Gateway to the Classics: Richard I by Jacob Abbott
Richard I by  Jacob Abbott

The Return to England

During all this time the people of England were patiently waiting for Richard's return, and wondering what had become of him. They knew that he had sailed from Palestine in October, and various were the conjectures as to his fate. Some thought that he had been shipwrecked; others, that he had fallen into the hands of the Moors; but all was uncertainty, for no tidings had been heard of him since he sailed from Acre. Berengaria had arrived safely at Messina, and after remaining there a little time she proceeded on her journey, under the care of Stephen, as far as Rome, very anxious all the time about her husband. Here she stopped, not daring to go any farther. She felt safe in Rome, under the protection of the Pope.

The emperor attempted to keep Richard's imprisonment a secret. On removing him from Tiernsteign, he shut him up in one of his own castles on the Danube named Durenstein. Here the king was closely imprisoned. He did not, however, yield to any depression of spirits in view of his hard fate, but spent his time in composing and singing songs, and in drinking and carousing with the people of the castle. Here he remained during the spring and summer of 1193, and all the world were wondering what had become of him.

At length rumors began gradually to circulate in respect to him among the neighboring countries, and the conduct of the emperor, in seizing and imprisoning him, was very generally condemned. How the intelligence first reached England is not precisely known. One story is, that a celebrated Troubadour, named Blondel, who had known Richard in Palestine, was traveling through Germany, and in his journey he passed along the road in front of the castle where Richard was confined. As he went he was singing one of his songs. Richard knew the song, and so, when the Troubadour had finished a stanza, he sang the next one through the bars of his prison window. Blondel recognized the voice, and instantly understood that Richard had been made a prisoner. He, however, said nothing, but went on, and immediately took measures to make known in England what he had learned.

Another account is, that the emperor himself wrote to Philip, King of France, informing him of the King of England's imprisonment in one of his castles, and that some person betrayed a copy of this letter to Richard's friends in England.

It is said that Berengaria received the first intimation in respect to Richard's fate by seeing a belt of jewels offered for sale in Rome which she knew he had had about his person when he left Acre. She made all the inquiry that she could in respect to the belt, but she could only learn that Richard must be somewhere in Germany. It was a relief to her mind to find that he was alive, but she was greatly distressed to think that he was probably a prisoner, and she implored the Pope to interpose his aid and procure his release. The Pope did interpose. He immediately excommunicated Leopold for having seized Richard and imprisoned him, and he threatened to excommunicate the emperor himself if he did not release him.

In the mean time, the tidings in respect to Richard's situation produced a great excitement throughout England. John was glad to hear it, and he hoped most devoutly that his brother would never be released. He immediately began to take measures, in concert with Philip, to secure the crown to himself. The people, on the other hand, were very indignant against the Emperor of Germany, and every one was eager to take some efficient measures to secure the king's release. A great meeting was called of the barons, the bishops, and all the great officers of the realm, at Oxford, where, when they had assembled, they renewed their oaths of allegiance to their sovereign, and then appointed a delegation, consisting of two abbots, to go and visit the king, and confer with him in respect to what was best to be done. They chose two ecclesiastics for their messengers, thinking that they would be more likely to be allowed to go and come without molestation, than knights or barons, or any other military men.

The abbots proceeded to Germany, and there the first interview which they had with Richard was on the road, as the emperor was taking him to the capital in order to bring him before a great assembly of the empire, called the Diet, for the purpose of trial.

Richard was overjoyed to see his friends. He was, however, very much vexed when he heard from them of the plans which John and Philip were engaged in for dispossessing him of his kingdom. He said, however, that he had very little fear of any thing that they could do.

"My brother John," said he, "has not courage enough to accomplish any thing. He never will get a kingdom by his valor."

