Thursday, June 13, 2019

Technology Transfer in the Crusader States

It has become commonplace to claim that the greatest benefit to the Crusades was the exposure of backward and barbarous Western Europeans to the "more advanced" civilizations of the Muslim world. Yet the evidence demonstrates that the situation was considerably more nuanced and development was a two-way street. Furthermore, the society most ready to adapt is not always the weakest or most backward.

Starting with the situation at the baseline, Islamic culture had undoubtedly experienced a significant flourishing in the centuries immediately preceding the Crusades. However, far from being trapped in a "dark age," Europe was likewise going through a period of significant development and technological advancement. Contrary to popular notions, throughout the so-called “Dark Ages” the learning of the ancient Greeks was preserved — and translated into Latin. Furthermore, major technological innovations were making Europe more prosperous and its people healthier than ever before. Professor Rodney Stark argues that “medieval Europeans may have been the first human group whose genetic potential was not badly stunted by poor diet, with the result that they were, on average, bigger, healthier and more energetic than ordinary people elsewhere.”[1]

As a result, the exchange of knowledge and technology that followed the First Crusade was by no means a one-way street. While the Franks soon learned to employ light cavalry in the form of native Christian horse-archers (misleadingly called Turcopoles despite being neither Turkish and nor apostate Muslims), the Saracens started to develop heavy cavalry capable of close combat. While the Franks learned about paper manufacturing and improved glass-making techniques from the Syrians, the Arabs learned from the Franks about industrial methods for sugar manufacturing, a highly lucrative trade. While the custom of public baths moved from east to west, the concept of chimneys moved in the opposite direction.


Nor should we automatically assume that the culture more open to adaptation was the weaker culture. For example, there is no question that European naval architecture was vastly superior to contemporary Arab shipping, yet the Arabs were unable to adopt Western shipping technology largely due to the poor quality of their shipwrights and sailors. The chimneys built in Holy Land by the Franks fell into disrepair and then disappeared from local architecture altogether after the departure of the Franks not because chimneys are useless or backward, but due to the sheer inertia of “tradition.”

Nor should we forget that many of the “inventions” we associate with the “East” were not Saracen in origin, but Greek. One classic example of this is the concept of hospitals as places where professional medical practitioners provide medical treatment to cure the sick. Such institutions were unknown in Western Europe before the First Crusade. By the time the Crusaders arrived in the Holy Land, the Arabs indeed had sophisticated hospitals, yet the origins of these institutions lay in Byzantium. The first hospitals in the Eastern Roman Empire are recorded in the fourth century AD; the earliest hospitals in the Muslim Middle East did not appear until the late eighth or ninth century.[4] Under the aegis of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, (known simply as “the Hospitallers”) hospitals were adopted into the Western European culture. 

The Hospital in Acre - photo by the author
An important factor impacting the direction of technology transfer was the environment. The Franks -- but not their Arab and Turkish opponents -- were living in a new environment. This meant the Franks needed to adapt to that environment -- one with extremes of heat unknown in their homeland, an environment that was more arid, less forested, and more densely populated. It would have been absurd -- and stupid -- to cling to traditions and technologies unsuited to the Mediterranean no matter how well-suited those technologies might have been for, say, living in Scotland or fighting in Prussia. 

The adoption of surcoats is an excellent example of this. In the intense heat of the Syrian summer, wearing a loose cloth garment over one's armor made sense. That the Franks rapidly did so, and -- even more surprising -- that it became a fashion across Western Europe is not a mark of the inferiority of previous forms of dress. The surcoat had a function that was directly related to the physical environment in the Near East. It's later evolution into a means of showing off one's arms and affinity had nothing to do with Arab/Turkish superiority but rather with Western customs of chivalry.

The prevalence of stone structures in the crusader states was likewise a function of the scarcity of wood rather than superior skills on the part of Arab masons. On the contrary, to this day archaeologists can date crusades-era buildings based on the exceptionally high standards of Frankish masonry. 

Franish masonry at St. Annes' in Jerusalem - photo by the author
The Frankish adoption of covered markets reflected the need to keep perishable goods out of the intense summer sun, the flies and the dust -- not an inherent superiority of covered versus open markets. 

Covered Market in Acre - photo by the author
Adaptation from West to East, on the other hand, was inhibited by both the fact that the environment remained the same for the Muslims and by Muslim presumptions of superiority. The Muslims viewed Franks as fundamentally backward because they were “blasphemers worshipping God incorrectly…or as idolaters worshipping cross-shaped idols.”[2] In the extreme, they shared the attitude expressed by Bahr al-Fava’id who wrote: “Anyone who believes that his God came out of a woman’s privates is quite mad; he should not be spoken to, and he has neither intelligence nor faith.”[3] 

It is to the Crusaders’ credit that regardless of what they thought of the theology of  Islam, they did not dismiss its adherents as inherently madmen and idiots. It was because of this willingness to separate religion from science and art, that the Franks proved remarkably adept at adapting to their new environment and developing a unique hybrid culture.

