The story of Dürnstein and its now ruinous castle begins in the 11th century, when the wealthy Bavarian-Saxon family of Kuenring were given large territories of land in Lower-Austria by the regional Babenberger prince. Later, the family were appointed bailiffs over Wachau by the Tegernsee Monastery, and thereby tasked with defending its lands and possessions.
Asso von Kuenring was the first of the family to acquire land in the region of present-day Dürnstein and established a small village on the site. Later, his grandson, Hadmar I, would lay the foundations of what would become Dürnstein Castle high on a ridge overlooking his grandfather’s village, and, of course, the mighty trade route of the River Danube.
A turning point in the fortunes of the village came in 1192 when the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, was held prisoner at the Castle by order of Leopold V of Babenberg. The king is believed to have been returning to England from the crusades in southern Europe when he was captured, and a share of his ransom money would ultimately prove invaluable in developing and expanding Dürnstein Castle and its adjoining village.