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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Baldwin the Proud, Third Baron of Ibelin

Although Balian d’Ibelin is better known today, his elder brother Baldwin was arguably the more colorful and (initially at least) more important figure during their lifetime. He reached for a crown but ended up renouncing all his honors and titles. He abandoned his wife and children to disappear from the pages of history, yet the daughter of the wife he divorced became a queen and founder of a dynasty that lasted more than 300 years.

So who and what sort of man was Baldwin, Third Baron of Ibelin?


As with all the early Ibelins, we don’t know the exact date of his birth, only that it was after his father received the lordship of Ibelin and married Helvis of Ramla in the 1138. However, German historian Hans Eberhard Mayer has estimated a date of birth of 1145 based on charter evidence. He was thus just five years old when his father died in 1150, and his mother married for a second time.

Baldwin appears to have remained in the custody of his elder half-brother, Hugh, who had inherited the lordship of Ibelin on their father's death, but this is not certain. In 1158, when Baldwin was probably only 13, his mother died leaving to him the Barony of Ramla/Mirabel, which she held in her own right. As Baldwin was still a minor at this time, however, control of the barony passed temporarily into the hands of his guardian, his elder brother Hugh, son of the First Lord of Ibelin but by an earlier wife, and so not entitled to the barony of Ramla/Mirabel. It would have been Hugh who arranged Baldwin's marriage to Richildis of Bethsan, which took place in the same year. 

On coming of age in 1160, Baldwin assumed the title of "Ramla," by which he is most commonly identified in all contemporary documents and presumably set up a separate household with his wife Richildis in Ramla. When in 1171, his brother Hugh died childless, the title of Ibelin also fell to Baldwin. This made Baldwin of Ramla an important baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, albeit in the second tier. He owed 50 knights to the army of Jerusalem, a number that is respectable but only half of what Galilee, Sidon or Caesarea owed. 

If we are to believe Muslim sources, Baldwin was not a particularly good -- or least not a very tolerant -- lord. Diya al-Din Muhammad al-Muqaddasi reports that his ancestor Ahmad ibn Qudama, a religious scholar, fled to Damascus in 1156 because Baldwin d'Ibelin planned to kill him for agitating against Baldwin's oppressive rule. Allegedly the primary issue was a requirement to work on Friday afternoons, which was a violation of Sharia law. Having fled, Ahmad urged his family to join him in Damascus and was eventually joined by at 139 people from nine different villages whose names are recorded.  

There are, however, serious reasons to question the validity of the report. First, at the time of the incident, Baldwin would have been about 11 years old; in short, he was still a minor and cannot be held accountable for the policy of labor on Fridays. More problematic is the venue, which is clearly identified by the names of the villages impacted as being within the lordship of Nablus. In 1156, Nablus was not in Ibelin hands. Rather, Nablus was held in 1156 by the unrelated Philip of Nablus, who on July 31, 1161 exchanged Nablus for the barony of Transjordan. Nablus reverted to the crown and was became the dower portion of the Byzantine wife of King Amalric. She brought it with her into her second marriage with Balian d'Ibelin in late 1177, but at no time did Baldwin  control Nablus. In short, vivid and precise as the account appears to be, it cannot be correct; there is a mistake either of the timing, the location, the lord or all three.
Baldwin's first significant contribution to history was his role at the Battle of Montgisard, fought only a few miles from Ramla and Ibelin both. Historian Michael Erhlich in a reassessment of the Battle of Montgisard published in Medieval Military History [Vol. XI, 2013, pp. 95-105] argues convincingly that far from being a "miraculous" victory or a matter of good luck, the Franks, in fact, very cleverly lured Saladin into marshy ground, where Saracen superiority of numbers could not come into play. Ehrlich demonstrates that the decisive factor was local knowledge of the terrain and noted that "Led by a local lord, who certainly knew the terrain better than anybody else on the battlefield, the Frankish army managed to defeat the Muslim army, in spite of its initial superiority." That "local lord" was Baldwin d'Ibelin. (For more details on the Battle of Montgisard see: http://www.crusaderkingdoms.com/montgisard.html)



Shortly after this dramatic victory in which his younger brother also played a notable role, that young brother Balian married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena. Baldwin appears to have surrendered the title to Ibelin to Balian at roughly the same time, one presumes to make him a more suitable match for the Dowager Queen. How willingly Baldwin gave up his paternal inheritance is not known, but as the alliance was very much in the interests of the Ibelin family as a whole, Baldwin may not have needed much persuasion.

