Episode 7: King Richard goes on Crusade, summer 1190

King Richard proved his military skill in the Holy Land, but decided against trying to re-take Jerusalem, so in many ways his crusade was still a work in progress when he decided to return home in 1192.

After subduing malcontents in his northern French provinces in the late summer of 1190, Richard was setting his affairs in order, for the crusade, in his duchy of Aquitaine, south-west France, in early autumn by besieging William de Chisi's castle, capturing it, and hanging its owner for plundering pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of St James of Compostella, in Spain.

In England, the officers the king had placed in charge of the government quarrelled with William de Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, for whom Richard had obtained from Pope Clement the legateship. Being a papal legate gave to the holder of the office in his locality virtually all the powers of a pope.

Bishop William was also chancellor and justiciary of England - the top man in the government - and had marched with an army on York to set to rights the wrongs perpetrated in the pogrom of the Jews, at the time of the king's coronation, which I reported in the last Episode.

He sacked the sheriff of York and the commander of the castle, and took a hundred hostages, pending the appearance of the evil-doers at the king's court. Backing the Jews was hardly a popular policy, especially as many aristocratic borrowers of Jewish money probably saw their destruction as a means of escaping their debts.

But Legate William was also discomfitted because when he arrived at York he was not met with what he considered to be the proper respect from the Canons of the minster and churches there. He laid an interdict on them immediately until they threw themselves at his feet. He also arrested Hugh, Bishop of Durham, who had been appointed by the king as Justiciary North of the River Trent to the Scottish border.

He was imprisoned at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, until he surrendered to the Bishop William Windsor Castle and others that Richard had placed in the Legate's hands. This was an inauspicious start to the crusade and a sign of things to come when Prince John, the new Count of Mortain, would seek to subvert the government.

Back in France, waiting for Richard at Marseille were his ships and the great siege engines that had been commissioned for war, and he set sail for the Holy Land. It is beyond the scope I have set for this history, but is it not fascinating that money could be transported safely to Marseille, then not part of France, but of Aragon?

At most of his stops on their way, money was waiting for the English, raised by loans from such as the Templars and other money-lenders in Italy - Jewish and Christian. Eight thousand men were mustered at Marseille, siege engines constructed and delivered there, and food for the voyage found there and at all ports of call. Harbingers must have gone ahead.

Some merchants - indeed, some kings and princes - tried to defraud the king, who was not an easy touch, having men hanged and port cities devastated down the leg of Italy to Sicily. The Count of Flanders met Richard's fleet at Naples and sailed with him, to the chagrin of the king of France. Richard's betrothed, Berengaria, daughter of King Sancho IV of Navarre, was waiting with Queen Eleanor, Richard's mother, at Brindisi, Apulia, on the Adriatic - today still a ferry point for Athens, Rhodes, Cyprus, and the Levant.

What a feat for Richard and his brother kings and princes to arrange such a complex project without telephones, emails, and bank-to-bank electronic transfers. While the king was still at Messina, Sicily, Prince John in England joined those in the government opposed to the haughty conduct of business by the Legate, William, bishop of Ely. The king immediately sent Walter, archbishop of Rouen, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, and others back to England with instructions that the Legate was to include these men in all his judgments.

Discretion being the better part of valour, Archbishop Walter, Lord Pembroke, and the others did not produce the king's letters when they arrived at London. That ailment in the body politic would fester so long as the bishop of Ely remained chancellor.

At the same time, Richard had his first taste, as king of England, of King Philip of France's duplicity. He might have known better as he was weened away from his father Henry II with the false promises of the French king two or three years earlier.

By the time Richard reached Catania, Sicily, King Tancred of Sicily hastened to him with a document from the king of France, asserting that Richard had broken the peace the two monarchs had recently made and was attacking Philip's vassals in France. Philip invited Tancred to attack Richard in Sicily to destroy the English army and that he, the king of France, would support him.

The Lionheart denied the French charge vehemently and when Tancred's emissaries raised the allegation and Richard's denial in the French ruler's presence, he went silent, 'having a bad conscience on the matter', according to the chronicler. In fact, it appears that Philip was concerned to torpedo the marriage between the king of England and Berengaria, the daughter of Sancho, king of Navarre.

The kingdom of Navarre abutted Richard's duchy of Aquitaine, a marriage alliance that the king of France was keen to break. It had originally been proposed that Richard would marry Philip's sister Alice, which Richard instantly reneged on when he apparently discovered that she had been intimate with his father.

To conclude a new peace, Philip dropped the marriage proposal with some embarrassment, one imagines. But another opportunity soon presented itself. As the two kings were besieging Acre, Philip, count of Flanders (now in modern Belgium, but then in the kingdom of France), died, and King Philip sent letters to Paris to have his officers seize all of the count's treasure and property. Count Philip was an ally of Richard's.

Along with adjudicating who should be the next count of Champagne, Philip could now add having to decide who should be the next count of Flanders, and he duly set sail for France. Richard followed about two months later and, as we know, made the mistake of trying to pass through Duke Leopold of Austria's lands incognito. He was arrested and sent on to the Emperor Otto who managed the ransom business as well as any capo di tutti capi in the America mafia.

In my reading, I have come to the conclusion that Richard was a doughty knight at heart, but knew little of dissimulation, could not see round a corner before he got to it, and had difficulty in reading other people.

It seems not really to have occurred to him that Duke Leopold would give him a very hard time if he found him in his territory, after the humiliation at Acre, but he tried to cross Austria anyway. When he agreed peace with Philip II of France, he meant it. Philip did not mean it which enabled the French king to run rings diplomatically and politically round him. And he made many such pacts with the French king, only always to be disappointed.

He could also stand somewhat on his dignity as when he failed to dismiss his appointee as Chancellor, Bishop William Longchamp, who was clearly upsetting everyone with his hauteur in England. Most of all, from the kingdom of England's angle, he was constantly forgiving his brother Prince John and should have nominated as his successor Arthur of Brittany, even though he was only twelve.

There were plenty of men in Richard's entourage who would have protected the young prince, not least another doughty knight, William Marshal, who carried through a similar conjuring trick in 1216-17 for the nine-year-old Henry III, son and heir of King John. Henry would reign for 56 years and father Edward I, the first English king since Ealdfrith of Northumbria, in the later seventh century, to attempt the conquest of Scotland.

Despite Richard’s generosity to his brother, Prince John turned against him and started to stir up trouble in England for his own ends. John was not alone and found many supporters.

© Robert Smith, Manorial Society of Great Britain