The Birth of the Lionheart
It was probably inevitable that King Richard the Lionheart would be linked with England’s other favorite folk-hero, Robin Hood. But surprisingly Richard I does not appear in the surviving early Robin Hood ballads. In fact it was a Scottish chronicler, John Major (or Mair) (1469-1550) who first linked the two legendary characters in his ‘History of Greater Britain’ in about 1521:
“About the time of King Richard I, according to my estimate, the famous English robbers, Robert Hode and Little John were lurking in the woods, preying only on the goods of the wealthy and never slew any unless they opposed them in defence of their goods.”
Forty Eight years later the Tudor printer and chronicler Richard Grafton (d.1572) claimed to have seen an ‘olde and aunciente pamphlet’ placing Robin Hood in the years of Richard I. This theme was enhanced by the prolific playwright Anthony Munday (c.1560-1633) who left a lasting impression on the legend, when he completely gentrified the outlaw in two successful plays, making him Robert Earl of Huntingdon in the court of Richard the Lionheart.
Munday’s two dramas, ‘The Downfall’ and the ‘The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntingdon’ were both published in 1601:
"Enter King Richard with drumme and scepter, and Ensigne,
giving Ely a purse; his mother and brother John,
Chester, Lester, Lacie, others at the Kings appointment,
doing reverence. The King goes in.
Richard calde Cor de Lyon takes his leave,
Like the Lords Champion, gainst the Pagan foes
That spoyle Judea and rich Palestine.
The rule of England and his princely seate
He leaves with Ely, then Lord Chancellor,
To whom the mother Queene, her sonne, Prince John,
Chester, and all the Peeres are sworne."
"Enter Robert, Earle of Huntington, leading Marian;
folowes him Warman, and after Warman the Prior,
War-man ever flattering and making curtsie,
taking gifts of the Prior behinde, and his master before.
Prince John enters, offereth to take Marian.
Queene Elinor enters, offering to pull Robin from her; but they in-folde each other,
and sit downe within the curteines.
This youth that leads yon virgin by the hand (As doth the Sunne, the morning richly clad)
Is our Earle Robert, or your Robin Hoode,
That in those daies was Earle of Huntington.
The ill fac't miser, brib'd in either hand,
Is Warman, once the Steward of his house,
Who Judas-like betraies his liberall Lord
Into the hands of that relentlesse Prior,
Calde Gilbert Hoode, uncle to Huntington.
Those two that seeke to part these lovely friends
Are Elenor the Queene and John the Prince;
She loves Earle Robert, he Maide Marian,
But vainely: for their deare affect is such,
As only death can sunder their true loves."
This theme of Robin living at the time of King Richard the Lionheart and bad Prince John seems to have generally remained popular since Tudor times. So what was the real Richard I like?
Most of us know of his personality through the Hollywood films. He leaves his kingdom to fight on a Crusade, his evil brother tries to usurp his throne during his absence and Richard is eventually imprisoned, ransomed and then triumphantly returns to save his throne with the help of Robin Hood.
According to John Gillingham, a leading authority on the life and times of Richard I:
“…the actual history of the reign of King Richard I in no way lets down the legend, and provides a story to equal the most gripping tale of Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe or The Talisman. Above all, the true character of Richard himself emerges, physically every inch the noble figure of our romantic imagination with his powerful build, striking red-gold hair and blue eyes, but at no point a mere dummy. Like many another heroic figure he failed in his ultimate objective, in this case to recapture Jerusalem, the Holy City; although by the end of his scant ten years’ reign, he had managed to win back much of his own Angevin Empire.”
(The Life and Times of Richard I by John Gillingham - Book Club Associates, London.)
No other King of England ever caught the imagination of his age as did Richard Coeur de Lion. Troubadour, knight-adventurer, war lord, Crusader-king-he was all of these things. He was a son who rebelled against the old king, his father. He was a captain who could meet the great Saladin on equal terms, who could conquer Cyprus in a few short weeks. He was a diplomat who built coalitions on a European scale. He was a king held captive by his mortal enemies while a fellow-Crusader invaded his lands and his own treacherous brother tried to snatch his kingdom from him. He was a warrior who lived all his life at the centre of the political stage only to die in an obscure sideshow in a place no one had ever heard of. Although he could not speak English and was not interested in England, he was the first king since the Norman Conquest to become an English folk-hero.
Of all the English kings he was the one who fitted most naturally into the world of ballad and legend. But it was not just in England that Richard became a name to conjure with. In thirteenth-century France he could be described as ‘the greatest of all Christian kings’. In Syria his name was invoked when Muslim women wanted to stop their children crying:
‘Hush child, or the King of England will come.’
