Was Richard Lionheart Gay?
There are various historians who believe that Richard Lionheart, the 12th century English royal, whose very name epitomizes chivalry and valor, was gay.
The name Richard Lionheart evokes images of a heroic and noble warrior, a brave and chivalrous man who would fight for love and honor. The truth is that he was these things and more. Richard Lionheart was a poet and an intellectual--a Renaissance man before the Renaissance itself. But the truly interesting thing about Richard is this: some historians believe he was gay.
Richard Lionheart lived in England from 1157 to 1199, a time from which few documents still exist. And if they did, none of them would say “Richard Lionheart is a homosexual.” Most official records were kept by the royal household and the churches, neither of which sanctioned such behavior. Homosexuality was a sin against God and his church, and a legitimate reason for expulsion or death. Richard’s supposed homosexuality made him a ready target for anyone wishing to usurp royal authority, so pains had to be taken to avoid this from becoming public knowledge.
Despite this, there are a number of second-hand observations and circumstantial evidence that would point to such a statement’s truth. According to Marion Meade in her book Eleanor of Aquitaine, his homosexuality rests “in the area of certainty rather than probability.”
Around 1190, Richard was forced into an arranged marriage by his mother, Queen Eleanor. She was desperate for Richard, her favorite son and heir to the British throne, to produce an heir and stabilize England. Richard and his fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre, were strangers when they married. They married hastily because Richard wanted to leave immediately for his long-planned crusade to the Holy Land that same day. She left for her castle and did not see him again.
Just weeks before that shotgun wedding in Messina, Richard confessed his homosexuality at a local church. He stood in the doorway, outing himself, wearing only his pants.
Richard and Berengaria eventually consummated their marriage in 1195--five years after they were married--after Richard had been scared into confessing his homosexuality to a priest. The priest ordered him to have sex with his wife, as penance.
The fact that these two confessions did make it into writing is remarkable. The gossip and innuendo surrounding Richard Lionheart’s homosexuality was rampant and has been noted by more than one modern historian.
Queen Eleanor was aware of her son’s homosexuality, but she ignored it. Her primary concern was that he succeed to the English throne and produce a son. Richard Lionheart did have an illegitimate son, just as he had a few forced lovers in his lifetime, but the boy never entered into anyone’s consideration as a successor.
The pains Richard took to woo women publicly was probably to please his mother. He made no further effort to sire any children and he did not have any legitimate children with Berengaria before he died in battle in France in 1199.
The question of his homosexuality is a fascinating one. Not only does it challenge the historical stereotypes of masculinity and heroic love, but it causes us to reexamine our modern stereotypes of homosexuals.