Richard I was born on September 8, 1157 in Oxford, England. The second surviving son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor, the prince inherited his mother’s duchy of Aquitaine in 1168. As his mother’s favorite son, Eleanor raised Richard in Aquitaine. Meanwhile, Henry controlled the Angevin Empire, which consisted of Western France and England. Despite giving his sons territories, the king refused to grant them any real authority. As a result, Richard and his brothers began to resent their father.
In 1173, Richard’s older brother, Prince Henry, revolted against their father. Frustrated with Henry II’s unwillingness to give his heir any power, Prince Henry, along with his brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled. Queen Eleanor also resented her husband for refusing to allow her to rule Aquitaine. In response, the queen also turned against the king.
As news of the revolt spread, the princes gained more support. Alienated barons soon joined the brother’s cause. Even the kings of Scotland and France offered their support. Despite facing a wide-scale threat to his throne, Henry II managed to defeat the coalition by 1174. To deter future rebellions, the king reconciled with his sons, and they received forgiveness. However, Henry imprisoned Eleanor for her defiance.
On September 18, 1180, the old King of France, Louis VII, died. Upon his death, Louis was succeeded by his son, Philip II. Seeking to break the Angevin Empire and regain Western France, the new French king began plotting against Henry II. To undermine the English king, Philip decided to befriend his sons.
Philip II initially befriended Prince Henry. The French king fed into Henry’s ego and fanned the flames of his resentment. Convinced that he deserved more, Henry began attempting to take Richard’s duchy of Aquitaine. Allying himself with Geoffrey, the prince started a new rebellion in 1183. In response, King Henry allied with Richard against his rebellious brothers.
Richard didn’t have to fight against his brothers for long. In June 1184, Prince Henry died from dysentery after a long illness. After his death, Philip II became close to Geoffrey. However, Geoffrey also died in August 1186 from wounds sustained in a French tournament. As his father’s eldest surviving son, Richard became heir apparent. However, the old king remained reluctant to confirm his son.
As Richard’s frustration grew, Philip II began to get close to the prince. Eventually, both men developed a strong friendship and became allies. As Philip’s standing with Richard improved, the French king’s status with Henry II worsened. Since 1161, Richard had been engaged to Philip’s sister, Alice. However, Henry had continually delayed the wedding. As a result, France’s relationship with England cooled.
In November 1188, war broke out between Henry II and Philip II. At a heated peace conference between both men, Richard demanded that his father officially make him his heir. When Henry said nothing, Richard acknowledged Philip as his overlord and sided with him. Richard’s decision proved to be the breaking point in his strained relationship with his father.
Death of Henry II
In January 1189, Henry II’s health began to decline. The old king sought to reconcile with his son, but Richard refused. Instead, the prince and Philip II started a rebellion against Henry. As the attacks in Western France increased, the king’s health continued to worsen. By July, Henry couldn’t fight any longer and admitted defeat. Shortly after, the king died on July 6.
King of England
Before Henry II’s death, the ailing king had confirmed Richard as his heir. Upon his accession as Richard I, the new king turned his attention towards the Holy Land. In 1187, Muslim forces had captured Jerusalem. By now a seasoned soldier, Richard wanted to put his military experience to use and go on crusade. After becoming king, Richard could now focus his efforts on participating in the Third Crusade.
Journey to the Holy Land
Initially, Richard I and Philip II remained allies. Both men desired to crusade and sought to stabilize their kingdoms before departing. In England, Richard spent roughly 14,000 pounds on crusading supplies. To further raise revenue, the king sold political offices, lordships, and lands. Richard also ensured that his younger, remaining brother, John, remained in Ireland. After releasing his mother Eleanor from prison, and securing his government, Richard left England.
In late July 1190, Richard I met Philip II in Burgundy, France. Both men swore an oath to each other before leaving. On July 4, the two kings separated and began leading their massive forces east. Richard headed towards Marseille, while Philip headed to Genoa.
Both men would eventually arrive in Italy. Despite their reunion, Richard I’s relationship with Philip II began to sour. First, the English king offended Philip by marrying Berengaria of Navarre instead of Alice. The king claimed that his father had seduced Alice, but Philip didn’t buy it. Richard also annoyed the French king with his overbearing leadership.
Arrival in Acre
Richard I and his army eventually continued their journey east. On June 8, 1191, the king finally landed in Acre. Philip II had arrived two months earlier and wasn’t happy with Richard’s late arrival. Despite this sentiment, both men agreed to jointly assault the city. The English king attacked in the north, while Philip attacked in the east. As a result, Acre’s defenses fell to the crusaders on July 5.
As the crusaders celebrated their victory, Richard I and Philip II seized a royal palace as their base. The English king would insult his ally, Duke Leopold V of Austria, by discarding his banner. Richard’s action not only angered Leopold but Philip too. The French king had grown tired of Richard’s arrogance.
Shortly after, Philip II departed Acre and returned to France. However, Richard I continued crusading. As the unofficial commander of the Third Crusade, the king had complete control over military operations. During his time in the Holy Land, Richard gained further glory in his fight against Saladin and his Muslim army.
In April 1192, Richard I received terrible news from Europe. The king’s younger brother, John, had attempted to seize the English throne. On top of that, Philip II began threatening the Angevin Empire. In response, the king left the Holy Land on October 9 after concluding a peace treaty with Saladin. Upon his return to Europe, the king discovered that his arrogance during the crusade had turned many rulers against him. As a consequence, Richard had to travel through hostile territory.
While traveling through Austria, Richard would be captured and brought before Duke Leopold V. In February 1193, the vengeful duke sold the English king to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Although imprisoned, the emperor agreed to release the king for a high ransom. In England, Eleanor successfully raised the necessary funds for her son. As a result, Richard finally gained his freedom after several months in captivity.
On March 20, 1194, Richard I landed in England. He had been gone for almost four years. Upon his return, the king reasserted his control. After being having a second coronation, Richard put down his brother’s rebellion. Despite his brother’s betrayal, the king forgave John. With England secured, Richard turned his attention towards France.
Richard I spent the last five years of his reign fighting against Philip II. On May 12, 1194, the king left England and sailed to Normandy, France. The French king had overrun much of Richard’s territory, including western Normandy. To defend the Angevin Empire, Richard started building fortifications.
During 1195 – 1197, Richard I turned the war against Philip II. The English king sacked the port of Dieppe, repelled Philip’s assault in Berry, and had bribed many of Philip’s allies. In July 1197, Richard even prevented an alliance from forming between the French king and the count of Flanders. Realizing that the war was in Richard’s favor, Philip met with the English king in January 1199 to create a peace treaty.
After making peace with Philip II, the viscount of Limoges revolted against Richard I in March. By early April 1199, the king oversaw the siege of the viscount’s castle, Chalus – Chabrol. During the fighting, the king was struck in the shoulder by an enemy’s arrow. Soon after, the wound became infected, and Richard died on April 6. Upon his death, John inherited the English throne.
Richard I spent the majority of his life in conflict. The king fought against his father, in the Third Crusade, and against Philip II of France. His focus on fighting kept him abroad and prevented him from producing an heir. However, Richard’s military achievements allowed him to become his father’s heir, gain fame during the crusade, and keep the Angevin Empire intact.
Cawthorne, N. (2010). The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. New York, NY: Metro Books.
Dougherty, M. J. (2018). Kings & Queens of the Medieval World: From Conquerors and Exiles to Madmen and Saints. London: Amber Books.
Jones, D. (2014). The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. New York, NY: Viking Penguin Books.