Richard the Lionheart |

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Richard the Lionheart

Shortly after becoming King of England, Richard I left these shores to join the Third Crusade to recapture Jerusalem. But, as Julian Humphrys explains, the Lionheart encountered trouble at every turn

“The devil is loose.” It was February 1194 and Prince John of England had just heard the news he’d been dreading. For years he had taken advantage of his brother’s absence on Crusade, and subsequent imprisonment in Germany, by extending his own power over England, but now he had to face the music. King Richard was coming home.

Richard had been away for more than four years, having answered a greater calling to take up the fight in the Holy Land. After Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin in 1187, a Third Crusade was preached by Pope Gregory VIII to recover the Holy City. Even before he became king, Richard had promised to join it. In December 1189, he crossed from Dover to Calais. At a meeting with Philip of France, it was confirmed they would share the spoils of war equally and that their joint crusade would depart from the great pilgrimage centre of Vézelay on 1 April the following year.


In the event, the two kings marched south from Vézelay on 4 July 1190, before going their separate ways when they reached Lyon. Richard headed for Marseille, where he had arranged to meet the huge fleet he had assembled to transport his forces to join the Christian army besieging Acre in Palestine. But the fleet was delayed after its sailors ran amok in Lisbon. After waiting for a week at Marseille, Richard ran out of patience. He hired ships to take one contingent of his army to the Holy Land while he himself sailed along the Italian coast with ten transport ships and 20 galleys to his rendezvous with Philip in Sicily.

Richard had a personal interest in Sicily because its new king, Tancred, was holding the dowager queen Joanna captive; she was Richard’s sister. Richard soon secured her release, but Tancred refused to hand over her dowry, as well as the treasure her late husband had left as a subsidy for the crusade. However, when Richard captured the city of Messina from him, Tancred handed over the money.

During all this, Philip had been rather sidelined and his mood wasn’t helped when Richard informed him he was breaking off his engagement to the French king’s sister Alix. The pair had been betrothed since childhood, but Richard was now intending to marry Princess Berengaria of Navarre instead.

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The July 2016 issue of History Revealed