A Vindication …. of sorts
The name conjures up images of a man who epitomized the brutality and heroics of his age. The Crusader King, whose mission was to see Jerusalem in the hands of the Christians, and yet failed to achieve this. He was a man considered by his allies as treacherous and cruel, and by his enemies as courageous and wise.
And yet, it is not the reign of this King of England that attracts the attentions of scholars and chroniclers, regardless of time, but the question of the King’s sexuality.
Unfortunately for King Richard I of England, his “alleged” homosexuality will forever be the yardstick by which he is measured – both as a man and as a ruler.
What is interesting, however, are the number of comparisons that can be made between Richard I – his father Henry II, his contemporary Philip Augustus of France, and even the blessed Saint Louis himself.
The Question of Alice of France:
Richard’s betrothal to Alice concluded a key political alliance between France and England – the trouble was Henry had bedded Alice and sired at least two children upon her. In Richard’s eyes, she was “soiled / used goods” – hardly the pure virgin she was when she entered into Henry’s II household as a child when initially betrothed to Richard. So, to Richard Alice was merely one of his father’s “cast-offs” – hardly a suitable beginning for a Duchess of Aquitaine let alone possible future Queen. So, unless a woman was a widow, a husband (in this period of time) expected their brides to be “pure” – virgins. And in the eyes of the Church, Henry’s bedding of Alice technically debarred Richard from any marriage (consider Henry VIII’s marriage of his brother’s widow – Henry VIII was said to have “sinned” in the eyes of the Church). It was her dowry that delayed Alice’s return to her brother – Henry II coveted the Vexin – and that fact that she was of royal birth delayed her return by Richard – Philip was his ally. Consider, despite the fact that he bedded her, Henry II also seemed in no hurry to either return Alice to her family or force the marriage upon Richard.
Many complain of Richard’s treatment of his betrothed, Alice of France, sister of Philip. And yet Philip himself did not lift a finger to rescue his other sister Agnes from her poor treatment in Byzantium following the death of her husband Emperor Alexius II. It was said that Philip himself was indifferent to his own family. Philip actually gave his blessing to Richard upon releasing him from his betrothal – why – his fear of an alliance between Richard and Tancred of Sicily was more than his concern for his sister’s reputation.
Why did Richard delay in breaking off his betrothal to Alice, well this can be looked at a number of ways:
- He wanted to antagonize Philip – but to what end – he wanted Philip’ support for the Crusade, and it would make perfect sense to keep the “pretense” of the betrothal still alive knowing full well it would not come to fruition. With Philip on Crusade, the possibility of him attacking Richard’s lands whilst he was absent are minimalised. However, as hindsight has shown, upon his return to France (following illness) Philip did indeed attack Richard’s lands.
- He wanted to tell Philip face to face – in other words, be up front. Was Philip, whom many claim to be an astute and cunning ruler, have been so naive to believe that after all this time, the betrothal was still going ahead??
- Maybe Richard, as Philip’s vassal (re: Aquitaine) was just plain fed up with having to fawn and tread softly around Philip just for the sake of political niceties. Both men were Kings – why should one defer to the judgement of another, in marriage and politics. England was not a vassal of the King of France – Richard did not need his permission to marry not did he need Philip’s approval of his chosen bride.
In fact, Philip’s own personal and moral conduct was not much better than Richard’s. However, unlike Philip, Richard did not have England placed under Interdict for the sake of a woman. Philip wanted to annul his marriage to Ingebjorg and marry a bride of his own choosing – sound familiar. Excommunication and Interdict followed when he didn’t toe the moral line.
The Question of Richard’s Homosexuality:
It is the following passage written by Roger of Hovedon that gains the most interest in the debate as to whether or not Richard I was actually a homosexual:
“English chronicler Roger of Howden reported that in 1187 Richard and King Philip of shared a bed but it was common for people of the same sex to do so. It was an expression of trust not of sexual desire. It was common too for men to kiss or hold hands, but these were political gestures of friendship or of peace, not of erotic passion. It is a mistake to assume that an act that had one symbolic meaning 800 years ago carries the same message today.”
And yet, this same allegation was not equally applied to the “other man” sharing the bed – Philip Augustus.
It is often argued that “where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire” and that Roger of Hovedon would not have documented these things if they were true. However, if these allegations were true, Richard’s enemies would surely have seized upon this in an instant. Especially King Philip II of France, whose sister Richard handed back after she was so graciously “used” by his father.
And as for Hovedon’s other quote that Richard and Philip: “ate from the same dish and at night slept in one bed” and had a “strong love between them” – that can be interpreted any way you wish – and for whatever political mileage – political mudslinging they call it nowadays. Does he come out and accuse Richard – no. But Hovedon was also biased in favour of his patron – Henry II. Hovedon spent nearly 20 years serving Henry II – whereas he barely recorded three years of Richard’s reign. And sons do have a habit of replacing their father’s ministers with men of their own choosing – a bitter pill to swallow for Hovedon perhaps – losing his position at court??? Sounds like a case of sour grapes to me.
Another candidate for the position of Richard’s lover comes in the form of Sancho of Navarre – the brother of Richard’s wife, Berengaria. Some alleged that Richard cast off Philip for Sancho – this was seen as being played out in Richard’s casting aside of Alice for Berengaria in the matrimonial stakes.
