Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Emperor's Banquet

Emperor Frederick vowed to liberate Jerusalem at his coronation as "King of the Romans" (Germans) in December 1212, and renewed that vow many times afterwards. Yet when he finally arrived in Outremer on July 21, 1228, the first thing he did was to alienate one of his most powerful vassals by a trick more worthy of a pirate than an emperor and a crude attempt at extortion.  His actions were so astonishing  that not even his admirers attempt to justify them; they prefer to simply ignore them altogether. It all started with a sinister banquet...


In July 1228, when the 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 July 1228 this was John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut, who held large fiefs in both the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Cyprus.

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 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 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 Beirut's 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 a justification 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.

Furthermore, 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 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.

This incident is an important episode and its consequences are an important thematic element 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: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Seeds of Civil War

Emperor Frederick II spent less than a year in the Holy Land. Yet despite being absent, attempts by the Hohenstaufen Emperors to impose their will upon the crusader states lasted for a total of 43 years.  The Hohenstaufens tried to rule their distant kingdoms through proxies without reference to the respective constitution of the kingdoms involved. This sparked tenacious resistance from the local barons which ultimately resulted in civil war.  

Throughout those 43 years, a minority faction among the local barons supported the Imperial cause. Indeed, it could be argued that while Frederick II used the disaffection of some individuals for his purposes, they used his hubris and arrogance for theirs. Indeed, pre-existing hostility to the entrenched leadership in Outremer was instrumental in encouraging and fostering imperial contempt for the constitutional order in the crusader states. Today  I look at the tensions and factions within the ruling elite of Outremer that pre-dated the arrival of Frederick II.


The opposition to the Holy Roman Emperor was led by John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, supported his large kinship network, the majority of the local barons and knights, the Templars, Genoese and the common people of Acre. The imperial faction was led most forcefully by Sicilian nobles appointed by the Emperor, notably his admiral Richard Filangieri, and supported by the Pisans, Hospitallers, and a minority faction in Outremer. 

While local support for the Emperor in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was fluid and declined over time as Filangieri alienated more and more of the Franks, on Cyprus the Emperor enjoyed strong support from a minority faction of local lords and knights led by Sir Amaury Barlais, Gauvain de Cheneche, Amaury de Bethsan, William de Rivet, and Hugh de Gibelet. These five men were briefly appointed joint regents (baillies) of Cyprus by Frederick II and are widely referred to as “the five baillies.” They commanded the loyalty of 80 knights, or effectively 20% of the Cypriot feudal elite. 

What explains the difference between Jerusalem and Cyprus? Where did the local opposition on Cyprus come from and why?

Philip de Novare explains the bitter divide in Cypriot society entirely in terms of personal jealousies and resentment. He tells a colorful tale of Sir Amaury Barlais trying to murder a knight he accused of cheating in a joust.  According to Novare, although he failed and was pardoned for the attempt, the hostility and mutual suspicions between Barlais and the Ibelins started with this incident and festered thereafter.



Certainly Amaury Barlais’ attempted to oust Philip d’Ibelin as “baillie” of Cyprus sometime after 1224 and before 1227. (The exact date is unknown.) The sequence of events is as follows. In 1218, King Hugh I died, leaving as his heir a nine-month-old son, Henry, and a widow, Alice de Champagne, who was a niece of the Ibelin brothers John and Philip. According to the constitution of the kingdom, Alice, as the king’s closest blood relative, was recognized as the regent of the kingdom. However, Alice (for whatever reason) chose not to take up the reins of government. Instead, she contented herself with the bulk of the revenues while turning the business of ruling over to her uncle Philip d’Ibelin. Significantly, this choice of actual (as opposed to nominal) regent was agreed to in the High Court of Cyprus, and the members of the High Court (i.e. the knights and nobles of Cyprus) took an oath to support Philip until King Henry came of age at 15.

Sometime in 1224, Alice had a falling out with Philip d’Ibelin (probably over money) and decided to marry a second time (she was roughly 30 years old at this time). She chose as her second husband Prince Bohemond of Antioch, and moved to Antioch, leaving her children by her first marriage behind. Sometime thereafter she appointed Amaury Barlais as her “baillie,” presumably on the expectation that he would be more amenable to her demands.

