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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest Author Richard Warren Field: Was Richard the Lionheart Gay?

Today on History Undresseed, I am pleased to introduce you to a new historical guest author, Richard Warren Field.  I think you will find his post today quite fascinating, I certainly did!  And congratulations Mr. Field, on your Independent Publisher Book Award!

Was Richard the Lionheart Gay?
by Richard Warren Field

Thanks for hosting me today at “History Undressed,” a stop on my blog tour to celebrate the Independent Publisher Book Award for my novel, The Swords of Faith (about the Third Crusade/the confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin). In this post, I will address a question that has arisen in recent years about Richard the Lionheart, a topic I think is appropriately addressed at my stop at your blog.

When I first decided to write about the Third Crusade, the novel was called Richard and Saladin, and was to be focused around these two characters. I started my research by getting an overview looking at the articles about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in my old Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 edition. As I read the Richard biography, I made notes on key dates and periods, to focus my research. Everything was routine until the last two sentences: “In striking contrast to his father, and with King John [his brother] he was, there seems no doubt, a homosexual. He had no children with Queen Berengeria, with whom his relations seem to have been merely formal.”

I’ll admit it; I’d never heard this. In further checking on the issue, I saw it had been around. But I had known nothing about it. Now please don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against gays. If Richard the Lionheart was gay, then that would be the character I would write about. This would change the story, intended to delve into the lives of both of these iconic men. It might even become the most memorable aspect of the book, depending upon how significantly I emphasized it. I would need to be careful, as I wanted the story to focus on religious fanaticism. I needed to decide how I would address the Richard-was-gay issue.

So was Richard Lionheart gay? No. I don’t believe so. The two most recent Richard the Lionheart biographers came to the same conclusion. And as I address this issue, I will rely on biographies of Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham and Anthony Bridge, as well as other research materials like the thin biography of Richard’s wife, Berengeria: Enigmatic Queen of England.

A few words about Berengeria are important. Like most royal marriages of that period, Richard’s marriage to Berengeria was a political one. In that context, the marriage was very successful. Sancho of Navarre, the Basque king who was Berengeria’s father, helped Richard secure his territories in southern France. But the most important reason for Richard to get married was to produce an heir. With his brother John trying to usurp his throne for much of his reign, an heir was a must. But Richard’s marriage with Berengeria never
produced one. And as we see in the Encyclopedia Britannica, this is cited “Exhibit A” arguing for Richard’s homosexuality.

No one is available to examine this definitively. We’re not going to get access to Berengeria’s gynecological records, or to Richard’s sperm count. They didn’t spend a lot of time together, but were together at their
wedding and for months after, enough time for a fertile couple to produce a child. Was Berengeria “barren?” Possibly. Did they simply not couple together enough? Possibly, and that gives us the argument that Richard was gay. But it is well-documented that Richard had an illegitimate child, Philip of Cognac. So Richard was fertile with someone, and had the desire necessary!

When considering Berengeria, we find no raves about how beautiful this Queen of England was. Instead we find phrases like “she was sensible” or “she was pleasant.” This sounds like the old response, when the guy
asks how his blind date looks—“well, she has a nice personality.” Classic “damning with faint praise.” History’s biggest distinction for her seems to be that she was the only Queen of England who never set foot in England. Richard’s mother was the renowned Eleanor of Aquitaine, hailed for her beauty and intelligence. Eleanor of Aquitaine loved her son Richard, possibly the most of all of her sons. Could Berengeria ever measure up to this? And when she couldn’t, and heirs didn’t come in a hurry, did Richard lose interest?

There is evidence that when Berengeria and Richard met years before their marriage, Berengeria was taken with him. Eleanor of Aquitaine brought her to Sicily to join Richard on his way to the Middle East for the
Third Crusade. The idea was to celebrate a glorious wedding in a newly captured Jerusalem. Then a storm carried Berengeria off course, off to Cyprus. Richard and his men stormed the beach at Cyprus, and before even finishing his conquest of the island, Richard married Berengeria and got right to the honeymoon. There
was gossip that he had started the honeymoon early. This does not sound like a reluctant gay man.

Richard fended off marrying the sister of Philip II of France for years. Was this the reluctance of a gay man? No. Rumor was that Richard’s father Henry II had already had sex with Alice, and she may have even
had a child by him. This was not the type of princess Richard had in mind for his wife. Once Richard had settled with Philip, extricating himself from his marriage pledge to Alice, he married Berengeria within a few months.

Let’s take a look at a few other reasons for this recent assertion (Richard’s biographer John Gillingham points to 1948 as the first expression of this idea).

Richard and Philip II of France shared a bed together.
During the Middle Ages, sharing a bed with someone of the same sex, even sharing a bed among entire family members, was not uncommon. There are references to both Henry II and William Marshall, robust heterosexual men of the same period, similarly sharing beds. The instance of the two men “sharing a bed” referred more to their political-military union against Richard’s father than to any sexual behavior.

