Châlus

Famously, it was here in 1199 that King Richard I, aged forty-one, received his
death-wound.42 The episode began with the Viscount of Limoges rebelling against Richard and making alliance with Richard’s old enemy Phillipe Auguste. Richard proceeded to attack the Viscount’s possessions and, in particular, his small eleventh century castle at Châlus. The cylindrical keep, 10 metres in diameter and 35 metres high (10 metres higher than at present), was defended by two knights and thirty-eight men (Fig. 23). Its upper fighting platform featured a projecting stone gallery with machicolation. One of the defending knights, Pierre Basile, spying Richard down below, fired a crossbow from the top of the keep and lodged a bolt deep in Richard’s shoulder. About eleven days later Richard died, probably from gangrene. He was buried at Fontevraud – l’Abbaye, the traditional burial place for early Plantagenet kings of England. Since its foundation about a century earlier the Abbey had developed into a great complex wherein lived ‘monks, nuns, lepers, sick people and well-born ladies who wished to retire from the world’ (Fig. 24). His effigy lies close by the effigies of his father, Henry II, and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Figs. 25 and 26). (Photographs on postcards and in books sometimes cross the identities of these effigies of Henry and Richard). Alongside Richard’s effigy is that of Isabella d’Angoulême (1188-1246), consort of King John, Richard’s wayward brother: she is said to have died at Fontevraud.

Fig. 23 – The donjon at Châlus, Limousin

Fig. 24 – Nun’s kitchen, Fontevraud Abbey

Fig. 25 – Effigies of Isabella d’Angoulême and King Richard I, Fontevraud

Fig. 26 – Effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II, Fontevraud

Richard’s heart was sent as a relic to Rouen cathedral. It is generally accepted that the dying king forgave the marksman. However, his demoralized followers were not in a forgiving mood when the keep surrendered. All of its occupants, excepting Pierre Basile, were killed. He was flayed alive and hanged.

On 16th. August, his twentieth birthday, Lawrence stayed at the Grand Hotel du Midi in Châlus. Now Le Lawrence d’Arabie restaurant, the building carries a plaque (2009) commemorating his visit.

  1. Ray Bishop, The Passing of a Warrior-King, T.E.Lawrence Society, Newsletter No. 94, Summer 2010, 12-15. []