That culture is incorporated in all my novels set in the crusader states:

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[1] Stark, Rodney. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, (New York: HarperOne, 2009) 70.

[2] Christie, Niall, Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity’s Wars in the Middle East, 1095-1382, From the Islamic Sources (London: Routledge, 2014) 78.

[3] Christie, 77-78.

[4] Mitchell, Piers D., Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004) 49-50.

[5] Edgington, Susan B., “Oriental and Occidental Medicine in the Crusader States,” in The Crusades and the Near East: Cultural Histories, ed. Conor Kostick (London: Routledge, 2011) 208.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Sieges of St. Hilarion and Kantara 1229

On July 14, 1229, an army led by the Lord of Beirut routed the mercenaries and feudal levees of the five Imperial Baillies of Cyprus. The battle brought to a dramatic end the misrule of Emperor Frederick II's minions. Yet all five Baillies not only survived the battle but fled to safety in three of Cyprus' great castles.  Most significantly, three of the Baillies took refuge in the impregnable fortress St. Hilarion -- and they had the young King of Cyprus, Henry, with them. While the Imperial Baillies held out in the hope of Imperial relief, the Lord of Beirut was forced to lay siege to a castle containing his king -- prima facie an act of treason. Today I look at the course and consequences of that fateful siege.

The Castle of Kantara seen from below. Photo by the author.
Following the Battle of Nicosia, one of the Emperor's Baillies, William de Rivet, sought refuge in the port castle at Kyrenia but surrendered the castle and left Cyprus when no Imperial aid arrived within a specified date. Another of the Baillies, Sir Gauvain de Cheneche, managed to reach the castle of Kantara at the southern tip of the mountain range that parallels the north coast of Cyprus. Here he put up a spirited defense. The castle was besieged by Sir Anseau de Brie, an ardent supporter of the Ibelins. 

The latter built a trebuchet that, allegedly "battered down nearly all the walls," without inducing surrender because the bedrock on and into which the castle was built defied destruction. Meanwhile, multiple attempts to assault the castle were successfully repulsed and sorties from the castle defeated. However, Brie was joined by the Lord of Caesarea, whose father had been killed at the Battle of Nicosia, allegedly by Sir Gauvain de Cheneche. Caeasrea brought a "sharp-shooter," a cross-bowman, who he charged with killing Cheneche.  One presumes the archer received a handsome reward because he was successful. Although Cheneche's stepbrother assumed command of the defense of Kantara, morale was shaken and supplies soon ran low. After ten months, the new commander Sir Philip de Chenard surrendered Kantara to Brie and Caesarea. 

The siege of Kantara is notable too for the recorded deployment of "psychological warfare." One of the adherents of Ibelin, the later-famous historian, philosopher, and legal scholar Philip de Novare, wrote satirical verses deriding the defenders of Kantara and sang them outside the castle walls. As one historian noted, this was "a tactic not to be underestimated since...success of a siege depended on the morale...." (Hans-Ulrich Wiblinger, The Mountain Castles of Cyprus, [Nicosia: Pilot Publications, 1993] 25).
Yet despite the success at Kyrenia and the drama at Kantara, the most important siege was that at St. Hilarion. It was here that three of the Imperial Baillies (Amaury Barlais, Amaury de Bethsan, and Hugh de Gibelet) had taken refuge. Not only was Barlais viewed as the most dangerous of the Imperial Baillies, but he also controlled the person of the young, underaged king, who he had with him in St. Hilarion.
The castle of St. Hilarion seen from a distance. (Photo by HPSchrader)

The castle of St. Hilarion had been built by the Byzantines late in the 10th century after the island had been freed from the Arabs. It stands 700 meters (2275 feet) above sea level on the narrow ridge of a mountain range just slightly southwest of the port of Kyrenia. At the time Barlais retreated there, it had never been taken by assault -- and it never would be. The Lord of Beirut, facing such a formidable castle and wishing to avoid a direct assault that would endanger his young king, had no choice but to besiege the castle.

Sieges are notoriously tedious. Leaving his three eldest sons (youths aged at most 21, 22 and 23 if not younger) in command of the siege of St. Hilarion, the Lord of Beirut concentrated on securing the surrender of Kyrenia and overseeing the siege and assaults on Kantara. Unfortunately, as the siege dragged on, the young sons of Beirut, Sirs Balian, Baldwin, and Hugh, got bored and absented themselves from the siege. At once the Imperial Ballies sallied forth out of St. Hilarion, over-ran the siege camp, and captured provisions. These they carried back inside the castle to supplement their own diminishing reserves. 
The Lord of Beirut had five sons, who were referred to as the "Wolflings" by Novare in one of his poems.
Hearing of the sortie in Nicosia, Sir Balian rushed back with only a handful of knights. He rapidly recovered the siege camp, and "spurring up to the gate of the wall, broke his lance on the iron of the wall gate; he had so few strong men that this battle was amazing...." -- according to the contemporary eye-witness Sir Philip de Novare. (The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, translated by John de La Monte [New York: Columbia University Press, 1936] 106.) More important, of course, his father realized that a rotation needed to be established so that there was always a commander -- and only one commander -- at all times.

