Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Sixth Crusade - Pledges and Promises

The so-called Sixth Crusade was one of the most confusing of all the numbered crusades. It was explicitly condemned by the Pope and was led by a man who had been excommunicated, yet it temporarily restored Jerusalem to Christian control. It was a bloodless campaign that ended with the leader of the crusade laying siege to the Templar headquarters in Acre -- and being pelted by ofal by the furious residents of Outremer. In short, while historians generally praise this bloodless crusade, contemporaries -- from the Pope to the common people -- were critical of it.  Furthermore, while the crusade itself was bloodless, it was the spark that set off a bloody civil war in the crusader states. In two essays, I examine the Sixth Crusade starting today with the events leading up to it.

Friedrich II Hohenstaufen first “took the cross” and vowed to lead a new crusade to regain Christian control of Jerusalem at his coronation as “King of the Romans” in Aachen on July 25, 1215.  He renewed his crusading vow at his coronation as “Holy Roman Emperor” by the Pope in Rome on November 22, 1220―by which time 5th Crusade had already bogged down at Damietta and was in clear need of reinforcements and stronger leadership.  Although unable to depart immediately due to the need to restore order in his Kingdom of Sicily, Friedrich II sent financial and material aid to the beleaguered crusaders and promised to set out himself in 1221. Unfortunately, the Muslim insurrection on Sicily turned out to be more tenacious than anticipated, and Friedrich got bogged down in the fighting until 1223; the Pope was understanding and agreed he could postpone his crusade until 1225.

In mid-1225 Friedrich II married the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Yolanda (also sometimes referred to as Isabella II). Yolanda was the grand-daughter of Isabella I, sole child of Maria de Montferrat and her husband John de Brienne. Maria had died giving birth to Yolanda, and John ruled as regent for his daughter, taking the title King John. The marriage of the Queen of Jerusalem to the Holy Roman Emperor was considered a master-stroke because it gave Friedrich II a material incentive for recapturing Jerusalem.  In addition to the spiritual motive of restoring Christian rule over Christendom’s most sacred site, Friedrich now had a personal and dynastic interest in making his Kingdom of Jerusalem as large, strong and prosperous as possible, and securing for any children by Yolanda an inheritance worthy of him. From the point of view of the High Court of Jerusalem, the marriage ensured the military and financial support for the kingdom from the most powerful Christian monarch in the world.

The marriage was celebrated by proxy in Acre followed by Yolanda’s coronation as Queen of Jerusalem in Tyre and then Yolanda sailed to Brindisi to marry Friedrich in person in November. Meanwhile, however, the crusade had been postponed yet again, this time until August 1227. Furthermore, this time the Pope added the warning that if Friedrich failed to depart by August 1227 he faced excommunication. Friedrich accepted these terms and then proceeded in very short order to alienate his father-in-law (by dismissing him as superfluous) and was accused (at least by his father-in-law) of humiliating his bride with neglect and a preference for his harem of concubines. 

Nevertheless, a large crusading army with strong German contingents gathered in Apulia in the summer of 1227 ― only to be struck down by some epidemic disease that started killing the crusaders before they even embarked. Under threat of excommunication, if he did not depart, Friedrich doggedly set sail despite being ill. While at sea, the most important of Friedrich’s subordinate commanders, the Landgraf of Thuringia, died of the disease. Friedrich decided that he too was too ill to command a crusade. While ordering the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and other galleys under the Duke of Limburg to proceed, he returned to Brindisi. 

The Pope, the vigorous and uncompromising Gregory IX, promptly excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was hardly justified. Rather, the excommunication was Pope Gregory’s opening volley in an all-out attack on what he viewed as the unacceptable infringement of papal authority by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was the opening act of a power-struggle that would last for decades and pitted conflicting philosophies about the respective role of sacred and secular leadership. That struggle is not the subject of this essay, but the impact of the excommunication on Friedrich’s authority is.  Effectively, with the excommunication, Friedrich’s campaign to the Holy Land lost papal blessing (whether fairly or not), and his campaign could not officially be viewed as a “crusade.”

The situation was further complicated by the fact that in April 1228, Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem died of the complications of childbirth. She left an infant son Conrad as heir to the throne of Jerusalem. With Yolanda’s death, Friedrich II lost his legal right to call himself King of Jerusalem; that title now belonged to his infant son Conrad. The most that Frederick could claim was the right to serve as regent for his son until the boy came of age at 15.

