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Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England > Chapter XIII

A Child's History of England

Chapter XIII


IN the year of our Lord one thousand one hundred and eighty-nine,
Richard of the Lion Heart succeeded to the throne of King Henry the
Second, whose paternal heart he had done so much to break. He had
been, as we have seen, a rebel from his boyhood; but, the moment he
became a king against whom others might rebel, he found out that
rebellion was a great wickedness. In the heat of this pious
discovery, he punished all the leading people who had befriended
him against his father. He could scarcely have done anything that
would have been a better instance of his real nature, or a better
warning to fawners and parasites not to trust in lion-hearted

He likewise put his late father's treasurer in chains, and locked
him up in a dungeon from which he was not set free until he had
relinquished, not only all the Crown treasure, but all his own
money too. So, Richard certainly got the Lion's share of the
wealth of this wretched treasurer, whether he had a Lion's heart or

He was crowned King of England, with great pomp, at Westminster:
walking to the Cathedral under a silken canopy stretched on the
tops of four lances, each carried by a great lord. On the day of
his coronation, a dreadful murdering of the Jews took place, which
seems to have given great delight to numbers of savage persons
calling themselves Christians. The King had issued a proclamation
forbidding the Jews (who were generally hated, though they were the
most useful merchants in England) to appear at the ceremony; but as
they had assembled in London from all parts, bringing presents to
show their respect for the new Sovereign, some of them ventured
down to Westminster Hall with their gifts; which were very readily
accepted. It is supposed, now, that some noisy fellow in the
crowd, pretending to be a very delicate Christian, set up a howl at
this, and struck a Jew who was trying to get in at the Hall door
with his present. A riot arose. The Jews who had got into the
Hall, were driven forth; and some of the rabble cried out that the
new King had commanded the unbelieving race to be put to death.
Thereupon the crowd rushed through the narrow streets of the city,
slaughtering all the Jews they met; and when they could find no
more out of doors (on account of their having fled to their houses,
and fastened themselves in), they ran madly about, breaking open
all the houses where the Jews lived, rushing in and stabbing or
spearing them, sometimes even flinging old people and children out
of window into blazing fires they had lighted up below. This great
cruelty lasted four-and-twenty hours, and only three men were
punished for it. Even they forfeited their lives not for murdering
and robbing the Jews, but for burning the houses of some

King Richard, who was a strong, restless, burly man, with one idea
always in his head, and that the very troublesome idea of breaking
the heads of other men, was mightily impatient to go on a Crusade
to the Holy Land, with a great army. As great armies could not be
raised to go, even to the Holy Land, without a great deal of money,
he sold the Crown domains, and even the high offices of State;
recklessly appointing noblemen to rule over his English subjects,
not because they were fit to govern, but because they could pay
high for the privilege. In this way, and by selling pardons at a
dear rate and by varieties of avarice and oppression, he scraped
together a large treasure. He then appointed two Bishops to take
care of his kingdom in his absence, and gave great powers and
possessions to his brother John, to secure his friendship. John
would rather have been made Regent of England; but he was a sly
man, and friendly to the expedition; saying to himself, no doubt,
'The more fighting, the more chance of my brother being killed; and
when he IS killed, then I become King John!'

Before the newly levied army departed from England, the recruits
and the general populace distinguished themselves by astonishing
cruelties on the unfortunate Jews: whom, in many large towns, they
murdered by hundreds in the most horrible manner.

At York, a large body of Jews took refuge in the Castle, in the
absence of its Governor, after the wives and children of many of
them had been slain before their eyes. Presently came the
Governor, and demanded admission. 'How can we give it thee, O
Governor!' said the Jews upon the walls, 'when, if we open the gate
by so much as the width of a foot, the roaring crowd behind thee
will press in and kill us?'

Upon this, the unjust Governor became angry, and told the people
that he approved of their killing those Jews; and a mischievous
maniac of a friar, dressed all in white, put himself at the head of
the assault, and they assaulted the Castle for three days.

Then said JOCEN, the head-Jew (who was a Rabbi or Priest), to the
rest, 'Brethren, there is no hope for us with the Christians who
are hammering at the gates and walls, and who must soon break in.
As we and our wives and children must die, either by Christian
hands, or by our own, let it be by our own. Let us destroy by fire
what jewels and other treasure we have here, then fire the castle,
and then perish!'