So the siege continued, and Sir Philip attempted his psychological warfare here as well -- with the effect that he became a target for the besieged. According to his own account, he was hit by a thrown lance that penetrated his arm and pinned it to his rib-cage. In this state, unable to defend himself, men from the castle took hold of the bridle of his horse and tried to take him hostage, while from the walls the defenders taunted: "Your singer is dead, he has been killed!" (Novare, 106)  Novare was rescued by Sir Balian and bragged that he wrote a new song that same evening which he soon sang loudly before the castle walls to prove he was not yet dead. 

A troubadour entertains -- here in more civilized circumstances than Novare describes!
By Easter 1230, those in the castle were suffering from a severe shortage of supplies. They had already slaughtered and eaten their horses and were reduced to killing a captured donkey for their Easter "feast." It was also clear that the Holy Roman Emperor was not going to send an army to rescue them. The Baillies were now in a difficult position. They had made themselves unpopular by their taxation, extortion and general high-handedness. They had lost a decisive battle and no longer had the resources to continue the war. But they held an all-important trump: they had the king.

Henry de Lusignan had been 12 years old when the siege of St. Hilarion started, and he saw his 13th birthday from inside St. Hilarion while food and -- one presumes -- morale dwindled. The men who held him had been appointed his guardians by the Holy Roman Emperor, but he had little reason to love or trust either the Emperor or the Emperor's Baillies. The Emperor had swept down on his kingdom and immediately sparked a rebellion (See: He had then dragged the 12-year-old to Syria, a virtual prisoner to strangers, then married him to a woman Henry had never met, and sold Henry's guardianship to the five Ballies. Regardless of how honorable these men and regardless of how legitimate their grievances against the Ibelins, Henry could only have felt like a puppet in their hands. Certainly, he was afraid of them. (See:

Outside the castle, on the other hand, was the man elected by his barons as his guardian, and more important the brother of the man who had been his guardian and regent for the better part of his life (from his 2nd to his 11th year). Henry had every reason to want to escape from St. Hilarion and the three men holding him there. But Henry had nothing to say in the matter. 

According to Novare, the Lord of Beirut was also anxious to end the siege. Sieges were notoriously expensive and Beirut's resources were not unlimited. He had already spent a fortune raising the army to invade Cyprus in the first place, and he'd had to support sieges at Kyrenia and Kantara as well. Most important, however, his siege of St. Hilarion put him in the awkward position of besieging his king, his liege. On the surface, this was treason. Beirut could only justify his actions by claiming -- rightly -- that Henry was a prisoner of the Emperor's Baillies and that his siege was in support, rather than targeted at, the king. Yet, no matter how right Beirut might be in fact, the optics of his siege were negative and so damaging of his reputation. 

Notably, Novare also reports that Beirut "feared that [King Henry] would be taken out of the castle by night to some place and sent to Apulia." (Novare, 110) In short, Beirut believed that the Baillies were capable of spiriting the King of Cyprus away from his kingdom and placing him in the control of the Holy Roman Emperor. Once in Apulia, it is doubtful if Henry would ever have set eyes on his kingdom again. It is far more probable he would have remained a "guest" of his "overlord" Frederick II, while the latter claimed the right to appoint regents and retain the revenues of the kingdom. 

Beirut chose the lesser evil. Through the mediation of a knight of the Hospital, William de Teneres, he negotiated the surrender of St. Hilarion. The terms were complete amnesty and, so the retention of all estates and honors, for the Emperor's Baillies. The only thing the Emperor's Baillies lost was the right to call themselves Baillies -- and their control of the king. They became again mere barons of Cyprus, welcomed at court, and treated as if nothing had happened. 

The problem with that was that it solved nothing. The tensions and rivalries that had festered before the Emperor's arrival and had been exacerbated by his policies during and after the 6th Crusade continued to divide the Emperor's men from the Ibelins and their supporters. It would take a second round and another defeat before the Emperor's men were finally expelled from Cyprus and King Henry was able to rule in his own right.

The siege of St. Hilarion is described in:

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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, May 30, 2019

Henry I of Cyprus - Part III - The Unappreciated King

Henry shared the historical stage with some of the most colorful and impressive figures of medieval history — Emperor Frederick II, John the “Old Lord” of Beirut, and King Louis IX of France, a Saint. These giants have dwarfed him, and he is largely forgotten or dismissed as unimportant. Yet under his reign, his island kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity. He fostered trade, defended the rights of his diverse subjects, and avoided squandering Cypriot resources in the defense of Syria. King Henry I of Cyprus deserves a reassessment.

The day of his greatest humiliation was also the day on which King Henry came of age. He had been forced to flee in his night-shirt on the back of a borrowed horse, while his entire army was decimated by the Emperor’s troops. Yet on his arrival in Acre as dawn broke, he was, at last, his own man. At fifteen, he was recognized as an adult, no longer tied to guardians, regents, and baillies. This meant that the Lord of Beirut was no longer his guardian and Baillie — he was his subject and vassal.

