Richard now set out on his voyage home. He was wrecked, however, on the Adriatic Sea near Trieste . To get to England he was obliged to go through the lands of Leopold, duke of Austria , one of his bitterest enemies. So he disguised himself as a poor pilgrim returning from the Holy Land .
But he was recognized by a costly ring that he wore and was taken prisoner at Vienna by Duke Leopold. His people in England anxiously awaited his return, and when after a long time he did not appear they were sadly distressed. There is a legend that a faithful squire named Blondel went in search of him, as a wandering minstrel traveled for months over central Europe , vainly seeking for news of his master.
At last one day, while singing one of Richard's favorite songs near the walls of the castle where the king was confined, he heard the song repeated from a window. He recognized the voice of Richard. From the window Richard told him to let the English people and the people of Europe know where he was confined, and the minstrel immediately went upon his mission.
Soon Europe was astounded to learn that brave Richard of England, the great champion of Christendom, was imprisoned. The story of Blondel is probably not true, but what is true is that England offered to ransom Richard; that the Pope interceded for him; and that finally it was agreed that he should be given up on the payment of a very large sum of money. The English people quickly paid the ransom and Richard was freed.
The king of France had little love for Richard, and Richard's own brother John had less. Both were sorry that Ceur de Lion was at liberty.
John had taken charge of the kingdom during his brother's absence, and hoped that Richard might pass the rest of his days in the prison castle of Leopold .
As soon as Richard was released, the French king sent word to John, "The devil is loose again." And a very disappointed man was John when all England rang with rejoicing at Richard's return.
Upon the death of Richard, in 1199, Arthur, the son of his elder brother Geoffrey, was the rightful heir to the throne. John, however, seized the throne himself and cast Arthur into prison. There is a legend that he ordered Arthur's eyes to be put out with red hot irons. The jailor, however, was touched by the boy's prayer for mercy and spared him. But Arthur was not to escape his uncle long. It is said that one night the king took him out upon the Seine in a little boat, murdered him and cast his body into the river.
Besides being a king of England , John was duke of Normandy , and Philip, king of France , now summoned him to France to answer for the crime of murdering Arthur. John would not answer the summons and this gave the king of France an excuse for taking possession of Normandy . He did so, and thus this great province was lost forever to England . Nothing in France was left to John except Aquitaine (A-qui-taine'), which had come to him through his mother.
John's government was unjust and tyrannical, and the bishops and barons determined to preserve their rights and the rights of the people. They met on a plain called Runnymeade, and there forced John to sign the famous "Magna Carta" ("Great Charter").
Magna Carta is the most valuable charter ever granted by any sovereign to his people. In it King John names all the rights which belong to the citizens under a just government, and he promises that no one of these rights shall ever be taken away from any subjects of the English king. For violating this promise one English king lost his life and another lost the American colonies.
Magna Carta was signed in 1215. A year after he signed it the king died. His son, Henry III, succeeded him.