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Death of Richard I


Reign of Richard I. continued - Richard in Prison - His Hansom and Return to England - Reconciliation between Richard and John - Career of Long-beard - Wars on the Continent - Death of Richard.
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The condition of affairs in England at the time of Richard's departure from Palestine, has been related in the last chapter. The warlike deeds of Coeur-de-Lion had been sung by the troubadours throughout the country, and were the theme of those tales of wonder with which the palmer from the Holy Land repaid his entertainers for the hospitality of a night. The people listened with pride to narratives coloured with all the hues of imagination; and their admiration of the personal valour of their king - in those days esteemed the highest virtue - was mingled with the religious sentiment which led them to exult in the confusion of the infidel. When it was known that Richard had set sail to return to England, the news was received with a general rejoicing throughout the country. The people were tired of the quarrels of regents and ministers; and the welcome which they prepared to give their sovereign was in some degree inspired by the hope that his powerful rule would ensure tranquillity to the realm.

As time passed on, and the king still remained absent, strange rumours began to get abroad. It was affirmed that he had been driven on the coast of Barbary, and taken prisoner by the Moors; that, like Robert of Normandy, he had been tempted to stay for a while among the groves of Italy; that the ship which carried him had foundered at sea with all on board. The last story, however, found few believers, for the people, imbued with a tinge of that romance which taught the immortality of the hero, were fully convinced that their king was still alive, and would some day return to take possession of the throne. At length it became known that Coeur-de-Lion was in imprisonment in one of the castles of Germany. The news was first conveyed in a letter from the Emperor Henry to King Philip, and quickly travelled over Europe. To the revengeful and ungenerous King of France that letter brought more joy than a present of gold and topaz; but the other nations of Christendom received the tidings with indignation and disgust. The Pope instantly excommunicated the Duke of Austria, and sent a message to the Emperor Henry, to the effect that he too should be placed under the curse of Rome unless the royal prisoner were instantly released. The Archbishop of Rouen proved his loyalty by summoning the council of the kingdom, and sending two abbots into Germany to visit the king, and confer with him on the measures to be taken for his liberation. Longchamp, however, had already departed in search of his master, and was the first who obtained an interview with him.

There is a beautiful legend, much better known than the authenticated facts, which tells of a minstrel, named Blondel, who had been attached to the person of Richard, and whose love for his master induced him to travel through Germany for the purpose of discovering the place of his confinement. Whenever he came to a castle, the minstrel placed himself under the walls, and sang a song which had been a favourite with Coeur-de-Lion. One day, when the king was whiling away the dreary hours in solitude, he heard the sound of a harp beneath his window, and when the well-known strains floated up to his ears, he joined in the air, and sang the concluding verse of the song. Blondel immediately recognised the voice, and thus the place of Coeur-de-Lion's imprisonment became known to his countrymen. Such is the story, which has been generally rejected by the historians for want of evidence. There is considerable improbability in the legend, but, at the same time, it is not impossible that it may have had a foundation in fact. It has been argued that Richard's imprisonment was related in the letter of the emperor to Philip, and that therefore there was no need for the journey of Blondel; but although the locality of the king's prison was indicated in this letter, it by no means follows that it was known to Longchamp and others who first took steps to visit him.

The sanguine temper of Coeur-de-Lion supported him even in the gloom of a prison. Like many other famous knights of his day, he was something of a poet, and he spent his time in singing the songs of the Troubadours, and in composing! verses of his own. Of these, one short poem has been preserved (Poesies des Troubadours.), in which he complains of being forgotten by those friends who well knew that, had his case been theirs, he would not have failed them in their hour of need. Such a feeling, however, was not exhibited until he had worn away many months of captivity, during which he won the hearts of his gaolers by his jovial manners and gaiety of spirit. When at length Longchamp obtained admission into his prison, Richard received him as a friend, and appears to have entirely forgiven that weakness and lack of energy on the part of the chancellor which had proved so favourable to the traitorous designs of Prince John.