A few could not resolve to do this, but the greater part complied.
They made a blazing heap of all their valuables, and, when those
were consumed, set the castle in flames. While the flames roared
and crackled around them, and shooting up into the sky, turned it
blood-red, Jocen cut the throat of his beloved wife, and stabbed
himself. All the others who had wives or children, did the like
dreadful deed. When the populace broke in, they found (except the
trembling few, cowering in corners, whom they soon killed) only
heaps of greasy cinders, with here and there something like part of
the blackened trunk of a burnt tree, but which had lately been a
human creature, formed by the beneficent hand of the Creator as
they were.

After this bad beginning, Richard and his troops went on, in no
very good manner, with the Holy Crusade. It was undertaken jointly
by the King of England and his old friend Philip of France. They
commenced the business by reviewing their forces, to the number of
one hundred thousand men. Afterwards, they severally embarked
their troops for Messina, in Sicily, which was appointed as the
next place of meeting.

King Richard's sister had married the King of this place, but he
was dead: and his uncle TANCRED had usurped the crown, cast the
Royal Widow into prison, and possessed himself of her estates.
Richard fiercely demanded his sister's release, the restoration of
her lands, and (according to the Royal custom of the Island) that
she should have a golden chair, a golden table, four-and-twenty
silver cups, and four-and-twenty silver dishes. As he was too
powerful to be successfully resisted, Tancred yielded to his
demands; and then the French King grew jealous, and complained that
the English King wanted to be absolute in the Island of Messina and
everywhere else. Richard, however, cared little or nothing for
this complaint; and in consideration of a present of twenty
thousand pieces of gold, promised his pretty little nephew ARTHUR,
then a child of two years old, in marriage to Tancred's daughter.
We shall hear again of pretty little Arthur by-and-by.

This Sicilian affair arranged without anybody's brains being
knocked out (which must have rather disappointed him), King Richard
took his sister away, and also a fair lady named BERENGARIA, with
whom he had fallen in love in France, and whom his mother, Queen
Eleanor (so long in prison, you remember, but released by Richard
on his coming to the Throne), had brought out there to be his wife;
and sailed with them for Cyprus.

He soon had the pleasure of fighting the King of the Island of
Cyprus, for allowing his subjects to pillage some of the English
troops who were shipwrecked on the shore; and easily conquering
this poor monarch, he seized his only daughter, to be a companion
to the lady Berengaria, and put the King himself into silver
fetters. He then sailed away again with his mother, sister, wife,
and the captive princess; and soon arrived before the town of Acre,
which the French King with his fleet was besieging from the sea.
But the French King was in no triumphant condition, for his army
had been thinned by the swords of the Saracens, and wasted by the
plague; and SALADIN, the brave Sultan of the Turks, at the head of
a numerous army, was at that time gallantly defending the place
from the hills that rise above it.

Wherever the united army of Crusaders went, they agreed in few
points except in gaming, drinking, and quarrelling, in a most
unholy manner; in debauching the people among whom they tarried,
whether they were friends or foes; and in carrying disturbance and
ruin into quiet places. The French King was jealous of the English
King, and the English King was jealous of the French King, and the
disorderly and violent soldiers of the two nations were jealous of
one another; consequently, the two Kings could not at first agree,
even upon a joint assault on Acre; but when they did make up their
quarrel for that purpose, the Saracens promised to yield the town,
to give up to the Christians the wood of the Holy Cross, to set at
liberty all their Christian captives, and to pay two hundred
thousand pieces of gold. All this was to be done within forty
days; but, not being done, King Richard ordered some three thousand
Saracen prisoners to be brought out in the front of his camp, and
there, in full view of their own countrymen, to be butchered.