It was now 13 years since he had taken his crusader oath, and his open confrontation with the Pope had a profound effect upon his authority in his vast and complex domains. The excommunication above all gave his many internal opponents and rivals an excuse for insubordination and rebellion.

Friedrich would, therefore, have been well justified in abandoning the campaign to the Holy Land altogether and focusing on defending his birthright. Then again, when fighting an intransigent pope, what better way to undermine papal authority than to liberate the Holy City? The liberation of Jerusalem was bound to appear in the eyes of many (or so Friedrich appears to have reasoned) as divine favor and vindication. Furthermore, Friedrich had good reason to believe he would liberate Jerusalem because he had already been approached by the Sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, who offered to deliver Jerusalem to him in exchange for the Emperor’s support in his war against his brother al-Mu’azzam. 

What actually happened when Frederick II set sail for the Holy Land is the subject of next week's entry. Meanwhile:

The Sixth Crusade is the backdrop and subject of:

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Crusader States in the 13th Century - Prospering and Flourishing

Last week I pointed out that the crusader states in the 13th century are usually portrayed as fragile, vulnerable and tottering on collapse. Yet as historian Stephen Donachie has argued persuasively in a variety of fora, this is a gross exaggeration that reduces nearly a century of history to a single snapshot taken at the end of that hundred years. The fifty years following the arrival of the Third Crusade until the catastrophic defeat of the Frankish army at La Forbie in 1244, was actually a period of comparative prosperity, peace, security and even expansion.

I provided a synopsis of the key events and factors shaping the geopolitical situation in the crusader states between 1190 and 1244 last week. Today I want to look at the economic factors which played a decisive role in the sustainability of the Frankish states in the first half of the 13th century.

Remains of a 13th Century Sugar Factory - One of Cyprus' Source of Wealth
The reason the crusader states of the early 13th century were viable, despite the loss of nearly all the inland territory that had sustained the First Kingdom of Jerusalem, can be summed up in one word: Cyprus. Despite the loss of most of Galilee, Samaria, and Palestine, the crusader states on the coast of the mainland were not weak because they could draw on the rich resources in manpower, foodstuffs and finished products of Cyprus.  In terms of prosperity, if not security, Cyprus more than compensated the Frankish settlements in Syria for the territory that remained in Saracen hands.

First and foremost, Cyprus was the bread-basket of the Frankish states. Cereals, particularly wheat and barley, were the principal crops of Cyprus. They were produced in quantities far in excess of domestic consumption, making cereals a major export commodity.

In addition, Cyprus produced and exported cotton, sesame, and olives.  Olives were used in the production of both oil and soap, an important value-added product that brought high margins, particularly when scented with any of the readily available herbs like rosemary or thyme. Sugar production was another important economic activity and contemporary sources claim the best powdered sugar came from Cyprus.  Other coveted agricultural products produced on Cyprus were beeswax, honey, raisins, wine, and almonds. Cyprus was famous for its wine as well, a product that found favor in the royal courts across Western Europe. Last but not least, timber from the abundant and old forests on the island was highly coveted because lumber was needed to build the Italian ships that now dominated the Mediterranean. These products made the Frankish elite on Cyprus very rich indeed.

While unsuitable for long-distance export, the standard of living of the inhabitants of both Cyprus and the crusader states of the Levant was increased by the cultivation and sale of dietary supplements such as oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, pomegranates, mulberries, figs, apples, peaches, walnuts, almonds, and, of course, grapes. Likewise, although game was limited on the mainland due to the density of population, Cyprus still had deer, wild sheep, and boar, as well as hare and rabbit. Domesticated livestock included cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, geese, pigeons.  Horses, donkeys, and camels were all used extensively for transport, and horses were among the exports from Latin Greece.

Nor were all exports agriculture in nature. Silk and silk fabrics, particularly material using spun gold either in the weave or embroidered, were produced in the crusader states. Because the rare porphyria snails which produce purple dye were found only off the coast of Beirut and in the Gulf of Laconia (both under Frankish control in the first half of the 13th century), this dye or fabrics produced using it were another important source of income. Another popular luxury good produced in Outremer was glass. Tyre was famous for particularly clear glass, Beirut for red glass. Soap, particularly scented soap, was another popular product exported to the West. 

