The Lionheart

lion shieldThere are those of you who may think my treatment of Richard I of England a bit rough. After all, he is perhaps the most famous monarch of all time, and certainly has a devoted fan club. His men loved him. When it was time to dig trenches, he got down in there beside them with a shovel. On his deathbed, he forgave his assassin upon hearing that the man shot him with an arrow because he had killed that man’s father. He couldn’t hold that against him. Yet, as rulers go, he was something of an absentee landlord, leaving his mother in charge of England for most of his reign. Of his ten and a half years on the throne, he spent only six months in England, most of that devoted to Crusade prep.

I don’t fault his intelligence. After all, he had a certain genius when it came to financing his hobby, War.

As noted in an earlier post, his father, Henry II, had pressured the king of the Scots into not only forfeiting, but paying the maintenance on his 12 southernmost castles, giving England control of the southern half of that country.

Richard sold them back to Scotland in order to finance his Crusade. This may have been a sign of devotion to the Holy Faith, but could have easily have been construed as a sign of his love of combat. Then, on his way across the Mediterranean, he came upon the island of Cyprus.

The Crusader ships had encountered a storm and one of them ran aground on Cyprus, where the king, Isaac Comnenos took the passengers prisoner. Those passengers, unfortunately for Isaac, included Richard’s sister and fiancé. Richard marched in with 60 knights, leveled a castle or two, named himself king of said island, and set up an English-style bureaucracy to run the place. Political genius or absentee landlord? Anyone’s guess, I suppose. He continued the custom of receiving tithes in kind, useful when you have an army to feed and an island full of peasant farmers. The locals, although they now had to cut 10% of their income to the new overlord, may well have considered it not only wise (I mean Richard had a serious military rep, not to mention that he is reported to have stood 6’5” in an era when the average male topped out at 5’3”. Impossible not to look up to.) but also something of an honor.

A year or so later, once again in need of money, he sold the island to the Knights Templar. Smart guy.

How smart?

The Knights had evidently taken “You vill do it my way, und you vill like it!” As their motto. There were only twenty of them. They took over admin duties, tossing the former local officials out on their ears, and insisted upon tithes being paid in gold, introducing an added layer of inconvenience into the lives of the peasants, a move necessitated by the enormous price Richard had charged for the property. When the island’s population rebelled, the warrior-monks went full-torque warrior and tried violent suppression. When that failed, they gave the island back to Richard.

Yes, gave it back. Didn’t ask for a refund. (Or maybe they did and he piously shrugged and told them he’d spent the entire down payment on the Holy Crusade. How could a monk argue with that?)

Richard Lionheart: great king or lucky guy? (Or maybe conniving sociopath. Your call.)

richard 1

Rest in peace, warrior-king.

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