What is clear is that Baldwin’s ambitions were increasing. Sometime before Montgisard, Baldwin had set aside the mother of his two daughters to make way for a more favorable marriage. He took to wife a widowed heiress, Elizabeth Gotman, but she died in 1179. This freed Baldwin to look even higher. By this time, the king’s eldest sister Sibylla was a young widow with an infant son. She was also the heir apparent to the throne of Jerusalem. While the High Court of Jerusalem sent to France for a suitable husband, Baldwin courted Princess Sibylla directly.



According to the contemporary chronicle written by “Ernoul,” a client of the Ibelin family, Princess Sibylla was not disinclined to his suit. Unfortunately for Baldwin, however, he had the misfortune to be taken captive by the Saracens in the Battle on the Litani in June 1179. The fact that he was seen as a prospective King of Jerusalem is suggested by the outrageous ransom Salah ad-Din demanded for his release: 200,000 gold bezants, or more than had been paid for a crowned and ruling king (Baldwin II) in 1123. There is no way the prosperous but relatively small barony of Ramla/Mirabel could have raised this enormous sum; Salah ad-Din could only have assumed that the entire kingdom would raise his ransom, as was customary for a captive king.

Furthermore, when Baldwin was released to collect his ransom, he turned to the Byzantine Emperor — and was successful. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor was the great-uncle of his brother’s wife does not explain such generosity. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor believed Baldwin was destined to be the next King of Jerusalem might.


The most convincing evidence for Baldwin’s aspirations to the throne of Jerusalem via marriage with Sibylla, however, is provided by the most reliable of all contemporary sources, William Archbishop of Tyre. The Archbishop was at this time the chancellor of the kingdom and so a veritable “insider” without any bias in favor of the Ibelins. He records that shortly before Easter 1180 King Baldwin received news that Baldwin of Ramla was approaching Jerusalem in company with the Prince of Antioch and the Count of Tripoli, all accompanied by large retinues.  According to Tyre, the king (who was suffering from leprosy) feared that the two men ruling the other crusader states (the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli) had come to depose him by raising up Baldwin of Ramla in his place via marriage to his sister Sibylla. As I have pointed out elsewhere, I find it unlikely that Tripoli was intent upon a coup d’etat at this point, but the fact that Tyre mentions the possibility of a marriage between Sibylla and Baldwin of Ramla underlines the fact that rumors to this effect were in circulation.

Ramla’s hopes were dashed by Sibylla’s hasty marriage to an adventurer from the west, Guy de Lusignan. Whether she had been seduced by Lusignan or forced into a hasty and demeaning marriage by her frightened brother is unimportant. Ramla’s hopes of gaining a crown through marriage to the heir were crushed. 

Ramla had every reason to be disappointed (not to say outraged) by these developments, particularly because Guy was in no way his equal in terms of status or experience. (Guy was a landless younger son and as a newcomer to the Holy Land had absolutely no experience in fighting the Saracens.) Ramla’s feelings would have been further complicated by the fact that Guy was the younger brother of his own son-in-law; sometime prior to 1180 Baldwin’s eldest daughter Eschiva had married to Aimery de Lusignan. To add insult to injury, King Baldwin IV raised his new brother-in-law Guy to Count of Jaffa and Ascalon (to make him worthy of Princess Sibylla). That effectively demoted Baldwin from tenant-in-chief to “rear vassal” — a man holding a fief from another baron rather than the crown directly -- and worse still, owing fealty to the very man who had just stolen the woman he sought to marry.

