Henry II's Effigy on his Tomb at Frontevralt.
Henry II of England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial kings. He is usually remembered for forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations of English Common Law.
He is not remembered as a crusader. This is because, although he took crusader vows, he never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home. Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulchre from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”
Yet a focus on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III (reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.
The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Baldwin IV suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is before this incipient succession crisis, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen. Baldwin IV sent these emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David first to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself. Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.
The Tower of David in Jerusalem, Seat of the Kings of Jerusalem
Henry II, as I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far from indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land. As early as 1172, when Henry II had become reconciled with the Church for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he had taken the cross and started accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm Barber writes in The Crusader States, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he eventually travelled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of 15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the Holy Land.
Manuscript Illustration of a 12th Century King
Since he did not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom in 1185 (at a time when the French and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were also to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Finally, when the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the Third Crusade got underway.
Meanwhile, however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was, but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin Tax” that came afterwards. Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and Hospitallers. Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his treasure having two very different uses.
In 1187, as Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of 45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000 knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200 additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187.
The Grand Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40 days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom, became slaves by right of conquest at the end of the 40 days.
At the time these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin Christian refugees in the city. He knew that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin already. They were in no position to pay their ransom. Ibelin therefore negotiated the release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars.
Sources differ, however, on where this money was to come from. Some suggest that it came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident that there were many more poor in the city than Ibelin had estimated – or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could. In the end, even Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….