Thursday, November 29, 2018

Philip de Novare – Lawyer, Historian, Poet and Philosopher

 Among his contemporaries, Novare was most famous for his legal handbook on the laws of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus full of practical tips for how to “plea,” i.e. argue a case.  Today he is remembered as the author of the only comprehensive narrative describing the baronial resistance to Emperor Frederick II’s rule in Outremer. Novare was present at many of the events described and knew all the important actors personally. Given his importance to our understanding of this period in the history of Outremer, I thought this 13th Century "Renaissance man" who was not just a knight but a poet, troubadour, philosopher, historian and lawyer, deserved a short biography.

This is NOT a portrait. None exists. I selected an image that was evocative of a man of learning.
By the time Novare died, he was so well-respected that he served as the executor of King Henry I of Cyprus’ will in 1253, yet his origins are obscure, his parents unnamed and probably insignificant. Historians believe he derived his name from the town of Novara in Lombardy, where he was presumably born sometime between 1205 and 1208.  The date is interpolated from his autobiography in which Novare describes himself as a “page” to a certain Cypriot knight, Peter Chappe, taking part in the first siege of Damietta in 1218. Were he older than 13, he would almost certainly have been a squire, and if he were younger than ten it seems unlikely he would have been taking part in a crusade so far from home.



Apparently, Novare was already orphaned at this time but sufficiently educated that he could read to his master.  One day, Chappe invited the famous lord and lawyer, Ralph of Tiberias, to dinner in his tent, and Novare was asked to read aloud as entertainment.  Tiberias was so pleased with his reading that, when he fell ill, he asked Chappe to send Novare to him. In his memoirs, Novare admits that he was not pleased with this assignment, but he was an obedient boy and for the next three months found himself spending hours with the dying Tiberias.



It was a fateful meeting. Ralph of Tiberias has been called the “Socrates” of the baronial movement. He was, according to Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, “an inspiration to succeeding generations…the sovereign of cleverness in court cases and in speaking beautifully and highly.”[i] At this man’s knee Novare learned the laws of Jerusalem and made Novare’s fortune.



But his future was not clear, much less bright, in 1218 when Tiberias died. Fortunately, the orphaned and still very young Novare was given an undefined place in the household of John d’Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut.  Beirut and Tiberias had been friends, so one assumes that Tiberias commended Novare to Beirut’s keeping on his deathbed. As Novare grew up, he evidently moved from page to squire and was, eventually knighted. At some point before 1228 Novare was granted a fief on Cyprus by Beirut, and later one on the mainland as well, but they could not have been very large or very lucrative because Novare remained “poor.” Indeed, he makes multiple albeit vague references to his debts which were evidently so infamous that his enemies used them to try to manipulate him.  His financial embarrassment did not end until Queen Alice paid all his accumulated debts and granted him a money fief worth 1,000 marks of silver for convincing the High Court of Jerusalem to recognize her claim to be Queen in 1243.


This royal grant and the peace that came with the fall of the last Imperial stronghold, Tyre, paved the way for Novare to devote more of his time to legal activities and writing. His “History,” the account of the civil war 1228-1243 which is the basis of most of our knowledge of this conflict, was written shortly after the end of the war. His book on the laws and legal norms of the Kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem, the Livre de forme de plait, appeared sometime around 1250. His last book, a philosophical reflection on the four ages of man (Les Quatre Ages de l’homme) was written shortly before his death in 1265. In addition to these major works, Novare tells us that he wrote poems on love, politics, and religion. Only a few of these have survived, but enough to testify to his wit, humor, and talent, even if he does not rank among the great poets of his age.



What is striking about Philip de Novare’s life is that a man of obscure origins and limited financial resources could gain so much stature by his scholarship in the mid-thirteenth century crusader states. Novare was viewed by contemporaries as “the best pleader [i.e. lawyer] this side of the sea.”[ii] He was admired for this. His services were in demand, and he was influential as a result. That says a great deal about the society in which he lived: that it valued intellectual as well as military prowess, and that it was less bigoted and class-conscious than many assume.



Equally striking is that Novare was a man of action as well as letters. While so many chronicles were drafted in the peace and isolation of monasteries by men who had no familiarity with the clash of weapons much less the events described, Novare’s “history” was conceived as an autobiography. Novare knows his subject ― too well, some modern historians argue. Writing an autobiography, Novare makes no attempt at objectivity.  Novare is telling his story as he saw it. His friends and patrons are the heroes; their enemies are his enemies.

Novare was a close friend of Balian the younger, the eldest son of Beirut. They were much the same age, and the fact that Novare often refers to the younger Ibelin as his “compeer,” suggests they may have served together as squires and so earned their spurs together. Certainly, the first personal action Novare describes entails him refusing to take an oath of homage to the imperial baillies on Cyprus in order to remain true to “his lord,” the Old Lord of Beirut, John d’Ibelin.  Yet, after being pilloried for his “treason” and narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Philip sends a plea for help to his “compeer” Balian d’Ibelin, a youth without the resources to actually help. It is as if Novare, at this point just 23-years-old, is too in awe of Beirut to write him directly. He trusts that his “compeer” Balian will persuade his powerful father to come to his rescue.