There can be little doubt that this rankled and, indeed, embittered the proud Baldwin of Ramla, but it did not make him a rebel. On at least of three occasions between 1180 and Baldwin IV’s death in 1185, he dutifully mustered with his knights when called upon to do so. Indeed, he played a prominent role (with his brother Balian) in defeating the Saracen forces attempting to take the springs at Tubanie in 1183.  Notably, this action at the springs of Tubanie was in support of his son-in-law, the elder brother of his hated rival Guy de Lusignan, suggesting that Ramla may have retained good relations with his son-in-law despite his hostility of Guy. In any case, as long as King Baldwin IV was king, Ramla appears to have accepted his fate, even marrying again, this time Maria of Beirut.

At Baldwin IV's death in 1185, Sibylla’s son by her first marriage was recognized as Baldwin V. Since he was still a child of eight, the welfare of the kingdom was placed in the hands of a regent, the Count of Tripoli. Baldwin was on good terms with Tripoli and showed no signs of rebelliousness. The elevation of his hated rival, Guy de Lusignan, to King of Jerusalem in a coup d’etat after the death of Baldwin V in 1186, on the other hand, was too much.



For more on the constitutional crisis of 1186 see http://www.crusaderkingdoms.com/constitutional-crisis-1186.html; I will not go into the details here. Significant for this article is only that two barons initially refused to do homage to Lusignan on the grounds that he was not legally king: 1) the Count of Tripoli withdrew to his own lands and made a separate peace with Salah ad-Din (which he later abrogated before eventually doing homage) and 2) the Lord of Ramla, who took the even more dramatic and unusual step of renouncing all his lands and titles in favor of his infant son.

According to Ernoul, he did this is a public confrontation at Acre before the whole High Court. It was a dramatic and unprecedented act. Peter Edbury, author of a detailed biography of Baldwin’s great-nephew, (John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Boydell Press, 1997, p. 12) notes: “It was an extraordinary thing to do. It meant giving up his inheritance, jeopardizing the future of his heirs and abdicating the political and social standing that he, the senior member of his family, and his father and elder brother before him had nurtured for the past three-quarters of a century.”

A man who took such a dramatic step was clearly a man of strong emotions. His hatred and resentment of Guy de Lusignan must have been enormous. More baffling, however, is that his outraged pride was more important to him than the substance of power and wealth. Equally notable, if less obvious is that he was a singularly callous husband and father.  He’d discarded the mother of his two daughters for no better reason than a better marriage, and now he abandoned his latest wife and only son to the dubious mercy of Guy de Lusignan. To be sure, he claimed he was leaving his wife and son in the care of his younger brother Balian, but this was legally dubious. A vassal who refuses homage usually forfeits his fief to his overlord, in this case to none other than Guy de Lusignan as both Count of Jaffa and King of Jerusalem. It is a forgotten measure of Lusignan’s chivalry (or his intelligent appreciation of his how precarious situation was) that he took no action to seize Ramla/Mirabel from Balian d’Ibelin, but rather allowed him to control both until Hattin obliterated all the baronies of the kingdom.

Ironically, it was the daughter of Baldwin’s discarded wife Richildis who was to wear a crown. 

Baldwin d'Ibelin is an important character in Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem (see below).


The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of six novels.



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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Hugh the Forgotten, Second Baron Ibelin

The first Baron Ibelin died in 1150 and was succeeded by his eldest son Hugh. Although he is often overlooked or forgotten in histories of the Holy Land, even when speaking of the Ibelins, it was his marital adventures that laid the foundation of future Ibelin successes.



Hugh's date of birth is unknown -- and so is his mother. Although usually assumed that he was the eldest son of his father's marriage to Helvis of Ramla, based on an off-hand remark made by William of Tyre in his history, there is good reason to doubt this. Namely, Barisan did not marry Helvis until 1138, so Hugh's earliest date of birth had he been her child by Barisan would have been 1139. This, however, would have made him only 11 at the time of his father's death in 1150 -- and so legally incapable of inheriting Ibelin until four years later, when he attained the age of legal maturity (15) in 1154. As an eleven-year-old child, he would have required a guardian. 