The French King had no part in this crime; for he was by that time
travelling homeward with the greater part of his men; being
offended by the overbearing conduct of the English King; being
anxious to look after his own dominions; and being ill, besides,
from the unwholesome air of that hot and sandy country. King
Richard carried on the war without him; and remained in the East,
meeting with a variety of adventures, nearly a year and a half.
Every night when his army was on the march, and came to a halt, the
heralds cried out three times, to remind all the soldiers of the
cause in which they were engaged, 'Save the Holy Sepulchre!' and
then all the soldiers knelt and said 'Amen!' Marching or
encamping, the army had continually to strive with the hot air of
the glaring desert, or with the Saracen soldiers animated and
directed by the brave Saladin, or with both together. Sickness and
death, battle and wounds, were always among them; but through every
difficulty King Richard fought like a giant, and worked like a
common labourer. Long and long after he was quiet in his grave,
his terrible battle-axe, with twenty English pounds of English
steel in its mighty head, was a legend among the Saracens; and when
all the Saracen and Christian hosts had been dust for many a year,
if a Saracen horse started at any object by the wayside, his rider
would exclaim, 'What dost thou fear, Fool? Dost thou think King
Richard is behind it?'

No one admired this King's renown for bravery more than Saladin
himself, who was a generous and gallant enemy. When Richard lay
ill of a fever, Saladin sent him fresh fruits from Damascus, and
snow from the mountain-tops. Courtly messages and compliments were
frequently exchanged between them - and then King Richard would
mount his horse and kill as many Saracens as he could; and Saladin
would mount his, and kill as many Christians as he could. In this
way King Richard fought to his heart's content at Arsoof and at
Jaffa; and finding himself with nothing exciting to do at Ascalon,
except to rebuild, for his own defence, some fortifications there
which the Saracens had destroyed, he kicked his ally the Duke of
Austria, for being too proud to work at them.

The army at last came within sight of the Holy City of Jerusalem;
but, being then a mere nest of jealousy, and quarrelling and
fighting, soon retired, and agreed with the Saracens upon a truce
for three years, three months, three days, and three hours. Then,
the English Christians, protected by the noble Saladin from Saracen
revenge, visited Our Saviour's tomb; and then King Richard embarked
with a small force at Acre to return home.

But he was shipwrecked in the Adriatic Sea, and was fain to pass
through Germany, under an assumed name. Now, there were many
people in Germany who had served in the Holy Land under that proud
Duke of Austria who had been kicked; and some of them, easily
recognising a man so remarkable as King Richard, carried their
intelligence to the kicked Duke, who straightway took him prisoner
at a little inn near Vienna.

The Duke's master the Emperor of Germany, and the King of France,
were equally delighted to have so troublesome a monarch in safe
keeping. Friendships which are founded on a partnership in doing
wrong, are never true; and the King of France was now quite as
heartily King Richard's foe, as he had ever been his friend in his
unnatural conduct to his father. He monstrously pretended that
King Richard had designed to poison him in the East; he charged him
with having murdered, there, a man whom he had in truth befriended;
he bribed the Emperor of Germany to keep him close prisoner; and,
finally, through the plotting of these two princes, Richard was
brought before the German legislature, charged with the foregoing
crimes, and many others. But he defended himself so well, that
many of the assembly were moved to tears by his eloquence and
earnestness. It was decided that he should be treated, during the
rest of his captivity, in a manner more becoming his dignity than
he had been, and that he should be set free on the payment of a
heavy ransom. This ransom the English people willingly raised.
When Queen Eleanor took it over to Germany, it was at first evaded
and refused. But she appealed to the honour of all the princes of
the German Empire in behalf of her son, and appealed so well that
it was accepted, and the King released. Thereupon, the King of
France wrote to Prince John - 'Take care of thyself. The devil is

Prince John had reason to fear his brother, for he had been a
traitor to him in his captivity. He had secretly joined the French
King; had vowed to the English nobles and people that his brother
was dead; and had vainly tried to seize the crown. He was now in
France, at a place called Evreux. Being the meanest and basest of
men, he contrived a mean and base expedient for making himself
acceptable to his brother. He invited the French officers of the
garrison in that town to dinner, murdered them all, and then took
the fortress. With this recommendation to the good will of a lion-
hearted monarch, he hastened to King Richard, fell on his knees
before him, and obtained the intercession of Queen Eleanor. 'I
forgive him,' said the King, 'and I hope I may forget the injury he
has done me, as easily as I know he will forget my pardon.'

