Historians and history enthusiasts know the legends and tales about Richard the Lionheart, the third son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories of his reign is the account of his travels after leaving the Holy Land and his capture in Vienna. It is a tale that brings to mind the Odyssey of Odysseus. In Robin Hood’s Widow, the second installment in our Robin Hood Trilogy, readers follow in King Richard’s footsteps during this fateful journey.
Having made peace with Sultan Saladin, Richard ensured that Christian pilgrims would have access to Jerusalem for three years. Alerted by his mother that Prince John, his younger brother, was plotting against him, Richard set off from the Holy Land in October 1192, accompanied by his closest entourage. Following a series of harrowing sea voyages that took him as far west as Sicily, King Richard eventually made landfall on the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea, near the old Roman city of Aquileia.
In Sicily, Richard and his men had learned that there was no safe harbor for them in either Italy or the southern coast of France. With no other options, the monarch and his companions were compelled to take the land route through central Europe. They planned to seek help from Richard’s brother-in-law, Henry the Lion of Saxony. Pursued by local officials who were vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, yet another enemy of Richard, they could not remain in one place for long. To avoid recognition, they traveled fast, at the very limits of their endurance.
Finally, the King of England arrived in Erdberg (modern Landstraße district), on the outskirts of Vienna, with only one trusted knight (William de l’Etang), and a young interpreter. By that time, the monarch felt unwell; Richard was sweating, exhausted, and feverish. The Angevin ruler found shelter in a local inn and sent the boy to purchase food while William traveled to Saxony to secure help from Henry the Lion. There are different versions of how Richard was discovered, but we know that the boy’s presence in the market attracted unwanted attention.
The boy, whose name might have been Ioldan, spoke German with a peculiar accent because he was from an area far to the south of Vienna. However, it was his apparently arrogant demeanor that made him noticeable in the market. According to contemporary chronicles, the boy was holding himself “too courtly and too proudly.” To the astonishment of tradesmen, he possessed considerable sums of money, but he had to exchange his exotic Syrian coins for Viennese currency. The boy’s money and odd manners stirred suspicion among the locals, one of whom must have dispatched a report to Leopold V, Duke of Austria and of Styria.
Duke Leopold must have been most pleased with the news, for he had a personal feud with the Crusader-King. In Acre, Leopold had been commander of the German forces, so he had wanted a share of the glory (and spoils) equal to those of King Richard I of England and King Philip II of France. Richard haughtily rejected his demands and removed Leopold’s banners from the walls of Acre. The enraged duke hastily departed for Austria.
The small inn of Erdberg was encircled by Leopold’s men. Most likely, when King Richard sensed danger, he attempted to escape. One legend has Richard, upon hearing the clamor of the arriving soldiers, dashing into the kitchen and pretending to be a cook turning the spit. Yet, it was too late—there were no avenues of escape left for the trapped king. Richard told his pursuers that he would only surrender personally to Duke Leopold. Upon the duke’s arrival, Richard exited the inn and, guarded by soldiers, audaciously strode towards Leopold.
It was a defining event in the lives of both men. A moment of complete triumph for Duke Leopold, who must have beheld his adversary with a blend of malice and glee. But an occasion of bitter humiliation for King Richard, the legendary hero of Christendom. With an air of innate regality, dignity, and poise about him, the English monarch relinquished his sword to Leopold and surrendered. Ironically, Richard was only 50 miles away from the safety of Saxony.
In Robin Hood’s Widow, Robin accompanies his liege lord from Acre, and he is there with Richard, William de l’Etang, and Ioldan in those fateful final days prior to the king’s capture.
In England, the news of King Richard’s capture was met with outrage and consternation. His arrest was considered appalling and ungodly. Many people demanded that Pope Celestine III excommunicate Duke Leopold and Emperor Henry for imprisoning a fellow Crusader. The first impulse of a bereft Eleanor must have been to travel to Germany in order to see her favorite son. Nevertheless, Eleanor pulled herself together and took the reins of government into her capable hands, knowing that her youngest son’s seditious alliance with King Philip might lead to a possible invasion of Normandy while she personally initiated negotiations with the emperor.
During the 13 months of Richard’s captivity, Eleanor of Aquitaine would play a crucial role in the affairs of her sons: raising Richard’s ransom, actively governing his lands, and tempering John’s ambitions as much as possible. The final installment of our trilogy, Robin Hood’s Return, will be set during this uncertain and perilous time as Robin and his beloved Marian uncover a deadly plot against both King Richard and Prince John.
By Olivia Longueville, copyright 2020
All images are in the public domain.
Boyle, David, Troubadour’s Song: The Capture, Imprisonment, and Ransom of Richard the Lionheart, Walker & Company, 2005
Gillingham, John, Richard I, Yale University Press, 1999
McLynn, Frank, Richard and John: Kings at War, Da Capo Press, 2007
Turner, Ralph V. and Heiser, Richard R., The Reign of Richard the Lionheart: Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189-1199, Pearson Education Limited, 2000