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Death of Richard I page 3


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Richard Coeur-de-Lion appears to us as the type of manhood unfettered by a high civilisation - a strong, passionate heart, with great capacities for good, or evil, placed above the control of ordinary circumstances, little influenced by the power of religion, and therefore left in a great measure to its native impulses, Richard was revengeful, but not implacable; passionate, but not vindictive. The story of his life, like that of other kings of the Plantagenet race, cannot be written without the record of many acts of cruelty, which there is little to excuse or palliate. If he wanted money he seized it wherever it was to be had, with or without a pretext; if a man opposed him, he crushed him down or hanged him, and showed no scruple. When, on his return from captivity, the garrison of Nottingham held out against his troops, doubting the report of his return, it was not until the prisoners taken by the besiegers were hung up before the castle walls that the rebels became convinced of their error, and that the king was really there. Absolute power (We say absolute power, because at that time the royal prerogative was really without limit.) is unfitted for human nature; and since the beginning of the world no man has ever wielded it without blame. But if Coeur-de-Lion was not free from the crimes belonging to his age and kingly position, he surpassed his contemporaries as much in nobility of character as in bodily strength and valour. His courage w. s of the highest order; for it combined not only the dash and gallantry common to men whose physical organisation is perfect, and who are incited by the love of military fame, but also that calmer, but not less admirable, quality of fortitude, which sustains the heart of the prisoner in chains, or of the soldier in time of famine and disease. The business of his life was war. and its recreation the tournament or the chase. Then, if ever, were the days of chivalry as they are depicted by the poets - stormy and perilous days, when the pulse of life beat high, and there was enough of intellectual culture to show men how to use their passions, but not to restrain them.

It has been said by a modern historian that the character of Richard was described by the Normans in one word, when they called him Cceur-de-Lion, or the Lion-Heart, but that the tiger might with more fitness have been taken as his prototype. Such an opinion does not appear to be warranted by the facts. To say that Richard was guilty of acts which we now stamp as cruel and tyrannous, is but to say that he was possessed of power, and lived in the twelfth century; but to intimate that his whole life was a course of such acts, is to violate historical justice. This terrible warrior-king had his moments of gentleness, and more than once displayed a magnanimity which, under all the circumstances, must excite our high admiration. If he was false to his wife, as appears to have been the case, his vices of that kind were less conspicuous than those of his predecessors. If he struck down his enemies without pity, he at least used no treachery for that purpose. Whatever he did he dared to do openly, and would have disdained to use intrigues like those which disgraced the sovereigns of France and Germany. Without searching the records of his reign for isolated instances of virtue, we may believe that many noble qualities must have been possessed by the man who could attach his friends and attendants so warmly to himself, and excite in the breasts of his people - ground down as they were by his exactions - such strong sentiments of loyalty and admiration.

As we look back for a moment upon the scenes and personages of that remote time, dimly shadowed forth to us by the records of early, or the imagination of late, historians, we view a strange and varied picture, like a grand procession passing before us. Clouds brood over the landscape, but when these are cleared away, the sun shines out upon the many-coloured trees, the green hills, and cultured fields, with here and there a lowly hamlet, lordly tower, or solemn fane.

A gallant company appear upon the scene, with sound of trumpets, gay banners, and glittering armour. There are knights with lance in rest, engaging in the tournament (The tournament was first introduced Into England by Richard I. The figures upon the shields of the knights were the origin of the modern coat of arms: Richard being the first of the English kings who bore the device of three lions.) or the battle, each with visor down, and known only by the device upon his shield, which tells his opponent with whom he has to cope - bearing on his helm a bit of coloured stuff cut from the dress of some fair dame to whom he has devoted his sword. The king is there, with jewelled crown and panoply of state, surrounded by all the splendour which the earth could give to minister to mortal pride, the man before whom his fellows are content to bow and offer service. Noble ladies are there, gentle and beautiful, but with a courage and strength uncommon to their sex, induced by a life of danger and adventure. We see them joining in the chase; eagerly looking on at the tournament, where their applause is the prize of the victor; defending the castle of their lord in his absence, or even following him to the wars. Prelates in their mitres and costly robes come next upon the scene - some with the mild and benevolent features befitting the ministers of religion; others bearing rather the gait of princes, proud of their superior knowledge, arid conscious of a subtle power before which even kings were made to tremble. In cathedral aisles, whose dim light fitly typified the state of religious knowledge, priests are chanting their prayers to heaven, while In noble halls the minstrels are singing their merry songs of earth.

So the brilliant pageant passes on, and knights and ladies, monks and minstrels, alike vanish from the scene. The sun shines still on field and tower, but the tower is in ruins, and the gay procession has faded away into the twilight of the past.

Other parts of the landscape are more dimly presented to us. Of the struggles and sufferings of the people, their pursuits and their pleasures, we know comparatively little; they occupy the back-ground of the historical picture, and their acts do not as yet possess much influence upon the destinies of the nation. We see life insecure in all parts of the kingdom, and the property of the weak continually at the mercy of the strong. The laws are for the most part inoperative, or used only by the rich as instruments of oppression. The labourer who toils in the fields, or the citizen who hoards his gold, cannot tell who will reap the fruits of his labour; but, amidst the present confusion, both these classes are steadily increasing in influence. Their condition is by no means one of apathy; a sense of their rights is dawning upon them, of which a proof may be found in the enthusiasm created throughout the country by the teachings of Longbeard, and the deeds of Robin Hood.

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