|Guy de Lusignan in Ridley Scott's Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"|
Guy de Lusignan has the distinction of being the man who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by leading the Christian army to an unnecessary but utterly devastating defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Such noted modern historians such as Malcolm Barber, Bernard Hamilton and W.B. Bartlett argue Lusignan’s disastrous decision to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march to the relief of the garrison of Tiberius in July 1187 can be explained by the fact that he was criticized for not taking the offense in the campaign of 1183. Guy, they argue, was in a difficult psychological position and had every reason to doubt the Count of Tripoli’s loyalty. They generally portray Guy more as a victim of circumstances rather than the cause of disaster. Guy’s contemporaries saw it differently.
So who has the right of it? In two essays, I will examine Guy de Lusignan’s biography, starting with his years as a parvenu adventurer.
Guy de Lusignan usually enters history books with his marriage to Sibylla of Jerusalem, King Amalric’s first-born child and older sister too King Baldwin IV. But this may be a mistake.
In the spring of 1168, the Earl of Salisbury was escorting Queen Eleanor of England to Poitiers with a small escort when the party was ambushed by “the Lusignans.” The Lusignans had recently been dispossessed of their lands for rebelling against Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. They hoped by capturing Eleanor to gain a bargaining chip for the restoration of their fortunes. The Earl of Salisbury turned over his own horse, which was stronger and faster, to Eleanor so she could escape, but while he was remounting he was fatally pierced from behind by a lance. Salisbury’s nephew William Marshal (later famous as tutor of the Henry the Young King, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England) was in Salisbury’s entourage. According to the 13th century biography of William Marshal, commissioned by his eldest son and based on the accounts of many of Marshal’s contemporaries, this ambush was led by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey. Some sources claim that Guy himself wielded the murderous lance. Allegedly, this act made Guy persona non grata in the courts of the Plantagenets and induced him to seek his fortune in Outremer. Maybe, but there was a gap of some 12 years, so maybe not.
Nevertheless, when considering Guy de Lusignan’s later reputation, it is important to remember that he was accused of a profoundly unchivalrous murder by contemporaries — before he ever set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
A Blow from Behind -- Here with a Sword
Guy appears to have arrived in Jerusalem in late 1179 or early 1180 at the invitation of his elder brother Aimery. Older brother Aimery was making a career in Jerusalem, according to some, by sleeping with the Queen Mother, Agnes de Courtenay. At the time Guy arrived in the Holy Land, Baldwin IV was king — and clearly dying of leprosy. Since it was also clear that Baldwin IV would not sire heirs of his body, his sister Sibylla was his heir apparent. Sibylla herself was thus a young (20 year old) widow. There were rumors, however, that she had pledged herself to the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. The rumors were widespread enough for Salah-ad-Din to demand a king’s ransom when Ramla was taken captive on the Litani in 1179 (apparently in anticipation of Ramla becoming King of Jerusalem) — and for the Byzantine Emperor to pay that exorbitant ransom (since Ramla could not possibly pay it from his own resources) in anticipation of the same event.
But suddenly at Easter of 1180, Sibylla married not Ramla (who was on his way back from Constantinople) but the virtually unknown and landless Guy de Lusignan. The wedding was concluded in a hasty ceremony lacking preparation and pomp. According to the most reliable contemporary source, the Archbishop of Tyre (who was also Chancellor at the time and so an “insider,”) Baldwin rushed his sister into the marriage with the obscure, landless and discredited Guy because the Prince of Antioch, the Count of Tripoli and the Baron of Ramla were planning to depose him and place Ramla on the throne as Sibylla’s consort.
Allegedly a Depiction of a Royal Wedding in Jerusalem
Perhaps. But there is no other evidence of Tripoli and Antioch's disloyalty. Furthermore, Ramla’s hopes of marrying Sibylla had been known for a long time — and all the way to Damascus and Constantinople. Why did that marriage suddenly seem threatening to Baldwin IV?
Another contemporary source, the now lost chronicle of Ernoul, suggests another reason for the hasty and unsuitable (for there is no way the third son of a Poitevin baron could be considered a suitable match for the heiress of Jerusalem) marriage: that Guy had seduced Sibylla. Aside from the fact that this had happened more than once in history, the greatest evidence for a love match is Sibylla’s steadfast — almost hysterical — attachment to Guy, as we shall see. Meanwhile, however, the marriage alienated not only the jilted Baron of Ramla, but the Count of Tripoli as well. In short, it was not a very wise political move and thus hard to explain as a political decision. Last but not least, even the Archbishop of Tyre admits the King soon regretted the decision. All these factors point to Ernoul’s explanation of a seduction, a scandal and an attempt to “put things right” by a King who was devoted to his sister.
Guy was named Count of Jaffa and Ascalon and appears to have been accepted by the Barons of Jerusalem as a fait accompli that could no longer be changed — until, in September 1183, King Baldwin became so ill that he named his brother-in-law Guy regent. As such, Guy took command of the Christian forces during Salah-ad-Din’s fourth invasion of the Kingdom. What happened next is obscure. Although Saladin managed to burn some monasteries and there were some bitterly fought skirmishes, ultimately the Saracens were forced to withdraw; an apparent Christian victory (and certainly better than what happened four years later, the next time Guy was in command!)
Yet something more must have happened on this campaign because just two months later, when word reached Jerusalem that the vital castle of Kerak was besieged by Saladin, the barons of Jerusalem “unanimously” refused to follow Guy. They flat out refused to come to the relief of an important border fortress in which both royal princesses (Sibylla and Isabella), the Queen Mother and the Dowager Queen were all trapped (because of a wedding) until Guy was stripped of the regency.
That is an incredibly strong statement. The fact that the historical record is too patchy to enable us to explain it does not negate the importance of the event. The collective barons of Outremer were not dolts, cowards or fools. They had accepted Guy’s command two months earlier. Even Tripoli and Ramla, who both detested him, had mustered under Guy’s command to face Salah-ad-Din in September, putting the welfare of the kingdom ahead of their personal feelings. But two months later even men who had previously shown no particular animosity toward Lusignan refused to accept his leadership. King Baldwin had no choice but to take back the reins of government, command of his army and have his nephew crowned as co-king. The latter was to reassure the barons that even if he died in the near term (as he expected), they would not have to pay homage to Guy.
After Kerak had been successfully relieved, Baldwin IV sought desperately to have his sister’s marriage to Guy annulled. This had nothing to do with personal grievances against Guy (although he had those too); it was necessary in order to find a long-term solution to the succession crisis. His nephew was a sickly boy, and the kingdom needed a vigorous and militarily competent leader. Baldwin’s efforts to replace the discredited Guy were thwarted by Sibylla, who refused to consider a divorce — something she is hardly likely to have done, if the marriage had been political in the first place. Sybilla ws successful: Baldwin IV died before his sister’s marriage to Guy was annulled, paving the way for the next step in Guy’s career: the usurpation of the throne.
Guy’s story will be continued next week on Sept. 15.
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