This blog is dedicated to discussing the Crusader Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus. I will post information about the history and legacy of these remarkable kingdoms, as well as post reviews of books relevant to the crusades and the Crusader Kingdoms.
I have joined the Real Crusades History team and will posting simultaneously to the Real Crusades History Blog.
Friday, September 26, 2014
"The Leper King" by Bernard Hamilton -- A Review
Baldwin IV as depicted in "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Bernard Hamilton's The Leper King and his Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem is an excellent, detailed and
well-documented account of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem in the late 12th
century. It focuses on the quarter century of Baldwin IV's life span, 1161 to
1186. This was a particularly critical period in the history of the crusader
kingdom, and Hamilton's book provides details too often skipped over or even
blurred together in accounts that try to cover the whole two hundred years of
crusader history. Furthermore, Hamilton provides an excellent summary of his
sources up front and impresses with his familiarity with not only Latin and
Arab, but Greek, Jewish and Armenian sources.
Particularly impressive is Hamilton's treatment
of Reynald de Chatillon. Chatillon is usually depicted as a rogue adventurer,
more robber than baron, and often blamed for the war with Saladin. Hamilton, in
contrast, effectively defends many of Chatillon's most controversial actions.
While not denying his violent and ambitious character, Hamilton convincingly
argues that Chatillon followed sound strategic principles when launching his
raids into Sinai, putting Christian warships in the Red Sea, and even when
breaking the truce with Saladin to attack a heavily armed caravan.
Reynald de Chatillon as depicted in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Hamilton's treatment of Raymond of Tripoli is
less convincing. He tries to paint Tripoli as a treasonous threat to the
throne, and even suggests that Sibylla's marriage to Guy de Lusignan was
arranged by King Baldwin in an attempt to prevent a coup by Tripoli. The
evidence is very weak for this and contradicted by other accounts, notably the
Chronicles of Ernoul, that other historians have followed. Furthermore, Baldwin
soon withdrew his favor from Lusignan, while Sibylla remained remarkably loyal to her ineffective husband -- two historical facts that give credence to the more common intepretation of
a love-affair between Lusignan and Sibylla forcing the king's hand. But even
here, where Hamilton's arguments are weak, he presents them cogently and names
his sources, leaving the reader in a good position to judge for himself which
interpretation of history he finds more compelling.
Where this book falls short of the mark is in
the essential biographical function of making the subject come to life. For all
his meticulous reporting on what happend during "the Leper King's"
reign, Hamilton singularly fails to get inside the leprous skin of his subject
and help us understand him. We are given no inkling of what he was thinking and
feeling, why he behaved in certain ways, how he succeeded in winning the undoubted loyalty of his subjects despite his illness or what motivated him at critical
junctions. We are not even told until the epilogue that he was chaste but not
Baldwin IV - another image from "The Kingdom of Heaven" -- that brought him more to life than this biography.
Baldwin IV of Jerusalem deserves a better
biography precisely because despite his severe handicap he successfully held
his kingdom together in a very difficult period, and despite his severe
physical handicap he repeatedly defeated Saladin on the battlefield. He also
pursued a highly sophisticated foreign policy, which showed profound
understanding of the geopolitical position of his kingdom. I would like to read
a book that explores the character and psyche of such a man; Hamilton's history unfortunately does not.
Baldwin IV plays a major role in the first two volumes of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:
Book I: Knight of Jerusalem A landless knight, a leper king, and the struggle for Jerusalem. ' Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!