Lionheart (1987)





Director:    Frank J. Schaffner

Starring:     Eric Stoltz (Robert Nerra)Gabriel Byrne (Black Prince),  Nicola Cowper (Blanche),  Dexter Fletcher (Michael),  Deborah Moore (Mathilda (as Deborah Barrymore))Nicholas Clay (Charles De Montfort),  Bruce Purchase (Simon Nerra),  Neil Dickson (King Richard),  Penny Downie (Madelaine),  Nadim Sawalha (Selim),  John Franklyn-Robbins (The Abbott),  Chris Pitt (Odo),  Matthew Sim (Hugo),  Paul Rhys (Mayor of the Underground City),  Sammi Davis (Baptista).

A young knight (Eric Stoltz) forms a Children's Crusade against the "Infidels" from all the homeless children following in the wake of Richard the Lionheart on his way to fight in the Crusades.  


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"It is the end of the 12th century.  Greedy barons in the north of France are fighting bloody battles over land, neighbor against neighbor.  Richard II, King of England, is in France, to gather knights for a crusade to recapture the Holy Land from the Moslems.  For one young knight, it will be a time of choice."

A young man named Robert Nerra kneels in a chapel and swears to never use this sword to injure anyone, but use it to defend justice and righteousness. 

A young fellow named Charles Nerra on a horse comes into a banquet and says he claims the right to serve Simon Nerra, Count of Brittany.  With the spear end of his spear he picks up a jug and pours Simon some more wine.  He then says he is off to serve Richard the Lionheart in his Crusade. His brother Simon is opposed to the young man's plan.  Robert walks out of the banquet.  A little while later, Charles rides out of the banquet. 

Simon proclaims his son Robert a knight.  He is placed on his horse. Charles is there to congratulate Robert and tell him that he is now one of them. Simon gives Robert two golden spurs to go onto his boots.   Simon's wife Madelaine tells Simon to be sure to bring Robert back alive. 

Charles rides with Robert, who asks Charles why he chose to be a part of this expedition, when he really has no part in it?  Simon is out front.

A group of soldiers dressed in black come to face off against Simon and his men.  In the battle Charles is stabbed in the mid-section and down goes the knight.  Robert sees this and rides off the battlefield. 

A young man known as Michael throws knives at his accomplice named Blanche standing erect against a big wooden slab.  The knife-thrower and his sister run away from the area.  She twists her ankle and can't go very far.  And now comes a pack of wolves after them.  The young woman stares at them.  The lead wolf approaches the woman.  She whispers in the wolf's ear.  The wolf turns around and leads his pack away from the two young people.  Blanche and her brother go to sleep near a bridge.

In the morning Blanche sees Robert on his horse.  She wants to go to Paris and she asks Robert if he is going there?  She says her brother Michael and her are headed for Paris.  Michael wants to start a circus there.
Blanche tells Robert that they know the way to Paris.  Along the way the siblings steal some clothes and some food from a farm house.  Blanche now with her twisted ankle rides the horse while Robert and Michael walk. 

They come to a castle and knock on the door.  They ask for shelter.  They are taken in.  The fellow in charge tells them to hurry along.   The man says that the young boy Odo will share his room with them.  The three new comers ask the man why is he so nervous?  He only says that on nights like these, even the Devil may come to call.   Odo says the man is worried about the Black Prince.  He elaborates saying that no child who has crossed the path of the Black Prince has ever been seen again.

Blanche does a card-reading to discern their future.  One of the cards that comes up is release from slavery. 

At night Robert awakens from his sleep.  He hears noises and goes to look around.  He sees a man dressed in black at the confessionary.  The man says that he can't forgive the Abbott for that and stabs him with a knife.  The man, the Black Prince, walks over to the chapel and throws the knife into the chest of the statue of Jesus Christ.  A little blood trickles down from the knife.  The Black Prince senses that someone is watching him.  He looks around for the person or persons and then leaves. 

Blanche comes over to Robert to tell him that she too has seen the stranger.  Now they go to check on the Abbott.  The Abbott's dead body falls out of the confessional booth. 

