King Richard The Lionheart Sword
A Golden Sword Gleaming in the Levantine Sun
Alongside Alfred the Great and William the Conquerer, Richard the Lionheart (1157 -1199) is one of a handful of English medieval kings known popularly by their epithet rather than their regnal number. This speaks to his evergreen popularity as a figure of muscular British military adventurism – his reign bequeathed the ‘Three Lions’ of his Angevin Great Seal and his personal battle-cry “Dieu et mon droit!” to the coats of arms of British monarchs, up to the present day. Richard was more than a mere English King: his claims united the whole of England with the western half of what is today modern France, forming an enormous and wealthy cross-Channel personal demesne which he used to fund the campaigns which occupied almost his entire reign. Our King Richard the Lionheart Sword draws together this sumptuous wealth, martial prowess and heraldic iconography into a weapon inspired by one of England’s greatest kings.
The blade of our Lionheart Sword is a high-medieval arming sword, inspired by the knightly arming swords brought by French Crusaders with them on their military pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It is of Oakeshott Type XII – a long single-handed blade with a very slight even taper for most of the blade, a narrow fuller that terminates near the point of the blade, and a tapered thrusting point. These were hybrid swords designed by skilled smiths to be versatile at cutting and thrusting – they were lenticular in cross-section and were lightened by as much as 20% by the fuller, meaning that they were agile and swift. This sword, made for a French-speaking King, clearly bears its heritage from the Norman arming sword – but the foreshortening of the fuller from earlier swords meant that these swords were much more rigid and thereby much better at thrusting. Our Richard Lionheart Sword blade is made from 1095 carbon steel, a hard and resilient blade material which was the sort of carbon steel that high-medieval swordsmiths would have made in small quantities in bloomeries across Europe.
A Sumptuous Golden Hilt
The hilt of our King Richard the Lionheart Sword is only fitting for a monarch. Reflecting the glory and wealth of Richard’s kingdom, the hilt is cast in solid brass, imitating the sumptuous gold fittings that Richard’s own sword may have had. The crossguard is a sturdy straight cruciform (cross-shape) with a prominent Templar cross in relief at the quillion block. The quillions terminate in a pair of stylised lions – these reflect his fierce nickname, bestowed on him when he was only a young man, during his campaign to put down the French rebellions against his father in the late 1170s CE. The grip is handsome black leather wound with brass wire. The pommel is a spectacular Templar cross in deep blood-red, reflecting his personal piety and Crusading spirit. Our King Richard The Lionheart Sword also comes with an arresting scabbard in black leather, with handsome brass fittings.
This sword is truly fit for a King. It would make the perfect addition to a historical Crusader impression, or a high-medieval-inspired fantasy King. Its stark gold and black colour scheme would look incredible as a display piece.
(History): England’s Greatest King, or an Ambitious French Crusader?
Richard the Lionheart has been portrayed either as the ‘rightful king’ of the Robin Hood legends to whom the green-tighted forest partisan owned his allegiance, or as an absent and mercenary king who would have sold England if he could find a bidder. If we sketch a brief biography we can see that both are true: Richard was a complex king, whose only consistent theme is his martial prowess, embodied in the Lionheart Sword.
A Young Rebel
Richard was born in England in 1157, the third child of the wildly fecund union of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. His father, who began as the mere Duke of Anjou, had carved out the Angevin Empire: taking advantage of a period of instability amongst the grandchildren of William the Conqueror known as ‘the Anarchy’, he came out on top, imposing his claims to most of Western France, the entirety of England, the east coast of Ireland, much of Wales and parts of Scotland. As could be expected with an Empire of such size with no less than five sons looking to inherit, disputes soon broke out over who got what and when – a real-life Game of Thrones of wheeling-and-dealing, upsets and betrayals. Richard joined four of his brothers in a series of rebellions against his father from 1173 – these rebellions were funded by Phillip II Auguste of France to needle Henry II of England, but Henry managed to fight them to a stalemate – albeit at the cost of his eldest son. With the death of the heir apparent, it was far from clear whether Henry would allow Richard to inherit – Richard had even literally gotten into bed with the French King as a symbol of their alliance! But, eventually, hemmed in militarily and politically, the ailing Henry II had no choice, and Richard managed to get his way by a combination of cleverly applied force of arms and canny schmoozing.
A Crusading King
Richard was crowned King of England in 1189 – and then almost immediately left again. This may seem odd, but it is instructive to realise what being ‘King of England’ meant in the context of the Angevin Empire: England was comparatively poor and backward in the early-high-medieval period, and was mostly the possession of French nobles who mostly saw western France as the epicentre of their domains. Richard likely spoke little English; his native tongues were French and Occitan. In this context it is unsurprising that Richard only spent around six months in England throughout his entire ten-year reign!
