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Accession of Richard I page 2


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After having made an excursion through the surrounding neighbourhood, Richard arrived on the shore of the narrow strait which divides Sicily from Calabria, whence he was conveyed to the harbour of Messina. The French king had already arrived, and soon afterwards set sail with the view or continuing his voyage to the East. His ships, however, experienced bad weather, which compelled them to return to the port, and the two kings then arranged to remain there during the winter.

The island of Sicily, which in the preceding century had been conquered by the Norman lords of Apulia and Calabria, then formed, together with a part of lower Italy, a kingdom which was under the control of the Holy See. Not many years before, under the reign of William I., the country had been in a prosperous condition, but now it was weakened by internal dissensions and in no position to offer a successful defence to attacks from without. William II., surnamed the Good, had married Richard's sister Joan, who bore to him no children. Anxious to preserve the succession to his family, he caused his aunt, the Princess Constance, who was the only legitimate member of the family, to be married to Henry, son and heir of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. By securing to her a powerful husband, able to support her claims, the king trusted to overcome that opposition to a female sovereign which was likely to be even greater in Sicily than in other countries of Europe. Constance, at the age of thirty-two, was considerably older than her husband; but her dower was rich, and this, joined to the prospect of the succession, proved attraction sufficient for the young prince. He married her in the year 1186, at Milan. In November, 1189, William the Good died, appointing by his will that his aunt Constance should be his successor. The barons of the kingdom had previously taken an oath of fealty to the princess, but that oath, as well as the will of the king, was entirely disregarded. The nobles were necessarily indisposed to submit to the rule of a foreign prince, and the aggressions of the German emperors in the north of Italy had given good cause for dread of any further increase of their power. Constance and Henry were also out of the country at this critical moment, and the barons, after various disputes among themselves, conferred the crown upon Tancred. Count of Lecce, cousin to William the Good, though reputed to be illegitimate by birth. The new king was hailed by the people with acclamation, and was acknowledged by the Pope, Clement III., who sent him the customary benediction. His reign, however, had no sooner commenced, than various conspiracies were formed against him by the barons who had been competitors for the throne, and though he had succeeded in reducing these to submission, he was threatened by Henry, who had now become emperor, and who was preparing a powerful army to support the claims of his wife Constance.

Such was the position of affairs in Sicily at the time of the arrival of the kings of England and of France. Both monarchs were received by Tancred with every token of honour and hospitality; Philip was entertained within the walls of the city, and Richard took up his quarters in a house without the walls, situated in the midst of a vineyard. On one occasion, when Richard was making an excursion in the neighbourhood of Messina, attended by a single knight, he passed through a village, in which he saw a hawk standing before a cottager's door. According to the laws the European kings, it was forbidden to yeomen and townspeople to keep that noble bird, which was considered the exclusive property of the great. Richard, with his accustomed carelessness of consequences, took up the poor man's hawk, and carried it away on his wrist. The Sicilian peasant, though under the rule of a Norman conqueror, had not yet learned submission to such treatment as this. Joined by some of his friends, he followed the king, and drawing his knife, attacked him. Richard drew his sword, and for a while he kept the peasants at bay; but the sword broke in his hand, and he was compelled to take to flight. The enraged villagers pursued him closely with sticks and stones, and probably the life of Coeur-de-Lion was saved by his reaching the gates of a priory, in which he took shelter.