Her appointment of Barlais, however, lacked the consent and approval of the High Court. This was unconstitutional (even if the members had not sworn allegiance to Philip “until Henry came of age”) and so the High Court rejected Barlais’ claim to be regent for Alice of Champagne. This probably had less to do with preferring Philip d’Ibelin over Amaury Barlais than with preserving the privileges of the High Court itself; the members could not accept Barlais without surrendering their own prerogative to designate regents/baillies.



However, at this point, one of the knights in the High Court and a relative of the Ibelins, a certain Anseau de Brie, took things a step farther and accused Barlais of treason for accepting and attempting to claim the appointment. Brie challenged Barlais to judicial combat. Brie was a large and powerful man; Barlais was slight of stature. The latter fled back to Syria.

This is where the rivalries of Cyprus became entwined with the policies of the Holy Roman Emperor. This accusation of treason apparently occurred near to the time when Yolanda of Jerusalem married Frederick II. Barlais recognized that the Emperor Frederick could be a very powerful ally in his struggle with the Ibelins, and he set about winning the Emperor’s favor.  

It may also have been at this point that Barlais became allied with Sir Gauvain de Cheneche, who had already gone to the Emperor’s court from Cyprus after a judicial combat that went poorly for him. Cheneche was reputedly very good with falconry, a passion of Frederick II, and had thereby won the Emperor’s favor. Together Cheneche and Barlais complained about the Ibelins to the Emperor.

The Ibelins, although uncles of the Emperor’s new wife Yolanda, had already earned Frederick II’s disfavor by crowning Henry king of Cyprus, while the latter was still a child of seven. Based on German law (not the law of Outremer), Frederick II claimed that he (not Alice de Champagne) was the rightful regent of Cyprus and viewed the crowning of the young king as an attempt to pre-empt him. The coronation very probably was an attempt to check-mate the Emperor, but it was at least based on the law of the land rather than the law of the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, it meant that Barlais’ complaints about the abuse of power by the Ibelins fell on open ears. It did not help the Ibelin cause that Frederick II apparently had no respect or affection for his wife, their niece, Yolanda.



Again according to Novare, in anticipation of the Emperor’s immanent arrival Barlais returned to Cyprus and accepted judicial combat with Brie. What he thought to achieve by this is unclear, but the resulting trial by combat is described in detail by Novare. Barlais won an early advantage when he succeeded in prying Brie’s visor open. He stabbed Brie three times in the face before Brie managed to wrest the lance from Barlais’ hand and fling him to the ground, injuring him. Brie, who was still mounted, should have been able to dispatch Barlais, but when the latter ran to the perimeter barriers, his loyal horse again and again put himself between Brie and his master so Brie could not deliver the coup de grace. Eventually, the judges – the Lord of Beirut and his brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea, who was also Constable of Cyprus -- intervened to prevent Barlais’ death. Yet Barlais felt he had been humiliated a second time and returned to the Emperor’s court full of yet more bitterness against the Ibelins.

Historians, notably Peter Edbury, are reluctant to accept Novare’s account and explanation of the conflict. Edbury points to the fact that the five baillies all came from the second generation of families that had helped establish Lusignan control over Cyprus. He argues that these men opposed the Ibelins because the latter were perceived as “parvenus” in Cyprus. (See Edbury’s The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades 1191 – 1374 and his John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.) He suggests they legitimately resented Ibelin prominence in the reign of Henry I because the Ibelins had not set foot on Cyprus before 1210 and been inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan in the previous century.

While there are legitimate grounds for doubting the Ibelins were “late-comers” to Cyprus (see: https://defendingcrusaderkingdoms.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-creation-of-kingdom-of-cyprus.html and https://defendingcrusaderkingdoms.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-rise-of-house-of-ibelin.html), resentment of Ibelin prominence remains the most reasonable explanation of the hostility of this minority.   

