Richard I - Jacob Abbott

Richard's Early Life

Almost all the early years of the life of our hero were spent in wars which were waged by the different members of his father's family against each other. These wars originated in the quarrels that arose between the sons and their father in respect to the family property and power. Henry had five sons, of whom Richard was the third. He had also three daughters. The king held a great variety of possessions, having inherited from his father and grandfather, or received through his wife, a number of distinct and independent realms. Thus he was duke of one country, earl of another, king of a third, and count of a fourth. England was his kingdom, Normandy was his great dukedom, and he held, besides, various other realms. He was a generous father, and he began early by conveying some of these provinces to his sons. But they were not contented with the portions that he voluntarily assigned them. They called for more. Sometimes the father yielded to these unreasonable demands, but yielding only made the young men more grasping than before, and at length the father would resist. Then came rebellions, and leagues formed by the sons against the father, and the musterings of armies, and battles, and sieges. The mother generally took part with the sons in these unnatural contests, and in the course of them the most revolting spectacles were presented to the eyes of the world—of towns belonging to a father sacked and burned by the sons, or castles beleaguered, and the garrisons reduced to famine, in which a husband was defending himself against the forces of his wife, or a sister against those of a brother. Richard himself, who seems to have been the most desperate and reckless of the family, began to take an active part in these rebellions against his father when he was only seventeen years old.

These wars continued, with various temporary interruptions, for many years, and whenever at any time a brief peace was made between the sons and the father, then the young men would usually fall to quarreling among themselves. Indeed, Henry, the oldest of them, said that the only possible bond of peace between the brothers seemed to be a common war against their father.

Nor did the king live on much better terms with his wife than he did with his children. At the time of Eleanora's marriage with Henry, her prospects were bright indeed. The people of England, notwithstanding the evil reports that were spread in respect to her character, received her as their queen with much enthusiasm, and on the occasion of her coronation they made a great deal of parade to celebrate the event. Her appearance at that time attracted unusual attention. This was partly on account of her personal attractions and partly on account of her dress. The style of her dress was quite Oriental. She had brought home with her from Antioch a great many Eastern fashions, and many elegant articles of dress, such as mantles of silk and brocade, scarfs, jeweled girdles and bands, and beautiful veils, such as are worn at the East. These dresses were made at Constantinople, and when displayed by the queen in London, they received a great deal of admiration.

We can see precisely how the queen looked in these dresses by means of illuminated portraits of her contained in the books written at that time. It was the custom in those days in writing books—the work of which was all executed by hand—to embellish them with what were called illuminations. These were small paintings inserted here and there upon the page, representing the distinguished personages named in the writing. These portraits were painted in very brilliant colors, and there are several still remaining that show precisely how Eleanora appeared in one of her Oriental dresses. She wears a close head-dress, with a circlet of gems over it. There is a gown made with tight sleeves, and fastened with full gathers just below the throat, where it is confined by a rich collar of gems. Over this is an elegant outer robe bordered with fur. The sleeves of the outer robe are very full and loose, and are lined with ermine. They open so as to show the close sleeves beneath. Over all is a long and beautiful gauze veil.

The dress of the king was very rich and gorgeous too; and so, indeed, was that of all the ecclesiastics and other dignitaries that took part in the celebration. All London was filled with festivity and rejoicing on the occasion, and the queen's heart overflowed with pride and joy.

After the coronation, the king conducted Eleanora to a beautiful country residence called Bermondsey, which was at a short distance from London, toward the south. Here there was a palace, and gardens, and beautiful grounds. The palace was on an elevation which commanded a fine view of the capital. Here the queen lived in royal state. She had, however, other palaces besides, and she often went to and fro among her different residences. She contrived a great many entertainments to amuse her court, such as comedies, games, revels, and celebrations of all sorts. The king joined with her in these schemes of pleasure. One of the historians of the time gives a curious account of the appearance of the king and the court in their excursions. "When the king sets out of a morning, you see multitudes of people running up and down as if they were distracted—horses rushing against horses, carriages overturning carriages, players, gamesters, cooks, confectioners, morrice-dancers, barbers, courtezans, and parasites—making so much noise, and, in a word, such an intolerable tumultuous jumble of horse and foot, that you can imagine the great abyss hath opened and poured forth all its inhabitants."

It was about three years after Eleanora was crowned Queen of England that Richard was born. At the time of his birth, the queen was residing at a palace in Oxford. The palace has gone pretty much to ruin. The building is now used in part as a work-house. The room where Richard was born is roofless and uninhabitable. Nothing even of the interior of it remains except some traces of the fire-place. The room, however, though thus completely gone to ruin, is a place of considerable interest to the English people, who visit it in great numbers in order that they may see the place where the great hero was born; for, desperate and reckless as Richard's character was, the people of England are quite proud of him on account of his undaunted bravery.