Henry was free to show his loyalties and make his own policies. He also had a very clear choice between the nearly destroyed Ibelins or the ascendant Imperial faction.

Henry had the option of returning to Cyprus, abandoning the Ibelins and blaming the Lord of Beirut for squandering his army, his resources, and his trust. In Cyprus, he could have embraced the former baillies. With Beirut and all his men in Syria, he could have — without risk — declared Beirut and the rest of his family traitors and confiscated their fiefs. Furthermore, he could have requested support from Marshal Filangieri in destroying the rebellious and traitorous Ibelins. Since Filangieri was already under orders from the Emperor to destroy the Ibelins, Henry would have secured the aid of Imperial mercenaries.

Instead, King Henry stayed with Beirut and started offering fiefs in Cyprus to any Syrian knights who would fight with him to regain his kingdom from the Imperialists. He also made substantial concessions to the Genoese, granting the wide-ranging trading privileges and immunities to secure a new fleet. He indebted himself to some of the Syrian lords to raise money to finance an expedition to regain his kingdom. Last but not least, he appealed (through Beirut) to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, complaining that the traitors (former baillies) had taken his ships, occupied his kingdom and were besieging his sisters. King Henry appealed to the Patriarch, who was also the Papal Legate in the Holy Land, to confiscate the Imperial ships in the harbor of Acre on the grounds that Imperial forces had deprived a crowned and anointed king of his navy and his kingdom.

The patriarch was reluctant to excommunicate the Emperor’s men, but he encouraged the seizure of the Imperial ships, which Henry’s supporters promptly did. King Henry returned in these imperial vessels to Cyprus, took Famagusta by surprise and advanced cautiously toward Nicosia. His army advanced through land which the Imperial forces had burned and wrecked. The sight of the harvest burnt in granges and  broken mills, actions that impoverished both himself and his subjects, can only have increased King Henry’s hatred of the traitors and their Imperial puppet-masters. His feelings for his queen must equally have been soured further by the fact that she chose to retreat with the Imperial forces rather than welcome the return of her husband.

At Beirut’s command, the royal army camped outside of Nicosia to avoid a second Casal Imbert. The situation remained very precarious. Filangieri and the traitorous lords of Cyprus together fielded a force of more than 2,000 knights supported by a substantial force of sergeants and archers. The Cypriot army was had just 233 knights, still desperately short of horses (some knights had only one), and an unnamed number of sergeants. Furthermore, the castle of St. Hilarion where King Henry’s sisters were besieged was running out of supplies; there was a serious risk that the castle would surrender to the Imperial forces giving them valuable hostages. Under the circumstances, Beirut (who remained in command) opted to take the Cypriot army to the relief of St. Hilarion.

This entailed passing before the front of the Imperial army, that had taken up strong positions on the southern slope of the mountain range that runs east-west north of Nicosia. They sat across the road connecting Nicosia to the north-coast port of Kyrenia. This position was unassailable given the weakness of the Cypriot forces.

When the Cypriot army was strung along the east-west road leading to St. Hilarion below the Imperial forces, the pathetic size of the Cypriot forces was exposed to the enemy. This very weakness proved too tempting to the proud Italian leaders of the Imperial host. They charged down the slope to demolish the Cypriots. As soon as they abandoned their positions, Novare tells us, the Lord of Beirut fell on his knees to thank God. Then he remounted to defend his King. The King was kept in the rear of the army with Beirut, his youngest sons (roughly 15 and 16 years old) and his young nephew (later the famed jurist and Count of Jaffa). The battle was won by the Ibelin’s leading divisions. These mauled the Imperial forces so soundly that they broke and fled — to be pursued all the way to Kyrenia. Beirut and the King, meanwhile, continued to St. Hilarion, scattered the besieging force and rescued the King’s sisters. 

Although the siege of the fortress at Kyrenia was to continue for ten months, Henry had regained control of his kingdom. Frederick II never again attempted to interfere in Henry’s realm or his affairs. Meanwhile, one of Henry’s first acts was to summon the High Court of Cyprus and charge the former Imperial baillies with treason. After a unanimous judgment against them, they were sentenced to death in absentia (they were safely in the fortress of Kyrenia at the time) and their fiefs were forfeit to the crown. Henry bestowed them on those who had supported him in his hour of need.

Yet while Henry was finally master of his own house, his treasury was depleted by the year-long campaign and further drained by the ongoing siege of Kyrenia. In fact, many of his vassals who held money-fiefs had seen no income in years.  Strikingly, they remained loyal to him despite this. To try to spur the economy and recover financially,  Henry not only expanded the privileges of the Genoese but extended trading privileges to Marseilles and Montpellier. He also fostered trading ties with the Sultan of Iconium and with Armenia. These actions show foresight and an appreciation of the economic advantages of trade to an island kingdom. Ironically, while the maligned King Henry was encouraging trade, Frederick II — usually depicted as “ahead of his time” — was introducing trade restrictions.

