Death of a King

On April 6, 1199, King Richard I of England, best known as “Richard the Lionhearted,” died of an arrow wound in France, leaving his brother, John, King of England.

Richard received his fatal blow on March 25, when he was out checking the work of sappers undermining a castle he was besieging. He foolishly wasn’t wearing any chainmail, despite the fact that missiles were being hurled at him from the castle. One soldier on the castle walls deliberately aimed at Richard, who applauded, and while he was thus distracted another crossbowman struck him in the left shoulder, near the neck.

A surgeon was called but he did such a poor job removing the arrow he wound up mangling the king’s arm. The wound quickly became gangrenous, and Richard, realizing he was about to die, had the fateful crossbowman brought before him. The man—or boy, as some chroniclers would have it—claimed Richard had killed his father and two brothers, so he struck Richard in revenge. Instead of having the boy killed, Richard freed him and gave him 100 shillings. Unfortunately, not all of his friends got the memo—as soon as Richard was dead, one of the mercenary captains had the crossbowman flayed alive and hanged.

Richard, who died in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was buried at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou. He was succeeded by John, who proved a fairly ineffectual king. He lost Normandy, and the barons got so tired of him they revolted and forced him to sign the Magna Carta.

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