Duernstein. There are proofs that you can press out light Steinfeder from the wine grapes and heavy tears from the dry stone. Some poets of modern age after the so-called enlightenment decided that the truth was not sufficient to make the story moving: that it needed to be touched to be touching and required emotional improvements. Such as a faithful minstrel looking for his master’s voice. However, they were wrong because sober, bare truth, involving the grave ideal and the grave violation of it, the good and the vicious, is certainly too dramatic to be artificially dramatised.
The Duernstein story starts with the tremendous earthquake (being at the Latin root of tremendus – tremor a kind of pleonasm). Audita tremendi severitate judicii, quod super terram Jerusalem divina manus exercuit – as Pope Gregory wrote. A tremendous and severe day of Divine judgement. Jerusalem has fallen to Saracens. Because of sins of the Christians. And sin lies at the foot of all earthly stories and dramas, even at the foot of the very story of salvation, with pride being the sin of sins, whether in the garden of Eden or in the desert of Hittin. With its foremost form of vainglory, that combined with hypocrisy of claiming: non nobis Domine, non nobis, reaches one step above pure satanism. However, usually human beings are not that bad and insincere but rather simply wrong, identifying their own good and honour with the supreme honour and good. Such overconfidence is also a kind of pride but not its ultimate form.
Therefore, it would not be safe to assume that king Richard of England, king Philip August of France and Duke Leopold of Austria responding to the Pope’s call and taking the crusading oath leading them outside their countries to Holy but unsafe, hostile and distant land acted maliciously, meaning to leave the cause of Jerusalem as soon as possible (not to mention emperor Barbarossa who makes a cliffhanging cameo in the story, drowning almost at the longed-for destination, not because of lack of courage but rather due to carelessness). Perhaps they were too eager and too weak, or, in the case of Richard – too eager and too robust. The last two of the protagonists (because their nominal adversary Saladin seems to be only a deuteragonist in the story) were an 85-old year man who had became a priest one day before he became Pope Celestine III and his theoretical ally and helpmate – new Holy Roman Emperor Henry, the 26-year old man, crowned by the Pope with great splendour and solemnity in April of 1191.
Therefore, after the tremendous Prologue and the jump-over-the-shark but true Salef river scene, Act One of the drama seemed to lead to an happy ending. Christian princes swore to free Jerusalem going where the sun rose and Rome rejoiced over a happy occasion with the Pope and the Emperor. However, the assaults of the Evil One, foretold at the very act of imperial coronation, were inevitably to follow. The emperor wanted the kingdom of Sicily and a bishop of his own choice in Liege, Philip of France envied his former friend, Richard brilliant successes on Cyprus and in Acre, and wanted to go home, Duke Leopold wanted to secure interests of his relative Conrad of Montferrat and king Richard wanted to show Leopold his chivalrous superiority, throwing the Austrian’s standard from the walls of Acre. The set up for the inevitable climax in style of bad old Greek tragedy has been prepared.
We know an epic staging of the story, or rather of the larger drama encompassing it: Muslim armies overrunning North Africa and Spain, reaching the Loire valley near Tours and graves of the Apostles in Rome, the second Rome shaken by Turks, desiring aid from the “barbaric” West but jealous of its own power and might, the recapture of Jerusalem against all odds, real glory and real cruel rules of war, then the defence of the indefensible strip of Christian land surrounded by deserts of Damascus, Egypt and Anatolia, with the only clear way out – to the sea. A king leprous in body and a king leprous in mind and soul. Saladin taking Jerusalem, Richard taking Cyprus and Acre.
And after the fall of Acre, when the royal pilgrimage stood barely 100 miles from Jerusalem, at the end of July 1191 Philip declared that he was ill and just set sail for France. Richard was left with Muslim captives from Acre and with Saladin who did not want to pay the ransom and fulfil other terms of capitulation of the city. The sultan was approaching with a large army. Richard did what Saladin did after Hittin – ordered to kill the captives though he had better cause. Then, there came the glory of Arsuf, on the 7th of September, defeated Saladin withdrew and Richard took Jaffa and Ascalon, stopping, at the beginning of the next year, just twenty miles from walls of Jerusalem. It was a dramatic moment, more dramatic than all previous sieges and battles of the crusade. Its drama lies in the fact that there was no battle, no siege ladder was risen to scale the walls of the Holy City. The brave, berserking part of Richard was defeated by the Cunctator. The withdrawal to the Mediterranean coast seemed reasonable. No one could have expected more from Richard. King of France deserted to his own business, the emperor did not cease to mind his own business. The negotiations and three year truce with Saladin in September 1192 seemed reasonable. Though Saladin lived only to 6 months of the truce, dying in March 1193 – when Richard was pondering over the gloria mundi in the Austrian custody.
When Richard was leaving Acre and the Holy Land, on the 9th of October 1192 his apogee was over and he was stepping on the road of decline. Did he know that? Probably yes. The truce meant that he did not consider the matter in the Holy Land settled, that he intended to return. He knew that the long way home would be risky. The sea route was dangerous because of Muslims in North Africa and southern Spain that dreamed of capturing the hero king. In the north there was some order and the usual question of following the order. Richard’s status as as the holy pilgrim (Latin: in sancta peregrinatione) should have granted him a safe passage – under grave penalty of excommunication. In fact, Richard who had supported king Tancred of Sicily became an ally of the enemy of the emperor’s wife. Moreover, on Richard’s way to Europe, the news came that Philip August after his return to France supported the rebellion in Aquitaine and, in spite of explicit prohibition by the Pope, intended to invade Normandy. Richard’s brother – John plotted against him. The emperor was in open conflict with the Pope. As usually it was a question of power i.e. investiture. In September 1192 the archbishop of Rheims consecrated the papal nominee Albert as the bishop of Liege. Henry was furious and in December, when Richard made his way to northern Italy, the bishop was murdered by some German knights, in a retelling of the story of Thomas Becket, the story that has not even grown old.
