Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart stood silently looking down at the sarcophagus holding the body of his dead father, Henry II, showing little emotion and no grief for the man whom he had been fighting regularly throughout his whole life. He actually couldn't remember a time when he wasn't fighting with his father. In the dimness of the church, Richard's eyes seemed to glow. His eyes travelled up and down the body of the man he knew so well, dressed in the finest armour money could buy. Apart from his lips pressed tightly together, Richard’s face was blank as he remembered the stories his father had told him of his vigour and daring in his youth.

When Henry Plantagenet arrived at the French court, he was a square-shouldered, sprightly 19-year-old brimming with confidence and overflowing with energy. He was impulsive and ambitious and needed little sleep and Richard's mother Eleanor did not waste time coming to a decision. She petitioned her husband, Louis VII, for a divorce on the nominal grounds that they were related by birth and two months later, she generously awarded Louis custody of their two daughters on the condition that her lands be restored to her. Two months after that, she was married to Henry. For an ambitious youth, there could not have been a more valuable bride.

But as the years passed, Henry showed his true colours as he ransacked and butchered his way through France, adding more and more territories and wealth to his personal treasury. By the age of 39, he was one of the wealthiest men in Europe.

It was a time Richard remembered well. He and his three brothers had desperately wanted a share of the territories and titles, to rule as they saw fit. Their father was ageing quickly and they had all wanted to begin ruling their own kingdoms before his death. Their father had resisted and it had caused a rift between his brothers and their father that had never healed.

If Henry had been a cleverer man, he might have looked back and seen how much had changed in the 35 years that he’d been on the English throne. What had started out as a bright and shining future for the handsome king and his beautiful wife had ended with all of his children fighting like scavengers for morsels of his kingdom. Everyone he had loved, his wife and every one of his sons had betrayed him.

Now as Richard stood looking down at his father's body, his two eldest brothers were dead and the crown of England was his. Not that he really wanted it. The crusades had begun in earnest and The Holy Crusades were in full swing. Richard was eager to begin preparations to join them and it was fortunate that he now had a cash cow to help fund him.

He stood for no longer than it would have taken to recite the Lord’s Prayer before turning around and walking out of the church, ready to commence the duties of his realm. It is said that Henry’s corpse bled from the nose in Richard’s presence.

In the back of the church, his younger, and only remaining brother John, silently glared. At his father’s death, Richard had become King of England, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine and Nantes. John had to make do with a few paltry counties in England and live forever off Richard’s throw-offs. His anger threatened to consume him.

As John watched maliciously, Richard walked past him without even a backwards glance.

On 13th September 1189, Westminster was packed to the rafters with bishops, abbots, barons, knights and officers of the realm. There had been a riot of colour as the clergy were dressed in purple and white robes and Richard’s favourite knights raised golden swords high above their heads. As the sickly smell of incense filled the cathedral, the procession moved into the inner chamber amid the flickering of candles while hymns echoed off every wall.

Pride swelled in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s heart as her favourite son took his three oaths. He swore he would uphold peace and reverence to God and the Church. He would administer justice and he would abolish bad laws and replace them with good ones. As he held the sceptre, he was anointed with holy oil on his head, shoulders and sword-bearing right arm as golden spurs from the treasury were strapped to his feet. Impatiently, Richard waited as his crowning ceremony progressed agonising slow. Gripped in the crusading fever, he was eager to begin his preparations to leave. Outside, there was no glory.

There is a story that historians know all too well but don’t often tell. On the day of Richard’s coronation, and like every other European leader, Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts to the king. Instead of the expected welcome, they found themselves barred from the ceremony. They were the lucky ones. The ones who were admitted earlier were stripped and flogged by Richard’s courtiers before being thrown out of court empty-handed. It was only the beginning for the Jews.

Rumours soon spread throughout London of what had happened at the coronation and very soon, things began to get out of hand. It was as if permission had been given. Jews were beaten to death, robbed and burned alive. Some had their homes destroyed and only a few managed to escape with only the possessions they could carry. Crusader fever had arrived in earnest and none were more ardent than Richard.

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