King Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart is often portrayed in books and movies as the quintessential English king.
He was indeed King of England and his heraldic banner, the “three lions” is considered to be the embodiment of England and the English monarch.
However, there is a dark secret to this “English” king.
In this article I will reveal the truth with the real facts about Richard the Lionheart!
What Does It Mean To Be English?
Being English myself, I have always had an interest in what makes the English, well, English.
Despite having a not so happy childhood, I still feel proud to be English as well as proud to be British (and no, they are not the same thing).
I’m not talking about the mere facts of where we were born, or what we do.
What is it that really defines an Englishman, as opposed to a Scottish or Welsh man (or woman)?
There have been books written about the subject, but nobody seems to have a proper answer.
Instead, we have some strange and interesting portrayals in books and movies of characters like Richard the Lionheart.
They seem to point to something beyond ourselves but the stories are almost entirely legends, with very little bearing on reality.
Richard Coeur de Lion:
Let’s start with his name, shall we?
We know him as “the Lionheart”, but this is just a translation from the French ‘Coeur de Lion’.
Son of Henry II, he was born in England, so you would think that made him English.
However, his father Henry was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and Matilda.
Matilda was a grandchild of William ‘The Conqueror’ who of course, was Norman.
So, Richard was really French by ancestry, not English, or at least one of the smaller French kingdoms (or ‘Duchy’) that existed in those days.
Richard the Lionheart Lived In – Aquitaine?
While Richard was King of England, he was also Duke of several Duchies in France, including Aquitaine.
When he wasn’t on crusade, this was his favourite place to be, perhaps because that was where his mother was from.
The rest of the time, er yes, he was on crusade.
Much of his life was about fighting, trying to kill Saladin or getting captured and then pardoned by the Pope.
He hardly ever visited England and even if he did, he couldn’t speak the local language!
Richard’s heraldic banner was the famous 3 lions and they have stayed with us into modern times.
They are yellow on a red background and have been adapted for other uses, such as the 3 blue lions on a white background as found in the England National Football team badge.
One of the best modern examples of their use in popular culture is the “3 Lions” song by Skinner and Badiel, which was written for the 1996 European Football Championships and later re-recorded and released for other tournaments.
Birth Of A Legend:
So where does this legendary figure of Englishness come from then?
Mostly from the 16th century, and mainly due to that other legend which grew legs rather longer than reality: Robin (of the Hood, not Batman!) – another very English character.
Early stories of Robin Hood make no mention of Richard, but it seems that from the 16th century onwards, the idea that Robin was a supporter of the king became popular.
In modern times, Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe” popularised the idea further, by again mentioning Richard in connection with Robin.
This idea has so taken root that these days almost every Robin Hood movie features King Richard in some way or another, even if he is just a brief mention.
As you’re no doubt aware, in most of these stories Robin is busy robbing the rich with his merry men, while trying to fend off the evil Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham et al.
King Richard is either away on crusade for the duration, or turns up at the end to save the day.
The important thing here is that it makes everyone feel it was all worthwhile and above all, hooray for the English!