Monday, March 21, 2011

Richard on Trial

This month I'm looking at several pivotal events in Richard I's later life, events that coincidentally happened in March and April.

While many of Richard I’s contemporaries glorified him for his military prowess and his power, Richard’s enemies were as numerous—and just as powerful. Phillip of France was a bitter foe, even though the two managed a semi-truce while on Crusade. Phillip returned from Outremer first and, many historians say, lost little time in vilifying Richard. Leopold, Duke of Austria, as well as Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, felt they had multiple reasons to consider him an enemy.

On the way home from Crusade, Richard’s army was besieged with problems, including a shipwreck which left the king more or less stranded in hostile territory. Trying to evade capture (and that’s an interesting story for another time) he set out with a handful of attendants. Various sources relate different details, but the essential fact remains: Richard was captured by the duke’s officers (on Dec. 20 or 21, depending on source) very close to Vienna.

While Leopold and Henry VI bargained over custody of the king, in England Justiciar Hubert Walter convened a Great Council. From it two abbots were sent to ascertain whether or not Richard actually lived. His brother, John, argued he was dead and set about consolidating power.

On March 19, 1193, the two abbots discovered Richard in Germany, enroute with Leopold’s men to be handed over to Henry VI. At Speyer on March 21, Richard faced trial at which time the Emperor made demands--which Richard refused. On March 22, Richard was formally accused of acts ranging from breaking treaties to conspiring to murder to “betraying the Holy Land” (Gillingham 237). Reports say Richard so impressed everyone with his oratory in denying the accusations that Henry VI dropped the charges—but still demanded a king’s ransom.

On March 25, Richard at last agreed to pay 100,000 marks, as well as to provide ships and knights for the Emperor’s use for a 12-month. (That ransom was increased three months later.)

Richard became Henry’s hostage until the money was paid but lived, sources of the time report, in a good deal of luxury, with freedom to have attendants, receive guests and direct much of the business of ruling.

Meanwhile, the crunch was on at home to raise the ransom. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, spearheaded the effort while Brother John did all in his power to thwart it. (Unfortunately for those of us who love the myth and the movies, Robin Hood did not play a part.)

Not until a year later (in March) did Richard set foot in England--for a few weeks of the only six months he spent in the country during his lifetime.

(Gillingham, John. Richard I, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.)


  1. The History Channel had a segment today about the medieval origins of the Templar Knights. In passing, connections were made to King Richard. Very interesting (as secret things have a tendency to be). Perhaps the Templar assisted in raising the ransom?

    I enjoy your posts--all things historical are of interest to me. As a youth, I read all the knights/heroes of the realm--they ALWAYS stimulated my imagination. I think the stories I read were founded more in myth than truth but they were exciting, nevertheless.

    Keep up your wonderful blog--it's great!

  2. Only 6 months in the country Richard ostensibly ruled for years. I did not know that. I suppose that may be what gave George I the excuse to stay out of England as much as possible. From the House of Hanover, he never even learned to speak English!