King Richard of Cornwall


Photo C. Meyer, Weimar





Count of Poitou and Cornwall

King of Germany and Roman


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Richard of Cornwall  

*1209 - †1272

Count of Poitou  08.1225

Earl of Cornwall 1227

King of Germany and Rome 1257-1272

Elected Frankfurt 13.01.1257

            Crowned Aachen, Ascension Day 25.05.1257


Short Biography


Richard of Cornwall (5 January 1209 – 2 April 1272) was Count of Poitou (from 1225 to 1243), 1st Earl of Cornwall (from 1227) 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.


Poitou and Sicily

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 Angoulême, 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’.” Instead, his brother King Henry purchased the kingdom for his own son Edmund.


Elected King of Germany, 1257

Although Richard was elected in 1257 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 27 May 1257 the archbishop of Cologne himself crowned Richard “King of the Romans” in Aachen. 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.




Count of Poitou and Cornwall



The arms of Richard of Cornwall were:

Arms: Argent, a lion rampant Gules within a bordure Sable strewn with besants.


These arms are a combination of the emblem of Cornwall and the arms of the count of Poitou.


The Besants


A good explanation of the emblem of Cornwall is given by A. Fox-Davies in his “Book of Public arms”. It reads as follows:

An[other]  explanation, which figured in a letter to the Western Morning News, is as follows:

“In the days of the earlier Plantagenets the pawnbrokers of Cornwall were the most enterprising and prosperous merchants in all England. When King Johan desired to hypotthecate his crown jewels to raise money for a war in France, 5 of the principal ‘uncles’ of Cornwall - Ben Levi, of Turo, Ben Ezra, of  Penzance; Moses, of Megavissey (the other two names are illegible, see Manuscript CXLIX, British Museum) - formed an association, the Ancient and Hon. Association of Pawnbrokers, to take over his debts. The ‘trade-mark’ of the company was fifteen balls (the three balls of the five merchants united into one bunch), with the motto ‘One and All’ to indicate  that no business could be arranged without a quorum of all five members.

“When Edward I. ascended the throne this association was the most powerful in Cornwall. That Prince, following out his usual policy of exalting the merchant class, chose the trade-mark of the Ancient and Honorable Associatiob of Pawnbrokers to be the coat-of-arms of the county of Cornwall.

“Further information on the subject will be found in ‘An Ancyent and Ynterestyng Account of Ye Cornish Arms,’ of which there is a copy in the British Museum.” [1]


The Lion Rampant


The lion rampant probably goes back to the arms of William FitzEmpress who was a count of Poitou from 1152-’63.


William Fitz Empress


Count of Poitou 1152-1163



1156-’63 Equestrian seal: A.: Lion. On the horse cloth a lion. L.: (completed) sigillvm willelmi filii imperatricis.  [2]


This seal is attributed to William, the third son of Mathilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet and, because of the fact that Mathilda was the widow of  the Emperor Henry V, nicknamed FitzEmpress (son of the empress). He was a count of Poitou from 1152 until his death in 1163. The seal was attached to an undated document of  William FitzEmpress and published by Stenton, F.-M.: Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections. In: Northants Record Society, t. IV (1930), N° 6, p. 24.




The arms of Richard are on his seals, the oldest being dated 1227, and also in contemporary rolls of arms:


1227  Equestrian seal. A:. (on r° and v°): [Argent] a lion [Gules] and a bordure [Sable] strewn with besants L.: SIGILLUM RICARDI COMITIS PICTAVIS. V°: SIGILLUM RICARDI COMITIS CORNUBIE. (British Library Loose seal xxxvi. 215.)


The Wijnbergen roll  n° 1303 gives: le Roy....: Argent, a lion guardant Gules and a bordure Sable strewn with besants.



A seal of about 1250 shows the same arms, the lion crowned, with the legend ____lenSIS. [3]


Matthew Paris also gives a coloroured picture of the arms:


Arms of the Count of Cornwall by Matthew Paris


1250 A.: Scut albi leo gul bord nig bes dor. L.:  Comitis Pic (comiti pictavi) Mattheus Parisiensis LA B.L. Ms. Cotton Nero D.I. fol. 171v 2. [4]


1258 Glover’s Roll:  Le conte de Cornewail, argent ung lion de goulz coronne or, ung borde de sable besante d’or


1275 Walford's Roll n°  C99: Le countee de Cornewaile, d'argent un leon rampant gulez coroné d'or border sable besantee.


Clasp of a choir robe with the arms of Richard of Cornwall

Treasury Emmerich, property of St. Vitus, Hochelten.


King of Germany and Rome



There is no contemporary evidence that Richard ever bore a coat of arms corresponding with his title of King of the Romans or King of Germany in a way his predecessors from the House of Hohenstaufen and William of Holland had done before him. Probably this can be explained by the fact that Richard only acted but a few times as a king of Germany.