So far as they were concerned, there was only one King of England, Richard Coeur de Lion.
Richard was born in Oxford, England, on the 8th of September 1157 in the Palace of Beaumont, the third legitimate heir of King Henry II (1133-1189) and Eleanor of Aquitane (1122-1204. He was second in line to inherit his parents’ joint empire, which at its heart was Anjou, not England and included not just Normandy but duchies and other ancient fiefdoms stretching right down to the Spanish peninsula.
Later, in 1190 Richard I charged the town of Rowdon, south west of Chippenham, with £7.10s a year as a provision for life to a person described as ‘Hodierna Nutrix,’ Hodierna the Nurse (b. circa 1151). She is believed to be the English royal wet-nurse who it is said, fed baby Richard from her right breast and reserved her left for her own son, who was born on the same day, Alexander Nequam. Hodierna became very wealthy and her name is still attached to the Wiltshire parish of Knoyle Hodierne. Her son Alexander Nequam later became Abbot of Cirencester and a great medieval scholar.
Richard’s father Henry II was the first of the Plantagenet kings. He was tall with broad shoulders and the strength and endurance to match. His sense of humour was strong, but his temper was unpredictable and he could be bitterly vindictive towards anyone who roused his temper. His violent ‘Angevin’ rages were legendary.
In 1175 Henry rode into Nottingham in one of those rages accusing local people of breaking Forest laws. It was said that he was, ‘addicted to the chase beyond measure; at crack of dawn he was off on horseback, traversing waste lands, penetrating forests and climbing the mountain tops, and so he passed restless days.’
Despite his frenetic energy and love of hunting, Henry had a serious and scholarly side. He read books regularly, had an excellent memory and understood all the languages from the coast of France to the River Jordan, although he normally spoke in French or Latin. But it is his legal, administrative and financial developments during his reign that have been much praised by scholars and historians.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is often described as one of the most vivid and remarkable figures in the 12th-century as a patron of the arts, as a politician and as a mother. Throughout her life, beautiful Eleanor had been surrounded by an aura of romance and scandalous rumour. She inspired poets and songwriters of the time and under her patronage the ideals and codes of courtly love began to emerge. Her son Richard the Lionheart, inherited her love of music:
“Were the World all mine
From the sea to the Rhine
I’d give all away
If the English Queen
Would be mine for a day.”
As heir to the duchy of Aquitaine at 15, she had previously been married to Louis VII of France but had the marriage dissolved. “I thought to have married a king, but found I am wed to a monk!” She is supposed to have said.
Dressed as an ‘Amazonian Warrior’ alongside her uncle, Raymond of Antioch, Eleanor led her own troops on Crusade for two years. Rumours of her flirtations with her uncle persisted for many years after. But due to her not producing a male heir, her marriage to Louis VII was finally annulled in 1152.
To the horror of the French she set her sights on Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, heir to the Angevin empire, (he did not become King of England until Stephen died in 1154), 11 years her junior, whom she had met in August of the previous year. After arriving in Poitiers, Eleanor sent messages saying she wished to marry him.
Less than two months after her marriage was annulled, Henry and Eleanor were married on Whit Sunday 1152. Two years later Henry was crowned King Henry II of England in Westminster Abbey and Aquitaine became part of the Plantagenet Empire. During the early years of marriage to Henry, Eleanor was actively involved in the political life of his vast domains and she even became regent of England in 1161 during his absence.
In fourteen years she had never borne a male heir to the throne of France, but in the first six years of her second marriage, she had five children, four of them boys: William who died young, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey. Eventually they had eight children, the last of whom, John, was born in 1167.
After 1163, Queen Eleanor was less in the public eye as the children grew up and her resentment against Henry began to grow. At first Henry conducted secret love affairs. Then he began a public relationship with a knight’s daughter, Rosamond Clifford ‘the fair Rosamond.’ Henry also became involved with his son Richard’s fiancée, a French princess who also happened to be the daughter of Eleanor’s first husband, Louis VII! Ten years later Eleanor led three of her sons, ‘the devil’s brood’ the ‘Young King’ Henry, Richard and Geoffrey in rebellion against Henry, surprising him with this act of aggression. Eleanor may have hoped to gain the right to rule Aquitaine with her beloved third son, Richard, without Henry. But the rebellion was put down and the fifty year old Eleanor was imprisoned by her angry husband for the next sixteen years.
Henry’s sons continued to war against him, including his favorite, the young John. In 1183, after the ‘Young King Henry’s’ death Eleanor was allowed to tour Aquitaine. Finally six years later Henry II died and Queen Eleanor assumed powers far greater than before, as the sweet core of her life, Richard became king.