Richard the Lionheart's Siege of Nottingham Castle.

Robin Hood  kneels before Richard the Lionheart

Although Richard I does not appear in the existing medieval ballads of Robin Hood, it was only a matter of time before the two legendary characters came together in English myth. Today, Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood are now inseparable in countless film and television productions of the outlaws adventures in Sherwood Forest. The Lionhearted king has always had a fascination for me and particularly his siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194. It was during this period in Richard's return to England that we come closest to the moment when the two legendary characters 'might' have met.

Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart.

Due to the unrest at home and the threat to his lands in Normandy, caused by his brother John's alliance with Philip of France, Richard uncharacteristically had to turn his back on the Crusade in the Holy Land and return to England. Unfortunately his journey home was a disaster, culminating in his capture and imprisonment by Duke Leopold of Austria in December 1192. The Duke then sold Richard to Henry VI Emperor of Germany in March 1193. Meanwhile his trecherous brother Prince John, toured England, telling anyone that would listen that, King Richard was dead.

On Richard's departure to the Holy Land, John had not been given Nottingham Castle as part of his estates. But it was partly re-built in stone and held by Prince John  along with several others,when news reached England of Richard's imprisonment  and ransom  of 150,000 marks (£100,000). This huge sum was twice the annual revenue of the English crown. Although, as Richard was master of the provences of the Angevin empire, the sum would eventually not only come from England, but also Normandy, Britanny and Aquitaine.

John had offered the Emperor 80,000 marks to keep Richard I imprisoned until Michaelmas, or a proportionate sum for every month he kept him captive beyond it. But the Holy Roman Emperor stood by his word and Philip sent a message to his ally, Prince John, "have a care, the devil is un-loosed." The Lionheart was a free man again, having been captive for one year, six weeks and three days. It was said that the castellan of St. Michaels Mount in Cornwall dropped dead of fright when he heard of Richard's return. Immedialtely Prince John escaped to France and lay low in Normandy.

King John

On the 20th March 1194, King Richard landed in Sandwich in Kent, from where he hastened to Canterbury, declaring that he did not want to visit any other church in England until he had visited the seat of St.Thomas Beckett. He then made his way to London via Rochester where a thanksgiving service was held in St.Paul's Cathedral. After two days in London the Lionheart then rode north to Nottingham to deal with his brother. While Richard was on his way back to England, the great Council had declared all Prince John's estates forfeit and the assembled bishops excomunicated him.

Richard reached Nottingham on 25th March, "with such a vast multitude of men, and such a clangor of trumpets and clarions, that those who were in the castle were astonished and confounded and alarmed, and trembling came upon them, but still they did not believe that the king had come and supposed that the whole of this was done by the chiefs of the army for the purpose of decieving them. The king, however,took up his quarters next to the castle, so that the archers of the castle pierced the kings men at his very feet. The king being incensed with this put on his armour, and commanded his army to make an assault on the castle. "
(Roger de Hovenden, Itinerarium Regis Ricardi ).

Richard's effigy in Fontevrault, France

Ralph Murdoc and William de Wendeval were holding the castle in Prince John's name and refused to surrender.

The siege had already been started by William Earl of Ferrers, David Earl of Huntingdon (the brother of William the Lion, king of Scots) and Randulf Earl of Chester. This is peculiar because the legend of Robin Hood not only links him with the earldom of Huntingdon but also with Randulf Earl of Chester ( 'Piers Plowman' c.1377).

David, Earl of Huntingdon, took part in Richard's coronation and shortly afterwards married the sister of Randulf Earl of Chester.

King Richard according to some sources arrived with just a few hours of daylight left and as he stood watching the siege, two of those next to him were suddenly hit by arrows.The Lionheart ordered an immediate assault. Such were his military talents that by dusk the wooden gateway to the outer bailey and the barbican had been captured and burnt. But the defenders lay secure behind the high stone walls of the middle bailey and during the night deliberately burnt down some buildings.

Clothed in a simple coat of light mail, with a steel cap on his head, he [Richard] advanced as far as the gate of the castle, preceded by men bearing before them large shields. 

Nottingham Castle

The next day Richard ordered  Master Elias of Oxford to bring stone throwing engines from London.The king decided not to make another assault on the castle till the machines were ready. Meanwhile he hung from gibbets, in full view of the defenders, some men at arms captured outside of the castle. He also summoned the Archbishop of Canterbury to excommunicate the defenders. 

