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Richard the Lionheart goes to jail

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Richard the Lionheart hurriedly left the Holy Land to confront his wayward brother. John attempted to usurp the English crown from the great crusader king. Weather and hubris led Richard to take a longer route home where he ran afoul of continental powers. John encouraged these powers to block and imprison Richard. They captured the king and held him for ransom for over a year.

The English crusader king Richard the Lionheart defeated his Muslim opponents at every turn. His superior martial skills and moral authority as a king provided the advantage. However, his gravitas could not save him from his own brother. John rebelled against Richard to win the English crown for himself. News of the treachery reached Richard in the Holy Land. The king hurriedly made peace with Saladin and rushed off to England.

The weather did not cooperate with the conquering monarch. Bad conditions forced his landing at Corfu. The Byzantine Emperor opposed Richard's policies and presented a formidable roadblock to London. Richard disguised himself as a Templar and attempted a dangerous land trek through central Europe.

Richard and his party made it as far as Austria before detection. Around Christmas 1192, the Duke of Austria, Leopold V, arrested the English king for the murder of his cousin, Conrad of Montferrat. Richard might have been involved in the assassination. Conrad stood to become Jerusalem's king, but refused to aid Richard's crusade efforts. Conrad's eventual replacement proved more pliable.

The English nobility had no idea how to proceed with their king in prison. John encouraged the continentals to hold Richard as long as possible. Meanwhile, Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold for breaking the law. The duke had neither the authority nor legal basis for the arrest. In response, Leopold turned Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.

Henry disapproved of Richard, but may have been more concerned with finance. The emperor needed capital to finance military operations in southern Italy. The Holy Roman Empire claimed sovereignty over the region despite Papal opposition. Celestine quickly excommunicated Henry for the unlawful imprisonment while the emperor demanded a large ransom for the English king.

Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine managed to raise the ransom of 65,000 pounds of silver for the king's release. This figure represented nearly three times England's annual income. Meanwhile, John offered to pay Henry to keep Richard imprisoned. The emperor refused to accept John's bribe, but banked the ransom money from Eleanor. Richard's captivity ended on February 4, 1194. The French king Philip messaged John, "Look to yourself; the devil is loose."

The devil proved forgiving despite his past history. Richard the Lionheart refused to show respect to Emperor Henry while held captive. He had famously executed a number of Muslim prisoners because he lost patience with Saladin. However, he forgave John for the insurrection. Afterward, he went to war to regain Normandy from France. The Lionheart died from an arrow in 1199 and was buried in Normandy.

King Richard I suffered the ignominious imprisonment by a foreign power. Despite Papal attempts, Richard did not earn his freedom until his mother paid a large ransom. Richard refused to show deference to his captors, but forgave his brother for treason. In the end, Richard's adventures became legendary, even when they were infamous.

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