Jul 28, 2020

Heart of a Lion: Coeur de Coupigny


Richard I, King of England from 1189 till he died ten years later at the age of 41, was also at various points the Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Poitiers, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, Baron of Beynac, and Overlord of Brittany (among other things). His best title, however, is Richard the Lionheart. I have to say that  Overlord of Brittany Richard the Lionheart sounds like the dopest superhero name imaginable, but his "lionheart" moniker is a reference to his reputation as a great warrior.

As the third son of King Henry II of England, Richard the Lionheart -- or Richard le Coeur de Lion in French -- only ascended the throne because his two older brothers died before their father. Since he wasn't expected to become king and his mother was the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, the English-born and raised Richard spent most of his adult life -- before he became king -- in southwestern France, in the Aquitaine region. He may have worn the crown, but England didn't seem that near and dear to his lionheart: Once he became king, he spent most of his time on a Crusade, in captivity, and/or in France, defending his titles there. His home base and castle during his reign was not in England but rather in the Dordogne, at the Château de Beynac.

In a funny coincidence, while Joan of Arc and Richard the Lionheart are both connected in the history of Rouen, they are also intertwined here at the Beynac castle in Dordogne where Richard  Coeur de Lion lived, in France, during his reign as King of England. In this case, Richard the Lionheart's real, old, 12th century castle was used as the set for a fake, French, 20th century movie about a real 15th century Joan-of-Arc.

While my "Part I" post about Rouen talked about the wonderful harmony of a huge Jewish population in the city and one of the greatest Jewish monuments in Europe, Richard the Lionheart's track record is iffier. Case in point: his obsessions with the Crusades. Also, when Jewish leaders, officially barred from his coronation, arrived at the ceremony bearing gifts, they were flogged and ejected. This caused the rumor that Richard the Lionheart wanted Jews killed, which led to a murderous rampage in London. In the end, Richard issued a royal writ protecting the Jews, but it seemed to have been issued in order to keep peace and order rather than out of a great sense of religious tolerance.

Several hundred years after King Richard II's death, the tales of Robin Hood breathed new life into the his legend, portrayed in the Disney version as -- what else? -- a lion. In the tales, Richard is the "good king" supported by Robin Hood and his band of merry men. They show their loyalty to Richard by fighting against his evil brother, John, who usurps the throne while Richard the Lionheart is off fighting the Third Crusade.

There's more than just the memory of Richard the Lionheart remaining in Rouen; his actual remains are buried inside this sarcophagus in the Notre-Dame-de-Rouen cathedral. Well, some of them. And if you're going to have some part of the legendary king, which part would you want? The lionheart, of course.

Richard the Lionheart died from an infection after being shot by a crossbow arrow at the castle of Châlus-Chabrol in Southwestern France. Today, his entire body is buried in France...but in parts. His entrails are buried in the cathedral in that same town where he died. The bulk of his body lies next to the Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou in a grave beside his father. And his lionheart is embalmed and entombed in this stone sarcophagus in Rouen. After being lost for centuries, in 1838, a small lead box was found in the cathedral inscribed "Here is the heart of Richard, King of England" ("Hiciacet cor Ricardi Regis Anglorum" though I've also seen it written "Hic jacet Ricardo Regis Anglorum" and what do I know about ancient Latin?!). Analysis showed the brown-gray powder inside was -- is -- indeed, the remnants of his heart mixed with traces of linen, herbs, flowers, lime, and frankincense. It has since been interred in the sarcophagus inside the cathedral.

With so much of his life -- and his body in death -- spent in France, Richard Coeur de Lion may well be the Frenchest of all famous English kings.

THE CHEESE: Coeur de Coupigny

Le Coeur de Coupigny is, as the name suggest, a heart-shaped cheese -- a coeur. This one is made in Normandy by the Villiers family at their fromagerie. The cheese is made in Normandy, near Neufchâtel-en-Bray in the department of Seine-Maritime. 

Created by the family Villiers at their eponymous family fromagerie. The Villiers say this mini-cheese feeds one. It is indeed small, but still big and rich enough to feed two. If you want to share. Which you may not.

It's creamy and buttery with that fantastic Neufchâtel-like local Normandy mushroomy funk. That's not surprising since it's made in Neufchâtel country and is essentially a mini-Neufchâtel. It's critical to remember that French Neufchâtel is not the same thing as the American cream cheese under the same name. This mini-version is hard to find and may not even be in regular, continuous production, but if and when you find it -- most likely locally -- you won't be disappointed.


Thanks goodness I had preserved in my files a heart-shaped cheese made in the same department as Rouen to talk about Richard the Lionheart and his heart preserved in Rouen. 


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