In 1236, at 19, Henry negotiated a marriage for himself to replace Alix de Montferrat, who had died during the siege of Kyrenia. He chose the sister of the King of Armenia, Stephanie, and the couple was married in 1237. This was the same year in which the pope suggested creating a joint kingdom of Jerusalem and Cyprus to be reigned by Henry King. The pope’s suggestion was driven by his hatred of Frederick II Hohenstaufen and was designed to disinherit his heirs, yet it was almost certainly made without the slightest consultation with King Henry.

Henry was not interested in the crusader states on the mainland. He refused to come to the aid of Jerusalem when the city fell in 1244 to the Khwarizmians, and he provided only reluctant and inadequate forces to relieve the siege of Ascalon three years later. Even when his mother died in 1246 and the High Court of Jerusalem recognized him as the rightful regent for the still absent Hohenstaufen king, Henry showed no interest in Syrian affairs. Instead of taking up the role of ruler, he appointed Balian of Beirut (John of Beirut’s eldest son and success after his death in 1236) Baillie of Jerusalem.

King Henry appears to have far more pleased by the fact that in the same year (1246) the pope absolved him of all oaths of fealty to the Holy Roman Emperor. This act recognized legally what had been fact since the complete expulsion of the Imperial forces from Cyprus thirteen years earlier. Cyprus was an independent kingdom and its king vassal to none. 

When the vast crusading army of King Louis IX descended on Cyprus, King Henry remained notably aloof from crusading fever. He welcomed King Louis and his queen. Cyprus hosted the crusaders throughout the winter, and the flower of Cypriot chivalry was allowed to participate in the crusade — notably under the command of the Constable of Cyprus, Guy d’Ibelin, the youngest son of the Old Lord of Beirut. Indeed, the Ibelins were well represented in the crusade with John d’Ibelin, Count of Jaffa, Baldwin the Seneschal of Cyprus and Guy the Constable all impressing the Seneschal of France, Jean de Joinville, by their prowess, extravagance, wisdom, command of Arabic and concern for their men. Yet King Henry, after entering Damietta with King Louis in June 1249, retired to Cyprus. 

Henry was only three-two at this time, an age at which most medieval noblemen were keen to demonstrate their prowess at arms, but Henry was no warrior king — and he had the sense to recognize that. Indeed, Henry had earned the nickname “the fat.” It appears that his near escape from disaster at Casal Imbert had left a lasting scar upon his psyche. At a minimum, he had learned the vital lesson that battles could be lost, and lost battles could lead to lost kingdoms.

Henry had turned his attention to fostering the economy and administrative reforms instead. One of the latter was the first recorded introduction of written court records. This practice that was not adopted in France until after King Louis returned from his crusade, i.e. after his contact with King Henry. 

Henry also defended the majority of his subjects who still adhered to the Greek Orthodox faith against attempts by the Latin church to interfere with their clergy. This conflict escalated to the point that the Archbishop of Nicosia placed the entire kingdom under interdict — and Henry withheld revenues due to the Archbishop and the church.

In 1250, in the midst of King Louis’ disastrous crusade, Henry’s Armenian queen died childless. A king did not have the luxury to mourn for long; he needed heirs. In 1251, Henry took as his third wife, Plaisance of Antioch. She, at last, gave him the son he needed. He was christened Hugh after the father Henry had never known. Less than two years later, on January 18, 1254[1] Henry I of Cyprus died. He was not yet 47. The cause of death went unrecorded.

In looking back and assessing his reign, it is easy to dismiss Henry as a colorless, fat, puppet, yet this ignores the fact that he inherited a bankrupt kingdom subordinate to the Holy Roman Emperor and bequeathed a prosperous and independent kingdom to his son. It also ignores the fact that Henry retained the respect and loyalty of his vassals throughout his reign — despite his conspicuous lack of revenues in the early years and military accomplishments.

The trade treaties, the administrative reforms, and his steadfastness in the face of clerical sanctions suggest a man who was not so much weak as diligent — yet focused on the unglamorous aspects of good-governance: the economy, the legal system and the spiritual well-being of his subjects. It is notable too that throughout his reign Henry relied heavily on various members of the Ibelin family, a clear indication of where his affections lay in the long struggle that dominated his childhood.

Henry I could be viewed as a mirror image of Richard the Lionheart. The latter is accused of being a bad king because he was focused on warfare and crusading with the result that he was absent from his kingdom most of his reign. Henry I left his kingdom only under duress and for never more than a few months. He avoided wars and left his kingdom richer than he found it. Henry I of Cyprus deserves more respect.

[1] The date is often given as Jan. 1253, but Peter Edbury had brought evidence that in the Kingdom of Cyprus at this time the year began March 25 and that according to our practice the correct date of his death was 1254. See: Peter Edbury, “Redating the Death of King Henry I of Cyprus?” Law and History in the Latin East (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014) 339-348.

