First Reich...800 to 1806, History Highlights, Prussia...Northern Germany, Teutonic Knights..Deutscher Orden

German Emperor Heinrich VI arrested Richard the Lionheart, King of England and held him for ransom

In March 1193, Richard the Lionheart was captured on his way back from the Third Crusade. The English King was arrested by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and soon imprisoned by Kaiser Heinrich VI at Trifels Castle in the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany. The arrest was revenge for Richard’s support of a massive conspiracy against the German Emperor, Kaiser Heinrich VI.

Trifels Castle in the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany.

The conspiracy to overthrow the Hohenstaufen dynasty was massive because it included the Archchancellor of Germany, Duke Ottokar I of Bohemia, as well as the powerful German Welf family of Duke Henry the Lion, who was supported by King Richard of England. Also included in the conspiracy was the Swabian House of Zähringen. and the Pope in Rome. 

Kaiser Heinrich ignored the threat of excommunication by Pope Celestine III.. for imprisoning a former crusader.. and continued to hold the English King for a huge ransom.

In June 1193 at Worms, the ransom was set at 150,000 silver marks, which was up to three times the annual income for the English Crown. Additionally, Heinrich officially declared a dowry of Richard’s niece Eleanor, who was to marry Duke Leopold’s son Frederick…the son of the man who arrested Richard.

Back in England, Richard’s dutiful mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, began to scrape together the ransom money. The clergy and laymen were taxed to the value of a quarter of their properties. Church gold and silver was seized, and additional taxes were raised on knights and their land.

Richard the Lionheart thus procured his release in exchange for the ransom plus his oath of allegiance to Kaiser Heinrich. He and Richard ceremoniously reconciled at the Hoftag in Speyer during Holy Week 1194… the English King publicly regretted any hostilities, genuflected, and cast himself on the Emperor’s mercy. After one year in captivity, Richard the Lionheart was then released and returned to England.

Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI grants a pardon to Richard I of England (Richard Lionheart).

At the same time, Kaiser Heinrich settled the longstanding Hohenstaufen dynasty conflict with the Welf dynasty when he secured the marriage of Agnes of Hohenstaufen, daughter of his cousin Count Palatine Conrad, to Henry the Lion’s son Henry of Brunswick, followed by a peace agreement in March 1194.

With the defeat of their mighty ally, King Richard, the conspiring German princes of the Holy Roman Empire had to refrain from their plans to overthrow the Hohenstaufen dynasty.

Some interesting side notes:

——————————————————————————————————————————————-Kaiser Heinrich VI …who only lived for 32 years…was also a poet and influenced the onset of the medieval concept of chivalry. His portrait was the first of 100 in the German medieval book of poetry, the Codex Manesse, also referred to as the Heidelberger Grosse Handschrift. At least three poems are attributed to a young and romantically minded Henry VI. In one of those he describes a romance that makes him forget all his earthly power, and neither riches nor royal dignity can outweigh his yearning for that lady (ê ich mich ir verzige, ich verzige mich ê der krône – before I give her up, I’d rather give up the crown).

Der Staufer Kaiser Heinrich VI. (1165-1197), Sohn Friedrich I. Barbarossa, wurde 1191 in Rom zum Kaiser gekrönt.

——————————————————————————————————————————————-Kaiser Heinrich VI was the German Emperor who gifted the Empire’s eagle symbol to the Order of Teutonic Knights, whose organization was founded in 1190 during the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. The eagle, along with a gold cross gifted to the order by the King of France, was then emblazoned onto the center of the black crusader cross and this combination image became the official symbol of the Teutonic Grandmasters. Heinrich supported the Knights in their first years by making his brother, Friedrich of Swabia, the first Grandmaster. Thus Heinrich and Friedrich ensured that the Knights had a viable organization.

The Teutonic Knights…starting out as a hospital organization for Germans in the Holy Land… quickly expanded into a fighting force of ordained warrior monks. They established headquarters in Venice and crusaded both in the Holy Land and in northeastern pagan Europe. Eventually the Northern Crusades became their only focus and led to the conversion of all pagans in northeastern Europe. Their Monastic State of the Teutonic Order was a meritocracy that lasted for 300 years, and every day during those 3 centuries, the priests included in their prayers the men who helped them in the beginning… Kaiser Heinrich and Grandmaster Friedrich.

A Teutonic Knights Grandmaster in Prussia

——————————————————————————————————————————————-Kaiser Heinrich VI was the most powerful monarch in the Mediterranean and Europe, since the Sicilian kingdom added to his personal and Imperial revenues an income without parallel in Europe. Although his aims to integrate Sicily into the Empire as a second power base of the Hohenstaufen dynasty were not realized, his minor son Friedrich II was to inherit the Kingdom of Germany, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Sicily and the Holy Roman Empire crown.

The Holy Roman Empire (dark yellow) and other states which recognized its suzerainty (lighter yellow are states without control over foreign relations but are allowed sovereign authority over internal affairs) during the reign of Kaiser Heinrich VI
Heinrich VI’s son Friedrich II holding court in Palermo…he inherited the crowns of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Holy Roman Empire

——————————————————————————————————————————————-Heinrich fell ill with chills while hunting in Sicily and on 28 September 1197 died, possibly of malaria, although it is also widely believed that he was poisoned by his wife. His mortal remains were transferred to Palermo Cathedral in 1198.

Heinrich’s early death at age 32 and the succeeding throne quarrel has been deemed by historians as a stroke of fate and a major setback for the development of a German nation state begun under his father Friedrich Barbarossa. On the other hand, the Kaiser’s stern measures in Sicily earned him the reputation of a cruel and merciless ruler. Present-day historical research classifies Heinrich as a man of his time. Though a capable ruler he had to cope with the centrifugal forces of the disintegrating empire while at the same time he overstretched the Hohenstaufen realm to an extent that eventually could not be kept together.


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