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Scrupulously well-balanced account of a remarkable ruler
on August 14, 2000
Richard the Lionheart's life and personality may be the stuff of legend, but they are hidden by the mists of time -- or rather the paucity of relevant documents. Gillingham does a brilliant job of breathing as much life as possible into rather arid fragments without stepping beyond what is warranted by the evidence. For his understanding of the king, he draws as much on contempory Arab sources as European ones, arguing convincingly that the Arab writers may have had fewer axes to grind in talking of Richard. Gillingham goes so far as to place his evaluation of Richard's character at the point where the evidence ends -- following his captivity in Germany -- rather than at the end of the book. Instead the book ends with a well reasoned argument that it was John (and John alone) who lost Normandy whereas Richard was winning the war against Philip Agustus of France. Gillingham also points out that, had Richard lived to complete that struggle, the empire of Henry II might still have disappeared with his death.
Inevitably, some of the work is frustratingly dry -- especially for the process of Richard's development into a strong ruler and military genius against the background of one of history's most disfunctional families. But that dryness arises from the lack of evidence, not from immersion in trivia at the expense of substance.
The book itself is a delight, with strong narrative supported by a myriad of footnotes which are where they should be -- at the bottom of the pages. All in all, a good story well told with insightful analysis based on the record.