But not all trade was in products produced locally. Immensely important to the prosperity of the crusader states was the transit trade, i.e. trade in goods that originated beyond the borders of the crusader states and was destined for customers likewise beyond Outremer. Beirut, Tyre, and Acre particularly were funnels for goods bound for Constantinople, Italy, Sicily, and Western Europe from as far away as China and India. The lords of Outremer taxed both imports and exports. They charged anchorage and demurrage fees in their harbors. They taxed the goods passing into their cities from landward as well as seaward, ensuring that they profited from the caravans coming from Aleppo, Damascus, and Ascalon as well as the ships from France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire.

The goods passing through were some of the most coveted of the age, ensuring high margins for merchants ― and tax collectors. For example, the famed spices and perfumes of the Orient passed through the ports of the Levant.  So did important pharmaceuticals such as opium. Ivory, incense, and gold were other coveted exports from the lands East of Outremer.  Fur, amber, wool and woolen fabrics, and iron were just some of the products imported from the West and bound for destinations further east. While weapons, to the scandal of Churchmen and Imams alike, passed in both directions.

The combination of expanding borders (i.e. increasing security) and sustained prosperity created an environment in which the inhabitants of the crusader states lived in comparative comfort and, indeed, luxury. Visitors from the West were impressed, not to say astounded or offended, by the lifestyle of the residents. The Lusignan palace in Nicosia inspired admiration and comment for its great throne room, balconies, baths, gardens, menagerie, gold ornaments, tapestries, and clocks. (Hazard, Harry W ed. A History of the Crusades: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States, p. 175.)  The polychrome marble, mosaics, painted ceilings and indoor fountains at the Ibelin residence in Beirut ignited the wonder of visitors. The hunting dogs, hawks, brightly painted galleys, and livery of the servants and soldiers were other sources of admiration and wonder. In short, wealth and security were the foundation for a cultural flourishing that expressed itself in the construction of magnificent cathedrals, monasteries, palaces and commercial buildings, as well as in the significant writings of the Frankish elite. (See: Baronial Scholars). 

Yet it would be wrong to see the society of the crusader states as fundamentally decadent. The military elites of this society might have enjoyed exceptional luxury of lifestyle, but they remained fighting-men with agricultural holdings (now on Cyprus rather than in Syria) as the foundation of their status and wealth.  They were also engaged in a series of armed conflicts during this period. They actively participated in the Fifth Crusade in Egypt.  After a civil war stretching nearly two decades and involving several military campaigns, they effectively drove the Hohenstaufen Emperors out of Outremer. They participated in the crusade led by Champagne and Cornwall ― and pushed their luck too far in the military operations that ended in disaster at La Forbie.

Far from being a precarious period overshadowed by a sense of doom as most writers would have you believe, this was arguably one of the most pleasant periods in the history of the crusader states. It was not until the rise of Mamluks, with their far more brutal and duplicitous tactics, that the crusader states came again under unremitting and ultimately overpowering attack.

Dr. Schrader's new series is set in the first half of the 13th century. The first book in the series is:

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Crusader States in the Early 13th Century - Resurgant and Expanding

With the wisdom of hindsight, the crusader states in the 13th century are almost universally portrayed as fragile, vulnerable and tottering on collapse. Yet as historian Stephen Donachie has argued persuasively in a variety of fora, this is a gross exaggeration that reduces nearly a century of history to a single snapshot taken at the end of that hundred years. Roughly the first half of that century, from the arrival of the Third Crusade until the catastrophic defeat of the Frankish army at La Forbie in 1244, was actually a period of comparative prosperity, peace, security and even expansion. What follows is a synopsis of the key events and factors influencing the situation in the crusader states between 1190 and 1244.


Between 1187 and 1190, the forces of Salah ad-Din overran the former Kingdom of Jerusalem, destroying or occupying all the major cities including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nazareth, and Nablus, as well as the coastal ports of Jaffa, Ascalon, Caesarea, Acre, Sidon, Beirut, and Gibelet. As 1190 closed, the sole city of the former kingdom still in Christian control was Tyre. Although the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch remained independent, both were vulnerable and threatened.

In the course of the Third Crusade, the Franks regained control of the critical port of Acre and then extended that control down the coast as far as Jaffa. While this coastal strip lacked sufficient territory to be self-sufficient in grain and other vital food-stuffs, the Third Crusade had brought the island of Cyprus under Frankish rule. Cyprus was comparative sparsely populated and very fertile, thereby replacing the lost inland territories as the bread-basket of the Frankish states on the mainland. Thus, by the end of the Crusade in 1192, the situation of the crusader states had improved markedly over the situation between 1187 and 1190. Furthermore, the negotiations that ended the crusade secured a three-year truce.

