The news of the coming of the king, so long and so desperately awaited, flew faster than the north wind. (William of Newburgh)
|Richard I (1157-1199)|
At the end of most Robin Hood films and stories we witness the return of King Richard I after being held as a hostage by Leopold of Austria. Disguised as an abbot, the king hunts down Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and pardons all the outlaws. Prince John's evil attempt to usurp his brother's throne is foiled and the country rejoices at the return of the crusading king. But what was the Lionheart's reception really like when he got back to the shores of England?
|Richard I from the Chronicle of King's and Patrick Barr as King Richard|
I have been fascinated with the legend of Robin Hood for over forty years and have spent much of that time researching the history behind his phenomenal popularity. Surprisingly Richard I does not appear in the existing medieval ballads about the outlaw of Sherwood Forest. It was the Scottish chronicler John Major (or Mair) (1469-1550) who first linked the two of them together in his History of Greater Britain (1521). Since that time, Robin Hood's activities have been placed at the time of England's lionhearted king and his treacherous brother Prince John.The historical turmoil at that time provided a perfect backdrop to an endless stream of theatrical productions and fictional novels.
Recently I returned to Kent with my new partner, Jules Frusher and together we visited Rochester Castle. With it's stunning 12th-century stone keep, it probably has the best preserved example of early Norman castle construction anywhere in England or France. During a long eventful history, it was besieged by King John's (1166-1216) forces during the first baron's war. I also learnt that Richard I had stopped off at the fortress during his journey back from the Holy Land. Looking at the remains of the Great Hall, I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like during the time of the Plantagenet kings and in particular Richard I. So I decided to investigate the return of the Lionheart to England and see if it was as dramatic as Hollywood would have us believe.
On the 4th February 1194 at 9 o'clock in the morning King Richard I's ransom of 100,000 marks was completed and hostages were handed over to insure the outstanding 50,000 marks would be paid. It was then that the Archbishops of Mainz and Cologne formerly released Richard and he was brought to his mother, the formidable Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was said that she was so overcome with emotion upon seeing her beloved son again that she broke down in tears. According to Richard of Howden's (the king's clerk) calculations, Richard had been in prison for one year, six weeks and three days.
|Martia Hunt as Eleanor of Aquitaine|
During their journey back to England, through Europe, Richard and Eleanor stopped for three days in Cologne and on the 12th February the Archbishop received him with joy and they sang mass in the beautiful cathedral, which included the choir singing:
Now I know that God has sent his angel and taken me from the hand of Herod.
From Cologne, Richard traveled to Louvain and then onto Brussels, arriving there on the 25th February. A number of ships from England had now sailed into the port of Antwerp including Richard's favourite galley, Trench-e-mer (the sea cleaver) and the king and his mother were welcomed aboard by its faithful captain, Alan Trenchemer, who sailed the vessel onward to Zwin.
It was in the tidal inlet of Zwin on the Belgian-Dutch border, that the royal party dropped anchor for five days, supposedly delayed by bad weather. But historians generally agree that this was to allow Richard time to survey the inlets and islands under cover of darkness, through fear of being intercepted. The Lionheart was well aware that he faced not only a land-based invasion threat from King Philip of France, but a naval risk too.
|19th Century image of Richard I on-board ship|
Finally, on the 13th March, five weeks after his release, the little convoy docked in bright sunlight at Sandwich in Kent and Richard set foot on English soil for the first time since December 1189. But there were no big celebrations as they stepped off the vessel. Instead, Richard decided to visit Canterbury, claiming he did not want to visit any other church until he had visited the seat of St. Thomas Beckett of blessed memory and payed his respects. (Beckett had been murdered twenty three years before).
After giving thanks for his freedom at Beckett's shrine, Richard and Queen Eleanor travelled along the Pilgrims' Way. This included journeying along the old Roman road known in Anglo-Saxon times as Watling Street which ran from Dover to London, and passed through Ospringe, Chatham and Rochester.
|Pilgrims Way in Kent|
As the royal party rode through the Kent countryside, news of the king's release was steadily spreading across the kingdom. Between them Philip of France and Prince John had offered to pay the German King and Emperor, Henry VI, a much larger sum than the current ransom, to detain Richard in captivity. But the deal never took place and when Philip heard Richard had been freed, he sent Prince John a message:
Look to yourself; the devil is loosed
|Hubert Gregg as Prince John|
Prince John's treacherous attempt at usurping the throne had failed miserably. The council of the realm declared his estates forfeit, his castles were besieged and the bishops excommunicated him. One of John's supporters, the castellan of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, Henry de la Pomeroy, died of fright when he heard the Lionheart had been released. John fled at once to the safety of the French court.
