Richard I (1999)

Book Number: 17

John Gillingham is the world’s leading historian on the subject of Richard I and the Angevin Plantagenets. Weidenfeld & Nicolson published his biography of Richard I in 1978, called ‘Richard the Lionheart’. The publisher reissued it as a paperback in 1989 with a few revisions labelled on the cover as a "second edition" (which is isn't - Gillingham himself explains that all that is new is the preface, a tinker with the bibliography and a few new chapter notes). This was used as the basis of the new version for Yale in hardback in October 1999 and paperback in 2002. The 2002 Yale paperback of Richard I has some small revisions from the 1999 hardback with an expanded bibliography. The paperback was reissued with a new cover when the Kindle version was published. Some sections of the 1978 work are little changed, but Gillingham expanded the accounts of Richard on crusade and on the government of England, rather than chiefly France which was the focus of the earlier book.

Professor Gillingham also wrote the 1973 book ‘The life and times of Richard I’ for the English Kings and Queens series for Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Book Club Associates. This is a remarkably good popular history series and each of the thirty-three volumes in the series are edited by Antonia Fraser. The strength of this series is the wealth of well-chosen illustrations, usually not matched in an academic text.

A website visitor has alerted me to a further book on Richard by Professor Gillingham. This 1994 title had limited distribution. “Richard Coeur de Lion: Kingship, Chivalry and War in the Twelfth Century” was a selection of essays by Gillingham on Richard. Used copies can be found but the price is eye-watering. One only for the very keen collector.

The Yale book was reviewed in The American Historical Review, Vol.107(1) by James A. Bundage (University of Kansas), who commented that this book, the third by Gillingham on Richard, expands his discussion of Richard on crusade which is “detailed and lively” and also his achievements as an English monarch. Effective use is made of translated Arabic sources, largely neglected hitherto. Much is made of Richard's incarceration and the agendas of participants in the ransom arrangements. Bundage reports that GIllingham’s account of Richard as an English ruler strikes “…an uncommonly positive note."

Stephen Church (University of East Anglia) reviewed the book in The English Historical Review, Vol. 115, No. 464 (Nov., 2000). The opening comments place Gillingham's biography in context, explaining that the book opens as a defence of Richard I against all the scholars who have dismissed Richard's achievements because they have viewed the king from a modern perspective rather than that of his contemporaries who, generally, were much kinder to him. "It is a heroic defence, one worthy of Richard himself, and by and large it succeeds". "Gillingham is an exceptional historian, a true magister and doctor of his trade, as he demonstrates time after time throughout this book by the masterful use of his sources. In protesting rude simplicity while practising sophisticated rhetorical techniques to persuade his readers of the reliability of his tale, Gillingham is using a characteristic ploy of the medieval author." The review concludes very positively with the comment "In John Gillingham, Richard I has finally found his most able biographer. This is a tremendous book and a great read compellingly written."

Ralph V. Turner - author of the Eleanor of Aquitaine Yale biography just prior to this Richard I page - is also a biographer of Richard I and King John. In his Richard I biography (2000) he sets out to re-examine Richard’s character and concludes that he was a great soldier but “...cruel, willful and greedy” (p.vii). Turner and Gillingham’s books appeared about the same time and Turner thanks John Gillingham for his generosity in the exchange of ideas and opinions.

Two foreign language versions of Gillingham’s 1978 biography of Richard were published. A French language version was published in 1996 by Agnès Viénot Editions (ISBN 9782911606045) titled ‘Richard Coeur de Lion’. A German language edition was published in 1991. 'Richard Löwenherz’ (ISBN 9783881997386) was issued by Pawlak, Herrsch and reissued in 1990 by Claassen-Verlag (ISBN 9783546432238).

Further reading: readers are referred to the 2019 Yale biography of Saladin, 'The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin' by Jonathan Phillips (Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London).

ISBN data: Hardback - 9780300079128 | Paperback - 9780300094046

Link to the book's webpage at Yale

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1999 Hardback

2002 Paperback

Paperback reissue (2018)

Cover: A portion of a larger image showing Henry II, RIchard, John and Henry III. From Historia Anglorum by Matthew Paris, British Library.

Richard I

By John Gillingham (1940-  )

Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics

Series Editor: J.J. Scarisbrick