Longchamp exerted himself in his master's favour with the Emperor Henry, and that prince at length consented that Richard should appear before the Diet at Hagenau. When the king was on his way thither, he was met by the two abbots who had been sent by the Archbishop of Rouen. "Unbroken by distress," Coeur-de-Lion received them with a smiling countenance, and the admiration of all the bystanders was attracted by his undaunted bearing, which was rather that of a conqueror than a prisoner. Within a few days afterwards he appeared before the Diet of the Empire, where he was permitted to offer his defence against the accusations of Henry. These were - That he had entered into an alliance with Tancred, the usurper of the crown of Sicily; that he had unjustly imprisoned the Christian ruler of Cyprus; that he had insulted the Duke of Austria; and that he was guilty of the murder of Conrad of Montferrat. It was also alleged that the truce he had entered into with Saladin was disgraceful, and that he had left Jerusalem in the hands of the infidels. The speech of Richard in reply to these charges has not been preserved; but it is described by contemporary writers as having been full of manly eloquence, and that its effect upon the assembly was entirely to establish in their minds the conviction of his innocence. The emperor, however, was by no means disposed to set his prisoner at liberty, and insisted upon a heavy ransom, which was subsequently raised to the large sum of 100,000 marks. It was also stipulated that Richard should give hostages to the emperor and the Duke of Austria, for the further payment of 50,000 marks, which was to be made under certain conditions; and that Eleanor, the maid of Brittany, sister to Prince Arthur, and niece of Richard, should be affianced to the son of Leopold. It is related by Hoveden that Richard did homage to the emperor for the crown of England. This act of vassalage, if it really took place, was but an acknowledgment of the pretensions of the ancient emperors of Germany to the feudal superiority of Europe as heirs of the Roman Caesars. It is probable, however, that there is some mistake here, and that the act of homage referred to the imaginary crown of Provence, or Aries, which Henry at this time conferred upon his prisoner.

The negotiations respecting the ransom of Richard occupied many months, during which time he remained in captivity, and his brother John, together with Philip of France, were doing all in their power to keep him there, These confederates made the disgraceful proposal to pay the emperor a sum equal to the ransom, provided he would break off his engagement with Coeur-de-Lion, and consign him to perpetual imprisonment. The emperor would have been willing enough to do so; but there were men of honour among the German barons, and when he laid the proposal of Philip before the Diet, that assembly instantly rejected it, and their firm demeanour compelled the faithless prince to adhere to his agreement.

When the first news of Richard's imprisonment reached England, John collected a body of troops, and took possession of the castles of Windsor and Wallingford. Thence he marched to London, causing it to be proclaimed wherever he went that the king his brother had died in prison. The people refused to believe this report, and when John required the barons of England and Normandy to acknowledge him as their sovereign, they answered by raising the standard of Coeur-de-Lion. The troops of John were attacked and put to flight, and the prince himself passed across the Channel, and joined his ally, Philip of France. Philip then entered Normandy with a large army, but there, as in England, the people remained loyal to their sovereign, and the French king was compelled to retreat with heavy loss.

The ransom of Richard, which was obtained almost wholly in England, appears to have been raised with great difficulty. The officers of the crown went through the country, compelling men of all ranks to contribute, making no distinction between clergy and laity, Saxons or Normans. The plate of the churches and monasteries was melted down into coin and bullion, and the Cistercian monks, whose poverty had usually exempted them from such exactions, were forced to give up the wool of their sheep. Frauds were practised to a considerable extent by the officers, who exacted money for their own use under the pretence of applying it to the king's ransom; and thus the burdens of the people increased to such an extent, that they were said to be in distress from sea to sea.

At length, after much delay, the sum of 70,000 marks was raised and sent to the emperor, who paid over one-third of the sum to the Duke of Austria, as his share of the booty. It was then agreed that Richard should be set at liberty, on condition of his leaving hostages for the payment of the sum in arrear. The king, whose captivity had now endured for thirteen months, was disposed to agree to almost any terms that might be demanded of him; and the hostages having been obtained, he was released about the end of January, a.d. 1194.

Free once more, Coeur-de-Lion took his way towards Antwerp, receiving as he went the highest marks of honour, which seemed to be paid rather to the man than the monarch. Force of character, when combined with grace of manners, is irresistible in winning hearts; the one Richard certainly possessed, and the other, we have reason to believe, was not wanting. Probably, the demeanour of the Lion Heart did not display much polish - as little of the tinsel gallantry of Charles II. as of the forced flexibility of the fourth George; but he was affable and friendly to his friends, and, when his passions were not excited, courteous to all who came into his presence.

Attended by a few followers, Richard left Antwerp In a small vessel, and landed at Sandwich on the 13th of March, 1194. The English people had paid dearly for his freedom, but he seemed to have become more endeared to them on that account. Impulsive and enthusiastic then as now, they crowded about him with uproarious welcome, and accompanied him on his way to London with shouts of rejoicing. The injuries inflicted by the Norman conquest were beginning to disappear from their minds; and though Coeur-de-Lion could not speak their language, he was their king, and his exploits were a national honour. London, at least, was not impoverished by the sums raised for his ransom, So magnificent was the reception given by the citizens - such stores of plate, and jewels, and cloth of gold were displayed, to do honour to the occasion - that one of the German barons who went with him expressed his astonishment at the sight, and said that if the emperor his master had known the wealth of the country, he would not have let his prisoner off so easily. At the moment when Richard entered London, bells were ringing at the churches, tapers were lit, and at every altar in the city sentence of excommunication was pronounced, by order of the bishops, against Prince John and his adherents.