After having remained for a very brief period in tranquillity, Richard found in the position of his sister Joan a cause of quarrel with the King of Sicily. At the time of the marriage of that princess with William the Good, a splendid dower had been given to her by her husband, including many towns and cities, and territory of considerable extent. When Tancred ascended the throne, he withheld these broad lands, part of which, however, were occupied by nobles who were in rebellion, and which, therefore, it would not have been easy to deliver up. Richard first demanded that his sister should be sent to him, and when the request was complied with, he sent other messengers requiring the whole of her dower. Without waiting for an answer, the impetuous prince passed over to the Calabrian shore, and seized possession of the castle of Bagnara. Here he left his sister, defended by a body of troops, and returned to Messina. On the borders of the strait, overlooking the English camp, there was a convent of Greek monks, having a strong natural position, and capable of being easily fortified. Richard drove out the monks, and placed in their stead a strong garrison, who turned the monastery into a fortress, and issued thence on licentious excursions through the town and the neighbourhood. The disorders of the foreigners at length aroused the indignation of the Sicilians, who, jealous of the honour of their wives and daughters, suddenly attacked the English, who were in the city, and at the same time closed the gates of the town. The whole camp speedily took to arms, and assembled without the walls, making a reckless and unorganised assault upon them. Richard having received news of the tumult, mounted his horse and rode hastily among his soldiers, beating them back with a truncheon which he carried in his hand. By exertions of this kind, joined to the influence of his character, he succeeded in restraining his troops, not, however, before some animosities which had arisen between them and the French soldiers had found vent in several partial combats. The kings of France and England held a solemn meeting, at which to arrange against future differences of this kind, as well as to determine upon a peace with the Sicilians. On the hill overlooking a camp a number of the natives were assembled, and, during the conference, they attacked a few stragglers from the Norman camp. Having learnt the cause of the uproar, Richard immediately called his men to arms, drove the Sicilians from the hill, and followed them to the walls of the city, which the English now attacked under the direction of their prince. The troops of Tancred made little resistance against their impetuous assailants; the town was carried by storm, and Richard raised his banner on the walls as though the town had become exclusively his. The jealously of Philip was excited, and a rupture took place between the two princes, which was only appeased by the town being given into the hands of the Knights Hospitallers and Knights Templars, who were to hold possession of it until the claims of Richard against Tancred had been finally adjusted.

In addition to the territories assigned to Joan as a dowry, she was entitled, as Queen of Sicily, to a golden table, twelve feet long, and a foot and a half broad; a golden chair; two golden tressels for supporting the tables, twenty-four silver cups, and as many silver dishes. William the Good had left in his will to Henry II. a contribution towards the Holy War in which that prince was proposing to engage. This legacy consisted of a tent of silk to accommodate 200 persons seated, 60,000 measures of wheat, and 60,000 of barley, with 100 armed galleys, equipped and provisioned for two years. Henry II. died before his son-in-law, and, therefore, Richard could prefer no legal claim in right of his father. He nevertheless demanded that all these things should be given up to him, as well as the treasures to which his sister was entitled. An agreement was ultimately entered into, by which a sum of 20,000 gold oncie was paid to Joan, and a further Bum of 20,000 oncie to Richard, in satisfaction of their several demands. The legality of Richard's claim was not acknowledged, but the money was paid to him ostensibly on a treaty of marriage, which was concluded between his young nephew Arthur and an infant daughter of Tancred. The payment thus took the form of a dower, and was to be returned in case either of the children died before they reached a marriageable age.

The money of which Richard thus became possessed was lavished with the utmost prodigality. His tastes were magnificent; and the extraordinary fame which he had acquired throughout Europe was due no less to his own gigantic strength and brilliant valour than to the glittering halo of romance which surrounded him, and the splendour with which he dazzled the eyes of his followers. Soldiers of fortune of every country came to offer their swords to Coeur-de-Lion, and were received with welcome and entertainment. Tournaments and spectacles of various kinds succeeded each other; the sounds of mirth and music resounded through the camps; troubadours and jongleurs offered their feats of skill, or songs of war and beauty, secure of a liberal reward. Relying upon his strong arm to replenish his coffers, Richard showered gifts and largesses upon all comers; and, at a great banquet which he gave to the knights of both armies, he sent away each of his guests with a large present of money. Thus, throughout the winter, the soldiers of the north gave themselves up to luxury and pleasure under the sunny sky of Sicily. But Coeur-de-Lion was no mere voluptuary. If, in many respects, he bore a resemblance to the gallant but ill-fated Robert of Normandy, he possessed, at the same time, a degree of intellectual power and energy little inferior to that of William the Conqueror. Amidst the glare of rich banquets and gorgeous spectacles, amidst the tinkling of harps whose strings were attuned to flattery, and the glances of bright eyes, which brought their tribute of admiration to the young prince of the Lion Heart, his ardent nature languished and longed for activity. There was a strong impulsive force within the men of those days, which rendered exertion the only pleasure - ease and rest a punishment not to be endured. Cut off for a time from the excitements of battle, Richard sought occupation in the field of theological controversy and the exercises of religion.

