Gateway to the Classics: European Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan
European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

Richard The Lion-Hearted

There were several expeditions to rescue Jerusalem, but the third may fairly be named the Royal Crusade because of the number of sovereigns who took part in it. There was Fred'er-ick, the German Emperor, nicknamed Bar-ba-ros'sa because of his long red beard; there was Phi'lip II, King of France; and there was Rich'ard I of England, the famous Cur de Li-on', the lion-hearted soldier.

After being eighty-eight years in the hands of the Christians, Jerusalem had been recaptured in 1187 by a great Saracen commander named Sal'a-din. He was far more merciful, however, than the Christians of the first crusade, for when the women of Jerusalem begged for the lives of their fathers and brothers and husbands, he forgot all his stern threats and not only freed his prisoners, but loaded them with presents.

The Emperor Frederick could not bear the thought of Jerusalem's being in the hands of the Saracens, and he set off with his army to rescue it. He was a brave and wise soldier and would have led his troops most nobly, but by some accident he was drowned before reaching the Holy Land. His subjects were heartbroken at the news of his death. They could hardly believe it possible, and the legend arose that he had hidden himself away in the depths of the mountains; and fathers said to their children, "The good Barba rossa is not dead. He and his daughter and his brave comrades sit about a marble table in some mountain cavern. His red beard has grown through the marble, so long has he waited. But by and by there will come a time when the ravens no longer fly around the mountain. Then he will come forth, and in that day our land shall be great indeed."


Frederick Barbarossa.

King Richard of England was eager for glory and would gladly have set out for the Holy Land at once; but first the money for an army must be raised. How it was raised he did not care. More than one man who wanted to be a bishop, got the honor by paying for it. If a man was guilty of wrongdoing, he need not go to prison if he could send a goodly sum of money to the king. England held two fortresses in Scotland; but Richard willingly gave up all claim to them and to the whole country for ten thousand marks. He and Philip Augustus of France were enemies, but now they swore to be most faithful friends. "If one of us is slain during the crusade," they said, "the other shall take all troops and money and go on with the great work of freeing the Holy Land." Richard meant to have better order than during the first crusade, and he made some remarkable laws. If one man killed another, the murderer was to be tied to the body of his victim, and both were to be thrown into the sea. A man who stole was to have hot pitch poured upon his head and over this feathers were to be shaken.


Richard Cur de Lion.

At length both French and English were on the way; but long before they reached Syria, the two kings quarreled. They patched up a sort of peace and went on to A'cre, a seaport town of Syria that the Christians were besieging. That soon fell. Both kings put their banners on the ramparts; but Richard took up his abode in the royal palace, leaving to Philip a humbler place. Indeed, in whatever they did, Richard always took the first place; and before long Philip declared that he was sick and should return to Europe. "If you are really sick or afraid of the enemy, you would better go home," said Richard scornfully. He easily guessed that Philip's real reason for wishing to go home was that he might try to seize some of the English possessions, and he made the French king swear not to make war upon any of the English lands while he himself was away.


King Richard in Combat.

Richard marched south toward Jerusalem. Every night when he halted, heralds cried three times, "Save the Holy Sepulcher!" and all the army knelt and said "Amen!" The hot-tempered Richard had already had trouble, not only with Philip but with Duke Le'o-pold of Aus'tri-a; for at Acre the duke had set his banner upon a tower that he had taken, and Richard had torn it down and flung it into the ditch. There was also trouble at As'ca-lon. Richard was bent upon rebuilding the walls. With his own royal hands he brought stones and mortar. Leopold refused to follow his example, and he declared as the old poem puts it,—

"My father n'as mason ne carpenter;

And though your walls should all to shake,

I shall never help hem to make."

Then, as the story goes, Richard not only stormed at the noble duke, but struck him. Naturally, the duke, too, went home.

On the whole, none of the warriors seems to have behaved in so praiseworthy a fashion as the Mohammedan Saladin. This brave and knightly leader greatly admired the daring deeds of Richard. They exchanged many courtesies, and when the English king was ill, his enemy sent him fruit and ice for his comfort.

Richard's boldness amazed everyone. He was always in the thickest of the fight, striking off a foeman's head with one blow of his sword, or swinging his terrible battle-axe with twenty pounds of steel in its head. One of his enemies declared, "No man can escape from his sword; his attack is dreadful; to engage with him is fatal, and his deeds are beyond human nature." Saladin's brother, too, looked upon his enemy with warmest admiration; and when Richard was once dismounted in battle, the Saracen sent him as a gift two noble horses. It is said that fifty years later, if the horse of a Saracen shied, his rider would say, "What, do you think you see King Richard in that bush?"

But the Germans and the French and even many of his own troops had left Richard. Therefore, as he had not men enough to take Jerusalem, he made the best terms he could with Saladin and departed from the Holy Land. In Austria he was captured by his enemy, Duke Leopold, given over to the Emperor of Germany, and put into prison. There is a pleasant story that Blon'-del, one of his minstrels, roamed over Europe in search of his beloved master. A minstrel might go safely wherever he would, but Blondel wandered about for a year without hearing anything of him. At last some country folk pointed out a castle belonging to the emperor and said, "Folk say there is a king kept prisoner in that tower." Then Blondel sang beside the tower the first stanza of a little French song that he and the king had written together. He paused a moment, and from the tower came the voice of Richard singing the second stanza. Blondel straightway went home and told the English where their king was, and they were ready to pay ransom for him. Philip of France and Richard's younger brother John—the John who had to sign Magna Charta some years later—did all they could to have him kept in prison; for Philip thought he could seize Normandy if Richard was out of the way. As for John, he had been ruling England during his brother's absence, and he was determined not to give up the kingdom. But the pope threatened Philip and the emperor with excommunication from the church if they did not let Richard go; and at last they yielded. It was not easy to raise the large ransom demanded, but the English had a hearty admiration for their king, and finally it was paid and Richard was set free.

He hastened to England, and the whole English people rejoiced, save John and his followers. To John, Philip had sent a message saying, "Take care of yourself; the devil has broken loose." Richard, however, made no attempt to punish his brother, and even when John again showed himself unfaithful, Richard forgave him, saying, "I hope I shall as easily forget his injuries as he will my pardon."


The leaders of the Royal Crusade. — Saladin's kindness. — The legend of Barbarossa. — How Richard raised money. — His laws. — Richard's quarrels with Philip and with Leopold. — The generosity of Saladin. — Richard's bravery. — He gives up conquering the Holy Land. — The story of Blondel. — The English ransom their king.

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