The Lion’s  Heart 

copyright © 1998  -
Publ. in Swedano Journal, May 2004 (3rd year, No 5, p.11-13);
 updat. from  Stjernerne, Febr.2000 (43rd year, No 11)


Richard I, British king 11891199, was called Coeur de Lion, ‘Lionheart’.
But why? Looking at the extensive use of omens and signs in the past relating
to this famous king and crusader, a so far unknown connection appears.

The Lion constellation, in which the star called the
Lion’s Heart had a traditional fame since Antiquity.


Signs and Omens

The mediaeval comprehension of inexplicable, strange events was most often that these were signs of God’s will. Especially, the idea became related to a vast number cases concerning astronomical and meteorological phenomena. The Catholic church sometimes banned the practise of astrology; at other times, however, claiming that in this way God was procuring these signs in the sky. In the centuries 1200-1300 the latter association contributed to the fact that astrologers and receivers of omens were tolerated to some degree by the church.
A number of familiar European kings, for instance William the Conqueror and Richard Coeur de Lion, have tried to benefit from the interpretations by the receivers of omens - not least for propaganda purposes. 

Among celestial signs and omens of that time, one of the most famous of them all can be seen in the motif embroidered in the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy, i.e. the Halley Comet. At the tapestry the comet is shown above the heads of people surrounding the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold II (Harold Godwineson) at his coronation in 1066.  

Generally comets were considered omens of bad luck - and in particular for kings and rulers. A later example was in 1600 century, when - after comet’s appearance - Charles V, the most powerful of European rulers, resigned from the throne, frightened by this omen, and had his son made emperor instead and choosing himself to live his last couple of years in a monastery. 

Many contemporaries had no doubts that the mentioned Halley Comet in 1066 so disastrously portended the death of King Harold. And he did pass away the same year, at Hastings during his defeat to the invading Norman army of William the Conqueror. William - who (like Harold) was an immediate descendant of Danish Vikings (and had his sons learn Danish at Bayeux) - became king of England after his victorious invasion. In this way his vast French areas were for many years a part of the British kingdom.

Soon after the big crusades were commenced, leading rulers of Western Europe were actively participating in these extensive expeditions against the Orient, from where new knowledge of many kinds were brought back to Europe by the returning travellers. European princes were highly inspired by the leaders of their Arab opponents. One of these features was the astrologers installed by the princes in their palaces - to be used for taking auguries faster in this way. Thus, in 1228, as employed in the permanent staff of the court of Emperor Frederic II, Michael Scot(us) completed his later so famous book of reference concerning astrology

William the Conqueror had the Bayeux Tapestry made with the (Halley)
comet in the sky (upper left) as a bad omen to his enemy, British king
Harold, who is seen here “suppressed” by the comet.

Richard Lionheart - Coeur de Lion

Richard Coeur de Lion, one of the most famous British kings, was born a century after William the Conqueror. He is still known by many, not least because he is often seen reproduced in movies about Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. Others may know him from Walter Scott novels, e.g. “The Talisman” and “Ivanhoe”, on which the movies were based. 

The mythical anecdotes about the king in these movies and novels are in some cases not considered to be true. But the very reality of the king was nevertheless exciting. In a wide extent posterity imaginations about him are due to his nickname Lionheart, Coeur de Lion. 

In this way we have two editions of Richard Coeur de Lion: of the legend and of the history. The historical edition is Richard I, British king 1189-1199, of the Plantagenet family, a Norman line of kings and nobility. He was the charismatic and striving-for-honour son of Henry II, British king, who was also ruling almost half of France. At the death of this king in 1189, Richard was to become king, and from his domicile in one of these British owned, western French provinces he consequently had to travel to England for his coronation. 

He was welcomed at a stately ceremony in Winchester on August 15 that year - and on September 2 he was crowned in the then recently built Westminster (Abbey), now the oldest abbey. A special event - today unknown to historians but seems exactly attached to his fame - is to be traced from his voyage from France. 

The above mentioned dates are from a contemporary narrative,“Images of History” by Ralph of Diceto from St. Pauls in London. They are 8 days behind the dating according to present Gregorian calendar. This also goes for Richard’s “old” date of birth, i.e. September 8, 1167. 

The mentioned Ralph of Diceto also wrote about the portending phenomena; for instance, he concluded his chronicle in 1200 with a scary story about an lunar eclipse on January 3, when the moon “had the colour of blood”, and for several hours “its beams were like fire”.

