A King’s Ransom

Richard the Lionhearted may have been a legendary king, but he led lousy road trips. During one, on December 20, 1192, he managed to get himself captured and imprisoned by Leopold V of Austria.

At the time, Richard was making his way back to England after the end of the Third crusade (a three-year conflict that failed in its ultimate goal of conquering Jerusalem). He and his entourage were making their way home by sea, but storms forced them to land and attempt to make their way through dangerous and hostile territory. When Leopold captured him, he accused Richard of arranging the murder of his cousin, Conrad of Montferrat. Richard had also insulted Leopold by tossing his standard from the walls of Acre.

Richard was imprisoned in Durnstein Castle, where he passed the time writing a song dedicated to his half-sister. Meanwhile, word of his imprisonment reached England, but the regents dithered over what to do. Word also reached the Pope, who excommunicated Leopold for committing the serious no-no of detaining a crusader.

In March 1193, Richard was handed over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, at Speyer. Henry had his own issues with Richard, and tossed him in Trifels Castle to await payment of the large ransom of around 65,000 pounds of silver (more than twice the annual income for the English Crown). He, too, was excommunicated by the pope.

Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, worked to raise the ransom for her favorite son. Taxes were raised and treasures confiscated from churches. While she labored, Richard’s brother, John, and King Philip of France offered Henry 80,000 marks to keep Richard prisoner until 1194. Henry refused the offer, wisely waiting for the richer prize, which was finally paid over in February, 1194. Richard was duly released and went on his way. Leopold used the money to found the city of Wiener Neustadt, which came to be quite important in the centuries to come.

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