Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272)

This steelyard weight bears the arms of Henry III’s brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who fought at the Battle of Lewes. A steelyard was a portable balance hung from the roof. They were used by the Hansa merchants from Germany (also known as the Hanseatic League) who had a trading post in London from 1282. It is perhaps because Richard had bought the crown of Germany for himself that his arms were used on their weights.

Richard was a sickly child. Instead of practising warfare, he learnt diplomacy and financial skills. Unlike most nobles at the time, he spoke excellent English. At first he sympathised with the barons, but Henry rewarded him with land and money so he stayed loyal. In 1247, he controlled the Royal Mint and organised the first complete re-coinage for 60 years. This was possibly the most important thing he ever did for England.

Richard and Henry spent the night before the battle at Lewes Priory. During the fight, Richard was separated from his brother and surrounded by ordinary soldiers. Refusing to surrender to commoners, he barricaded himself in a windmill. As they did not want to kill an important hostage, the soldiers had fun calling him names until their commander arrived. The event was recalled in a contemporary poem known as the Song of Lewes.

 Factfile

  •  Richard bought the crown of Germany in 1257. His formal title was  “ King of the Romans”.
  • Richard made everyone believe he was a famous Crusader by getting a chronicler to write his version of events.
  • John Bevis, who captured Richard at Lewes, was knighted immediately so that the earl would not be humiliated by surrendering to a common man.
  • Richard liked fine clothes. He insisted on wearing scarlet robes when imprisoned by Simon de Montfort.