King Richard I nicknamed “Lionheart”/Coeur de Lion.
Most of his time of reign he spent abroad  crusading, and
he was also detained for a whole year in a German prison.


Predictions About Richard

Joachim of Fiore, a visionary abbot of the Cistercian monastic order in Calabria, was thoroughly questioned by the intelligent and well educated Richard Coeur de Lion, when in 1190-1191 he was on a visit en route to the third crusade. The conversation between Joachim and Richard is reproduced in “The Deeds of Kings”, a contemporary chronicle written by Gervase, the famous British monk of Canterbury Cathedral. 

In the chronicle we can see that Joachim portended the following - based on the biblical “Revelation of St. John the Divine”:  since Saladin (Salah al-din), the Kurdish prince of Syria and Egypt, was considered to be appointed the sixth of “the seven enemies of the church” (among whom Herod and Antichrist were also mentioned), Saladin and his armies were doomed to succumb. The remaining part of the Joachim’s predictions is that Richard would be an important factor in this “inevitable event”.

William of Newburgh, another chronicle writer, may even have been an eye witness to several “omen bearing” events. In “History of English Affairs” he writes in 1196-1198 that in January 1193 large parts of the sky turned red for several hours as if really on fire. This was repeated in February - and again in November, when the monks ran out of their churches in order to find out which building was on fire. Based on these events, William of Newburgh made a prediction about Richard Coeur de Lion’s stay in a foreign prison on his way home from the third crusade. Today the phenomenon in question is considered to be Aurora Borealis. 

Three years later - in 1196 - William of Newburgh saw a double sun. According to ancient traditions the sun was considered a symbol attached to kings. He interpreted this sight as a sign of two kings’ splitting - here as a war between Richard and French king Philip II August, earlier Richard’s ally at the crusades. In fact this event took place historically shortly after.


French king Philip II, the ally of Richard Coeur de Lion and later his opponent, at the capture of Palestine.

The King in Disguise 

Nobody knows for sure when Richard was nicknamed “Lionheart” - often stated as Coeur de Lion - based on his French background. By some disappointed followers he was also given other - and scurrilous nicknames, e.g. Oc-e-No, old Aquitaine French for ‘Yes-and-No’. But the name Coeur de Lion became so famous that it even gave name to a now ancient family, Corleone (much later used in the novel and movie, “The Godfather”) at Sicily, where he stayed on his way to a crusade. While waiting here, Richard may have “founded” descendants whom got the name Some historians have suggested that he was hardly interested - he had no children with the queen. 

Richard Coeur de Lion fell out with many of his allies, especially the French king Philip II. It was the first crusade with armies brought to Palestine by sea. As a genius surprise Richard had the island of Cyprus conquered in order to have it as a protecting base for the crusaders. However, later he was abandoned in Palestine by Philip II and the French army and most of their common fleet. So Richard and his army had to fight alone, which he also did brilliantly.
Unexpectedly he got on good terms with above-mentioned Saladin, the king of the enemies, who even, when in action Richard’s horse was killed right under him, gave him a new horse and had it sent to him during the very fight between their two armies. 

Richard returned secretly from Jerusalem, while being worried about his domestic position, since John Lackland, his disloyal brother, was regent (supported by the French king).
He travelled through the German countries in order to enter into a union with a local king, and therefore in disguise he had presented himself as a kitchen servant, who “turned the ox-spit, in an inn Vienna”. However, it was disclosed by his incautiousness (by letting his esquire - also in disguise - wearing expensive gloves when shopping at a market), and later he was actually kidnapped by Austrian Duke Leopold and hidden for many months. Leopold demanded a huge ransom. After the payment on his release travel Richard was captured again and now handed over to the most powerful prince of those days, the very emperor Henry VI (again approved by the French king).


The secret return from Jerusalem, through Austria, where Richard Coeur de Lion
was in disguise. Nevertheless he was recognised and detained at a secret place.
The event is here pictured in an Italian contemporary manuscript.


Lions With And Without Hearts

Upon the latest release Richard was forced to recognise the principle sovereignty of Henry VI - and to show this for instance by accepting the heraldic arms design of the emperor, i.e. the lion emblem. This subject was of the same kind as that of his own shield, i.e. three lions. This - although symbolic - way of recognition of the emperor could not be cancelled, so instead Richard showed his independence by a second coronation in England in April 1194. Today the lions are still part of the British national coat of arms.