When he arrived at the town where the Diet was to be held, Richard had an interview with the emperor. The emperor had two objects in view in detaining Richard a prisoner. One was to prevent his having it in his power to help Tancred in keeping him, the emperor, out of possession of the kingdom of Sicily, and the other was to obtain, when he should set him at liberty at last, a large sum of money for a ransom. When he told Richard what sum of money he would take, Richard refused the offer, saying that he would die rather than degrade his crown by submitting to such terms, and impoverishing his kingdom in raising the money.

The emperor then, in order to bring a heavier pressure to bear upon him, arraigned him before a Diet as a criminal. The following were the charges which he brought against him:

1. That he had formed an alliance with Tancred, the usurper of Sicily, and thus made himself a partaker in Tancred's crimes.

2. That he had invaded the dominions of Isaac, the Christian king of Cyprus, deposed the king, laid waste his dominions, and plundered his treasures; and, finally, had sent the unhappy king to pine away and die in a Syrian dungeon.

3. That, while in the Holy Land, he had offered repeated and unpardonable insults to the Archduke of Austria, and, through him, to the whole German nation.

4. That he had been the cause of the failure of the Crusade, in consequence of the quarrels which he had excited between himself and the French king by his domineering and violent behavior.

5. That he had employed assassins to murder Conrad of Montferrat.

6. That, finally, he had betrayed the Christian cause by concluding a base truce with Saladin, and leaving Jerusalem in his hands.

It is possible that the motive which led the emperor to make these charges against Richard was not any wish or design to have him convicted and punished, but only to impress him more strongly with a sense of the danger of his situation, with a view of bringing him to consent to the payment of a ransom. At any rate, the trial resulted in nothing but a negotiation in respect to the amount of ransom-money to be paid.

Finally, a sum was agreed upon. Richard was sent back to his prison, and the abbots returned to England to see what could be done in respect to raising the money.

The people of England undertook the task not only with willingness, but with alacrity. The amount required was nearly a million of dollars, which, in those days, was a very large sum even for a kingdom to pay. The amount was to be paid in silver. Two thirds of it was to go to the emperor, and the other third to the archduke, who, when he sold his prisoner to the emperor, had reserved a right to a portion of the ransom-money whenever it should be paid.

As soon as two thirds of the whole amount was paid, Richard was to be released on condition of his giving hostages as security for the remainder.

It took a long time to raise all this money, and various embarrassments were created in the course of the transaction by the emperor's bad faith, for he changed his terms from time to time, demanding more and more as he found that the interest which the people of England took in the case would bear. At last, however, in February, 1194, about two years after Richard was first imprisoned, a sufficient sum arrived to make up the first payment, and Richard was set free.

After meeting with various adventures on his journey home, he arrived on the English coast about the middle of March.

The people of the country were filled with joy at hearing of his return, and they gave him a magnificent reception. One of the German barons who came home with him said, when he saw the enthusiasm of the people, that if the emperor had known how much interested in his fate the people of England were, he would not have let him off with so small a ransom.

John was, of course, in great terror when he heard that Richard was coming home. He abandoned every thing and fled to Normandy. Richard issued a decree that if he did not come back and give himself up within forty days, his estates should all be confiscated. John was thrown into a state of great perplexity by this, and did not know what to do.

As soon as Richard had arranged his affairs a little in England, he determined to be crowned again anew, as if his two years of captivity had broken the continuity of his reign. Accordingly, a new coronation was arranged, and it was celebrated, as the first one had been, with the greatest pomp and splendor.

After this Richard determined to proceed to Normandy, with a view of there making war upon Philip and punishing him for his treachery. On his landing in Normandy, John came to him in a most abject and submissive manner, and, throwing himself at his feet, begged his forgiveness. Eleanora joined him in the petition. Richard said that, out of regard to his mother's wishes, he would pardon him.

"And I hope," said he, "that I shall as easily forget the injuries he has done me as he will forget my forbearance in pardoning him."