Richard made a public confession of sins in 1195.
Some have read into this that Richard made this public confession to address homosexual behavior. But it is more likely he was addressing profligate heterosexual behavior, the type that led to Philip of Cognac, his illegitimate child. There was reference to “Sodom” in the record of Richard’s confession. But the idea of a “sodomite” as referring to gay behavior is a more modern idea. The Sodom and Gomorrah story referred to all sorts of sexual sins, and the simple reference to “Sodom” does not mean Richard’s “sins” were homosexual.

Women were not admitted to Richard’s coronation.
Sorry ladies—standard practice at the time. This does not prove Richard hated women, or wasn’t attracted to them.

The idea that Richard the Lionheart, that dashing warrior of the Middle Ages, that larger-than-life epitome of bravery in battle, was gay is an intriguing tabloid-style shocker. It’s a delicious tidbit to challenge
long-held ingrained images about this iconic figure from the past. But when stepping back from the titillation, and looking at the real evidence, I have to agree with Gillingham and Bridge—Richard was most likely not gay. I portrayed him in The Swords of Faith as a heterosexual man with a healthy interest in Berengeria at first. Richard’s relationship to Berengeria is not the major focus of The Swords of Faith, but I do address it, and get into Richard’s head for possible reasons why the marriage was only successful politically, never producing an heir to the throne for Richard the Lionheart.

Sorry Encyclopaedia Britannica, I think you got this one wrong!

Richard Warren Field was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Los Gatos High School in 1972, and from the University of the Pacific with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Political Science in 1976. Richard, known as “Rick” by his friends and family, lives in Southern California with his wife Carrie and his two children, Michelle and Ryan—and three cats. Richard Warren Field is the name on his published writing, most recently his novel, The Swords of Faith, and a novel he co-wrote with chiropractor Dr. Alan Fluger, Dying to Heal. Recently, two of his essays were published in the Opposing Viewpoints series (see Richard Warren Field's Internet Column for details). He has described himself as a creative eccentric with serious interests in both writing and music since he was a child. His blog and this website reflect his many interests. http://www.richardwarrenfield.com/



9 comments:

Clement of the Glen said...

I agree with your conclusions. Historians have debated this since the eighteenth century, fuelled by the accounts of his stay in Paris when he used to share a bed with Philip Augustus himself.

But this in itself is evidence of nothing very much-people regularly shared beds in the twelfth century. If you were to stay in a medieval hall at this time it was not unusual to find several beds accommodating two or three or even more men. Women were also expected to share the same quarters.

Undine said...

I agree as well. I think this is yet another example of modern-day writers trying to shoehorn modern-day attitudes and mores on people from the past.

I suppose another complication in trying to assess the sexuality of historical figures is that classifying people as "heterosexual" or "homosexual" appears in itself to be a fairly recent concept.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Excellent post. Edward IV, whose tastes clearly ran to women, was another medieval bed-sharer (with Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset).

Isis said...

Oh, I so detest the bed-sharing as a "proof" for same-sex. Houses and castles were cold and drafty, sharing bed is a very good way to keep warm.

I've heard of, but never really interested me for the theory that Richard III preferred med, but if the proofs are what you have just given us, I don't give much for them.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you so much for visiting with us Richard! Fascinating post!

Richard Warren Field said...

My pleasure. Thanks again for having me!

Janice said...

One of my uncles (he'd be in his 90's now) mentioned sharing a bed when he lived and worked in Alaska. They did it for warm. Nothing sexual about it.

Times sure have changed.

Janice~

Richard Warren Field said...

I have enjoyed all the comments. There is no doubt that our view of history changes with changoing perspectives. But when we try to apply current views of the world to the past, we end up reading something "between the lines" that is not there. I think that's what started the "Richard the Lionheart is gay" idea, and everyone who commented helps make the argument even stronger that he was not. For me, this helped me make a decision on how to depict a character. As I said, I think I got it right, and the Britannica and revisionists got it wrong. Thanks to everyone who stopped in!

Jay Spears said...

I disagree. I think Richard WAS gay. Many commenters dwell on how it was not unusual for men to share a bed. I think that's probably true. However, here's how this whole discussion got started:
"Richard, [then] duke of Aquitaine, the son of the king of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the king of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the king of England [Richard's father] was absolutely astonished at the passionate love between them and marveled at it." -- Roger of Hoveden (royal clerk who went on the crusade with Richard)
Why would the King be "absolutely astonished" and have "marveled at it"? Roger was not writing about something commonplace or typical. He was writing about "passionate love". So I think the argument about normal bed-sharing fails.
Jay Spears
jay@gayheroes.com