This does not mean that Novare’s detailed descriptions of duels and violent arguments were fabricated. Rather, he has described events that reflected more than caused the tensions. Yet while Edbury is right to point out that the Ibelins were not universally popular, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Ibelins retained the support of the overwhelming majority (80%) of Cypriot knights and nobles. Perhaps even more telling, they retained the affection and favor of their young lord, King Henry I of Cyprus right until his death decades later.

Philip de Novare's account of the Emperor's crusade and the civil war in the crusader states is the primary source for the events described in a new series of novels set in Outremer in the early 13th century.

Buy Now!

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: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Starred Blue Ink Review of Rebels against Tyranny


 

BLUE INK STARRED REVIEW
 
Rebels Against Tyranny: Civil War in the Crusader States
Helena P. Schrader WheatMark, 430 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 9781627876247 (Reviewed: September 2018) 

 
The lovely 13th century-inspired cover of Helena Schrader’s Rebels Against Tyranny suggests the promise of a well-wrought yarn set in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the author delivers a robust and irresistible tale brimming with historical accuracy. 
 
Schrader’s story takes place in the early 1200s, just beyond the major Crusades in what is sometimes referred to as the “bloodless Crusade.” It focuses on a cast of characters in Cyprus, other areas of the Levant in and around Jerusalem, and Sicily.  

Dashing Balian d’Ibelin is the oldest son and heir of upstanding John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut and a key protector of teenaged Henry, King of Cyprus. Fiendish Amaury Barlais has a grievance with the Ibelin family and consistently schemes against them, even worming his way into the graces of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who has plans to conquer the Holy Land and selfish reasons for opposing the Ibelins. Eventually a clash is inevitable.  

The story surrounds the efforts of the Ibelins and their compatriots to oppose the despotic emperor Frederick and his followers in a classic good versus evil tale. Not all is swordplay, however, as the story also follows the budding romance between noted ladies’ man Balian and the brave Lady Eschiva de MontbĂ©liard.   

Although the cast of characters is mammoth, Shchrader provides a thorough cast list and meticulous family tree. Readers will particularly appreciate Eschiva’s three-dimensional characterization, as women in similar narratives tend to be little more than cardboard props. In fact, the author brings the qualities of each main character to life: the wide-eyed innocence of young Henry; the cringe-worthy activities of Barlais. Together, the dialogue, plot, and descriptive language make this a compulsive page-turner.  

Schrader has done diligent research, and it shows in her historical accuracy, welcome glossary of medieval terms, and extensive set of historical notes. Those who enjoy stories of the period— and even readers with only a passing interest in the era—will relish this tale. 
 
Also available as an ebook.



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Philip de Novare – Lawyer, Historian, Poet and Philosopher

 Among his contemporaries, Novare was most famous for his legal handbook on the laws of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus full of practical tips for how to “plea,” i.e. argue a case.  Today he is remembered as the author of the only comprehensive narrative describing the baronial resistance to Emperor Frederick II’s rule in Outremer. Novare was present at many of the events described and knew all the important actors personally. Given his importance to our understanding of this period in the history of Outremer, I thought this 13th Century "Renaissance man" who was not just a knight but a poet, troubadour, philosopher, historian and lawyer, deserved a short biography.

This is NOT a portrait. None exists. I selected an image that was evocative of a man of learning.
By the time Novare died, he was so well-respected that he served as the executor of King Henry I of Cyprus’ will in 1253, yet his origins are obscure, his parents unnamed and probably insignificant. Historians believe he derived his name from the town of Novara in Lombardy, where he was presumably born sometime between 1205 and 1208.  The date is interpolated from his autobiography in which Novare describes himself as a “page” to a certain Cypriot knight, Peter Chappe, taking part in the first siege of Damietta in 1218. Were he older than 13, he would almost certainly have been a squire, and if he were younger than ten it seems unlikely he would have been taking part in a crusade so far from home.



Apparently, Novare was already orphaned at this time but sufficiently educated that he could read to his master.  One day, Chappe invited the famous lord and lawyer, Ralph of Tiberias, to dinner in his tent, and Novare was asked to read aloud as entertainment.  Tiberias was so pleased with his reading that, when he fell ill, he asked Chappe to send Novare to him. In his memoirs, Novare admits that he was not pleased with this assignment, but he was an obedient boy and for the next three months found himself spending hours with the dying Tiberias.



