Richard Lionheart: Bad King, Bad Crusader

JUNE 11, 2014 BY

Richard Lionheart: Bad King, Bad Crusader?

Michael Markowski

Journal of Medieval History, Vol.23:4 (1997)

Richard Lionheart


This paper analyzes the impact of King Richard Lionheart of England during his tenure as leader of the Third Crusade. It examines crusade policy and the significance of Richard’s decisions to deviate from it. The lack of control which both the Church and normative crusading precedents had over him becomes apparent. Richard’s failure to take Jerusalem leads to the conclusion that his self-centred, puerile interests in personal adventures destroyed the chance for success of the Third Crusade, and thus prolonged warfare. Most wars have some sort of peace as the ultimate goal. The Third Crusade is no exception, but Richard subverted the goal of peace by turning away from a siege of Jerusalem and toward various other adventures, for example, attacks on Egyptian holdings, border skirmishes, the conquest of Cyprus from the Byzantines. Still, the Lionheart’s legend persists from his day to our own to extol chivalrous virtues and courageous action. This paper presents the other side of the coin in the hope of approaching a more balanced, accurate portrayal of Richard’s crusade leadership and of the ends of crusade ideology which he undermined.

In June 1192, King Richard led a crusade advance toward Jersualem. Moving quickly, the army crossed the inland hills without incident. Saracen troops could not contest the advance. The crusaders felt high in anticipation as they fortified a camp at Beit Nuba, only hours from the Holy City. Suspence heightened as the poet Ambroise, who was there, related in verse:

These were adventures and alarms
And mishap, frays, and feats of arms

Ambroise told how a squad of Muslins were spying on crusader movements from a nearby mountain-top. The king and a small group of crusaders, including the poet Ambroise, scaled the height and secured the area. King Richard himself pursued the Muslims down the valley, then suddenly found himself just outside Jerusalem. Stunned, he stopped and gazed at the city. A century later, Joinville would use this scene as a spur for later crusaders, having Richard hide his head under his tunic and say that one who could not take the city should not allowed to look upon it.

Click here to read this article from the Monumenta Germanica Historica


One comment on “Richard Lionheart: Bad King, Bad Crusader

  1. btho5531 says:

    Thank you for posting this article. But i wonder if peace between two rival religious / political beliefs was ever possible or even the goal among the crusaders? Was Richard the Lionheart a product of his time?


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