Gay History: The Curious Relationship Between Richard The Lionheart And King Philip II Of France

Richard the Lionheart and Philip II of France “ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them.”

There are a number of monarchs throughout history who are believed to have been gay. Richard the Lionheart and Philip II are just a couple of kings who seemingly would rather have a relationship with a man than produce an heir and a spare. However, though Richard has been treated as something of a gay icon for years, direct evidence that he and Philip actually had a homosexual relationship is scant.

The source most people point to is a report by Roger de Hoveden, who was a contemporary of the two kings. Here is an English translation of his account:

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 was absolutely astonished and the passionate love between them and marveled at it.

It sounds like solid evidence, but put into the context of the time, sharing a bed wasn’t a big deal. Certainly among lower classes, bed sharing among families happened all the time—it was a way to keep warm, or they might not have been able to afford more than one bed, or had room for more than one. Bed sharing was done as a matter of necessity. There was nothing inherently sexual about it and it was something most did.

In the case of Richard and Philip, the bed sharing and the other statements of love between them were a political statement.  The two had teamed up to overthrow Henry II, and were just announcing to the world that France and England were allies. About the notion that the two were gay, historian Dr. John Gillingham states,

The idea wasn’t even mooted until 1948 and it stems from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of France and England had slept the night in the same bed. It was an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it; just two politicians literally getting into bed together, a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity.

Richard the Lionheart was also known to have held political court in his bedroom. He also rewarded his favourite servants with the opportunity to sleep at the foot of his bed at night. Again, there is no evidence to suggest that anything more than sleeping occurred on these occasions. He shared a bed with others to symbolize trust.

In later years, political leaders would often greet each other with “the kiss of peace” which was Biblically sanctioned. Again, the kiss meant nothing more than a handshake does today.

While the bed sharing and eating together wasn’t necessarily a positive indicator of the pair’s sexual preferences, the two for a time maintained a close alliance and apparent friendship.  In fact, Richard was engaged to Alice, Philip’s sister for a while. However, he ended up renouncing her and spreading a rumour that she was having an affair and had given birth to an illegitimate child. Richard also married his wife, Berengaria of Navarre, while he was still betrothed to Philip’s sister. Not exactly things a person should do if they were trying to keep on the woman’s brother’s good side.

As previously mentioned, Philip also helped Richard win the crown of England. Thanks to their alliance, Philip went to war against Richard’s father with Richard later joining in, ultimately defeating Henry II. Henry then named Richard his heir and died two days later.

Philip and Richard’s relationship eventually soured. The pair spent the last five years of Richard’s life in bitter rivalry and open war. Richard ended up winning many of the battles between the two, but Philip outlasted him. Supposedly, Richard was shot and killed by a boy who was acting out of revenge. Whether that is true or not, the arrow he was shot with didn’t hit anything vital, but the wound became gangrenous, at least giving him time to set his affairs in order before he succumbed to infection.

Was Richard’s and Philip’s enmity part of a lover’s quarrel as is so commonly said today? The evidence for that is scant. So if not “lover’s quarrel” maybe “bromance turned sour…” or perhaps most accurate of all “political alliance that was no longer necessary or convenient.”

Bonus Facts:

▪ Many people argue that Richard was homosexual because he rarely saw his wife and never fathered any legitimate children. However, he did have at least one illegitimate son and reportedly spent time with other women while on Crusade.

▪ Richard and Philip fought together during the Crusades, but argued over what to do about certain areas, resulting in Philip leaving for France earlier than anticipated. Richard was then captured, and when he was released Philip warned Richard’s brother John: “Look to yourself: the devil is loose.”

▪ Philip’s marital issues also earned him a reputation for being homosexual, though he had enough wives and children to (perhaps) prove otherwise. He had one child with his first wife, Isabelle, who later died in childbirth trying to deliver twins (who also died). He was then married to Ingeborg, the daughter of the King of Denmark, who he despised and confined to a convent before seeking an annulment from the Pope on the grounds of non-consummation. He then took a third wife, Agnes, by whom he had two children, before going back to Ingeborg on the Pope’s orders.

▪ As far as kings go, Richard wasn’t a very good one. He only spent six months of his ten year reign in England and cared more about the Crusades than what was going on in his own country. He is popularly remembered as a good king though, partially because of the Robin Hood legends, where Robin Hood was a supporter of Richard the Lionheart and a sworn enemy of the king’s evil brother, Prince John.

▪ King Philip wasn’t a fan of John, either. After Richard’s death, John became king. Philip and John were at war for years, as Philip suspected that John had kidnapped and murdered Arthur, his daughter Marie’s betrothed.



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