This chapter, part of a book project entitled Imagining the Crusades in Late Medieval England, examines Richard Coer de Lion (RCL) in the context of other contemporary Middle English crusades romances.
This romance aligns with others of its kind in its janus-faced temporality — its gazing back upon a time in which crusades to the Holy Land were not only possible but largely successful and forward to a time in which such campaigns might be possible once more. Like these other “recovery romances” (as I term them), RCL seeks a form of fantasized recovery in both senses of the word: a recovery of territory and a recovery from cultural trauma.
But whereas recovery romances tend to be deliberately vague on the time period (and even the geographical setting) of their respective campaigns, RCL focuses on a hero indelibly tied to the actual history and landscape of the Levantine crusades. As such, it relies on a series of conspicuous elisions and near-formulaic repetitions in order to construct Richard and his army as superior Christians and Englishmen. Because this narrative purports to recount actual events, however, I argue that it cannot fully escape the inconveniences of history that, in the end, bring into question the project of Christian (and English) triumphalism it seeks to promulgate.