Richard the Lionheart

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Born in 1157, Richard I, also known as Richard The Lionheart, would go on to lead the Angevin Empire to global influence, spreading Christianity through his participation in the third crusade, and revolutionizing the definition of leadership through unique character. While marching across Europe, Richard’s legendary acts were recorded and interpreted through the eyes of countless languages, opposing sides, and new opinions. With such a complex life and career, Richard The Lionheart serves as an excellent example for the power of bias during a period of superstition, misinformation, and faith. The skewed interpretation of these legendary events is evident in modern historical writing today as historians and authors continue to shape how famous figures such as Richard are remembered. Richard the Lionheart is remembered as an undeniably complex figure defined by moments of brilliant strategy as well as brutal violence, from the Holy Land to the beaches of Normandy. He broke a truce with Saladin, the leader of the Musulmans, massacring 2,700 innocent prisoners, reclaimed control of Jaffa in an epic counter-attack, and died plagued by greed and lust. His polarizing legacy provides insight into the impact of historical bias in Medieval Europe and the complexity of research in the information age.

Richard displayed ambitious leadership even in his early years and yet seemed to forsake his country at the earliest moment. The Lionheart was one of four bad-tempered and argumentative brothers vying for the inheritance of their father Henry II. In his childhood, Richard quickly demonstrated his opportunistic nature when he attempted to hasten his ascension to the throne by allying with the king of France against his father. Already a famed warrior and tactically gifted, Richard resolved to solidify his rule over England by expanding Christendom in the Holy Land. After amassing money from across the country and leaving the throne prey to rival factions, Richard essentially placed the livelihood of England on the success of the Third Crusade. And so, Richard and Phillip I set off together in an uneasy, poorly planned partnership, both aware of each other’s territorial ambitions. Along the route, Richard provoked Henry VI by befriending the king of Sicily and marrying the daughter of the king of Navarre, betraying a long-standing promise to marry a French princess, angering his companion. During his ten-year reign as king, he spent less than six months in England. His tendency to do what he pleased with any means necessary set the tone for excessive violence throughout his crusade and yet lead to unmatched military strength.

The Battle Of Acre, one of the most important battles of The Third Crusade, defines the rivalry between Richard and Saladin as historical bias depicts Richard’s violent tendencies. Behâ-ed-Din, a resolute member of the court of Saladin, describes his take on the massacre that transpired on August 20 during his account in 1191. According to him, the Christian procession had arrived in Acre in search of the True Cross of the Crucifixion. After the Mussulmans proved it was in their possession, Saladin offered a treaty that proposed the exchange of prisoners and goods in a temporary peace. However, The Lionheart could not forsake his inherit pride and replied with an empty promise of fulfillment. In the end, neither party could agree upon a method of exchange. With no moral compass in mind, The Lionheart betrayed his promise to the Sultan of peace and the responsibility to his prisoners as he “made an open display of what he had till now kept hidden in his heart.” He chooses death over life, marching out to the plain between both camps and bringing the 2,700 Musulman prisoners before his army in a line like cattle. As Beha-ed-Din describes, “The Christians then flung themselves upon them all at once and massacred them with sword and lance in cold blood”. Richard’s actions demonstrate an inner quality of hate and brutality. His skewed interpretation of justice combined with violent tendencies create an image that reflects poorly upon his legacy. However, the information presented comes from a clearly biased source which aims to paint king Richard in an unholy light. This message is evoked clearly throughout the words of Beha-ed-Din and consequently, provides an incomplete view of The Lionheart’s legacy.

As the Third Crusade ground to a bitter halt, Richard displayed his military expertise at the Battle of Jaffa, a decisive victory viewed through a Euro-centric perspective. The town of Jaffa lay 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem and served as the city’s main port of entry. Saladin developed a daring plan to seize the town, severing their lines of communication and interrupting the Crusader-held coastline.. When Richard heard the news that Jaffa is under attack, Alex Zraweski, a London resident and a frequent contributor to the Military history magazine, presents The Lionheart’s following actions with a flattering, awe-stricken lens that questions the validity of his recount. According to Zraweksi, Richard quickly amassed the entire fleet and stealthily approached Jaffa, leading the charge onto the beach and catching Saladin’s forces in utter surprise. Alongside strategic brilliance, Zraweski presses the opinion that because Richard’s counter-attack took place on the day of the Catholic liturgical feast of St. Peter in Chains, the battle was therefore blessed and on “that morning it must have seemed God had heard their own prayers for deliverance”. In the end, Richard and his forces reclaimed Jaffa, driving Saladin from the citadel although badly outnumbered. Zawreski demonstrates his god-like qualities in this quote as Richard defeats a Musulman enemy: “With one mighty swing of his sword Richard sliced the foolish man in two, taking off not only his head but also his right shoulder and arm”. This shows how the true outcome of the Battle of Jaffa and the actions of Richard The Lionheart are hidden behind a wall of bias and skewed opinion, adding to the complexity of his character.

Simon Rees, a British historian, disproves the common myth of Richard’s greed and arrogance as he analyzes The Lionheart’s war with Phillip I in France and his tragic death with awe. At this point in time, Philip Augustus had arrived back in France a bitter man. He had returned from the Third Crusade with hurt pride, out-played and outspent at Sicily and the Battle of Acre, and forced to give Richard temporary control of Normand. This came as the worst of humiliations as “Richard, the vassal, had freely slandered the Capetian name and had forced Philip to give up territory that should of returned to his control.” In response, when Richard was captured by Henry VII in Germany, the great war began as Phillip sought his revenge in Normandy. When he was finally released from captivity, Rees describes that “in the space of a few extraordinary months the Lionheart had returned to his kingdom, stamped it again with his authority and organized an army to take with him to war against Philip.” This shows how the author clearly admires Richard’s leadership. Lastly, Richard’s legacy remains riddled with conflict even up to his tragic death when he apparently attacked the count of Chalus according to rumors of buried treasure. Richard felt he had been unfairly left out of his rightful share and many Anglo-Norman chroniclers describe his death by crossbow as divine justice for life-long greed and lust. However, Rees attempts to disprove this point by arguing that Richard simply wanted to consolidate order in his newly acquired territories and that because he arrived unarmed to the siege, “The Lionhearts behavior just before death was underlined as the paradigm of Christian behavior and the action of a legendary Crusader king”. This once again demonstrates the power of bias within a source and the allegiances that historians hold towards their beliefs.

“Once we look a little more closely at some of the stories about Richard it soon becomes obvious that the coat of legendary paint which conceals him is a very thick coat indeed.” This quote by John Gillingham, an expert on Richard The Lionheart, effectively demonstrates the complexity that exists in the history of the Middle Ages. With limited source material, historians have mixed opinion with fact as Richard’s legacy is expanded and revised through the power of technology. By looking at three crucial events throughout his career: the massacre at Acre, the reprisal at Jaffa, and a death perceived by greed and lust, The Lionheart’s emotional crusade provides an opportunity to analyze the nature, origin, and opinion of information in order to reach a judgment on Richard’s iconic career and the validity of his famed title. However, in conclusion, Richard The Lionheart cannot be classified as a brutal murderer or as a brilliant strategist and instead, provides valuable insight not only into leadership during the Medieval Ages but into the complexity of human nature and the difficulties of accurate history.

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