Early life and accession in Aquitaine
Richard was born on 8 September 1157, probably at Beaumont Palace, in Oxford, England, son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was a younger brother of Count William IX of Poitiers, Henry the Young King and Duchess Matilda of Saxony. As the third legitimate son of King Henry II, he was not expected to ascend to the throne. He was also an elder brother of Duke Geoffrey II of Brittany; Queen Eleanor of Castile; Queen Joan of Sicily; and Count John of Mortain, who succeeded him as king. Richard was the younger maternal half-brother of Countess Marie of Champagne and Countess Alix of Blois. The eldest son of Henry II and Eleanor, William, died in 1156, before Richard's birth. Richard is often depicted as having been the favourite son of his mother. His father was Angevin-Norman and great-grandson of William the Conqueror. Contemporary historian Ralph of Diceto traced his family's lineage through Matilda of Scotland to the Anglo-Saxon kings of England and Alfred the Great, and from there legend linked them to Noah and Woden. According to Angevin family tradition, there was even 'infernal blood' in their ancestry, with a claimed descent from the fairy, or female demon, Melusine.
While his father visited his lands from Scotland to France, Richard probably spent his childhood in England. His first recorded visit to the European continent was in May 1165, when his mother took him to Normandy. His wet nurse was Hodierna of St Albans, whom he gave a generous pension after he became king. Little is known about Richard's education. Although he was born in Oxford and brought up in England up to his eighth year, it is not known to what extent he used or understood English; he was an educated man who composed poetry and wrote in Limousin (lenga d'òc) and also in French. During his captivity, English prejudice against foreigners was used in a calculated way by his brother John to help destroy the authority of Richard's chancellor, William Longchamp, who was a Norman. One of the specific charges laid against Longchamp, by John's supporter Hugh, Bishop of Coventry, was that he could not speak English. This indicates that by the late 12th century a knowledge of English was expected of those in positions of authority in England.
Richard was said to be very attractive; his hair was between red and blond, and he was light-eyed with a pale complexion. According to Clifford Brewer, he was 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m), though that is unverifiable since his remains have been lost since at least the French Revolution. John, his youngest brother (by the same father and mother), was known to be 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m). The Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis Ricardi, a Latin prose narrative of the Third Crusade, states that: "He was tall, of elegant build; the colour of his hair was between red and gold; his limbs were supple and straight. He had long arms suited to wielding a sword. His long legs matched the rest of his body".
From an early age, Richard showed significant political and military ability, becoming noted for his chivalry and courage as he fought to control the rebellious nobles of his own territory. His elder brother Henry the Young King was crowned king of England during his father's lifetime.
Marriage alliances were common among medieval royalty: they led to political alliances and peace treaties and allowed families to stake claims of succession on each other's lands. In March 1159 it was arranged that Richard would marry one of the daughters of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona; however, these arrangements failed, and the marriage never took place. Henry the Young King was married to Margaret, daughter of Louis VII of France, on 2 November 1160. Despite this alliance between the Plantagenets and the Capetians, the dynasty on the French throne, the two houses were sometimes in conflict. In 1168, the intercession of Pope Alexander III was necessary to secure a truce between them. Henry II had conquered Brittany and taken control of Gisors and the Vexin, which had been part of Margaret's dowry.
Early in the 1160s there had been suggestions Richard should marry Alys, Countess of the Vexin (Alice), fourth daughter of Louis VII; because of the rivalry between the kings of England and France, Louis obstructed the marriage. A peace treaty was secured in January 1169 and Richard's betrothal to Alys was confirmed. Henry II planned to divide his and Eleanor's territories among their three eldest surviving sons: Henry would become King of England and have control of Anjou, Maine, and Normandy; Richard would inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from his mother; and Geoffrey would become Duke of Brittany through marriage with Constance, heir presumptive of Conan IV. At the ceremony where Richard's betrothal was confirmed, he paid homage to the King of France for Aquitaine, thus securing ties of vassalage between the two.
After Henry II fell seriously ill in 1170, he enacted his plan to divide his kingdom, although he would retain overall authority over his sons and their territories. In 1171 Richard left for Aquitaine with his mother, and Henry II gave him the duchy of Aquitaine at the request of Eleanor. Richard and his mother embarked on a tour of Aquitaine in 1171 in an attempt to pacify the locals. Together they laid the foundation stone of St Augustine's Monastery in Limoges. In June 1172 Richard was formally recognised as the Duke of Aquitaine when he was granted the lance and banner emblems of his office; the ceremony took place in Poitiers and was repeated in Limoges, where he wore the ring of St Valerie, who was the personification of Aquitaine.
