Given the treacherous nature of his sources, Gillingham does an admirable job of depicting Richard Plantagenet based on what he actually did rather than on what people said about him. In doing so, he convincingly builds the case that Richard was a remarkably effective monarch — judged by the standards and values of his day. In doing so, he highlights the absurdity of expecting a mercantilist monarch in a feudal kingdom, much less a mild and tolerant ruler in a brutal and violent age.
What emerges is a complex but on the whole admirable and competent leader, a statesman as well as a general. As Gillingham documents, Richard was not just a dashing knight and outstanding commander, nor merely a brilliant tactician, strategist and logistician. He was a sound financial manager, who alone among the leaders of the Third Crusade was consistently in a financial position to recruit and provision troops. He managed to raise a truly enormous ransom without, in fact, beggaring his subjects. He was, to be sure, creative in his methods of raising funds — from selling offices to selling conquests (Cyprus). Rather than wrinkling our noses at these allegedly distasteful practices, however, we should consider that the alternative would indeed have been to tax the innocent poor rather than milk the grasping rich. He was also an astonishingly effective diplomat, not only in his complicated negotiations with Saladin, but in turning his erstwhile German enemies into allies, and in his tedious but eventually effective efforts to pry the Counts of Flanders and Toulouse out of the French camp and into his own.
Richard plays a key role in the third book of my Balian d'Ibelin biography as Balian -- after some initial disagreements and conflicts -- was eventually chosen by the Lionheart to negotiate the truce with Saladin that ended the Third Crusade.
Read the first two books in the series: