Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Common people

In September of 1190, King Richard I, AKA Lionheart, was on his way to the Third Crusade, travelling down the toe of Italy, en route to his next stopover in Sicily. He'd sent his servants on ahead when he heard the cry of a hawk coming from a village hovel. Enraged that anyone so low-born should own a hunting bird, Richard seized the anomalous raptor.

The exasperated local peasants responded by throwing sticks and stones at him. Richard drew his sword and things escalated into a bad-tempered ruck ('Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!'). The Lionheart gave the stroppiest peasant an almighty whack with the flat of his sword - which promptly snapped in two. Alone and deprived of his broadsword the Lionheart narrowly escaped with his life, but was decisively seen off by the angry mob).*

Sadly, my Ladybird biography of Richard I delayed the onset of political consciousness by omitting this interesting piece of medieval class warfare in favour of a couple of wholly imaginary fairy tales (an alleged meeting between Richard and Saladin and some stuff about the, probably fictional, Minstrel Blondel singing his way round Europe's castles in search of his kidnapped liege lord).

*This anecdote comes from the chronicles of Roger of Howden, via Frank McLynn's counter-revisionist take on the careers of King Richard I and King John, Lionheart and Lackland. I don't entirely buy McLynn's rehabilitation of Richard, although I'm willing to concede that he had specific talents and virtues not shared by members of his immediate family. If a similar incident had befallen Henry II, he'd have probably chopped the offending peasant in half, rather than using the flat of his sword, before returning with his army to exterminate the villagers. Brave King John would have most likely have bravely turned his tail and fled, before returning with his army to exterminate the villagers.