I read in Wikipedia and Britannica about Richard I of England regarding his imprisonment and I was perplexed by the fact that a sovereign monarch, and a crusader at that, could be imprisoned by a foreign power on such shaky grounds as the accusation of a murder (Leopold accused Richard for the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat).

Although generally the feudal lord's will was the law in his territory, I believe a hierarchy was still in place placing kings above dukes, counts, barons etc and as such out of their juridistiction except in cases of open war.

My questions therefore revolve around the following issues:

  1. As there was no open war between England and the Holy Roman Empire and it was Leopold's accusation of murder versus Richard's denial of it, how did Leopold have the legal and moral authority to arrest a king travelling through his lands on his way home from the Crusades?

  2. How did other monarchs react, seeing that a fellow king was abducted while taking a stroll in another country on the basis of personal enmity really?

  3. Was some sort of trial called to prove Richard's guilt in order to justify his imprisonment? I don't expect a UN assembly style trial, but anything that would give legitimacy to Leopold's actions and the irrational ransom demands.

My sources were mainly encyclopedia articles from Wikipedia, Britannica and Ancient History Encyclopedia concerning the involved parties none of which go in great detail about how other powers viewed Richard's imprisonment or the details of his capture. Most of my Google searches return results such as '5 little known facts about Richard the Lionheart' which ended up being pretty known.

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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? What did you find? Why was that insufficient? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and help center, and in particular How to Ask. Aug 7, 2019 at 12:32
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    please do not reply in comments; update the question to contain _all information.
    – MCW
    Aug 7, 2019 at 13:58
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    @Mark C. Wallace It is irrelevant to ask what justification does a monarch need. Duke Leopold VI was a duke and not a monarch. As Duke of Austria Leopold was two steps below his monarch, being a vassal of the king of Germany who was a vassal of the emperor.
    – MAGolding
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:18
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    @MAGolding But king of Germany and the emperor were usually the same man. In 1192, it was Henry VI.
    – user28850
    Aug 7, 2019 at 16:35
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    Snork For most of history, kings and other "high people" behaved no better than the heads of criminal gangs on the streets of modern day Los Angeles or New York. Arbitrary decisions, irrational decisions, no decisions - and the occassional proper thing for which they are remembered.
    – JRE
    Aug 8, 2019 at 9:18

1 Answer 1


The Middle Ages was not particularly known for being a civil and orderly period.

Leopold V had no authority of any kind to arrest Richard I. He did it simply because he wanted to, and could. The illegality of the act is reflected by the fact that it drew official sanction from the Church: Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold, and compelled him to prepare for a crusade to seek absolution.

Nonetheless, the secular reaction to what Leopold (and later the Emperor, Henry VI) did was not one of general condemnation. Not even Richard's own government treated it like the crime our modern sensibilities might perceive it to be:

Envy, not abhorrence, was the usual response their deed evoked among laymen . . . The incident was treated by the English government under Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, as though it were an unfortunate act of God . . . Censure of the king's captors was apparently far from the archbishop's mind.

Dunbabin, Jean. Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe, 1000-1300. Springer, 2002.

As for Richard's fellow monarchs, far from being offended by the assault upon their rank, they actively rejoiced in celebration. Shortly after his capture, Emperor Henry VI, in a letter to Philip II Augustus the King of France, wrote that:

Because our imperial majesty has no doubt that your royal highness will take pleasure in all of those providences of God which exalt us and our empire, we have thought it proper to inform you of what happened to Richard, king of England, the enemy of our empire and the disturber of your kingdom . . . He is now in our power. We know that this news will bring you great happiness.

Gillingham, John. Richard I. Yale University Press, 2002.

Both men had much to gain from Richard's captivity - Henry sorely needed a cash infusion that a king's ransom could provide, while Philip seized the chance to attack Norman England's continental holdings.

Of course, one factor must have been the fact that Richard had alienated much of his peers. The pivotal one was of course his humiliation of Leopold after the Siege of Acre, but it also went much further:

Richard was a difficult personality and not at all the the fair-minded and gentle knight of legend . . . Subsequently Richard had compromised his reputation to such an extent that he had to leave the Holy Land incognito.

Schutz, Herbert. The Medieval Empire in Central Europe: Dynastic Continuity in the Post-Carolingian Frankish Realm, 900-1300. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.

Henry VI did actually put Richard on trial over Easter the following year, at Speyer. It was necessarily a show trial, since his intentions were obviously to ransom Richard and bargain for geopolitical gains. In the previous month, Henry had concluded the Treaty of Würzburg with Duke Leopold. By its terms, the duke agreed to deliver the king to the emperor for a share of the ransom money, in a manner perhaps more befitting of mafia bosses.

In any event, Richard delivered an eloquent defense and was promptly acquitted by assembled lords. According to William the Breton, a court poet and diplomat of Philippe Augustus,

When Richard replied, he spoke eloquently and regally, in so lion-hearted a manner, that it was as though he had forgotten where he was and the undignified circumstances in which he had been captured, and imagined himself to be seated on the throne of his ancestors.

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    Excellent answer that helped me understand the issue. One detail: Is there any other documented reaction other than that of Phillip and Henry? Those two were definitely happy with the matter as they stood to gain and were enemies of Richard on a personal level as well. I was wondering if there is any documented record of what monarchs/nobles from thrid parties thought like Castille, Aragon, Denmark perhaps. Aug 7, 2019 at 21:06
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    @YokedSinger8062 Unfortunately, I was not able to find another documented response from a monarch. I'm sure they would've commented on the incident, which may or may not be recorded, but nothing specific turned up in my searches. It would be particularly interesting to see what Tancred of Sicily had to say about it if anyone could find it.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 8, 2019 at 10:01
  • "Might makes right" was (and oftimes still is) a well used justification for authority. Other than that, what was the general authority of kings within their kingdon at this time period? Aug 8, 2019 at 22:08
  • @MichaelRichardson That is somewhat difficult to generalise. The feudal natural of medieval kingdoms means that most of it depends on the personal quality of the king, and their relationship to important vassals. So it tended to be fairly weak and fragile, and less unilaterlal, than later times or modern imagination.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 9, 2019 at 5:07
  • I'm staggered by the English government's reaction. Was the archbishop in John's pocket?
    – bonzo-lz
    Aug 14, 2019 at 10:21

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