It was a fateful meeting. Ralph of Tiberias has been called the “Socrates” of the baronial movement. He was, according to Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, “an inspiration to succeeding generations…the sovereign of cleverness in court cases and in speaking beautifully and highly.”[i] At this man’s knee Novare learned the laws of Jerusalem and made Novare’s fortune.



But his future was not clear, much less bright, in 1218 when Tiberias died. Fortunately, the orphaned and still very young Novare was given an undefined place in the household of John d’Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut.  Beirut and Tiberias had been friends, so one assumes that Tiberias commended Novare to Beirut’s keeping on his deathbed. As Novare grew up, he evidently moved from page to squire and was, eventually knighted. At some point before 1228 Novare was granted a fief on Cyprus by Beirut, and later one on the mainland as well, but they could not have been very large or very lucrative because Novare remained “poor.” Indeed, he makes multiple albeit vague references to his debts which were evidently so infamous that his enemies used them to try to manipulate him.  His financial embarrassment did not end until Queen Alice paid all his accumulated debts and granted him a money fief worth 1,000 marks of silver for convincing the High Court of Jerusalem to recognize her claim to be Queen in 1243.


This royal grant and the peace that came with the fall of the last Imperial stronghold, Tyre, paved the way for Novare to devote more of his time to legal activities and writing. His “History,” the account of the civil war 1228-1243 which is the basis of most of our knowledge of this conflict, was written shortly after the end of the war. His book on the laws and legal norms of the Kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem, the Livre de forme de plait, appeared sometime around 1250. His last book, a philosophical reflection on the four ages of man (Les Quatre Ages de l’homme) was written shortly before his death in 1265. In addition to these major works, Novare tells us that he wrote poems on love, politics, and religion. Only a few of these have survived, but enough to testify to his wit, humor, and talent, even if he does not rank among the great poets of his age.



What is striking about Philip de Novare’s life is that a man of obscure origins and limited financial resources could gain so much stature by his scholarship in the mid-thirteenth century crusader states. Novare was viewed by contemporaries as “the best pleader [i.e. lawyer] this side of the sea.”[ii] He was admired for this. His services were in demand, and he was influential as a result. That says a great deal about the society in which he lived: that it valued intellectual as well as military prowess, and that it was less bigoted and class-conscious than many assume.



Equally striking is that Novare was a man of action as well as letters. While so many chronicles were drafted in the peace and isolation of monasteries by men who had no familiarity with the clash of weapons much less the events described, Novare’s “history” was conceived as an autobiography. Novare knows his subject ― too well, some modern historians argue. Writing an autobiography, Novare makes no attempt at objectivity.  Novare is telling his story as he saw it. His friends and patrons are the heroes; their enemies are his enemies.

Novare was a close friend of Balian the younger, the eldest son of Beirut. They were much the same age, and the fact that Novare often refers to the younger Ibelin as his “compeer,” suggests they may have served together as squires and so earned their spurs together. Certainly, the first personal action Novare describes entails him refusing to take an oath of homage to the imperial baillies on Cyprus in order to remain true to “his lord,” the Old Lord of Beirut, John d’Ibelin.  Yet, after being pilloried for his “treason” and narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Philip sends a plea for help to his “compeer” Balian d’Ibelin, a youth without the resources to actually help. It is as if Novare, at this point just 23-years-old, is too in awe of Beirut to write him directly. He trusts that his “compeer” Balian will persuade his powerful father to come to his rescue.



Having so publicly cast his lot with the Ibelins, Novare had no choice but to stand by them through all that was to come. He took part in the sieges of Kantara and St. Hilarion in 1229, receiving a wound at the latter.  He also composed satirical songs about the plight of the Imperial garrisons, and poems predicting the treachery of the enemy after Beirut pardoned his enemies. Novare took part in the attempt to relieve Beirut in 1232, accompanied Balian of Beirut to Tripoli on his diplomatic mission to gain the support of the Prince of Antioch, and he negotiated the surrender of the citadel at Kyrenia and Famagusta. Significantly, when in early 1233, the Lord of Beirut had a falling out with his heir Balian because of the latter’s marriage, Novare was one of just five knights who stood by the younger Ibelin. He took part in Balian’s daring and dangerous charge up the slope at the Battle of Agridi.