Henry I is an important character in:

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, May 23, 2019

Henry I of Cyprus - Part II - The Pawn

Henry I inherited his kingdom before he was a year old and was crowned at the age of eight, but as a child he remained at the mercy of his guardians and regents. In the first eleven years of his life, these had protected Henry from two attempts to disinherit him. They furthermore ensured his own safety and the welfare of his kingdom and subjects in an exemplary manor. All that changed with the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor. Emperor Frederick II viewed Cyprus as a vassal state, and he came to extract his “due.” His actions set in motion a chain of events that nearly cost Henry his kingdom and his life.

Roughly six months after the death of Henry’s baillie Philip d’Ibelin — the closest thing to a father that Henry had ever known — the Holy Roman Emperor arrived in Cyprus with a large number of ships, nobles, knights, archbishops, scholars and harem slaves. Frederick II Hohenstaufen, after delaying his crusade for eleven years, was on his way to Acre to fulfill his crusading vows — albeit under a ban of excommunication and in an operation the pope had already labeled a “anti-crusade.” The reason for his stop on Cyprus was to take Henry’s homage as his vassal and collect the chivalry of Cyprus for his crusading force.

No sooner had the Emperor arrived than he sent a letter John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut and the successor to his brother as baillie of Cyprus.  Addressing Beirut as his “honored uncle” (he was an uncle of the Emperor’s deceased wife, the Queen of Jerusalem), he begged Beirut to come and bring King Henry along with “your children, all our dear and well beloved cousins” to Limassol “that we [the Emperor] might have the pleasure of embracing you  and knowing you personally.”[1]   

Beirut dutifully took King Henry and his sons to meet the Emperor and was persuaded to attend a great banquet hosted by Frederick II.  The guests went in court attire without weapons; Frederick II, however,  smuggled some three-thousand armed men into the palace during the night. After all the guests were well into the meal, the Emperors men sealed off the hall, the hands on their swords and the Emperor demanded that Beirut surrender his fiefdom of Beirut and all the revenues of Cyprus since his brother had become baillie (e.g. the past eleven years). 

Beirut answered that he would account for the revenues before the High Court of Cyprus and would only surrender his lordship after a judgement of the High Court of Jerusalem. When he did not back down even under threats of arrest and hints of worse, hostages were given for his appearance before the respective courts and Beirut — with nearly all the knights and barons of Cyprus — withdrew. (The details of the banquet are described in The Emperor’s Banquet.)

For Henry, the consequences were dire. Henry found himself a prisoner of a man who openly threatened force rather than respecting the rule of law, who allowed noble hostages (not accused of any crime whatsoever) to be tortured and humiliated, and who forced Henry to do homage to him. Henry can have been in no doubt that he was a pawn, completely in the hands of the Emperor, while the barons who had up to this point defended him and his rights against the Duke of Austria, the Prince of Antioch and his mother’s ambitions had been dismissed. To underline this point, the eleven-year-old was forced to leave his kingdom, sisters, home and household to accompany the Emperor on his crusade to Syria.

In the event, there was no fighting and Henry was not personally in danger at any time, but his status as an “object” to the Emperor was made dramatically clear when Frederick II sold — for 10,000 silver marks —Henry’s guardianship to five men who have gone down in history as “the five ballies.” (See: The Emperor’s Men). If that weren’t indignity enough, Henry (now only twelve) was forced to marry by proxy a woman of the Emperor’s choosing whom he had never met.

While royal marriages were always made for reasons of state and the young people involved rarely had anything to say about them, it was not common to rush through a marriage in a matter of months. Notably, this marriage was also in violation of the constitution of Henry’s kingdom, since the marriage of minor heirs to the throne (much less ruling minors) required the approval of the Cypriot High Court. In his haste to dispose of Henry’s marriage in a way to benefit himself, the Emperor conveniently ignored the High Court of Cyprus.

The next thing Henry knew his new guardians were making themselves heartily unpopular by imposing new taxes and harassing anyone opposed to them or the Emperor with the liberal use of foreign mercenaries. An eye witness account of the King’s behavior during the rapacious reign of the five baillies notes: “The king was in their power and was much afraid; and the king spoke very low and looked often towards Philip [de Novare].”[2]

On the other hand, Philip de Novare noted in a poem he wrote shortly after escaping an assassination attempt by the baillies that he was warned of the baillies intended actions by “one who cared not whom it might displease.”[3] It is hard to imagine who would have been privy to the assassination plans by the baillies yet willing to help Novare other than the frightened young king himself. The very fact that the baillies appear to have accorded Henry so little respect would make it plausible that they talked about their plans to murder Novare in his presence, dismissing him as a stupid puppet. That Henry would dare cross them is also plausible because he was the only person in the entire kingdom that the baillies could not arrest. If he was Novare’s mysterious informant, he deserves credit for saving a man’s life and ultimately triggering a response from his former regent, John d'Ibelin, which has been completely overlooked by historians to date.

Within weeks of Novare’s escape and appeal to Beirut for aid, an Ibelin-led army landed at Gastria. It overpowered the baillies’ forces there and marched on Nicosia. The baillies called up the feudal levies and mustered the mercenaries left them by the Emperor. On June 14, 1229, the forces of the Ibelins met the forces of the five baillies on a ploughed field south of Nicosia at the Battle of Nicosia. It was a decisive Ibelin victory, which enabled them to re-establish constitutional government on the island of Cyprus. 

