November 20, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Medieval Church: Richard the Lionheart led Third Crusade

John F. Fink(Fifteenth in a series of columns)

Last week, I wrote about Eleanor of Aquitaine, ending my column with her becoming queen dowager of England when her son, Richard I, became king after Henry II died in 1189.

Richard I has fascinated people because he was known as Richard the Lionheart for his exploits in battle. He was raised by Henry and Eleanor to be a warrior because, as their third son, he wasn’t expected to become King of England. But both of his older brothers died before their father did.

Richard was given the duchy of Aquitaine when he was only 14, and was leading its army when he was 16. He would continue to spend most of his time in present-day France, even after he became King of England when he was 36.

He is in this series of columns about medieval Christianity because he was the leader of the Third Crusade, made necessary because the Egyptian sultan Saladin had reconquered Palestine, including Jerusalem, in 1187.

Originally, the Third Crusade was to be fought by the most powerful secular rulers in Europe: Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of the German Empire, King Philip II Augustus of France (the son of Eleanor’s first husband), and Richard Lionheart of England.

Things didn’t go well. Emperor Frederick fell off his horse while crossing a river, and he drowned when the weight of his armor prevented him from rising. Most of his army returned home, only 1,000 men joining the other Crusaders.

Richard and Philip had long been rivals. They agreed to go on this crusade together because neither trusted the other to stay in France. Both went by ship to the Holy Land, and on the way Richard conquered Cyprus. The forces of the two kings joined at Acre, which fell to them after two years of fighting on July 12, 1191.

After recapturing Acre, Philip and Richard continued their squabbling, so Philip went back to France where he started to take possession of some of Richard’s holdings on the European continent. The remainder of the crusade was in Richard’s hands.

Richard achieved some victories against Saladin along the Mediterranean coast of the Holy Land. He made a couple attempts to conquer Jerusalem, but finally gave up. He signed a peace treaty with Saladin that permitted Christian pilgrims to enter Jerusalem.

He then tried to return to France and England. His ship was wrecked, and he tried to go by land. He was captured near Vienna by the Duke of Austria and imprisoned in Durnstein Castle. He was then handed over to Emperor Henry VI of the Holy Roman Empire, who held him for ransom.

Back in England, Eleanor, who had been regent in Richard’s absence, raised the money, mainly by confiscating Church treasuries. At the same time, Richard’s brother John and King Philip of France offered money to the emperor to keep Richard prisoner. But the emperor accepted Eleanor’s ransom and freed Richard.

When he got back to England, Richard had to regain the kingship from his brother John and also regain some of his properties in France. †

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