The Real King Arthur? The Plantagenet King Who Never Reigned

The Real King Arthur? The Plantagenet King Who Never Reigned

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Whatever Richard the Lionheart’s achievements had been during his reign, he failed in one primary duty of a medieval king – he did not father a legitimate son. So when he died, on 6 April 1199, the English crown was disputed by two contenders: Richard’s brother John, and their nephew Arthur of Brittany.

Arthur the ‘anti-Plantagenet’

Arthur was the son of Geoffrey, another brother who was older than John, so technically his claim was better. But Arthur had never known his father, who had died before he was born. He had been brought up by his mother, Constance, Duchess of Brittany – who had been forced into her marriage as a girl and had no reason to love her husband’s family.

Arthur, therefore, was almost an ‘anti-Plantagenet’ and did not seem a particularly good candidate for the throne. He was also hampered by having never been to England, and he was only 12 years old.

Arthur of Brittany.

But Arthur’s hereditary right could not be entirely overlooked, and John was unpopular in many of his late brother’s dominions. England and Normandy declared for John, but Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Brittany preferred Arthur, and he was proclaimed king in Angers on 18 April 1199.

The Normans, however, had no wish to be ruled by a Breton, so they in their turn proclaimed John as king in Rouen on 25 April; John then took the initiative by crossing the Channel and having himself crowned and consecrated at Westminster on 27 May 1199.

An uphill struggle

Arthur’s chance seemed to have disappeared, but then another player entered the scene: King Philip Augustus of France. Ever keen to sow discord among the Plantagenets, he took up Arthur’s cause, knighting the boy and accepting his homage for all the continental lands that had been Richard’s, including Normandy.

He then used this as an excuse to take control of the towns and fortifications in those areas while keeping Arthur in Paris. Meanwhile, Constance was indefatigable as she worked on her son’s behalf, negotiating with barons and offering lands and patronage in return for their continuing support.

Arthur doing homage to King Phillip Augustus of France.

John was fortunate to count Eleanor of Aquitaine on his team, by then in her late 70s but still sharp and active. She, of course, was related to both claimants, but she chose her son over her grandson, and now made a tour through her lands securing for John the support of the nobles and the Church as she went.

The war continued, but with England and Normandy holding firmly for John, Arthur’s task was always going to be an uphill one, especially when Philip bowed to political reality and recognised John as Richard’s lawful heir in 1200, and Duchess Constance died unexpectedly in 1201.

A golden opportunity

Still, as time went by and Arthur grew older, continuing his knightly training, he could take a more active part in his own affairs. He was aided by the fact that John had spent the intervening time alienating the barons of Normandy and Anjou, who appealed to Philip to intervene.

He was not slow to take advantage of the situation; he announced that John’s lands were confiscated, invaded Normandy, and sent Arthur to Poitou, where a rebellion had broken out in his name.

Arthur’s mother was Constance of Brittany.

This was the chance Arthur had been waiting for to prove himself. He was 15, a knight and a duke, and considered himself the lawful king of England. It was time to fight for his birthright. When he arrived in Poitou the lords there welcomed him, but his first act was a disastrous one.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was at the castle of Mirebeau and Arthur moved to assail it; his forces took the town, but the castle inside it had separate defences and Eleanor was able to retreat there and send a plea for help to John, who arrived in startlingly good time and took the Poitevins by surprise.

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There was fierce fighting in the streets and Arthur had nowhere to go, trapped between the oncoming army and the walls of the castle still holding out behind him. He was captured and handed over to the king.

He was first confined at Falaise castle in Normandy while John made noises about being open to negotiations over his release, but this was never a serious prospect and it never transpired.

Never to be seen again

In January 1203 Arthur, still only 15, was transferred to Rouen; he disappeared into the dungeons there and was never seen again.

What happened to Arthur is one of the great unsolved historical mysteries. There is little doubt that he was murdered, but exactly how, when and under what circumstances remains a matter of debate. All contemporary writers seem to agree that he was kept in harsh conditions – this was no comfortable confinement in a luxurious apartment – and that he was dead within less than a year.

A 13th-century depiction of Henry II and his children, left to right: William, Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John.

After that their stories diverge, although some common elements appear: that John either killed him personally, or that he was close by when it happened; and that Arthur’s body was dumped in the River Seine.

Arthur never set foot in England. Although he had a better blood claim to the throne than John, it was unlikely that the nobles there would support him, and no king could rule without the support of his barons (as John was later to find out himself).

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His campaign was doomed to failure almost from the start, but he had no choice: his royal blood meant that John would have come for him anyway, sooner or later.

He had to try, but he was forced into trying before he was old enough, tough enough or experienced enough; these were all major reasons why he failed, a failure that led directly to his dark and probably unpleasant fate.

J.F. Andrews is the pseudonym of a historian’ who has a PhD in Medieval Studies specialising in warfare and combat. Andrews has published a number of academic books and articles in the UK, the USA and France, and was one of the contributors to the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (Oxford University Press, 2010). Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is published by Pen & Sword Books.

House of Plantagenet

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House of Plantagenet, also called house of Anjou or Angevin dynasty, royal house of England, which reigned from 1154 to 1485 and provided 14 kings, 6 of whom belonged to the cadet houses of Lancaster and York. The royal line descended from the union between Geoffrey, count of Anjou (died 1151), and the empress Matilda, daughter of the English king Henry I.

Although well established, the surname Plantagenet has little historical justification. It seems to have originated as a nickname for Count Geoffrey and has been variously explained as referring to his practice of wearing a sprig of broom (Latin genista) in his hat or, more probably, to his habit of planting brooms to improve his hunting covers. It was not, however, a hereditary surname, and Geoffrey’s descendants in England remained without one for more than 250 years, although surnames became universal outside the royal family.

Some historians apply the name house of Anjou, or Angevin dynasty, to Henry II (who was also count of Anjou) and his 13 successors other historians label only Henry II and his sons, Richard I and John, as the Angevin kings and, for want of a better name, label their successors, notably Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, as Plantagenets. The first official use of the surname Plantagenet by any descendant of Count Geoffrey occurred in 1460, when Richard, duke of York, claimed the throne as “Richard Plantaginet.”

Edward III’s numerous children and their marriages greatly affected English history. Edward’s heir, the “Black Prince,” left an only son, who succeeded his grandfather as Richard II, on whose death (1399) this line became extinct. Lionel, the next surviving son of Edward III, left an only child, Philippa, who married the earl of March, in whose heirs was the right to the succession. But John of Gaunt, the next son, who had married the heiress of Lancaster and had been created duke of Lancaster in consequence, refounded the Lancastrian line, which obtained the throne in the person of his only son by her, Henry IV, on the deposition of Richard II. The next son of Edward III, Edmund of Langley, who was created duke of York (1385), founded the Yorkist line, and was father of two sons, Edward, second duke, who was slain at Agincourt, and Richard, earl of Cambridge, who by marrying the granddaughter and eventual heiress of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, brought the right to the succession into the house of York.

Between their son and Henry VI (grandson of Henry IV) and the sons and heirs of these rivals was fought out the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses, which proved fatal to several members of both houses. It did not end until the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was defeated at Bosworth Field in 1485 by Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII and founder of the house of Tudor.

The legitimate male issue of the Plantagenet line became extinct with the execution in 1499 of Edward, earl of Warwick, grandson of Richard, duke of York.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

King Arthur

Arthur — King of Britain and focus of the legend started by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Following medieval practice, he portrays Arthur in contemporary terms but he places Arthur's reign shortly after Britain's separation from the Roman Empire during its final period in western Europe around 410 CE. Geoffrey frames Arthur as a British messianic figure so common in Late Roman antiquity — a "World-Restorer," or Restitutor Orbis — the king who, binding the wounds of internal strife, would defeat the barbarians and destroy all enemies reestablishing peace and ushering in a golden age. While Europe and a collapsing empire never found its savior, a recently Roman Britain does in Geoffrey's delightful fiction. What's important is that his conception of an age of peace based on a salvation from disintegration endures on down through Malory and the romancers though they never touch on the real problems of the period.

Published around 1136-38, the Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey portrays a Britain in the throes of misfortune — barbarian attacks, brutal power struggles and rank corruption in high offices. King Vortigern, a usurper, extends an invitation to the heathen Saxons to come and settle in Britain as mercenaries like Roman emperors opened the doors to citizenship for barbarians in exchange for military service. The Saxons, however, turn to marauding instead. Uther Pendragon rises from the ensuing anarchy to kingship. He seduces Ygerna, the duchess of Cornwall, with magical aid from Merlin and begets Arthur, legitimizing his succession by later making the lady his Queen.

Arthur, though still young, succeeds him and is a good leader. After routing and confining the Saxons, he then turns to and defeats the Picts, Scots and Irish. He then takes Guinevere as queen and initiates his order of knighthood while peace flourishes. Men from all nations answer the call and Britain rises to an unparalleled level of culture and wealth. Arthur holds his magnificent court at Caerleon and subsequently conquers Gaul. Tribute demands from Rome drive him into Gaul again entrusting his kingdom to his nephew, Mordred, and the Queen. During Arthur's absence in battle, Mordred revolts, forcing Arthur to return from the continent to engage him. While victorious, Arthur is mortally wounded and "carried off to the Isle of Avalon for his wounds to be attended to." Leaving his end in doubt, Geoffrey continues the story no further. The date he provides, 542 CE, conflicts with his chronology and possibly reflects a wrongful later amendment. Geoffrey is not known for his historical responsibility, but he basically regards Arthur's tale as a part of the fifth century due to the familial relationships drawn and several corroborations with known history such as references to Emperor Leo, a contemporary of Arthur who reigned from 457-74.

Arthur's stories, however, were in existence before Geoffrey in Celtic lands. These people were descended from his fifth-century Britons, a Celtic people themselves, who retained part of Rome's legacy. Their inheritors, particularly in Wales, created and embellished a saga of an Arthur who, as a hero and warrior-prince who delayed the Saxon influx before eventual defeat and assimilation. Surviving Welsh poetry preserve the story in the tale Culhwch ac Olwen (c. 1100) and the triads, showing Arthur's preeminence in Welsh literature (with numerous Welsh heroes attached to his company) before Geoffrey's time. However, while he doubtless drew inspiration from such tales, approximately one-fifth of his work relies more specifically with two Latin books from Wales attributing Arthur with a quasi-historicity. The ninth-century Historia Brittonum, by the cleric Nennius, provides a list of twelve battles won by Arthur over Octha, a Saxon and son of Hengist, who, together with Horsa, was one of the Saxon chieftains invited to Britain by Vortigern. The tenth century Annales Cambriae lists one battle, Badon (decidedly real though there is no early evidence to connect Arthur with it), and add that he fell at Camlann.

The existence of these texts show that Geoffrey is not entirely inventing but using earlier tradition by making Arthur the leader of the Britons against the unruly Saxon settlers. The Saxons did settle and eventually rebel akin to the way Geoffrey romanticizes actual reality. The Britons alone became independent from Rome before the barbarian invasions and resisted them when they occurred with success though temporary. Welsh descendants handed down legends bred during the period of resistance of heroes that fought the eventual conquest by the Saxons. One such leader, Ambrosius, was definitely real. Arthur may have been another and also real. Despite his wild exaggerations, Geoffrey is increasing the image of a hero that conforms to the accepted historical situation.

