As one of the few English monarchs known by a sobriquet, it is perhaps unsurprising that Richard the Lionheart’s reputation and legacy had been widely mythologised and oversimplified. He is often portrayed as the crusading “goodie” against his “baddie” brother (the aptly nicknamed Bad King John) – an image solidified in recent times by Hollywood, including by Disney’s famous cartoon version of the Robin Hood tale.
In reality, however, Richard the Lionheart was a far more complex character and certainly no angel. Here are 10 facts about him.
1. He was engaged at just nine years old
Richard’s father, Henry II of England (he was also the Count of Anjou and the Duke of Normandy), arranged for his nine-year-old son to become betrothed to French King Louis VII’s daughter Princess Alais, also aged nine. But the wedding never actually went ahead. Instead, Henry kept Alais as a prisoner for 25 years, part of which time he also used her as his mistress.
2. But he never had any children
Richard showed little interest in women and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was the only woman to whom he showed much consideration. After ascending the throne at the age of 31 without a wife, Richard eventually married three years later.
But his marriage to Berengaria of Navarre was strategic – he wanted to obtain control of the Kingdom of Navarre – and the two spent very little time together, with no children being born.
3. He tried to depose his own father more than once
Henry died in July 1189, leaving the English throne and control of the Angevin Empire (which consisted of all of England, half of France and parts of Ireland and Wales) to Richard. But it wasn’t because Richard was his favourite son. In fact, the Lionheart is seen by many as having tormented his father to a premature death.
Just two days before Henry died, forces loyal to Richard and Philip II of France had defeated the king’s army at Ballans. It was only after this victory that Henry named Richard his heir apparent. And it wasn’t the first time Richard had tried to depose his father. He had also joined his brothers, Henry the Young and Geoffrey, in a revolt against him in 1173.
4. His chief ambition as king was to join the Third Crusade
This goal was prompted by the Muslim leader Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem in 1187. Three years later, Richard departed for the Middle East, having raised the funds for his trip through the sale of sheriffdoms and others offices. He finally arrived in the Holy Land in June 1191, a month before the fall of Acre.
Despite his legacy as the great “Crusader King”, Richard’s record during the Third Crusade was a bit of a mixed bag. Although he oversaw some major victories, Jerusalem – the Crusade’s main objective – always eluded him. After a year of stalemate between the opposing sides, Richard agreed a truce with Saladin in September 1192, and began his journey home the following month.
5. He tried to sneak home in disguise
Richard’s return to England was far from plain sailing, however. During the Crusade he had managed to fall out with his Christian allies Philip II of France and Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and, as a result, found himself facing a trip through hostile lands to get home.
The king tried to travel through Leopold’s territory in disguise, but was captured and handed over to the German emperor, Henry VI, who then held him for ransom.
6. His brother John negotiated to keep him imprisoned
John, who had set himself up as an alternative ruler of England – complete with his own royal court – in Richard’s absence, negotiated with his brother’s captors to keep him imprisoned. When Richard finally returned home, he proved remarkably forgiving of John, deciding to pardon – rather than punish – him.
7. His reputation as “Good King Richard” began as a PR campaign
When Henry VI ransomed Richard for the weighty sum of 150,000 marks, his formidable mother, Eleanor, launched a PR campaign to raise the funds for his release. In an effort to persuade the citizens of the Angevin Empire to stump up, Richard was portrayed as a benevolent monarch.
8. He was crowned for a second time upon his return to England
Following the ransom payment, Richard was released in February 1194. But that wasn’t the end of his problems. The king now faced a threat to his authority and independence from those who had forked up the money to release him. So, in order to reinforce his position as England’s monarch, Richard immediately returned home and was crowned king once again.
9. But he left England again almost straight away
Just a month after Richard’s return home, he left again for France. But this time, he would never return. After spending the next five years on and off warring with Philip II, Richard was fatally wounded while besieging a castle in central France and died on 6 April 1199. During a reign that spanned 10 years, Richard had only spent six months in England.
10. It’s unclear if he ever met Robin Hood
Despite what the Disney film, and others besides, would have us believe, it’s not known if The Lionheart actually met the legendary Prince of Thieves.