Revolt against Henry II
According to Ralph of Coggeshall, Henry the Young King instigated rebellion against Henry II; he wanted to reign independently over at least part of the territory his father had promised him, and to break away from his dependence on Henry II, who controlled the purse strings. There were rumors that Eleanor might have encouraged her sons to revolt against their father.
Henry the Young King abandoned his father and left for the French court, seeking the protection of Louis VII; his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, soon followed him, while the five-year-old John remained in England. Louis gave his support to the three sons and even knighted Richard, tying them together through vassalage.
Jordan Fantosme, a contemporary poet, described the rebellion as a "war without love".
The three brothers made an oath at the French court that they would not make terms with Henry II without the consent of Louis VII and the French barons. With the support of Louis, Henry the Young King attracted many barons to his cause through promises of land and money; one such baron was Philip I, Count of Flanders, who was promised £1,000 and several castles. The brothers also had supporters ready to rise up in England. Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester, joined forces with Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, Hugh de Kevelioc, 5th Earl of Chester, and William I of Scotland for a rebellion in Suffolk. The alliance with Louis was initially successful, and by July 1173 the rebels were besieging Aumale, Neuf-Marché, and Verneuil, and Hugh de Kevelioc had captured Dol in Brittany. Richard went to Poitou and raised the barons who were loyal to himself and his mother in rebellion against his father. Eleanor was captured, so Richard was left to lead his campaign against Henry II's supporters in Aquitaine on his own. He marched to take La Rochelle but was rejected by the inhabitants; he withdrew to the city of Saintes, which he established as a base of operations.
In the meantime, Henry II had raised a very expensive army of more than 20,000 mercenaries with which to face the rebellion. He marched on Verneuil, and Louis retreated from his forces. The army proceeded to recapture Dol and subdued Brittany. At this point Henry II made an offer of peace to his sons; on the advice of Louis the offer was refused. Henry II's forces took Saintes by surprise and captured much of its garrison, although Richard was able to escape with a small group of soldiers. He took refuge in Château de Taillebourg for the rest of the war. Henry the Young King and the Count of Flanders planned to land in England to assist the rebellion led by the Earl of Leicester. Anticipating this, Henry II returned to England with 500 soldiers and his prisoners (including Eleanor and his sons' wives and fiancées), but on his arrival found out that the rebellion had already collapsed. William I of Scotland and Hugh Bigod were captured on 13 and 25 July respectively. Henry II returned to France and raised the siege of Rouen, where Louis VII had been joined by Henry the Young King after abandoning his plan to invade England. Louis was defeated and a peace treaty was signed in September 1174, the Treaty of Montlouis.
When Henry II and Louis VII made a truce on 8 September 1174, its terms specifically excluded Richard. Abandoned by Louis and wary of facing his father's army in battle, Richard went to Henry II's court at Poitiers on 23 September and begged for forgiveness, weeping and falling at the feet of Henry, who gave Richard the kiss of peace. Several days later, Richard's brothers joined him in seeking reconciliation with their father. The terms the three brothers accepted were less generous than those they had been offered earlier in the conflict (when Richard was offered four castles in Aquitaine and half of the income from the duchy): Richard was given control of two castles in Poitou and half the income of Aquitaine; Henry the Young King was given two castles in Normandy; and Geoffrey was permitted half of Brittany. Eleanor remained Henry II's prisoner until his death, partly as insurance for Richard's good behaviour.
Final years of Henry II's reign
A silver denier
of Richard, struck in his capacity as the Count of Poitiers
After the conclusion of the war, the process of pacifying the provinces that had rebelled against Henry II began. The King travelled to Anjou for this purpose, and Geoffrey dealt with Brittany. In January 1175 Richard was dispatched to Aquitaine to punish the barons who had fought for him. The historian John Gillingham notes that the chronicle of Roger of Howden is the main source for Richard's activities in this period. According to the chronicle, most of the castles belonging to rebels were to be returned to the state they were in 15 days before the outbreak of war, while others were to be razed. Given that by this time it was common for castles to be built in stone, and that many barons had expanded or refortified their castles, this was not an easy task. Roger of Howden records the two-month siege of Castillon-sur-Agen; while the castle was "notoriously strong", Richard's siege engines battered the defenders into submission. On this campaign, Richard acquired the name "the Lion" or "the Lionheart" due to his noble, brave and fierce leadership.He is referred to as "this our lion" (hic leo noster) as early as 1187 in the Topographia Hibernica of Giraldus Cambrensis, while the byname "lionheart" (le quor de lion) is first recorded in Ambroise's L'Estoire de la Guerre Sainte in the context of the Accon campaign of 1191.
