Most people know about Robin Hood and Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Most people think about this time so romantically… when outlaws were worshipped like gods against a tyrannical government. And many people simply enjoy these stories for their entertainment value. But did you ever think: if this guy “John” was in charge of England, why was he a prince, and not a king? Where was the real king? Wasn’t he supposed to be in charge?
On a recent tour through Germany, I learned a little more about one core character behind the Robin Hood legends: King Richard I. He’s hardly ever seen “onstage” when the merry men rob stage coaches but he always seems to be in Maid Marian’s forethoughts when she thinks of England’s salvation. But the fact is that during these dark times in English legend, the king was off on the Third Crusade where he won key battles and got married along the way. When Richard heard his brother John was scheming to take over England, he turned his troops around, headed west, was captured by the Austrians and then handed over to the Germans for safekeeping in 1193.
According to BBC, his ransom was 150,000 marks. So while the English treasury scrounged for the cash and Robin Hood wooed Marian, King Richard the Lionheart sat in an ancient German stronghold called Trifels Castle.
Visiting the Castle Where Richard the Lionheart was Imprisoned
When we visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, the sky was full of black clouds and thunderclaps. But a few days later at Trifels, the sun was out and a few white clouds lazed by so that an unobstructed view to the hilltop was possible. At the parking lot, the castle peaked through the trees, both majestic and lonely with its red-pink sandstone contrasting against the sky.
Our friend Andreas (Lord Ax Hooper) took us on a short road trip out of Karlsruhe which is about a 45-minute drive from the castle. Trifels was our third stop of the day after a morning visit to Hambach Castle, German Wine Street, and a lunch at the fantastic Grille Hutte right off the main road. Perched in the southwest corner of Germany called the Palatinate, Trifels Castle is roughly a thousand years old and used to house the imperial regalia. Replicas are on display in the upper chambers.
Inside the castle, we burned off lunch as we spiraled up sandstone staircases, strolled out to the promontory and read about Richard’s stay inside the keep. Renovations have kept Trifels in very good condition and an audio box sits right in the front so for one euro you can listen to some historical background in a language of your choice.
In medieval Germany, there was a saying: whoever controls Trifels controls the empire. Rulers would often cycle through residencies around the empire but always came back to this medieval stronghold that was much more than symbolic. From the promontory, we could see out over the countryside and to outposts that dotted the neighboring high peaks. The regal history was almost palpable as I trotted down into the dungeon and then up into the treasury. But I couldn’t help think about King Richard. For a prisoner, this place must have been a gem-encrusted, stonecut hell. At least Robin Hood and John had some freedom.
If you are visiting the castle or the Wine Street area, many tasting rooms and cafes are open for lunch. But if you have a car, I’d recommend the Grille Hutte which serves local dishes with a view! Since it’s midday, order a “shorle” (pronounced: shor-la) which is white wine with carbonated water. Very refreshing!