display | more...

The death of the younger Henry had made Richard heir to all his father's lands from the Tweed to the Bidassoa save Brittany, which had fallen to Arthur, the infant son of the unlucky Geoffrey. John, the new kings only surviving brother, had been declared Lord of Ireland by his father in 1185, but Henry had been forced to remove him for persistent misconduct, and had left him nothing more than a titular sovereignty in the newly conquered island. In this Richard confirmed him at his accession, and gave him a more tangible endowment by allowing him to marry of Isabella, the heiress of the earldom of Gloucester, and by bestowing on him the honour of Lancaster and the shires of Derby, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. The gift was over-liberal and the recipient was thankless; but John was distinctly treated as a vassal, not granted the position of an independent sovereign.

Of all the medieval kings of England, Richard I (known as Cour de Lion) cared least for his realm on the English side of the Channel, and spent least time within it. Though he chanced to have been born in Oxford, he was far more of a foreigner than his father; his soul was that of a south French baron, not that of an English king. Indeed he looked upon England more as a rich area for taxation than as the centre of a possible empire. His ambitions were continental: so far as he had a policy at all it was Angevin he would gladly have increased his dominions on the side of the upper Loire and Garonne, and was set on keeping in check the young king of France, Philip Augustus,, though the latter had been his ally during his long struggle with his father. Naturally the policy of Richard as a newly crowned king was bound to differ from that which he had pursued as a rebellious prince.

As regards his personal character he has been described, not without truth, as a typical man of his time and nothing more. He was at heart a chivalrous adventurer delighting in war for wars sake; he was not destitute of a conscience, his undutiful conduct to his father sat heavily on his soul when that father was once dead; he had a strong sense of knightly honour and a certain magnanimity of soul in times of crisis; but he was harsh, thriftless, often cruel, generally lacking in firmness and continuity of purpose, always careless of his subjects welfare when it interfered with his pleasure or his ambitions of the moment. If he had stayed long in England he would have made himself hated; but he was nearly always absent; it was only as a reckless and spasmodic extorter of taxation, not as a personal tyrant, that he was known on the English side of the Channel.

At the opening of his reign Richard had one all-engrossing desire; he was set on going forth to the Crusade for the recovery of Jerusalem which had been proclaimed in 1187, Crusade, partly from chivalrous instincts, partly as a penance for his misconduct to his father. He visited England in 1189 only in order to be crowned, and to raise as much money for the expedition as he could procure. He obtained enormous sums, by the most unwise and iniquitous expedients, mainly by selling to any buyer that he could find valuable pieces of crown property, high offices and dangerous rights and privileges. The king of Scotland bought for 15,000 marks a release from the homage to the English crown which had been imposed upon him by Henry II. The chancellorship, one of the two chief offices in the realm, was sold to William Longchamp, bishop of Ely, for £3,000, though he was well known as a tactless, arrogant and incapable person. The earldom of Northumberland, with palatine rights, was bought by Hugh Puiset, bishop of Durham. Countless other instances of unwise bargains could be quoted. Having raised every penny that he could procure by legal or illegal means, Richard crossed the Channel, and embarked at Marseilles with a great army on the 7th of August 1190. The only security which he had for the safety of his dominions in his absence was that his most dangerous neighbour, the king of France, was also setting out on the Crusade, and that his brother John, whose shifty and treacherous character gave sure promise of trouble, enjoyed a well-merited unpopularity both in England and in the continental dominions of the crown.