Hugh had none. He was immediately recognized at his father's death as Lord of Ibelin. Not only that, he played a prominent role in the siege of Ascalon, three years later. Had he been a child of Helvis, he would have been no more than 14 at that siege, not yet recognized as an adult, and probably not yet knighted. 

All of these facts indicate Hugh was the son of Barisan by an earlier marriage. Given his father's age this would sense. His father was probably already 30 in 1115 and would have been close to 55 at the time of his marriage to Helvis, who may have been as young as 12. It is also easy to explain why we do not know the name of Barisan's first wife: she was almost certainly a native Christian of non-noble birth. Since Barisan himself did not come from a noble family, he was in no position to marry well until after he had gained royal favor by his support of the king in the latter's conflict with the Count of Jaffa in 1134.

Hugh, however, as the legitimate son of this earlier union, had a clear right to inherit his father's barony of Ibelin at his father's death. He did not, however, have the right to inherit Ramla/Mirabel, which came to the Ibelins only after the death of Helvis in 1158. This is consistent with the chronicles, in which Hugh is not referred to as Lord of Ramla, except for two short years (1158-1160), when he held Ramla in trust for his younger brother Baldwin. In contrast, Baldwin, Barisan's second son but the eldest son of Helvis of Ramla, is always referred to as "Ramla" -- Ibelin being his family name but not his title. 

Returning to Hugh, in or about 1157, Hugh married the (not yet but soon to become) notorious Agnes de Courteney.


Agnes de Courteney came from one of the best families in Outremer, being the daughter of Count Joscelyn II of Edessa. By the time she married Hugh d'Ibelin, however, she was nothing but a penniless and landless orphan.  The County of Edessa had been hopelessly and completely lost to the Saracens by 1148. She was also already a widow. Her first husband, Reynald of Marash, had been killed in battle in 1149. Since she would have been at least 12 at the time of her first marriage, she was in all probability in her late teens when she became betrothed to Hugh d'Ibelin.

It is unlikely she had much to say about her marriage. At the time it took place, her father was languishing in a Saracen prison (never to return; he died there ca. 1159). Her brother, the ever ineffectual Joscelyn III of Edessa, was in control of her, and both she and he were living on lands held by their mother (since their entire paternal inheritance was in the hands of the enemy) in the Principality of Antioch. Antioch was at the far north of the crusader territories; Ibelin was in the extreme south. It is unlikely that Agnes had ever met Hugh d'Ibelin, a man holding a small and comparatively unimportant fief, held not from the crown but from the Count of Jaffa. A match between a sub-tenant and a penniless widow was a completely suitable match, even if Agnes' family had previously been powerful. In short, there is nothing really remarkable here.

But then things get interesting. Hugh d'Ibelin was taken captive by the Saracens in 1157 -- the year he presumably or allegedly married Agnes. Peter Edbury in his outstanding book John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Boydell Press, 1997, p. 8) speculates based on a variety of primary sources that Agnes was betrothed to Hugh, but that on her arrival in Ibelin to celebrate the marriage, he was already in a Saracen prison. Under the circumstances, since Hugh's father was dead and his brothers were still young children, Agnes' care fell to Hugh's feudal lord, the Count of Jaffa. The Count of Jaffa, however, was none other than the younger brother of the ruling King Baldwin III, Prince Amalric of Jerusalem.

What happened next is shrouded in obscurity, but at least one account suggests that Amalric "took her by force on the advice of his men." (See Edbury). On the other hand, there does not appear to have been any animosity between Hugh and Amalric in later years, and the king may even have helped pay Hugh's ransom. Since many captives did not ever return from captivity (such as Agnes own father) or spent years and years in prison (Raymond de Chatillon spent 15 years in a Saracen dungeon, and Raymond de Tripoli, 7), Hugh may well have viewed giving up a girl he'd never seen in exchange for Amalric's contributions to his ransom a perfectly reasonable, indeed good, deal.

 
In any case, when Hugh was released, Agnes was already married to Amalric and within the next half dozen years gave him two children, Sibylla (ca. 1159) and Baldwin (1161). Hugh, apparently still financially burdened by the after-effects of his ransom, did not marry. Then in February 1163, King Baldwin III died abruptly. His young Byzantine wife, the reputedly stunningly beautiful Theodora, had not yet produced an heir. Amalric, as the younger but mature brother of the king, a fighting man who already had two children, was the obvious best candidate to succeed him.

Yet the High Court of Jerusalem did not immediately recognize him because objections were raised about his wife Agnes. We do not know why the High Court objected to her. Officially, it suddenly discovered that she and Amalric were related within the prohibited degrees, but this hardly seems credible as it could easily have been overcome by a papal dispensation. Historians have therefore speculated that the real reason was that the barons of Jerusalem feared Agnes would use her influence to reward her penniless relatives with offices (thereby denying them these lucrative appointments) -- or that her reputation was so sullied that she was considered unsuitable to wear a crown in the Holy City. Another explanation is that the Church, which viewed a betrothal as sacrosanct, considered her marriage to Amalric bigamous because -- in the eyes of the Church -- she was still married (via the betrothal) to Hugh d'Ibelin.  


The latter explanation has a certain charm and is supported by the fact that after Amalric set Agnes aside in order to secure the crown of Jerusalem, she became the wife of Hugh d'Ibelin. She was his wife at the time of his death in ca. 1171. 

Since Hugh and Agnes had no children together, the significance of this marriage is often overlooked. Yet, whatever the reasons the High Court objected to Agnes, Amalric must have been very grateful to Hugh d'Ibelin for taking her off his hands and clearing the way to the throne. From Hugh's perspective, on the other hand, Agnes was "damaged goods" (and possibly discarded on moral grounds, i.e. because of infidelity and licentiousness; she was later said to have had affairs with Aimery de Lusignan and with the future patriarch Heraclius.) Yet, while Agnes herself may have been no great prize, she was the mother of the heir to the throne since the High Court had explicitly recognized the legitimacy of Agnes' children even as it forced Amalric to discard her. Thus Hugh d'Ibelin got a wife of dubious virtue and tarnished reputation, but he earned the gratitude of the king and the status of step-father to the future king. 

Unfortunately for Hugh, he did not live long enough to capitalize on his relationship to the young Baldwin. He was dead in 1171. Yet it was possibly the Ibelins' ties to Agnes de Courtney that brought them within the royal circle. Certainly, after Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, the surviving Ibelins were in a stronger position than before as (step) uncles of the king. 


Even Balian d'Ibelin's marriage to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena, the woman who had replaced Agnes in Amalric's bed and had been crowned queen in her place, was in an ironic way the result of Agnes influence -- though not necessarily her intention. It may have been because his sister-in-law was such a powerful woman at Baldwin's court that Balian had the opportunity to meet and court the Dowager Queen Maria. We will never know for sure, but the ties between Agnes and the Ibelins have too often been overlooked. We should never forget, however, that while family relations were more important in power-sharing in the Middle Ages, they were no less fraught with emotional complexities than they are today.

The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of six published novels. 



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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Origins of the House of Ibelin - Barison, 1st Baron of Ibelin

While the origins of the House of Ibelin remain obscure to this day, one thing is certain: the first "Ibelin" was an adventurer, a man who made his fortune in the Holy Land. He was one of those men described by Fulk de Chartres, who soon "forgot" his origins and identified wholly with his new land and life in Outremer.


From the beginning of the 14th century, the Ibelins claimed their descent from the Counts of Chartres, but most historians dismiss this claim as concocted. Peter Edbury, one of the most important modern historians of the crusader states, writing in 1991 claims  "onomastic evidence points to a presumably less exalted Italian background, perhaps in Pisa or Sardinia.” (Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades 1191 -1374, p. 39) Six years later, however, Edbury had revised his thesis slightly, now suggesting Tuscan or Ligurian origins (Edbury, John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, p. 4). 

Sir Steven Runciman, in contrast, claimed that the house of Ibelin “was founded by the younger brother of a certain Guelin, who was deputy viscount of Chartres, that is to say, the Count of Blois’ representative in Chartres; and such officers in those days did not enjoy hereditary rank but were often drawn from lawyers’ families.” Runciman's preference for this version may have been influenced by the hindsight: so many of the 13th-century Ibelins were renowned lawyers.