It is, however, harder to proceed. There are no Welsh allusions to Arthur that even closely approximate his time frame and while a few battles are possible on their own, they extend his career over a very long time. Suggested in the Welsh tradition is more legend than history for while Arthur has never been explained away in a convincing manner (i.e. as a Celtic deity), Celtic sources have only yielded two pieces of positive, significant evidence for his existence.

The first is his name — Arthur. The Welsh form of the Roman Artorius, it is a convincing name for a fifth century Briton, though still possibly the product of poetic invention. Though seemingly of mythological origin, the second item is echoed in European literature. The fact is that for a long time Arthur was thought to be still alive either on the Isle of Avalon or sleeping in a cave. The Bretons maintained, echoed by the Cornish and Welsh, he would someday return. This tale of the sleeper in the cave is told of many other kings and heroes and, at least in Europe, in every occurrence the figure seems to have been an historical figure. Arthur therefore exists by comparison.

However, the majority of Geoffrey's Arthurian account has no Welsh basis. There are signs that he is working from some annal of a "king of the Britons" who did head an invading army in Gaul during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Leo I (457-74). Known on the Continent as Riothamus, a Latinisation of the British "high king," this king is also apparently named Arthur in a Breton text. He may in fact represent a part of Arthur's historical origin and the King of legend may be a composite figure much as is Merlin.

The Historia was widely copied (there are over 50 extant copies) and it was hugely successful. Geoffrey's contemporary, Alfred of Beverley, wrote that to admit ignorance of the book was to regard it as a buffoon. But, while Geoffrey supplied the foundation for the medieval romancers ("dames and damsels looking on from the top of walls, for whose sake the courtly knights make believe to be fighting"), he was far from their sole inspiration. New stories flowed in from Breton minstrels and the like. The Norman poet Wace's verse adaptation of the Historia, Roman de Brut (dedicated to Eleanor of Aquitaine), adds features that become a part of the legend, namely the Round Table and bridges the work of the chroniclers with the later French romances. The work of Chrétien de Troyes marks the beginning of the trend away from tales of the King to the knights and ladies in his court. The King becomes mainly a magnificent figurehead and his court the launching point for the tales of Lancelot, Gawain and others.

The King's military actions are toned down as he becomes more symbolic — an all-father, concerned with justice and noble conduct and the embodiment of Christian and chivalric ideals with an essential, undeniable dignity. A protégé of the Countess Mariede Champagne (daughter of Eleanor and first husband, Louis VII of France), de Troyes unified existing Arthurian material into a new narrative verse form and grafted more legends onto the saga, introducing with huge success the tale of Sir Launcelot and his ill-fated love for his Queen. Royal enthusiasm for the story was great. Henry II's grandson was named with the hope of crowning him Arthur II someday (cut short by John in 1203). Queen Eleanor's court in Poitiers (established in defiance of Henry in 1170) was inspired by de Troyes most influential invention, the concept of "courtly love," and Eleanor's patronage of troubadours spread the idea to courts of Europe, where it met with similar enthusiasm. The result of the idea of "romantic love" was a liberation of upper class women from the status of objects of sex and property and their exaltation as women. Far reaching was the ensuing civilizing effect.

Many Welsh however, angered that the Normans had usurped their legends as well as their lands, still whispered of the return of their Arthur who would regain their former glory and independence. To counter this subversion, Henry announced that he had been given the secret to Arthur's grave by a Welsh bard and he revealed that it lay between two stone pillars at Glastonbury Abbey, hoping to disprove the King's immortality. Long associated with the mystical Isle of Avalon (due to its surrounding swamp), Glastonbury was the site of the monastery founded by Joseph of Arimathea, where monks began excavating the old abbey cemetery in 1190 under the order of the then-dead Henry. Seven feet down, between the two "pyramids," was uncovered a stone slab with a lead cross inscribed:


Here lies interred in the Isle Of Avalon the renowned king Arthur.

Below was a wooden coffin hewn from an oak trunk in which lay the skeleton of a tall man with blond hair and a damaged skull. The remains were reinterred within a double room within the abbey. The cross has been lost but an engraving of it in Camden's Britannia (1607) reveals a lettering thought to predate the Norman conquest, possibly placed on the grave in the tenth century when the level of the cemetery was raised by St. Dunstan. The excavations of 1190 were confirmed in 1962 by archaeologists digging at the original gravesite. In 1278 Longshanks Edward I, along with his queen Eleanor, had the second tomb opened. Eyewitness Adam of Domerham wrote, . in two caskets, painted with their pictures and arms, were found separately the bones of the said king, which were of great size, and those of Queen Guinevere, which were of marvelous beauty. These relics were lost during the Reformation but, in 1931, the empty tomb was discovered before the spot on which the high altar had stood in the west choir.

Arthurian legend as we know it today came about at the end of the Wars of the Roses with the publication of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur by William Caxton in 1485. Malory's masterful story telling welds the various Arthurian tales together in a chronological order, outlining the career of the king from conception at Tintagel to his death at Camlann as if a matter of history. While he tells the tales of the other knights, he returns the focus to the king, each story contributing and building up to the inevitable and tragic climax.

In modern times, archaeology has attempted to provide tangible evidence for Arthur without much luck, though it has revealed much about Iron Age Britain. While the present ruins of Tintagel date from only 1145, evidence shows that it was inhabited in Arthur's time. Excavations of the prehistoric hill-fort at Cadbury (begun in 1966 under Leslie Alcock) have yielded nothing definitively Arthurian but its association with Camelot was first recorded by John Leland in 1542 who wrote, At the very South Ende of the Chirch of South-Cadbyri ſtandith Camallate, ſumtyme a famoſe Toun or Castelle, apon a very Torre or Hille, wunderfully enſtrengthenid of nature. The people can telle nothing ther but that they have hard ſay that Arture much reſortid to Camalat. There is, in fact, no shortage of sites associated with Arthur in England and no other personage has been commemorated in so many British place names. But while the adventures of Arthur and his Knights are flung far and wide, Arthur has only one birthplace, one home and one grave Tintagel, Camelot, Avalon. Archaeology has proved habitation of these possible locations Tintagel, Cadbury, and Glastonbury. All are located in the west country and it is here that the legend's origin took root.

The truth will never be known but it is the legend that has become important — down to modern fiction and film.

King Arthur: 6 things you need to know about the warrior king and his legend

The legend of King Arthur, a fifth-century warrior king who supposedly led the fight against Saxon invaders, continues to fascinate today. But how much truth is there to the legends of the 'once and future king'? We find out with experts John Matthews and Miles Russell.

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Published: July 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm

Arthur, sometimes known as ‘the king that was and the king that shall be’, is recognised all over the world as one of the most famous characters of myth and legend. Yet, if he existed at all (which few scholars agree upon), he would not have been a king, but the commander of an elite force of fighting men. Furthermore, he would have lived more than 500 years before medieval legends suggest.

Who was King Arthur – and was he real?

All that is known, with even the least degree of certainty, is that a man named Arthur, or Arturus, led a band of heroic warriors who spearheaded the resistance of Britons against the invading Saxons, Jutes, and others from the north of Europe, sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

Another theory claims that Arthur was a Roman centurion named Lucius Artorius Castus, who fought against the Picts [northern tribes that constituted the largest kingdom in Dark Age Scotland] on Hadrian’s Wall in the second century AD, some 300 years earlier than the time at which Arthur’s dates are normally set.

Even Arthur’s birthplace and base of operations are questionable. Camelot – the castled city associated with King Arthur – was likely invented by the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Arthur’s association with Cornwall and parts of Wales is an idea fostered by 18th-century antiquarians such as William Stukeley, who carried out one of the first archaeological investigations at Cadbury Castle in Somerset, long believed in local folklore to be the original site of Camelot.

Camelot: where was King Arthur’s court and castle?

Camelot, the legendary court and castle of King Arthur, was a peerless seat of chivalry. If it did exist, where might it have been built?

Whatever the truth – and we may never know for sure – the adventures of the legendary King Arthur, with his Round Table Fellowship of Knights based in the mythical city of Camelot, were told and retold between the 11th and 15th centuries in hundreds of manuscripts in at least a dozen languages.

“What place is there within the bounds of the Empire of Christendom to which the winged praise of Arthur the Briton has not extended?” wrote the 12th-century chronicler Alanus ab Insulis (or Alain de Lille). Today Arthurian stories are told in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Icelandic, Dutch, Russian, and even Hebrew.

John Matthews is a historian who has produced more than 100 books on myth, the Arthurian legends, and the history of the Grail, including The Complete King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero (Inner Traditions, 2017)

Authurian legends: fact and fiction

Archaeologist and historian Miles Russells gives us a quick-fire glimpse into some of the most famous people, places and objects in the stories of King Arthur


According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur married Ganhumara ‘Guinevere’ is a romanticised French version of the name created in the late 12th century.


The character of Mordred, the treacherous nephew, is based upon the first-century-BC king Mandubracius of the Trinovantes (in Essex), a prince who betrayed his uncle to Julius Caesar.


There is no equivalent of Lancelot in the earliest accounts of Arthur, his queen Ganhumara instead committing adultery with Mordred.


In the earliest accounts, Merlin and Arthur never meet, the wizard being the chief advisor to Arthur’s father Uther and his uncle, Ambrosius Aurelianus.

The Round Table

Added to the story of Arthur in the 12th and 13th centuries, the concept of the ‘brotherhood of knights’ appealed to the medieval concept of chivalry.


Cited as the place of Arthur’s conception, Tintagel was indeed a significant fortress and port throughout the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

The Holy Grail

Added in the late 12th century, the quest for the Holy Grail adds a greater sense of both chivalry and religious destiny to the story of Arthur.

The Sword in the Stone

There is no mention of a sword in the stone prophesy for Arthur in the earliest accounts of his life Arthur simply inherits the kingdom from his father, Uther.


Although named swords play an important part in Celtic folklore, Arthur’s sword was called ‘Caliburn’.

Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology at Bournemouth University and author of Arthur and the Kings of Britain: the Historical Truth Behind the Myths (Amberley Publishing, 2017)

Historian John Matthews explores six big questions about King Arthur and his legend, separating the myth from reality…

What was King Arthur’s Round Table, and how many Knights of the Round Table were there?

The Round Table is the centerpiece of the Arthurian world. According to the 13th-century poet Layamon, Arthur ordered the table to be built for him by a famous Cornish carpenter, who somehow made the table capable of seating 1,600 men (clearly an exaggeration), yet easily portable to wherever Arthur set up his mobile base of operations.

Other stories suggest it was Merlin, the king’s magician, who made the table – “round” he said, “in the likeness of the world” – and who sent out a call to the bravest and truest knights to join a great fellowship whose task was to care for the disenfranchised (especially women), and who would do no harm to anyone who did not deserve it.

Some 150 knights were said to have sat at the Round Table. Their adventures lead us into a magical realm of wonder: where ‘faery women’ test the nobility of the knights by offering them seemingly impossible tasks, and strange creatures lurk in the shadows of a vast forest, in whose depth are clearings where castles, chapels, hermitages, and ruins are found – some empty, others containing dangerous foes.

When they had largely rid the land of monsters, dragons, and evil customs, the knights undertook their greatest task of all – the quest for the Holy Grail. Many did not return.

