Richard the Lionhearted and His Holy Grail
By Christy English
Author of The Queen’s Pawn and
To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Richard I, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s favorite son, is one of England’s most famous kings. In the fairy tales that surround Robin Hood, Good King Richard returns from the Holy Land to right the wrongs done by his nefarious brother, Prince John. Beyond the realm of fairy tales, Richard I is perhaps best known for leading the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.
King Richard I
Richard I was a brilliant military strategist. He found his only equal in Saladin in the Levant as both armies fought to a stand still in the effort to reclaim Jerusalem for Christian Europe. The goal of freeing Jerusalem was Richard’s dream for most of his adult life, and when he failed to bring that city under European control, like Moses before him, he refused to enter the promised land. Richard managed to negotiate safe passage for Christian pilgrims into the city that they might be blessed at the holy sites, but Richard refused to enter Jerusalem to obtain a blessing for himself. By failing to conquer Jerusalem, he failed to fulfill the duty he owed to his people and to his Church, and thus he felt unworthy to enter the city for which he had fought so hard.
Richard I: Old Palace Yard at Westminster
As a fan of Richard’s, I am sorry that he did not allow himself to enter Jerusalem. Though he had not managed to defeat Saladin, he had fought better any other general, Christian or Muslim, against a man who simply could not be defeated. Richard met his match in Saladin, both in military prowess and in honor. At the first battle of Jaffa, when Richard’s horse was killed beneath him, Saladin held his knights back from attacking the Christian king, and sent him two fine Arabian horses to replace the mount he had lost. Once Richard was mounted on one of these fine steeds, the battle resumed.
Though Richard did not succeed in his quest to reclaim Jerusalem, though the Holy Grail of a Levant united under Christian rule eluded him, he is remembered still in story and in song for his valiant effort.