Of the three kings of England named Richard, our grade-school history books usually state that Richard I the Lionhearted was a great king, Richard II was a megalomaniacal madman, and Richard III was a deformed and evil tyrant. Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Terry Jones in Episode 8 of his 2004 BBC series “Medieval Lives”.
Per Mr. Jones, the real stories go something like this: Lionheart was a creepy violent guy who cared only about finding excuses to fight, which is why he loved the Crusades so much, and he hated England, preferring to live in his lands in Normandy and Anjou and using England as a cash cow for his ruinously expensive wars and exercises in French castle-building. Richard II was a deeply religious man who acted to stop conflict wherever possible; this didn’t sit well with his barons, who wanted him to go to war more often so they could profit from it. Richard III was an able administrator who as Duke of Gloucester governed the north of England effectively and well, and upon becoming king introduced major reforms to the English legal system, such as having all the proceedings of a courtroom conducted in English instead of Latin or French.
Why were the real stories suppressed? In Lionheart’s case, the church, which approved of his crusading, had its chroniclers praise him to the skies. In the cases of Richards II and III, history was rewritten — literally — to please the victorious enemies of both kings. One wonders what other tales taught in school are not what we were told.