Thus, Richard landing in early December 1192, in Aquileia, after sending his wife to Rome, to the Pope, decided to sneak through the lands of emperor Henry VI to the north, where the Lionheart’s brother in law – Henry the Lion of Saxony ruled – a local opponent of the emperor. The king in disguise crossed the Alps only to be caught just before Christmas in some tavern near Vienna by some henchmen of notorious duke Leopold who had not forgotten the past insult on the distant coast of Acre. Alternate versions of the drama tell us how the king got denounced because of his noble manners: one that his servants called him ‘Sire’, another that he ordered roasted chicken for dinner – a kind of luxury in the time of Advent under the winter sky of Austria.
Here comes the Duernstein act of the story, though Duernstein was one of castles on the long road of imperial custody that awaited the Lionheart. Therefore, the Duernstein is rather a symbol of the unjust imprisonment, igniting the legitimate ire of men against the persecution of the one “on God’s service”. And a kind of memento that God is the highest sovereign, whether over his most majestic majesty or over the most common will of the majority. Thirdly, it reminds us that there are men of principles, starting from the First Principle, and there are pragmatic men. Therefore, when the common faith and sense of Europe raged with indignation, declaring the excommunication on those who violate so gravely the Godly order, duke Leopold made a profitable bargain with the emperor, selling to him the Lionheart. The emperor, on his part, did not hesitate to boast about his spoil of peace before Philip August of France who meanwhile was busy trying to take Richard’s domains in Normandy and Aquitaine. The great royal market was opened. The emperor demanded a huge ransom of 150,000 marks of silver. Philip August submitted an offer – he would pay the sum expected by the emperor for handing him Richard in return. The parley or rather – the haggling lasted for months.
The mother of the Lionheart: queen Eleanor of Aquitaine was writing to Pope Celestine fiery letters about “the malice of the times” and “the cruelty of the tyrant who out of the furnace of his avarice is ever forging weapons against the king… under the protection of the God of Heaven and the tutelage of the Roman Church”, exhorting the elderly Pope to action: “if… you are not ready to avenge the injury done to you and to the Roman Church, you cannot be indifferent to the insult offered to Peter and to Christ” (quotation after: H. Mann – Lives of the Popes…, vol. X). As we mention – the vox populi was on the king crusader’s side – when the emperor in 1193 seemed to want to break the ransom agreement, German nobles declared that the Empire had already been sufficiently defiled by the unworthy imprisonment of a most nobly king and would not bear more imperial monstrosities. On the 4th of February 1194, after receiving two thirds of the finally agreed ransom of 100,000 marks of silver and acceptance of Richard a role of his vassal as a paper king of Arles, Henry finally released Richard. Then he used the ransom money to establish his rule in the Kingdom of Sicily. The fortune seemed to incessantly smile at him. Richard was complaining to the Pope that duke Leopold sold him to the emperor “as though he were a bull or an ass” and that “the two of them consumed the substance of his kingdom by demanding an intolerable sum for his ransom”, but the pope in Rome was almost 90 and had no divisions. Tancred of Sicily died on the 20th of the same February 1194. Dry stones of Duernstein were triumphing over the vineyard under their foot.
They were laughing at the papal interdict applied to nearby churches, laughing at the declaration of excommunication of the duke published by Celestine throughout Austria, laughing at dumbness of common people attributing some calamities to the dishonourable behaviour of the duke. It was at the start a dry laugh of dry stones but then it became bitter. Duke Leopold died at the end of year 1194 a painful death. As for emperor Henry – his wife had born him a son and he calculated that it would be wise to reconcile with the Pope and with opponents in the Empire to assure a future succession. On Good Friday of 1195 he declared his support for new crusade. Celestine was unmoved and distrusted him. Henry stated that he would set sail from Italy for the Holy Land in December of 1196. However, he went to Sicily and stayed there till May of 1197 when a rebellion erupted. He had never left for the Holy Land, dying a sudden death after a short illness in September 1197. According to Roger of Hoveden before death he tried to reconcile with the 90-year old Pope and the Lionheart agreeing to return the ransom. The elderly Celestine outlived 32-year old Henry by less than three months, dying on the 8th of January, 1198 he followed Henry. In April of the next year, after several victories over Philip August in Normandy and Aquitaine, and concluding a five year truce, Richard died from a fatal arrow wound after walking light-heartedly under walls of the castle in Limousin.
Looking from the pragmatic point of view most benefits from the whole drama, i.e. from the “consummation of the substance of the Richard’s kingdom” by the greed of the emperor, were gained by Philip Augustus, who in 1196 did not mind to become a bigamist, entering in another conflict with Pope Celestine. After the Richard’s death, he took from the Lionheart’s weak brother John large parts of Normandy and Aquitaine. In 1214 he defeated the coalition with the emperor Otto IV at Bouvines in 1214 but at the end of his reign had to face the Cathari question in the south. The Holy Land became even more remote and warriors of Jihad more distant, when the revival of the old Manichean thought in an anti-natalist form had appeared in the very foot of the Christendom.
Pod ruinami Duernsteinu / Under the castle Duernstein