Nevertheless we may conclude from a mace preserved in Aachen that Richard served himself of the eagle-symbol attached to the dignity of German King.

This mace, presumably made about 1220 (that is to say for the coronation of Henry VII), is said to have been used by Richard as well. In 1262 he presented “a golden crown, a gilded orb and a gilded sceptre to the Convent of St. Mary in Aachen to be used at future coronations”.

The mace is crowned with an eagle-like bird with closed wings, and for that reason sometimes thought to be a pigeon, similar to the bird on the sceptre of King Otto III and some later German kings.


Mace, about 1220.

Gilded silver, H. 86 cm. Aachen, Treasury


As we may have our doubts if the mace has been used at the coronation of Richard, the crown, sceptre and orb he presented to the convent certainly are depicted on his portrait carved on his royal seal and a on statue of him in Meissen Cathedral.




His seal shows him seated on his throne. In his right hand he has a sceptre, not crested with the eagle from the mace but with a thunderbolt (fleur-de-lys) symbolizing his armed authority. He is crowned with a royal crown of three leaves (symbolizing his rank) and has his orb, symbolizing the (Christian) kingdom, in his left hand.













Seal: The king on his throne with crown, sceptre and orb. L.: X RICARDUS : DEI : GRACIA : ROMANORVM : REX : SEMPER : AVGVSTVS. D.: 1257. [5]


A second portrait can be found at the western entrance of Magdeburg Cathedral. This shows him standing and crowned with a crown set with a square cross, a sceptre (now broken off) in his right and an orb in his left.

The first Magdeburg Cathedral was begun in 937 but burnt completely down in 1207. Two years later, when King Otto IV  had come to power, the construction of a second cathedral started but stopped after 1274. In the 14th century construction was resumed but the cathedral was completed only in 1520 with the placement of the ornamental cross on the north tower.

It follows that the statue of Richard of Cornwall has been completed during his lifetime as he died two years before the building activities were stopped. When the statue was made is uncertain as the age of the portrayed king is difficult to estimate.


* The statue is a part of a series of royal statues erected in Magdeburg. Inside the cathedral statues of Otto IV and his queen, and a statue of Henry Raspe of Thuringia and his queen can be found. About 1250 a statue of William of Holland on horseback was erected on the Alte Markt. Statues of the Hohenstaufen kings are remarkably absent. After Richard of Cornwall however, this short series ended because the centre of political power shifted again to the south and for that reason a statue of his successor Rudolf of Habsburg can be found in Speyer, where he was buried. It may also have been the reason why the construction of the cathedral was stopped.

At the same time the focus shifted from the Saxon Otto I the Great as a source of legitimacy, to Charlemagne and many later dynasties traced thier descend back to him instead of to Otto




Photo H.d.V. 2010-12-29

Sanchia of Provence and Richard of Cornwall, 1260

Choir of  Meissen  Cathedral.


The crown, sceptre and orb are repeated on the statues of King Richard and his wife Sanchia of Provence (*1228-†1261) in the choir of Meissen Cathedral (Meißner Dom).

* The statues are announced to be the portraits of the Emperor Otto I (*912-†973) and his empress Adelheid (*931-†999). This is in a tradition that undefined statues of German kings are thought to be of Charlemagne, Otto I or (when bearded) Frederic Barbarossa. A statue of King William of Holland on horseback in Magdeburg for example, is treated in this way.


It is accepted knowledge that the statues were made about 1260 by an artist from the school of Naumburg where there are statues of a similar style. This means that they were made during the reign of Richard and there is no evidence that Richard venerated Otto I enough to present a statue of him to Meissen cathedral. On the contrary, it is more plausible that he presented the cathedral with a statue of himself, for example for propaganda reasons. Certainly the statue on the right does not represent his predecessor William of Holland nor his rival king Alfonso of Castile, let alone Otto I, who were of quite different complexion. Also, there is a striking resemblance (his hair longer) with his portrait on the royal seal and his statue in Magdeburg.

We may add that the group was made when Sanchia was still alive and shows her at the age of 32 when he was 51 years old and, admittedly, somewhat flattered.



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© Hubert de Vries 2011-01-10. Updated 2012-05-19; 2015-02-23




[1] Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles: The Book of Public Arms. A Complete Encyclopaedia of all Royal, Territorial, Municipial, Corporate Official and Impersonal Arms. London T.C. & E.C. Jack 67 Long Acre W.C. and Edinburgh, 1915. Pp.210-212

[2] Wagner, A.: Historic Heraldry of Britain. Oxford Univ. Press, 1939. London, 1972. N° 9, p. 40.

[3] Posse, Otto: Die Siegel der Deutschen Kaiser und Köninge, Bd. I. Taf. 36-37.

[4] Lewis, Suzanne: The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1987.

[5]  Die Zeit der Staufer  n° 59.