Who were the ‘faery women’ of Arthurian legend?

Many faery women thread together the stories of Arthur and his knights. This is probably because a good number of the stories originated not in Britain, but in Brittany – or, as it was known then, Armorica or Aermorica, where belief in ancient deities and the faery race lived on.

These faery tales became interwoven with stories of chivalry beloved by the courtly circle. Within the courtly circle these stories were told by roving troubadours – poets who learned dozens of Arthurian tales by heart.

It was c1150 Geoffrey of Monmouth named nine sisters in his Vita Merlini as the rulers of the enchanted island of Avalon. Among them was Morgen (more familiar to us as Morgan le Fay), who in later stories is described as Arthur’s half-sister and becomes his most implacable foe. Sir Thomas Malory, in his great 15th-century novel, Le Mort D’Arthur, tells us Morgan was “put to school on a nunnery, where she learned magic and necromancy”.

Though this may sound odd to us today, many of the women in enclosed orders were learned, and since learning was frequently equated with magic, thus Morgan came to be considered a sorceress.

Archaeologist Dr Miles Russell talks to us about his bold new theory on legendary British ruler King Arthur, which is based on a reinterpretation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

Where did the story of the quest for the Holy Grail come from?

The greatest task undertaken by Arthur’s knights was the quest for the grail, a mysterious vessel linked to the Passion of Christ [the story of Jesus Christ’s arrest, trial, suffering, and eventual execution by crucifixion]. According to the 12th-century poet Robert De Boron, the grail was used to celebrate the Last Supper, and afterwards by Christ’s ‘uncle’, Joseph of Arimathea, to catch some of the blood that flowed from the Saviour as his body was taken down from the cross.

But did you know that earlier stories, from the mythology of the Celts, can be seen as precursors of the grail? They spoke of “cauldrons of plenty” that provided food for heroes and could even bring the dead to life. But once the links with Christian belief were established in the 12th century, the grail became a holy relic sought by mystics and heroes – and, most famously, by Arthur’s fellowship.

All 150 knights of the Round Table are said to have gone forth in search of the sacred vessel after it appeared at Camelot during Pentecost [a feast celebrated each year on the 50th day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and 10 days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ]. Of those who went forth only three succeeded in their quest to find the grail: the saintly knight Sir Galahad, the simple Sir Percival, and the honest, plain-spoken Sir Bors.

Many other knights perished, and this undoubtedly weakened both the Round Table and Arthur’s court, preparing the way for the dark days to come when Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred rose up against him and ended the dream of Camelot.

Lancelot and Guinevere – what happened and what became of them?

The love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, originating in France, became one of the best known of the Arthurian tales. Lancelot was the greatest knight of the Round Table and Arthur’s most trusted ally, but it was his illicit love for Queen Guinevere that made him famous.

Later versions of the story extended Lancelot and Guinevere’s love into a full-blown affair, which in the end brought down the Round Table and ushered in the end of Arthur’s reign when Lancelot rescued the queen, who had been condemned to burn at the stake, and in the process killed several of Arthur’s knights. With the king reluctantly forced to attack Lancelot, the way was left open for Mordred to attack Camelot.

But did you know that in early versions of the legend, Guinevere spurns Lancelot?

The 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes gave us an account of their romance in his Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart (c1177). No stories before this feature Lancelot, so we must assume that Chrétien invented him.

Chrétien’s story tells a dramatic tale of Guinevere’s abduction by a lord named Melwas, who had fallen in love with the queen, and of Lancelot’s efforts to rescue her. In order to reach Melwas’ castle, where she is held, Lancelot is forced to ride in a cart – a vehicle reserved for criminals on their way to the gallows. But Lancelot hesitates for a moment, and when Guinevere learns of this this later on she spurns him as not worthy of her affections.

Love stories feature a great deal in the Arthurian world. Tristan and Isolde, for example, best known these days from Wagner’s 1859 opera that retold their story, were famous doomed lovers.

How does King Arthur die – and what does Mordred have to do with it?

The battle of Camlann is said to have been King Arthur’s final battle. Weakened by the losses incurred during the quest for the grail, and then by the scandal of Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur’s kingdom began to break apart.

War broke out after Lancelot staged an armed rescue of Guinevere, condemned to death for her treasonous love for the great knight. In the heat of battle Lancelot killed two of Arthur’s best men, Gareth and Gaheris, who had defended the queen. Their brother, the famous knight Sir Gawain, thus became Lancelot’s most bitter foe, and as Arthur was forced to respond to Lancelot’s rescue of the queen, he reluctantly led an army to France to attack him.

While Arthur and Gawain were away attacking Lancelot, King Arthur’s son, Mordred, raised an army and declared himself king. With the hasty return of the true king to Britain, a final battle took place at Camlann. Arthur killed Mordred, but suffered a wound that seemed likely to kill him – though in the end he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

There follows one of the most famous scenes in the entire series of Arthurian stories: Arthur’s faithful follower, Sir Bedivere, throws the king’s mighty sword back into the lake from which it had come at the beginning of his reign (given him by the Lady of the Lake). A mysterious hand rises from the water and seizes the sword, drawing it under.

A ship then appears, carrying three queens, who take the wounded Arthur away, across the sea to the fabled Isle of Avalon, where it is said he would be healed of his wounds and live on, awaiting recall by his country in time of need – the ‘once and future king’ indeed.

Where is King Arthur buried?

Belief in Arthur’s expected return to his country was kept alive in stories for many years by the people of Britain. Arthur’s bones were supposedly found at Glastonbury Abbey in 1191, though this was nothing more than a fabrication designed to quell the belief that Arthur would return to expel the invading Normans. Nevertheless, some bones were indeed interred in a black marble tomb in 1278 at the expense of Edward I.

To this day, countless new books, films, television shows and plays continue to be created about King Arthur, adding to the popularity of the legends, which remain among the most familiar and best-loved stories of all time.

This article is curated from content first published on HistoryExtra and in BBC History Revealed in 2016 and 2017


The name's derivation is uncertain. It has numerous different spellings in medieval French Arthurian romances, including Camaalot, Camalot, Chamalot, Camehelot (sometimes read as Camchilot), Camaaloth, Caamalot, Camahaloth, Camaelot, Kamaalot, Kamaaloth, Kaamalot, Kamahaloth, Kameloth, Kamaelot, Kamelot, Kaamelot, Cameloth, and Gamalaot. [1] [2] [3] Arthurian scholar Ernst Brugger suggested that it was a corruption of the site of Arthur's final battle, the Battle of Camlann, in Welsh tradition. [3] Roger Sherman Loomis believed it was derived from Cavalon, a place name that he suggested was a corruption of Avalon (under the influence of the Breton place name Cavallon). He further suggested that Cavalon became Arthur's capital due to confusion with Arthur's other traditional court at Caerleon (Caer Lleon in Welsh). [1]

Others have suggested a derivation from the British Iron Age and Romano-British place name Camulodunum, one of the first capitals of Roman Britain and which would have significance in Romano-British culture. Indeed, John Morris, the English historian who specialized in the study of the institutions of the Roman Empire and the history of Sub-Roman Britain, suggested in his book The Age of Arthur that as the descendants of Romanized Britons looked back to a golden age of peace and prosperity under Rome, the name "Camelot" of Arthurian legend may have referred to the capital of Britannia (Camulodunum) in Roman times. It is unclear, however, where Chrétien de Troyes would have encountered the name Camulodunum, or why he would render it as Camaalot, though Urban T. Holmes argued in 1929 that Chrétien had access to Book 2 of Pliny's Natural History, where it is rendered as Camaloduno. [4] Given Chrétien's known tendency to create new stories and characters, being the first to mention the hero Lancelot's love affair with Queen Guinevere for example, the name might also be entirely invented. [5]

Arthur's court at Camelot is mentioned for the first time in Chrétien's poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, dating to the 1170s, though it does not appear in all the manuscripts. In the C manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 794, folio 27r), which might in fact contain the proper reading of Chretien's original text, [6] instead of the place name we find the Old French phrase con lui plot, meaning "as he pleased". The other manuscripts spell the name variously as Chamalot (MS A, f. f. 196r), Camehelot (MS E, f. 1r), Chamaalot (MS G, f. 34f), and Camalot [MS T, f. 41v] the name is missing, along with the rest of the passage containing it, in MS V [Vatican, Biblioteca Vaticana, Regina 1725]). [5] [7] In the tale, the court is mentioned only in passing and is not described:

A un jor d'une Acenssion / Fu venuz de vers Carlion / Li rois Artus et tenu ot / Cort molt riche a Camaalot, / Si riche com au jor estut. [8]
King Arthur, one Ascension Day, had left Caerleon and held a most magnificent court at Camelot with all the splendour appropriate to the day. [9]

Nothing in Chrétien's poem suggests the level of importance Camelot would have in later romances. For Chrétien, Arthur's chief court was in Caerleon in Wales this was the king's primary base in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and subsequent literature. [5] Chrétien depicts Arthur, like a typical medieval monarch, holding court at a number of cities and castles.

It is not until the 13th-century French prose romances, including the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles, that Camelot began to supersede Caerleon, and even then, many descriptive details applied to Camelot derive from Geoffrey's earlier grand depiction of the Welsh town. [5] Most Arthurian romances of this period produced in English or Welsh did not follow this trend Camelot was referred to infrequently, and usually in translations from French. One exception is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which locates Arthur's court at "Camelot" [10] however, in Britain, Arthur's court was generally located at Caerleon, or at Carlisle, which is usually identified with the "Carduel" of the French romances. [11]

The Lancelot-Grail cycle and the texts it influenced depict the city of Camelot as standing along a river, downstream from Astolat. It is surrounded by plains and forests, and its magnificent cathedral, St. Stephen's, originally established by Josephus, the son of Joseph of Arimathea, [12] is the religious centre for Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. There, Arthur and Guinevere are married and there are the tombs of many kings and knights. In a mighty castle stands the Round Table, created by Merlin and Uther Pendragon it is here that Galahad conquers the Siege Perilous, and where the knights see a vision of the Holy Grail and swear to find it. Jousts are often held in a meadow outside the city.

Its imprecise geography serves the romances well, as Camelot becomes less a literal place than a powerful symbol of Arthur's court and universe. [5] There is also a Kamaalot featured as the home of Percival's mother in the romance Perlesvaus. [13] In Palamedes and some other works, including the Post-Vulgate cycle, King Arthur's Camelot is eventually razed to the ground by the treacherous King Mark of Cornwall (who had besieged it earlier) in his invasion of Logres after the Battle of Camlann. [5] In the Tavola Ritonda, Camelot falls to ruin after the death of Arthur.

From Geoffrey's grand description of Caerleon, Camelot gains its impressive architecture, its many churches and the chivalry and courtesy of its inhabitants. [5] Geoffrey's description in turn drew on an already established tradition in Welsh oral tradition of the grandeur of Arthur's court. The tale Culhwch and Olwen, associated with the Mabinogion and perhaps first written in the 11th century, draws a dramatic picture of Arthur's hall and his many powerful warriors who go from there on great adventures, placing it in Celliwig, an uncertain locale in Cornwall.

