Richard was indeed in prison in Germany. To avoid passing through Toulouse on account of the hostility of the count he had sailed up the Adriatic, hoping possibly to strike across into the northern parts of Aquitaine, and there had been shipwrecked. In trying to make his way in disguise through the dominions of the Duke of Austria he had been recognized and arrested, for Leopold of Austria had more than one ground of hatred of Richard, notably because his claim to something like an equal sovereignty had been so rudely and contemptuously disallowed in the famous incident of the tearing down of his banner from the walls of Acre. But a greater sovereign than Leopold had reason to complain of the conduct of Richard and something to gain from his imprisonment, and the duke was obliged to surrender his prisoner to the emperor, Henry VI.

When the news of this reached England, it seemed to John that his opportunity might at last be come, and he crossed over at once to the continent. Finding the barons of Normandy unwilling to receive him in the place of Richard, he passed on to Philip, did him homage for the French fiefs, and even for England it was reported, took oath to marry Adela, and ceded to him the Norman Vexin. In return Philip promised him a part of Flanders and his best help to get possession of England and his brother's other lands. Roger of Howden, who records this bargain, distinguishes between rumour and what he thought was true, and it may be taken as a fair example of what it was believed John would agree to in order to dispossess his imprisoned brother. He then returned to England with a force of mercenaries, seized the castles of Wallingford and Windsor, prepared to receive a fleet which Philip was to send to his aid, and giving out that the king was dead, he demanded the kingdom of the justices and the fealty of the barons. But nobody believed him; the justices immediately took measures to resist him and to defend the kingdom against the threatened invasion, and civil war began anew. Just then Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury, arrived from Germany, bringing a letter from Richard himself. It was certain that the king was not dead, but the news did not promise an immediate release. The emperor demanded a great ransom and a crowd of hostages of the barons. The justices must at once set about raising the sum, and a truce was made with John until autumn.

The terms of his release which Richard had stated in his letter did not prove to be the final ones. Henry VI was evidently determined to make all that he could out of his opportunity, and it was not till after the middle of the year 1193 that a definite agreement was at last made. The ransom was fixed at 150,000 marks, of which 100,000 were to be on hand in London before the king should go free. It was on the news of this arrangement that Philip sent his famous message to John, "Take care of yourself: the devil is loosed." In John's opinion the best way to take care of himself was to go to Philip's court, and this he did on receiving the warning, either because he was afraid of the view Richard might take of his conduct on his return, or because he suspected that Philip would throw him over when he came to make a settlement with Richard. There were, however, still two obstacles in the way of Richard's return: the money for the ransom must be raised, and the emperor must be persuaded to keep his bargain. Philip, representing John as well, was bidding against the terms to which Richard had agreed. They offered the emperor 80,000 marks, to keep him until the Michaelmas of 1194; or L1000 a month for each month that he was detained; or 150,000 marks, if he would hold him in prison for a year, or give him up to them. Earlier still Philip had tried to persuade Henry to surrender Richard to him, but such a disposition of the case did not suit the emperor's plans, and now he made Philip's offers known to Richard. If he had been inclined to listen, as perhaps he was, the German princes, their natural feeling and interest quickened somewhat by promises of money from Richard, would have insisted on the keeping of the treaty. On February 4, 1194, Richard was finally set free, having done homage to the emperor for the kingdom of England and having apparently issued letters patent to record the relationship,[57] a step towards the realization of the wide-reaching plans of Henry VI for the reconstruction of the Roman Empire, and so very likely as important to him as the ransom in money.