Yet even if this was true, it would be incorrect. Early in his years, Richard was in Pamplona participating in numerous tournaments. It was here that Berengaria became aware of Richard – and it was here that Richard came into contact with her brother, Sancho. So therefore, Sancho would have been the “spurned lover” not Philip – and yet, despite spurning this alleged lover, Richard married his sister, Berengaria.
It has also been said that Richard’s failure to provide offspring from his union with Berengaria is also further proof of his homosexuality. However, Richard himself managed to sire two offspring – Philip, Lord of Cognac, and Fulk. So he certainly wasn’t impotent – and no one will really know whether poor Berengaria was barren or not considering the little amount of time that she spent with Richard.
Yet, there is no contemporary (ie: in Richard’s day and after his death) evidence of this alleged homosexuality – this rumour only circulates much, much later. Even Richard’s greatest critic, Gerald of Wales, makes no mention – and he would surely have been the first to eagerly do so. Gerald’s silence on this subject as especially telling. In fact, from what has been studied by others, there are no (direct or indirect) references to Richard’s alleged homosexuality in any of the contemporary Muslim sources. It sounds like a bit of political mudslinging from Richard’s French and German enemies.
The Question of the Violence of Richard:
And as for Roger of Hovedon’s quote: “He carried off by force the wives, daughters and female relatives of his free men, and made them his concubines; and after he had extinguished the ardour of his lust on them, he handed them over to his soldiers for whoring.”
Richard is also criticized for his killing of Muslim captives during the Crusade. Many argue that he had no choice – guarding so many prisoners attached to the rear of an army was not a feasible choice.
Richard was no different in this respect than any other ruler of his day – Louis VII (Eleanor’s first husband) didn’t hesitate to burn hundreds of innocents in a locked church – thousands of innocents were slaughtered in the name of God by pious and God-fearing monarchs. And in fact, Saladin himself was noted for his mass killing of Christian prisoners – yet he is not so harshly judged.
The Question of Richard’s Absence on Crusade:
Again, Richard is harshly judged as a man who spent less than six months of his reign as King of England actually in the country. And when he was there, his main occupation was raising revenues (in the form of taxation) and men for his Crusade.
Like Richard – Saint Louis IX, King of France, heavily taxed his subjects, including the clergy (which proved extremely unpopular). The first Crusade of Louis lasted TEN years – three years in preparation (1245 – 1248); the actual Crusade (1248 – 1250); his prolonged and voluntary stay – four years (1250 1254). So, Louis himself spent some time out of his own Kingdom – something Richard was vilified for.
Unlike Richard, however, Louis’ Crusade was a complete failure – “to Palestine, which he loved even more dearly [than France], he had brought little but disappointment and sorrow”. And yet Richard was vilified for his Crusading intentions and lack of love for England – but no derogatory comment against Saint Louis for harbouring the same feelings. I believe Matthew Paris in his “Chronica” was alleged to have said (of Saint Louis) “it might have been better for Outremer had he never left France”.
The only reasons for Louis’ return to France were: the death of his beloved mother – whom he relied upon as both regent and advisor (something he shared in common with Richard – a love for his mother); internal strife, civil war and rebellion (his kingdom was hardly stable); and the fact that his mother Blanche, whilst alive, refused to fund and supply his Crusade any further. So Louis absence from France on Crusade was not wholly welcomed within his own kingdom – his return was demanded and yet Louis ignored this. But yet again, Louis embarked upon another Crusade (1269 – 1270) – barely ten years after the debacle of his first attempt. This time, his second Crusade not only ended in failure but in his own death.
The Question of Richard’s Relationship with his Mother:
It has been unreasonably bandied about that Richard’s love for his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his hatred for his father, Henry II, was an indication of his homosexuality.
Let us compare Richard’s love for his mother with a couple of contemporaries:
Saint Louis, whom we have already mentioned, greatly loved and respected his mother, both as a mother and a political leader. He willingly left his Kingdom in her capable hands whilst he went off crusading, not once but twice.
Richard is criticized for not handing over his beloved Aquitaine to his younger brother John, the favourite of their father Henry II. Yet, Henry II had no real control over Aquitaine – this was Eleanor’s – hers to give as she pleased – and thus she gave it to the one son she knew loved it as much as she did. And this was the reason for the quarrel between Richard and his father Henry II – pure spite! What better way to get back at both Eleanor and Richard than through their beloved Aquitaine. And from what studies have shown, Richard was no worse than his own father – Henry II, upon the death of his father refused to give out the patrimony left to his two younger brothers. Instead, he kept the lot for himself, disinheriting his own brothers in order to satisfy his own personal greed. This is again repeated as Henry II consistently refused to delegate any political responsibility to any of his sons. Is it any wonder that they rebelled against the suffocating yoke of their father.
And just like his father before him, Richard also conducted a civil war on behalf of his mother – Henry II gladly fought for the crown of England on behalf of his mother, Empress Maud, a woman whom he greatly admired, respected and whose advice he followed.
Richard was no better or worse than any other King or indeed man of his time. And it seems that some of the actions that Richard is readily vilified for other Kings are praised for. It all comes down to personal bias – and the fact that many continue to judge Richard by today’s standards and not the standards of his own times.