Although the court at Celliwig is the most prominent in remaining early Welsh manuscripts, the various versions of the Welsh Triads agree in giving Arthur multiple courts, one in each of the areas inhabited by the Celtic Britons: Cornwall, Wales and the Hen Ogledd. This perhaps reflects the influence of widespread oral traditions common by the 9th century which are recorded in various place names and features such as Arthur's Seat, indicating Arthur was a hero known and associated with many locations across Brittonic areas of Britain as well as Brittany. Even at this stage Arthur could not be tied to one location. [14] Many other places are listed as a location where Arthur holds court in the later romances, Carlisle and London perhaps being the most prominent.

In the 15th century, the English writer Thomas Malory created the image of Camelot most familiar today in his Le Morte d'Arthur, a work based mostly on the French romances. He firmly identifies Camelot with Winchester in England, an identification that remained popular over the centuries, though it was rejected by Malory's own editor, William Caxton, who preferred a Welsh location. [15]

Arthurian scholar Norris J. Lacy commented that "Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere." [5] The romancers' versions of Camelot draw on earlier traditions of Arthur's fabulous court. The Celliwig of Culhwch and Olwen appears in the Welsh Triads as well this early Welsh material places Wales' greatest leader outside its national boundaries. Geoffrey's description of Caerleon is probably based on his personal familiarity with the town and its Roman ruins it is less clear that Caerleon was associated with Arthur before Geoffrey. Several French romances (Perlesvaus, the Didot Perceval attributed to Robert de Boron, and even the early romances of Chrétien such as Erec and Enide and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion) have Arthur hold court at "Carduel in Wales", a northern city based on the real Carlisle. Malory's identification of Camelot as Winchester was probably partially inspired by the latter city's history: it had been the capital of Wessex under Alfred the Great, and boasted the Winchester Round Table, an artifact constructed in the 13th century but widely believed to be the original by Malory's time. Caxton rejected the association, saying Camelot was in Wales and that its ruins could still be seen this is a likely reference to the Roman ruins at Caerwent. [15]

In 1542, John Leland reported the locals around Cadbury Castle, formerly known as Camalet, [16] in Somerset considered it to be the original Camelot. This theory, which was repeated by later antiquaries, is bolstered, or may have derived from, Cadbury's proximity to the River Cam and the villages of Queen Camel and West Camel, and remained popular enough to help inspire a large-scale archaeological dig in the 20th century. [14] These excavations, led by archaeologist Leslie Alcock from 1966 to 1970, were titled "Cadbury-Camelot" and won much media attention. [14] The dig revealed that the site seems to have been occupied as early as the 4th millennium BC and to have been refortified and occupied by a major Brittonic ruler and his war band from c. 470 . This early medieval settlement continued until around 580. [17] The works were by far the largest known fortification of the period, double the size of comparative caers and with Mediterranean artifacts representing extensive trade [18] [19] [20] and Saxon ones showing possible conquest. [14] The use of the name Camelot and the support of Geoffrey Ashe helped ensure much publicity for the finds, but Alcock himself later grew embarrassed by the supposed Arthurian connection to the site. Following the arguments of David Dumville, Alcock felt the site was too late and too uncertain to be a tenable Camelot. [21] Modern archaeologists follow him in rejecting the name, calling it instead Cadbury Castle hill fort. Despite this, Cadbury remains widely associated with Camelot.

The name of the Romano-British town of Camulodunum (modern Colchester) was derived from the Celtic god Camulus. However, it was located well within territory usually thought to have been conquered early in the 5th century by Saxons, so it is unlikely to have been the location of any "true" Camelot, as Arthur is traditionally dated to the late 5th and early 6th century. The town was definitely known as Colchester as early as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 917. [22] Even Colchester Museum argues strongly regarding the historical Arthur: "It would be impossible and inconceivable to link him to the Colchester area, or to Essex more generally," pointing out that the connection between the name Camulodunum and Colchester was unknown until the 18th century. [23] Arthurian scholar Peter Field has suggested that another Camulodunum, a former Roman fort, is a likely location of King Arthur's Camelot [24] and that "Slack, on the outskirts of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire," is where Arthur would have held court. This is because of the name, and also regarding its strategic location: it is but a few miles from the extreme south-west of Hen Ogledd (also making close to North Wales), and would have been a great flagship point in staving off attacks to the Celtic kingdoms from the Angles and others.

Other places in Britain with names related to "Camel" have also been suggested, such as Camelford in Cornwall, located down the River Camel from where Geoffrey places Camlann, the scene of Arthur's final battle. The area's connections with Camelot and Camlann are merely speculative. Further north Camelon and its connections with Arthur's O'on have been mentioned in relation to Camelot, but Camelon may be an antiquarian neologism coined after the 15th century, with its earlier name being Carmore or Carmure. [25]

Camelot has become a permanent fixture in modern interpretations of the Arthurian legend. The symbolism of Camelot so impressed Alfred, Lord Tennyson that he wrote up a prose sketch on the castle as one of his earliest attempts to treat the legend. [26] Modern stories typically retain Camelot's lack of precise location and its status as a symbol of the Arthurian world, though they typically transform the castle itself into romantically lavish visions of a High Middle Ages palace. [5] Some writers of the "realist" strain of modern Arthurian fiction have attempted a more sensible Camelot. Inspired by Alcock's Cadbury-Camelot excavation, some authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mary Stewart place their Camelots in that place and describe it accordingly. [14]

Camelot lends its name to the musical Camelot, which was adapted into a film of the same title, featuring the Castle of Coca, Segovia as Camelot. An Arthurian television series Camelot was also named after the castle, as were some other works including the video game Camelot and the comic book series Camelot 3000. French television series Kaamelott presents a humorous alternative version of the Arthurian legend Camelot Theme Park is a now-abandoned Arthurian theme park resort located in the English county of Lancashire.

In American contexts, Camelot refers to the presidency of John F. Kennedy. In a 1963 Life interview, Jacqueline, his widow, referenced a line from the Lerner and Loewe musical to describe the Kennedy era White House: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot." She indicated that it was one of Kennedy's favorite lyrics from the musical and added, "there'll be great Presidents again […] but there'll never be another Camelot again." [28]

King Arthur was likely inspired by several different historical figures

Likely the first written account to mention the figure we now know as King Arthur was composed in the sixth century by Welsh monk named Gildas, in a work about the Roman conquest of Britain and its aftermath. In his account, a Roman-British military leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus wins a series of battles against the invading Saxons, most notably at Badon Hill.

Some 200 years later, Arthur appears again, this time in the work of ninth-century historian Nennius, who compiled a series of works called the History of the Britons. According to Nennius, Arthur won 12 surprising victories over the Saxons, including at Badon. But while he was a masterful military leader, Nennius does not say that he was a king. Historians and archaeologists have also struggled to identity the present-day locations where Arthur is presumed to have fought, leading many to believe that even at this early stage much of Arthur’s story had taken on mythical tones — thanks in part to Nennius’ claims that Arthur singlehandedly killed more than 900 Saxons at the Battle of Badon.

Questions raised over Queen’s ancestry after DNA test on Richard III’s cousins

Kevin Schurer and Turi King of the University of Leicester explain that a DNA analysis and other evidence confirms with almost 100% certainty that the bones are those of King Richard III. Video: University of Leicester Guardian

First published on Tue 2 Dec 2014 16.00 GMT

The bones of the king under the car park have delivered further shocks, 527 years after his death and more than two years after his remains were discovered in Leicester: Richard III was a blue-eyed blond, and the present Queen may not be descended from John of Gaunt and Edward III, the lineage on which the Tudor claim to the throne originated.

Five anonymous living donors, all members of the extended family of the present Duke of Beaufort, who claim descent from both the Plantagenets and Tudors through the children of John of Gaunt, gave DNA samples which should have matched Y chromosomes extracted from Richard’s bones. But none did.

Since Richard’s identity was proved by his mitochondrial DNA, handed down in an unbroken chain through the female line from his sister to two living relatives, the conclusion is stark: there is a break in the claimed line of Beaufort descent, what the scientists described as “a false paternity event”, which may also affect the ancestry of their distant cousins, the Windsors.

The other main finding overturns the most famous images of Richard, including the portrait head reconstructed from his skull that shows him with dark eyes and shoulder length dark hair. The analysis of his DNA gives a 96% probability for blue eyes and a 77% likelihood that he was blond at least in childhood.

There is no known contemporary portrait, but Turi King, the Leicester University geneticist who conducted the DNA research, said one in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries in London, made about 25 years after his death in 1485, showing grey-blue eyes and brown hair, probably comes closest to a true likeness.

Kevin Schürer, a genealogist and head of research at Leicester University, whose work with King on the ancestor is published this week in Nature Communications, said the results on the Y chromosomes, handed only from father to son, did not change history. “This is not a criminal investigation,” he said, pointing out that the Tudors took the crown because they killed Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, not because they could prove the blood royal flowed through their veins.

However the Tudors did back up their claim to the throne through descent from John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and father of Henry IV – and ancestor of the Tudor dynasty through his legitimised Beaufort children after he married his mistress Katherine Swynford.

Although the Queen is descended from the Hanoverian kings, imported 300 years ago when the Stuart line failed with the death of the childless Queen Anne in 1714 and the Act of Settlement ensured that only Protestants could take the throne, the blood lines are entangled.

Working out where the line from Edward III to the present Beaufort family was broken could only be done by exhuming a lot of bodies, Schürer explained – it took him 36 sheets of A4 paper taped together to demonstrate the family trees – and is not going to happen.

Nor will he be knocking on the door of Buckingham Palace looking for DNA samples. There are, however, at least two breaks in the line. The most significant would be if John of Gaunt were not the son of Edward III – which enemies suggested in his lifetime – which would affect the ancestry of the Tudors, Stuarts and Windsors, though Schürer suspects the break came later.

The five supposed cousins who gave their DNA are not descended from Edward III, or they would share Richard’s Y chromosomes, but one of the five is also not descended from the man who should be their more recent common ancestor, the 18th-century Henry Somerset, fifth Duke of Beaufort. “We actually went to his home and sat him down,” Schürer said. “It’s not the sort of news you want to deliver by email.” King said he had taken it surprisingly well: “It explained certain things in his family history.”

There is nothing startling about such rates of illegitimacy Schürer said, the estimated false paternity rate in any generation is 1-2%. Many contemporaries believed Richard’s brother Edward IV was illegitimate, and he declared illegitimate his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, to justify seizing the throne.

Richard left no direct descendants: his son Edward died before him, and a possible illegitimate son and daughter died childless. However Schürer’s research traced an unbroken line from Richard’s sister Anne of York to two descendants, researcher Michael Ibsen and researcher Wendy Duldig, born in Canada and Australia, 14th cousins twice removed but both living and working in London. The swabs King took from them proved a perfect match between Richard and Ibsen and a near perfect for Duldig – the oldest such successful identification.

They also looked at the possibility that the grave found in August 2012 held another man from the same date, of the right age, with battle injuries and scoliosis, and the same mitochondrial DNA. “What we have concluded is that there is, at its most conservative, a 99.999% probability that these are indeed the remains of Richard III”, King said.

Case closed, they agreed – though work continues on the DNA to extract more information about the last Plantagenet king.

The continuing research is mainly funded by the University of Leicester, with King’s post part funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust.

The skeleton found underneath a car park in Leicester in September 2012, now declared ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to be that of King Richard III, whose remains had been missing for 500 years. Photograph: AP

This article was amended on 3 December 2014. An earlier version referred to Richard III’s son as Richard, rather than Edward.



