Thursday, December 8, 2011

Richard the Lionhearted and His Holy Grail

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.


  1. Nice post, Christy. Even though Richard failed to reconquer Jerusalem, he did win himself a cool nick name: Cœur de Lion!

  2. I've always been impressed with Richard I since he is so different from his father or brothers. He stands out for his selflessness and for his dedication to his quest. I am not big on Crusader history, but I do enjoy hearing about Richard. I never really thought of his military prowess before- thanks for pointing that out.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Sorry Christy, but, while Richard does seem to have been an honorable man in battle, what about his marital life?

  4. Richard certainly was a terror in the Middle East. His nephew, Richard of Cornwall, won Jerusalem solely because he was mistaken for the dreaded King Richard.
    The statue you show is, I know, identified as Richard Coeur de Lion, but it was paid for by enthusiasts of Simon de Montfort and was intended to depict that founder of Parliament. It was placed in front of the Houses of Parliament for that reason. It's a measure of Britain's ongoing hostility to Simon (for lese majeste) that the statue is still identified with Richard who, far from being a champion of Parliament, caused all England to be wrung for taxes to pay his ransom from Austria.
    The Robin Hood tales historically fit the period 1262-67, when an effort was being made to bring Montfort from France and crown him king; from the era of his dominance of England with an army of the common folk; and from the time after his death at Evesham, when his supporters held out in Sherwood Forest under the command of young Robert de Vere.
    There are those, myself among them, who think the Robin Hood tales were an attempt to keep alive some sense of the Montfortian populist movement after it was made an hanging crime to speak Simon de Montfort's name

  5. Crusade history is fascinating; I did a paper in World History about how crusading became a family tradition, a sort of generational career.

    Interesting discussion, with Katherine Ashe's comments! Oh, one life is too short to read all there is!


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