But there was one problem: John d’Ibelin might control the island but he did not control the king. Henry was still a prisoner of the Emperor’s baillies.

As soon as news of the Beirut’s landing at Gastria reached Nicosia, the baillies had sent Henry under tight guard to the mountain castle of St. Hilarion. After losing the Battle of Nicosia, three of the baillies fled with their surviving supporters there.  The castle was impregnable and well stocked to withstand a siege. The baillies hoped the Emperor would send troops to relieve them and defeat Beirut.

Critics of Beirut and his supporters rightly point out that by besieging a castle containing their king (they held fiefs on Cyprus and so were vassals of King Henry) they were technically committing treason. Beirut, however, claimed Henry was a prisoner, held against his will, and they were fighting for the release of their king — a fundamental feudal duty. In short, who the “traitors” were depended on whether Henry viewed himself as a prisoner. Unfortunately, we cannot know for sure what King Henry thought.

The siege lasted nearly a year. By the end of that time, those trapped inside St. Hilarion were forced to eat their horses. While it is unlikely that Henry suffered the same levels of deprivation as the lower ranking troops, he would have been a witness to it. As he passed his 13th birthday besieged in his own castle, he must have felt helpless and angry. 

Shortly after Easter 1230, a Hospitaller officer managed to broker the surrender of the castle. The terms included a full pardon for the surviving three ballies, who were to retain all their fiefs in Cyprus, in exchange for surrendering the person of the King, his sisters, and swearing never to take up arms against the Ibelins again. Not all in the Ibelin party were content with these terms, and some refused to celebrate. Henry’s attitude is strangely missing from the accounts. He was now 13, still two years away from his majority, and he was therefore still technically under the tutelage of the Lord of Beirut. Yet significantly, in the next incident recorded about King Henry, he no longer seems like quite such a pawn.

When in late 1231 Emperor Frederick sent a large force under his marshal Richard Filangieri to reassert his authority in Cyprus and Syria, Beirut was in Acre. Tipped off that the Emperor’s fleet was making to Cyprus, Beirut collected as many of his men as possible and crossed to Cyprus to join up with King Henry. They then rode together to meet the Emperor’s representatives. This suggests that while Beirut retained the nominal control of Cyprus as Baillie, he had deputized the actual governing of the island to others.

With the ports occupied by troops loyal to the Ibelins, the Imperialists did not risk a landing, instead the Bishop of Melfi went ashore with a small escort to deliver a message to King Henry directly from Emperor Frederick. According to 13th century chronicle known as the Eracles, the message was a blunt order to Henry to expel John d’Ibelin and all his kinsmen from Cyprus citing in quotation marks the following phrase:

“Our lord the emperor sends you word, as one who is his vassal, that you dismiss and require to leave your land John d’Ibelin, his children, his nephews, and his relatives, for they have done wrong. Wherefore he sends you his orders and forbids you as his vassal to harbor or shelter him [John of Beirut] in your land.” [4]
The Eracles notes that Henry, being underage, took counsel and then delivered his answer through a knight, Sir William Viscount. The answer as recorded in the Eracles was:

The king … greatly marvels that your lord the emperor made such a command to him, for the lord of Beirut is his own uncle by his mother, and it is well known that he [and his kinsmen] are vassals, wherefore he cannot fail them…”[5]

After the king had delivered his answer, Beirut stood and formally addressed King Henry in the presence of the Emperor’s envoys requesting the King’s support and offering to defend himself against any accusations of wrong-doing before the High Court of Cyprus. The Emperor’s envoys took note of both these statements and withdrew. 

It is hard to escape the impression that King Henry’s answer was crafted by Beirut himself and delivered by Viscount in order to make it possible for Beirut to stand and make his appeal for due process. Yet the substance was correct: King Henry was himself a nephew of John of Beirut. The Emperor’s demand that Henry expel all of Beirut’s kinsmen was tactless — not to say a calculated insult to Henry himself. It is highly unlikely that the 14-year-old king liked being ordered to do anything by a distant emperor — much less being told to expel himself from his kingdom.

Critics of the Ibelins are apt to argue that they were manipulating Henry. Certainly. Both parties were trying to use Henry. Yet the Ibelins appear to have been significantly more adept at doing it a way that did not offend the young king. After all, if Beirut — as we must assume — was technically Henry’s baillie, he could have made answer for Henry without consulting him; instead he allowed the king to act the part of king. In contrast, the  Emperor Frederick rode roughshod over Henry’s wishes and appears to have accorded him none of courtesies due a monarch. In short, Beirut (not being an Emperor) treated Henry with more respect, deferring to him, treating him like a king, and so winning his support rather than demanding it.  

This is demonstrated even more clearly in the next episode. Rebuffed by King Henry and facing the full force of Ibelin troops at the ports, the Imperial forces hoisted sail and crossed to Syria where they captured without resistance Beirut’s seat of power and revenue: Beirut itself. With almost all of Beirut’s men on Cyprus, the capture of Beirut was easy and bloodless. This has led some historians to speculate that the halt in Cyprus was a ruse all along, intended to lure Ibelin forces across the water and leave the real prize ripe for seizure. The only blemish to the plan was that the garrison of Beirut, small as it was, refused to cave-in and held out for Ibelin.

