Story of England - S. B. Harding

Richard the Lion-Hearted and the Crusades


Dates when Richard I. was King; his character.

How a boy was trained to be a knight; how a squire was made a knight; what the "accolade" was; the ideals of a true knight.

How the Crusades arose; dates of the First Crusade; dates of the Second; what called forth the Third Crusade; its dates.

How Richard raised money for the Third Crusade; with whom he went; where he stopped on the way; what city he captured; why the Crusaders failed to recover Jerusalem; Richard's return.

The troubles in England during his absence; his "Saucy Castle"; circumstances of his death.

The next reign—that of Richard I. (1189-1199)—was for England a quiet one. During most of the ten years of his reign Richard was absent from the land and his officers governed in his name. But the good order which his father had established was such, and the officers trained by him were so able, that King Richard could safely leave England to itself for years at a time.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Richard the Lion-Hearted

Richard cared little for his English dominion. Though he was born there, his youth was spent in Aquitaine. He spoke French and did not speak English. His customs and ideas were those of southern France. In spite of his ambition to rule, he was a warrior and a knight rather than a wise King. As a knight he excelled. A chronicler tells us that he was "tall, well built, and with hair mid-way between red and yellow." He loved to hunt, to sing, to make verses, and to conquer other knights in "tournaments," or friendly battles. His strength and skill in these combats were known and praised throughout France. But he loved also to engage in real warfare, as he showed more than once.

Richard's life and character were in keeping with the ideals of his time, and his training must have been similar to that followed by all noble youths who wished to become knights.

At about seven years of age, a boy of high birth was usually sent away from home to be trained in the castle of some noble lord. There he spent some years in attendance upon the lord and lady of the castle, and was taught how to bear himself politely. When older, he attended his lord, learning to ride, to hunt, and to use the arms of nobility—the shield, the sword, and the lance. When skilled in these things, he became a "squire"; his duty thenceforth was to accompany his lord to the tournament or to battle, to help him put on his armor, to provide him with a fresh lance or a fresh horse in the combat, and in case of need to give him aid. After several years of such service, having proved his skill and his courage, the young squire was ready to become a "knight."

Often the ceremony of conferring "knighthood" was not performed until the squire had "won his spurs" by some heroic deed. The highest ambition of the young man was to be knighted on the field of battle, as a reward for bravery. When that was done the ceremony was simple. Some famous knight would strike the kneeling youth upon the shoulder and say, "I dub thee knight."

The ordinary ceremony was much more elaborate. The first step in this was a bath, signifying purification. Then the squire put on garments of red, white, and black—red, for the blood he must shed in defense of the church; white, for purity of mind; black, in memory of death, which comes to all. Then came "the vigil of arms" in the church, where he watched and prayed all night, either standing or kneeling before the altar, on which lay his sword. At daybreak the priest came, the squire confessed his sins, heard mass, and partook of the holy sacrament. Then perhaps he listened, with the other candidates for knighthood, to a sermon on the proud duties of a knight. Later in the morning he appeared before his lord, or some other well-known knight, and his spurs were fastened on his feet and his sword was girt about him. Then he knelt before his lord, and the latter gave him the "accolade"; that is, he struck the squire a blow upon the neck with his fist, or with the flat of his sword, and said:

"In the name of God, and Saint Michael, and Saint George, I dub thee knight. Be brave and loyal."

After this, the new knight gave an exhibition of his skill in riding and in the use of weapons, and the day ended with feasting and merry-making. As a true knight, he was expected to be loyal to his lord and to the Church, to be just and pure in his life, and to be kind to all in need of his help, especially to defenceless women. The church sought to ennoble warfare by giving religious aims and ceremonies to knighthood. But often the practice of chivalry, or knighthood, fell far below these ideals, and was marked by a narrow caste spirit and a brutal indifference to human suffering.