At this time a certain Calabrian monk, named Joachim, Abbot of Curacio, had made himself famous throughout Europe by his writings and preachings against the abuses of the court of Rome. We have already seen how, at intervals during the Middle Ages, some sandalled monk would rise up from obscurity, and, by the mere force of intellect, with no advantages of outward circumstances, would obtain a power over the minds of men, compared to which that of princes was as nothing. This influence was of a purely personal nature, and was attained by the gift of eloquence. The books which Abbot Joachim had written would have availed little - they appealed only to the few who could read them, and to posterity - but the man could speak his thought in the ear of the present. We know little, in these later times, of the meaning of the word eloquence - we apply it to what is written - to thoughts expressed upon inanimate paper - dull and lifeless, as words from the mouth of a statue. The growth of civilisation is unfavourable to eloquence, for civilisation is built up of laws and customs, and the language of the heart defies all law, and pays no deference to expediency. The modern teacher dares not trust his heart. Sermons are written, speeches are prepared, periods carefully rounded, sentiments weighed in the nicest balance - even the tone of the voice, and the motion of the arm - are studied beforehand under a master. The influence attained is exactly commensurate with the means employed, and the listeners find themselves on a level of caution, equally removed from danger on the one hand, or of excellence on the other. But such a level is not the normal condition of the human mind. When, at rare intervals, the torch of enthusiasm is lighted by some earnest man, thousands will burst away to follow the flame, though it lead them to utter destruction. If, in our own day, we have seen many of the intelligent people of this country quitting their homes to seek a Utopia of sensualism among the wilds of the far West - if we have seen them listening to evil counsel, warmly urged, while the voice of the minister of religion fell unheeded on their ears, as that of a paid advocate of virtue - we may understand the influence exercised in earlier times by those whose eloquence derived new force and authority from their sacred calling.

Richard Coeur-de-Lion, like his ancestors, recognised that subtle force of intellect whose influence among men surpassed that of laws or armies. He heard of the fame of the Abbot Joachim, and desired to see him. The king and the monk met together at Messina, where a long theological discussion took place between these strange disputants. Joachim, like all the other clergy of the age, gave his authority in favour of the Crusade. He assumed the gift of inspiration, and, like a prophet of old, told the king to go forth and conquer: the infidel should be scattered before the Christian host, and the banner of the cross be raised once more over the walls of Jerusalem. These were but the ravings of fanaticism, and were utterly falsified by the event; but their influence, meanwhile, was none the less upon those who listened and regarded the speaker as a prophet. Richard's mind was of higher order, and he is said to have called the monk a vain babbler, whose words were unworthy of attention. It is not probable, however, that he expressed such an opinion publicly, for he could not be insensible to the effect of such predictions upon the minds of his soldiers.

Not long after this discussion, Richard rode to the town of Catania, where he had appointed to meet Tancred for the first time. With all the state and magnificence suited to the occasion, the two kings walked in procession to the church, where, forgetting all former differences, they took vows of mutual friendship, and performed their devotions together before the shrine of St. Agatha. On the return of Coeur-de-Lion to Messina, the Sicilian king accompanied him for many miles, and at the moment of parting gave into his hands a letter written by Philip of France, in which Philip proposed to ally himself with Tancred, and to drive the English monarch out of the country.

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