Richard The Lionheart
Some years ago when I was writing a history of the Crusades, the extraordinary degree to which our attitude to them differs from that of our ancestors was brought home to me as I compared the works of modern historians with those of past scholars. Typical of our own attitude is the way in which we ask whether they were the last barbarian invasions of the civilized Graeco-Roman world, still very much alive under the Byzantine emperors, or the first movements in the vast expansion of western Europe which culminated in the nineteenth century. That they were examples of the worst kind of barbarous religious wars we have no doubt; any yet, at the same time, we have to admit grudgingly that they were inspired by the highest idealism and waged with astonishing courage, endurance and occasional acts of sublime chivalry. they also opened up that dark little corner of the Eurasian land-mass, later to be known as western Europe, to trade with the outside world and to a mass of ideas by which it has been greatly changed for the better. So our reactions to the Crusades are ambivalent.
In spite of the fact that most people know little about either the Crusades or crusaders - or perhaps because of this comparative ignorance - they seem to react in preconditioned and remarkably uniform ways to the names of the few crusaders, of whom they have heard: Saladin was a great and splendid man, noble and faultless, while Richard was a barbarian and a brute. Well, was he? Many modern historians have answered that question with a resounding ‘Yes’, but I was not sure, and I wanted to find out the truth about Richard. hence this book.
In order to discover the true Richard, it was necessary to try to see him in the context of his own time and society with its very different beliefs and standards; different, that is to say, from those held by most people today, and not to view him distantly through the wrong end of a twentieth-century historical telescope. As a result, I tried to get inside the mind of his own time and society, viewing it as much as possible through its own eyes, and plainly this was difficult; but the difficulty of the task was nothing to its fascination. The people of the latter half of the twelfth century, their manners, beliefs and customs and their volatile, bubbling, richly creative - though often by our standards deeply schizoid - lives, fascinated more more and more as I got to know them. Similarly, the more I discovered about Richard himself, the more interesting I found him. Far from being little more than a bone-headed soldier - a brutal oaf good at nothing but killing his fellow men - he was a subtle, complex and many-sided man, quite impossible to describe in simply black-and-white terms. During his lifetime and for centuries after his death he was idolized by friend and foe alike as one of the great romantic heroes of all time - the preux chevalier par excellence with the heart of a lion - and there was truth in that picture; indeed, more truth than in the modern picture of him; but it was not the whole truth. My hope is that this book may help the reader to discover where, between those two extremes, the true Richard may be found.
But I cannot end this preface without confession to one more thing which intrigued and fascinated me while writing Richard’s biography. When searching for appropriate quotations to place at the head of the various chapters, again and again i found them in
Shakespeare’s Richard II, and at first I could not think why this should have been so. it could scarcely be written off as mere coincidence, and yet two hundred years separated the two Richards. In the end, I concluded that it could only be explained on the grounds that Shakespeare had a deeper understanding of the Middle Ages and of the problems and splendours of their kings than anyone else before or after his time; and perhaps, considering the breadth and depth of his genius, this is not surprising.
Finally, I must admit the obvious; this book is not meant for scholars. there are plenty of scholarly, comprehensive and detailed histories of the period, a few of which I have liste3d in the bibliography for those who wish to follow the subject up with further reading; but this book is aimed at the intelligent general reader, for whom i have great respect and affection. I dedicate this book to all members of that precious species individually and corporately, and I hope that they will enjoy it. TONY BRIDGE 1989
Richard I (1157-99) was one of the most colourful kings in English history. handsome, immensely brave, generous to his friends and the terror of his enemies, he was a brilliant military commander - one of the world’s great soldiers. Always leading his troops to victory, he won the total devotion of his own men and the awed respect of his enemies in the Holy Land, while Saladin, his greatest foe, was also perhaps his greatest admirer.
A man of many parts - poet, musician, athlete - like his father, Henry II, on occasion he was prey to terrible outbursts of anger. Antony Bridge, author of the highly acclaimed Crusades sees him as an essentially twelfth-century man, deeply religious, volatile and impetuous in an age when life was violent, unpredictable and precarious, and death was probably waiting round every corner.
This vivid, stirring, totally convincing portrait of Richard I retrieves him from the denigration of several modern historians and, by setting him firmly within the context and values of his age, shows me to have been the heroic figure who justifiably earned the epithet ‘Lionheart’.