It is very curious that the first important event of Richard's childhood was his marriage. He was married when he was about four years old—that is, he was regularly and formally affianced, and a ceremony which might be called the marriage ceremony was duly performed. His bride was a young child of Louis, King of France. The child was about three years old. Her name was Alice. This marriage was the result of a sort of bargain between Henry, Richard's father, and Louis, the French king. They had had a fierce dispute about the portion of another of Louis's children that had been married in the same way to one of Richard's brothers named Henry. The English king complained that the dowry was not sufficient, and the French king, after a long discussion, agreed to make it up by giving another province with his daughter Alice to Richard. The reason that induced the King of England to effect these marriages was, that the provinces that were bestowed with their infant wives as their dowries came into his hands as the guardian of their husbands while they were minors, and thus extended, as it were, his own dominions.

By this time the realms of King Henry had become very extensive. He inherited Normandy, you will recollect, from his ancestors, and he was in possession of that country before he became King of England. When he was married to Eleanora, he acquired through her a large addition to his territory by becoming, jointly with her, the sovereign of her realms in the south of France. Then, when he became King of England, his power was still more extended, and, finally, by the marriages of his sons, the young princes, he received other provinces besides, though, of course, he held these last only as the guardian of his children. Now, in governing these various realms, the king was accustomed to leave his wife and his sons in different portions of them, to rule them in his absence, though still under his command. They each maintained a sort of court in the city where their father left them, but they were expected to govern the several portions of the country in strict subjection to their father's general control. The boys, however, as they grew older, became more and more independent in feeling; and the queen, being a great deal older than her husband, and having been, before her marriage, a sovereign in her own right, was disposed to be very little submissive to his authority. It was under these circumstances that the family quarrels arose that led to the wars spoken of at the beginning of the chapter. Richard himself, as was there stated, began to raise rebellions against his father when he was about seventeen years old.

Whenever, in the course of these wars, the young men found themselves worsted in their contests with their father's troops, their resource was to fly to Paris, in order to get King Louis to aid them. This Louis was always willing to do, for he took great pleasure in the dissensions which were thus continually breaking out in Henry's family.

Besides these wars, Queen Eleanora had one great and bitter source of trouble in a guilty attachment which her husband cherished for a beautiful lady more nearly of his own age than his wife was. Her name was Rosamond. She is known in history as Fair Rosamond. A full account of her will be given in the next chapter. All that is necessary to state here is that Queen Eleanora was made very wretched by her husband's love for Rosamond, though she had scarcely any right to complain, for she had, as it would seem, done all in her power to alienate the affections of her husband from herself by the levity of her conduct, and by her bold and independent behavior in all respects. At last, at one time while she was at Bordeaux, the capital of her realm of Aquitaine, she heard rumors that the king was intending to obtain a divorce from her, in order that he might openly marry Rosamond, and she determined to go back to her former husband, Louis of France. The country, however, was full of castles, which were garrisoned by Henry's troops, and she was afraid that they would prevent her going if they knew of her intention; so she contrived a plan of disguising herself in man's clothes, and undertook to make her escape in that way. She succeeded in getting away from Bordeaux, but her flight was soon discovered, and the officers of the garrison immediately sent off a party to pursue her. The pursuers overtook her before she had gone far, and brought her back. They treated her quite roughly, and kept her a prisoner in Bordeaux until her husband came. When Henry arrived he was quite angry with the queen for having thus undertaken to go back to her former husband, whom he considered as his greatest rival and enemy, and he determined that she should have no opportunity to make another such attempt; so he kept a very strict watch over her, and subjected her to so much restraint that she considered herself a prisoner.

The king had a quarrel also at this time with one of his daughters-in-law, and he made her a prisoner too. Soon after this he went back to England, taking these two captives in his train. In a short time he sent the queen to a certain palace which he had in Winchester, and there he kept her confined for sixteen years. It was during this period of their mother's captivity that the wars between the father and his sons was waged most fiercely.

At length, in the year eleven hundred and eighty-two, in the midst of one of the most violent wars that had raged between the king and his sons, a message came to the king that his son Henry was very dangerously sick, and that he wished his father to come and see him. The king was greatly at a loss what to do on receiving this communication. His counselors advised him not to go. It was only a stratagem, they said, on the part of the young prince, to get his father into his camp, and so take him prisoner. So the king concluded not to go. He had, however, some misgivings that his son might be really sick, and accordingly dispatched an archbishop to him with a ring, which he said he sent to him as a token of his forgiveness and of his paternal affection. Very soon, however, a second messenger came to the king to say that Prince Henry had died. These sad tidings overwhelmed the heart of the king with the most poignant grief. He at once forgot all the undutiful and disobedient conduct of his son, and remembered him only as his dearly-beloved child. He became almost broken-hearted.