Back at the castle of Nerra, Simon tries to get Madelaine to come out from her locked bedroom.  Madelaine says that her brother is dead and her son is gone.  When she has her son back, Simon will have his wife back. 

The three people plus Odo start out again for Paris.  They hear someone coming along the road and they hide.  They see a man on a horse pulling along a young fellow attached to the saddle by a long rope.  Robert runs over to the young fellow and cuts the rope holding him.  He helps the fellow hide with the rest of them.  The jailer discovers that his prisoner is not with him anymore and he comes back for him.  As the man in black comes after his prisoner, Michael throws a knife at him but misses.  So Odo takes out his sling shot and with a rock he hits the man on the horse and knocks him unconscious.  The man falls off his horse.

Now a man comes driving a horse pulling a large cage filled with children.  The horse and wagon are stopped when the driver sees the unconscious man laying in the snow.  A horn is blown to notify others.  The four young people in hiding grab their horse and get away from the area.  The freed prisoner whistles a signal to the falcon held by one of the guards, and the falcon gets away.  Three men on horse back come riding up to the wagon.  One of the men is the Black Prince.  He sees a golden spur in the snow and picks it up with his sword.  He comments:  "They are lost and alone in the forest.  Sooner or later, I always find the lost."

At night when there's time to talk, the group of four find out that the name of the prisoner they saved is Hugo.  They also learn that Hugo was the falconer for Richard the Lionheart's falcon.  The escaped falcon returned to Hugo after he got away from the guard.  Robert asks if Richard has reach Paris?  Hugo says:  "Soon."  The group is still headed for Paris.  Robert desperately wants to join Richard's crusade. 

The Black Prince is at his encampment in a black tent.  A group of men under the command of an Islamic leader bring a Bible to give to the Black Prince.  They found the jewel adorned Bible following a battle with the Crusaders known as the Battle of Damascus (disastrous defeat of the Crusaders, July, 1148 during the Second Crusade led by Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany).  The Black Prince tells the messenger to thank his master for him.   He also tells the messenger that he will provide all the children his master needs.  After the messenger leaves for the moment, the Black Prince picks up the fancy Bible and says:  "I used to pray to you.  Now it is too late."

The group of five now reach Paris.  They stop to watch two street performers.  A young street kid swipes the golden spur belonging to Robert.  Robert calls for Michael to stop the thief.   Now all five of the group are chasing the lad.  The fellow slips through a hole in a wall.  The five follow him.  Inside human fire eaters blow huge flames from behind two lion statues.  After this the two fire eaters run off.  Some more magic awaits them as ghosts bob up and down and fly low over the heads of the children.  Clouds of smoke fill the chamber.  

The thief, named Baptista, now makes an appearance on his pony.  He is backed up by a number of child cross-bowmen.  So the five go with the thief.  He takes them to the adult leader who tells the newcomers:  "For the homeless in Paris, heaven is below and hell is above."  He adds that the five have discovered the secret City of Orphans.  So, the five must die.  Robert says he came only to reclaim his spur.  "Your secret is safe with us."  Robert adds that he came to join Richard of England.  The adult leaders says Richard has already come and gone.  Odo speaks up saying the leader seems to be a man who likes a wager.  The leader will have to find the pea under one of the three small cups.  The man finds the pea on the first go-around, but he does not on the second.  He decides to spare the lives of the young people because he says that a child that is as skilled as he is a sign for:  "Only an unfortunate would develop such skills to survive."  He believes the five young people and invites them to dine with them. 

At dinner the adult leader tells Robert to take the children with him for in their hiding place the "cough" gets to the children and they die.  He wants them out into the fresh air.  Robert warns him that there are slavers on the road they will be taking.  The leaders say that the five have led the Black Prince to them and he soon will make an appearance before them.  He says he was with the Black Prince when they were joined a Crusade.  There were no victories, no glory, but there were the never-ending hot blazes of the sun and massacres.  "He turned his back on God.  And now he challenges him.  But his challenge is never met.  God has no time for him.  He will come here."  He sums up with:  "Take my children!"  Robert agrees to take the children. 