Jerusalem had been captured by the Kurdish leader Saladin the previous year, so Richard and his best frenemy Phillip II of France agreed that they would both go on a tense boys-holiday-with-swords together, so that neither could steal the other’s land whilst they were gone. Thus, Richard raised an enormous crusader army by indulging in what today looks to us like selling off the Kingdom. He instituted a special tax in his new English lands, the ‘Saladin tithe’, whilst quite shamelessly auctioning off political and religious positions.
His route to the Holy Land was eventful, casually rolling both Sicily and Cyprus on his way through. In Sicily, he freed his imprisoned sister from the King of Sicily, leaving the island with 20,000 ounces of gold and a promise that his son would inherit the island. But the ship containing the treasure and his sister foundered on the island of Cyprus, and Richard was forced to divert his onward journey to recover the treasure – I mean, his rescue his sister. Having conquered the island, he later sold it to the Knights Templar. One might begin to see where his mercenary reputation comes from…
He finally arrived in the Holy Land in 1190, landing at Acre to assist his ally Guy de Lusignan in retaining his throne as King of Jerusalem against the threat posed by Saladin. Richard gained enormous cachet as a fierce fighter from his allies and his enemies alike – he was likely already nicknamed ‘the Lion’ or ‘Lionheart’ before the start of the Third Crusade, but nothing he did whilst in the Holy Land left anyone in any doubt as to his worthiness of it. Richard was struck down with arnaldia (a debilitating bacterial disease caused by poor sanitation) soon after arriving, but that didn’t stop him: he insisted in fighting in the Siege of Acre, taking to the field in a palanquin borne by his household, wielding a crossbow with deadly skill. Having captured Acre, Lionheart managed to alienate all of his allies almost immediately (Leopold V, Duke of Austria left the Crusade entirely as a result), and Richard elected to execute all of his prisoners so as not to be bottled up inside the city – clearly a brutal leader. Frustratingly, Richard failed to bring Saladin to a conclusive battle: forays toward the capital of Jerusalem were foiled, sometimes by heavy rain and hailstorms, and sometimes by dissension between the headstrong Crusader leaders. At one point, a disagreement caused Richard to threaten to abandon his command, and to serve only as a simple soldier! Wherever Richard did meet Saladin in battle, however, he displayed enormous personal ferocity, and more than a little tactical cunning. A contemporary biographer of Saladin, Baha’ Al-Din, wrote of Richard in the Battle of Jaffa: “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 Crusade ended in stalemate in September 1192, when both he and Saladin realised their positions were no longer secure in the region: Saladin from military exhaustion, and Richard from whispers from back home… They concluded a peace which permitted the Ayyubid Sultan to rase the Crusader defenses at their base in Ascalon, and gave Christian pilgrims the right to travel to Jerusalem once again.
The Defense of the Realm
But Richard was forced to return home by his frenemies – Phillip II of France had slipped away from the Crusade some time earlier, and his brother John (who gets an enormously bad rap from history) was plotting against him… Richard would spend his final years struggling to retain control of his domains in France against Phillip II, who had officially unfriended him by convincing Richard’s own bannermen to revolt in his absence. It was during this campaign that Richard coined one of his most enduring contributions to the British monarchy: his battle-cry, “Dieu et mon droit”. This was his cry at the 1198 Battle of Gisors during his struggle to assert himself over Phillip II of France. It translates from French as “God and my right” – but to fully understand this phrase, one must get inside the mindset of the medieval general. Rather than the modern understanding of war as a dry game of logistics and tactics akin to an enormous game of chess, success or failure for medieval commanders was thought to be a mark of divine approval or rebuke. The act of battle was a personal trial-by-combat of the divinity and rightness of the opposing forces. Hence after his victory, Richard wrote “It is not us who have done it but God and our right through us“. Richard adopted the motto as his personal one – although it was only a year before he would be wounded by a crossbowman and would succumb to infection, every ruler of England and Britain since has used it as their motto on the Royal Coat of Arms. Richard was caught in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt during a siege in Limousin. The wound turned bad, and the crossbowman was ordered to be found – it transpired that it has been fired by a mere lad, whom the dying King forgave. He died in his mother’s arms in 1199, leaving his brother John a crumbling empire.
There can be no doubt that Richard was possessed of enormous personal bravery, martial prowess and generosity with his underlings. But he was also cruel, prideful and greedy. Both these sides of a complex King are present in our glittering golden King Richard The Lionheart Sword.
- Total length: 41 inches
- Blade length: 32 inches
- Blade width: 2 inches
- Blade material: 1095 carbon steel
- Guard and pommel material: Solid brass
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