"In which Duke Leopold gets the hump and a king is undone by a chicken"
Late in 1192, King Richard I of England had decided that he’d better be getting back home from his Crusade. So he hopped on a boat and said “That way boys!” and off they sailed.
As it was winter-time Richard couldn’t expect to avoid storms and had the rotten luck of crashing his yacht into a rock near Venice. After roundly cursing a bit whilst waiting for his clothes to dry, Richard and his chums were ready to set off for home once again.
This time they decided to hike overland to his sister and Brother-in-law’s house in East Germany. Unfortunately this would mean tramping through the realm of Leopold of Austria. Leopold didn’t like Richard. After winning the siege of Acre, Richard’s men had lobbed Leopold’s banner off the battlements and Leopold had got upset because now he could not lay claim to any of the spoils of the town. The Englishmen may even have laughed as they did it, which would have really rankled.
Leopold's Castle at Durnstein
On top of this, Leopold’s cousin, Conrad de Montferrat, had recently been done in by assassins, just days after being named King of Jerusalem. Not only had this ruined the festivities, but rumour had it that Richard had given the bumping-off order. When Leopold heard this he was vexed. The sound of smashing crockery could be heard all over his castle...
With Leopold wanting to knock his block off, Richard had to find a means of traversing Leo’s back garden without being caught . Ever the adventurer, Richard thought it would be a jolly jape to go James Bond. He dressed up as a merchant and joined some Pilgrims returning from the Holy land. It was a Church rule of the day that Pilgrims were not to be molested or bothered by anyone. Richard was feeling smug.
Richard’s plans came completely unhinged though because of a roast chicken. Roast chicken, you see, was a delicacy of Kings. So when Richard got his portable rotisserie service out in the middle of the campsites, eyebrows were raised. And with troubadours possibly singing carols about Richard’s fame around the campfire, some observers began putting two and two together. The upshot of it all was that somebody went and snitched.
Richard made a dash for it. But after three days of running, he felt peckish. He stopped at a tavern near Vienna and ordered a family bucket meal of chicken pieces for him and his pals. It was as he was digging into a tasty drumstick that the doors blew open and in walked the local constabulary. Chairs were thrown and the ketchup was upset. Richard was caught.
The Mayor arrested Richard and deposited him the nearby castle of Dürnstein. Leopold was elated with the news, although shortly afterwards a letter arrived from the Vatican saying he’d been excommunicated for imprisoning a pilgrim. This took the shine off things a little.
Leopold sold Richard to Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. In turn Henry VI agreed a ransom price with Richard of £2bn in today’s money. Richard had to wait in prison until the ransom arrived. Whilst he waited John, his brother, in an outstanding show of filial affection offered Henry £1bn to keep Richard in prison. It was declined.
The money was eventually brought to Henry who let Richard go saying “No hard feelings old chap, eh?” Henry then used the cash to go and bash up the kingdom of Sicily. A neat end to an unfortunate escapade.