Among English monarchs, there are a few whose reputation and personas have broken out of confinement to the historical memory and entered into the popular imagination. One of those in that select group is Richard I, who activities in his peripatetic decade on the throne earned himself the sobriquet “Cœur de Lion,” or Lionheart. Undoubtedly his years spent participating in the Third Crusade helped in that respect, as his time spent trying to recapture the Holy Lands for Christianity earned him good press in the West for centuries, even if the campaign ended in frustration.
That good press has ensured that there are no shortage of books from which to choose about Richard’s life. For the first time since my review of books about William the Conqueror, I needed to limit my coverage of the biographies written about him to a manageable selection of eight books. As with William, I decided to start with the volume on Richard in Weidenfeld and Nicolson’s “Kings and Queens of England” series. The first of three biographies of Richard that John Gillingham wrote, it will be the oldest of the selections for Richard that I’m going to read for this project and one that, if that biography of William Rufus that I’ve already read is representative of his work, should provide a good introduction to the monarch and his times.
Next on my list is Ralph Turner and Richard Heiser’s The Reign of Richard Lionheart, Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189–1199. Though the title suggests that the book is less a biography than a focused study of his time on the throne, the focus on Richard’s governance rather than his generalship (one that seems a prominent part of many of the biographies about him that I’ve encountered) marked it out as an interesting book. If the title of David Miller’s Richard the Lionheart: The Mighty Crusader is any indication, I’m going to return to that focus once I’ve read it.
After that I plan on reading Jean Flori’s Richard the Lionheart: Knight and King. As a biography by a French scholar of the medieval era, I’m curious to see what it holds in terms of perspectives different from those in the ones written on my list by his English counterparts. Once I finish it I will move on to two relatively short studies of Richard: Antony Bridge’s 1989 book Richard the Lionheart and Thomas Asbridge’s 2019 biography of Richard for the Penguin Monarchs series. Assessing the latter in light of the other books I will have read to this point should provide an interesting basis for judging how well he addresses the considerable scholarship that Richard has generated over the years.
Asbridge’s book is one of the two most recent Richard biographies on my list, the other being W. B. Bartlett’s Richard the Lionheart: The Crusader King of England. As a prolific author of books on the era, I’ve skirted around some of his works but this will be the first one of his that I’ve read. Finally, I will end my examination of Richard biographies with John Gillingham’s volume on him for the venerable English Monarchs series. It seems appropriate to use him to bookend my examination of Richard biographies, and it will be interesting to see if he addresses any aspects of Richard’s reign that aren’t covered in the other books I’m reading.