Richard was born on 8 September 1157, [8] probably at Beaumont Palace, [9] in Oxford, England, son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was a younger brother of Henry the Young King and Matilda, Duchess of Saxony. [10] As a younger son of King Henry II, he was not expected to ascend the throne. [11] He was also an elder brother of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany Queen Eleanor of Castile Queen Joan of Sicily and John, Count of Mortain, who succeeded him as king. Richard was the younger maternal half-brother of Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, and Alix, Countess of Blois. [10] Henry II and Eleanor's eldest son William IX, Count of Poitiers, died before Richard's birth. [10] Richard is often depicted as having been the favourite son of his mother. [12] His father was Angevin-Norman and great-grandson of William the Conqueror. Contemporary historian Ralph de Diceto traced his family's lineage through Matilda of Scotland to the Anglo-Saxon kings of England and Alfred the Great, and from there legend linked them to Noah and Woden. According to Angevin family tradition, there was even 'infernal blood' in their ancestry, with a claimed descent from the fairy, or female demon, Melusine. [9] [13]

While his father visited his lands from Scotland to France, Richard probably spent his childhood in England. His first recorded visit to the European continent was in May 1165, when his mother took him to Normandy. [14] His wet nurse was Hodierna of St Albans, whom he gave a generous pension after he became king. [15] Little is known about Richard's education. [16] Although he was born in Oxford and brought up in England up to his eighth year, it is not known to what extent he used or understood English he was an educated man who composed poetry and wrote in Limousin (lenga d'òc) and also in French. [17] During his captivity, English prejudice against foreigners was used in a calculated way by his brother John to help destroy the authority of Richard's chancellor, William Longchamp, who was a Norman. One of the specific charges laid against Longchamp, by John's supporter Hugh Nonant, was that he could not speak English. This indicates that by the late 12th century a knowledge of English was expected of those in positions of authority in England. [18] [19]

Richard was said to be very attractive his hair was between red and blond, and he was light-eyed with a pale complexion. According to Clifford Brewer, he was 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m), [20] though that is unverifiable since his remains have been lost since at least the French Revolution. John, his youngest brother, was known to be 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m). The Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis Ricardi, a Latin prose narrative of the Third Crusade, states that: "He was tall, of elegant build the colour of his hair was between red and gold his limbs were supple and straight. He had long arms suited to wielding a sword. His long legs matched the rest of his body". [21]

From an early age, Richard showed significant political and military ability, becoming noted for his chivalry and courage as he fought to control the rebellious nobles of his own territory.

Marriage alliances were common among medieval royalty: they led to political alliances and peace treaties and allowed families to stake claims of succession on each other's lands. In March 1159 it was arranged that Richard would marry one of the daughters of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona however, these arrangements failed, and the marriage never took place. Henry the Young King was married to Margaret, daughter of Louis VII of France, on 2 November 1160. [22] Despite this alliance between the Plantagenets and the Capetians, the dynasty on the French throne, the two houses were sometimes in conflict. In 1168, the intercession of Pope Alexander III was necessary to secure a truce between them. Henry II had conquered Brittany and taken control of Gisors and the Vexin, which had been part of Margaret's dowry. [23]

Early in the 1160s there had been suggestions Richard should marry Alys, Countess of the Vexin, fourth daughter of Louis VII because of the rivalry between the kings of England and France, Louis obstructed the marriage. A peace treaty was secured in January 1169 and Richard's betrothal to Alys was confirmed. [24] Henry II planned to divide his and Eleanor's territories among their three eldest surviving sons: Henry would become King of England and have control of Anjou, Maine, and Normandy Richard would inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from his mother and Geoffrey would become Duke of Brittany through marriage with Constance, heir presumptive of Conan IV. At the ceremony where Richard's betrothal was confirmed, he paid homage to the King of France for Aquitaine, thus securing ties of vassalage between the two. [25]

After Henry II fell seriously ill in 1170, he enacted his plan to divide his kingdom, although he would retain overall authority over his sons and their territories. Young Henry was crowned as heir apparent in June 1170, and in 1171 Richard left for Aquitaine with his mother, and Henry II gave him the duchy of Aquitaine at the request of Eleanor. [26] Richard and his mother embarked on a tour of Aquitaine in 1171 in an attempt to pacify the locals. [27] Together they laid the foundation stone of St Augustine's Monastery in Limoges. In June 1172, at age 12, Richard was formally recognised as the duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitou when he was granted the lance and banner emblems of his office the ceremony took place in Poitiers and was repeated in Limoges, where he wore the ring of St Valerie, who was the personification of Aquitaine. [28] [29]

Revolt against Henry II

According to Ralph of Coggeshall, Henry the Young King instigated rebellion against Henry II he wanted to reign independently over at least part of the territory his father had promised him, and to break away from his dependence on Henry II, who controlled the purse strings. [30] There were rumors that Eleanor might have encouraged her sons to revolt against their father. [31]

Henry the Young King abandoned his father and left for the French court, seeking the protection of Louis VII his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, soon followed him, while the five-year-old John remained in England. Louis gave his support to the three brothers and even knighted Richard, tying them together through vassalage. [32] Jordan Fantosme, a contemporary poet, described the rebellion as a "war without love". [33]

The brothers made an oath at the French court that they would not make terms with Henry II without the consent of Louis VII and the French barons. [35] With the support of Louis, Henry the Young King attracted many barons to his cause through promises of land and money one such baron was Philip I, Count of Flanders, who was promised £1,000 and several castles. The brothers also had supporters ready to rise up in England. Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester, joined forces with Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, Hugh de Kevelioc, 5th Earl of Chester, and William I of Scotland for a rebellion in Suffolk. The alliance with Louis was initially successful, and by July 1173 the rebels were besieging Aumale, Neuf-Marché, and Verneuil, and Hugh de Kevelioc had captured Dol in Brittany. [36] Richard went to Poitou and raised the barons who were loyal to himself and his mother in rebellion against his father. Eleanor was captured, so Richard was left to lead his campaign against Henry II's supporters in Aquitaine on his own. He marched to take La Rochelle but was rejected by the inhabitants he withdrew to the city of Saintes, which he established as a base of operations. [37] [38]

In the meantime, Henry II had raised a very expensive army of more than 20,000 mercenaries with which to face the rebellion. [36] He marched on Verneuil, and Louis retreated from his forces. The army proceeded to recapture Dol and subdued Brittany. At this point Henry II made an offer of peace to his sons on the advice of Louis the offer was refused. [39] Henry II's forces took Saintes by surprise and captured much of its garrison, although Richard was able to escape with a small group of soldiers. He took refuge in Château de Taillebourg for the rest of the war. [37] Henry the Young King and the Count of Flanders planned to land in England to assist the rebellion led by the Earl of Leicester. Anticipating this, Henry II returned to England with 500 soldiers and his prisoners (including Eleanor and his sons' wives and fiancées), [40] but on his arrival found out that the rebellion had already collapsed. William I of Scotland and Hugh Bigod were captured on 13 and 25 July respectively. Henry II returned to France and raised the siege of Rouen, where Louis VII had been joined by Henry the Young King after abandoning his plan to invade England. Louis was defeated and a peace treaty was signed in September 1174, [39] the Treaty of Montlouis. [41]

When Henry II and Louis VII made a truce on 8 September 1174, its terms specifically excluded Richard. [40] [42] Abandoned by Louis and wary of facing his father's army in battle, Richard went to Henry II's court at Poitiers on 23 September and begged for forgiveness, weeping and falling at the feet of Henry, who gave Richard the kiss of peace. [40] [42] Several days later, Richard's brothers joined him in seeking reconciliation with their father. [40] The terms the three brothers accepted were less generous than those they had been offered earlier in the conflict (when Richard was offered four castles in Aquitaine and half of the income from the duchy): [35] Richard was given control of two castles in Poitou and half the income of Aquitaine Henry the Young King was given two castles in Normandy and Geoffrey was permitted half of Brittany. Eleanor remained Henry II's prisoner until his death, partly as insurance for Richard's good behaviour. [43]

Final years of Henry II's reign

After the conclusion of the war, the process of pacifying the provinces that had rebelled against Henry II began. The King travelled to Anjou for this purpose, and Geoffrey dealt with Brittany. In January 1175 Richard was dispatched to Aquitaine to punish the barons who had fought for him. The historian John Gillingham notes that the chronicle of Roger of Howden is the main source for Richard's activities in this period. [44] According to the chronicle, most of the castles belonging to rebels were to be returned to the state they were in 15 days before the outbreak of war, while others were to be razed. [44] Given that by this time it was common for castles to be built in stone, and that many barons had expanded or refortified their castles, this was not an easy task. [45] Roger of Howden records the two-month siege of Castillon-sur-Agen while the castle was "notoriously strong", Richard's siege engines battered the defenders into submission. [46] On this campaign, Richard acquired the name "the Lion" or "the Lionheart" due to his noble, brave and fierce leadership. [47] [45] He is referred to as "this our lion" (hic leo noster) as early as 1187 in the Topographia Hibernica of Giraldus Cambrensis, [48] while the byname "lionheart" (le quor de lion) is first recorded in Ambroise's L'Estoire de la Guerre Sainte in the context of the Accon campaign of 1191. [49]

Henry seemed unwilling to entrust any of his sons with resources that could be used against him. It was suspected that Henry had appropriated Alys, Richard's betrothed, the daughter of Louis VII of France by his second wife, as his mistress. This made a marriage between Richard and Alys technically impossible in the eyes of the Church, but Henry prevaricated: he regarded Alys's dowry, Vexin in the Île-de-France, as valuable. Richard was discouraged from renouncing Alys because she was the sister of King Philip II of France, a close ally. [50] [51] [52]

After his failure to overthrow his father, Richard concentrated on putting down internal revolts by the nobles of Aquitaine, especially in the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his rule led to a major revolt there in 1179. Hoping to dethrone Richard, the rebels sought the help of his brothers Henry and Geoffrey. The turning point came in the Charente Valley in the spring of 1179. The well-defended fortress of Taillebourg seemed impregnable. The castle was surrounded by a cliff on three sides and a town on the fourth side with a three-layer wall. Richard first destroyed and looted the farms and lands surrounding the fortress, leaving its defenders no reinforcements or lines of retreat. The garrison sallied out of the castle and attacked Richard he was able to subdue the army and then followed the defenders inside the open gates, where he easily took over the castle in two days. Richard the Lionheart's victory at Taillebourg deterred many barons from thinking of rebelling and forced them to declare their loyalty to him. It also won Richard a reputation as a skilled military commander. [ citation needed ]

In 1181–1182 Richard faced a revolt over the succession to the county of Angoulême. His opponents turned to Philip II of France for support, and the fighting spread through the Limousin and Périgord. The excessive cruelty of Richard's punitive campaigns aroused even more hostility. [53] However, with support from his father and from the Young King, Richard the Lionheart eventually succeeded in bringing the Viscount Aimar V of Limoges and Count Elie of Périgord to terms. [ citation needed ]

