Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199)

Let's get one thing straight: Richard I was not a good king.


I mean, it's not like he was the worst king ever--or even the worst king his momma brought into the world--but he sure wasn't great.

Now this is a pretty accurate historical portrayal of John.

If you'd like an American comparison, I'd say Richard was a combination of the panache and charisma of Teddy Roosevelt and the economic and foreign policy success of Jimmy Carter (had Jimmy Carter himself been taken hostage).

OK, the economic comparison isn't perfect--with Richard, it was less general economic downturn and more a straightforward bleeding dry of his subjects. You see, Richard wasn't so much interested in ruling all the stuff his daddy left him; he just wanted to Crusade. So at the beginning of his reign he got all the money he could from all the people he could in all the ways he could so he could buy ships and siege engines and soldiers and stuff. He is said to have joked, "If I could have found a buyer I would have sold London itself."

Well, ol' Couer de Lion went on his Crusade (it was #3) and he did OK, by Crusade standards. He kept the slaughter of his men to a minimum, although he didn't take back Jerusalem from the infidel or anything. But then he went home through the territory of his enemy, Leopold of Austria. He posed as a pilgrim to escape detection, but just like he was a better warrior than a king, he was also a better warrior than an actor.

A German chronicler says that when Richard was captured he was found in a kitchen, roasting meat on a spit, hoping that by doing servile work he would escape recognition. Unfortunately the kitchen hand was wearing a magnificent ring, worth many years' wages. The details of this story are probably false but in common with the accounts in other chronicles it suggests that the travellers--despite their elaborate pilgrim's attire, long hair and flowing beards--did not take enough trouble to conceal their wealth. . . . So, shortly before Christmas 1192, less than fifty miles from the safety of the Moravian border, Richard fell into the hands of Leopold of Austria.
. . . Leopold sent Richard to a strong castle built high on a rocky slope overlooking the Danube: the castle of Dürnstein. The castle is in ruins today, but a legend still clings to its broken walls, the legend of Blondel, the faitful minstrel who travelled the length and breadth of Germany in search of his missing lord. He visited castle after castle and ouside each one sang the first lines of a song which he and Richard had composed together. At last, at Dürnstein, he heard the refrain.
John Gillingham, Richard the Lionheart, 1978
After a few months, Leopold handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who in turn gave Richard his freedom. You know, after everybody in Richard's realms had to pay through the nose again to raise the enormous ransom that Henry demanded. (According to Elizabeth Hallam in The Plantagenet Chronicles, "The ransom itself was roughly twice England's gross income; in today's terms, something like a hundred billion pounds.") And after Richard swore fealty to Henry as the feudal overlord of England. (Wow. Embarrassing.)

Despite this, and despite the fact that he only spent six months of his ten-year reign in England, he was very popular with his subjects.

As popular as if he actually were Patrick Stewart!

It must have been the panache.


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Still not as popular (or as justly popular) as his bff Saladin.

Actually, the Saladin-Richard relationship may be a big part of Richard's popularity.

MacKenzie said...

Robin Hood is one of my favorite Disney movies. In my 7 year old self's opinion, it was way better than The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.

Anonymous said...

Robin Hood, in B&W, starring Richard Greene, protrays King Richard in a very positive light. So he is OK with me!