Saturday, May 06, 2006

Richard the Lionheart : Hero or Tyrant?

Above: Sean Connery as King Richard in Prince of Thieves. Connery has played the parts of both Robin Hood and the "absent King".
History depicts a far different view of King Richard than Robin Hood himself ever did. Robin Hood was Richard's loyal supporter, and would remain so until his death. In the excellent film Robin and Marian we even see Robin join his King on the Crusades, only to become sickened and disgusted with the carnage he witnesses there. But Richard was his King, and Robin could never contemplate desertion.
Here we see Robin Hood and King Richard in two entirely different interpretations. Left: The Heroic Crusader who rewards Robin for his loyalty and even judicates over his marriage to Marion. Right: The tyrant "Absent King", dying in the arms of outlaw Robin, the man he ordered executed for daring to question the King's bloodthirsty methods. In reality Richard only spent six months of his reign in England, and both the Crusades and the ransom which had to be paid when he was kidnapped, bankrupted the country.

To see where the Crusaders gathered in the Midlands, Nottingham, before leaving for the Holy Wars see THIS LINK.

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Blogger robin hood said...

King Richard would surely prove a far less popular King today, spending only six months of his reign in his own country and engaging in bloody Crusades. Surely King John could be no worse than that?

3:06 AM  
Blogger prester john said...

Of course, the crusades were a popular enough cause in their own time. Perhaps comparable to modern campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would have been supporters and detractors alike and popular opinion was probably mixed. On the other hand, the king wasn't taking a poll and wasn't expected to. He was the king and it was his role to decide on his kingdom's policy.

The costs associated with the crusade were inevitably high, but it should be remembered that England did not bear the burden alone. In practice Richard no doubt used funding from his continental territories as well and he collected additional funding from Sicily and Cyprus as well when those kingdoms provoked him to attack. Sicily wisely chose co-operation, which proved cheaper than resistance as the despotic ruler of Cyprus discovered.

The ransom was a necessary expense, though an unexpected one. If Richard could have avoided capture--and all accounts state that me made quite an effort in that area--he would have done so. The English could hardly expect to leave him unredeemed.

When he returned to his realm, he found that the French had violated oaths and treaties as well as a sacred obligation not to attack the lands of an absent crusader. His continental territories were being invaded and conquered by the French. Restored to freedom, Richard could hardly have been expected to abandon a substantial portion of his empire; he had as much obligation to defend those duchies and counties as he did for England. By taking the war to the continent and to the French king, he was actually doing his English subjects a favour by keeping the war off England's doorstep and keeping it firmly on the French frontier.

Richard's absence then was largely circumstantial.

John, on the other hand, spent most of his reign in England. Perforce. While Richard was steadily making gains to recover his territories on the continent, John soon abandoned them, losing even Normandy only 5 years after coming to the throne. He spent much of the rest of his reign alienating his English subjects and provoking them to civil war against him. When matters were at their worst, the wisdom of Richard's policy of keeping the war with the French firmly on the continent became clear: John's failure to follow that policy meant the French were no longer kept at bay and free to invade England, which they did.

Interestingly, if Richard had not died by misadventure at Chalus, he probably would have recovered all his continental lands and might have been able to enjoy a few years peace in his realm, time he might even have spent in England. On the other hand, if John had not died when he did, removing the root cause of insurrection in England and re-uniting the rebel and loyal factions to resist the French invasion, John might have been remembered as the king who lost England as well as Normandy.

In other words, Richard was far from perfect, but John was a total failure.

11:53 AM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Thanks. Interesting and informative input.

5:09 PM  

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