We know very little about Novare’s marriage. His wife has not been positively identified but was probably Stephanie, the daughter of a Cypriot knight Berthelmy du Morf. We know of only one child that came of this marriage, a son baptized Balian after Philip’s “compeer,” Balian of Beirut. The marriage does not appear to have been particularly happy. Novare says nothing about it or his wife in any of his (surviving) writings, yet he exhibited clearly misogynous tendencies. For example, he argued against the right of daughters to inherit except when there was no male heir, an extreme position in Outremer, where women were recognized as heiress, regents, and guardians. Many of Novare’s contemporaries argued the contrary, underlining the fact that his hostility to female inheritance was not “the norm.” Novare also expressed doubts about the value of education for girls; again an extreme position in a society in which most noblewomen were highly educated. 



Novare’s final work, The Four Ages of Man, provides us with his own reflections on his rich life.  In retrospect, Novare divided life into four phases of twenty years each. The first phase of life, he says, is “childhood,” a period of learning from one’s elders. The second phase “youth,” is a period characterized (for both men and women) by “love, sin and folly, and of impetuous acts of violence and revolt.”[iii] Middle age, by contrast, is the when a man develops his greatest virtues and accomplishes his greatest achievements. It is characterized in men by prudence, loyalty, and moderation, but, tellingly, Novare claims that in women “middle age” is a period of even greater folly than youth. Novare claims that women between 40 and 60 seek to regain their youth by affairs with younger men. (This sounds remarkably like a man speaking from bitter experience and then generalizing to an entire sex!) Finally, the last twenty years of life, “old age,” is a period granted by a benevolent God to give man time to “recall adequately God’s kindness and the debts he owes to his Creator.”[iv]

If we apply this measuring rod to Novare’s own life we see it matches remarkably well with the phases he lived through. From ca. 1205 to 1225 he was still learning at the knee of Tiberias and then Beirut. The two decades from 1225 to 1245 encompass all the deeds described in his history of the baronial revolt ― from his impetuous declaration of loyalty to the Ibelins when surrounded by Imperial loyalists and his taunting of his enemies with song, to his various, sometimes daring, deeds at arms.  The next twenty years, however, witness his rise to prominence as a lawyer and scholar. It is in these years that Novare is an advisor to kings. As he settles down to write his final work, however, his attention has turned to the hereafter.  He is clearly reflecting on his own feelings when he says the years after age sixty are a blessing. Most of his contemporaries, after all, including the Old Lord of Beirut and his “compeer” Balian, died before they reached that age. Nor did Novare live much beyond this marker. His name no longer appears as a witness after 1264 and his eldest son appears on the witness lists in 1269. Sometime between those two dates, Philip de Novare died.




[i] Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174 – 1277. MacMillan, 1973, p. 122.
[ii] La Monte, John. The Wars of Frederick II Against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus by Philip de Novare. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 12.
[iii] La Monte, p. 14.
[iv] Ibid.



Philip de Novare is an important character in my new series of novels set in Outremer in the early 13th century. His account is the primary source for the events described from the Sixth Crusade to the civil war in the crusader states.

Buy Now!

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: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Rise of the House of Ibelin


Last week I challenged the common myth about the peaceful reception of Guy de Lusignan on Cyprus. There is, however, another “myth” which I question: namely the late arrival of the Ibelins on Cyprus.  Throughout the 13th Century, the Ibelins were the dominant family in Outremer, challenging the Holy Roman Emperor on both the mainland and on Cyprus. Significantly, they consistently enjoyed the favor of the Lusignan kings. This, I believe, had roots in their pivotal role in establishing Lusignan rule in the first place. 


