Today’s History Lesson, with Pictures!


So, I’m in Austria and we see this great castle up at the top of a steep hill. At the bottom of this hilly area is the Danube River and a beautiful little town called Durnstein. Someone mumbles something about Richard the Lionheart having been imprisoned there. We’re in a great hurry to get to some exhibit before it closes, so I grab an ice cream cone from a vendor, snap a few photos, and we leave.

How utterly stupid, to be in a hurry on vacation in Europe! Since then, I’ve considered it a missed opportunity to revisit my Western Civilization classes from college. Richard the Lionheart. About all I remember is that he was King of England a long time ago, and was called “the Lionheart” for his bravery.

Three years later, here are some fun facts in a nutshell:

Richard was King of England from 1189 till his death in 1199. He was a Plantagenet. RichardLionheart-l

He spoke very little English.

He was born in England, but spent his childhood in France.

He was educated and wrote poetry.

Like his two older brothers, he spent a lot of time trying to dethrone his father, King Henry II of England. When Henry II died, it was said that his nose bled in the presence of Richard, which meant that Richard was responsible for his father’s death.

It was also rumored that Henry II had an affair with Richard’s fiance. These two guys just didn’t get along.

When Richard was crowned king in 1189, he was 32 years old. He decreed that no Jews would be allowed to attend his crowning ceremony, but some Jewish leaders showed up anyway to give him gifts. Richard’s henchmen killed those Jews and then went on a rampage killing many Jews and even burning some of them alive.

Then, Richard realized that persecuting Jews might not be popular, so he ordered execution of some of those who had persecuted Jews on his behalf. (Is that making any sense to you?)

Richard spent six months of his 10-year reign in England. He claimed that England was “cold and always raining.” Eight hundred years later, it’s hard not to smile at that one.

Richard was one of the leaders of the Third Crusade, which attempted to conquer Jerusalem from Muslim control. Ultimately, he lost, and the Holy Land stayed with the Muslims. During the war, Richard’s people executed thousands of Muslims, and the Muslims executed thousands of European Christians.

(Jews and Muslims are still killing each other over this land today, eight hundred years later.)

After losing the Third Crusade, Richard tried to sneak home to France, but he was captured and held for random by the Duke of Austria, Leopold V. According to Wikipedia:

Richard and his retainers had been travelling in disguise as low-ranking pilgrims, but he was identified either because he was wearing an expensive ring, or because of his insistence on eating roast chicken, an aristocratic delicacy.

Here’s where my photo comes in—that’s where Leopold held Richard prisoner. But Leopold was excommunicated for holding him, so he (Leopold) turned over Richard to the “Holy” Roman Emperor, Henry VI. Henry didn’t release Richard, either, so the Pope excommunicated him, too. He didn’t budge, and demanded ransom money in order to release Richard. The Lionheart retorted:

I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God.

He remained in captivity. Here are a couple more photos of Durnstein:

durnstein ruins

Durnstein 2

During his captivity at Durnstein, Richard wrote this poem:

No one will tell me the cause of my sorrow, Why they have made me a prisoner here. Wherefore with dolour I now make my moan; Friends had I many but help have I none. Shameful it is that they leave me to ransom, To languish here two winters long.


(Aside:  I’ve noticed that several websites mistakenly refer to Durnstein as being located in Germany. It’s in Austria.)

Unfortunately, after all of his bluster about not being able to be bought, he was released from captivity when his mother paid his ransom. (Big man!)

Richard went home in defeat (in my opinion) and built a new home, Chateau Gaillard, France. Apparently it only took a year to build. This is one rendering of it looked like, new:


And here’s what it looks like today:


And I ran across this gorgeous photo of the Chateau and decided to post it, just for effect:

chateau 2

As for Richard the Lionheart, he was a mama’s boy till the end. He died in his mother’s arms at age 41 from an infected arrow wound that he refused to have treated. According to Wikipedia,

Richard’s brain was buried at Charroux Abbey in Poitou, his heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, and the rest of his body was buried at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.

A 13th century Bishop of Rochester wrote that Richard spent 33 years in purgatory as expiation for his sins, eventually ascending to heaven in March 1232.

(Once again, amazing how these Catholics know so  much.)

This entry was posted in Catholic Church, Just Thoughts, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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