Dürnstein Castle – a prison for King Richard the Lionheart

Dürnstein Castle – a prison for King Richard the Lionheart

3 minutes to read

I guess that many of us know the legends and tales about a brave crusader and English King Richard the Lionheart, as well as his imprisonment. But not so many of us know that Dürnstein Castle was a prison for King Richard the Lionheart.

King Richard is remembered as one of the greatest and the most respected kings of England, highly educated and trained in the knightly chivalry. He was loved by people because of his reputation as a great warrior. The most of his life as a king, Richard has spent actively fighting, either in the Crusades, or in the captivity. He is known as a central commander of the Christian armies during the Third Crusade.

The story of imprisonment

On his way from the Third Crusade from the Holly Land, his ship was wrecked, and he was forced to take the land route through central Europe. Near Vienna, he was captured by Duke of Austria Leopold V, under the accusations of conspiring for the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat and was taken to Dürnstein Castle, where he was kept for the next few months.

Legend has it that at first no one in his kingdom knew where he was. So, the minstrel named Blondel was sent to search for his king throughout whole Europe but in vain. On his way home through Austria, he learnt that there was a prisoner with a secret identity who was tightly guarded in the Castle Dürnstein. He suspected that it could be his king, so he located a small barred window high up on the castle wall and started to sing the song only known to two of them, and the voice from above responded by continuing to sing the refrain.

The misdeed of the Austrian Duke and Holly Roman Emperor didn’t stay unpunished, and they were both excommunicated by the Pope, because the imprisonment of a crusader was contrary to the public law. After that, he was handed over to Henry VI, a Holy Roman Emperor who has asked an enormous ransom of 150,000 marks, two or three times the annual income for the English Crown. After collecting ransom money from the confiscated golden and silver treasures of the churches and taxes, Richard the Lionheart was released.

This part of the history has produced many legends. There is an opera depicting Blondel’s quest for his master. Even the tales of Robin Hood are placed around the incarceration of Richard the Lionheart. Robin Hood was driven to outlawry during the misrule of Richard's brother John. While he was in Dürnstein Castle, Richard wrote a song “No man who is imprisoned" about his imprisonment, addressing it to his sister.

Visiting Castle

Today Dürstein Castle can be seen in the ruins, not much of it has left to witness the legend of the brave king. The remains of the castle are located on the hill above the small picturesque town of Dürstein. There are two ways leading from the town up to the castle - the steep and the regular route. Along the trails, there are the plaques providing the historical background of the castle, the crusades, King Richard the Lionheart and his nemesis Saladin, Duke Leopold of Austria and the tales of Robin Hood.

There is no entrance fee to the castle, and the views of the Wachau Valley with the vineyards and the town of Dürnstein are astonishing. Not so many tourists decide to climb up to Dürnstein Castle - prison for King Richard the Lionheart, but if you are in a decent shape, you should make this effort and visit it.

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The author

Ogi Savic

Ogi Savic

I am Ogi. A journalist and economist, I live in Vienna and I am passionate about skiing, traveling, good food and drinks. I write about all these aspects (and more) of beautiful Austria.

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