After Richard had subdued his rebellious barons he again challenged his father. From 1180 to 1183 the tension between Henry and Richard grew, as King Henry commanded Richard to pay homage to Henry the Young King, but Richard refused. Finally, in 1183 Henry the Young King and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, invaded Aquitaine in an attempt to subdue Richard. Richard's barons joined in the fray and turned against their duke. However, Richard and his army succeeded in holding back the invading armies, and they executed any prisoners. The conflict paused briefly in June 1183 when the Young King died. With the death of Henry the Young King, Richard became the eldest surviving son and therefore heir to the English crown. King Henry demanded that Richard give up Aquitaine (which he planned to give to his youngest son John as his inheritance). Richard refused, and conflict continued between them. Henry II soon gave John permission to invade Aquitaine. [ citation needed ]

To strengthen his position, in 1187, Richard allied himself with 22-year-old Philip II, the son of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis VII by Adela of Champagne. Roger of Howden wrote:

The King of England was struck with great astonishment, and wondered what [this alliance] could mean, and, taking precautions for the future, frequently sent messengers into France for the purpose of recalling his son Richard who, pretending that he was peaceably inclined and ready to come to his father, made his way to Chinon, and, in spite of the person who had the custody thereof, carried off the greater part of his father's treasures, and fortified his castles in Poitou with the same, refusing to go to his father. [54]

Overall, Howden is chiefly concerned with the politics of the relationship between Richard and King Philip. Gillingham has addressed theories suggesting that this political relationship was also sexually intimate, which he posits probably stemmed from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of England and France had slept overnight in the same bed. Gillingham has characterized this as "an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it. a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity". [55]

In exchange for Philip's help against his father, Richard promised to concede to him his rights to both Normandy and Anjou. Richard paid homage to Philip in November 1187. With news arriving of the Battle of Hattin, he took the cross at Tours in the company of other French nobles. [ citation needed ]

In 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John. But Richard objected. He felt that Aquitaine was his and that John was unfit to take over the land once belonging to his mother. This refusal is what finally made Henry II bring Queen Eleanor out of prison. He sent her to Aquitaine and demanded that Richard give up his lands to his mother, who would once again rule over those lands. [56]

The following year, Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. On 4 July 1189, the forces of Richard and Philip defeated Henry's army at Ballans. Henry, with John's consent, agreed to name Richard his heir apparent. Two days later Henry II died in Chinon, and Richard the Lionheart succeeded him as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou. Roger of Howden claimed that Henry's corpse bled from the nose in Richard's presence, which was assumed to be a sign that Richard had caused his death. [ citation needed ]

Coronation and anti-Jewish violence

Richard I was officially invested as Duke of Normandy on 20 July 1189 and crowned king in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189. [57] Tradition barred all Jews and women from the investiture, but some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king. [58] According to Ralph of Diceto, Richard's courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court. [59]

When a rumour spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London attacked the Jewish population. [59] Many Jewish homes were destroyed by arsonists, and several Jews were forcibly converted. [59] Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape. Among those killed was Jacob of Orléans, a respected Jewish scholar. [60] Roger of Howden, in his Gesta Regis Ricardi, claimed that the jealous and bigoted citizens started the rioting, and that Richard punished the perpetrators, allowing a forcibly converted Jew to return to his native religion. Baldwin of Forde, Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted by remarking, "If the King is not God's man, he had better be the devil's". [61]

Offended that he was not being obeyed and realising that the assaults could destabilise his realm on the eve of his departure on crusade, Richard ordered the execution of those responsible for the most egregious murders and persecutions, including rioters who had accidentally burned down Christian homes. [62] He distributed a royal writ demanding that the Jews be left alone. The edict was only loosely enforced, however, and the following March further violence occurred, including a massacre at York. [63]

Crusade plans

Richard had already taken the cross as Count of Poitou in 1187. His father and Philip II had done so at Gisors on 21 January 1188 after receiving news of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. After Richard became king, he and Philip agreed to go on the Third Crusade, since each feared that during his absence the other might usurp his territories. [64]

Richard swore an oath to renounce his past wickedness in order to show himself worthy to take the cross. He started to raise and equip a new crusader army. He spent most of his father's treasury (filled with money raised by the Saladin tithe), raised taxes, and even agreed to free King William I of Scotland from his oath of subservience to Richard in exchange for 10,000 marks (£6,500). To raise still more revenue he sold the right to hold official positions, lands, and other privileges to those interested in them. [65] Those already appointed were forced to pay huge sums to retain their posts. William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely and the King's chancellor, made a show of bidding £3,000 to remain as Chancellor. He was apparently outbid by a certain Reginald the Italian, but that bid was refused. [ citation needed ]

Richard made some final arrangements on the continent. [66] He reconfirmed his father's appointment of William Fitz Ralph to the important post of seneschal of Normandy. In Anjou, Stephen of Tours was replaced as seneschal and temporarily imprisoned for fiscal mismanagement. Payn de Rochefort, an Angevin knight, became seneschal of Anjou. In Poitou the ex-provost of Benon, Peter Bertin, was made seneschal, and finally, the household official Helie de La Celle was picked for the seneschalship in Gascony. After repositioning the part of his army he left behind to guard his French possessions, Richard finally set out on the crusade in summer 1190. [66] (His delay was criticised by troubadours such as Bertran de Born.) He appointed as regents Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, and William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex—who soon died and was replaced by William Longchamp. [67] Richard's brother John was not satisfied by this decision and started scheming against William Longchamp. When Richard was raising funds for his crusade, he was said to declare, "I would have sold London if I could find a buyer". [68]

Occupation of Sicily

In September 1190 Richard and Philip arrived in Sicily. [69] After the death of King William II of Sicily in 1189 his cousin Tancred had seized power, although the legal heir was William's aunt Constance, wife of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. Tancred had imprisoned William's widow, Queen Joan, who was Richard's sister and did not give her the money she had inherited in William's will. When Richard arrived he demanded that his sister be released and given her inheritance she was freed on 28 September, but without the inheritance. [70] The presence of foreign troops also caused unrest: in October, the people of Messina revolted, demanding that the foreigners leave. [71] Richard attacked Messina, capturing it on 4 October 1190. [71] After looting and burning the city Richard established his base there, but this created tension between Richard and Philip Augustus. He remained there until Tancred finally agreed to sign a treaty on 4 March 1191. The treaty was signed by Richard, Philip, and Tancred. [72] Its main terms were:

  • Joan was to receive 20,000 ounces (570 kg) of gold as compensation for her inheritance, which Tancred kept.
  • Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, son of Geoffrey, as his heir, and Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age, giving a further 20,000 ounces (570 kg) of gold that would be returned by Richard if Arthur did not marry Tancred's daughter.

The two kings stayed on in Sicily for a while, but this resulted in increasing tensions between them and their men, with Philip Augustus plotting with Tancred against Richard. [73] The two kings finally met to clear the air and reached an agreement, including the end of Richard's betrothal to Philip's sister Alys. [74]

Conquest of Cyprus

In April 1191 Richard left Messina for Acre, but a storm dispersed his large fleet. [75] After some searching, it was discovered that the ship carrying his sister Joan and his new fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre, was anchored on the south coast of Cyprus, along with the wrecks of several other vessels, including the treasure ship. Survivors of the wrecks had been taken prisoner by the island's ruler, Isaac Komnenos. [76]

On 1 May 1191 Richard's fleet arrived in the port of Lemesos on Cyprus. [76] He ordered Isaac to release the prisoners and treasure. [76] Isaac refused, so Richard landed his troops and took Limassol. [77] Various princes of the Holy Land arrived in Limassol at the same time, in particular Guy of Lusignan. All declared their support for Richard provided that he support Guy against his rival, Conrad of Montferrat. [78]

The local magnates abandoned Isaac, who considered making peace with Richard, joining him on the crusade, and offering his daughter in marriage to the person named by Richard. [79] Isaac changed his mind, however, and tried to escape. Richard's troops, led by Guy de Lusignan, conquered the whole island by 1 June. Isaac surrendered and was confined with silver chains because Richard had promised that he would not place him in irons. Richard named Richard de Camville and Robert of Thornham as governors. He later sold the island to the master of Knights Templar, Robert de Sablé, and it was subsequently acquired, in 1192, by Guy of Lusignan and became a stable feudal kingdom. [80]

The rapid conquest of the island by Richard was of strategic importance. The island occupies a key strategic position on the maritime lanes to the Holy Land, whose occupation by the Christians could not continue without support from the sea. [80] Cyprus remained a Christian stronghold until the battle of Lepanto (1571). [81] Richard's exploit was well publicised and contributed to his reputation, and he also derived significant financial gains from the conquest of the island. [81] Richard left Cyprus for Acre on 5 June with his allies. [81]


Before leaving Cyprus on crusade, Richard married Berengaria, the first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. Richard first grew close to her at a tournament held in her native Navarre. [82] The wedding was held in Limassol on 12 May 1191 at the Chapel of St George and was attended by Richard's sister Joan, whom he had brought from Sicily. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendour, many feasts and entertainments, and public parades and celebrations followed commemorating the event. When Richard married Berengaria he was still officially betrothed to Alys, and he pushed for the match in order to obtain the Kingdom of Navarre as a fief, as Aquitaine had been for his father. Further, Eleanor championed the match, as Navarre bordered Aquitaine, thereby securing the southern border of her ancestral lands. Richard took his new wife on crusade with him briefly, though they returned separately. Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, and she did not see England until after his death. After his release from German captivity, Richard showed some regret for his earlier conduct, but he was not reunited with his wife. [83] The marriage remained childless. [ citation needed ]

In the Holy Land

King Richard landed at Acre on 8 June 1191. [84] He gave his support to his Poitevin vassal Guy of Lusignan, who had brought troops to help him in Cyprus. Guy was the widower of his father's cousin Sibylla of Jerusalem and was trying to retain the kingship of Jerusalem, despite his wife's death during the Siege of Acre the previous year. [85] Guy's claim was challenged by Conrad of Montferrat, second husband of Sibylla's half-sister, Isabella: Conrad, whose defence of Tyre had saved the kingdom in 1187, was supported by Philip of France, son of his first cousin Louis VII of France, and by another cousin, Leopold V, Duke of Austria. [86] Richard also allied with Humphrey IV of Toron, Isabella's first husband, from whom she had been forcibly divorced in 1190. Humphrey was loyal to Guy and spoke Arabic fluently, so Richard used him as a translator and negotiator. [87]

Richard and his forces aided in the capture of Acre, despite Richard's serious illness. At one point, while sick from arnaldia, a disease similar to scurvy, he picked off guards on the walls with a crossbow, while being carried on a stretcher covered "in a great silken quilt". [88] [89] Eventually, Conrad of Montferrat concluded the surrender negotiations with Saladin's forces inside Acre and raised the banners of the kings in the city. Richard quarrelled with Leopold of Austria over the deposition of Isaac Komnenos (related to Leopold's Byzantine mother) and his position within the crusade. Leopold's banner had been raised alongside the English and French standards. This was interpreted as arrogance by both Richard and Philip, as Leopold was a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor (although he was the highest-ranking surviving leader of the imperial forces). Richard's men tore the flag down and threw it in the moat of Acre. [90] Leopold left the crusade immediately. Philip also left soon afterwards, in poor health and after further disputes with Richard over the status of Cyprus (Philip demanded half the island) and the kingship of Jerusalem. [91] Richard, suddenly, found himself without allies. [ citation needed ]

