The legend of Richard in the 19th and 20th centuries

Représentation romantique de Richard
Représentation romantique de Richard, (Tableau de Merry-Joseph Blondel (1781-1853), Richard Cœur de Lion roi d’Angleterre, Domaine Public)

The legendary exploits of Robin Hood took place, in the most recent versions, during the reign of Richard, and in particular during his period of captivity. The legend, more or less based on reality, appeared during the 13th century. However, one had to wait until the 16th century for this legend to be associated with the time of Richard the Lionheart. It was Walter Scott, in his novel Ivanhoe at the beginning of the 19th century who modernised and popularised the myth. Later, it served as inspiration to authors like Alexander Dumas.

The story relates the exploits of an outlaw finding refuge in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham. He was known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Having become a popular story over time, this legend has been the subject of numerous adaptations in the 19th and 20th centuries, notably in the cinema. The latest, by Ridley Scott (2010), shows an image of Richard that is the opposite of what we are used to seeing. This image has the merit of showing a different aspect of the character but also remains the caricature of the good king of England, just and generous, for whose return everyone is waiting.

Richard the Lionheart embodies some of the fantasies that clothe the Middle Ages. This period is sometimes seen as a gloomy and obscure time, sometimes as a period of heroic adventures where damsels and knights lived in the shadow of castles. Richard the Lionheart was one of those figures, some real, like him, others mythical, like Arthur and his knights, who embody the Middle Ages in the eyes of the people of today. His era, the period of the Crusades and the troubadours, is also emblematic of this fantasy Middle Ages, and Richard the Lionheart was one of its principle figures.

Music and Literature featuring Richard the Lionheart

(list not exhaustive)

Richard Cœur de lion (1784) : Grétry

Opera, staging the captivity of Richard the Lionheart after his return from the Crusade.

Ivanhoe (1819): Walter Scott

A novel which takes for its context the period of Richard’s captivity, during which time his brother John is portrayed as a tyrannical ruler attempting to usurp the throne. Ivanhoe popularises the myth of Robin Hood and sets it at the time of Richard the Lionheart.

Maid Marian (1822): novel by Thomas Love Peacock

Le Prince des voleurs (1872) andRobin Hood le Proscrit(1873): novels by Alexander Dumas ( The Prince of Thieves  and Robin the Outlaw )

Films featuring Richard the Lionheart

(list not exhaustive)

Robin Hood and His Merry Men (1908): Percy Stow

First film adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood; silent film

The Crusades (1935): Cecil B de Mille

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): Michael Curtiz

Famous film starring Errol Flynn in his most celebrated role.

Ivanhoe (1952): Richard Thorpe

Starring Elizabeth Taylor; based closely on the novel by Sir Walter Scot this film depicts an English society divided between Saxons, Normans, and Jews. Richard the Lion Heart is only mentioned as a background figure.

Richard the Lionheart (1954): David Butler

Recounts the “exploits” of Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.

The Lion in Winter (1968): Anthony Harvey

The adaptation of a stage play recounting a romanticised version of the intrigues and conflicts between Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons, including Richard the Lionheart.

Robin and Marian (1976): Richard Lester

Starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn; a film about the legend of Robin Hood which depicts the death of Richard the Lionheart at Châlus, taking up again the legend of the treasure that Richard coveted.

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991): Kevin Reynolds

Another very romanticised cinema adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood. Here, the usurper of the throne of England during the captivity of Richard is not his brother John but the Sheriff of Nottingham. Richard the Lionheart (played by Sean Connery) appears at the end, on his return from captivity. He appears as the image of the good king whose return has been long awaited.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005): Ridley Scott

This film gives an approximate and romanticised rendering of the events which led to the Third Crusade: the resumption of hostilities between the Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, and the taking of Jerusalem by Saladin. Richard the Lionheart appears at the end of the film as he prepares to leave for the Crusade.

Robin Hood (2010): Ridley Scott

A recent re-telling of the famous legend of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, which the director attempts to attach to specific (though not particularly relevant) historic events from the start of the 13th century. Richard the Lionheart appears at the beginning of the film as a tormented and less-than-glorious character, which has the merit of presenting him in a different light.In particular, the massacre of the prisoners at Acre during the Third Crusade and Richard’s responsibility for this are covered. His death at Châlus is shown, though rather imaginatively.