The prince himself, on his death-bed, was borne down with remorse and anguish in thinking of the crimes that he had committed against his father. He longed to have his father come and see him before he died. The ring which the archbishop was sent to bring to him arrived just in time, and the prince pressed it to his lips, and blessed it with tears of frantic grief. As the hour of death approached his remorse became dreadful. All the attempts made by the priests around his bed to soothe and quiet him were unavailing, and at last his agony became so great that he compelled them to put a rope around him and drag him from his bed to a heap of ashes, placed for the purpose in his room, that he might die there. A heap of ashes, he said, was the only fit place for such a reprobate as he had been.

So will it be with all undutiful children; when on their death-beds, they reflect on their disobedient and rebellious conduct toward the father and the mother to whom they owe their being.

It is remarkable how great an effect a death in a family produces in reconciling those who before had been at enmity with each other. There are many husbands and wives who greatly disagree with each other in times of health and prosperity, but who are reconciled and made to love each other by adversity and sorrow. Such was the effect produced upon the minds of Henry and Eleanora by the death of their son and heir. They were both overwhelmed with grief, for the affection which a parent bears to a child is never wholly extinguished, however undutiful and rebellious a child may be; and the grief which the two parents now felt in common brought them to a reconciliation. The king seemed disposed to forgive the queen for the offenses, whether real or imaginary, which she had committed against him. "Now that our dear son is dead and gone," said he, "let us no longer quarrel with each other." So he liberated the queen from the restraint which he had imposed upon her, and restored her once more to her rank as an English queen.

This state of things continued for about a year, and then the old spirit of animosity and contention burned up once more as fiercely as ever. The king shut up Eleanora again, and a violent quarrel broke out between the king and his son Richard.

The cause of this quarrel was connected with the Princess Alice, to whom it will be recollected Richard had been betrothed in his infancy. Richard claimed that now, since he was of age, his wife ought to be given to him, but his father kept her away, and would not allow the marriage to be consummated. The king made various excuses and pretexts for the delay. Some thought that the real reason was that he wished to continue his guardianship and his possession of the dower as long as possible, but Richard thought that his father was in love with Alice himself, and that he did not intend that he, Richard, should have her at all. This difficulty led to new quarrels, in which the king and Richard became more exasperated with each other than ever. This state of things continued until Richard was thirty-four years old and his bride was thirty. Richard was so far bound to her that he could not marry any other lady, and his father obstinately persisted in preventing his completing the marriage with her.

Henry II Plantagenet


In the mean time Prince Geoffrey, another of the king's sons, came to a miserable end. He was killed in a tournament. He was riding furiously in the tournament in the midst of a great number of other horsemen, when he was unfortunately thrown from his steed, and trodden to death on the ground by the hoofs of the other horses that galloped over him. The only two sons that were now left were Richard and John. Of these, Richard was now the oldest, and he was, of course, his father's heir. King Henry, however, formed a plan for dividing his dominions between his two sons, instead of allowing Richard to inherit the whole. John was his youngest son, and, as such, the king loved him tenderly. So he conceived the idea of leaving to Richard all his possessions in France, which constituted the most important part of his dominions, and of bestowing the kingdom of England upon John; and, in order to make sure of the carrying of this arrangement into effect, he proposed crowning John king of England forthwith.

Richard, however, determined to resist this plan. The former king of France, Louis the Seventh, was now dead, and his son, Philip the Second, the brother of Alice, reigned in his stead. Richard immediately set off for Paris, and laid his case before the young French king. "I am engaged," said he, "to your sister Alice, and my father will not give her to me. Help me to maintain my rights and hers."

Philip, like his father, was always ready to do any thing in his power to foment dissensions in the family of Henry. So he readily took Richard's part in this new quarrel, and he, somehow or other, contrived means to induce John to come and join in the rebellion. King Henry was overwhelmed with grief when he learned that John, his youngest, and now his dearest child, and the last that remained, had abandoned him. His grief was mingled with resentment and rage. He invoked the bitterest curses on his children's heads, and he caused a device to be painted for John and sent to him, representing a young eaglet picking out the parent eagle's eyes. This was to typify to him his own undutiful and unnatural behavior.

Thus the domestic life which Richard led while he was a young man was imbittered by the continual quarrels between the father, the mother, and the children. The greatest source of sorrow to his mother, however, was the connection which subsisted between the king and the Lady Rosamond. The nature and the results of this connection will be explained in the next chapter.