15. Richard the Lionheart was kidnapped and held for a king’s ransom while traveling back from the Crusades
The expression a âking’s ransom’ is now commonly used to describe demanding a huge sum of money. According to some historians, the phrase originated with the case of King Richard I, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart. The English monarch was indeed held for ransom. And this was no trifling sum. In fact, the price paid for secure the king’s freedom may well have been the biggest ransom ever paid.
It was the year 1192 and Richard was traveling back to England from the Middle East. The Christian monarch had been fighting in the Third Crusade, but he had a kingdom to get back to. To get home, he needed to pass through modern-day Austria. Given the risks of kidnapping and banditry, Richard travelled in disguise. But Duke Leopold, wasn’t fooled. While passing through Vienna, the Englishman was snatched. Within a few days, he was handed over to the Henry VI, the powerful Holy Roman Empire. He then sent a note to England: he would only release Richard the Lionheart in exchange for 100,000 or maybe even 150,000 marks.
This was a huge sum of money, a literal king’s ransom. Some economic historians believe it was equivalent to twice the English GDP at the time. Understandably, then, the negotiations took a while. In fact, the English Crown needed more than a year to introduce new taxes and so get the money. They succeeded, however, and with Eleanor of Aquitaine serving as a go-between, Richard was eventually released.
Richard the Lionheart returned back to England. Once back, he was able to assert his authority and put those nobles who had tried to rule in his stead firmly in their place. Within a few years, however, the king was dead, killing while out campaigning in France.