Historians such as Edbury posit that the Ibelins were inveterate opponents of the Lusignans until the early 13th century. They note that there is no record of Ibelins setting foot on the island of Cyprus before 1210 and insist that it is “certain” they were not among the early settlers―while admitting that it is impossible to draw up a complete list of the early settlers. Edbury, furthermore, admits that “it is not possible to trace [the Ibelin’s] rise in detail” yet argues it was based on close ties to King Hugh I. Close? Hugh was the son of a cousin, which in my opinion is not terribly “close” kinship.



Even more difficult to understand in the conventional version of events is that the Ibelins became so powerful and entrenched that within just seven years (1217) of their supposed “first appearance” on Cyprus an Ibelin was appointed regent of Cyprus, presumably with the consent of the Cypriot High Court--that is the barons and bishops of the island who had supposedly been on the island far longer.  Furthermore, it ignored closer relative. This hardly seems possible if the Ibelins were not already considered a "leading" family on Cyprus.



My thesis and the basis of my novel The Last Crusader Kingdom is that while the second generation of Ibelins (that is, Baldwin and Balian d’Ibelin) were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, they were on friendly terms with Aimery de Lusignan.  Aimery was, for a start, married to Baldwin’s daughter, Eschiva.  We have references, furthermore, to them “supporting” Aimery as late as Saladin’s invasion of 1183. I think the Ibelins were very capable of distinguishing between the two Lusignan brothers, and judging Aimery for his own strengths rather than condemning him for his brother’s weaknesses.



Furthermore, the conventional argument that Balian d’Ibelin died in late 1193 because he disappears from the charters of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at that date is reasonable -- but not compelling. The fact that Balian d’Ibelin disappears from the records of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1193 may mean that he died, but it could just as easily mean that he was occupied elsewhere. The Ibelin brothers of the next generation, John and Philip, "disappear" from the records of Jerusalem from 1210 to 1217 too, but they were very much alive, active and powerful -- one in Beirut and the other apparently on Cyprus.

In short, Balian's disappearance from the records of Jerusalem could also have been because he was busy on Cyprus. The lack of documentary proof for his presence on Cyprus is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of his presence because 1) the Kingdom of Cyprus did not yet exist so there was no chancery and no elaborate system for keeping records, writs and charters etc., and 2) those who would soon make Cyprus a kingdom were probably busy fighting 100,000 outraged Orthodox Greeks on the island!



But why would Balian d’Ibelin go to Cyprus at this time? 

Because his wife, Maria Comnena, was a Byzantine princess. Not just that, she was related to the last Greek “emperor” of the island, Isaac Comnenus.  She spoke Greek, understood the mentality of the population, and probably had good ties (or could forge them) to the Greek/Orthodox elites, secular and ecclesiastical, on the island. She had the means to help Aimery pacify his unruly realm, and Balian was a proven diplomat par excellence, who would also have been a great asset to Aimery.




If one accepts that Guy de Lusignan failed to pacify the island in his short time as lord, then what would have been more natural than for his successor, Aimery, to appeal to his wife’s kin for help in getting a grip on his unruly inheritance?



If Balian d’Ibelin and Maria Comnena played a role in helping Aimery establish his authority on Cyprus, it is nearly certain they would have been richly rewarded with  lands/fiefs on the island once the situation settled down. Such feudal holdings would have given the Ibelins a seat on the High Court of Cyprus, which explains their influence on it. Furthermore, these Cypriot estates would most likely have fallen to their younger son, Philip, because their first born son, John, was heir to their holdings in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  John was first Constable of Jerusalem, then Lord of the hugely important port city of Beirut, and finally, after King Aimery’s death, regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his niece.  Philip, on the other hand, was constable of Cyprus under Hugh I and later regent of Cyprus for Henry I ― notably despite the fact that his elder brother was still alive at the time.



The role of the Ibelins -- and particularly Maria Comnena -- needs to be rethought, but in the absence of hard evidence I have done so in novel form. 

Read the story in:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Creation of the Kingdom of Cyprus

The history of Outremer in the 13th century was materially altered by the establishment of a stable Latin Kingdom on the island of Cyprus.  It is important to understand how this kingdom came into being and the role the Ibelins played in its development before looking more closely at the civil war of the 13th century. 

