Richard Coeur de Lion, who loved to be free, who loved to fight and ride and hunt, to do great deeds of strength and daring, hated to be shut up in a dark and narrow prison.
Yet he did not despair. He loved, too, to laugh and sing, and he made friends with his gaolers, wrestling and fighting with them, and astonishing them by his great strength. And when he was weary of that, he would sing to them or write poetry.
But sometimes he was sad.
Although nearly all the poetry which Richard wrote has been lost, one mournful little song which he made in prison is still left. It was written in French, for Richard, you remember, was almost French, and could speak very little English.
Here it is in English
"No captive ever sings so sweet a strain
As he who weareth not the prisoner's chain,
Yet song may glad his days of weariness;
Friends fail me not, but shame for them I fear.
If I, for lack of gold, this vile duresse
Sustain another year.
"Well know my knights and servants every one,
English, Poitevin, Norman, or Gascon,
That to no comrade would I help refuse,
But I would spend my wealth till he were free;
And this I say, yet them I not accuse
For my captivity.
"True it is said, and I have learned it sore,
Dead folk no lovers have, nor captives more,
But if to save their wealth here I do lie,
Disgrace and scorn shall unto them be still,
And if I suffer, more they suffer will,
Though I be left to die."
Prince John felt that nothing now stood between him and the throne of England. He told the people that the King was dead and would never come back again. He seized the royal castles and what gold and jewels he could find belonging to the King in England. But the English would neither believe nor follow John.
Meanwhile Blondel, a minstrel or singer who loved King Richard, took his harp, and, wandering from castle to castle, sought his master through all Germany. For the Emperor kept secret where he had imprisoned Richard. Wherever Blondel heard of some unknown prisoner, there he stopped and sang a song which Richard and he had made and sung together.
Again and again Blondel sang this song, but no answering voice ever came from any of the grim castle walls. At last one evening, weary and almost hopeless, he began to sing beneath the walls of a castle called Trifels.
"O Richard! O my king!
Thou art by all forgot,
Through the wide world I sadly sing,
Lamenting thy drear lot.
Alone, I pass through many lands
Alone, I sigh to break thy bands.
O Richard! O my king!
Thou art by all forgot,
Through the wide world I sadly sing,
Lamenting thy dread lot."
Blondel's voice was sad and broken, his heart was heavy, and
he could scarcely sing for tears. But hardly had he finished
the first verse when, from a window high above him, another
voice took up the tune and
"The minstrel's song
Is Love alone,
Fidelity and Constancy,
Though recompense be none."
The voice rang out clear and full and strong. Blondel knew and loved it. It was the voice of Richard Cœur de Lion. Blondel leaned his head against the rough stone of the castle wall and wept for joy. He had found his King.
Back to England the minstrel went with his great news, and when the English people heard it, they were glad. But the Emperor would not set Richard free until the people paid a large sum of money called a ransom. The land had already been made very poor through the wars and robberies of John, but the English people wanted their king so much that they denied themselves almost everything in order to raise enough money. When they had gathered the money they sent it to the Emperor, and Richard was at last set free.
As soon as he was out of prison, Richard hurried to England. He must have been glad to see the white cliffs of his own land again. He had been away four years, and fourteen months of that time he had been shut up in a dark and lonely prison.
The people were so glad to see their King again that, poor though they were, they had such grand decorations and rejoicings that a German knight who came home with Richard was quite astonished. "Had my lord the Emperor known," said he, "how rich a country England still was, he would have demanded yet more money."
Richard set himself at once to bring order into the kingdom. Most of the people were on the side of the King, and Prince John soon submitted to him. Their mother, Queen Eleanor, begged Richard to forgive his brother.
"I forgive him," said Richard, "and I hope I shall as easily forget the wrong he has done me as I know he will forget my pardon." He knew that John was not really sorry, and would rebel again as soon as he had a chance.
Richard remained in England only a few months, and then he went to France. There he spent the rest of his life, chiefly fighting with the king of that country.
But Richard left a good and wise man to rule in England, and the people were happier, although they had to pay heavy taxes in order to help Richard in his French wars. This was very unfair, as these wars did England no good. But as long as the kings of England had possessions in France, the English had to pay for French wars. So it was a good thing for England when at last all the French possessions were lost.
Richard was killed in France in 1199 a.d. , while besieging a castle called Chaluz. He was riding round the walls with one of his captains, looking for the best place of attack, when a young archer put an arrow to his bow, and saying, "Now, God speed my arrow," let it fly.
The arrow hit Richard in the shoulder. The wound was not a bad one, but doctors in those days were not very clever, and the doctor who drew out the arrow-head did it so badly that the wound was made much worse.
In a day or two it became so bad that Richard felt he was going to die. But he swore that he would first take the castle and kill the archer who had caused his death.
The castle was taken, and Richard, in his terrible wrath, hanged all the soldiers except the archer. He was kept for some more dreadful death.
Richard was lying in great agony when the young archer was brought before him. "Villain," said the King, looking fiercely at him, "what have I done to you that you should kill me?"
The young man drew himself up, and looking proudly at the King, and not in the least afraid of his angry frown, replied, "With your own hand you killed my father and my two brothers. Kill me, torture me if you will. I am glad to die, having rid the world of one who has wrought so much ill in it."
Then there was silence between these two proud, brave men, as they looked each other in the eyes, the one a poor soldier, the other a dying king.
But Richard, although fierce and hasty, was generous, and, above all things, he loved courage. "Boy," he said, "I forgive you." Then turning to his captains, "Loose his chains," he added, "let him go free, and give him a hundred shillings to boot."
So Richard Cœur de Lion died. He was so brave that all Europe rang with his fame. The Saracens stood in such awe of him that when little children were naughty their mothers would say to them, "Be good now, or Richard of England will come to you," and the children would be good at once for fear of him. "Thinkest thou that Richard of England is in that bush?" a rider would say to his horse if it were startled, so great was the terror of his name.
Richard was a good knight and brave soldier, but he was not a good king. He reigned for ten years, yet only six months of that time did he spend in England. No doubt he thought it was a great and good thing to fight for Jerusalem, but how much better it would have been if he had tried to rule his own land peacefully, and bring happiness to his people.