Whatever his place of origin and whatever he called himself before coming to the Holy Land, the first man to identify himself as an “Ibelin” was a certain Barisan. Not only are his origins unknown, so is his date of birth. All that we know about him for certain is that in 1115 he was already “Constable” of Jaffa. To hold such an important and vital post, he would have had to be a fairly mature man, one who had already proved himself, especially in light of his non-noble birth. A date of birth around 1185 is therefore most logical.

His first recorded marriage was in 1138, when he married Helvis, the daughter of Baldwin, Baron of Ramla/Mirabel. Since Helvis had a brother, Renier, and Barisan was not a baron at the time of this marriage, it seems likely that Helvis was not yet the heiress of Ramla at the time of her marriage. 


Indeed, Hans Eberhard Mayer in his meticulous examination of charter evidence published in his essay "Carving up Crusader: the Early Ibelins and Ramla," [published in Mayer, Hans Eberhard. Kings and Lords in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Ashgate. 1994, XV] shows that Barisan never used the title of "Ramla." On the other hand, Renier entered a successful claim to Ramla when he came of age in 1143 or 1144.  Renier died in 1148, however, without issue and the title at that time passed to Helvis, his sister -- not to Barisan. 

Barisan did not obtain a title of nobility until 1141 or 1142 when he was granted the new castle built at Ibelin. This castle had been built by the crown as a bastion against attacks from Muslim-held Ascalon. The lordship that went with the castle owned just 10 knights to the feudal levee and was held in fief from the Count of Jaffa, not directly from the crown. 



Barisan-the-Elder died in 1150.  He probably died peacefully in his bed, as a more spectacular death would have been more likely to attract comment. He would have been about 65 years old when he died, which was a ripe old age in the early 12th century, particularly for a man who had spent most of his life fighting in a notoriously brutal environment. 

He left behind three sons, Hugh, Baldwin and his namesake Barisan, more commonly known as Balian, who was an infant of less than a year at his father's death. In addition, the founder of he House of Ibelin fathered two daughters, Ermengarde, the wife of William de Bures, Prince of Galilee, and Stephanie, who either died young or joined a convent as she did not marry.

On his death bed, he would have been justified in being well-pleased with his rise from bourgeois adventurer to baron in the Holy Land. At his death, he could hardly envisage the power, prestige, and fame that his descendants would achieve over the next two centuries.


The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Meanwhile, the Ibelins are the protagonists of six of my novels.


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Thursday, January 23, 2020

The House of Ibelin

First Hollywood and now Sharon Kay Penmen have both devoted a film and a novel to Balian d'Ibelin respectively. Yet, historically, Balian was only one, and by no means the most important, member of the House of Ibelin. In the weeks ahead, I will be reviewing the history of the Ibelins -- a topic to which I also devote a chapter in my forthcoming book "Beyond the Seas: The Story of the Crusader States."


Sons of the House of Ibelin held many noble titles over time: Lords of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel, Caymont, Beirut, Arsur, and Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the last traditionally a royal domain and title of the heirs to the throne.  The daughters of Ibelin married into the royal families of Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus, and Armenia. Ibelins served as regents of Jerusalem and Cyprus on multiple occasions and they led revolts against what they viewed as over-reaching royal authority, most notably taking on the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II in 1229-1233.  They were respected as scholars. One translated Arab poetry into French, another (John of Jaffa) wrote a legal treatise that is not only a goldmine of information about the laws of the crusader kingdoms but is admired for the elegance of its style and the sophistication of its analysis.  The Ibelins also built magnificent palaces, whose mosaic courtyards, fountains, gardens, and polychrome marble excited admiration. 

The Ibelins exemplified the Latin East in many ways. They were rich, luxury-loving, patrons of the arts, yet they were also fighting men who could hold their own against Saracens, Mamlukes or their fellow knights. They were highly-educated and multi-lingual. Their whose diplomatic skills won the admiration of Saladin and Richard the Lionheart; their legal reasoning confounded the "Wonder of the World," Emperor Frederick II. 