 Unfortunately, the sources for the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus are not only scanty but dubious. After much research, I developed two theses that challenge existing historiography. The first of those thesis is presented below.


We know that Richard I of England, having conquered Cyprus in May 1191, sold it to the Knights Templar for 100,000 bezants in July of the same year. According to Peter Edbury, the leading modern historian of medieval Cyprus, their rule was “rapacious and unpopular,” resulting in a revolt in April 1192. Although a Templar sortie temporarily scattered the rebels, the causes of the revolt were hardly addressed and the latent threat of continued/renewed violence was clear. In the circumstances, the Grand Master of the Templars recognized that his Order would have to invest considerable manpower to regain control of the island.  He also recognized that he did not have the resources to fight in both Cyprus and Syria. In consequence, he gave precedence (as he must) to the struggle on the mainland, the Holy Land itself, against the Saracens. The Templars duly returned the island to Richard of England.



Richard promptly sold the island a second time, this time to Guy de Lusignan. Guy de Lusignan had been crowned and anointed King of Jerusalem in 1186 in a coup d’etat engineered by his wife, Sibylla. Although widely viewed as a usurper, the bulk of the barons submitted to his rule in order to fight united against the much superior forces of Saladin that threatened the Kingdom. Guy, however, proceeded to prove the low-opinion of his barons correct by promptly leading the entire Christian army to an avoidable defeat on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187. He spent roughly a year in Saracen captivity, while his Kingdom fell city by city and castle by castle to Saladin, until only the city of Tyre remained. Needless to say, this further discredited him with the surviving barons, prelates, and burghers of his kingdom. His claim to the crown of Jerusalem was undermined fatally when his wife, through whom he had gained it, died in November 1190. Although Guy continued to style himself “King of Jerusalem,” a fiction at first bolstered by King Richard of England’s support, by April 1192 King Richard had also given up on him. Bowing to the High Court of Jerusalem, Richard acknowledged Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. The sale of Cyprus to Guy was evidently a means of compensating him for the loss of his kingdom of Jerusalem.



Guy may have left for Cyprus at once, in which case he would have arrived in April 1192.  However, this is far from certain because the Third Crusade was still being conducted.  It is unlikely that Guy would have been able to recruit many knights to accompany him as long as Richard the Lionheart was still fighting for Jerusalem and Jaffa. A more likely date for Guy’s arrival on Cyprus is therefore October 1192, after Richard’s departure for the West. 

Guy was apparently accompanied by a small group of Frankish lords and knights whose lands had been lost to Saladin in 1187/1188 and not been recaptured in the course of the Third Crusade. The names of only a few are known. These include Humphrey de Toron, Renier de Jubail, Reynald Barlais, Walter de Bethsan, and Galganus de ChenechĂ©. (Guy's older brother Aimery is notably absent.) 

Guy would have arrived on an island that was either still in a state of open rebellion or completely lawless. Admittedly, historian George Hill (who was actually an expert in ancient history, coins and iconography rather than a medievalist), tries to explain how Guy arrived on an island eagerly awaiting him by inventing (that is the only word one can use since he sites no source) the story that the Templars “slew the Greeks indiscriminately like sheep; a number of Greeks who sought asylum in a church were massacred; the mounted Templars rode through [Nicosia] spitting on their lances everyone they could reach; the streets ran with blood…The Templars rode through the land, sacking villages and spreading desolation, for the population of both cities and villages fled to the mountains.” (George Hill, A History of Cyprus, Volume 2: The Frankish Period 1192 – 1432,” Cambridge University Press, 1948, p. 37.)



There’s a serious problem with this lurid tale. (Quite aside from the technical one of lances being unsuitable for spitting multiple victims.) As Hill himself admits, the Templars had just fourteen knights on Cyprus and 29 sergeants; the Greek population of the island at this time was roughly 100,000. Yes, in a surprise sortie to fight their way out of Nicosia and flee to Acre (as we know they did), the Templars would surely have killed many civilians, including innocent ones. It is unlikely, however, that the fleeing Templars would have taken the time to stop and slaughter people collected in a church; that would have given the far more numerous armed insurgents (who had forced them to seek refuge in their commandery in the first place) to rally, attack and kill them. They certainly did not have the time and resources to slaughter people in other cities and towns scattered over nearly 10,000 square kilometers of island. In short, we can be sure the Templars slaughtered enough people to be remembered with hatred, but not enough to break the resistance to Latin rule, much less to denude the island of its population. If nothing else, if they had broken the resistance, they would not have fled to Acre, admitted defeat and urged the Grand Chapter to return Cyprus to Richard of England!



