It is always hard to tease out truth from fiction especially when your subject is someone whose exploits and life became the basis of legend. Richard the Lionheart, King of England from 1189-99, was an amazing warrior, a sound tactician, an honorable enemy and a devout Christian who took up the cross on Crusade to save Jerusalem from the infidels. Richard was memorialized in songs, and tales, most notably in the tale of Robin Hood in which he played the small but essential role of absent king. I would guess that most of us know him best as either the king who went on Crusade or the absent king whose kingdom descended into chaos and war under the mismanagement of his brother, John and the sheriff of Nottingham.
Richard’s life was always complicated. Born the third son in a family wrought with so much conflict and treachery it was known as the Devil’s brood, Richard never expected to become king. Instead, he took over his mother’s holdings and became the Duke of Aquitaine. But his father, Henry II, could not seem to settle the matter of succession in his own mind, and in turn alienated each of his sons by manipulation, broken promises and managed to create a climate of such distrust that each son in turn, together and against each other took up arms against their father. In the end, the first two sons died in thier attempts to wrest control from their father and at Henry’s death, Richard became king.
Prior to becoming king, Richard had made a vow to go on Crusade after Jerusalem fell to Saladin, so after making sure that his kingdom was secure he quickly turned to preparing to fulfill this vow. He was careful to make sure that King Phillip of France would also join in this crusade since he did not want to leave his kingdom vulnerable to attack. This forced alliance, although tactically sound, would be a source of misery for the duration of the Crusade and his choice to honor his vows and go on crusade would have enormous consequences for England, since Richard, who although king for 10 years, would spend only a total of 6 months of his reign in England!
One historian has said of Richard, “he was a bad son, a bad husband, and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier.” While, Muslim writers have said “Never have we had to face a bolder or more subtle opponent.” Although Pennman’s Richard is more nuanced, he is first and foremost a warrior and knight and in his effort to get that right, his roles as a husband, son, and king suffered significantly. We see Richard”s inner conflict, his need to carefully tread between the political pitfalls of his day and the treachery that he faced among his own family, his nobles, his people and the other kings who went on Crusade with him. His relationships with his mother, sister and wife are complicated and illuminating. Penmans’ excellent research, her use of original materials like letters, journals and accounts written at the time add authenticity and insight into a time and culture whose values are very different from our own.
Penman, has been writing her way through the history of the Plantagenet family beginning with When Christ and His Saints Slept about Empress Maude and Gregory of Anjou, Time And Chance, about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Devil’s Brood about the dysfunctional family that Henry and Eleanor produced and Lionheart which focuses on Richard I who emerged from the Devil’s brood to become king. Lionheart takes us through to the end of the third Crusade and A Kings Ransom, recounts Richard’s fateful journey home. Pennman’s well researched, historically accurate accounts of historical times and people are a joy to read!
Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Stars out of 5)
Recommend this book to: Sharon and Marian
Book Study Worthy? yes
Read in ebook format.