In 1193, Saladin died. This set off a succession struggle among his many heirs that lasted fully seven years. While the Ayyubids were fighting among themselves, the Franks had not only a respite from attack, they were able to themselves go on the offensive.  

In 1197, a force of German crusaders came to the Holy Land in advance of a promised crusade by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. The Emperor died in the West, but the German crusaders took the offensive anyway.  Although in the meantime, Jaffa had been lost again to the Saracens, the Germans undertook a campaign north from Tyre. They captured Sidon, Beirut, Gibelet, and Botron, thereby eliminating the Muslim-controlled enclaves that had separated the Kingdom of Jerusalem from the County of Tripoli. For the next roughly seventy years, the Franks retained control of the coastline of the Levant from Arsur in the south to Tortosa in the north.

In 1204 forces initially raised for a campaign to regain Jerusalem were diverted by Venice and, after a complicated series of events, took control of Constantinople. A Latin “Empire” was established that occupied roughly the same territory as modern Greece minus the western half of northern Greece but straddling the Bosporus and extending to the shoreline on the Asian side of the Aegean. It was flanked by territory still held by Greek Orthodox forces in western Greece and what is now eastern Anatolia. While highly controversial to this day, in the short-term the establishment of the Latin Empire of Constantinople gave the Franks near complete mastery of the Eastern Mediterranean. A surge in new mercantile activity on the part of the Italian city-states followed.

Meanwhile, Christian Armenia was also gaining in strength. The Armenian leaders agreed to a (more nominal than substantive) reconciliation with the Church in Rome, and thereby facilitated closer ties with the crusader states. Inter-marriage with the Princes of Antioch led to dynastic conflict, but Christian-controlled territory extended from Antioch along the southern coast of what is now Turkey all the way roughly Alanya.

With the death in 1218 of Saladin’s brother, who had finally defeated his rivals in 1200 and managed to retain most of his brother’s empire, the Ayyubid Empire again entered a period of internal bickering. Al-Mu’azzan, the Sultan in Damascus, was soon at war with his brother Al-Kamil, who ruled in Egypt. Al-Kamil covertly sought the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, offering to restore Jerusalem (which he did not control) to Christian control, if the Christians would help him defeat his brother.

This may have been a major factor in convincing Emperor Frederick II that he could launch a successful crusade. Although al-Mu’azzan inconveniently died, making Christian aid less vital to al-Kamil, Frederich II still managed to capitalize on the divisions within the Ayyubid camp. In 1229, his troops reoccupied Jaffa and by means of negotiation obtained limited Christian control  of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Toron. These gains were extended by a crusade (not numbered by later historians but very real nevertheless!) led by the Thibald Count of Champagne and Richard Earl of Cornwall between 1239 and 1241. They extended Frankish control inland from Jaffa, regaining Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee along with the upper Jordan valley.

Thus in 50 years, the Frankish territories had expanded from the City of Tyre to a territory roughly equivalent to modern Lebanon and pre-1967 Israel minus everything south of the Dead Sea. As modern Israel and Lebanon demonstrate, this territory is fertile and not inherently unsustainable or indefensible.

This is the "Outremer" in which my series on the civil war in the Crusader States is set. The series begins with:

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Rebels against Tyranny" - A Review by Chanticleer Reviews

“A romantic and intricate historical fiction that will entrance - sometimes enrage – but always enlighten readers. Welcome to the 13th century where things aren’t really as different as you may imagine.” – Chanticleer Reviews

Helena P. Schrader lays a beautifully intricate historical fiction at our feet and invites us to feast upon it. Much like her previous novels, Rebels Against Tyranny will not disappoint. And like her previous novels, she supplies the key: See Reviewer’s Note*

Time and place are the essence of Rebels Against Tyranny. While July 14th may commemorate the storming of the Bastille to protest the French monarchy's abuse of power, a momentous event occurred on July 14, 1229, on the island of Cyprus, one that also involved an uprising of people against despotic authority.

