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.
For more information visit: http://defenderofjerusalem.com
and the Frenchman of yesterday have been transplanted…We have already forgotten
the land of our birth; who now remembers it? Men no longer speak of it…Every
day relatives and friends…come to join us. They do not hesitate to leave
everything they have behind them. Indeed…he who was poor attains riches here.
He who had no more than a few pennies finds himself in possession of a
A description of the United States in the late 19th
No, the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1125.
Long before the discovery of the “New World,” before the
rise from rags-to-riches became known as “the American dream,” and before the
Statue of Liberty became of symbol of the United States, the crusader states
briefly experimented with building a “melting-pot” society that welcomed
immigrants and drew ambitious young men like a beacon.
Obviously, there were huge differences. The crusader
states were carved out of territory that had been inhabited by great civilizations
for longer than we have written records. The crusaders did not come to a “new”
world, but rather occupied a biblical one—literally. Yet the “land of milk and
honey” that the crusaders conquered (or liberated, depending on your
perspective) was not so densely populated that it could not accommodate
immigrants. On the contrary, while always a minority, within less than 100
years the immigrant population (first and second generations) made up roughly
22% of the total population. More importantly, the immigrants had contributed
greatly to a renaissance in agricultural production and to an economic boom. More
land had been brought under cultivation, new settlements had been established,
abandoned cities brought back to life and sleepy coastal ports turned into
All that was possible because the crusader states
offered immigrants opportunities they did not have at home—not on the same
scale or in the same way as America would 600 years later—but in the context of
the 12th century. For a start, the immigrants to the crusader states
were by definition all freemen. Serfs could not leave their land and could not
go on a pilgrimage half-way across the known world. Thus all the men and women who
went to the crusader states were free before they left, and if they stayed in
the crusader states they enjoyed the status of “burghers” not “peasants.”
Likewise the merchant classes in the crusader states
enjoyed an exceptional degree of prosperity and status. This was because the Italian
city states had provided the naval power necessary to expand crusader control.
With the help of Genoese, Pisan and Venetian fleets, the crusaders had spread
out from isolated inland cities (Jerusalem, Antioch and Edessa) to claim hold
of the entire coastline of the Levant. The capture of key coastal cities such
as Acre, Tyre, Tripoli and Beirut had only been possible because of the naval
blockades set up by the Italian fleets while the “Frankish” (crusader) land forces besieged
or assaulted these cities by land. The financially savvy Italian city-states
had, however, “lent” their fighting ships to the crusader cause in exchange for
trading privileges in the cities they helped capture. The “communes” they
established in these crusader cities not only enjoyed valuable monopolies on
trade, they were also largely autonomous, governing their affairs with little
interference from their nominal feudal overlords.
Those feudal overlords were, furthermore, in many ways
“self-made” men quite different from modern stereotypes of medieval lords. Social mobility in the 12th century
was considerably greater than most people think. Men could be knighted for
bravery and allowed to start living on the fringes of aristocratic society.
Girls with sufficient dowries, regardless of how obtained, could marry into the
gentry.And younger sons and landless
knights could seek to make their fortune either on the tournament circuit —or
Even the Kings of Jerusalem and the Counts of Tripoli
were derived from “cadet” branches of their respective noble houses. Baldwin II
of Jerusalem had an elder brother Eustace, who was passed over because Baldwin
was present in the East, a known quantity, while his elder brother was still in
France. The first Count of Tripoli was even less conventional: he was the
illegitimate son of Raymond of St. Gillies, one of the leaders of the First
Crusade, who died shortly before the successful capture of Tripoli.The Principality of Antioch, although founded
by the Prince of Taranto (a leader of the First Crusade and a Norman), soon fell into the hands of less exalted hands, when the family failed to produce male heirs. The Principality passed to a daughter, Constance, and she married first Raymond of Poitiers, the younger brother of the
Duke of Aquitaine, and then — and this is where it gets truly interesting — a
relatively low-born adventurer by the name of Reynald de Châtillon.
Reynald depicted in "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Châtillon exemplifies the opportunities that the crusader
states offered men of the feudal elite who lacked lands of their own. His
origins are obscure, but presumably came from a place in France called Châtillon,
Châtillon-sur-Loire has been suggested. He may have been the lord of it, or
simply hailed from there. He took part in the Second Crusade in the train King
Louis, but remained in the Holy Land after the French King had returned to
France. He evidently seduced the widowed Princess Constance of Antioch into a
secret marriage, and through her became Prince of Antioch—until her death. She
died while Reynald was in a Saracen prison, where he was incarcerated for no
less than 15 years! When he was released, his step-son, Constance’s son by her
first marriage, had come of age and had no room at his court for his step-father.
So Reynald promptly found another powerful, heiress, in this case the Lady of
Oultrejourdain, one of the most important baronies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Hollywood Guy de Lusignan
Of course, no adventurer topped the record of Guy de
Lusignan. Born the fourth son of a Poitevan lord, he distinguished himself by
being part of the rebellion against his feudal overlord Eleanor of Aquitaine
(not a great distinction, of course, as it was very common in this period),
possibly participated in the murder of the Earl of Salisbury, and then fled to
the Holy Land, where he promptly seduced and married the widowed heir-apparent
to the entire kingdom: Princess Sibylla of Jerusalem. His brother-in-law, the
dying Leper King, spent most of the rest of his reign trying to get rid of Guy
either via divorce or by check-mating his claims to the throne in various other
arrangements, but he ultimately failed and Guy de Lusignan became King of
Jerusalem. Within a year he’d led it to total desctruction.
While these are the spectacular and familiar cases of
young men “striking it rich” in the Holy Land, there were countless more
obscure examples. Sir Steven Runcimen notes in his essay "The Families of Outremer" (published by University of London, 1960) that many men who later attained power and peerage had no title to start with. Indeed, they were without any kind of last name when the arrived and were known simply as "Guy the Frenchman" or "Stephanie the Fleming." Runicman also points out that even apparent connections to noble families in the West were often not based on blood relations but rather on service. A case in point was the Falconberg family that became lords of Tiberias and were connected to the minor fief of Fauquembergue near Boulogne, but were descended from the custodian of the castle not the the lord. One of those adventurers of obscure origin was the father of Balian d'Ibelin, the hero of my novels.