During the 7th crusade led by St. Louis, the head of the Ibelin family attracted the amazement of the French Seneschal Jean de Joinville who wrote:

[Ibelin’s] galley came to shore painted all over above and below the water with armorial bearings, or a cross paté gules. He had full three hundred oarsmen in the galley, and each man had a shield bearing his arms, and with each shield was a pennon with his arms sewn in gold. (Joinville’s “Life of St. Louis,” Chapter 4: Landing in Egypt.)

A splashier display of wealth was hardly imaginable in the midst of battle and seems a  microcosm of the wealthy, luxury-loving yet militant crusader states. 
Yet the Ibelins also exemplified the crusader states in another way: the origins of the family are completely obscure, and the first Ibelin was almost certainly an adventurer, a man of knightly-rank but without land or title in whatever country he originated.


 Members of the House of Ibelin are the protagonists in six of my published novels and two novels yet to come.
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, these books offer nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. The complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.



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Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Spark that Flared into Civil War


Emperor Frederick first vowed to liberate Jerusalem at his coronation as "King of the Romans" (Germans) in December 1212, yet when he finally arrived in the Near East the first thing he did was to alienate one of his most powerful vassals with a trick more worthy of a pirate king combined with a crude attempt at extortion.  His actions were so astonishing that not even his admirers attempt to justify them but prefer to simply ignore them altogether. It all started with a sinister banquet...


In July 1228, when Emperor Frederick finally arrived on his long-awaited crusade, his first port of call was Limassol in the Kingdom of Cyprus.  This King of Cyprus was at this time an eleven-year-old boy, Henry, not yet old enough to rule for himself. In accordance with the laws of Cyprus, the High Court of Jerusalem had recognized Henry's mother Alice as his regent, but because she chose not to exercise that office, the High Court had elected a "baillie" to act in her stead. In 1228 this was John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut.

On his arrival in LImassol, Frederick sent a very pleasant letter to the Lord of Beirut, the text of which was recorded in contemporary accounts. This letter addressed Beirut as "my lord and honored uncle," and explained that "we desire to have the satisfaction of seeing you with the king and your children, all our dear and well-beloved cousins, that we may have the pleasure of embracing you and knowing you personally."(1) The Emperor closed the letter with "Your very affectionate nephew, Frederick Emperor."(2) (Beirut was an uncle of the Emperor's late Empress, Yolanda of Jerusalem.)

Despite the outward tone of the letter, Beirut's friends and council smelled a rat. Whether they had intelligence from other sources or simply mistrusted the Emperor generally, Beirut's council unanimously advised him not to attend upon the emperor. Beirut insisted on going, saying explicitly that he would rather be arrested or killed than have it said that he by his refusal to work with the emperor had ruined a chance of recovering Jerusalem. This underlines the fact that despite the emperor's words, Beirut knew that he was out of favor. He was not taken in by the emperors words of friendship, but rather determined to do all in his power to patch over their differences in order to increase the prospects of a successful crusade. Ibelin pointedly and consciously put the liberation of Jerusalem ahead of his personal security and status.

So Beirut took King Henry to Limassol, accompanied by the entire Cypriot army, both knights and sergeants, and also his three adult sons, Balian, Baldwin and Hugh. On arrival in Limassol, the Emperor welcomed them with the appearance of great joy, and they dutifully submitted to the Emperor's leadership, pledging their bodies and worldly goods in his service in the impending crusade. The Emperor further begged that they set aside the mourning they were wearing for Beirut's brother and predecessor Philip, and instead accept robes of scarlet from him. He also personally invited them to attend a great banquet he would hold for them the next day. Beirut, his sons and vassals readily agreed.