Despite the absurdity of the notion that Guy arrived on a peaceful island willing to receive him without resistance, most histories today repeat a charming story. Namely: as soon as Guy arrived on Cyprus he sent to his arch-enemy Saladin for advice on how to rule it. What is more, the ever chivalrous and wise Sultan graciously responded that “if he wants the island to be secure he must give it all away.” (See Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191 – 1374, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 16.) Allegedly, based on this advice, Guy invited settlers from all the Christian countries of the eastern Mediterranean to settle on Cyprus, offering everyone rich rewards and making them marry the local women. According to this fairy tale, the disposed peoples of Syria, both high and low, flooded to Cyprus and were rewarded with rich fiefs, until Guy had only enough land to support just 20 household knights, but after that everyone lived happily ever after.



History isn’t like that, although―often―there is a kernel of truth in such legends. I think it is fair to assume that very many of the men and women who had lost their lands and livelihoods to the Saracens after Hattin did eventually come to settle on Cyprus, but I question that they arrived in the first two years after Guy acquired the island. The reason I doubt this is simple. The Knights Templar had just abandoned the island because it would be too costly, time-consuming and difficult to pacify.  In short, whoever came to Cyprus with Guy in early or late 1192 would not have found an empty island―much less one full of happy natives waiting to welcome them with song and flowers. On the contrary, they were already in active rebellion against the Templars and ready to resist further attempts by the Latins to control and dominate them. Perhaps the one sentence about making the settlers marry local women is a hint to a more chilling reality: that, after years of resistance to Latin rule, when the settlers finally came, they found a local population with few young men but many young widows.


Furthermore, we know that at no time in his life did Guy de Lusignan distinguish himself by wisdom or common sense. He had alienated his brother-in-law King Baldwin IV and nearly the entire High Court of Jerusalem within just three years of his marriage to Sibylla.  He lost his entire kingdom in a disastrous and unnecessary campaign less than a year after he was crowned king. He started a strategically nonsensical siege of Acre that consumed crusader lives and resources for three years. He did nothing of note the entire time Richard the Lionheart was in the Holy Land. Is it really credible that he then took control of a rebellious island (that the Templars thought beyond their capacity to pacify) and set everything right in less than two years?



I think not. 

And Guy had only two years because he died in 1194, either in April/May or toward the end of the year depending on which source one consults. That is too little time even for a more competent leader to be the architect of Cyprus’ success. That honor belongs, I believe, to his older brother, the ever competent Aimery de Lusignan, who was lord of Cyprus not two years but eleven. 


It was certainly Aimery, who obtained a crown by submitting the island to the Holy Roman Emperor, and it was Aimery who established a Latin church hierarchy on the island. Indeed, there is ample evidence of Aimery’s able administration of both Cyprus and, from 1197 to 1205, the Kingdom of Jerusalem as well.  It was Aimery de Lusignan who collected the oral tradition for the laws of Jerusalem (that had worked so well) and had them written down in a legal codex known as The Book of the King.  Thus, it was Aimery, who founded not only the dynasty that would last three hundred years, but also laid the legal and institutional foundations that would serve Cyprus so well into the 15th century. 

In short, in my opinion, far more likely that it was Aimery, not Guy, who brought settlers in―after first pacifying the native population and institutionalizing tolerance for the Orthodox church that mirrored the customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is this thesis that forms the basis of: The Last Crusader Kingdom: Founding of a Dynasty in 12th Century Cyprus.

My second revisionist thesis concerning the Ibelins will be the subject of my next entry.

My novel, The Last Crusader Kingdom, is available in both ebook and trade paperback formats. You can buy it now on amazon. Remember, books make great Christmas presents!