Beirut, however, was caught flat-footed. He could have taken all his men back to Syria to try to lift the siege, but he rightly estimated that the forces he had were inadequate. He, therefore, made a dramatic appeal to King Henry before the High Court of Cyprus, which — according to Novare — was assembled in full force.  Novare, who was an eye-witness, describes what happened next.

[Beirut] arose and stood — he had a habit of crossing his legs when he was standing — and, as he knew so well to do, he spoke loudly and to the point. He said: ‘Sire, … by me and by my family was your father lord and held the land; and if we had not supported him he would have been disinherited or dead. When God made his commandment of him you were but nine months old and we nourished you, you and your land, thank God, until this day; for had we not given you freely of our own, the duke of Austria would have disinherited you, and twice you have been in a bad state or worse… Now it has happened that the Longobards have taken my city and besieged my castle so closely that it is in danger of being lost, and ourselves and all our Syrian men disinherited. Wherefore I pray you, by God and by your honor, for our great services and because we are of one blood…that you come in person in all your power with me to succor my castle.[6]

Significantly, what the Lord of Beirut did next was kneel “as if to kiss the foot of the king.” Equally significant, Henry did not let him, but rather rose to his own feet (causing the rest of his vassals to kneel) and declare his full support — i.e. the feudal army of Cyprus in its entirety — for Beirut. Was Henry still a puppet? Was the entire scene carefully staged? We can’t know for sure, but we have no indications that Henry dragged his feet or showed reluctance. 

Henry crossed to Syria with his army in bad weather, arriving after what is described as a terrible crossing, making landfall at Puy du Constable in the County of Tripoli. Here the three former baillies (who had held the King in St. Hilarion but received full pardons at surrender) deserted the Cypriot army. They eventually joined the Imperial forces besieging Beirut. They justified their actions in terms of loyalty to the Hohenstaufen emperor, who was overlord of Cyprus, and by claiming that King Henry was a “captive” of the Ibelins and not acting of his free will.

Their desertion weakened the Cypriot army sufficiently to make it impossible for Beirut to effectively relieve his castle. Although he was able to slip roughly 100 fighting men through the Emperor’s blockade of galleys to reinforce the garrison, he was forced to withdraw to Acre to try to recruit more supporters. King Henry remained with Beirut, whether voluntarily or not remains the question. 

As soon as Beirut withdrew to Acre, the three former baillies took advantage of the fact that the Cypriot transport ships had been wrecked on the coast in a gale and returned to Cyprus. Here they dropped all pretense of serving King Henry and in the name of the emperor took control of the ports, preparing the way for a full-scale invasion by imperial troops to follow.

Neither they nor the Emperor’s marshal had reckoned with Beirut successfully luring increasing numbers of Syrian knights to his cause and, more important, gaining the support of the Genoese with their fleet. In late April, Beirut started north with a large land force supported by a Genoese flotilla. He announced his intention to capture the city of Tyre, which the Emperor's marshal and deputy Riccardo Filangieri had made his base of operations and government in the face of persistent and vehement hostility at Acre. (Acre was the city whose citizens had thrown offal after at the Holy Roman Emperor on his departure; it was to prove a staunch opponent of Hohenstaufen ambitions throughout the century.)

Filangieri felt sufficiently threatened to recall the troops besieging Beirut (effectively handing it back to Beirut), but he also pulled off a surprise night attack on the Ibelin army while it was camped at Casal Imbert. The Lord of Beirut and his heir were both absent at the time, but three of his younger sons and many of his most important knights and vassals failed to take elementary precautions against an attack and were caught sleeping. The camp was overrun, the Ibelins lost nearly all their horses and equipment, the Genoese lost their ships, and twenty-five knights were taken captive. 

And King Henry? King Henry was put “almost naked” (one presumes in his nightshirt) on another man’s horse (the closest at hand? The fastest?) and told to ride to Acre to get help from the Lord of Beirut. Without an escort or companions, Henry galloped the roughly 8 miles to arrive at the gates of Acre causing a sensation. His feelings can only be imagined: he must have feared for his entire army and indeed his own life, not to speak of his crown and his dignity. To add a particular poignancy to the event, it was his fifteenth birthday, May 4, 1232 — the day on which he came of age.

King Henry’s story continues next week.

[1] Text of Frederick II’s letter to John of Beirut, contained in La Monte’s notes to Philip de Novare, Frederick II’s Wars against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 74.
[2] Novare, Philip, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, trans John La Monte (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1936), 94-95.
[3] Novare, 98.
[4] French Continuation of William of Tyre (Eracles), quoted in La Monte (trans), The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1936) 119f.
[5] Eracles, 120f.
[6] Novare, Philip, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, trans. John La Monte (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1936) 123-124.

Henry I is an important character in:

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: