April 6 – Death of Richard the Lionheart

Posted on April 6, 2015

Back in 1199, when Richard I of England was killed, life was shorter, more brutish, way more violent. 

Richard was called “Lionheart” because he was thought of as a great military leader and warrior. He has been an iconic, honored hero to England even though he lived most of his adult life in southwestern France, he didn't speak English (he spoke a French dialect called langue d'oil and a local Romance language called Occitan), and even during the ten years that he was king, he was only in England, all together, maybe six months.

He apparently didn't think to himself, “How can I make my subjects' lives better?”

Instead, he treated his kingdom as a source of financial support for his armies. Some people call him "the absentee king."

Nowadays, most people have heroes who are musicians or athletes or actors. Some of us have heroes who are astronauts or writers or scientists. I am so happy that most of us these days do NOT idolize the guy who's killed the most people!

British historian Steven Runciman wrote that Richard the Lionheart "was a bad son, a bad husband, and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier." He wasn't even a conqueror, even though he won a lot of battles...Because he had no interest in ruling his kingdom, he didn't fight battles in order to conquer lands and enlarge his kingdom – instead, once he'd won a battle, he would generally just sell off anything that was worth having.

He just liked to win!

It strikes me that, in the modern world, Richard would've been a great sports star. Of course great athletes have to be willing to work hard, practice a ton, keep fit – but to be really great, they also have to love winning!

Richard died at age 42 because he was inspecting a castle he was trying to conquer for no apparent reason at all. It wasn't a big, important castle in a strategic part of Europe; it was just a small, unimportant castle. (Pretty stupid, huh?) His army had surrounded the castle and was laying siege to the castle, and the king had decided to inspect the work of his sappers who were preparing to breach the wall....without wearing his chain mail. (Stupid.) Every once in a while one of the people inside the castle would send an arrow or rock over the walls towards Richard's army...but he paid little attention to the missiles. (Very stupid.) One crossbowman had a skillet in his hand by which he shielded himself from Richard's army's arrows, and Richard thought that was funny - and when the crossbowman aimed at Richard, the king just stood there and applauded, rather than taking cover. (Very, very stupid.)

Richard got an arrow in the neck. I read one account in which it was the arrow of the crossbowman he had just applauded; I read another in which it was another's arrow. Whoever shot the arrow, the wound turned gangrenous, and Richard became mortally ill. Knowing he was dying, the king sent for the crossbowman who had shot him. Again, reports differ: some say the person who shot Richard was just a boy, and others claim he was a grown man.

Richard is said to have forgiven the boy (or man) who shot him, and even gave him 100 shillings before he sent him on his way. However, once Richard died, the crossbowman was ordered executed by a captain in Richard's army.

All I can say is - thank goodness we don't live such violent lives nowadays!

Also on this date:

Be sure to check out the story of Robert Garrett, pictured here. It's pretty strange and cool!

National Tartan Day

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