Richard I. did not have the gentler virtues of a knight, because of the fierce, wild temper of his family. But in courage he was so famed that men called him Richard "the Lion-Hearted" (Cœur de Lion). His love of warfare, his fondness for adventure, and his devotion to the Church were all appealed to by a great movement which occurred in his reign, known as the Third Crusade.

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Shield of Richard I

The Crusades were a series of wars between the Christian peoples of western Europe and the Mohammedan peoples of Asia Minor and Syria. The name comes from the Latin word crux  (cross), because of the "cross" of white or red cloth which the Christian soldiers in these wars wore on their mantles. The purpose of the Crusades was to recover Jerusalem and Palestine from the Mohammedans. A century before Richard's time these people, who then possessed the lands where Christ had lived and died, began oppressing the Christian pilgrims who came to visit Jerusalem. At the same time, the Greek Emperor of Constantinople appealed to the Christian knights of the West for aid against the Mohammedan Turks, who were conquering his territories. The Pope took up the cause, and at a great meeting held in France, in the year 1095, he preached a sermon using the knights to make war upon the Mohammedans, and recover the Holy Land. His plea moved his hearers so greatly that they cried out with one accord—

"It is the will of God!"

In this way began the movement toward Asia which we call the First Crusade. The common people would not wait to gather supplies or to form an army, but marched at once—men, women and children—in vast throngs under the lead of a monk called "Peter the Hermit," and other rash leaders. They knew nothing of the country to which they were going, and but little of the road by which it should be reached. They made no provision for fighting the Turks, or to sustain themselves on the way, but trusted to the power of God to overcome the "infidels." The result was that they were destroyed on the way, by Turkish horsemen, or by starvation, and failed to even reach Palestine.

Religious enthusiasm, and a desire for conquest and worldly gain, led many thousand trained and equipped knights to set out in their turn. They were under capable leaders, and their armies were well supplied. They reached Asia, and they fought the Turks with such success that they captured Jerusalem and a portion of Palestine, where they set up a Christian kingdom in the year 1099. Thus the object of the First Crusade was partly accomplished, and the Holy Land was freed from the rule of Mohammedans.

Forty-eight years later occurred the Second Crusade (1147-1149), which was caused by the news that the Turks had conquered part of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Two Kings—Conrad III. of Germany and Louis VII. of France—took part in this Crusade, but very little was accomplished by it.

Two years before Richard became King of England, the Turkish leader Saladin recaptured Jerusalem. This again stirred up the religious zeal of Europe, and many of the great nobles "took the cross"—that is, vowed to engage in a new war against the Turks. Among the first to do this was Richard the Lion-Hearted, and his part in the Third Crusade is the chief interest which we have in his reign.

As soon as Richard was crowned he began preparations for the Crusade. He took the money which his father had left, and in addition sold estates and offices. He even sold the office of Archbishop of York, with the estates belonging to it; and for a large sum of money he released the King of Scotland from the "homage" which Henry II. had compelled him to give.

By these means, Richard gathered a great fleet, with which he set out for the Holy Land, in company with Philip Augustus, the King of France. The two Kings stopped at Messina, where they spend many months, quarrelling with each other, and with the ruler of Sicily. When at last they re-embarked, Richard again turned aside—this time to punish the King of Cyprus for abusing shipwrecked pilgrims.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, the Christians were besieging the city of Acre, and were sorely in need. When Richard at last reached Acre, his fame as a warrior revived the spirit of the Christians. He would ride along before the walls of the city, and defy the Mohammedans. He set up great machines to batter down the walls, and in a short time Acre surrendered. Thus was recovered one of the important cities which the Mohammedans had conquered, but Jerusalem itself was yet to be taken. Soon after this, King Philip returned to France, leaving Richard to carry on the war without his aid. But the quarrels among the leaders continued, and they could not agree on anything. It is said that Richard one day rode up a hill within sight of Jerusalem, but held his shield before his face that he might not look upon the sacred city which he could not rescue. The army was obliged to retreat, and the Holy City was left in the hands of the "infidels."

