He is one of England’s most famous kings, despite only spending a small portion of his reign in the country. How did Richard the Lionheart get his name?
King Richard I was first referred to as “the Lion” in 1187 but became known as “Lionheart” following his deeds during the Third Crusade. Richard successfully captured the city of Acre but failed to recapture Jerusalem from Saladin.
For more on Richard I and he earned the name “Lionheart”, read on.
Richard was born in Oxford, England on September 8, 1157. He was the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The couple’s eldest son, William, died during childhood. Richard’s older brother, Henry, was the heir apparent to the throne of England.
Henry II owned several titles, including King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Duke of Aquitaine through his marriage to Eleanor. Henry declared his intention to divide his titles between his sons, granting them important positions but also breaking apart what had become a vast kingdom.
His sons initiated a rebellion against him in 1173, with Richard joining his elder brother, who became known as Henry the Young King. The revolt was ultimately unsuccessful but concerns about the future of the English crown remained.
Henry the Young King died in 1183, elevating Richard to become the heir to the English crown. Still, Henry II persisted in his desire to grant important titles to each of his sons, particularly in wanting to give the Duchy of Aquitane to Prince John.
Richard refused to see what he considered his rightful inheritance given to his younger brother. In 1189, he rebelled again, this time with the support of King Phillip II of France. Richard was an excellent commander and accomplished what his brother had failed to do by defeating their father. Henry II died in July 1189, ending any question of whether or not Richard was the rightful king.
When Richard was crowned, he had already pledged to fight in the Third Crusade. The Muslim forces of Saladin had captured Jerusalem in 1187 and Catholic leaders were determined to take it back.
In 1190, King Richard I sailed for the Holy Land. Part of his fleet was wrecked off the coast of Cyprus. Richard left some of his people on the island to recover but was displeased when he learned that they had been imprisoned by Isaac, the Emperor of Cyprus.
Richard responded to Isaac’s actions by returning to the island and conquering it, becoming the King of Cyprus in addition to his existing titles. While in Cyprus, he married Berengaria, a daughter of the King of Navarre, who he had previously rejected.
When Richard eventually arrived in the Holy Land in June 1191, he set his sights on Acre, one of the most strategically important cities in the region due to its coastal location. Richard captured the city, marking one of the first meaningful victories of the crusade.
Further victories against Saladin’s forces followed but the true objective of the Third Crusade was recapturing Jerusalem. As the crusade dragged on, the difficulty of that task became more apparent. The crusade’s leaders, including Richard and his counterparts from France and Germany, became increasingly hostile to each other.
To avoid further unnecessary bloodshed in an unwinnable war, Richard negotiated a temporary truce with Saladin and set sail for his home. His troubles were not over; on the way home, he ran aground near Venice. Richard tried to remain incognito but was soon imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria.
Richard was forced to pay an enormous ransom of 150,000 marks, which he accomplished by enforcing harsher taxation on his people. He was eventually released in February 1194 and returned home as a hero of the crusades.
Richard had been referred to as the “Lion” since displaying his military skill during his rebellions against his father. It was his deeds in the Middle East that solidified him as the “Lionheart” in the eyes of his people.
A month after his return, Richard sailed for Normandy to protect his holdings on the European mainland. He warred with his former ally, Philip II, and was struck in the shoulder by an arrow while besieging Châlus castle. The wound became infected and Richard the Lionheart died on April 6, 1199.
The English crown passed to John, his younger brother, with one of England’s least popular kings succeeding one of its most popular.