While Henry II and John's bitter quarrels with the Church have inspired much comment from both contemporaries and modern scholars, Richard Lionheart's relations with the English Church have attracted little notice. The lack of theatrical clashes with the pope or the archbishop of Canterbury has led modern scholars to assume that Richard I enjoyed fortunate relations with his clergy. Richard's most recent biographer has viewed him as “a conventionally pious man,” and contemporary chroniclers depicted him as fitting the Church's definition of the perfect knight whose financial exactions and other faults could be overlooked because of his crusader status.
Almost continuously absent from England, the Lionheart is assumed to have had little opportunity to assert his will in ecclesiastical matters. Yet, Richard I was as determined as his father and brother to defend English monarchs' traditional rights over the Church, because their mastery over such a powerful institution conferred many advantages. Their bishops were also barons who advised the king at great councils, who often held posts in the royal administration, and who owed feudal obligations, even quotas of knights. The royal right of regalia gave Richard custody of church lands during an episcopal vacancy and the right to authorize new elections and to approve bishops-elect.
Sir Christopher Cheney, a leading authority on the twelfth-century Church, observed that Richard I was “forever busy with the English Church.” An examination of the Lionheart's ecclesiastical policy proves him correct, revealing a monarch who had little respect for the Church's freedom and worked to preserve his royal predecessors's authority over it. Richard took care to oversee closely English episcopal elections.
Ralph V. Turner is Professor of History at Florida State University. He is the author of Judges, Administrators and the Common Law in Angevin England (1994) and King John (1994). His article on the survival of the Angevin empire appeared in the American Historical Review (February, 1995). He is continuing with a study of Richard Lionheart and his continental possessions.
* This is a revised version of a paper presented at the Carolinas Symposium on British Studies, Boone, North Carolina, 7 October 1995.