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.
When we think of feudalism, we tend to think of a
hierarchical state with a king at the top enjoying all the benefits. In my
entry on The Ideal Feudal State, I pointed out that feudalism was in fact more
decentralized and consensual than is commonly thought. Today I want to draw
attention to some of the duties of
At the most elementary level, of course, kings owed
their subjects what all governments owe their citizens: security and
justice.The security component
consisted (then as now) of protection against foreign enemies (invasions,
Viking raids or terrorism etc.) and protection against lawlessness and crime. Then
as now that first duty bled into the second as fighting crime entails
administering justice, but justice is and was not confined to fighting crime
alone. Justice also includes a just administration of property, labor, scarce resources
such as water, and more.
The parallel to modern society is imperfect, however,
because feudal society was both more personal (men took oaths to individuals
not to abstract ideas) and more stratified. Feudal society was not based on the
principle that “all men are equal before the law” but rather on the notion that
rights and duties depended on one’s social position or class.
Fundamentally, society was divided into three classes
or estates: 1) those who worked, 2) those who prayed, and 3) those who ruled/administered
(not those who fought, as I’ll explain below). While this stratification
oversimplifies both the society itself and attitudes of the time, it is
nevertheless a useful structure for understanding feudal society and with it
the duties of kings.
The workers were responsible for the production of (first
and foremost) food, other necessities and luxuries. The more sophisticated the
society, the more complex this class was, so that it came to include everything
from serfs working the land to great merchants and craftsmen commanding
fortunes and ruling over armies of tradesmen, apprentices, servants and
laborers. Being a member of the “Third Estate” was not the same thing as being
poor! But the Third Estate was viewed as subordinate
to the other two: in spiritual matters to the Second Estate and in secular
matters to the First Estate.
The men who prayed (the Second Estate) were the
clergy, and again this segment of society included poor (e.g. parish priests
who lived little better than the peasants they served) and “princes of the church”
with vast estates and fortunes. Unlike the Third Estate, which was fragmented
into different professions with their own hierarchical structures, before the
Reformation all members of the Second Estate belonged to one, universal
(“Catholic”) church. All members of the Second Estate thus operated in a single,
well-defined hierarchy headed by the pope. Since the Catholic Church required
celibacy of its members, churchmen could not bequeath their lands, fortunes or
offices to their offspring (even if, as we know, they often had them!) On the
other hand, because members of the Second Estate were drawn from the other two,
and the Church as an institution often provided a means for the children of
poor parents to rise to positions of power, wealth and influence.
The First Estate is often described confusingly as a
class of warriors or “those who fight.” While even contemporary sources refer
to the First Estatein this way, the
description is misleading. On the one hand, 50% of this class, the women, did
not fight — but they were still members of the First Estate and often wielded
great power, including power over men and fighting forces.On the other hand, the bulk of fighting men
in any host were not drawn from the
First Estate, but rather from the Third; they were men engaged in the
profession of arms as mercenaries or feudal levies called up for a set period
It is more useful to look at the First Estate as the
secular ruling class, the people who exercised for and in the name of the king
his fundamental duties of providing protection and administering justice.
Because one man (or woman) could not alone perform either function, the king
depended upon the First Estate to provide military capability, enforce the law of
the land, and administer local justice. The First Estate was effectively the
executive branch, and as such it had a special relationship with the king.
Members of the First Estate were not mere subjects
of the king, they were also his deputies.
Understanding this helps explain why the king and his nobles had a special
relationship, a relationship founded on an exchange
To be precise, the exchange of oaths was only with the
upper strata of the First Estate, with the barons or tenants-in-chief. They
were called tenants-in-chiefs because in feudal theory all land belonged to the
king and he merely loaned it to his designated deputies, albeit on a hereditary basis. This meant the land
passed from the original recipient to his heirs in perpetuity — until the line
of the original recipient died out or he or his descendants failed to fulfill the
feudal duties associated with the loan of land (the enfeoffment). In either case
the land was forfeit to the crown.
The tenants-in-chief generally controlled far more
land than they could possibly manage and owed many more fighting men to the
crown than they could personally equip and provide (often in the hundreds), so
they in turn lent out their lands (again on a hereditary basis) to other men,
who owed them — the barons, not the king — fealty. The lowest tier in the First
Estate were simple “knights” holding a “simple” knight’s fief, meaning a fief
whose annual income was sufficient to support only a single knight (which was
not one individual but a fighting unit, as I explained in an earlier post.) If
a fief became too small or poor to support the expenses of a knight, the owner
slipped out of the First Estate and down into the Third, becoming nothing but a
tenant farmer. (This was to become a problem in the latter Middle Ages.) The
landowners holding land from a baron or bishop were called “rear tenants” and
belonged to the First Estate, but not to the baronage.
