While Richard Plantagenet is revered as one of the great warrior kings of England, he is perhaps best known as "the absent king". This is due to the fact that during his reign from 1189-1199, he spent only six months in England. This aside Richard I was well known for his bravery, which earned him the nickname ‘The Lionheart’. A name that has reached mythological proportions, best seen in literary works such as Robin Hood and Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe.
The third of King Henry II's legitimate sons, Richard Plantagenet was never expected to accede to the throne. He was, however, the favourite son of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although born in Oxfordshire England, Richard was a child of Aquitaine a part of Southern France. His native language was not English and throughout his life he spoke little of it. He also cared much more for his mother than for his father.
Richard had four brothers and three sisters. The first brother died at a young age. Henry was named heir to the English throne. Richard was to succeed his mother's Aquitaine. Geoffrey was to inherit Brittany. John was the poorest to fair out receiving nothing from his father and it is this that gave him the name John ‘Lackland’. His sisters were Matilda, Eleanor and Joan.
When Richard’s parents effectively separated, he remained in Eleanor's care. At a young age of twelve, Richard pledged homage to the king of France. At the age of fourteen, Richard was invested with Eleanor's duchy of Aquitaine in 1168 in the church of Saint Hillaire at Poitiers. He was soon also invested with the duchy of Poitiers in 1172.
Richard’s his eldest brother, Henry the ‘Young King’, was simultaneously crowned as his father's successor.
Henry's sons had been given lands but no real power. In 1173 they revolted against their King father aided by their mother. Richard and his brothers, Henry the ‘Young King’ and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany were planning to depose their father and leave the Young King as the only king of England. Henry II invaded Aquitaine twice. At the age of seventeen, Richard was the last of the brothers to hold out against Henry; though, in the end, he refused to fight him face to face and humbly begged his pardon. In 1174, after the end of the failed revolt, Richard gave a new oath of subservience to his father. In retaliation King Henry had Eleanor jailed where she remained there for many years.
Richard then concentrated in putting down internal revolts by the dissatisfied nobles of Aquitaine, especially the territory of Gascony. The increasing cruelty of his reign led to a major revolt of Gascony in 1183. Richard had a terrible reputation, including reports of various rapes and murders. The rebels hoped to dethrone Richard and asked his brothers Henry and Geoffrey to help them succeed. Their father feared that the war between his three sons could lead to the destruction of his kingdom. He led the part of his army that served in his French territories in support of Richard. The situation changed when the younger Henry was killed, ending the revolt.
Another family dispute occurred when Richard received the lands of his brother. Henry was expected to give his Aquitaine to his brother John. Richard refused to give up the homeland of his mother.
When Geoffrey also died, Richard was the only realistic possibility, his youngest brother, John, being too weak and inexperienced to be considered as an alternative. From the Young King's death Richard was considered (though not officially proclaimed) heir to the joint thrones of England, Normandy and Anjou.
In 1187 Richard learned of the tragic loss at Hattin, where the Crusaders had lost Jerusalem when Saracen leader Saladin (Salah al-Din) conquered the crusader states of the Middle East that were established after the First Crusade of 1095. In response the Third Crusade was declared. Richard soon took up the cross of the crusades, much against his father's approval.
In 1188 Henry II planned to concede Aquitaine to his youngest son John Lackland, later King John of England. In opposition to his father's plans, Richard allied himself with King Philip II of France, the son of Richard's mother's ex-husband. In exchange for Philip II's help against his father, Richard promised to concede his rights to both Normandy and Anjou to Philip. Richard gave an oath of subservience to Philip in November of the same year. In 1189 Richard attempted to take the throne of England for himself by joining Philip's expedition against his father. They were victorious. Henry, with John's consent, agreed to name Richard his heir.