King Richard I of England is a figure who arguably lives greater in legend than actual fact. Richard has often been a figure in Robin Hood lore either as a looming presence or an actual character who arrives to save Robin from Richard’s wicked brother John. In reality, Richard wasn’t quite as heroic a figure as these tales make him out to be, and he spent much of his reign outside of England in the Crusades and other conflicts. So what is the truth behind one of the nation’s greatest living legends? Read below to find some real and interesting facts about King Richard I.
Fighting With My Family
Throughout his life, Richard never shied away from a fight, even in his teenage years. At the age of 16 in 1173, Richard and his brothers rebelled against their father, King Henry II, and attempted to place their eldest brother Henry on the throne. King Henry II responded and defeated his rebellious sons, but Richard wasn’t done. He then rebelled against his brothers and again against his father with the help of King Phillip II of France. This only stopped when Richard’s father named him as heir in 1189, two days before the king died.
More a nickname than a title, Richard earned it prior to his becoming king thanks to his courage in battle.
Arranged marriages certainly weren’t unheard of in the medieval period, and they were often set at very young ages. In Richard’s case, he was nine years old when his parents engaged him to Berengaria of Navarre. Despite the young engagement, Richard didn’t marry Berengaria until he’d been on the throne for nearly two years when he was thirty-one. However, as he grew older and got married, Richard’s interests drifted more to battle than to his marriage, and he ultimately died without an issue, leaving the throne to fall to his brother, John.
The Call of Battle
And speaking of battle, there was no greater opportunity for Richard than after Saladin captured Jerusalem in 1187, an action that launched the Third Crusade. Richard didn’t join the Crusade until 1191 and on his way to Palestine managed to find conflicts in Sicily and Cypress to involve himself. He spent nearly a year in the Holy Land with mixed results against Saladin’s forces but was ultimately forced to return to England as John and King Phillip II had been taking advantage of his absence.
If Richard wasn’t engaged in combat on the battlefield, he was more than happy to fight in various tournaments. Tournaments of the 12th Century weren’t the lance-charging competition that we see on screen, but more like a demolition derby, with teams of knights entering a melee-style fight to bash each other with weapons until one side yielded.
Long Road Home
The trip back to England from the Crusades was not an easy one for Richard. Bad weather forced Richard to first land in Turkey where the Byzantine Emperor didn’t care for Richard’s taking of Cypress, which forced Ricard to disguise himself to escape the port of Corfu unnoticed. He was then captured by Duke Leopold of Austria, who felt that Richard was partly responsible for his cousin Conrad’s death by assassination (which may have been true). Leopold turned Richard over to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Meanwhile, John and Phillip together offered the Holy Roman Emperor money in order to keep Richard imprisoned. Despite this, when Richard finally returned in 1194, he easily forgave John and named him as his heir.
Upon his return, Richard had a second coronation to help get over the shame of being imprisoned.
Long Reign, Short Residence
Despite being king for ten years, Richard only spent about six months in England since his various battles and imprisonment kept him aware for nearly all of it.
Mom Always Liked You Best
Part of the origin for Richard having been such a great king was due to his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s certainly fair to say that Richard was her favorite son, so after he was transferred to the custody of Henry VI, Eleanor started a massive goodwill campaign to get him released. She portrayed Richard as a benevolent monarch in order to help raise the ransom of 150,000 marks. It was the start of a reputation that would grow in fiction during the 16th Century through epic poems such as Richard, Coer de Lyon and his incorporation into the legend of Robin Hood.
And speaking of Robin, it’s unlikely that an actual Robin Hood ever existed, though it may be the case that he was based on several real-life individuals. However, none of them actually met King Richard I. In film adaptations of the legend, the king is often referred to as “Richard of the Last Reel” for his tendency to show up at the end of the film to save Robin and congratulate him for his noble deeds.