April 6, 2008

April 6 | Richard I

September 8, 1157 – April 6, 1199: Age 41

Remember Thomas Becket? Richard I is the son of the guy who accidentally ordered him killed. He's also the same good King Richard who appears at the end of Robin Hood stories in his Crusader's outfit to save the day and restore order to England.

Although Richard the Lionheart, as he is known, enjoys great popularity in our imaginations today, the truth is he spent little time in England and could hardly speak English. He grew up in France and, a professional Crusader, used his English holdings to finance his very expensive armies in the Middle East.

He was indeed a great military leader and did wonderful things against Saladin. He also revolted against his own father on a regular basis, attempting on more than one occasion to seize his throne. When he was finally crowned King of England, after his father's death, he barred all Jews and women from the coronation ceremony. When some Jewish community leaders arrived with gifts, he had them stripped and flogged and then flung out into the street. A rumour then spread that Richard had ordered all Jews killed, and the people of London dutifully started a massacre. At this point Richard woke up to the fact that allowing leading Jewish citizens to be murdered and their property destroyed and stolen was a bad idea, had the perpetrators hung, and ordered that Jews be left alone.

He went on Crusade again a year later. When raising funds for this, he remarked "I would have sold London if I could find a buyer." He left the country in the hands of various family members and officials and divided his time over the next ten years between waging war in warmer, bloodier climes, and protecting his interests in France.

In March 1199 Richard was besieging a castle in the region of Limousin, suppressing a revolt in his holdings there. He was walking around the castle walls one evening, inspecting the progress of some sappers. Archers would shoot arrows from the castle from time to time but rarely hit anything important, and Richard felt confident enough to be making his inspection without armour. One archer in particular was standing on the walls holding a crossbow and a frying pan, which he had been using as a shield all day to ward off stones and other flying objects. When he aimed an arrow at Richard, the king laughed and applauded — until the arrow struck him on the left shoulder. Richard returned to his tent and tried to pull the arrow out, but could not, so he called a doctor. The doctor also had difficulty, removing the arrow but damaging Richard's arm.

The would became infected and it became clear he would die. Richard asked that the archer who shot him be found and brought before him. This was done, and the culprit turned out to be a mere boy, who announced that he had shot Richard in revenge as the king had killed his father and two brothers. With egotistic flair, Richard forgave the lad, giving him a sum of money and saying, "Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day".

Richard made his will, leaving his throne to his brother John, and died on April 6 in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The young archer was recaptured, skinned alive, and hanged as soon as Richard died. So much for medieval chivalry.

Source: Wikipedia

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