The despot was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, a man with more titles than morals. Unfortunately, he was also the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of the Germans, the King of Sicily and the King of Jerusalem (a title he illegally usurped after marriage to the Kingdom's twelve-year-old heiress), and as if these titles were not enough, he refers to himself as, "Wonder of the World." No, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen did not hold a title in modesty! **

Those rebelling against Frederick the II were his own barons, disgusted and fed up with tax increases, property seizures, required oaths of loyalty, replacement of "baillies" (regents of young rulers), and the general mayhem his men wreaked in Jerusalem and Cyprus. Leading the rebellion was the highly cultured, intellectual, respected and well-connected Ibelin family.

Balian d'Ibelin is the grandson of the "Defender of Jerusalem," a title justly granted to a man who expertly negotiated with Saladin to limit the losses of the Christians following the critical Battle of Hattin. Schrader juxtaposes this chapter of diplomatic history with Frederick's self-serving negotiations to "buy" Jerusalem for the Christians through a treaty that will last only ten years. His wish to avoid battles but reap accolades confirms his narcissism and intellectual failure to consider long-term strategies. It's no wonder that Frederick especially loathes the tall, handsome Balian d'Ibelin and his many highly esteemed relatives. The dynamic jousting between such different personalities supplies much of the novel's drama, and it's made even more colorful with actual jousting scenes and gripping descriptions of epic battles in which horses were every bit as important as their riders. 

Medieval women weren't on the battlefield, but different sorts of battles characterized their lives. Our leading lady, Eschiva de Montbeliard, a cousin of young King Henry I of Cyprus, finds solace in illuminating scriptures, a skill that speaks to her privileged background. But her privileged background will not save her from a loveless marriage.

The Montbeliards and Ibelins are related and have often been rivals. That makes the blossoming romance between Esciva and Balian, cousins, a bit scandalous, but the reader is treated to a love story that incorporates the medieval code of chivalry in splendid fashion.

Although the reader feels completely swept away to the 13th century, Schrader motivates one to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The use and abuse of power has characterized political history since the dawn of civilization. A ruler's circle of advisers has serious influence, beneficial or detrimental, on the running of a state. The tug and pull of centralized authority versus the distribution of power will no doubt be debated for the duration of time itself. Helena P. Schrader has full knowledge of these complexities and explores them in this riveting tale of tyranny and rebellion.       

* Reviewer’s Note: Readers familiar with Helena P. Schrader's historical fiction are aware that her novels are the result of monumental and meticulous research. The superb scholarship that characterizes her other Crusades-related novels (Knight of Jerusalem, Defender of Jerusalem, Envoy of Jerusalem, and The Last Crusader Kingdom) also enriches her deeply engrossing novel, Rebels Against Tyranny, Civil War in the Crusader States. 

Before immersing yourself in this fascinating account of the baronial rebellion against Frederick II of Hohenstaufen during the thirteenth century, take time to familiarize yourself with the enormously helpful accompanying materials Schrader provides, including genealogical charts of royal and baronial houses and maps of Cyprus and Outremer at the outset of the 13th century. 

Schrader also gives a detailed list of characters and a glossary that provides fascinating definitions of words used during the Middle Ages (for starters, a "garderobes" was a toilet and "Greek Fire" was an incendiary weapon placed in crockery and catapulted).  Finally, the author shares voluminous information in her historical notes, letting us know the exact sources she consulted when considering character traits of historic people, as well as the decisions she made when sources conflicted. The result is that the reader not only enjoys a wonderfully adventurous account of knights and battles, but also learns a hugely satisfying amount of medieval history and politics.  

** Indeed, Schrader notes that one purpose of her book is to set the record straight on Frederick. Some historians have labeled him a "genius" and a man of "exceptional tolerance," but these mischaracterizations are revisionist history that arose from "centuries of popular approval of absolutism" and the habit of some German scholars exalting a royal forebear. 


Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Tragic Tale of a Child Queen

 Although the Holy Roman Emperors were staunch supporters of the crusades and the crusader states, it was not until Frederick II Hohenstaufen married the heiress to the crown of Jerusalem that the Holy Roman Emperors attempted to exert sustained control over the Kingdom of Jerusalem ― leading to a bitter civil war between the Imperial faction and rebellious barons.

The dynastic link that gave the Hohenstaufens a claim to rule in Jerusalem is, therefore, an important historical figure. Yet there are few figures in history that so completely exemplify the tragedy of being born to power ― particularly for women ― as Yolanda of Jerusalem

Yolanda became Queen of Jerusalem within days of her birth in November 1212. Her mother, Maria de Montferrat, through whom she derived her titled, died of complications of giving birth of Yolanda, her first and only child. Maria was just 20 years old at her death.

