Richard was called to the throne when he was about thirty-two years of age by the sudden and unexpected death of his father. The death of his father took place under the most mournful circumstances imaginable. In the war which Richard and Philip, king of France, had waged against him, he had been unsuccessful. He had been defeated in the battles and outgeneraled in the manœuvres, and his barons, one after another, had abandoned him and taken part with the rebels. King Henry was an extremely passionate man, and the success of his enemies against him filled him with rage. This rage was rendered all the more violent by the thought that it was through the unnatural ingratitude of his own son, Richard, that all these calamities came upon him. In the anguish of his despair, he cursed the day of his birth, and uttered dreadful maledictions against his children.
At length he was reduced to such an extremity that he was obliged to submit to negotiations for peace, on just such terms as his enemies thought fit to impose. They made very hard conditions. The first attempt at negotiating the peace was made in an open field, where Philip and Henry met for the purpose, on horseback, attended by their retainers. Richard had the grace to keep away from this meeting, so as not to be an actual witness of the humiliation of his father, and so Philip and Henry were to conduct the conference by themselves.
The meeting was interrupted by a thunderstorm. At first the two kings did not intend to pay any heed to the storm, but to go on with their discussions without regarding it. Henry was a very great horseman, and spent almost his whole life in riding. One of his historians says that he never sat down except upon a saddle, unless it was when he was taking his meals. At any rate, he was almost always on horseback. He hunted on horseback, he fought on horseback, he traveled on horseback, and now he was holding a conference with his enemies on horseback, in the midst of a storm of lightning and rain. But his health had now become impaired, and his nerves, though they had always seemed to be of iron, were beginning to give way under the dreadful shocks to which they had been exposed, so that he was now far less able to endure such exposures than he had been. At length a clap of thunder broke rattling immediately over his head, and the bolt seemed to descend directly between him and Philip as they sat upon their horses in the field. Henry reeled in the saddle, and would have fallen if his attendants had not seized and held him. They found that he was too weak and ill to remain any longer on the spot, and so they bore him away to his quarters, and then Philip and Richard sent him in writing the conditions which they were going to exact from him. The conditions were very humiliating indeed. They stripped him of a great portion of his possessions, and required him to hold others in subordination to Philip and to Richard. Finally, the last of the conditions was, that he was to give Richard the kiss of peace, and to banish from his heart all sentiments of animosity and anger against him.
Among other articles of the treaty was one binding him to pardon all the barons and other chief men who had gone over to Richard's side in the rebellion. As they read the articles over to the king, while he was lying sick upon his bed, he asked, when they came to this one, to see the list of the names, that he might know who they were that had thus forsaken him. The name at the head of the list was that of his son John—his darling son John, to defend whose rights against the aggressions of Richard had been one of his chief motives in carrying on the war. The wretched father, on seeing this name, started up from his bed and gazed wildly around.
"Is it possible," he cried out, "that John, the child of my heart—he whom I have cherished more than all the rest, and for love of whom I have drawn down on mine own head all these troubles, has verily betrayed me?" They told him that it was even so.
"Then," said he, falling back helplessly on his bed, "then let every thing go as it will; I care no longer for myself or for any thing else in this world."
All this took place in Normandy, for it was Normandy that had been the chief scene of the war between the king and his son. At some little distance from the place where the king was now lying sick there was a beautiful rural palace, at a place called Chinon, which was situated very pleasantly on the banks of a small branch of the Loire. This palace was one of the principal summer resorts of the dukes of Normandy, and the king caused himself now to be carried there, in order to seek repose. But instead of being cheered by the beautiful scenes that were around him at Chinon, or reinvigorated by the comforts and the attentions which he could there enjoy, he gradually sank into hopeless melancholy, and in a few days he began to feel that he was about to die. As he grew worse his mind became more and more excited, and his attendants from time to time heard him moaning, in his anguish, "Oh, shame! shame! I am a conquered king—a conquered king! Cursed be the day on which I was born, and cursed be the children that I leave behind me!"
The priests at his bedside endeavored to remonstrate with him against these imprecations. They told him that it was a dreadful thing for a father to curse his own children, and they urged him to retract what he had said. But he declared that he would not. He persisted in cursing all his children except Geoffrey Clifford, the son of Rosamond, who was then at his bedside, and who had never forsaken him. The king grew continually more and more excited and disordered in mind, until at length he sank into a raving delirium, and in that state he died.
A dead king is a very helpless and insignificant object, whatever may have been the terror which he inspired while he was alive. As long as Henry continued to breathe, the attendants around him paid him great deference, and observed every possible form of obsequious respect, for they did not know but that he might recover, to live and reign, and lord it over them and their fortunes for fifteen or twenty years to come; but as soon as the breath was out of his body, all was over. Richard, his son, was now king, and from Henry nothing whatever was any longer to be hoped or feared. So the mercenary and heartless courtiers—the ministers, priests, bishops and barons—began at once to strip the body of all the valuables which the king had worn, and also to seize and appropriate every thing in the apartments of the palace which they could take away. These things were their perquisites, they said; it being customary, as they alleged, that the personal effects of a deceased king should be divided among those who were his attendants when he died. Having secured this plunder, these people disappeared, and it was with the utmost difficulty that assistance enough could be procured to wrap the body in a winding-sheet, and to bring a hearse and horses to bear it away to the abbey where it was to be interred. Examples like this—of which the history of every monarchy is full—throw a great deal of light upon what is called the principle of loyalty in the hearts of those who attend upon kings.
