Three medieval Richards

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Three medieval Richards

Equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart outside the Palace of Westminster /

Equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart outside the Palace of Westminster /

Though they were called Richard(s) I, II, and III none was father or son to another. If you like dates, remember these: Richard I, 1157 – 99: Richard II, 1367 – 1400: Richard III, 1452 – 1485. Not one of the three reached fifty years of age.

Richard I, known as ‘Lionheart’ was the third son of Henry II (qv) and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was a duke at twelve years old, and a terrible nuisance to his father. He made a good soldier, however, which was an essential in the medieval epoch. In 1173 he joined his brothers Geoffrey and John in irritating conspiracies, and all three were banged up in gloomy prisons by Henry II for varying periods.

Richard only spent six months of his entire life in England, being much more of a French knight than an English one. Henry II at last died, having made the remarkable discovery that his sons were revolting. The king too had spent most of his life at his castle in Chinon, which history tourists might like to know is still there. Henry died in 1189, worn out by his clever, extremely rich and permanently scheming wife, and dissatisfied with his sons Henry, Richard, John and Geoffrey.

Soon after his coronation, Richard I rode off to join the Third Crusade against the Saracens, and in Palestine in 1191 he laid siege to, and finally took Acre. He is said to have ordered the execution of at least ten thousand prisoners at Acre. He also defeated his great enemy Saladin, at Arsuf. Richard promptly made a truce with Saladin, more or less guaranteeing peace for three years. He then set out on the long journey overland to England, but was waylaid and kidnapped by Henry VI of Austria, with whom (on the Crusade) he had been at odds. Richard was imprisoned, and the most tremendous ransom demanded of England. It is said that Eleanor of Aquitaine herself organised the gathering of 100,000 livres to pay the extortionate ransom. In today’s terms the reader may add three more noughts to this figure.

When Richard got back to England he found that his uncharming brother John (known as ‘Lackland’ had joined with the very clever Phillip II of France to topple him from the throne. This was the period of a bandit called Robin Hood and his merry band of cutthroats who lived in Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham ‘robbing the rich to give to the poor’.

Richard defeated his brother, and made immediately for Normandy, where King Phillip was raising armies. Richard fought like a lion at the Battle of Châlus, in which he was killed. The French awarded him the honorary title of Coeur de Lion. This was fine for History, but Richard spent so little time in his own country that he did no governing. The barons grew richer and stronger, so much so that brother John, who became king in 1199, was forced to give in to most of their demands in The Magna Carta.

Richard I married Berengaria, but the union was childless, for whatever reason. Some historians claim that the only love of his life, apart from fighting, was that very same Phillip who had conspired against him with his brother John. It is known that Richard and Phillip knew each other when they were boys.

Richard II, started well, failed and murdered /

Richard II, started well, failed and murdered /

Richard II was the only son of Edward ‘The Black Prince’, and therefore the grandson of Edward III, one of the very few great kings of England. Richard succeeded his grandfather when he was only ten. In 1381 there was a kind of very early socialist revolution in England, called The Peasants’ Revolt. It was partly Richard’s undoubted courage outside the walls of London that helped put the rebellion down. Richard made a lot of promises to the peasants, none of which he kept because his barons would not allow it. The leader Wat Tyler was killed by the Mayor of London in front of Richard. The ringleaders and many others were put down with the usual appalling cruelty.

Richard’s uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester was busy orchestrating threats to the king’s power, aided by a group of barons called The Lords Appellant. Using Parliament as a tool, Gloucester arrested most of Richard’s supporters and speedily chopped off their heads, but Richard, though still young, fought back and most of the Lords ‘Repellant’ (as the king called them) were killed or banished. Sadly for Richard, he made an enemy of Henry of Bolingbroke, a son of John of Gaunt. This was a mistake, as Bolingbroke returned from forced exile in 1399 to usurp the throne. Richard soon found himself in Pontefract Castle in the North, where he quickly died. No-one at the time doubted that Bolingbroke’s men were not very far away from Richard when this happened. He became Henry IV, whose chief claim to fame was that he fathered Henry V, which led to the Battle of Agincourt (qv), and another marvellous play by Shakespeare.

Richard 'the wicked uncle', subject for pantomimes by St. Thomas More and Shakespeare /

Richard ‘the wicked uncle’, subject for pantomimes by St. Thomas More and Shakespeare /

Richard III was Duke of Gloucester from 1461 to 85, and King for just two years, from 1483. He was a younger brother of Edward IV and the eleventh child of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. From his birth he had a very bad press, especially from the saintly Thomas More, who described him as being born with sharp teeth and long black hair, and later from Shakespeare, who marshalled all the bad press and put it into a wonderful pantomime called Richard III.

   As Duke of Gloucester Richard served his older brother faithfully and efficiently, especially in the North, where the Northerners have always disbelieved the bad press. Brother Edward died, probably of the pox irritated by pleurisy, and his very young son Edward became Edward V. Richard was made Lord Protector of England because the Prince was barely thirteen years old, and his brother two years younger. Richard invited both to live in the Tower of London, then a royal palace used for administration, and as a guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries. The two Princes never left the Tower, and of course Richard was blamed for their disappearance, and has always been blamed since, though there is not a scrap of evidence to prove that he was, indeed, The Wicked Uncle.

Richard did, however, usurp the throne after his brother died, and set about reforming England’s laws and founding places of education. It was a savage time, and he may well have been involved in the death (again in the Tower) of his elder brother the Duke of Clarence, who was very partial to the drinking of wine. His murderers played a nice historical joke by stabbing Clarence and then drowning him in a butt of wine from the Canary Islands. Shakespeare made a great deal of this incident in his pantomime. It is also on the cards that Richard was present when the half-idiot King Henry VI was eliminated, following his foundation of Eton College.

The House of Lancaster rose up again, though the Yorkists thought they had stamped it into extinction. The leader was a Welshman, illegitimate son of one Jasper Tudor. His name was Henry, and he arrived in England from exile with an army, intent on taking the throne from ‘the killer of children’. Richard gathered an army together and rode off to meet the Welshman. The Battle of Bosworth Field took place in August, in beautiful countryside near Leicester, in 1485. Richard was thirty-three years old when he died, betrayed by his own nobles (except Northumberland and Norfolk). History tourists may also visit the site of this historic battle, with the countryside very little changed during these five hundred years. The Welshman made himself into Henry VII (qv) and was the founder of the dreaded Tudor Dynasty, during which ‘good men’s lives expired before the feathers in their caps’.                                

By | 2011-10-11T07:19:32+00:00 October 11th, 2011|English History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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