Richard had kept 2,700 Muslim prisoners as hostages against Saladin fulfilling all the terms of the surrender of the lands around Acre. [92] Philip, before leaving, had entrusted his prisoners to Conrad, but Richard forced him to hand them over to him. Richard feared his forces being bottled up in Acre as he believed his campaign could not advance with the prisoners in train. He, therefore, ordered all the prisoners executed. He then moved south, defeating Saladin's forces at the Battle of Arsuf 30 miles (50 km) north of Jaffa on 7 September 1191. Saladin attempted to harass Richard's army into breaking its formation in order to defeat it in detail. Richard maintained his army's defensive formation, however, until the Hospitallers broke ranks to charge the right wing of Saladin's forces. Richard then ordered a general counterattack, which won the battle. Arsuf was an important victory. The Muslim army was not destroyed, despite the considerable casualties it suffered, but it did rout this was considered shameful by the Muslims and boosted the morale of the Crusaders. In November 1191, following the fall of Jaffa, the Crusader army advanced inland towards Jerusalem. The army then marched to Beit Nuba, only 12 miles from Jerusalem. Muslim morale in Jerusalem was so low that the arrival of the Crusaders would probably have caused the city to fall quickly. However, the weather was appallingly bad, cold with heavy rain and hailstorms this, combined with the fear that the Crusader army, if it besieged Jerusalem, might be trapped by a relieving force, led to the decision to retreat back to the coast. [93] Richard attempted to negotiate with Saladin, but this was unsuccessful. In the first half of 1192, he and his troops refortified Ascalon. [ citation needed ]

An election forced Richard to accept Conrad of Montferrat as King of Jerusalem, and he sold Cyprus to his defeated protégé, Guy. Only days later, on 28 April 1192, Conrad was stabbed to death by Assassins [94] before he could be crowned. Eight days later Richard's own nephew Henry II of Champagne was married to the widowed Isabella, although she was carrying Conrad's child. The murder has never been conclusively solved, and Richard's contemporaries widely suspected his involvement. [95]

The crusader army made another advance on Jerusalem, and in June 1192 it came within sight of the city before being forced to retreat once again, this time because of dissension amongst its leaders. In particular, Richard and the majority of the army council wanted to force Saladin to relinquish Jerusalem by attacking the basis of his power through an invasion of Egypt. The leader of the French contingent, Hugh III, Duke of Burgundy, however, was adamant that a direct attack on Jerusalem should be made. This split the Crusader army into two factions, and neither was strong enough to achieve its objective. Richard stated that he would accompany any attack on Jerusalem but only as a simple soldier he refused to lead the army. Without a united command the army had little choice but to retreat back to the coast. [96]

There commenced a period of minor skirmishes with Saladin's forces, punctuated by another defeat in the field for the Ayyubid army at the Battle of Jaffa. Baha' al-Din, a contemporary Muslim soldier and biographer of Saladin, recorded a tribute to Richard's martial prowess at this battle: "I have been assured . that on that day the king of England, lance in hand, rode along the whole length of our army from right to left, and not one of our soldiers left the ranks to attack him. The Sultan was wroth thereat and left the battlefield in anger. ". [97] Both sides realised that their respective positions were growing untenable. Richard knew that both Philip and his own brother John were starting to plot against him, and the morale of Saladin's army had been badly eroded by repeated defeats. However, Saladin insisted on the razing of Ascalon's fortifications, which Richard's men had rebuilt, and a few other points. Richard made one last attempt to strengthen his bargaining position by attempting to invade Egypt—Saladin's chief supply-base—but failed. In the end, time ran out for Richard. He realised that his return could be postponed no longer since both Philip and John were taking advantage of his absence. He and Saladin finally came to a settlement on 2 September 1192. The terms provided for the destruction of Ascalon's fortifications, allowed Christian pilgrims and merchants access to Jerusalem, and initiated a three-year truce. [98] Richard, being ill with arnaldia, a debilitating disease similar to scurvy, left for England on 9 October 1192. [99]

Captivity, ransom and return

Bad weather forced Richard's ship to put in at Corfu, in the lands of Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who objected to Richard's annexation of Cyprus, formerly Byzantine territory. Disguised as a Knight Templar, Richard sailed from Corfu with four attendants, but his ship was wrecked near Aquileia, forcing Richard and his party into a dangerous land route through central Europe. On his way to the territory of his brother-in-law Henry the Lion, Richard was captured shortly before Christmas 1192 near Vienna by Leopold of Austria, who accused Richard of arranging the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat. Moreover, Richard had personally offended Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls of Acre. [ citation needed ]

Leopold kept Richard prisoner at Dürnstein Castle under the care of Leopold's ministerialis Hadmar of Kuenring. [100] His mishap was soon known to England, but the regents were for some weeks uncertain of his whereabouts. While in prison, Richard wrote Ja nus hons pris or Ja nuls om pres ("No man who is imprisoned"), which is addressed to his half-sister Marie. He wrote the song, in French and Occitan versions, to express his feelings of abandonment by his people and his sister. The detention of a crusader was contrary to public law, [101] [102] and on these grounds Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold. [ citation needed ]

On 28 March 1193 Richard was brought to Speyer and handed over to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned him in Trifels Castle. Henry VI was aggrieved by the support the Plantagenets had given to the family of Henry the Lion and by Richard's recognition of Tancred in Sicily. [101] Henry VI needed money to raise an army and assert his rights over southern Italy and continued to hold Richard for ransom. Nevertheless, to Richard's irritation, Celestine hesitated to excommunicate Henry VI, as he had Duke Leopold, for the continued wrongful imprisonment of Richard. Richard famously refused to show deference to the Emperor and declared to him, "I am born of a rank which recognises no superior but God". [103] The king was at first shown a certain measure of respect, but later, at the prompting of Philip of Dreux, Bishop of Beauvais and Philip of France's cousin, the conditions of Richard's captivity were worsened, and he was kept in chains, "so heavy," Richard declared, "that a horse or ass would have struggled to move under them." [104]

The Emperor demanded that 150,000 marks (100,000 pounds of silver) be delivered to him before he would release the King, the same amount raised by the Saladin tithe only a few years earlier, [105] and two to three times the annual income for the English Crown under Richard. Richard's mother, Eleanor, worked to raise the ransom. Both clergy and laymen were taxed for a quarter of the value of their property, the gold and silver treasures of the churches were confiscated, and money was raised from the scutage and the carucage taxes. At the same time, John, Richard's brother, and King Philip of France offered 80,000 marks for Henry VI to hold Richard prisoner until Michaelmas 1194. Henry turned down the offer. The money to rescue the King was transferred to Germany by the Emperor's ambassadors, but "at the king's peril" (had it been lost along the way, Richard would have been held responsible), and finally, on 4 February 1194 Richard was released. Philip sent a message to John: "Look to yourself the devil is loose". [106]

War against Philip of France

In Richard's absence, his brother John revolted with the aid of Philip amongst Philip's conquests in the period of Richard's imprisonment was Normandy. [107] Richard forgave John when they met again and named him as his heir in place of their nephew, Arthur. At Winchester, on 11 March 1194, Richard was crowned a second time to nullify the shame of his captivity. [108]

Richard began his reconquest of Normandy. The fall of the Château de Gisors to the French in 1193 opened a gap in the Norman defences. The search began for a fresh site for a new castle to defend the duchy of Normandy and act as a base from which Richard could launch his campaign to take back the Vexin from French control. [109] A naturally defensible position was identified perched high above the River Seine, an important transport route, in the manor of Andeli. Under the terms of the Treaty of Louviers (December 1195) between Richard and Philip II, neither king was allowed to fortify the site despite this, Richard intended to build the vast Château Gaillard. [110] Richard tried to obtain the manor through negotiation. Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen, was reluctant to sell the manor as it was one of the diocese's most profitable, and other lands belonging to the diocese had recently been damaged by war. [110] When Philip besieged Aumale in Normandy, Richard grew tired of waiting and seized the manor, [110] [111] although the act was opposed by the Catholic Church. [112] The archbishop issued an interdict against performing church services in the duchy of Normandy Roger of Howden detailed "unburied bodies of the dead lying in the streets and square of the cities of Normandy". The interdict was still in force when work began on the castle, but Pope Celestine III repealed it in April 1197 after Richard made gifts of land to the archbishop and the diocese of Rouen, including two manors and the prosperous port of Dieppe. [113] [114]

Royal expenditure on castles declined from the levels spent under Henry II, attributed to a concentration of resources on Richard's war with the king of France. [115] However, the work at Château Gaillard was some of the most expensive of its time and cost an estimated £15,000 to £20,000 between 1196 and 1198. [116] This was more than double Richard's spending on castles in England, an estimated £7,000. [117] Unprecedented in its speed of construction, the castle was mostly complete in two years when most construction on such a scale would have taken the best part of a decade. [116] According to William of Newburgh, in May 1198 Richard and the labourers working on the castle were drenched in a "rain of blood". While some of his advisers thought the rain was an evil omen, Richard was undeterred. [118] As no master-mason is mentioned in the otherwise detailed records of the castle's construction, military historian Richard Allen Brown has suggested that Richard himself was the overall architect this is supported by the interest Richard showed in the work through his frequent presence. [119] In his final years, the castle became Richard's favourite residence, and writs and charters were written at Château Gaillard bearing "apud Bellum Castrum de Rupe" (at the Fair Castle of the Rock). [120]

Château Gaillard was ahead of its time, featuring innovations that would be adopted in castle architecture nearly a century later. Allen Brown described Château Gaillard as "one of the finest castles in Europe", [120] and military historian Sir Charles Oman wrote that it was considered "the masterpiece of its time. The reputation of its builder, Cœur de Lion, as a great military engineer might stand firm on this single structure. He was no mere copyist of the models he had seen in the East, but introduced many original details of his own invention into the stronghold". [121]

Determined to resist Philip's designs on contested Angevin lands such as the Vexin and Berry, Richard poured all his military expertise and vast resources into the war on the French King. He organised an alliance against Philip, including Baldwin IX of Flanders, Renaud, Count of Boulogne, and his father-in-law King Sancho VI of Navarre, who raided Philip's lands from the south. Most importantly, he managed to secure the Welf inheritance in Saxony for his nephew, Henry the Lion's son, who was elected Otto IV of Germany in 1198. [ citation needed ]

Partly as a result of these and other intrigues, Richard won several victories over Philip. At Fréteval in 1194, just after Richard's return to France from captivity and money-raising in England, Philip fled, leaving his entire archive of financial audits and documents to be captured by Richard. At the Battle of Gisors (sometimes called Courcelles) in 1198, Richard took Dieu et mon Droit—"God and my Right"—as his motto (still used by the British monarchy today), echoing his earlier boast to Emperor Henry that his rank acknowledged no superior but God. [ citation needed ]


In March 1199, Richard was in Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he "devastated the Viscount's land with fire and sword". [123] He besieged the tiny, virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol. Some chroniclers claimed that this was because a local peasant had uncovered a treasure trove of Roman gold. [124]

On 26 March 1199, Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow, and the wound turned gangrenous. [125] Richard asked to have the crossbowman brought before him called alternatively Pierre (or Peter) Basile, John Sabroz, Dudo, [126] [127] and Bertrand de Gourdon (from the town of Gourdon) by chroniclers, the man turned out (according to some sources, but not all) to be a boy. He said Richard had killed his father and two brothers, and that he had killed Richard in revenge. He expected to be executed, but as a final act of mercy Richard forgave him, saying "Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day", before he ordered the boy to be freed and sent away with 100 shillings. [b]

Certainly, the legend of King Arthur's court started in the Middle Ages but the putative figures on which the legends are based, appear to come from before the Fall of Rome.