While the procession was on the way to the abbey where the body was to be buried, it was met by Richard, who, having heard of his father's death, came to join in the funeral solemnities. Richard followed the train until they arrived at the abbey. It was the Abbey Fontevraud, the ancient burial-place of the Norman princes. Arrived at the abbey, the body was laid out upon the bier, and the face was uncovered, in order that Richard might once more look upon his father's features; but the countenance was so distorted with the scowling expression of rage and resentment which it had worn during the sufferer's last hours, that Richard turned away in horror from the dreadful spectacle.
But Richard soon drove away from his mind the painful thoughts which the sight of his father's face must have awakened, and turned his attention at once to the business which now pressed upon him. He, of course, was heir both to the crown of England and also to all his father's possessions in Normandy, and he felt that he must act promptly, in order to secure his rights. It is true that there was nobody to dispute his claim, unless it was his brother John, for the two sons of Rosamond, Geoffrey and William Clifford, did not pretend to any rights of inheritance. Richard had some fears of John, and he thought it necessary to take decisive measures to guard against any plots that John might be disposed to form. He sent at once to England, and ordered that his mother should be released from her imprisonment, and invested her with power to act as regent there until he should come. In the mean time, he himself remained in Normandy, and devoted himself to arranging and regulating the affairs of his French possessions. This was the wisest course for him to pursue, for there was no one in England to dispute his claims to that kingdom. On the Continent the case was different. His neighbor, Philip, King of France, was ready to take advantage of any opportunity to get possession of such provinces on the Continent as might be within his reach.
It was certainly a good deed in Richard to liberate his mother from her captivity, and to exalt her as he did to a position of responsibility and honor. Eleanora fulfilled the trust which he reposed in her in a very faithful and successful manner. The long period of confinement and suffering, which she had endured seems to have exerted a very favorable influence upon her mind. Indeed, it is very often the case that sorrow and trouble have this effect. A life of prosperity and pleasure makes us heartless, selfish, and unfeeling, while sorrow softens the heart, and disposes us to compassionate the woes of others, and to do what we can to relieve them.
Eleanora was queen regent in England for two months, and during that time she employed her power in a very beneficent manner. She released many unhappy prisoners, and pardoned many persons who had been convicted of political crimes. The truth is that probably, as she found herself drawing toward the close of life, and looked back upon her past career, and remembered her many crimes, her unfaithfulness to both her husbands, and especially her unnatural conduct in instigating her sons to rebel against their father, her heart was filled with remorse, and she found some relief from her anguish in these tardy efforts to relieve suffering which might, in some small degree, repair the evils that she had brought upon the land by the insurrections and wars of which she had been the cause. She bitterly repented of the hostility that she had shown toward her husband, and of the countless wrongs that she had inflicted upon him. While he was alive, and she was engaged in her contests with him, the excitement that she was under blinded her mind; but now that he was dead, her passion subsided, and she mourned for him with bitter grief. She distributed alms in a very abundant manner to the poor to induce them to pray for the repose of his soul. While doing these things she did not neglect the affairs of state. She made all the necessary arrangements for the immediate administration of the government, and she sent word to all the barons, and also to the bishops, and other great public functionaries, informing them that Richard was coming to assume the government of the realm, and summoning them to assemble and make ready to receive him. In about two months Richard came.
Before Richard arrived in England, however, he had formed the plan, in connection with Philip, the King of France, of going on a crusade. Richard was a wild and desperate man, and he loved fighting for its own sake; and inasmuch as now, since his father was dead, and his claim to the crown of England, and to all his possessions in Normandy, was undisputed, there seemed to be nobody for him to fight at home, he conceived the design of organizing a grand expedition to go to the Holy Land and fight the Saracens.
John was very much pleased with this idea. "If Richard goes to Palestine," said he to himself, "ten to one he will get killed, and then I shall be King of England."
So John was ready to do every thing in his power to favor the plan of the crusade. He pretended to be very submissive and obedient to his brother, and to acknowledge his sovereign power as king. He aided the king as much as he could in making his arrangements and in concocting all his plans.
The first thing was to provide funds. A great deal of money was required for these expeditions. Ships were to be bought and equipped for the purpose of transporting the troops to the East. Arms and ammunition were to be provided, and large supplies of food. Then the princes, and barons, and knights who were to accompany the expedition required very expensive armor, and costly trappings and equipments of all sorts; for, though the pretense was that they were going out to fight for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre under the influence of religious zeal, the real motive which animated them was love of glory and display. Thus it happened that the expense which a sovereign incurred in fitting out a crusade was enormous.
Accordingly, King Richard, immediately on his arrival in England, proceeded at once to Winchester, where his father, King Henry, had kept his treasures. Richard found a large sum of money there in gold and silver coin, and besides this there were stores of plate, of jewelry, and of precious gems of great value. Richard caused all the money to be counted in his presence, and an exact inventory to be made of all the treasures. He then placed the whole under the charge of trusty officers of his own, whom he appointed to take care of them.
The next thing that Richard did was to discard and dismiss all his own former friends and adherents—the men who had taken part with him in his rebellions against his father. "Men that would join me in rebelling against my father," thought he to himself, "would join any body else, if they thought they could gain by it, in rebelling against me." So he concluded that they were not to be trusted. Indeed now, in the altered circumstances in which he was placed, he could see the guilt of rebellion and treason, though he had been blind to it before, and he actually persecuted and punished some of those who had been his confederates in his former crimes. A great many cases analogous to this have occurred in English history. Sons have often made themselves the centre and soul of all the opposition in the realm against their father's government, and have given their fathers a great deal of trouble by so doing; but then, in all such cases, the moment that the father dies the son immediately places himself at the head of the regularly-constituted authorities of the realm, and abandons all his old companions and friends, treating them sometimes with great severity. His eyes are opened to the wickedness of making opposition to the sovereign power now that the sovereign power is vested in himself, and he disgraces and punishes his own former friends for the crime of having aided him in his undutiful behavior.