Review of “The Reign of Richard Lionheart: Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189-99” by Ralph V. Turner and Richard Heiser

Despite having read over four dozen books so far for this project, Ralph Turner and Richard Heiser’s study of Richard I’s reign is the first co-authored work that I have encountered for it. Their collaboration reflects their shared expertise and personal ties. A specialist in the Angevin era and its administration in particular, Turner taught for several decades at Florida State University, where Heiser went for his graduate education in medieval history. Given the latter’s dissertation on lover government officials in Richard’s bureaucracy, the complimentary knowledge of the two made them an understandable fit for a study of Richard’s reign.

And that is indeed the focus of their book. While their attention is indeed on Richard’s time on the throne, their focus is on not on his personal activities but on the administration of his wide-ranging empire. Richard’s time prior to becoming king receives only modest attention, and then primarily on his seventeen-year “apprenticeship” as count of Poitou. Though there are chapters as well on his historical reputation, his preparations for the Crusade, and his campaigns on the continent, the vast majority talk about the operations of the Angevin empire over which Richard ruled, much of it in absentia.

It is this latter fact which makes Turner and Heiser’s book so interesting. So many of the biographies of the earlier kings stressed the personal nature of their rule, their need to be on scene in order to best realize their authority. This was a major factor in their peripatetic lives as monarchs, and often contributes to the difficulties in writing biographies of them, as such travels were not beneficial to the accumulation of records. Richard led a similarly itinerant existence, but unlike every one of his predecessors that I have read about to this point, most of that travel took place outside his realm. This increased his reliance on his administration to do the work for him, which adds considerably to the value of Turner and Heiser’s work.

Because of this, I found the book such valuable reading, albeit a little dry in its presentation of its details. It is a highly useful study how Richard maintained his authority even as he spent several years abroad and out of touch with the details of administration that occupied so many of his predecessors. Yet to judge it as a biography is to demand of it something that it is not, nor is it something that its authors make any pretense of having written. Those wanting the coverage of Richard’s life and his activities during his reign will want to look elsewhere, though after having consumed a work like Gillingham’s they might find it a worthwhile, if somewhat more advanced, compliment.