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Armor of the Time of Richard I

Richard was now obliged to return to England; so he made a truce with Saladin for three years, during which time Christians might freely visit Jerusalem. Richard intended to return after the three years had passed, but was never able to do so. When he departed from Syria, he left behind him a great reputation for his bravery.

While he was returning to his kingdom, Richard was compelled by storms to land in the territory of the Duke of Austria. He was almost alone, and the Duke was his personal enemy because of great injuries which Richard had done to him on the Crusade. Richard attempted to pass unknown through his enemy's country; but he was discovered, arrested, and afterward surrendered by the Duke to the German Emperor. The Emperor was also unfriendly, because Richard was allied with the Emperor's enemies in Germany; so he kept the English King a prisoner.

For a time, the place of Richard's confinement was not known to his own people. In after years, men told a story of how his favorite "minstrel," Blondel, wandered through Germany, singing beneath the walls of every castle a song known only to the King and to Blondel himself. At last he was rewarded by hearing the answering verse in Richard's clear voice, and he knew that he had found his master's prison.

The Emperor drove a hard bargain with his prisoner. If he had listened to King Philip of France, and to Richard's brother John, he would never have released the King at all. As it was, he compelled Richard to pay a great ransom, which the English people willingly raised. After fourteen months of captivity, Richard was released. He landed in England after more than four years' absence.

While Richard was absent his brother John had attempted to usurp his crown, and had seized a number of castles. Richard's officers and the people were loyal and the castles had nearly all been recaptured before he arrived. Those that John still held were easily recovered, and the conspiracy ended.

After two months in England, Richard crossed to France to make war on King Philip, who was attacking his territories. The remainder of Richard's life was spent in this petty warfare. The struggle centered about a great castle which Richard built on the border of Normandy, and which he called "Saucy Castle" (Château Gaillard).

[Illustration] from The Story of England by S. B. Harding

Richard I's "Saucy Castle"

"I would take that castle," cried Philip, "though its walls were of iron!"

"I would hold it, though its walls were of butter," was Richard's defiant answer.

Richard was now so much in need of money that, when he heard that one of his vassals in southern France had discovered a buried treasure of gold, he demanded it, in accordance with his right as lord. The report was that the treasure was "a great table of gold, surrounded by golden knights," but really it was only a set of golden chessmen. The vassal refused to surrender the treasure, and Richard laid siege to his castle.

As Richard was riding carelessly before the walls one day, he was struck by an arrow shot from the castle by a man who had long waited for that chance. Soon after that, the castle was taken, and the solder who had shot Richard was brought captive before him.

"What have I done to you," asked the dying King, "that you should slay me?"

"You have slain my father and two of my brothers," was the answer. "Torture me as you will, I shall die gladly, since I have slain you."

On hearing this answer, Richard pardoned the man, and with his last breath ordered that he should be set free.

In spite of his great courage, and his skill and energy as a warrior, Richard I. accomplished very little. He is to be remembered chiefly as being the only English King who left his throne in order to go upon a Crusade. For nearly a hundred years after Richard's death, western knights and princes, and some Kings, continued to go to the East, seeking honor, riches, and salvation for their souls, in the Crusades. Then, gradually, they awoke to the greater needs and opportunities which lay close at hand, in their own countries, and the crusading movement came to an end.


  1. Imagine yourself a page and write a letter describing your training to be a knight.
  2. Find out what you can about the First Crusade.
  3. Read some account of Saladin, and tell about his relations with Richard. (Scott's novel, "The Talisman" deals with this subject.)
  4. Show on the map the route which Richard took to the Holy Land. (He went by land through France, and sailed from Marseilles.)
  5. What effect did the Crusades have on the commerce of Europe? On its learning? What new things are introduced during the Crusades?
  6. Write a story of Blondel searching for Richard.