Richard 1st – One time owner of Soham Manor
Tomb effigy of King Richard 1st of England. This image was taken by Soham Heritage and Tourism member: Elizabeth Johnston in May 2014 at Rouen Cathedral, France.

From 1194 Richard I usually assigned the Soham manor, or its income, sometimes in two equal shares worth £19 each, to those whom he wished to favour or oblige; among them were Adam, butler of his ally Adolf, archbishop of Cologne, (1194-5, 1199-1200), William of Ste.-Mére-Eglise, later bishop of London, (1195-6), and Ilbert de Carency (1198-9).

Richard 1, it appears, hadn’t much interest in being king of England. In his ten years as monarch he only spent a few months in the country, and it is doubtful that he could actually speak the English language. He once remarked that he would have sold the whole country if he could have found a buyer. Fortunately, he couldn’t find anyone with the necessary funds!

Richard was the son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. He spent much of his youth in his mother’s court at Poitiers. During the last years of Henry’s reign, Queen Eleanor constantly plotted against him. Encouraged by their mother, Richard and his brothers campaigned against their father in France. King Henry was defeated in battle and surrendered to Richard, and so on the July 5th 1189, Richard became King of England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou.

After his coronation Richard, having already taken the crusader’s vow, set out to join the Third Crusade to free the Holy Land from Saladin, the leader of the Turks.

Whilst wintering in Sicily, Richard was met by his mother along with a potential bride to-be, Berengaria of Navarre. He initially resisted the match.

On the way to the Holy Land, part of Richard’s fleet was wrecked off Cyprus. The island’s ruler Isaac I made the mistake of upsetting Richard by badly treating his surviving crews. Richard had landed in Rhodes but immediately sailed back to Cyprus where he defeated and deposed Isaac.

Whether it was the magic of the island, the heightened senses from his victory or something else entirely, it was in Cyprus that Richard relented and married Berengaria of Navarre. An unlikely place perhaps for an English king to get married, nevertheless Berengaria was crowned Queen of England and Cyprus.

Richard continued with the Crusade, landing and taking the city of Acre on 8 June 1191. Whilst reports of his daring deeds and exploits in the Holy Land excited the folks back home and in Rome, in reality he failed to achieve the main objective which was to regain control of Jerusalem.

So in early October, after concluding a three years’ peace deal with Saladin he set off alone on the long journey home. During the journey Richard was shipwrecked in the Adriatic and eventually captured by the Duke of Austria. A heavy ransom was demanded for his release.

Kings apparently do not come cheap, and in England it took a quarter of every man’s income for a whole year to raise the funds for Richard’s release. He eventually returned to England in March 1194.

However he didn’t spend much time in England and spent the rest of his life in France doing what he seemed to enjoy most of all… fighting.

It was while besieging the castle at Chalus in France that he was shot by a crossbow bolt in the shoulder. Gangrene set in and Richard ordered the archer who had shot him, to come to his bedside. The archer’s name was Bertram, and Richard gave him a hundred shillings and set him free.

King Richard died at the age of 41 from this wound and is buried in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Rouen, one of four with the same name around France (others in Paris, Chartres and Reims). The throne passed to his brother John. A sad end for the Lion-Heart, and alas, also for poor Bertram the archer. Despite the King’s pardon he was flayed alive and then hanged.

The images of King Richard 1st tomb, were taken by Soham Heritage and Tourism member: Elizabeth Johnston at Rouen cathedral, France in May 2014.

Berengaria of Navarre – Wife
She was born circa 1165 the eldest daughter of Sancho VI ‘the Wise’ King of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. She had 3 brothers, Sancho (the future King Sancho VII of Navarre), Ferdinand and Ramiro, Bishop of Pamplona and two sisters Constance and Blanche of Navarre, who married Count Theobald III of Champagne.

Berengaria was described as having dark hair and eyes, “petite, and a fine musician… in all things, a suitable consort for a king”. Ambroise, a contemporary Norman minstrel, described her as “elegant and prudent”. Richard 1 of England ‘the Lionheart’ had been betrothed since infancy to Alys of France, the sister of King Phillip Augustus. However, Richard’s father, King Henry II, had made Alys his mistress, and Richard was therefore reluctant to marry her. Gossip claimed Alys to have even borne the late King’s child.

Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Dowager Queen of England selected Berengaria as a future wife for her son. A marriage with Berengaria was desirable as it would bring a dowry that would aid Richard finances in the Third Crusade and would provide protection for the southern borders of Aquitaine. Richard was a great friend of her brother, Sancho, Berengaria had met Richard only once prior to their espousal, at a tournament at Pamplona held by her father.

The indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine, then aged 70, travelled over the Pyrenees to collect Berengaria and escort her to Sicily where they were due to rendezvous with Richard. On reaching Sicily they were joined by Richard’s sister, Joanna, the Dowager Queen of Sicily. They were expecting to meet up with Richard in Messina, but he had already continued on his journey for the Holy Land. Berengaria and Eleanor had arrived at Sicily during Lent, and so the marriage could not take place until after Easter.

The voyage to the Holy Land continued, but the ship carrying Berengaria and Joanna was shipwrecked on the coast of Cyprus in the course of a violent storm. The Cyprians besieged the English survivors of the wreck at Limasoll. A large amount of treasure, intended for use on the crusade, was appropriated by Isaac Comnenus, the Emperor of Cyprus. Richard dispatched a letter to Isaac, which was arrogantly ignored. Outraged, he unleashed the full force of the famed Plantagenet fury on the unfortunate Isaac. The Cyprian Emperor was overthrown and English governors were set up over the island which was used as a garrison for the crusade.

Berengaria and Richard were married on May 12, 1191, at the Chapel of St George at Limassol on Cyprus, she was crowned Queen of England the same day by the Archbishop of Bordeaux and Bishops of Évreux and Bayonne. She travelled on to Acre in Palestine with Richard and accompanied him for the first part of the crusade. When Richard finally agreed a truce with his enemy, Saladin, Berengaria left the Holy Land for Poitou in France, Richard was taken prisoner on his way back to Europe. Eleanor arranged his ransom.

The marriage of Berengaria and Richard produced no children, Richard proved to be an indifferent husband, more interested in his warfare than his wife. He did have at least one illegitimate child, Philip of Cognac. On his release he made no effort to send for Berengaria, and a priest is said to have ordered him to reconcile with his wife. Richard was ordered by Pope Celestine III to reunite with Berengaria and to show fidelity to her in the future.

When he fell ill and thought death was near, Richard vowed that if he recovered, he would never leave his wife again. He did recover, and true to his vow, he went to Poitou and became reconciled with Berengaria. An entry in the Polychronicon records- “The King took to him his Queen Berengaria, whose society he had for a long time neglected, though she were a royal, eloquent, and beauteous lady, and for his love had ventured with him through the world.” He granted her the revenues arising from mines in Cornwall and Devonshire as her dower. The couple’s reconciliation was short lived however and Richard, despairing of heirs by his queen, eventually named his younger brother John as heir to England.

Richard died on from a crossbow bolt wound infected by gangrene. His mother was by his bedside at the end. His neglected wife was not even summoned, but she was reported to be greatly distressed at his death. Berengaria although Dowager Queen had never seen England, she never remarried and lived on at Le Mans in Maine, one of her dower properties. Richard’s successor, his younger brother King John, seized much of her property and failed to pay her pension. She sent envoys to complain and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Pope, Innocent III, both intervened. The Pope threatened John with an interdict if he did not pay, but he never paid most of what was owed to her, at his death he still owed Berengaria more than £4000. John’s son, King Henry III, finally did pay much of what she was owed.

She founded the abbey of L’Épau on the outskirts of Le Mans in 1229 and entered the convent there. Berengaria died on 23 December 1230, before the Abbey was finished and was buried there according to her wishes. Her tomb monument has been moved many times over the proceeding centuries and doubt remains over the exact location of her burial. A skeleton of a woman who died in her sixties, which thought to be hers, was uncovered by Pierre Térouanne in 1960 during the restoration of the abbey. These remains are preserved beneath the stone effigy of the queen, which is now in the chapter house of the abbey.

Tomb of the Queen, wife of King Richard 1st of England – Berengaria of Navarre


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