Poor Berengaria was very illy rewarded for the devotion which she had manifested to her husband's interests, and for the efforts she had made to secure his release. She had come home from Rome a short time before her husband arrived, but he, when he came, manifested no interest in rejoining her. Instead of that, he connected himself with a number of wicked associates, both male and female, whom he had known before he went to the Holy Land, and lived a life of open profligacy with them, leaving Berengaria to pine in neglect, alone and forsaken. She was almost heart-broken to be thus abandoned, and several of the principal ecclesiastics of the kingdom remonstrated very strongly with Richard for this wicked conduct. But these remonstrances were of no avail. Richard abandoned himself more and more to drunkenness and profligacy, until at length his character became truly infamous.

One day in 1195, when he was hunting in the forest of Normandy, he was met by a hermit, who boldly expostulated with him on account of the wickedness of his life. The hermit told him that, by the course he was pursuing, he was grievously offending God, and that, unless he stopped short in his course and repented of his sins, he was doomed to be brought very soon to a miserable end by a special judgment from heaven.

The king pretended not to pay much attention to this prophecy, but not long afterward he was suddenly seized with a severe illness, and then he became exceedingly alarmed. He sent for all the monks and priests within ten miles around to come to him, and began to confess his sins with apparently very deep compunction for them, and begged them to pray for God's forgiveness. He promised them solemnly that, if God would spare his life, he would return to Berengaria, and thenceforth be a true and faithful husband to her as long as he lived.

He recovered from his sickness, and he so far kept the vows which he had made as to seek a reconciliation with Berengaria, and to live with her afterward, ostensibly at least, on good terms.

For three years after this Richard was engaged in wars with Philip chiefly on the frontiers between France and Normandy. At last, in the midst of this contest, he suddenly came to his death under circumstances of a remarkable character. He had heard that a peasant in the territory of one of his barons, named Videmar, in plowing in the field, had come upon a trap-door in the ground which covered and concealed the entrance to a cave, and that, on going down into the cave, he had found a number of golden statues, with vases full of diamonds, and other treasures, and that the whole had been taken out and carried to the Castle Chaluz, belonging to Videmar. Richard immediately proceeded to Videmar, and demanded that the treasures should be given up to him as the sovereign. Videmar replied that the rumor which had been spread was false; that nothing had been found but a pot of old Roman coins, which Richard was welcome to have, if he desired them. Richard replied that he did not believe that story; and that, unless Videmar delivered up the statues and jewels, he would storm the castle. Videmar repeated that he had no statues and jewels, and so Richard brought up his troops and opened the siege.

During the siege, a knight named Bertrand de Gordon, standing on the wall, and seeing Richard on the ground below in a position where he thought he could reach him with an arrow, drew his bow and took aim. As he shot it he prayed to God to speed it well. The arrow struck Richard in the shoulder. In trying to draw it out they broke the shaft, thus leaving the barb in the wound. Richard was borne to his tent, and a surgeon was sent for to cut out the barb. This made the wound greater, and in a short time inflammation set in, mortification ensued, and death drew nigh. When he found that all was over with him, and that his end had come, he was overwhelmed with remorse, and he died at length in anguish and despair.

His death took place in the spring of 1199. He had reigned over England ten years, though not one of these years had he spent in that kingdom.

Berengaria lived afterward for thirty years.

King Richard the First is known in history as the lion-hearted, and well did he deserve the name. It is characteristic of the lion to be fierce, reckless, and cruel, intent only in pursuing the aims which his own lordly and impetuous appetites and passions demand, without the least regard to any rights of others that he may trample under foot, or to the sufferings that he may inflict on the innocent and helpless. This was Richard's character precisely, and he was proud of it. His glory consisted in his reckless and brutal ferocity. He pretended to be the champion and defender of the cause of Christ, but it is hardly possible to conceive of a character more completely antagonistic than his to the just, gentle, and forgiving spirit which the precepts of Jesus are calculated to form.

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