When Robert leaves Paris, behind him trails hundreds of homeless children.  A blind boy asks what's happening and his friend tells him the knight is leading the homeless children out of Paris.  They decide to go along.  The spy for the Black Prince watches this Children's Crusade.

The spy hurries back to the tent of the Black Prince.  The Islamic messenger tells the Black Prince that they will not have the children if the children are going to go with Richard.  The Black Prince says that Richard is only a shadow of himself now. 

The Black Prince come to visit his brother, the one-time leader of homeless children.  The Black Prince says he will now take over from his brother, but brother tells him that the children have already gone.  The black-hearted brother says that he will watch the children as they go.  He adds that the crusade will get to the size of an army that he then can sell into slavery.  Before leaving, he kills his brother. 

Robert knights Michael the Lord of the Circus.  He makes Odo his personal page.  He gives other jobs to the other members of the original five.  The children hear the coming of a group of horsemen.  Robert tells everyone to get off the road and hide.  The group of horsemen are knights headed for the Crusade.  One of the knights loses his flag.  After they have gone, Robert picks up the flag.  Forward they go.  Along with them they have a wagon of supplies drawn by two horses. 

The children stop at a market place.  Some of the children steal food from the vendors.  The local villagers hold a jousting contest.  The champion jouster is none other than Mathilda, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor.  Dad is not happy about this.  He tells her he doesn't want a champion jouster.  He wants her to bring him a son-in-law.  Now he tells her that he is sending her to the nuns of Saint Mary.  She gets mad and says she has no father.  She leaves.  Robert tells Michael that they could use a young lady like that. 

The path of the young lady crosses the path of the crusaders.  Robert asks her to join them, she refuses.  He insists, so she decides to teach him a lesson via a jousting contest.  On the second go-around Robert knocks her off her horse.  She is mad.  So she grabs her sword and now they sword fight.  She takes a wild swing at him and misses.  As her momentum takes her away from Robert, he hits her with the broad side of the sword on her buttocks.  The next round she throws him to the ground.  He throws her to the ground.  Back and forth they go, until Robert gets the best of her.  He won't let her up until she agrees to stay with them.  So she does. 

Blanche is upset about at all the attention Robert gives to the newcomer.  She decides to read the future with her cards.  She later tells Michael that something unspeakable is going to happen.  The blind boy with the group has been sick and now he is even sicker.  Blanche attends to him. 

Baptista and another boy ride up ahead of everyone and find a village where the people are dead.  Baptista rides back to tell Robert that the plague is ahead.  Meanwhile a young boy and his bigger sister, try to speak with the other boy that was with Baptista.  He tells them to stay away from him because they have the plague.  She swears that they don't have the plague, but the young crusader doesn't believe her.  Robert decides to go flind another road while the children wait for him. 

He finds another road, but he also finds the Black Prince on it.  The two men stare at each other for awhile.  Then they both turn around and leave. 

At camp Blanche sees the two children from the plague village.  She goes and gives them some food.  Robert comes to Blanch wondering if they will ever catch up with Richard the Lionheart?  And then they still have the Black Prince to contend with.  The plague girl says that she has seen the Black Prince.  Her village did not have the plague.  The Black Prince is the one who killed the villagers, not the plague.  The Black Prince destroyed the village by the main road so that everyone would have to chose the other road  --  the one that the children are now using. 

Baptista arrives to tell Robert that slavers are coming their way.  Robert tells the children to go deeper into the forest.  He and a few others stay behind.  One by one they take the slavers down and out.  They loose one of their children, who was stabbed by a slaver with his sword. Odo then brought the man down with his sling shot.  Their last trick was to send a wagon full of rocks thundering down upon the slavers from the top of a hill.   

The Black Prince arrives and is disgusted at the licking these children gave his men. 

The blind boy is near death.  They stop to let him off the horse and to sit down on the ground.  There the blind boy dies.   

