Was watching the directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven, and one of the scenes had an actor playing what seemed to be a nobelman stating that he is according the privilege of ransom. While I remember that being so in my readings, in this scene, he was killed instead.

What my question is were nobles more likely to be ransomed when captured in battle (such as Richard the Lionheart to use a famous example), offed unless they were extremely high ranking such as a King or Duke, or a halfway point between the two?

  • you mean the execution of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raynald_of_Châtillon on capture? It was unusual for Saladin but was for Raynalds long history of misdeeds.
    – pugsville
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 6:38
  • 3
    Yes, in era essentially ruled by murderous thugs, Saladin was pretty much a moral exemplar of his times. Either that or he had REALLY good propaganda. Probably both.
    – TechZen
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:14
  • 3
    I would add that if you want to understand the medieval ages, think more drug-gang or mob warfare instead of Chivalry. The aristocrats were in the end just a caste of killers. Honor codes and religion provided only the merest brakes on their murderous behavior. There were no "rules" much less laws. Individual nobles usually made cold cost/benefit analysis, including reputation cost and other social factors, and then just did whatever gave them most advantage at the moment.
    – TechZen
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


In GENERAL, captured nobles were ransomed. That's because this maximized their value to their captors.

One notable exception was the battle of Agincourt, in 1415, during the 100 years' war. At one point, the French lines approached the English prison camp, and King Henry V feared that the prisoners would not only be released, but re-armed, and take the smaller English army in the rear. So he gave the order to kill all but the highest-ranking prisoners. But such cruelty was rare, even in medieval times, and usually stemmed from panic or fear of attack.

  • 6
    +1 Note that Charles of Orleans was kept confined in England after his capture at Agincourt, and Henry wouldn't have him ransomed, because he was deemed too important an opponent. He was kept in England for twenty-four years, because he posed a serious risk as the leader of the important Orleans-Armagnac faction and was a duke of royal blood.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 1:59
  • It was not that unusual for some captives to be kept indefinitely (or sometimes released as the politics changed) for political reasons rather than ransomed. So very top political lords while generally kept in good conditions (with some horrible exceptions) would often be kept indefinitely
    – pugsville
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 6:35
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    I would strongly disagree that cruelty was rare in medieval times, it was just sharply divided by class. The nobles where largely a vast extended family squatting on the backs of the commoners. Of course, they treated their cousins relatively well, especially if it were profitable to do so. But peasants and merchants suffered horribly both directly in battle, after battle and even in the very movement of rapacious armies. Peasant soldiers on the loosing side where often executed in mass to prevent them from becoming bandits. Even if they escaped, they faced the serious threat of starvation.
    – TechZen
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:23
  • To second TechZen's comments. Far from rare cruelty was the norm in Medieval times. As was taking every advantage of your enemy when he was down. Ransoming was popular as it allowed mercy to be profitable. It incentivized mercy, at least for the few who could afford to pay it.
    – user27618
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 20:19

Captured nobles in medieval times, were they always ransomed?

No they were not always ransomed. There were many ways for a captive to be taken advantage of beyond just being ransomed for short term money.

Medieval captives were entirely at the mercy of their captors. Some were held hostage for prisoner exchanges, some ransomed, some were kept indefinitely, some coerced to change objectionable opinions or sides, and of course some were just murdered. Over the centuries pretty much anything and everything was done. However, the capturing party could gain some kind of advantage, they did.



It was lucrative for Kings and important knights to be ransomed, sometimes for huge sums so this was a pretty big incentive. Ransoming was considered honorable as it helped ensure the safety of the captured party.

  • Richard the Lion Heart - 100,000 pounds of silver, 2 or 3 times the annual income of the crown of England at that time. King Richard was not captured in battle but was captured in Austria returning from the crusades.

  • Bertrand du Guesclin - 100,000 francs.


  • Charles of Orleans, after the battle of Agincourt in 1415 was held by the English for 25 years. He was deemed too dangerous an enemy by King Henry V to be ransomed to France.


  • The capture of Charles de Blois led to the Treaty of Westminster, (1356) then he was ransomed, and restarted the war.

Edward III signed the Treaty of Westminster on 1 March 1353, accepting Charles of Blois as Duke of Brittany if the latter undertook to pay a ransom of 300,000 crowns, and that Brittany signed a treaty of alliance "in perpetuity" with England, this alliance to be sealed by the marriage of the Montfortist claimant John of Montfort (son of the earlier John of Montfort) with Edward's daughter Mary.

  • the capture of John II of France lead to the Treaty of Brétigny (1360) and then he was ransomed.

Treaty of Brétigny, (1360) Treaty between England and France that ended the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War. Marking a serious setback for the French, the treaty was signed after Edward the Black Prince defeated and captured John II of France at the Battle of Poitiers (1356). The French ceded extensive territories in northwestern France to England and agreed to ransom John at a cost of three million gold crowns, while King Edward III renounced his claim to the French throne. The treaty failed to establish a lasting peace, and the war began again in 1369.

  • Harold Godwinson of England was captured by William of Normandy in Normandy before the latter invaded England in 1066. As a price for Harold's release William had Harold recant any claim to the English throne. Of course Harold who fought William at the battle of Hastings over that throne didn't find his previous vow to be a binding one.


  • Earwig , elder half-brother of king Edward the Confessor and claimant to the English thrown. Earwig was betrayed and captured by his one time ally and future in-law(brother Edward's wife's family), Earl Godwin. Earwig was turned over by Earl Godwin to his enemy (the Dane Cnut) who tortured and murdered him, 1017.

  • Most of the surviving French knights at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 were put to death by the English. King Henry's French captives outnumbered his own forces, and the English feared they were so large a number they still posed a danger to the army; so the English killed them all.

Was watching the directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven, and one of the scenes...

The movie Kingdom of Heaven pertains to the events of 1187, when Jerusalem fell to the Moslems. It contrasts Saladin the Great's behavior of sparing the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem with the christians crusaders behavior taking the same city in 1099 where they massacred the inhabitants. In the medieval times massacres were the norm.

Siege of Jerusalem 1099
Atrocities committed against the inhabitants of cities taken by storm after a siege were normal in ancient and medieval warfare. The Crusaders had already done so at Antioch, and Fatimids had done so themselves at Taormina, at Rometta, and at Tyre. However, the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may have exceeded even these standards. Historian Michael Hull has suggested this was a matter of deliberate policy rather than simple bloodlust, to remove the "contamination of pagan superstition" (quoting Fulcher of Chartres) and to reform Jerusalem as a strictly Christian city.

Related Question:What did medieval European knights do if they were defeated in battle?

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