However, often lost beneath the customs, ceremony,
romance and idealism of chivalry is the fact that the relationship between a
king and his barons (and between lords and their rear-tenants) was
fundamentally one of fee (fief) for service. The Kingdom of Jerusalem shines
light on this relationship because many of the fiefs in the Kingdom of
Jerusalem were “money fiefs,” highlighting the monetary component of feudal
service.Whereas elsewhere it was more
common for a king (or lord) to bestow land that
was expected to produce enough income to support a set number of knights,
in Jerusalem the king frequently paid a set amount of money outright in exchange
for the service of a set number of fighting men. Significantly, La Monte points
out in Feudal Monarchy in the Latin
Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291, many money fiefs were granted with the
provision that “if the revenues specifically granted [were] not forthcoming,
the amount promised [would] be made up from...the general revenues of the kingdom.” The distinction between a fief and
wages in these circumstances is approaching minimal, albeit a fief could be
bequeathed, while wages could not. The more common practice of granting land
deemed to be worth a certain income, of course, obscured and weakened this
monetary component of the king’s duties to his vassals because the value of
land could vary over time based on many factors from acts of God (draught,
flood, fire etc.) and through good or poor management.
Regardless of the nature of the fief, the relationship
between the king and his barons/tenants-in-chief was a direct and personal one.
It requiring the renewal of the oath each time a monarch died and was
succeeded. The oath of a vassal was furthermore, neither unconditional nor unlimited. For example, in Jerusalem the king could not command feudal service outside the borders of the kingdom, either for offensive operations (e.g. against Cairo or Damascus) or even in the defense of the neighboring states of Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa. Another important limit on service was that no man was required to personally render knight's service after he reached the age of 60. Critically — and often overlooked nowadays — is that the oath of
fealty was a two-way bond. Not only did the vassal swear loyalty to the king,
but vice versa. Thus, Richard I of England, as the liege lord of the Lords of
Lusignan, was obligated by feudal custom to support Guy de Lusignan’s claims to
the throne of Jerusalem.
While the case of a vassal being anointed king
elsewhere and then needing support is a rare one, a far more frequent
occurrence were attacks on a vassal's lands — by brigands, raiders, enemy troops.Attacks might come from a common enemy like
the Saracens or Vikings, or simply from a neighbor, who owed allegiance to a
different king (think of the situation in France during the long wars between the
Plantagenets and Capets, or the Hundred Years War).Simply put, if a vassal did not have the
military strength to defend his own territory, he could call upon the king to
come to his aid. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where the threat of Saracen
invasion was ever-present, the constitution explicitly stated that failure on
the part of the king to protect the lands of a vassal automatically absolved
the vassal of his oath.
In general terms, then, the duties of a king to his
barons was payment and protection, but in the Kingdom of Jerusalem there was
(at least) one more duty — one that particularly appeals to me, that of “restor.”Restor was the duty of the king to replace or reimburse any knight or
noble whose horse was mutilated or killed in battle while serving the king. Indeed,
it was one of the most important duties of the Marshal of Jerusalem to assess
the value of all knights’ and noble’s horses before any campaign/engagement, to
assess the value of horses captured during an engagement, then then either replace
horses injured or killed with captured horses of equivalent value or reimburse
the knight/noble the monetary value of the lost stallion. This custom highlights the importance horses
had to the military establishment and social status in the feudal age; see my entry on crusader horses.
Balian d’Ibelin’s stallions are important characters
in all three parts of my biographical novel about Balian, and the duties of
kings and vassals is natural a fundamental component of the historical
Crusade, in which a host originally raised to relieve the Holy Land was instead
deployed to attack and sack the Christian city of Constantinople, is usually
described as an act of perfidy, barbarity and Western arrogance. Even at the
time, it was highly controversial, with many of the initial crusaders, (e.g.
Simon de Montfort the Elder and his sons) refusing to take part.
historical event is without its antecedents, and the Fourth Crusade is no
exception. There was a long and complex history of interaction between the West
and the Byzantine Empire that included both periods of cooperation and periods
of deep suspicion, hostility and conflict. While that long history is beyond the
scope of a blog entry, two important incidents of that history go a long way to
explaining the Fourth Crusade.
