Trifels Castle

Reichsburg Trifels, bei Annweiler/Rheinland-Pfalz,

High above the peaceful town of Annweiler, an imposing medieval castle is towering on a red standstone rock elevation, deep in the heart of the Palatine forest. The rock is split in three ways, which is the origin of the name (Tri-fels meaning threefold rock) and on the other two elevations there used to be castles, too - Anebos (probably derived from "Amboss", anvil) and Muenz (= mint), of which today only ruins are left.

First mentioned in a document of 1081, in the 12th and 13th centuries Trifels Castle was regarded as an important cornerstone of imperial power - "he who holds the Trifels, holds the empire."

Our Travel Blythe this time was Rosy, seen here against the typical red sandstone of the area.

The castle was used as treasury of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and as a place of safekeeping for the Imperial Regalia of the Salian and Hohenstaufen Emperors : crown, sceptre and royal apple (a symbol of the world). These were considered sacred relics which protected the castle and the realm from all things evil. Nowadays, the real "Reichskleinodien" are safely in a museum in Vienna, but replicas are on display in the castle.

The Sleeping Emperor

Trifels was the favorite castle of Friedrich I. Barbarossa, the legendary German Emperor. History has it that he died in Anatolia in 1190, on his way back from the crusades. Legend, however, has it that he never died, he just vanished without a trace and to this day insists that his rooms remain prepared for him at his castles at Trifels, Kaiserslautern and Haguenau.Rosy: "Gee, that man was in so many places, are you sure he´s not related to us Travel Blythes?"

Like King Arthur, he is said to be sleeping within a mountain, with his knights by his side, and has been there for so long that his long red beard has grown inseparably around - or even through - the table that´s in front of him. They are waiting for the day when the ravens cease to fly around the mountain, which is when they will awake, save their country and restore it to its ancient greatness. Ravens were thought to be messengers between the human and the supernatural world (just like in "The Crow", you know?) in many cultures and have many legends attached to them in their own right (such as the ravens protecting the Tower of London). Several mountains in Germany compete for the honor to house the king, but to any self-respecting Palatinate it is obvious that his resting place can only be within the Kaisersberg (Emperor´s Mountain) near Kaiserslautern.

But every now and then, Barbarossa also visits the Trifels for just one single night in which the castle appears in all its medieval glory - with pages, knights, ladies and lords and their servants bustling about until dawn, when the emperor leaves and the Trifels returns again to its present-day state.  It is said that there is a secret room inside Trifels castle in which Barbarossa´s bed hangs from four massive iron chains, ready for him to return.

Rosy: "Hmmm... I wonder if he drags the table with his beard alongside with him when he comes on those visits..."

The most famous inhabitant of Trifels castle, however, was a political prisoner: Richard the Lionheart.

As the story goes, in late 1192 King Richard I. of England was on his way back from the Crusades to the territory of Henry of Saxony, his brother-in-law. He and his retainers had been travelling in disguise as low-ranking pilgrims, but Richard blew his disguise either because he was wearing an expensive ring, or because of his insistence on eating roast chicken, an aristocratic delicacy.

Richard was captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria who accused him of arranging the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat. The Duke kept him prisoner at Duernstein (in Austria), where he wrote "Ja nus hons pris" or "Ja nuls om pres", a song in French and Occitan versions, expressing his feelings of abandonment by his people. The Duke then handed him over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who imprisoned him in Trifels Castle.

Rosy: "Ouch. I take it Richard was not as good a musician as legend has it?"

Despite Richard's complaints, the conditions of his captivity were not severe. He was too important to be treated badly. Rather than being locked up in a dysmal dungeon, as the legend claims, Richard could move more or less free in the castle (with guards by his side) and was even allowed to meet up with visitors from his own country.

Rosy: "Just imagine, guys, we´re actually walking where King Richard once used to walk..."

Meanwhile, back home in England, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, worked hard to raise the ransom of 150,000 marks (2-3 times the annual income for the English Crown under Richard) that Henry demanded. Both clergy and laymen were taxed for a quarter of the value of their property, the gold and silver treasures of the churches were confiscated, and money was raised from the scutage and the carucage taxes. This is where the legend of Robin Hood comes in, with the cruel Prince John squeezing every last penny out of the poor people while scheming for his noble brother never to return.

Actually, John, Richard's brother, and King Philip of France did offer 80,000 marks for the Emperor to hold Richard prisoner until Michaelmas 1194 but the Emperor turned down the offer. The money to rescue the King was transferred to Germany by the emperor's ambassadors, but "at the king's peril" (had it been lost along the way, Richard would have been held responsible), and finally, on February 4, 1194 Richard was released. Philip sent a message to John: "Look to yourself; the devil is loose."

Rosy: "Harr harr he´s coming to getcha!"

While the legends have John and Richard in a pretty black-and-white scheme  as the good and the bad brother, in reality, Richard was not quite as good and John not as bad as their image. Prince John was actually a well-educated man and a fair-minded, efficient ruler renowned for his justice. He did his best to ensure stability in the country in very troubled times, though he did make mistakes which ensured his lasting unpopularity, not only with the country´s nobles. It was he, by the way, who signed the Magna Charta, a document that limited the power of kings which is popularly regarded as an early first step in the evolution of modern democracy. And his brother Richard trusted him enough to make him his heir.

King Richard, on the other hand, pretty much drained his country´s wealth to finance his crusades. To raise even more money he sold official positions, rights, and lands to anyone interested. He could have a nastier temper than Naomi Campbell, be cruel especially to his enemies, and was definitely not  cut out to be a ruler: Out of his 10 years´reign, he only spent 6 months in England for which he had little love, preferring to live in his possessions in France instead. But his adventurous nature and the crusades made him a romantic figure and a pious hero in the eyes of the people. Life´s not fair, eh, John?

Perhaps John would have been comforted if he´d known that in the Arab world, Richard became something of a bogeyman after his death - Arab mothers would actually threaten unruly children with the admonition "King Richard will get you".

Rosy: "Ooooooohhhhh..."

Blondel the faithful

By 1260 a legend had developed that after Richard's capture, his favourite minstrel, Blondel de Nesle, travelled Europe from castle to castle, loudly singing a song which they had composed together and only to the two of them knew. Eventually, he came to Trifels Castle, Richard heard the song and answered from his dungeon with the appropriate refrain, thus revealing where he was incarcerated. Blondel then stormed the Castle with a band of men and freed him (which in reality never happened).

In a local variant of the story, Blondel gained entrance to the castle as a travelling minstrel, flirted with the castle lord´s daughter and with her help managed to get access to Richard and switch identities. Richard, disguised as Blondel, then left his prison and returned home, while Blondel sacrificed himself and remained in the castle in his stead - and as the lover of the castle lord´s daughter.

Yaoi fans will love to hear that historians strongly suspect Richard of having been homosexual (or at least having had homosexual affairs), so - like Ludwig II of Bavaria - his life and legends, especially the Blondel story, could inspire a BL manga or two.