Richard Lionheart > HOME > Overview of his life > Richard the Lionheart and his times

The Feudal Order:

At the end of the 12th century, the principal states of Western Europe were already established. They were divided into numerous small fiefs ruled by lords who were linked by ties of lordship and service. This feudal order, which could be compared to a pyramid at the summit of which sat the king, consisted of the great lords, then their vassals, the lesser barons and finally the knights banneret and the ordinary knights. This warrior nobility controlled the rest of society; it received taxes to pay the expenses of living and equipping itself; in exchange it ensured the defence of the population living in its domains. The Church constituted the other principal power in medieval society and its role was predominant in the economic and social evolution of Western Europe.

A New Era:

This age was marked by a growth in population and wealth and by some profound changes. Towns developed and little by little freed themselves from the control of the lords, obtaining from the king charters of freedom. The king gradually regained his authority over the great lords, who had kept for themselves the dues and resources they owed, to the point of supplanting the royal power. This was the case with the Plantagenet family who were in theory vassals of the king of France but who had become more powerful than the Capetians.

Limousin in the 12thcentury:

Limousin was a province in the heart of the Duchy of Aquitaine. The whole south-western part of the present-day department of Haute Vienne was under the control of the viscounts of Limoges. Their fief was surrounded by the viscounties of Comborn and of Pompadour to the east and the holdings of the bishop of Limoges as well as the county of La Marche to the north. These lords were considered to be the vassals of the dukes of Aquitaine, who also happened to be the kings of England or their sons.

War in the High Middle Ages:

War in the Middle Ages involved few pitched battles as we imagine them. Armies on campaign rarely met. Instead, they pillaged and sacked strongpoints with the aim of weakening their enemy's hold on the territory. War was made by nobles accompanied by commoners fighting on foot. The richest combatants fought on horseback and, by mingling with the nobility, became knights.

The Knights:

Generally of noble origin, the knights fought on horseback. They were the élite warriors of the time and the cavalry dominated the battlefield. Having sworn to defend and to behave in accordance with a particular code of values, they gave birth to a number of myths, including those of the famous Knights of the Round Table. These values included honour, bravery and the defence of the Church and of the weak. However, personal ambition, greed and pride often made them forget their chivalrous vows. Chivalry acquired such prestige in the 12th century that even the great lords like Richard the Lionheart claimed to follow it.

The Third Crusade:

The 12th century was the time of the Crusades. Since 1099, the year of the First Crusade, Jerusalem and the Holy Land had been in the hands of the Christians. In 1188, the retaking of Jerusalem by the Moslems under Saladin prompted thestart of the Third Crusade. The greatest kings of Europe of the time took part. Richard the Lionheart was actively involved, even though he did not manage to recapture the Holy City. This event was one of the most remarkable of his reign and contributed to creating the myth about him.