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Richard the Lionheart, King John and King Henry the Third

King Richard the First of England, son of Henry the second, was Crowned in London in September 1189. He later became known as Richard Cœur de Lion, or Richard the Lionheart because of his military reputation on the crusades. He spent less than 6 months of his 10-year reign actually in England.

Richard has already promised to go on crusade in 1188 after hearing of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. Once crowned, he emptied his father's treasury to pay for his crusade leaving in the summer of 1190.

Richard conquered Cypress on his way to the Holy Land. Once there is assisted in the capture of Acre but fell out with his allies Leopold of Austria and Philip of France, both of whom left for home soon after. At Acre, Richard ordered a massacre of 2000 Muslim prisoners. In September 1191, Richard inflicted a serious defeat on Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf. However, the army was unable to capture Jerusalem, and Richard eventually agreed on terms with Saladin in September 1192. The truce allowed Christian pilgrims and merchants access to Jerusalem. Richard the Lionheart left the holy land in October 1192.

On his journey home, Richard was taken prison by Leopold of Austria, whom he had fallen out within Acre. A Ransom of 100,000 pounds of silver was demanded. Payment effectively bankrupted the English economy.

At the same time, Richard's brother John, together with Philip of France, offered 80,000 marks for Richard to be kept in captivity.

Richard briefly returned to England before campaigning in France against Philip from 1194 to 1199. In March 1199, Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt while besieging a castle. The wound turned gangrenous, and Richard died a week later.

Richard's heart was buried at Rouen Cathedral in Normandy and his body in Anjou. He had no legitimate heirs.

Richard was a courageous warrior but also cruel and not suited to the administration of a kingdom.

Richard's brother John was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London on 27th May 1199. Popular history has been very generous to Richard the Lionheart – more than he deserves – but it is hard to argue that King John has been more harshly treated by history than he deserves. He seems to have taken his role as administrator of the kingdom seriously. But to have been an unpleasant and vindictive person.

King John was at war with King Philip of France almost continuously throughout his reign. These campaigns ultimately ended in failure, and John lost most of his lands in France, including Normandy.

This conflict cost an enormous amount of money, and John extracted money from his people in many ways, including exorbitant inheritance taxes, the sale of official positions, and new taxes. The economy suffered, and the aristocratic barons of England became very disaffected with John's rule. The failure of a campaign against the French in 1214 created further tensions. John proposed some reforms in January 1215, but they were not enough, and a rebel army marched towards London.

King John met the rebel leaders for peace talks at Runnymede, near Windsor Castle, on 15 June 1215. There a proposed peace agreement was presented to John. It was later named Magna Carter – or the Great Charter. Magna Carter promised the protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, new taxation only with baronial consent, and limitations on feudal payments.

John signed the Charter but repudiated it shortly afterwards. Pope Innocent supported John and declared Magna Carter illegal and unjust. Civil War erupted. King John won some early victories, and the rebels invited the French King Philip to invade England in their support, offering his son Louis the throne. Prince Louis of France landed in the south of England in May 1216. John retreated, and the rebels took the south of England. In September 1216, King John contracted dysentery. He died on 19th October 1216.

John's son Henry, who was only 9 years old, was crowned King Henry the Third of England on 28th October 1216. The death of John and frictions with Prince Louis of France meant that the civil war began to lose momentum. Prince Louis renounced his claim to the throne of England in September 1217, and peace was restored, although many of the rebel barons continued to ignore the new king's instructions.

King Henry the third was supported in government by a cadre of experienced and loyal noblemen. Royal authority and administration were gradually restored throughout the country. In 1225 Henry the third reissued Magna Carter and affirmed it with his royal seal.

Magna Carter guarantees the right to fair justice to free men – meaning men of property and wealth. It did not apply to the peasant classes that made up the bulk of the population or to women who were considered the property of their husbands or fathers. Nevertheless, it was a start, and it established the principle that rulers could and should be held to account by representatives of the people.

Although he reigned for 56 years, Henry is considered an unsuccessful monarch. His attempt to reconquer lands in France in 1230 achieved nothing and resulted in a rebellion at home. In the 1240s, he began extorting money from the Jewish population of England, severely damaging the economy. Henry stirred up further anti-Semitism, passing the Statute of Jewry in 1253 which attempted to place restrictions on Jews and force them to wear a badge. He also endorsed a blood libel in 1255 and had 18 Jews executed. However, these changes were unpopular with many as they restricted trade and economic activity.

In April 1258, 7 important barons, lead by Simon de Montfort, forced Henry to agree to a ruling council of 24 barons and churchmen. Henry agreed to reforms called the Provisions of Westminster in 1259. This provided for a council of barons to meet regularly and was the foundation of the formal Parliament of England.

However, frictions continued, and armed conflict broke out in 1264. Henry was beaten and captured at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264. By this time, Henry's son Edward was in his mid-twenties and was proving a clever military tactician. He raised an army and finally defeated Simon de Montfort, releasing his father at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265.

Henry was back in control of England, and he devoted the remainder of his reign to stabilising England and Wales. King Henry the third died in November 1272 in London. His son Edward was on a crusade to the holy land at the time and did not return to England until 1274.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we discuss Edward the first, the Hammer of the Scots, and his son the rather less successful Edward the second.

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Written by

Ross Maynard