Kings and Queens in London – Richard I

Kings and Queens in London – Richard I

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Continuing our series on the London legacy of Kings and Queens. This time Richard I otherwise known as Richard The Lionheart. If you’ve been enjoying this series you’ll like Jack Yeomanson’s new walk about the Plantagenets

Carlo Marochetti's statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside the House of Lords

Carlo Marochetti’s statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside the House of Lords

Richard the Lionheart or Richard Coeur De Lion is one of the most well known of medieval kings but as a supporter of London he must rank fairly lowly having spent less time in London than any other monarch – during his ten year reign he was in England for no more than six months. Indeed it is claimed that Richard once said “I would have sold London if I could find a buyer.”- London was no more than a way of funding the Crusades. Despite Richard’s lack of enthusiasm for his English kingdom, he has somehow become to be seen as symbolising English fighting spirit in the popular mind whether it be in Carlo Marochetti’s excellent sculpture outside the House of Lords of 1856 or the questionable historical accuracy of England Football fans. This reputation owes a lot to Richard’s chivalrous role in Sir Walter Scott’s book “Ivanhoe” which was popular in the 1820’s and of course his part in the Robin Hood stories.


Loyalty was not one of the real Richard’s strong points – rebelling against his father King Henry II in 1173. When peace was concluded Richard was forced to put down the barons that had supported him during the rebellion. In the intervening years Richard was known as a cruel ruler of his lands, terrorising the populace. In 1188 Richard attempted to dethrone his father again, but Henry II died before hostilities fully commenced. Richard was crowned king of England on 3rd September 1189 – and instantly disaster struck. Richard had banned Jews from attending the ceremony but some Jewish leaders attempted to give gifts to the king. They were beaten, the start of a wave of anti Semitic massacres that spread across London and on to other cities like Lincoln and York. You can see a depiction of these terrible acts in a painting by Charles Landseer from the Tate Britain collection

The Pillaging of a Jew's House in the Reign of Richard I exhibited 1839 Charles Landseer 1799-1879 Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859

The Pillaging of a Jew’s House in the Reign of Richard I exhibited 1839 Charles Landseer

Richard eventually called a stop to the massacres, but in 1194 Richard establishes the Exchequer of the Jews – a department which enumerated and controlled Jewish assets  . This was part of a huge tax raising mechanism which paid for Richard’s involvement in the Crusades. In the Crusades Richard was spectacularly successful compared to his other Monarchs. He invaded Cyprus and crowned himself King of Cyprus. Richard’s army then captured the city of Acre where they put to death 2,700 prisoners. However arguments with Louis VII of France and Duke Leopold V of Austria led to the collapse of the Crusade. On his return Richard was taken prisoner by Leopold. This was bad news for London as now a huge ransom had to be paid off on top of the already crippling cost of the Crusade. The wealthy in London somehow managed to make sure the burden of the taxes fell upon the poor. The poor did have a champion though – William Fitz Osbert, a university educated man who called a folk moot at Paul’s Cross to speak against the corruption of the City in collecting ‘contributions’ from Londoners to pay Richard’s ransom. This led to the popular uprising of 1196 where thousands of Fitz Osbert’s supporters gathered to protest. The Archbishop of Canterbury ordered his men to attack the protesters who barricaded themselves in the church of St Mary Le Bow. The Archbishops men set fire to the church and Fitz Osbert was forced out onto the street, captured and executed. You can go and visit the place where Fitz Osbert made his last stand – the crypt of St Mary Le Bow is medieval and is the same structure that would have been there in Richard’s reign, although now it contains a rather nice café.

The Bell Tower at the Tower of London courtesy Wikimedia

The Bell Tower at the Tower of London courtesy Wikimedia

The most significant remnant of a building from Richard I’s reign is the Bell Tower at the Tower of London. Richard left his chancellor William Longchamps, Bishop of Ely in charge of building work at the Tower. Longchamps spent £2,881 extending the walls of the Norman castle and building a moat filled with water from the Thames. Most of the work was replaced by later additions, but the Bell Tower remains.

Royal Coat of Arms St Brides Church

Royal Coat of Arms St Brides Church picture courtesy John Salmon

Richard also invented the royal motto, “God and my right” , Dieu et mon Droit. Richard used it as a battle cry against the French at the Battle of Gisors in 1198. Richard believed both that God was on his side in battle, and that he had no superior other than God – that a king had a divine right to rule. It was incorporated into the Royal coat of arms by Henry V and you can find the motto on buildings not only in London but all over former parts of the British Empire.

Of course if Richard had not gone on the Crusade to fight the Saracens we would not have pubs across Britain called the Saracen’s Head and London would be without one of its rugby clubs. So after reading of Richard I’s brutal reign which almost bankrupts London – you can head to Greenwich and raise a glass to him at the Richard Ist pub on Royal Hill

Richard I pub Royal Hill  Greenwich

Richard I pub Royal Hill Greenwich

Next time Richard’s younger brother King John

Thanks to Rob Smith, Jill Finch, David Charnick and Dave Brown for contributions to this




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