Richard and the lion’s heart: the truth

So Richard Cœur-de-Lion owed his name to bravery in battle? Hmmm, because Robert Chambers‘ 1869 Book of Days, pillaging a medieval romance, tells a different tale. As we join proceedings, Richard is languishing in the nick (again! but it’s German this time) for having beaten up a pub musician, killed the son of the king of Germany in a fistfight, and shagged said king’s lovely daughter something rotten. Der Kaiser is not ze happy bunny in ze pointy hat:

King Modard discovered by accident the disgrace done to him in the person of his daughter, and was more firm than ever in his resolution to put the King of England to death; and a powerful and ferocious lion which the king possessed was chosen as the executioner, was kept three days and nights without food to render him more savage, and was then turned into the chamber where Richard was confined. Richard fearlessly encountered the lion, thrust his arm down his throat, tore out his heart, and killed him on the spot. Not content with this exploit, he took the lion’s heart into the hall where King Modard and his courtiers were seated at table, and dipping it in salt, ate it raw, ‘without bread!’ Modard, in astonishment, gave him the nickname of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, or Richard Lion’s-heart:

I’ wis, as I uncyrstande can,
This is a devyl, and no man,
That has my stronge lyoun slawe,
The harte out of hys body drawe,
And has it eeten with good wylle!
He may be callyd, be ryght skylle,
King icrystenyd off most renoun,
Stronge Rychard Coer-de-Lyoun.’

Modard now voluntarily allows Richard to be ransomed, and the latter returns to England, where he immediately prepares for the crusade, which occupies the greater part of the romance, in the course of which Richard not only kills innumerable Saracens with his own hand, but he cooks, eats, and relishes them.

Chambers also quotes Shakespeare’s Faulconbridge in King John, who describes Richard as one

Against whose fury and unmatched force
The aweless lion could not wage the fight,
Nor keep his princely heart from Richard’s hand.

However he doesn’t seem to have heard of William Archibald Spooner, who must be one of the spiritual parents of the following anecdote, along with Messrs Keats and Chapman:

King Richard hadn’t been feeling well of late, so he called in his personal physician, Dr Christian Barnyard, who immediately ordered a lion’s heart transplant. After the op, Dr Barnyard came onto the ward and asked the king how he was feeling. “Oh, you know,” said the monarch, still in shock, “it never pains but it roars.”

More old school cannibalism here and here, kiddos.

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