4 February 1194: Richard the Lionheart is ransomed

England’s Crusader king, Richard I, was proud and arrogant, and had a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. His support of King Tancred of Sicily angered the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, who rather fancied the Mediterranean island for himself. And in Germany, Richard’s nephews were getting a little too close to the Dutch and the Danish for the Emperor’s liking.

So it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that while making his way home through Europe following a jaunt in the Middle East in 1192, Richard the Lionheart become Richard the Imprisoned. His captor was Leopold V, Duke of Austria.

The Holy Roman Emperor leapt at the chance to get his hands on Richard. If Leopold would hand over his worthy prize, Henry would give Leopold a share of the ransom money that he would demand for Richard’s release. Leopold accepted the deal and delivered Richard to Henry in February 1193.

Henry had Richard squirming on the end of his hook. In order to extract the biggest ransom possible, he dangled Richard before the greedy eyes of the French king, Philip II. Philip had his own score to settle with Richard. Just a few months before, the English king had reneged on his agreement to marry Philip’s sister, Alys.

But this was an age of chivalry and there were rules. Pope Celestine III took a dim view of Leopold and Henry’s imprisonment of a Crusader king, and both were excommunicated, which you might have thought would be slightly embarrassing for a Holy Roman Emperor.

But business is business, after all, and in June 1193 at Worms, the ransom was set at 150,000 silver marks, which was up to three times the annual income for the English Crown.

Back in England, Richard’s dutiful mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, began to scrape together the money. The clergy and laymen were taxed to the value of a quarter of their properties; church gold and silver was seized, and additional taxes were raised on knights (scutage) and land (carucage). The King of France offered Henry 80,000 marks to keep Richard, but Henry turned down the request.

The money raised, Richard was released from captivity in Mainz in Germany on 4 February 1194. Henry used the windfall to launch his longed-for invasion of Sicily.

Also on this day

4 February 1818: Sir Walter Scott finds the Honours of Scotland

Romantic poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott discovered the Honours of Scotland – Scotland’s crown jewels – on this day in 1818, after they had been missing for over a century. Read more here.