Hubert Walter, Richard's new Chief Justicar and Archbishop of Canterbury was waiting for him at Rochester Castle. As his monarch approached, Walter dismounted and knelt before him. Richard too climbed down from his horse and gave his fellow crusader an emotional embrace. That night they both stayed in the keep of the castle, spending most of the evening deep in conversation.
|Rochester Castle in Kent|
|Below the Great Hall in Rochester Castle|
Three days after arriving at Sandwich in Kent, King Richard and Queen Eleanor crossed the Thames by the old wooden bridge and entered London:
to the great acclaim of both clergy and people, he was received in procession through the decorated city into the church of St. Paul's to give thanks for his restoration. Afterwards as they rode to the palace of Westminster they were hailed with joy along the Strand. (Ralph of Diceto)
The citizens of London decked the streets with banners and bunting and received their king and his mother with an enthusiastic and honest joy. Although the country had been fleeced of a huge amount of its wealth, there was still enough to give him a lavish reception. The German agents who were present to oversee that the outstanding balance of Richard's ransom would be paid, were stunned to see that the country had not been brought to its knees and commented that the ransom had been put too low.
Oh king! if our emperor had suspected this, you would not have been let off so lightly. (Brompt.-Hemingford)
The legendary knight William the Marshall, was so keen to greet his king that he missed his brother's funeral so that he could hurry to witness all the celebrations.
Such joy have I in the king's coming that I can withstand the grief that I did not believe I could bear. (William Marshall- Crouch)
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 deceiving 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 )
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 the outlaw 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 defenders were convinced that the fanfare was just a trick and fought on. 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 the castle's outer works, depriving the besiegers of as much cover as possible.
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 until the machines were ready. Meanwhile he hung from gibbets, in full view of the defenders, some men at arms captured outside of the castle. Richard's message was clear, if they continued to hold out they would all suffer the same fate. The Archbishop of Canterbury was also ordered to excommunicate the defenders.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.
On the 27th March 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 preparations. 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)
Richard is reported to have said to his visitors from Nottingham Castle, 'Well, what can you see? Am I here?' But it was not until the third day of the siege, and the mediation of the archbishop of Canterbury, that the rest of the defenders were persuaded to surrender:
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)
The gates were opened and Richard entered Nottingham Castle and after which, according to Roger de Hovenden:
Richard, king of England went to see Clipston and the forests of Sherwood, which he had never seen before, and they pleased him greatly; after which on the same day he returned to Nottingham. (Roger de Hovenden)
Two days later, a Royal Council was held in the hastily repaired Great Hall of Nottingham Castle. Richard sat between the two archbishops. The 72 year old Queen Eleanor also attended the debate along with Hugh, bishop of Durham, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, William bishop of Ely, the king's chancellor, William bishop of Hereford, Henry bishop of Worcester, Henry, bishop of Exeter, John, bishop of Whitherne, earl David, brother of the king of Scotland, Hamelin, earl of Warenne, Ranulph earl of Chester, William earl of Ferrers, William earl of Salisbury and Roger Bigot.
The council would last four days. On the second day, legal proceedings began against not only Prince John but also the bishop of Coventry:
being aware of their secret plans, had devoted himself, and had give his adherence to the king of France and earl John, devising all kinds of mischief to the injury of his kingdom. Judgement was accordingly given, that earl John and the bishop of Coventry should be peremptorily cited, and if they should not come within forty days to take their trial, they pronounced that earl John had forfeited all rights in the kingdom and that the bishop of Coventry would be subjected to the judgement of the bishops. (Roger de Hovenden)
Two months later John, who had now been abandoned by the King of France and dispossessed of his revenues and lands in England, visited his mother Queen Eleanor. After a private consultation with her, he fell at Richard's feet in Lisieux, France and begged his brother's forgiveness. It was immediately given by Richard who said to his younger brother, 'Don't be afraid John, you are a child (John was in fact, 27 years old). You have got into bad company and it is those who have led you astray who will be punished.'
Later, one of Richard's envoy's, John of Alencon, looked Prince John in the face and warned him that the king had treated him better than he deserved and no doubt better than he would have treated his own brother.
The feuding brothers were reconciled, with the help of their mother.
So, on Richard's return to England, not only did he dramatically attack Nottingham Castle and expel his scheming brother, but also spent a day hunting in Sherwood Forest. Sadly there is no record of him meeting Robin Hood, but I hope that you will agree the history is just as intriguing as the legend.
More information can be found here on the research and history about Robin Hood. There are also many more pages about Nottingham Castle, the ballads about Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest.
The Annals of Roger de Hovenden, (1853) Henry T. Riley
The Life and Times of Richard I, (1973) John Gillingham
Richard I, (1999) John Gillingham
Lionheart, (2014) Douglas Boyd
Eleanor of Aquitaine, (1999) Alison Weir
Blondel's Song, (2006) David Boyle
Lionheart and Lackland, (2006) Frank McLynn