Yolanda was thus a half-orphan almost from birth, and her father, John de Brienne, was a parvenu new-comer to her kingdom. Immediately voices were raised that questioned her father’s right remain king. Based on the precedent set twenty years earlier, when Queen Sibylla had died, it was argued that the kingdom passed to the infant Yolanda, and the regency during her minority should be exercised by her closest adult relative on her mother’s side. John de Brienne was able to rally sufficient support for his claim to be regent for his infant daughter to retain his crown, but his position was clearly undermined.

Less than two years after the death of Yolanda’s mother, John de Brienne married a second time, the Armenian princess Stephanie. Yolanda would still have been a toddler, largely in the care of nannies, and Stephanie might well have become a mother to her.  Perhaps, for the next six years, Yolanda had what we could consider a degree of security and happiness surrounded by her father, step-mother and, soon, a baby half-brother, as well.

That idyll, if it ever existed, was shattered when both Stephanie and her son died in early 1220. Furthermore, they died in a period when the Kingdom of Jerusalem was under attack from the Sultan of Damascus. The city of Caesarea was captured and sacked, and justifiable fears that other crusader cities might suffer the same fate induced John de Brienne, other Syrian barons, and the Knights Templars to abandon the Fifth Crusade in order to defend the Kingdom of Jerusalem directly. Yolanda would have been seven years old ― old enough to feel the pain of losing the only mother she had ever known and her little brother and old enough to sense the fear and alarm that had brought her father back.

Any joy she felt at seeing her father again, however, was short-lived. John returned to Egypt and the Fifth Crusade, where his advice to trade Damietta (held by the crusaders) for Jerusalem (held by the Ayyubids) was ignored. Instead, the crusade made the fatal mistake of trying to march on Cairo and ended in a debacle. John himself had to stand hostage for the implementation of the negotiated settlement.

John returned home to his now eight-year-old daughter, but not for long. In early 1221, he set off on a grand tour of West intended to raise money and troops for a new crusade. He would never again set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Instead, for the next years, he traversed Europe, getting as far to the north as England and Cologne, but spending more time in Italy and Spain. During these travels, he secured a third wife, Berengaria of Castile, for himself and also negotiated the fateful marriage of Yolanda with the Holy Roman Emperor.

And Yolanda? Just nine-years-old when her father departed, she was not yet thirteen, when she married Frederick II by proxy in Acre. The historical record tells us nothing about her activities in this period, and we can only assume that she was undergoing the kind of education thought suitable for queens in this period. Most probably that education was entrusted to one of the convents that traditionally took daughters of the higher nobility into their ranks as pupils, nuns, and abbesses.

The quality of such an education should not be underestimated. Convents had a long tradition of being centers of learning, and in the early 13th century were still home to intellectual inquiry and debate. At a minimum, Yolanda learned to read and write in French and Latin, but she may well also have learned Greek, given how widespread the language was in the Holy Land and the existence of many religious texts still available in the original Greek.  She would have been expected to know Christian dogma and theology, which entailed reading not only the Bible but other religious texts as well. (This was before the age of fundamentalism that reduced everything to the Bible.) She would have been expected to command arithmetic, though not necessarily geometry or algebra, and to know the history of her own kingdom and that of its most important supporters such as the Holy Roman Empire, the Kings of France and England. She would probably have been educated about the kingdom’s enemies as well, possibly including some knowledge of Arabic; many of the nobles in the kingdom were fluent in the language. Some knowledge of the natural sciences, particularly human biology and fundamental recipes for treating common illnesses and injuries, might also have been included in the curricula.  Mandatory would have been manners, protocol, spinning, and needlework.

Yolanda’s education would hardly have been considered “complete,” however, when envoys from the Holy Roman Emperor arrived in Acre with the news that her father had negotiated her marriage to the most powerful monarch on earth, the man already calling himself “the Wonder of the World.” The wedding followed almost immediately. Still only twelve years old, she was married by proxy to Frederick in Acre and crowned Queen in Tyre, before setting sail with a large escort of prelates and noblemen for Apulia. She arrived at Brindisi and married Frederick II on November 9, 1225; it was literally just days before or after her thirteenth birthday.  Her bridegroom was a thirty-year-old widower, who already maintained a harem in the Sicilian tradition.

