Watford and a King's Ransom


A King’s Ransom Indeed! The immense sum of £100,000 was paid for the freedom of King Richard the Lionheart … of which £1 was contributed by Lord Eustace of Watford.

What had led to this?

Never the most attentive of his home kingdom, Richard spent most of his time as a young man in France. Born in 1157, he was the son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Years before reaching the age of 20, and from a base in France, a number of French nobles with Richard and most of his brothers took part in a rebellion against their father, the King. After a treaty, Richard was sent to bring peace to (or exact revenge from) the barons in France who had joined the brothers’ revolt. This was the time Richard acquired the tag Cœur de Lion, following his fierce leadership of a siege. In the ensuing years, loyalties swayed back and forth between King Henry, his son Richard, two other sons, and the King of France.

Finally, in July 1189, an army led by Richard and the King of France defeated King Henry II in the southwest of France. As one of the peace terms, Richard was named heir to the throne of England. Two days later, King Henry II died, and the new king was Richard I.

In the meantime, the city of Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria. Richard and the King of France had “taken the cross” thereby becoming Crusaders. Almost immediately upon Richard’s coronation, the two kings along with the king of Germany led the Third Crusade to retake Jerusalem. Fortunately for Richard, his father had left a healthy treasury with which Richard financed the English end of the Crusade.

After taking Sicily and Cyprus, the kings’ armies landed at Acre, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. They took the city in 1191, after which the other two kings returned home, leaving Richard and his army to proceed alone. Later that year, Richard won the cities of Arsuf and Jaffa. However, he never re-conquered Jerusalem. After inconclusive battles with Saladin, being ill, and aware that his younger brother John was up to mischief in England, Richard settled with Saladin and set out for home in October 1192.

Forced by weather to land at Corfu and again on the coast of northeast Italy, Richard was obliged to attempt traversing Europe. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Duke of Austria in December 1192 and after a few months, handed over to the Emperor of Germany. The Emperor demanded a ransom of £100,000, an amount several times greater than the annual income of the English Crown at the time. Eleanor of Aquitaine led the effort to raise the huge sum; not helped by an offer (refused) made by John, Richard’s brother, and the King of France of over £50,000 to the Emperor to keep Richard until September 1194. Eleanor raised taxes, confiscated church valuables, and collected a scutage. Richard was finally released in February 1194.

The scutage was a fee demanded from the manor lord of every knight’s fee in England. Declared “universal”, the fee was to apply without exception at the rate of 20 shillings (or £1) per knight’s fee. For whatever reason, this became the inaugural scutage paid directly by Eustace, Lord of Watford. Before the year 1194, Watford’s scutages had been paid under the Barony of Brun.

Upon his return, Richard forgave John and named his brother heir to the throne. No surprise, not long after his return to England, King Richard returned to France for the re-conquest of Normandy. Eustace de Watford paid another scutage of 20 shillings in 1196 for King Richard’s second armed expedition into Normandy. At the same time, Eustace incurred a debt of 4 Marks (£2 13s 4d) to avoid serving in the army himself. He took two years to pay that debt.

In the spring of 1199, in Châlus in mid-western France, King Richard was accidentally shot with a crossbow bolt, and died a week later.

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© September 2019 by Murray Johnston.