Richard the Lionheart - Hero or Villain?

Richard was born at Oxford on 8th September 1157, the third son of Henry II, and, as such, never expected to succeed to the English throne. History has glamorised his reign, endowing it with an air of romance and chivalry as epitomised by his statue outside the Houses of Parliament.

Another description could be that of absentee warlord, forever seeking to expand his rule through the force of arms and spending only six months of his ten year rule in England. His undoubted military prowess earned him the title of Lionheart in Europe, while in the East, mothers would threaten their children with his Arabic name Melec Ric - “King Ric”.

He was recorded as a handsome figure, 6’5” tall with the fair hair and blue eyes of the Plantagenets. He was a bright scholar and a talented linguist; he could make jokes in Latin and recite poetry in French and Provencal. A man of some intelligence and insight, he realised that there was more to successful warfare than just being skilled in arms. He combined these qualities with a gift for strategy and tactics that enabled him to consolidate his rule in both his duchy of Aquitaine and kingdom of England.

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Stephen and Matilda

Following the deaths by drowning of his two legitimate sons, William and Richard, plus their half brother Outtel, Henry I did all he could to ensure that his daughter Matilda would succeed him to the throne and forced his nobles to swear to this on more than one occasion, the last being at Oxford when all present, including Stephen of Blois, son of the Conqueror’s sister Adela gave his word. Stephen was a pleasant, affable and likeable man and a favourite of Henry who gave him so much land and property both sides of the channel that he became one of the richest and most powerful of noblemen. He lacked the moral strength and ruthlessness however to be a firm leader which ultimately proved to be the cause of his failure to secure his line through the accession of his son. He was one of the party intended to travel to England in 1120 on the White Ship, but declined due to diarrhea, an attack which probably saved his life.

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King Henry V and the French Throne

Henry’s remarkable success against the French in battle is well known, but it is not generally realised how close he came to uniting the kingdoms of England and France. His victories had given him control of two thirds of France, plus the guarantee of him succeeding to the French throne on the death of the mad King Charles. If Henry could have lived a few short weeks longer he would have achieved this grand ambition.

Those interested in Medieval history will know of Henry’s great victory at Agincourt (or Azincourt to give it its proper name), but this was not the end of his ambition in France.

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The Barons' War

King Henry's heavy taxes to pay for his dynastic ambitions in Europe, plus bad weather and widespread famine, provoked civil unrest in England leading to civil war.

200 years after the Norman invasion the country's nobility had largely become anglicized and viewed France and Europe in general with suspicion.

French born Simon de Montfort was tolerated as a councillor of King Henry III, but things changed when he inherited through his mother, the title of Earl of Leicester and became a focal point for those nobles unhappy with the perceived misuse of power by the king. The situation worsened when he married the king's sister Eleanor without first seeking royal consent.

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