They set up camp.  In the morning Blanche goes down to the lake and sits down.  A little while later Robert comes and sits down besides her.  She tells him that she is scared now that she is losing him.  Robert tells her:  "You're not."  She says that soon his exile will be over.  Robert says:  "I can't see into the future, but I know there is none without you."   They kiss. 

They sleep by the lake.  In her dreams Blanche sees King Richard.  Mathilda finds where King Richard is.  She returns to camp and says that she has found King Richard.  She starts leading the children to the castle where he is staying.  The flags of King Richard fly over the small castle.   As the children watch, the two flags come down and are replaced by two black banners.  Now the men of the Black Prince surround the children.  The Black Prince comes out of the castle. 

Odo stayed a ways behind the children hoping to catch a glimpse of Blanch and Robert.  He sees the children surrounded by the slavers.  The falconer releases his falcon to fly either to King Richard or Robert. 

The slavers now take the children as prisoners with the use of ropes and nets. 

Robert and Blanche reach the camp and Odo reaches them.  He tells them what happened.

The Black Prince sees Robert on his white horse on top of the hill.  With him are Blanche and Odo.  Robert comes down to speak with the Black Prince, who throws Robert's golden spur to him.  He says to Robert:  "There is no honor in death."  The two men will fight each other.   On horseback, they take up their positions and then charge at each other.   Soon they are both knocked off their horses and fight each other with their swords.  Robert gets the better of the Black Prince, but the bad guy throws sand into Robert's face.  He is about to knife Robert, when the good guy grabs his golden spur from on the ground and plunges it into the side of the Black Prince.  The Black Prince gets up and wounds Robert in the right arm.  He almost pushes Robert off the cliffs, but now it's Robert's turn to throw dirt into the eyes of his enemy.  That gives Robert time to get back on even ground.  The Black Prince swings hard and misses.  Robert rolls on the ground to the point where he can slip his sword into the bad fellow.  After standing there for awhile, the Black Prince falls after Robert pulls his sword out of the man's mid-section. 

The men of the Black Prince now pull out their swords to kill Robert.  Odo with his sling shot rushes over to Robert to help him.  Just then the falcon returns.  And with him comes King Richard. The fight is on between the slavers and the men of King Richard.  The black banners come down and Richard's flags go up.  Now Robert gets to meet King Richard.  Moreover, he gets to see his father Simon again.  King Richard says he can use a knight like Robert.  Robert says his heart is with the children, who have already seen too much bloodshed. 

Robert gets on his horse and pulls Blanch up with him.  Mathilda now kisses Michael.  King Richard releases his falcon telling him: "Lead us all to our destinies."


Good film.  And it gives the audience a chance to think about the Children's Crusade.  Historically, the story is not true.   Richard the Lionheart died in 1199.  He had participated in the Third Crusade.  The so-called Children's Crusade began in 1212, around thirteen years after the death of Richard.  In fact, the Children's Crusade happened after the Fourth Crusade.  (See the Historical Background below.)   Another thing is that there never was really a Children's Crusade.  Most of the people in the Crusade were not children.  They were young adults or adults.  They came largely from the poor in France and Germany.  And none of the "Children's Crusades" ever got even close to Jerusalem.  Most of them went home disillusioned by those (a shepherd boy and a shepherd man) who started the Children's Crusades in the first place.  (See below.)

So I'm glad I had the opportunity to see the film and compare it to the real history and learn something new. 

I didn't care for any of the lead actors.  They all looked too young to me.  And Eric Stoltz, who I like, is too innocent looking to lead a Crusade. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


1145-1149  --  Second Crusade

1154-1189  --  reign of Henry II. 

1156  --  death of the oldest son, William IX, Count of Poitiers.

1157  --  birth of the future Richard the Lionheart.

1169  --  Louis of France and Henry II of England sign a contract for the marriage between Alys and Henry's son Richard.  The 8 year-old Alys was sent to England as Henry's ward.  (Alys was the half-sister of Marie de Champagne and Alix of France, Louis's children by Eleanor of Aquitaine.)

1170  --  the fifteen-year-old brother Henry is crowned king during his father's lifetime, a practice originally carried out by the French.  The was called Henry the Young King or Junior King of England.

