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A thematic path all the way up to the Dürnstein castle provides detailed information on the ancient story of Richard Lionheart.
© Anna Lun

Richard Lionheart and Blondel

The story of King Richard the Lionheart and Blondel is one of the Wachau’s most celebrated romantic legends. Whether you believe all of the legend or not, the Dürnstein Castle is a beautiful place to visit.

It was the 12th Century during the 3rd crusade when the English King Richard Lionheart infuriated the European rulers, particularly the Duke of Austria, Leopold V., by dishonouring the Austrian flag. To his misfortune, on his way back to Western Europe he had no other possibility but to cross through Austria. Although he was travelling in disguise, he was recognised twice before he reached Vienna where he was caught. As a prison, the newly built Castle of Dürnstein was deemed good enough for a king, so Lionheart was detained there.

The ruins of Dürnstein Castle where Duke Leopold held King Richard prisoner in 1193 – © Bwag / Wikimedia
The ruins of Dürnstein Castle where Duke Leopold held King Richard prisoner in 1193 – © Bwag / Wikimedia

After a few months Richard was brought before the German Emperor Heinrich VI at Trifels Castle. A ransom of 35 tons of silver was negotiated to release Richard. This was a huge amount of silver for England to pay and the effort it took to raise the ransom affected all people throughout England. Supposedly, this set the scene for the legend of Robin Hood which dates back to the same period. The silver was split between the German Emperor and the Austrian Duke. The Austrians used it to improve the city walls of Vienna and smaller towns in the east and for founding the town of Wiener Neustadt. The silver was also used to establish the Austrian mint. Until the 1960s, small amounts of the silver stemming from the ransom could be found in the Austrian 10 Schilling coins.

Despite these well-reconstructed facts about the release of Richard Lionheart, Austrians like to tell the story of the troubadour Blondel. According to the legend, Blondel was travelling through the Holy Roman Empire from castle to castle singing Lionheart’s favourite song in order to find him. Finally when he was performing his song in Dürnstein, Richard answered by singing the second verse. Thereupon Blondel arranged for Richard to be freed.

Children's book illustration – University Society, New York (1912)
Children's book illustration – University Society, New York (1912)

Following the footsteps of Richard the Lionheart

If you follow the thematic path up to the ruins of Richard’s historic prison in Dürnstein, you will learn about the real story, the legends and related topics like the crusades. When you reach the top and dare to enter the dungeon, you might even feel a bit like Richard Lionheart yourself.

Accessible 24/7 free of charge, at your own risk.