Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall

Richard of Cornwall (5 January 12092 April 1272) was Count of Poitou (from 1225 to 1243), Earl of Cornwall (from 1225) and German King (formally "King of the Romans", from 1257). One of the wealthiest men in Europe, he also joined the Sixth Crusade, where he achieved success as a negotiator for the release of prisoners, and assisted with the building of the citadel in Ascalon.


He was born on January 5, 1209 at Winchester Castle, the second son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême. He was made High Sheriff of Berkshire at the age of only eight, was styled Count of Poitou from 1225 and in the same year, at the age of sixteen, his brother king Henry gave him Cornwall as a birthday present. Richard's revenues from Cornwall provided him with great wealth, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Though he campaigned on King Henry's behalf in Poitou and Brittany, and served as Regent three times, relations were often strained between the brothers in the early years of Henry's reign. Richard rebelled against him three times, and had to be bought off with lavish gifts.

In March 1231 he married Isabel Marshal, the wealthy widow of the Earl of Gloucester, much to the displeasure of his brother King Henry, who feared the Marshall family because they were rich, influential, and often opposed him. Richard became stepfather to Isabel's six children from her first husband. In that same year he acquired his main residence, Wallingford Castle in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), and spent much money on developing it. He had other favoured properties at Marlow and Cippenham in Buckinghamshire. Isabel and Richard had four children, of whom only their son, Henry of Almain, survived to adulthood. Richard opposed Simon de Montfort, and rose in rebellion in 1238 to protest against the marriage of his sister, Eleanor, to Simon. Once again he was placated with rich gifts.

When Isabel was on her deathbed in 1240, she asked to be buried next to her first husband at Tewkesbury, but Richard had her interred at Beaulieu Abbey instead. As a pious gesture, however, he sent her heart to Tewkesbury. Later that year Richard departed for the Holy Land. He fought in no battles but managed to negotiate for the release of prisoners and the burials of Crusaders killed at a battle in Gaza in 1239. He also refortified Ascalon, which had been demolished by Saladin. On his return from the Holy Land, Richard visited his sister Isabella, the empress of Frederick II. Shortly after his return on January 28, 1242, King Henry and his wife Eleanor brought up the idea of a marriage with Eleanor's sister Sanchia. On his journey to the Holy Land, Richard had met her in the Provence, where he was warmly welcomed by her father Raymond Berenger V and had fallen in love with this beautiful girl. Richard and Sanchia (whom the English called Cynthia) married at Westminster in November 1243. This marriage tied him even more closely to the royal party.

Richard's claims to Gascony and Poitou were never more than nominal, and in 1241 King Louis IX of France invested his own brother Alphonse with Poitou. Moreover, Richard and Henry's mother, Isabella of Angouleme, claimed to have been insulted by the French king. They were encouraged to recover Poitou by their stepfather, Hugh X of Lusignan, but the expedition turned into a military fiasco after Lusignan betrayed them.

The pope offered Richard the crown of Sicily, but according to Matthew Paris he responded to the extortionate price by saying, "You might as well say, 'I make you a present of the moon - step up to the sky and take it down"'." [Craik, George L, & Macfarlane, Charles, "The Pictorial History of England", p.657] Instead, his brother King Henry purchased the kingdom for his own son Edmund.

Although Richard was elected in 1256 as King of Germany by four of the seven German Electoral Princes (Cologne, Mainz, the Palatinate and Bohemia), his candidacy was opposed by Alfonso X of Castile who was elected by Saxony, Brandenburg and Trier. The pope and king Louis IX of France favoured Alfonso, but both were ultimately convinced by the powerful relatives of Richard's sister in law, Eleanor of Provence, to support Richard. Ottokar II of Bohemia, who at first voted for Richard but later elected Alfonso, eventually agreed to support the earl of Cornwall, thus establishing the required simple majority. So Richard only had to bribe four of them, but this came at a huge cost of 28,000 marks! On May 27, 1257 the archbishop of Cologne himself crowned Richard "King of the Romans" in Aachen [Nancy Goldstone. "Four Queens; The Provençal Sisters who ruled Europe." Pinguin Books, London, 2008, p. 213.] . However, like his lordships in Gascony and Poitou, his title never held much significance, and he made only four brief visits to Germany between 1257 and 1269.

He founded Burnham Abbey in Buckinghamshire in 1263, and the Grashaus, Aachen in 1266.

He joined King Henry in fighting against Simon de Montfort's rebels in the Second Barons' War (1264–67). After the shattering royalist defeat at the Battle of Lewes, Richard took refuge in a windmill, was discovered, and imprisoned until September 1265.

In December 1271 he had a stroke. His right side was paralyzed and he lost the ability to speak. On April 2, 1272, Richard died at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire. He was buried next to his second wife Sanchia of Provence and Henry of Almain, his son by his first wife, at Hailes Abbey, which he had founded.

After his death, a power struggle ensued in Germany, which only ended in 1273 by the emergence of a new Roman King, Rudolph I of Habsburg, the first scion of a long lasting noble family to rule the empire. In Cornwall, Richard was succeeded by Edmund, son of his second wife Sanchia.

Marriages and Issue

He married three times:

Firstly, on 30 March 1231, at St Mary's Church at Fawley in Buckinghamshire, to Isabel Marshal, widow of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, and daughter of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. She died in childbed 17 January 1240. Isabel bore him four children, all of whom died in the cradle, except:Henry of Almain (1235–71), Richard's heir apparent. Henry was the victim of the famous murder at Viterbo, when he was cut down while praying in a church by his cousins, Simon the younger de Montfort and Guy de Montfort, Count of Nola.

Secondly, on 23 November 1243, at Westminster Abbey, to Sanchia, daughter of Raymond Berenger IV, Count of Provence. She died 9 November 1261. Richard had three sons by Sanchia:Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (1249–1300) but he died childless:Richard Cornwall (1252–96) who married Joan Saint Owen (born 1260) and had issue. He, however, died at the siege of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296:Richard Cornwall, infant who died within a month of his birth.

Thirdly, on 16 June 1269, at Kaiserslautern, to Beatrice of Falkenburg, daughter of Dietrich I, Count of Falconburg. There were no children. She was aged about sixteen to Richard's sixty, and was said to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. Beatrice died 17 October 1277 and was buried at the Church of the Friars Minor in Oxford.

Richard had the reputation of being a womanizer. His mistress, Joan de Valletort, was certainly the mother of at least two of his illegitimate children.:Philip de Cornwall, was a cleric in 1248:Joan de Cornwall, in 1258. :Walter de Cornwall, was granted lands by his half-brother Edmund, and died in 1313.


Richard and his first wife, Isabel Marshall, appear as characters in Virginia Henley's historical novels, "The Marriage Prize" and "The Dragon and the Jewel".


* Denholm-Young, Noel. "Richard of Cornwall", 1947
* Tyerman, Christopher. "England and the Crusades, 1095–1588"
* Lewis, Frank. "Beatrice of Falkenburg, the Third Wife of Richard of Cornwall", 1937


NAME=Plantagenet, Richard
SHORT DESCRIPTION=King of the Romans, Earl of Cornwall
DATE OF BIRTH=January 5, 1209
PLACE OF BIRTH=Winchester Castle, Hampshire, England
DATE OF DEATH=April 2, 1272
PLACE OF DEATH=Berkhamsted Castle, Hertfordshire, England

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