While King Richard was in Sicily, there had been trouble in his
dominions at home: one of the bishops whom he had left in charge
thereof, arresting the other; and making, in his pride and
ambition, as great a show as if he were King himself. But the King
hearing of it at Messina, and appointing a new Regency, this
LONGCHAMP (for that was his name) had fled to France in a woman's
dress, and had there been encouraged and supported by the French
King. With all these causes of offence against Philip in his mind,
King Richard had no sooner been welcomed home by his enthusiastic
subjects with great display and splendour, and had no sooner been
crowned afresh at Winchester, than he resolved to show the French
King that the Devil was unchained indeed, and made war against him
with great fury.

There was fresh trouble at home about this time, arising out of the
discontents of the poor people, who complained that they were far
more heavily taxed than the rich, and who found a spirited champion
in WILLIAM FITZ-OSBERT, called LONGBEARD. He became the leader of
a secret society, comprising fifty thousand men; he was seized by
surprise; he stabbed the citizen who first laid hands upon him; and
retreated, bravely fighting, to a church, which he maintained four
days, until he was dislodged by fire, and run through the body as
he came out. He was not killed, though; for he was dragged, half
dead, at the tail of a horse to Smithfield, and there hanged.
Death was long a favourite remedy for silencing the people's
advocates; but as we go on with this history, I fancy we shall find
them difficult to make an end of, for all that.

The French war, delayed occasionally by a truce, was still in
progress when a certain Lord named VIDOMAR, Viscount of Limoges,
chanced to find in his ground a treasure of ancient coins. As the
King's vassal, he sent the King half of it; but the King claimed
the whole. The lord refused to yield the whole. The King besieged
the lord in his castle, swore that he would take the castle by
storm, and hang every man of its defenders on the battlements.

There was a strange old song in that part of the country, to the
effect that in Limoges an arrow would be made by which King Richard
would die. It may be that BERTRAND DE GOURDON, a young man who was
one of the defenders of the castle, had often sung it or heard it
sung of a winter night, and remembered it when he saw, from his
post upon the ramparts, the King attended only by his chief officer
riding below the walls surveying the place. He drew an arrow to
the head, took steady aim, said between his teeth, 'Now I pray God
speed thee well, arrow!' discharged it, and struck the King in the
left shoulder.

Although the wound was not at first considered dangerous, it was
severe enough to cause the King to retire to his tent, and direct
the assault to be made without him. The castle was taken; and
every man of its defenders was hanged, as the King had sworn all
should be, except Bertrand de Gourdon, who was reserved until the
royal pleasure respecting him should be known.

By that time unskilful treatment had made the wound mortal and the
King knew that he was dying. He directed Bertrand to be brought
into his tent. The young man was brought there, heavily chained,
King Richard looked at him steadily. He looked, as steadily, at
the King.

'Knave!' said King Richard. 'What have I done to thee that thou
shouldest take my life?'

'What hast thou done to me?' replied the young man. 'With thine
own hands thou hast killed my father and my two brothers. Myself
thou wouldest have hanged. Let me die now, by any torture that
thou wilt. My comfort is, that no torture can save Thee. Thou too
must die; and, through me, the world is quit of thee!'

Again the King looked at the young man steadily. Again the young
man looked steadily at him. Perhaps some remembrance of his
generous enemy Saladin, who was not a Christian, came into the mind
of the dying King.

'Youth!' he said, 'I forgive thee. Go unhurt!' Then, turning to
the chief officer who had been riding in his company when he
received the wound, King Richard said:

'Take off his chains, give him a hundred shillings, and let him

He sunk down on his couch, and a dark mist seemed in his weakened
eyes to fill the tent wherein he had so often rested, and he died.
His age was forty-two; he had reigned ten years. His last command
was not obeyed; for the chief officer flayed Bertrand de Gourdon
alive, and hanged him.

There is an old tune yet known - a sorrowful air will sometimes
outlive many generations of strong men, and even last longer than
battle-axes with twenty pounds of steel in the head - by which this
King is said to have been discovered in his captivity. BLONDEL, a
favourite Minstrel of King Richard, as the story relates,
faithfully seeking his Royal master, went singing it outside the
gloomy walls of many foreign fortresses and prisons; until at last
he heard it echoed from within a dungeon, and knew the voice, and
cried out in ecstasy, 'O Richard, O my King!' You may believe it,
if you like; it would be easy to believe worse things. Richard was
himself a Minstrel and a Poet. If he had not been a Prince too, he
might have been a better man perhaps, and might have gone out of
the world with less bloodshed and waste of life to answer for.

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