1177  --  there were widespread rumors that Henry II made Alys his mistress and that she had borne him a child. Henry died in 1189.

1173-1174  --  revolt against Henry II by Richard the Lionheart. 

1183  --  the Junior King of England dies from dysentery in the summer while fighting a campaign in the Limousin against his father and his brother Richard.

1189 -- Henry II had one of the most dysfunctional families going;  there were many battles between him and his wife and him and his offspring.  He did, however, like his son John; son Richard declares war on his own father; in battle Henry is forced to see how his own nobles desert him to support Richard; he is crushed when he sees the document with the names of the supporters of Richard, and John is the first name; dies 2 days later, some say of a broken heart.

Richard was known as Richard the Lionheart, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.

1187  --  under their great leader, Saladin, the Moslems take Jerusalem. 

1188  --  Richard receives news of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin.  Richard starts thinking about going on crusade. 

1189-1199 --  reign of Richard the Lionheart.  Incidents of anti-Jewish violence begin.  Before he goes on crusade, he distributes a royal writ demanding that the Jews be left alone.

1189-1192  --  the Third Crusade.

1190 (summer)  --  Richard the Lionheart goes on crusade.

He spends less than six months of his ten-year reign in England. Captured while on a crusade. It takes 34 tons of gold to ransom him out. Meanwhile, his brother John has declared him dead and taken over as king. Richard I is killed at a siege in France trying to take back the kingship.

1191  --  Richard marries Berengaria of Navarre, while still officially engaged to Alys.

1192  --  Richard is captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria.  The detention of a crusader was contrary to public law, so Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold.

1193  --  prisoner Richard II is turned over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who keeps him a prisoner.  The Pope now ex-communicates Henry VI for hold Richard for ransom. 

1194  --  Richard finally released after the ransom is paid. 

1199  --  by accident Richard is hit by an arrow from a cross-bowman.  The operation to get it out was a botched job and Richard's wound becomes gangrenous.  It was discovered that the bowman was actually a boy and that he shot Richard deliberately because, according to the boy, Richard killed his father and two brothers.  Richard let the boy go with some money in his pockets. 

1199 (April 6)  --  Richard dies.  The infamous mercenary captain Mercadier then had the crossbowman flayed alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.

1199-1216 -- Richard's brother, John, reigns as King of England.

1202-1204  --  the Fourth Crusade.

1212  --  the Children's Crusade.  Many historians believe that they were not primarily children but multiple bands of "wandering poor" in Germany and France.   There were two movements of people (of all ages) in 1212 in Germany and France.  The first movement was led by a shepherd named Nicholas from the Rhineland in Germany.  The participants amassed in Cologne after a few weeks. They then marched to Switzerland.   Two out of every three people died on the journey and many others returned to their homes.  Only about 7,000 arrived in Genoa in late August. Nicholas told the crusaders that the sea would divide before them.  Many of the crusaders just decided to stay in Genoa.  Wit h a much smaller band Nicholas went to see Pope Innocent III told them now it's time for them to go home.  Nicholas died while re-crossing the Alps.  In his home town angry families hanged his father for what Nicholas had done. No one reached the Holy Land.

The second movement was led by a twelve year old French shepherd boy named Stephan of Cloyes.  Stephan says he had a letter for the king of France from Jesus. Eventually he attracted a  crowd of over 30,000 people, both adults and children, and traveled to Saint-Denis, Philip II implored the crusaders to return home. Modern historians estimate that the number of Stephan's followers dwindled to 15,000 .  The numbers kept dwindling.  Stephan led his largely juvenile Crusaders to Marseilles. There most of the remainder of his followers returned to their families.

1213-1221 -- the Fifth Crusade.  Led by the king Andrew II of Hungary and the Duke Leopold VI of Austria.

1228  --  the Sixth Crusade

1248-1254  --  the Seventh Crusade.

1270  --  the Eighth Crusade.

1271-1272  --  the Ninth Crusade, the last major medieval Crusade to the Holy Land.



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