Chertsey tiles: Richard and Saladin

Medieval, about AD 1250-60
From Chertsey, England

Saladin's fall to Richard the Lion Heart

These belong to the largest group of tiles in The British Museum's collections, found at the site of Chertsey Abbey, Surrey. They combine technical excellence with elaborate decoration. Each roundel consists of four quarter tiles set into a mosaic of foliate designs. They depict a vigorous display of valour as the English king Richard I (reigned 1189-99) slays Saladin (1138-93) with his lance. The lance is used as a device to take the action from one roundel to the next.

When did this scene of mortal combat occur and what is its significance? In fact, although Richard and Saladin were famous adversaries during the Third Crusade (AD 1189-92), Saladin did not die at Richard's hands. The scene is a dramatic invention as part of the larger theme of the combat of man against lion. This was clearly intended to refer to Richard (known as 'the Lion-Heart') and to act as a tribute to his bravery in battle.

The subject had a natural appeal for English kings and was a particular favourite of Henry III (reigned 1216-72) who had it painted on the walls of the Antioch Chamber at Clarendon Palace. The quality and draughtsmanship of the tiles is superior to other tiles produced at Chertsey and this may suggest that they were intended to furnish a royal palace.

Do the crowns framing the two roundels indicate royal patronage? This is unlikely since the tiles with crowns are arranged as a result of a later reconstruction, and it is unlikely to have been the original layout. Tiles survive with letters spelling out Richard's name, along with other words which suggest that the roundels were surrounded by an inscription telling the story.

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More information


E. Eames, English medieval tiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

E. Eames, Catalogue of Medieval lead-gla (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)

J. Alexander and P. Binski, Age of chivalry: art in Planta (Royal Academy, London, 1987)

J. Cherry, Medieval decorative art (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)


Length: 17.140 cm
Width: 10.420 cm
Diameter: 1.550 cm (roundels)

Museum number

M&ME 1865,11-13.9065;M&ME 1865,11-13.9066;M&ME 1865,11-13.9067;M&ME 1865,11-13.9068;M&ME 1865,11-13.9069;M&ME 1865,11-13.9070


Gift of H.M. Queen Victoria and Dr H. Manwaring Shurlock


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