Monday, April 18, 2011

King Richard the Lion-Hearted: a contraversal King

King Richard I, more commonly known as King Richard the Lion-Hearted, was born the third son of King Henry II of England and Queen Eleanor, the Duchess of Aquitaine. Richard only became King because the first-born son, William died young, and Henry-the Younger died at eighteen. Common history and Hollywood have been kind to Richard, proclaiming him a great leader and soldier. But is that a fair assessment?
Let’s start with Richard before he was crowned. He was born on September 08, 1157 at Beaumont Palace, in Oxford. After fourth months, he was moved to Aquitaine. He was educated and received training as befitting a royal child. Richard was appointed head of his own army as a teenager, leading the men to quash a rebellion in Poitou on behalf of his father. It is well documented that Richard joined forces with his older brother, Henry the Younger and Geoffrey to over throw their farther, King Henry II.
It didn’t work. Henry the Younger died shortly after the attempt. Richard wormed his way back in to his father’s good graces, but the damage was done. Henry II died knowing his sons weren’t to be trusted. Upon Henry’s death, Richard took the throne: the new King of England. He immediately started gathering the funds for the Crusade.
Richard was betrothed to Alys of France. The marriage never took place; rumor had it because Alys was a mistress of Henry II. Richard had met Berengaria of Navarre, the sister of the King of Navarre. The brother of Berengaria, and the heir to King Sancho of Navarre was another of King Richard’s supposed lovers (King Phillip of France was another). Richard decided to marry Berengaria, a decision encouraged by Dowager Queen Eleanor. He took his fiancĂ© and Eleanor with his army to the Holy Lands. After a little snag (Berengaria’s ship was stranded at Cypress after a bad storm, requiring her to be rescued). Richard and Berengaria were married at Cypress, where he had her crowned Queen of England.
Who paid for this glamorous trip to the exciting Mediterranean Sea? The English people and Churches footed the bill for King Richard and his army to take up the cross. Richard didn’t ignore his people, he appointed men to watch over and run the kingdom in his place. But think about it: how would it go over if our President decided to personally run the field ops for the army in Afghanistan. He chooses a few of his guys to handle to the day-to-day affairs in his place and takes off. Now add in the extra taxes to cover the expenses. That what Richard did.
Richard was a man of contradictions. As with many accounts of medieval life, origins must be taken with a grain of salt. Richard was King for a period of ten years, the majority of which he spent attempting to regain Jerusalem. He was considered a brilliant military leader by his contemporaries. At the same time, he didn’t hesitate to flex his muscles: his army looted, burned, and executed if needed. Richard ordered 2,700 Muslim hostages killed, instead of releasing them. A famous quote attributed to Richard “I would have sold London if I thought I could find a buyer” showed his desperation for the acquiring funds, and perhaps a little distain for England. The King hated the cold and wet weather.
Richard loved to fight. He and Saladin respected one another as warriors. Unfortunately, the execution of the prisoners at Acre didn’t sit well with Saladin. During his journey enroute to Outremer (the Holy Lands), he conquered Messina, Sicily and the island of Cypress. Never one to ignore an opportunity, Richard sold Cypress to the Templars at a later date.
In the 20th century, writers have made the claim that King Richard was a homosexual. Two separate historians have researched the medieval records and say otherwise. Jean Flori, using available documents, says the King was probably a bisexual whereas John Gillingham disputes common views. Regardless of his sexuality, one can’t argue that Richard left a single child, a bastard: Phillip of Cognac. It was said the King had voracious appetites: and it was said he often took what he wanted, no matter what or who the object of his desire belonged to.
After Richard was ransomed, he did return to his country. Strangely enough, and perhaps another reason the rumors of his sexuality were questioned, he made it without his wife. Queen Berengaria had to find her own way back to England. Their union never resulted in a child.
Richard Coer de Lyon was said to be a handsome man standing almost 6’05. His hair, like his father before him, was a strawberry blonde with complementing blue eyes. One could not be near the King without wishing to become a follower; his charisma, his power, and his charm was enough to light a cathedral. Men would follow him to hell and back, while women threw themselves at his feet.
Is it no wonder poor Prince John couldn’t live up to his brother’s high pedestal? Richard was Eleanor’s favorite, while John was his father’s. What kind of education had Henry II provided for his sons? At that point in history the eldest son was not automatically selected as heir. But Henry did pick Henry the Younger he just didn’t expect his son to die early. What would have happened if each boy was brought up the same, and, had been taught to support one another? Would the Magna Carta have been developed? Would our Constitution exist today?

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