Henry seemed unwilling to entrust any of his sons with resources that could be used against him. It was suspected that Henry had appropriated Alys, Richard's betrothed, the daughter of Louis VII of France by his second wife, as his mistress. This made a marriage between Richard and Alys technically impossible in the eyes of the Church, but Henry prevaricated: he regarded Alys's dowry, Vexin in the Île-de-France, as valuable. Richard was discouraged from renouncing Alys because she was the sister of King Philip II of France, a close ally.
Richard I in profile, funerary effigy above the tomb containing his heart in Rouen Cathedral
(early 13th century)
After his failure to overthrow his father, Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine, especially in the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his rule led to a major revolt there in 1179. Hoping to dethrone Richard, the rebels sought the help of his brothers Henry and Geoffrey. The turning point came in the Charente Valley in the spring of 1179. The well-defended fortress of Taillebourg seemed impregnable. The castle was surrounded by a cliff on three sides and a town on the fourth side with a three-layer wall. Richard first destroyed and looted the farms and lands surrounding the fortress, leaving its defenders no reinforcements or lines of retreat. The garrison sallied out of the castle and attacked Richard; he was able to subdue the army and then followed the defenders inside the open gates, where he easily took over the castle in two days. Richard the Lionheart's victory at Taillebourg deterred many barons from thinking of rebelling and forced them to declare their loyalty to him. It also won Richard a reputation as a skilled military commander.
In 1181–1182 Richard faced a revolt over the succession to the county of Angoulême. His opponents turned to Philip II of France for support, and the fighting spread through the Limousin and Périgord. The excessive cruelty of Richard's punitive campaigns aroused even more hostility. However, with support from his father and from the Young King, Richard the Lionheart eventually succeeded in bringing the Viscount Aimar V of Limoges and Count Elie of Périgord to terms.
After Richard had subdued his rebellious barons he again challenged his father. From 1180 to 1183 the tension between Henry and Richard grew, as King Henry commanded Richard to pay homage to Henry the Young King, but Richard refused. Finally, in 1183 Henry the Young King and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, invaded Aquitaine in an attempt to subdue Richard. Richard's barons joined in the fray and turned against their duke. However, Richard and his army succeeded in holding back the invading armies, and they executed any prisoners. The conflict paused briefly in June 1183 when the Young King died. With the death of Henry the Young King, Richard became the eldest surviving son and therefore heir to the English crown. King Henry demanded that Richard give up Aquitaine (which he planned to give to his youngest son John as his inheritance). Richard refused, and conflict continued between them. Henry II soon gave John permission to invade Aquitaine.
To strengthen his position, in 1187, Richard allied himself with 22-year-old Philip II, the son of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis VII by Adele of Champagne. Roger of Howden wrote:
The King of England was struck with great astonishment, and wondered what [this alliance] could mean, and, taking precautions for the future, frequently sent messengers into France for the purpose of recalling his son Richard; who, pretending that he was peaceably inclined and ready to come to his father, made his way to Chinon, and, in spite of the person who had the custody thereof, carried off the greater part of his father's treasures, and fortified his castles in Poitou with the same, refusing to go to his father.
Overall, Howden is chiefly concerned with the politics of the relationship between Richard and King Philip. Gillingham has addressed theories suggesting that this political relationship was also sexually intimate, which he posits probably stemmed from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of England and France had slept overnight in the same bed. Gillingham has characterized this as "an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it;... a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity".
In exchange for Philip's help against his father, Richard promised to concede to him his rights to both Normandy and Anjou. Richard paid homage to Philip in November 1187. With news arriving of the Battle of Hattin, he took the cross at Tours in the company of other French nobles.
In 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John. But Richard objected. He felt that Aquitaine was his and that John was unfit to take over the land once belonging to his mother. This refusal is what finally made Henry II bring Queen Eleanor out of prison. He sent her to Aquitaine and demanded that Richard give up his lands to his mother who would once again rule over those lands.
The following year, Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. On 4 July 1189, the forces of Richard and Philip defeated Henry's army at Ballans. Henry, with John's consent, agreed to name Richard his heir apparent. Two days later Henry II died in Chinon, and Richard the Lionheart succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou. Roger of Howden claimed that Henry's corpse bled from the nose in Richard's presence, which was assumed to be a sign that Richard had caused his death.