On the following day the Bishop of Durham brought additional forces and prisoners from nearby Tickhill Castle. 
But while the king was at dinner:

Ralph Murdac and William de Wendeval, constables of Nottingham Castle, sent two of their companions to see the king; who after having seen him, returned to the castle, to tell those who had sent them what they had seen and heard respecting the king and his preperations. When William de Wendeval and Roger de Montbegum heard of this, they went forth with twelve others from the castle, and threw themselves at the king's mercy, and returned to the castle no more.
(Roger de Hovenden, Itinerarium Regis Ricardi)

 But, it was not until the third day of the siege, and the mediation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the defenders were persuaded to surrender:

Ralph Murdac, Philip de Worcester and Ralph de Worecester his brother, and all the rest who  were in the castle, surrendered the castle to the king, and threw themselves on the king's mercy, for life and limb and worldly honour.
(Roger de Hovenden)

Medieval Nottingham

The gates were opened and Richard entered the castle. Three days later, a Royal Council was held in the main hall. Richard sat between the two archbishops. The Queen Mother also attended the debate, which was to last for four days. They finally reached the decision to call upon Prince John to appear and answer the charges of treason whithin forty days. But due to the inter-cession of their mother, the feuding brothers were eventually reconciled.

On Palm Sunday, Richard rode off into Sherwood Forest to enjoy two days at the royal hunting lodge in Clipstone.

Roger of Hoveden in his Itinerarium Regis Ricardi, says:

Richard King of England did a view (perambulation) of Clipstone and Sherwood which of he had never seen before and it pleased him much.

We get more detail of Richard's trip by John Manwood (d.1610) in his Treatise of the Forest Laws:

“I have seen many ancient records in the tower of Nottingham Castle very badly kept, and scarce legible; in which Castle the Court is usually kept for Peverill-Fee: Amongst which it appears, that in the year 1194, King Richard being hunting in Sherwood Forest, did chase a hart out of the forest into Barnsdale into Yorkshire; and because he could not recover him, he made a proclamation at Tickhill in Yorkshire, and at several other places thereabout, that no person should kill, hurt or chase the said Hart; and this was afterwards called a Hart-Royal Proclaim’d.”

Sherwood Forest

Richard then returned back to Nottingham.  Sadly, we have no more information about his time amongst the beautiful glades of Sherwood and whether he met a certain outlaw in Lincoln Green. But the legend lives on.


Clement Glen said...

The Siege of Nottingham Castle

Richard the Lionheart

Prince John

BobBarnsdale said...

Thank you very much for this interesting entry! I always liked the part of Richard's siege of Nottingham and visit in Sherwood. It's a shame it was never included in a RH movie. As I understand it, the siege was in the original script of the 2010 RH, when it was still named "Nottigham". Unfortunatly Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe changed the whole thing and offered a lame prequel which added no new aspects to the legend and was RH only by title.
I liked the idea of the Sheriff being the main character and his part in the siege and surrender of Nottingham had some "The Man who shot Liberty Valance" touch to it.

Clement Glen said...

Hi Bob, I read the original script of 'Nottingham' and it would have been a far more interesting film. Robin would have been almost the 'bad' guy, but Universal got scared that it would not have put enough bums on seats.
Many thanks for your comments.

BobBarnsdale said...

Thanks for the info, I haven't read the script, just had it figured from an interview with one of the writers on Allen's site.
Can you give some Info how the end played out? Is it like the Sheriff working the surrender of the City to the King, but Richard gives the praise to Robin for tactical reasons?

This would have been a nice twist and a good explanation why we have Robin as a hero today and not the Sheriff. I allways liked the new approach the Lester film "Robin & Marian" brought to the subjet in the 70ies and the idea behind "Nottingham" seemed to do something similar to the first mayor RH movie of the 21st Century. Really sad it didn't work out.

You have a great Blog here and I appreciate your work for the celebration of Disney RH and everything behind it very much. Just found it a few days ago on the research for more Info on the short "The Riddle of RH" and your site is the only one having it! Thanks :-)

Clement Glen said...


Once I am properly mobile again, (I currently have my leg in plaster)I will dig out the disc with the script.
It's been a while since i read it!

But it is interesting how film companies are reluctant to tamper too much with the legend. 'Robin and Marian was, in my oppinion one of the best versions. The movie included the first screen showing of his death, which according to research was not popular with cinema audiances.

So it seems media production companies are a little hesitant to tamper too much with the legend as we know it today.

Neil said...

I, for one, wouldn't want the legend to be tampered with because it is such a lovely whimsical set of stories all joined together that anything too deep or involved would tend to destroy this. That is where I thought Walt Disney got it absolutely right in his interpretation in 1952. When I see later and more updated versions where we see the squalour around and see the forest in winter for instance it just does not seem to fit at all. In Sherwood it is always spring and summertime and the sun is always shining. The story when set like this is very appealing and it seems that Walt Disney knew this and as we all know, he knew his audience far better than anyone else.

BobBarnsdale said...

I agree with you that some of the recent film versions messed a lot with the story, but I definetly appreciate when some variation and new aspects are added. Not some calculated pc version or pseudo historical stuff like the Costner and Crowe Films, but I would very much like to see the Sherwood in snow!
I can find something interesting for me in almost every film about the subject, and love the Disney and WB version in all their glory, but my favorites are probably the works from the 70ies "Wolfshead", "Robin & Marian" and the BBC miniseries "The Legend of RH". They are not perfect, but tried something different, which 143 episodes of the Richard Greene series and a lot of movies before couldn't tell, combined with a more "realistic" touch of the period.