Biography of King Richard I, the Lionheart, of England, Crusader

Portrait of Richard I of England

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King Richard I, the Lionheart (September 8, 1157–April 6, 1199) was an English king and one of the leaders of the Third Crusade. He is known both for his military skill and the neglect of his realm because of his long absence.

Fast Facts: Richard I the Lionheart

  • Known For: Helped lead the Third Crusade, monarch of England from 1189 to 1199
  • Also Known As: Richard Cœur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart, Richard I of England
  • Born: September 8, 1157 in Oxford, England
  • Parents: King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Died: April 6, 1199 in Châlus, Duchy of Aquitaine
  • Spouse: Berengaria of Navarre
  • Notable Quote: "We, however, place the love of God and His honour above our own and above the acquisition of many regions."

Early Life

Born September 8, 1157, Richard the Lionheart was the third legitimate son of King Henry II of England. Often believed to have been the favorite son of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard had three older siblings, William (who died in infancy), Henry, and Matilda, as well as four younger: Geoffrey, Lenora, Joan, and John. As with many English rulers of the Plantagenet line, Richard was essentially French and his focus tended to lean toward the family's lands in France rather than England. Following the separation of his parents in 1167, Richard was invested duchy of Aquitaine.

Revolt Against Henry II

Well-educated and of dashing appearance, Richard quickly demonstrated skill in military matters and worked to enforce his father's rule in the French lands. In 1174, encouraged by their mother, Richard and his brothers Henry (the Young King) and Geoffrey (Duke of Brittany) rebelled against their father's rule.

Responding quickly, Henry II was able to crush this revolt and captured Eleanor. With his brothers defeated, Richard submitted to his father's will and asked for forgiveness. His greater ambitions checked, Richard turned his focus to maintaining his rule over Aquitaine and controlling his nobles.

Shifting Alliances

Ruling with an iron fist, Richard was forced to put down major revolts in 1179 and 1181–1182. During this time, tensions again rose between Richard and his father when the latter demanded that his son pay homage to his older brother Henry. Refusing, Richard was soon attacked by Henry the Young King and Geoffrey in 1183. Confronted by this invasion and a revolt of his own barons, Richard was able to skillfully turn back these attacks. Following the death of Henry the Young King in June 1183, Richard's father King Henry II ordered John to continue the campaign.

Seeking aid, Richard formed an alliance with King Philip II of France in 1187. In return for Philip's assistance, Richard ceded his rights to Normandy and Anjou. That summer, upon hearing of the Christian defeat at the Battle of Hattin, Richard took the cross at Tours with other members of the French nobility.

Victory and Becoming King

In 1189, Richard and Philip's forces united against Henry II and won a victory at Ballans in July. Meeting with Richard, Henry agreed to name him as his heir. Two days later, Henry died and Richard ascended to the English throne. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey in September 1189.

Following his coronation, a rash of anti-Semitic violence swept through the country as Jews had been barred from the ceremony. Punishing the perpetrators, Richard immediately began making plans to go on a crusade to the Holy Land. Going to extremes to raise money for the army, he finally was able to assemble a force of around 8,000 men.

After making preparations for the protection of his realm in his absence, Richard and his army departed in the summer of 1190. Dubbed the Third Crusade, Richard planned to campaign in conjunction with Philip II and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Crusade Begins

Rendezvousing with Philip at Sicily, Richard aided in settling a succession dispute on the island, which involved his sister Joan, and conducted a brief campaign against Messina. During this time, he proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, to be his heir, leading his brother John to start planning a revolt at home.

Moving on, Richard landed in Cyprus to rescue his mother and his future bride, Berengaria of Navarre. Defeating the island's despot, Isaac Komnenos, he completed his conquest and married Berengaria on May 12, 1191. Pressing on, he landed in the Holy Land at Acre on June 8.

Shifting Alliances in the Holy Land

Arriving in the Holy Land, Richard gave his support to Guy of Lusignan, who was fighting a challenge from Conrad of Montferrat for the kingship of Jerusalem. Conrad was in turn backed by Philip and Duke Leopold V of Austria. Putting aside their differences, the Crusaders captured Acre that summer.

After taking the city, problems again arose as Richard contested Leopold's place in the Crusade. Though not a king, Leopold had ascended to the command of Imperial forces in the Holy Land after the death of Frederick Barbarossa in 1190. After Richard's men pulled down Leopold's banner at Acre, the Austrian departed and returned home in anger.

Soon after, Richard and Philip began arguing in regard to the status of Cyprus and the kingship of Jerusalem. In poor health, Philip elected to return to France leaving Richard without allies to face Saladin's Muslim forces.

Battling Saladin

Pushing south, Richard defeated Saladin at Arsuf on September 7, 1191, and then attempted to open peace negotiations. Initially rebuffed by Saladin, Richard spent the early months of 1192 refortifying Ascalon. As the year wore on, both Richard and Saladin's positions began to weaken and the two men entered into negotiations.

Knowing that he could not hold Jerusalem if he took it and that John and Philip were plotting against him at home, Richard agreed to raze walls at Ascalon in exchange for a three-year truce and Christian access to Jerusalem. After the agreement was signed on September 2, 1192, Richard departed for home.

Returning to England

Shipwrecked en route to England, Richard was forced to travel overland and was captured by Leopold in December. Imprisoned first in Dürnstein and then at Trifels Castle in the Palatinate, Richard was largely kept in comfortable captivity. For his release, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI demanded 150,000 marks.

While Eleanor of Aquitaine worked to raise the money for his release, John and Philip offered Henry VI 80,000 marks to hold Richard until at least Michaelmas 1194. Refusing, the emperor accepted the ransom and released Richard on February 4, 1194.

Returning to England, Richard quickly forced John to submit to his will but did name his brother as his heir, supplanting his nephew Arthur. With the situation in England in hand, Richard returned to France to deal with Philip.


Constructing an alliance against his former friend, Richard won several victories over the French during the next five years. In March 1199, Richard laid siege to the small castle of Chalus-Chabrol.

On the night of March 25, while walking along the siege lines, he was struck in the left shoulder by an arrow. Unable to remove it himself, he summoned a surgeon who took out the arrow but severely worsened the wound in the process. Shortly thereafter, gangrene set in and the king died in his mother's arms on April 6, 1199.


Richard has a mixed legacy, as some historians point to his military skill and the daring necessary to go on crusade, while others emphasize his cruelty and neglect for his realm. Though king for 10 years, he only spent around six months in England and the remainder of his reign in his French lands or abroad. He was succeeded by his brother John.


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Hickman, Kennedy. "Biography of King Richard I, the Lionheart, of England, Crusader." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Biography of King Richard I, the Lionheart, of England, Crusader. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Biography of King Richard I, the Lionheart, of England, Crusader." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).