while he was away.

On 15th September 1189, Richard the Lionheart arranged for Hubert Walter, to be elected bishop of Salisbury. In return, Walter made it clear that he was willing to serve with Richard in the Holy Land. Richard the Lionheart left his mother Eleanor in charge of the government. On 12th December, 1189, Richard sailed from Dover to Calais on his way to the Holy Land.

Primary Sources

King Henry II
(Source 1) Merry-Joseph Blondel, Richard the Lionheart (1841)

(Source 2) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975)

Henry II was still only in his thirties and had no intention of allowing his young sons to govern for themselves. Frustrated, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey broke out into rebellion in 1173. In May 1174 Richard took command of his first serious campaign but at the age of sixteen he was still no match for his father and he was soon forced to ask pardon.... Richard was, above all else, a great soldier. His own individual prowess in battle was an inspiration to his men.

(Source 3) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002)

Although he (Richard the Lionheart) had always been close to her (Eleanor) and even though he had been reared in a feminine court, where were respected, he did not like the female sex. Not only was he averse to marrying Alais because she had been his father's mistress, he objected to marrying any woman... For good or ill, she had molded the Coeur de Lion, whose name would be synonymous with valor eight centuries later. The only flaw in her planning was that her son was a homosexual.

(Source 4) Charles Scott Moncrieff, Kings and Queens of England (1966)

Richard tended to regard England mainly as a piece of property from which, by taxes or other means, he could raise money for the Crusades. He got it chiefly in large lump sums from the wealthier people. For instance, he sold the Archbishopric of York for £2,000. He put Ranulf Glanvill in prison, for no reason except that the old man rich - King Henry's strong sense of justice not having descended to his sons - and this fetched a ransom of £15,000.

N.C. Wyeth, Richard the Lionheart (1921)

(Source 5) N.C. Wyeth, Richard the Lionheart (1921)

(Source 6) Gerald of Wales, Concerning the Instruction of a Prince (c. 1190)

The King (Richard the Lionheart) is like a robber permanently on the prowl, always probing, always searching for the weak spot where there is something to steal.

(Source 7) Roger of Howden, King Henry the Second , and the Acts of King Richard (c. 1200)

Richard put up for sale everything he had - offices, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, towns, lands, the lot.

(Source 8) Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad, was an official in the government of Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and leader of the Muslims (c. 1190)

Richard... was a man of great courage and spirit. He had fought great battles and showed a burning passion for war... To gain his ends he sometimes uses soft words, at other times violent deeds.

Richard the Lionheart's seal (c. 1190)
(Source 9) Richard the Lionheart's seal (c. 1190)

(Source 10) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013)

He (Richard) looked at the Plantagenet empire he had inherited and saw revenue streams where his father had not. Henry had generally balanced the profits that could be derived from the sale of office and royal favour against the need to offer kingship based on stable government by competent royal servants. Richard was never so keenly bureaucratic.

(Source 11) Winston Churchill, The Island Race (1964)

His memory has always stirred English hearts, and seems to present throughout the centuries the pattern of the fighting man. Although a man of blood and violence, Richard was too impetuous to be either treacherous or habitually cruel. He was as ready to forgive as he was hasty to offend; he was open-handed and munificent to profusion; in war circumspect in design and skilful in execution; in politics a child, lacking in subtlety and experience. His political alliances were formed upon his likes and dislikes; his political schemes had neither unity nor clearness of purpose.

King Henry II
(Source 12) Henry II and Richard the Lionheart by Matthew Paris in his book, English History (c. 1250)

(Source 13) Roger of Howden, King Henry the Second , and the Acts of King Richard (c. 1200)

Bertram de Gurdun, aimed an arrow from the castle, and struck the king on the arm... After its capture, the king ordered all the people to be hanged... except the man who wounded him... Marchades, who, after attempting to extract the iron head, extracted the wood only, while the iron remained in the flesh; but after this butcher had carelessly mangled the king's arm in every part, he at last extracted the arrow... The king now knew he was going to die... he ordered Bertram de Gurdun, who had wounded him, to come into his presence, and said to him, "What harm have I done to you, that you have killed me?" He replied, "You killed my father and my two brothers with your own hand... take any revenge on me that you may think fit, for I will readily endure the greatest torments you can devise, so long as you have met with your end, after having inflicted evils so many and so great upon the world." On this the king ordered him to be released... Mercadier, however, seized him without the king knowing it, and after the king's death, had him hanged.

(Source 14) John Richard Green, History of the English People (1874)

Richard prowled around the walls, but the castle held out... Richard would hang all, he swore - man, woman, the very child at the breast. In the midst of his threats an arrow from the walls struck him down. He died as he lived... forgiving with kingly generosity the archer who had shot him.

(Source 15) Stephen Church, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant (2015)

The death of King Richard on 6th April 1199 came as a surprise to all. He was just forty-one years old, he had survived countless military engagements, a crusade and a year in captivity, and there had been no intimations of mortality. His death was caused by gangrene, which poisoned his system a few days after he had been hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt fired from the battlements of the castle of Chalus-Chabrol in the Limousin. The mortally wounded took eleven days to die, during which he had plenty of time to make provision for his soul and to advise on what should happen to his lands once he was dead.

Questions for Students

Question 1: Read the introduction and study the sources and then explain why Richard the Lionheart rebelled against his father in 1173?

Question 2: Why did Eleanor of Aquitaine try very hard to arrange the marriage of Richard the Lionheart to a European princess? Why did Richard reject this idea?

Question 3: (i) Select passages from this unit that suggested that Richard was sometimes short of money. (ii) How do these sources help to explain why he needed this money?

Question 4: Study sources 1, 5, 9 and 12. Do these images provide an accurate representation of Richard the Lionheart.

Question 5: Source 14 was written 700 years after the event that it described took place. Which source from this unit would John Richard Green, have found most useful when he wrote History of the English People (1874)? How might this source have influenced Green's interpretation of what happened?

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.