John himself had received timely notice of the release of Richard by a letter which reached him from Philip, containing the significant words, "Take care of yourself - the devil is broken loose;" and the prince immediately sought safety in flight. At a council held at Nottingham, the barons summoned him to appear within forty days, on pain of the forfeiture of all his estates; they also determined that Richard should be crowned a second time, and though the king was opposed to this extraordinary proceeding, he submitted to a decision which was evidently dictated by loyalty. The ceremony was performed at Winchester on Easter Day following.

From Nottingham Richard proceeded on a journey of pleasure through Sherwood Forest, which extended over a space of several hundred miles, to the centre of the county of York. "He had never seen this forest," says Roger of Hoveden, "and it pleased him greatly." There, through quiet glades and grassy lawns, "under the greenwood tree," the king solaced himself for his long imprisonment, and tasted the sweet breath of liberty. Sensuous enjoyment is born of privation, and means nothing more than a want supplied. In every age, to him who has been long a captive, the free air and the cheerful face of Nature have a charm to which no other can compare, and Cceur-de-Lion, a knight-errant, and something of a poet by nature, was not likely to be insensible to its influence. The forest of Sherwood was remarkable for picturesque beauty; throughout its vast extent there were pleasant valleys, whose undulating slopes were covered with the varied foliage peculiar to our island; tall oaks grew there luxuriantly, stately memorials of the past, which for a thousand years had cast their shade on Dane and Druid, Saxon and Norman; game abounded in the covers for those who chose to seek it; many a, mossy couch, with its leafy canopy, invited to repose. Apart from its natural advantages, the place had other attractions to the adventurous spirit of Coeur-de-Lion. Sherwood Forest had long been the retreat of bands of armed Saxons, who still defied the Norman power, and chose rather to live as outlaws than submit to the authority of foreigners. Driven by the Normans from the inhabited parts of the country, they found a refuge in the groves of Sherwood, where they collected together under a chief, who directed a sort of military government. They supported themselves by the chase and by plunder, killing the king's venison without stint, and making incursions, whenever an opportunity offered, upon the lands of the neighbouring barons.

At the time when the famous Cceur-de-Lion visited Sherwood, there lived within its recesses a man whom the Anglo-Saxon people regarded as their hero, and whose name has been handed down to us in so many tales and poems, that there is some danger of our confounding him with the fabled heroes of romance. "At this time arose among the outlaws that most famous freebooter, Robin Hode, whom the common people celebrate in their comedies and festivals, and whose exploits, related by the mimes and minstrels, delight them greatly." (Johan. de Fordun. Scotichron.) Little is really known with certainty about Robin Hood, but, as far as can be gathered from the ancient ballads, he owed his position as chief of the marauders to superior intelligence as well as valour. He was a Saxon by birth, and of no higher rank than that of a peasant; the stories which relate that he had been Earl of Huntingdon, or was descended from an earl, being at variance with the older narratives. Among the former is a beautiful romance, which would make him out to be the very child of the woods, born there "among flowering lilies." However this may be, it is certain that he passed his life in the forest, with a band of several hundred archers, who became the terror of all the rich lords, bishops, and abbots in the neighbourhood, especially those of Norman birth. Robin Hood made war upon the rich, but he respected the persons of his own countrymen, and never molested or robbed the poor. The numerous ballads which relate this trait in his character are in their very existence a proof of what they assert, for no man could have been made the theme of such general eulogium unless he had been much beloved by the people. Little John, the lieutenant of Robin Hood, is scarcely less celebrated than his chief, whose constant companion he was in all his dangers or pleasures. Little John appears to have possessed a skill in archery second only to that of Robin himself, of which so many incredible stories are told by the romancers. There is also a third person mentioned by tradition - one Friar Tuck, who thought fit to retain his gown while every other sign of his former calling had disappeared. These were the most noted among Robin Hood's band - a very merry company, if we may believe the story-tellers, leading a careless, gipsy life; doing a great deal of harm, no doubt, but presenting, on the whole, a favourable contrast to the cruelty and tyranny of their Norman oppressors.

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