After a long and
mutually productive alliance between the Eastern Roman Empire and the
city-state of Venice, tensions began to develop in the mid-12th
century. The Venetians opposed the
Byzantine Emperor’s expansion in Dalmatia and his aggressive policies in
Southern Italy. Meanwhile, the Venetian enclaves in the Byzantine Empire and
especially in Constantinople were increasingly resented by the local
population, who considered them arrogant and insufferable — largely because
they were exempt from certain taxes and had become extremely wealthy. So, in a move reminiscent of Philip IV of
France’s arrest of the Templars 147 years later, on March 12, 1171, Emperor
Manuel I ordered the simultaneous arrest of all Venetians in his realm by the
local authorities. He then confiscated
all their property and held the captives prisoner.
Venice launched a naval expedition to free
the prisoners, but it was repelled and negotiations for the release of the
prisoners got nowhere. For the time being, Venice had to capitulate, but the
insult, the massive loss of wealth and loss of freedom for thousands of
citizens was not something proud Venice was prepared to forget. Venice had good
reason to hate the Byzantine Empire and to want revenge in 1204.
Venice’s rivals Pisa and Genoa initially benefited from the abrupt elimination
of Venetian presence in the Byzantine Empire.
For just over a decade, they basked in the sun of Imperial favor,
expanding their own trading empires, especially after the death of Manuel I with
the ascension of his 11 year old son, Alexius II. Alexius II was the son of a Latin princess,
namely the Princess Maria of Antioch, and she and her lover pursued a decidedly
“pro-Western” policy — which soon aroused the hostility of the bureaucracy and
the people in Constantinople. The anti-Western faction in the capital found an
ally in the ambition of an uncle of the late Manuel I, and in April 1182 the mob was
set loose on the Latin population in Constantinople.
Charles M. Brand in his history Byzantium
Confronts the West, 1180-1204, (Harvard University Press, 1968): “The
populace turned on the merchants, their families, and the Catholic monks and
clerics who lived in the crowded quarters along the Golden Horn…When the mobs
attacked, no attempt at defense was made. The crowds raced through the streets
seeking Latins. The choicest victims were the helpless: women and children, the
aged and the sick, priests and monks. They were killed in streets and houses,
dragged from hiding places and slaughtered. Dwellings and churches full of
refugees were burned, and at the Hospital of the Knights of St. John, the sick
were murdered in their beds. The clergy
were the particular objects of the crowd’s hatred. The head of the pope’s
emissary, Cardinal John, was cut off and dragged through the streets on the
tail of a dog….The Orthodox clergy took the lead in searching out concealed
Latins to deliver to the killers.”
massacre of a few thousand people justify the Sack of Constantinople in 1204?
Certainly not! But if the terror attacks of September 11, 2000 could fill a
modern democracy with rage and the desire for revenge — including the
willingness to conduct long, drawn-out and expensive wars in distant places and
assassinations — than it is only reasonable to factor in the anger this
massacre incited in the West when analyzing the causes of the Fourth Crusade.
Balian d'Ibelin's wife was a Byzantine Princess, Maria Comnena and the relationship between the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Byzantine Empire plays a minor role in my biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin. The first and second books in the series are already available for purchase.
most fundamental function of any state is the administration of justice. It is
when a government fails to deliver justice that it loses its legitimacy, and
either becomes tyrannical or starts to disintegrate into anarchy. This is what
makes the study of legal systems so essential to the understanding and
assessment of the legitimacy and efficacy of any government. The legal system
in the Kingdom of Jerusalem is no exception.
Fundamental to an
effective system of justice is that the participants accept and recognize the
legitimacy of the legal authorities. This is notoriously difficult when the
administrators of justice speak a different language, have a different faith,
or follow different legal traditions from the subjects of the legal system. As
a result, the imposition of law by an invading force is inherently challenging,
and wise conquerors have generally been cautious about replacing local law and
custom with their own system.
The Kingdom of
Jerusalem faced a particularly daunting challenge, because from its inception the
Kingdom of Jerusalem was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and religiously diverse
state.Quite aside from the new comers
from Western Europe, the native population of the Holy Land was already
polyglot and non-homogeneous when the men of the First Crusade arrived. There
were, for example, still Jews living in the Holy Land, although their numbers
were comparatively small, a large portion of the native population had
converted to Islam at some point in the more than four hundred years since the
first Arab invasion. However, often forgotten by modern commentators, the
majority of the population was composed of Orthodox Christians. These, in turn
were composed not only of Syrian Orthodox Christians (both Maronite and Jacobite),
but also Greek, Armenian, Coptic and even Ethiopian Orthodox communities.
