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King Richard the Lionheart - Quintessential English King?

Updated on October 4, 2013

King Of England - Sort Of...

King Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart is often portrayed in books and movies as the quintessential English king.

He was indeed King of England and his heraldic banner, the "three lions" is considered to be the embodiment of England and the English monarch.

However, there is a dark secret to this "English" king.

In this article I will reveal the truth with the real facts about Richard the Lionheart!

Photo: Richard I Bronze Statue, outside houses of Parliament.

What Does It Mean To Be English?

Flag Of England
Flag Of England

Being English myself, I have always had an interest in what makes the English, well, English.

Despite having a not so happy childhood, I still feel proud to be English as well as proud to be British (and no, they are not the same thing).

I'm not talking about the mere facts of where we were born, or what we do.

What is it that really defines an Englishman, as opposed to a Scottish or Welsh man (or woman)?

There have been books written about the subject, but nobody seems to have a proper answer.

Instead, we have some strange and interesting portrayals in books and movies of characters like Richard the Lionheart.

They seem to point to something beyond ourselves but the stories are almost entirely legends, with very little bearing on reality.

Read on to find out more.

Photo: Cross of St George, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

King Richard Movies

Here are some movies which have featured King Richard - if only briefly in some of them!

The Lion in Winter
The Lion in Winter

Originally a stage play, which has been filmed twice, the story supposedly tells the story of King Richard's struggles.

Good fun, but of course, a lot of it never happened!

Robin Hood (Unrated)
Robin Hood (Unrated)

King Richard turns up in this one and by his own actions starts the legend of Robin.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves [Double Sided]
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves [Double Sided]

Guess what?

King Richard turns up at the end and everyone is happy!


Richard Coeur de Lion

Let's start with his name, shall we?

We know him as "the Lionheart", but this is just a translation from the French 'Coeur de Lion'.

He earned this nickname by fighting a lot, getting a reputation for being a great leader, fierce in battle.

Son of Henry II, he was born in England, so you would think that made him English.

However, his father Henry was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Matilda.

Matilda was a grandchild of William 'The Conqueror' who of course, was Norman.

So, Richard was really French by ancestry, not English, or at least one of the smaller French kingdoms (or 'Duchy') that existed in those days.


Richard the Lionheart Lived In - Aquitaine?

While Richard was King of England, he was also Duke of several Duchies in France, including Aquitaine.

When he wasn't on crusade, this was his favourite place to be, perhaps because that was where his mother was from.

The rest of the time, er yes, he was on crusade.

Much of his life was about fighting, trying to kill Saladin or getting captured and then pardoned by the Pope.

He hardly ever visited England and even if he did, he couldn't speak the local language!

...Hmm, funnily enough, that sounds quite English to me...

Picture: Map of France showing position of Aquitaine.

Richard's Coat Of Arms
Richard's Coat Of Arms

Three Lions

Richard's heraldic banner was the famous 3 lions and they have stayed with us into modern times.

They are yellow on a red background and have been adapted for other uses, such as the 3 blue lions on a white background as found in the England National Football team badge.

One of the best modern examples of their use in popular culture is the "3 Lions" song by Skinner and Badiel, which was written for the 1996 European Football Championships and later re-recorded and released for other tournaments.

Photo: Richard's Heraldic Coat Of Arms, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Birth Of A Legend

So where does this legendary figure of Englishness come from then?

Mostly from the 16th century, and mainly due to that other legend which grew legs rather longer than reality: Robin (of the Hood, not Batman!) - another very English character.

Early stories of Robin Hood make no mention of Richard, but it seems that from the 16th century onwards, the idea that Robin was a supporter of the king became popular.

In modern times, Walter Scott's novel "Ivanhoe" popularised the idea further, by again mentioning Richard in connection with Robin.

This idea has so taken root that these days almost every Robin Hood movie features King Richard in some way or another, even if he is just a brief mention.

As you're no doubt aware, in most of these stories Robin is busy robbing the rich with his merry men, while trying to fend off the evil Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham et al.

King Richard is either away on crusade for the duration, or turns up at the end to save the day.

The important thing here is that it makes everyone feel it was all worthwhile and above all, hooray for the English!

Want To Know More?

Follow these links to find out more about this most "English" of kings....

Was King Richard I who we think he was?

Was he just as English as the legends say?

Was he just another King?

Let us know!

What do you think?

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    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Donna Cook: Thank you.

      I agree, I've been watching some documentaries recently about his family (parents and children) and none of them were angels.

      Pedestal firmly removed!

      Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 

      3 years ago

      Great lens! Based on the Robin Hood movies, I thought he was a valiant leader. After seeing "The Lion in Winter" with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, he fell off his pedestal.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @IanTease: That's so true.

      Our own Queen is of course, of German descent.

      Plus, I didn't realise until recently that Queen Victoria and Albert deliberately tried to marry off their many children to all the other European countries, in order to try to prevent future wars.

      A pity that it didn't work out, but maybe that's what one should expect from your own family?

      Thanks for reading.

    • IanTease profile image


      4 years ago

      The bloodlines of all our monarchs are so entwined with those of others throughout Europe that none of them are strictly English or for that matter German, Spanish, French etc. It's always interesting to learn more about them though and this lens was great for that

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @WriterJanis2: So did I, until I found out the reality.

      Thanks for reading.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      4 years ago

      I always thought he was English. Interesting facts here.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Nancy Hardin: That's a good point Nancy.

      Hmm, I think I'm feeling disillusioned too - wait - I already was!

      Thanks for reading.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Interesting information. This makes every book and story ever written about King Richard inaccurate to the point of being a fable, such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Egad, I'm disillusioned again! LOL!i

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Brite-Ideas: You're welcome!

      Thanks for reading.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I learned something this morning - I wasn't really familiar with the details about him; really interesting, thanks!

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @ChocolateLily: Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hmmm...I always thought that Lion at the end of Disney's Robin Hood was suspicious! Just kidding. Very interesting lens. It's so common so find out that historical figures weren't really who we thought they were.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @KateFeredayEshete: Thanks for that info, Kate- very interesting.

      When I researched it, there seemed to be different variations of the coat of arms during Richard's lifetime, with 1, 2 or 3 lion passant, with the 3 lions being adopted soon after.

      However, I will have a further look to see if there is anything more definitive about it.

      Good idea about the books too, I'll look into it.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your knowledge.

    • KateFeredayEshete profile image

      Kate Fereday Eshete 

      4 years ago from Ethiopia

      What an interesting lens. I had not realized that Richard the Lionheart spent so little time in England and so probably did not speak much English. The Coat of Arms you show above has two lions. Shouldn't it be the three "lion passant" positioned from top to bottom? Richard had a son, Philip, but he was illegitimate so did not become king when Richard was killed. Richard was described by contemporaries as being tall and handsome and he commanded an army for his father at the age of 16, so he must have been a formidable character, fit to be king. He was born in England, so that makes him English according to law, I suppose. You've got me interested in finding out more about Richard I. In addition to the movies, why not include a few book recommendations for further reading?

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Elsie Hagley: Yes, indeed - I am very encouraged.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting subject, with lots of comments that must be very encouraging to you as the writer.

      Enjoyed Thanks.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @MarathonRunning: Yes, how we perceive things is important.

      I went on a course once about branding/marketing and remember the instructor saying "your perception determines your reality".

      This is an interesting discussion - thanks for taking part.

    • MarathonRunning profile image


      4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Richard the Lionheart is one of the history characters that I love the most. I always thought that he was a real English by blood maybe because the way it is presented to people. I fully agree with thatgrrl, but I like to add that it is very important how we see somebody. The picture we made is more important than truth itself sometimes.

      Very interesting article!

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Seasons Greetings: That's an interesting point.

      There has always been a mystique surrounding royalty which perhaps has faded in modern times.

      What makes a man a man and what makes a king a king is a question many have asked - including Shakespeare!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image

      Laura Brown 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What it means to be English/ Canadian/ etc is always an interesting question. People think Canada has very little of it's own culture. But so much is overlooked. I think Richard Lionheart is over rated in movies. He was still just a man after all. A hero, noble, and all of that but more human than he is usually portrayed, I would hope.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @norma-holt: That's an interesting point - I wonder what it is that makes us look up to people like that?

      Yes, considering how much historical conflict there has been between the French and the English, I think many English people would be surprised to know how French they really are.

      C'est la vie.

    • norma-holt profile image


      4 years ago

      Its amazing how people worship kings that slaughter others. While the history of this one is not something I know a lot about, except from the movies, the French had a great deal of influence in and over England and have left their traits in the language. Enjoyed reading this lens. Well done.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @David Stone1: I didn't realise it was one of Hopkins' first roles.

      It's interesting that John is almost always portrayed as a weak king, while Richard is always the strong/noble one.

      I'm sure both of them had their strengths and weaknesses.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @arkose: Glad you learned something new from my article :)

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @TreasuresBrenda: Yes, he didn't spend much time here at all!

      Thanks for reading.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      In the first Lion In Winter movie (never saw the second), Henry the Second was the focus and Richard one of three sons battling to succeed him. I think it's a fairly accurate, although limited, portrayal of Richard played by Anthony Hopkins in one of his first big rolls. Another son was John, shown in the movie as weak and sniveling, who followed Richard to the thrown as Good King John, the monarch who bowed to the commoners by signing the Magna Carta. With Henry II, his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was also once Queen of France, Richard and John, it was about as illustrious family as England has ever seen.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Somehow I never knew he was a real king, I just thought he was part of the Robin Hood story. I guess that's what I get for not taking any history classes after high school. Very interesting lens :)

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I don't know enough about Richard the Lionheart to give much of an opinion. That is very interesting th ough, how much time he did NOT spend in England.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @SusanDeppner: Thanks for reading, Susan.

      Glad you found it informative.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Interesting! I'm not very well versed on English history, so this was a very informative read. I guess I hadn't really thought about Richard's ancestry at all, so to me he's as much a legend as "just another king." Great topic!


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