Richard Lionheart > HOME > Overview of the life of Richard Lionheart

The Man :

Richard the Lionheart, already a famous figure in his own lifetime, reigned in England from 1189 to 1199. Richard came to the throne as heir of the Plantagenet family by his father Henry II, king of England on one side and of the dukes of Aquitaine by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine on the other. He ruled England and several fiefs on the continent, Normandy, Anjou, Brittany and Aquitaine. This last was a grand duchy that included Limousin.

Family Quarrels:

Richard first became Duke of Aquitaine, when it was not intended that he would ascend the throne. Before his reign he had fought continuously against the rebellious lords of Aquitaine, who refused to accept the authority of the Plantagenets, and also against his father and his brothers, Henry, Geoffrey and John. These interminable quarrels even led him to ally himself on one occasion with the king of France.

The Adversary:

The king of France, the traditional enemy of the kings of England, was Philip II, known as “Augustus”. He ascended the throne in 1180 and sought to recover the French fiefs that had fallen under the control of the kings of England. He attacked the Plantagenet feudal territory and so became the most implacable of Richard the Lionheart’s enemies.

The Warrior:

The reign of Richard began with the Third Crusade. To recapture Jerusalem after it had fallen into the hands of the Moslems under Saladin was a challenge for the Christian kings of England and France, joined by Frederic Barbarossa, the German emperor, who was drowned in modern-day Turkey on the way to Jerusalem. Philip Augustus returned to France after the taking of Antioch. Richard I of England found himself alone with his armies in the Holy Land. He fought the forces of Saladin and won some brilliant victories, including Arsouf in 1191.

The Prisoner:

On the way home he was arrested and imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria to be handed over to the emperor who demanded a very large ransom in return for his release. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was acting as regent, organised the payment by imposing heavy taxes. During this time Philip Augustus tried to recover control over several Plantagenet fiefs, notably in Aquitaine, by rallying to his cause the Viscount of Limoges. He also allied himself with Richard’s brother, Prince John (nicknamed “Lackland”), who tried to usurp the English throne. Having been freed, Richard the Lionheart returned to his lands and in a series of violent clashes succeeded in repelling the French king’s feeble advances.