Returning from the Third Crusade, bad weather forced King Richard I of England’s ship to put in at Corfu, in the lands of Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who objected to Richard’s annexation of Cyprus, formerly Byzantine territory. Disguised as a Knight Templar, Richard sailed from Corfu with four attendants, but his ship was wrecked near Aquileia, forcing Richard and his party into a dangerous land route through central Europe.
On his way to the territory of his brother-in-law Heinrich XII the Lion, Duke of Bavaria and Saxony, Richard was captured December 20, 1192 near Vienna by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, (member of the House of Babenberg) who accused Richard of arranging the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat. Moreover, Richard had personally offended Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls of Acre.
Leopold kept Richard prisoner at Dürnstein Castle under the care of Leopold’s ministerialis Hadmar of Kuenring. His mishap was soon known to England, but the regents were for some weeks uncertain of his whereabouts. While in prison, Richard wrote Ja nus hons pris or Ja nuls om pres (“No man who is imprisoned”), which is addressed to his half-sister Marie. He wrote the song, in French and Occitan versions, to express his feelings of abandonment by his people and his sister. The detention of a crusader was contrary to public law, and on these grounds Pope Celestine III excommunicated Duke Leopold.
On March 28, 1193 Richard was brought to Speyer and handed over to Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich VI, who imprisoned him in Trifels Castle. Heinrich VI was aggrieved by the support the Plantagenets had given to the family of Heinrich XII the Lion and by Richard’s recognition of Tancred in Sicily. Heinrich VI needed money to raise an army and assert his rights over southern Italy and continued to hold Richard for ransom. Nevertheless, to Richard’s irritation, Celestine hesitated to excommunicate Heinrich VI, as he had Duke Leopold, for the continued wrongful imprisonment of Richard.
Richard famously refused to show deference to the Emperor and declared to him, “I am born of a rank which recognises no superior but God”. The king was at first shown a certain measure of respect, but later, at the prompting of Philippe of Dreux, Bishop of Beauvais and Philippe II of France’s cousin, the conditions of Richard’s captivity were worsened, and he was kept in chains, “so heavy,” Richard declared, “that a horse or ass would have struggled to move under them.”
The Emperor demanded that 150,000 marks (100,000 pounds of silver) be delivered to him before he would release the King, the same amount raised by the Saladin tithe only a few years earlier, and two to three times the annual income for the English Crown under Richard. Richard’s mother, Eleanor, worked to raise the ransom. Both clergy and laymen were taxed for a quarter of the value of their property, the gold and silver treasures of the churches were confiscated, and money was raised from the scutage and the carucage taxes.
At the same time, John, Richard’s brother, and King Philippe II of France offered 80,000 marks for Heinrich VI to hold Richard prisoner until Michaelmas 1194. Heinrich turned down the offer. The money to rescue the King was transferred to Germany by the Emperor’s ambassadors, but “at the king’s peril” (had it been lost along the way, Richard would have been held responsible), and finally, on February 4, 1194 Richard was released. Philip sent a message to John: “Look to yourself; the devil is loose”