Richard's crusading exploits have no connection with the history of England. He showed himself a good knight and a capable general the capture of Acre and the victory of Arsuf were highly to his credit as a soldier. But he quarrelled with all the other princes of the Crusade, and showed himself as lacking in tact and diplotmatic ability as he was full of military capacity. The king of France departed in wrath, to raise trouble at home; the army gradually melted away, the prospect of recovering Jerusalem disappeared, and finally Richard must be reckoned fortunate in that he obtained from Sultan Saladin a peace, by which the coastland of Palestine was preserved for the Christians, while the Holy City and the inland was sacrificed (Sept. 2, 1192). While returning to his dominions by the way of the Adriatic, the king was shipwrecked, and found himself obliged to enter the dominions of Leopold, duke of Austria, a prince whom he had offended at Acre during the Crusade. Though he disguised himself, he was detected by his old enemy and imprisoned. The duke then sold him to the emperor Henry VI, who found pretexts for forcing him to buy his freedom by the promise of a ransom of 150,000 marks. It was not till February 1194 that he got loose, after paying a considerable instalment of this vast sum. The main bulk of it, as was to be expected, was never made over; indeed it could not have been raised, as Richard was well aware. But, once free, he had no scruple in cheating the imperial brigand of his blackmail.

For five years Richard was away from his dominions as a crusader or a captive. There was plenty of trouble during his absence, but less than might have been expected.

The strong governance set up by Henry II proved competent to maintain itself, even when Richard's ministers were tactless and his brother treacherous. A generation before it is certain that England would have been convulsed by a great feudal rising when such an opportunity was granted to the barons. Nothing of the kind happened between 1190 and 1194. The chancellor William Longchamp made himself odious by his vanity and autocratic behaviour, and was overthrown in 1191 by a general rising, which was headed by Prince John, and approved by Walter, archbishop of Rouen, whom Richard had sent to England with a commission to assume the justiciarship if William should prove impossible as an administrator. Longchamp fled to the continent, and John then hoped to seize on supreme power, even perhaps to grasp the crown. But he was bitterly disappointed, to find that he could gather few supporters; the justiciar and the bureaucrats of the Curia Regis would give him no assistance; they worked on honestly in the name of the absent king. Among the baronage hardly a man would commit himself to treason. In vain John hired foreign mercenaries, garrisoned his castles, and leagued himself with the king of France when the latter returned from the Crusade. It was only the news of his brother's captivity in Austria which gave the intriguing prince a transient hope of success. Boldly asserting that Richard would never be seen alive again he went to France, and did homage to King Philip for Normandy and Aquitaine, as if they were already his own. Then he crossed to England with a band of mercenaries, and seized Windsor and Wallingford castles. But no one rose to aid him, and his garrisons were soon being besieged by, loyal levies, headed by the justiciar and by Hubert Walter, the newly elected archbishop of Canterbury.

At the same time King Philip's invasion of Normandy was repulsed by the barons of the duchy. Richard's faithful ministers, despite of all their distractions, succeeded in raising the first instalment of his ransom by grinding taxation; a fourth part of the revenue of all lay persons, a tithe from ecclesiastical land, was raised, and in addition much church plate was seized, though the officials who exacted it were themselves prelates. John and Philip wrote to the emperor to beg him to detain his captive at all costs, but Henry VI pocketed the ransom money and set Richard free. He reached England in March 1194, just in time to receive the surrender of the last two castles which were holding out in his treacherous brother's name. With astonishing, and indeed misplaced, magnanimity, Richard pardoned his brother, when he made a grovelling submission, and restored him to his lordship of Ireland and to a great part of his English lands.

The king abode for no more than three months in England; he got himself recrowned at Winchester, apparently to wipe out the stain of his German captivity and of an enforced homage which the emperor had extorted from him. Then he raised a heavy tax from his already impoverished subjects, sold a number of official posts and departed to France never to return, though he had still five years to live. He left behind Archbishop Hubert Walter as justiciar, a faithful if a somewhat high-handed minister.

Richard's one ruling passion was now to punish Philip of France for his unfriendly conduct during his absence. He plunged into a war with this clever and shifty prince, which lasted with certain short breaks of truces and treaties till his death. He wasted his considerable military talents in a series of skirmishes and sieges which had no great results, and after spending countless treasures and harrying many regions, perished obscurely by a wound from a cross-bow-bolt, received while beleaguering Chalons, a castle of a rebellious lord of Aquitaine, the viscount of Limoges (April 6, 1199).

Text extracted from the entry for ENGLISH HISTORY in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.