Already contemporary Danish king Valdemar the Great (1154-1182) was also to mutually recognise the German emperor and took part in official ceremonies with him in Germany. Accordingly, Valdemar established the Danish national coat of arms to bear the three lions - originally it was three leopards. The so-called “hearts” - also included in the Danish national coat of arms, have nothing to do with “lionhearts”; at that time they were designated “lake leaves”, i.e. some heart-shaped leaves of water lilies. Whereas, the British coat of arms, the lion icon, may only indirectly have contributed to Richard’s “Lionheart” nickname.  So how did the name originate? Some circumstances seem to point directly to an astrological origin.


The noble family coat of arms of Richard Coeur de Lion, with the
three lions, still to be found on the British national coat of arms.


A Royal Star 

The basilisk, the mythological monster appearing in the fables, is known in alchemy and also early in the astrology. In this star knowledge it was related to and having the same name as one of the four royal stars, in this case the main star of the Leo constellation, which is the night sky’s fifth strongest shining star: Basiliscus, meaning ‘little king’. From this Greek name the astronomer Copernicus named it in Latin to be Regulus - of the same meaning. It is also named Cor Leonis, Latin for ‘the lion’s heart’. 

From contemporary statements in Antiquity. Plutarch had reported later that it had been arranged that Alexander the Great was conceived so that he could be born, when the sun was passing the star of the Lionheart. His life became world famous, an immense course and time, however short. He ruled for approx. 10 years and died already at the age of 32. 

Antiquity’s astrologers considered that such intensive features were among the characteristics which - when horoscope relations were interpreted - probably were related to the star in question. Later, Tycho Brahe, for instance, did also accept such ideas; nevertheless, somewhat ambitiously he founded his observatory palace - in 1576 at Hven, the Danish island - exactly at the time, when the sun passing this star. The observatory was superb - admired and world famous - and existed for only approx. 21 years. And 100 years later it was copied, when the Greenwich Observatory was also founded on the day of Basiliscus - but existed for 300 years.  

Both in east and west Richard quickly became one of the most famous crusader kings, even in England, although here he only spent six months in total of his short, but dynamic and dramatic 10 years of ruling - until his death at the age of 42. Based on the way of understanding of that time this contains interesting perspectives. Because exactly on August 12, 1189 (modern calendar style August 20), when British prince Richard sailed across the Channel to England for his coronation on September 2 (September 10), a solar eclipse took place prior to this: exactly on the star mentioned, i.e. Basiliscus/Cor Leonis - the Lionheart!

The Leo constellation, with its strongly beaming star,
Cor Leonis/Basiliskos as its heart.


The 1189 Solar Eclipse

The said solar eclipse in 1189 is not seen mentioned or seems to be found in any text - not even with Gervase of Canterbury’s frequently making notes also of celestial phenomena. Modern calculations show by high probability the solar eclipse was to be observed from the Channel, but hardly from England. However, in any case its appearance could be pre-computed astronomically - and thus be known by astrologers and professional people, who were also attached to Richard’s staff like with other leaders. The solar eclipse was not total and it took place at 6 p.m. - a little prior to sunset, and terminated before dusk, probably just before Richard and his followers reached the British coast. Solar eclipses was considered bad omen! 

Based on the above background the spectacular event must have been interpreted with apprehension by Richard’s group. Not least because the way of thinking of that time would inevitably have connected this star with the traditional, royal designation in relation to the forthcoming coronation and to Richard. But also because, as mentioned, the subject of his noble family coat of arms already - and thus for generations prior to his encounter with the German emperor - bore the mentioned royal lion theme. 

In this case no doubt - and for the sake of good order - it will probably have been tried to avert the bad omen by reverting its unfortunate publicity and utilise it propagandistically, thus in order to provide the king with a positive and heroic glory. With this starting point with the famous lion star, it is plausible that king Richard I - with his family lion symbolism and by this landing a few days prior to his coronation - adopted the nickname “Lionheart” - the name afterwards to become so famous.


Ove von Spaeth
Historian, Writer, Researcher: copyright © 1998 & 2004.
Some minor parts of the text quote from Ove von Spaeth’s book, “The Secret Religion
- i.e. volume 4 of his book series, “Assassinating Moses”.
(C.A. Reitzel Publisher & Bookseller, phone +45 3312 2400 &

Additional information:


Richard Coeur de Lion, statue in London.



Copyright © 2007 (& © 1978) by: Ove von Spaeth   -   -   All rights reserved.