The marriage got off to a terrible start. John de Brienne had negotiated for the marriage with either implicit or explicit assurances from the Emperor that John would remain King of Jerusalem until his death.  He saw the marriage of his daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor as a means of securing aid in the form of loans and troops, as well as a means to secure the viability of the kingdom after his death. Frederick Hohenstaufen, however, declared himself King of Jerusalem the day after the wedding ― and made the barons who had escorted Yolanda to Italy swear fealty him at once.

John de Brienne was outraged, and so was the Master of the Teutonic Knights, Herman von Salza, who had been instrumental in the negotiations.  The latter fact strongly suggests that Brienne had not simply been deluding himself.  It appears that Frederick had been intentionally misleading about his intentions, or had lied outright. In any case, Frederick instantly made an enemy of his father-in-law, and the breach ensured that Yolanda never saw her father again before she died.

Perhaps, given how often he had been away during her short life, she did not miss him, but she certainly found no comfort or companionship from her husband. Although it is hard to distinguish facts from propaganda, the tales of Yolanda’s marriage are unremittingly negative. The horror stories start with one contemporary chronicle that claims Frederick scorned his little bride on the wedding night itself, preferring to seduce one of her ladies instead. Several sources agree that “soon after the marriage, Frederick imprisoned, or otherwise maltreated, his wife.” (Perry, Guy. John of Brienne: King of Jerusalem, Emperor of Constantinople, c. 1175 – 1237. Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 135.)

Within a six-month, Yolanda’s father was openly at war with her husband by supporting the ever rebellious Lombard League.  Allegedly, the frustrated Emperor took out his rage on his thirteen-year-old bride, beating her so brutally, according to the Chronicle of Ernoul, that she miscarried the child she was carrying. Whether her husband’s abuse was the cause or not, Yolanda certainly miscarried a child at about this time, still only thirteen or at most fourteen-years-old.

Meanwhile, Frederick was under increasing pressure to fulfill his repeated promises to go to the aid of the Holy Land. He had first taken crusading vows in 1215, and eleven years later he had nothing but excuses to show for it. During the negotiations for his marriage to Yolanda, he had promised to set out on crusade no-later-than August 1227, or face excommunication.  In the summer of 1227, a great army was assembled in Apulia with the goal of a campaign in defense of Christian Syria, but before the crusaders could embark they were devastated by a contagious disease that killed thousands.  Frederick boarded a vessel but was so ill that his companions urged him to return.  Frederick put about and landed not in the Holy Land but in his own Sicily. He was promptly excommunicated by the Pope.

And Yolanda? She was still imprisoned in Frederick’s harem. He had not even thought to take her with him when he set out for her kingdom. She was also soon pregnant again.

On May 5, 1228, ten days after being delivered of a son, Yolanda of Jerusalem died. She was not yet sixteen years old. Although she had been a queen almost from the day of her birth, not once had she exercised the authority to which she had been born.

Frederick hardly took any notice of the fact. He continued to claim her kingdom as his right ― despite having denied his father-in-law the exact same dignity. Frederick II consistently ignored legal principles that got in the way of his own power.  Because of this disregard for the laws and customs of Yolanda’s kingdom, he soon found himself at loggerheads with the barons of Jerusalem. In the end, Yolanda’s subjects defeated her husband, but only decades after she had been sacrificed on the altar of her father and husband’s ambitions.

Striking is the extent to which Yolanda was a helpless pawn in this game of kings, popes, and barons. It is particularly striking when one considers how powerful her predecessors had been. Queen Melusinde commanded the support of barons and bishops to such an extent that her husband was forced to submit to her will. Sibylla refused to cave in to pressure from her brother King Baldwin IV and foisted her (utterly unsuitable) candidate for king upon the entire kingdom. Isabella I divorced one husband and married three others for the benefit of her kingdom, but she was never pushed off the stage, never imprisoned, neglected or ignored. She was Queen of Jerusalem still, after her fourth husband’s death. Was it just circumstances, particularly Yolanda’s youth, that condemned her to a life little better than a slave? Or was it the play of personalities? Emperor Frederick was certainly full of overweening pride and arrogance, but would a different girl have been better at confronting him and defending her undeniable rights?  We will never know.

Yolanda plays a minor role in Rebels against Tyranny, and the tragic consequences of her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor form the main plot of this novel, the first in a new series set in the crusader states. Although Yolanda's early death meant she could not play a role in the rebellion against her husband’s autocratic policies, I wanted nevertheless to give her a voice and face. Watch for an excerpt from Rebels against

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: