King Richard the Lionheart - Quintessential English King?
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?
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!
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!
King Richard turns up in this one and by his own actions starts the legend of Robin.
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 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....
- Richard I of England - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This Wikipedia article has a good breakdown of Richard's TV and movie appearances, as well as more detail on his real life.
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!