The rulers of
the crusader states responded intelligently to the challenge confronting them
by allowing a network of partially over-lapping local courts (in the
vernacular) to continue, while adding two additional courts for the newcomers,
the High Court (see separate entry) and the Low Court.They then followed the overriding principle
of judgement by one’s peers, supplemented by two corollary principles: that in
disputes between individuals from different strata of society, the case should
be tried before the peers of the weaker (lower) person, and in cases between
individuals from different ethnic groups of the same strata, the case should be
brought before the peers of the defendant.
The practical outcome
of this theoretical approach is that in all matters of family and religious
law, the residents of the crusader states sought resolution from the religious
authorities of their respective religion whether Islam, Judaism, one of the many
forms of Orthodoxy, or before Latin Christian (Catholic) ecclesiastical courts.
In rural areas, furthermore, civil and criminal cases not involving a Frank
were tried before local/native judges in accordance with the laws and customs
predating the First Crusade.
In urban areas,
however, the intermingling of peoples was too great to allow such a simple rule,
and the Cour de la Fond evolved for
the resolution of commercial cases and the Cour
de la Chaine evolved for the resolution of maritime disputes. In each, a
representative of the lord presided over the court as “bailli,” but did not
rule on a case. Rather, the case was tried by six jurors drawn from the same
class of the parties to the dispute. So, for example, in the Cour de la Chaine, the jurors had to be
sailors or merchants. Of these, two were Franks and four natives, a ratio that
clearly favored the Franks on a national scale, but may have roughly reflected
the composition of urban populations because a large portion of new immigrants
were city dwellers, and, correspondingly, a larger portion of the rural
population was native.
was an exception to the jurisdiction of these court, which again recognized the
diversity of the population: the independent “communes” or urban colonies of
the Italian city states were granted the right rule on cases involving their
own members in accordance to their own laws and before their own courts. Thus
two Venetians would be tried by the laws of Venice, and Pisans by the laws of
Pisa etc. Disputes between members of different communes, however, would be
tried in the courts of the defendant.
During the first
century of the crusader states, however, the communes were a comparatively
small minority and the bulk of the Frankish population was drawn from all
across Western Europe from Norway to Sicily. These residents of the crusader
states were Westerners, whose common language was Latin/French, and making them
subject to the local Syrian courts would have been illogical and unacceptable. Instead, a new court, the Cour des Bourgeois, or Low Court,was created to address criminal and civil cases involving
non-noble Franks that did not fall within the jurisdiction of the commercial or
maritime courts. Although often translated into English as the Lower Court, the Cour de Bourgeois was theonly
court for disputes involving burghers or bourgeois residents. The High Court
was not an appellate court; it was
the court for disputes between members of the First Estate or feudal elite, i.e. knights,
nobles, and vassals of the king.
In the Cour de Bourgeois cases were tried
before a “viscount” appointed by the local lord (e.g. the King in royal
domains, the Prince of Galilee in Galilee, the Count of Jaffa in Jaffa and
Ascalon, the Lord of Oultrejourdain, Ibelin, Sidon etc. in their respective
baronies), and twelve jurors. The viscount like the baillis of the other courts
did not have a say in the verdict or sentence but was charged with ensuring due
process, maintaining order in the courtroom, and enforcing the sentences pronounced
by the jurors.
the various Cour de Bourgeois met
more regularly than the High Court, presumably because they had more business
to conduct given the larger numbers of burgers compared to nobles. Another
striking feature of these courts was the right of the litigants to request
“counsel” from the court. If requested (and it was highly recommended by the
medieval commentators!), the court appointed one of the jurors, who thereafter
did not sit in judgement of the case but became an advocate, much like a
court-appointed lawyer today. Furthermore, although there was not yet a
profession known as “lawyers,” men who gained a reputation for understanding
the law were revered and repeatedly appointed either as jurors or counsellors.
The names of some have come down to us, such as John d’Ibelin, and Philip of
Novare, because they were also legal scholars, who wrote legal tracts about the
laws they were interpreting. There was, however, no such thing as the “prosecution.”
The state as such had not yet assumed the role of pursuing justice and
punishing crime for itself. Instead, someone had to bring a case to trial by
accusing another person of a violation of the law.
alienating to modern sensibilities, trial by combat or some other form of
“test” (fire or water) were the preferred means of determining guilt and
innocence. But this was normal in this period and accepted by litigant and
My novels set in the crusader states attempt to reconstruct society accurately including an accurate portrayal of the legal system.