In the shadows between Classical Antiquity and the Dark Ages lived prophets and warlords, druids and Christians, Roman Christians and the outlawed Pelagians, in an area sometimes referred to as Sub-Roman Britain, a pejorative label suggesting that the native British elements were less advanced than their Roman counterparts.

It was a time of civil war and plague -- which helps explain the lack of contemporary information. Geoffrey Ashe says:

"In dark age Britain we have to recognize various adverse factor, such as the loss and destruction of manuscripts by invading armies the character of the early material, oral rather than written the decline of learning and even literacy among the Welsh monks who might have kept reliable records. The whole period is plunged in obscurity from the same causes. People who were certainly real and important are no better attested."

Since we don't have the necessary fifth and sixth-century records, it's impossible to say absolutely that Merlin did or did not exist.


As a young man, John already had a reputation for treachery. He conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed that they were the rightful heir to Aquitaine, one of many unfriendly encounters between the two.

Richard, now King Richard I of England was absent on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194. John attempted to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, who was Richard's designated 'chief justiciar' (like a Regent or Prime Minister). This was one of the events which led later writers to cast John as the villain in the legend of Robin Hood.

John was more popular than Longchamp in London. In October 1191 the leading citizens of the city opened the gates to John while Longchamp was confined in the tower. John promised the city the right to govern itself as a commune in return for recognition as Richard's heir presumptive. [2]

As he returned from the Crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and handed over to Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, who held him for ransom. Meanwhile, John had joined forces with Philip Augustus, King of France. They sent a letter to Henry asking him to keep Richard away from England for as long as possible, offering payment to keep Richard imprisoned. Henry declined their offer, and got his ransom from Eleanor of Aquitaine (who had to pawn the Crown Jewels). Richard was set free. John then begged forgiveness from Richard, who granted it and named him heir presumptive. [3]

Dispute with Arthur Edit

On Richard's death (6 April 1199) John was accepted in Normandy and England. He was crowned king at Westminster on 27 May, Ascension Day.

However, Anjou, Maine, and Brittany declared for Arthur of Brittany, son of his elder brother Geoffrey. Arthur fought his uncle for the throne, with the support of Philip II of France. The conflict between Arthur and John had serious consequences for both. Finally, Philip recognised John over Arthur. The price paid was John's agreement to be Philip's vassal in Normandy and Angevin.

Nevertheless, conflicts continued until in 1202 Philip declared all John's French lands and territories, except Gascony in the southwest, and immediately occupied them. Philip gave Arthur all the land he had taken from John, except for Normandy, and betrothed him to his daughter Marie.

John now needed to fight to get back 'his' land in France. In 1203 John ordered all shipyards in England to provide at least one ship, with the newly-built Portsmouth Naval Base to provide several. He made Portsmouth the new home of the navy. By the end of 1204, John had 45 large ships available to him, and from then on an average of four new ones every year. He also created an Admiralty of four admirals, responsible for various parts of the new navy. During John's reign, major improvements were made in ship design. He also created the first big transport ships. John is sometimes credited with the founding of the modern Royal Navy.

As part of the war, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur was imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. After this, Arthur's fate remains unknown, but it is believed that he was murdered by John. Assuming that he was murdered, Brittany, and later Normandy, rebelled against John. John also imprisoned his niece, Eleanor. Through deeds such as these, John acquired a reputation for ruthlessness.

Dealings with Bordeaux Edit

In 1203, John exempted the citizens and merchants of Bordeaux from the Grande Coutume, which was the principal tax on their exports. In exchange, the regions of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Dax pledged support against the French Crown. The unblocked ports gave Gascon merchants open access to the English wine market for the first time. The following year, John granted the same exemptions to La Rochelle and Poitou. [4]

Normandy seized by the French Edit

In June 1204, the fall of Rouen allowed Phillip to annex Normandy and also take parts of Anjou and Poitou.

John needed money for his army, but the loss of the French territories, especially Normandy, greatly reduced the state income. A huge tax would be needed to reclaim these territories. He imposed the first income tax, raising the (then) huge sum of £70,000.

Dispute with the Pope Edit

When Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter died on 13 July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III. The Canterbury Cathedral Chapter claimed the sole right to elect Hubert's successor, and favoured Reginald, a candidate out of their midst. However, both the English bishops and the King wanted someone else to have this powerful office. The king wanted John de Gray, one of his own men. [5] When their dispute could not be settled, the Chapter secretly elected one of their members as Archbishop. A second election imposed by John resulted in another nominee. When they both appeared in the Vatican, Innocent disavowed (rejected) both elections, and his candidate, Stephen Langton, was elected despite the objections of John's observers. John was supported in his position by the English barons and many of the English bishops, and refused to accept Langton.

John expelled (dismissed) the Canterbury Chapter in July 1207, to which the Pope reacted by placing an interdict on the kingdom which meant that no one could receive religious blessings. [6] John retaliated by closing down the churches. He confiscated (on paper) all church possessions, but individual churches were able to negotiate terms for managing their own properties and keeping the produce of their estates. [7] After his excommunication, John tightened these measures and he got plenty from the income of vacant sees and abbeys. For example, the church lost an estimated 100,000 marks to the Crown in 1213. [8] The Pope gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors in 1209. In 1212, they allowed last rites to the dying. While the interdict was a burden to many, it did not result in rebellion against John.

Excommunication and Papal Supremacy Edit

In November 1209 John was excommunicated, and in February 1213, Innocent threatened stronger measures unless John submitted. The papal terms for submission were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulph in May 1213 (according to Matthew Paris, at the Knights Templar Church at Dover) [9] in addition, John offered to surrender the Kingdom of England to God and the Saints Peter and Paul for a feudal service of 1,000 marks annually, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. [8] With this submission, written in a document, John gained the support of his papal overlord in his new dispute with the English barons.

After settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions back to France. The European wars ended in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines in July 1214, which forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace with France. [10]

Magna Carta Edit

The heavy scutage [11] levy for the failed campaign was the last straw, and when John attempted to raise more in September 1214, many barons refused to pay. The barons no longer believed that John was capable of regaining his lost lands.

In May 1215, Robert Fitz Walter led forty barons to renounce homage to the king at Northampton. The so-called 'Army of God' marched on London, taking the capital as well as taking Lincoln and Exeter.

John met their leaders and with their French and Scots allies at Runnymede, near London, on 15 June 1215. There they sealed the Great Charter, called in Latin Magna Carta. It established a council of 25 barons to see John kept to the clauses like protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, parliamentary assent for taxation, and scutage limitations.

Because he was forced to seal the charter, John sought approval to break it, from his overlord the Pope. Denouncing it as "not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust", the Pope agreed. This provoked the First Barons' War. The barons invited a French invasion by Prince Louis VIII of France and Louis accepted the offer of the crown of England as a reward for his support.

War with the Barons Edit

John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, and directed a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle. While a small force arrived in rebel-held London in November, the Scots under their king, Alexander II, invaded northern England. By the end of December, John was leading a murderous expedition in the north, culminating with the sacking of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The French retook Rochester and much of the south, although the royalists held on to Windsor and Dover.

With the momentum swinging from John, some of his generals, including his half-brother William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, went to the rebel side. By the end of the summer, Louis held a third of the country and had the support of two-third of the barons. In September, Alexander II travelled down to pay homage to Louis at Dover, where the French pretender had being laying siege to Dover Castle.

Retreating from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of The Wash to avoid the rebel held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train (including the Crown Jewels), took a direct route across it and was lost to the incoming tide. This dealt John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he died at Newark Castle. [12] [13] He was buried at Worcester Cathedral, in the West Midlands.

When King John died on 18 October, 1216 his nine-year-old son, Henry was too young to rule the kingdom. William Marshal was appointed as Regent to Henry III to make decisions on Henry’s behalf until he came of age. [14] The barons switched their allegiance to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.

King John's reign began with military defeats – he lost Normandy to Philip II of France in his first five years on the throne. His reign ended with England torn by civil war and himself on the verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made England a papal fief to resolve a conflict with the Catholic Church, and his rebellious barons forced him to seal Magna Carta in 1215, the act for which he is best remembered.

John is responsible for the creation of another English cultural icon, the historic, medieval London Bridge. To finance the construction of a large bridge across the Thames, King John allowed houses, shops, and a church to be built on top of the bridge.

John was an efficient ruler, but he lost approval of the barons by taxing them in ways outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. The tax known as scutage became particularly unpopular. John was a fair-minded and well informed king, however. He often sat as a judge in the Royal Courts, and his justice was much sought after. Also, John's employment of an able Chancellor and clerks resulted in the first proper set of records.

Winston Churchill summarised the legacy of John's reign: "When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns". [15] Medieval historian C. Warren Hollister called John an "enigmatic figure":

". talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted. He was compared in a recent scholarly article, perhaps unfairly, with Richard Nixon. His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the halfheartedness with which his vassals supported him—and the energy with which some of them opposed him". [16]

Marriage and children Edit

In 1189, John was married to Isabel of Gloucester. They had no children. John had their marriage annulled, and she was never acknowledged as queen. John remarried, on 24 August 1200, Isabella of Angoulême, who was twenty years his junior. John had kidnapped her from her fiancé, Hugh X of Lusignan.

Isabella bore five children:

    (1207–1272), King of England.
  • Richard (1209–1272), 1st Earl of Cornwall.
  • Joan (1210–1238), Queen Consort of Alexander II of Scotland.
  • Isabella (1214–1241), Consort of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.
  • Eleanor (1215–1275), who married William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and later married Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester.

John had many illegitimate children. Matthew Paris accuses him of seducing the more attractive daughters and sisters of his barons and relatives. John had these illegitimate children:

  • Joan, the wife of Llywelyn the Great.
  • Richard Fitz Roy, (by his cousin, Adela)
  • Oliver FitzRoy, (by a mistress named Hawise) who accompanied the papal legate Pelayo to Damietta in 1218, and never returned.
  • Geoffrey FitzRoy, who went on expedition to Poitou in 1205 and died there.
  • John FitzRoy, a clerk in 1201.
  • Henry FitzRoy, who died in 1245.
  • Osbert Gifford, who was given lands in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Sussex, and is last seen alive in 1216.
  • Eudes FitzRoy, who accompanied his half-brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, on Crusade and died in the Holy Land in 1241.
  • Bartholomew FitzRoy, a member of the order of Friars Preachers.
  • Maud FitzRoy, Abbess of Barking, who died in 1252.
  • Isabel FitzRoy, wife of Richard Fitz Ives.
  • Philip FitzRoy, found living in 1263.

The surname Fitzroy is Norman-French for 'son of the king'.

King John in Legend Edit

John is also famous for his part in the Robin Hood stories where he plays one of Robin's enemies. Popular culture suggests that many people did not like him, but actually we do not know what ordinary people thought in the 13th century. William Shakespeare wrote a play about him. It was mostly about Arthur of Brittany and did not mention Robin Hood or Magna Carta.

Watch the video: Ο βασιλιάς μας δοξάστηκε.