Richard the Lionheart: King and Knight

Richard the Lionheart: King and Knight

Richard the Lionheart: King and Knight

Richard the Lionheart: King and Knight

Synopsis

Richard I, the Lionheart, remains forever (and perhaps wrongly) the mythical king of England who preferred to wage war than to rule over his empire. The familiar epithet conveys all the principal features of his indomitable character: courage, valour, prowess, the pursuit of glory, the thirst for fame, generosity in war and peace, a sense of honour combined with a sort of haughty dignity made up of both arrogance and pride. In this book Jean Flori examines both Richard's role as prince and king in history and also analyses the different and sometimes controversial elements which, for the chroniclers of his day, helped to make Richard a true model of chivalry. Among the questions addressed are: What influences formed his character and determined his behaviour, real or assumed? Why did the image of Richard as a king who was also a knight so quickly and so soon supplant all others, creating a quasi-definitive point of reference? Why did Richard deliberately, it would appear, choose to present himself in this chivalric guise and disseminate this image of himself by what we would today call a 'media campaign', using all the methods then at his disposal, limited perhaps but by no means ineffective? Last but not least, what is the historical and ideological significance of the choice and, even more, success of this image, which has been adopted by history and disseminated by legend, an image based on historical accounts and documents in which history and legend are sometimes inextricably interwoven? Jean Flori's Richard Coeur de Lion was written to mark the eighth centenary of the death of the "knightly king". The book is a tour de force that provides the reader with a reappraisal of Richard's life as well as a study of the myth and reality of Richard's image as the personification of medieval chivalry.

Excerpt

What could be more normal than for a future king of England to be born in Oxford? Yet the birth on 8 September 1157 of the child who would soon be known to history as ‘Richard the Lionheart’ is paradoxical in a number of ways. The familiar epithet conveys all the principal features of his indomitable character: courage, valour, prowess, the pursuit of glory, the thirst for fame, generosity in war and peace, a sense of honour combined with a sort of haughty dignity made up of both arrogance and pride. In fact, it is an epithet which both suggests and summarises the virtues of the chivalry which Richard will forever embody for the late twelfth century, while perhaps also concealing its vices. William Marshal, his contemporary, had fulfilled the same role for the preceding generation, or so his panegyrist claimed.1 But there is one difference, and an important one: William Marshal was a knight in the true sense of the term, living off his sword and his lance; Richard was King of England, the perfect, indeed first, example of the ‘roi-chevalier’.

Richard was not meant to be king. By the time of his birth, his father, Henry II, had already fathered three children by Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen ‘divorced’ by Louis VII, King of France. Henry had married her immediately after the divorce, in 1152; their first-born son, William, died in 1156, at the age of three. Then, before Richard, Eleanor had given birth to a second son, the future ‘Young Henry’, King of England in his father’s lifetime, and to a daughter, Matilda, who was to marry Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. Louis VII had feared that Eleanor was infertile, but she had eight children by her second husband, seven of whom reached adulthood and played important roles on the European political stage. After Richard came Geoffrey, future husband of the Countess of Brittany; Eleanor, who was to marry King Alfonso VIII of Castile and . . .

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