Yet, on the same night as the invitation, "the Emperor caused to enter secretly by night three thousand men-at-arms or more, sergeants, arbelesters, and sailors, so that nearly all the fighting men of his fleet were there; and they were disposed throughout the stables and rooms."(3)

On the next day, the guests came unarmed in the lavish robes the Emperor had given them and insisted that they wear. The Emperor sat at a high table flanked only by the Lord of Beirut and his brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea. Furthermore, as a mark of "favor," Beirut's eldest sons were designated to serve the Emperor, "one with the cup , the other with the bowl, while the young lord of Caesarea and Sir Anceau de Brie should carve before him."(4)


When the last course was brought in, "armed men came out from those places where they had been posted and they took possession of the palace...some holding the hilts of swords and others daggers."(5) Only after his armed men had surrounded the unarmed Cypriots did the Emperor show his true colors. Now he turned to the Lord of Beirut and demanded that he 1) surrender the revenues he had stolen from Cyprus during his own and his deceased brother's terms as baillie of Cyprus, and 2) that he surrender his title and lordship of Beirut.

Beirut first tried to dismiss the claims as a "poor joke" and suggest the Emperor had been listening to evil gossip, but the Emperor insisted that he would have Beirut's lordship and allegedly ill-gotten gains or he would arrest him. Despite being unarmed and surrounded by the Emperor's troops, Beirut replied that he has received his lordship legally from his half-sister Queen Isabella and had made a full accounting for the revenues of Cyprus. Nevertheless, he asserted he would be happy to put his case before the respective High Courts. He would not surrender either lordship or revenue, however, without a judgement of the appropriate court. The Emperor grew more enraged, declaring: "I shall show you that your wit and subtlety and your words will avail naught against my force." (6)

Apologists for Frederich Hohenstaufen are quick to point out that the Lord of Beirut and his brother before him had been tenacious and used dubious legal tricks to remain in the position of "baillie" of Cyprus after their falling-out with Queen Alice. They suggest that Beirut very probably did have something to hide. Possibly.  Yet no one has ever been able to come up with even a shadow of an explanation of why he should not have been entitled to the Lordship of Beirut, a lordship he ,built up at great expense after it had been devastated by years of Saracen occupation and a violent re-capture by German crusaders.

Yet, even if Beirut was guilty of one of the "crimes" -- which is far from proven simply because historians think it possible -- that hardly justifies the Emperor's action. The Emperor, allegedly the protector of law and justice, baldly stated that he didn't give a damn about the law and courts; he declared bluntly that "might was right." He did not offer counter-arguments, nor agree to put the case before a court of law, but simply threatened the use of force like the most illiterate and rapacious robber baron. 

Undoubtedly, the Hohenstaufen's defenders would argue that as Emperor he could not subject himself to any court. But he didn't have to -- he only had to allow Beirut to defend himself before his peers in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms in which the crimes had allegedly been committed. By refusing to allow Beirut to defend himself in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms, the Emperor -- allegedly the source of all justice --- was denying justice to one of his most important, and up to this point completely loyal, vassals. 

Beirut refused to be intimidated by the Emperor's threats. He said he would accept the fate Christ decreed, but he would surrender nothing without due process and a judgement of the High Court. 


At this point the many lords of the Church present tried to mediate. The best they could negotiate, however, was that Beirut would surrender 20 hostages as surety that he would submit himself to the judgement of the respective High Courts. The Emperor demanded that Beirut's eldest sons be among the hostages. The Emperor noted to Beirut as he made the demand, "I well know that Balian is your very heart and that so long as I have him I shall have you."(7)

It is hardly surprising that an Emperor who felt he had the right to simply take away fiefs and demand bribes (for demanding the "repayment" of revenues that have not been stolen in the first place is extortion) at the point of a sword did not keep his word about "honoring" his hostages either. Although not even Emperor had accused the hostages of wrong-doing, Beirut's sons were "put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs, and at night the other men were put in irons with them."(8)

The actions of an "enlightened," "modern" and "tolerant" monarch? Not in my opinion!

1) Novare, Philip De. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Trans. John La Mont, Columbia University Press,1936, p. 74f.
2) Ibid. 
3) Ibid, pp. 76-77.
4) Ibid, p. 77.
5) Ibid. 
6) Ibid, p. 79
7) Ibid, p. 81
8) Ibid. 

The consequences of this fateful banquet are described in my current series starting with:

Best Christian Historical 
Fiction 2019!




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