Having so publicly cast his lot with the Ibelins, Novare had no choice but to stand by them through all that was to come. He took part in the sieges of Kantara and St. Hilarion in 1229, receiving a wound at the latter.  He also composed satirical songs about the plight of the Imperial garrisons, and poems predicting the treachery of the enemy after Beirut pardoned his enemies. Novare took part in the attempt to relieve Beirut in 1232, accompanied Balian of Beirut to Tripoli on his diplomatic mission to gain the support of the Prince of Antioch, and he negotiated the surrender of the citadel at Kyrenia and Famagusta. Significantly, when in early 1233, the Lord of Beirut had a falling out with his heir Balian because of the latter’s marriage, Novare was one of just five knights who stood by the younger Ibelin. He took part in Balian’s daring and dangerous charge up the slope at the Battle of Agridi.


We know very little about Novare’s marriage. His wife has not been positively identified but was probably Stephanie, the daughter of a Cypriot knight Berthelmy du Morf. We know of only one child that came of this marriage, a son baptized Balian after Philip’s “compeer,” Balian of Beirut. The marriage does not appear to have been particularly happy. Novare says nothing about it or his wife in any of his (surviving) writings, yet he exhibited clearly misogynous tendencies. For example, he argued against the right of daughters to inherit except when there was no male heir, an extreme position in Outremer, where women were recognized as heiress, regents, and guardians. Many of Novare’s contemporaries argued the contrary, underlining the fact that his hostility to female inheritance was not “the norm.” Novare also expressed doubts about the value of education for girls; again an extreme position in a society in which most noblewomen were highly educated. 



Novare’s final work, The Four Ages of Man, provides us with his own reflections on his rich life.  In retrospect, Novare divided life into four phases of twenty years each. The first phase of life, he says, is “childhood,” a period of learning from one’s elders. The second phase “youth,” is a period characterized (for both men and women) by “love, sin and folly, and of impetuous acts of violence and revolt.”[iii] Middle age, by contrast, is the when a man develops his greatest virtues and accomplishes his greatest achievements. It is characterized in men by prudence, loyalty, and moderation, but, tellingly, Novare claims that in women “middle age” is a period of even greater folly than youth. Novare claims that women between 40 and 60 seek to regain their youth by affairs with younger men. (This sounds remarkably like a man speaking from bitter experience and then generalizing to an entire sex!) Finally, the last twenty years of life, “old age,” is a period granted by a benevolent God to give man time to “recall adequately God’s kindness and the debts he owes to his Creator.”[iv]

If we apply this measuring rod to Novare’s own life we see it matches remarkably well with the phases he lived through. From ca. 1205 to 1225 he was still learning at the knee of Tiberias and then Beirut. The two decades from 1225 to 1245 encompass all the deeds described in his history of the baronial revolt ― from his impetuous declaration of loyalty to the Ibelins when surrounded by Imperial loyalists and his taunting of his enemies with song, to his various, sometimes daring, deeds at arms.  The next twenty years, however, witness his rise to prominence as a lawyer and scholar. It is in these years that Novare is an advisor to kings. As he settles down to write his final work, however, his attention has turned to the hereafter.  He is clearly reflecting on his own feelings when he says the years after age sixty are a blessing. Most of his contemporaries, after all, including the Old Lord of Beirut and his “compeer” Balian, died before they reached that age. Nor did Novare live much beyond this marker. His name no longer appears as a witness after 1264 and his eldest son appears on the witness lists in 1269. Sometime between those two dates, Philip de Novare died.




[i] Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174 – 1277. MacMillan, 1973, p. 122.
[ii] La Monte, John. The Wars of Frederick II Against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus by Philip de Novare. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 12.
[iii] La Monte, p. 14.
[iv] Ibid.



Philip de Novare is an important character in my new series of novels set in Outremer in the early 13th century. His account is the primary source for the events described from the Sixth Crusade to the civil war in the crusader states.

Buy Now!

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Rise of the House of Ibelin


Last week I challenged the common myth about the peaceful reception of Guy de Lusignan on Cyprus. There is, however, another “myth” which I question: namely the late arrival of the Ibelins on Cyprus.  Throughout the 13th Century, the Ibelins were the dominant family in Outremer, challenging the Holy Roman Emperor on both the mainland and on Cyprus. Significantly, they consistently enjoyed the favor of the Lusignan kings. This, I believe, had roots in their pivotal role in establishing Lusignan rule in the first place. 


Historians such as Edbury posit that the Ibelins were inveterate opponents of the Lusignans until the early 13th century. They note that there is no record of Ibelins setting foot on the island of Cyprus before 1210 and insist that it is “certain” they were not among the early settlers―while admitting that it is impossible to draw up a complete list of the early settlers. Edbury, furthermore, admits that “it is not possible to trace [the Ibelin’s] rise in detail” yet argues it was based on close ties to King Hugh I. Close? Hugh was the son of a cousin, which in my opinion is not terribly “close” kinship.



Even more difficult to understand in the conventional version of events is that the Ibelins became so powerful and entrenched that within just seven years (1217) of their supposed “first appearance” on Cyprus an Ibelin was appointed regent of Cyprus, presumably with the consent of the Cypriot High Court--that is the barons and bishops of the island who had supposedly been on the island far longer.  Furthermore, it ignored closer relative. This hardly seems possible if the Ibelins were not already considered a "leading" family on Cyprus.



My thesis and the basis of my novel The Last Crusader Kingdom is that while the second generation of Ibelins (that is, Baldwin and Balian d’Ibelin) were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, they were on friendly terms with Aimery de Lusignan.  Aimery was, for a start, married to Baldwin’s daughter, Eschiva.  We have references, furthermore, to them “supporting” Aimery as late as Saladin’s invasion of 1183. I think the Ibelins were very capable of distinguishing between the two Lusignan brothers, and judging Aimery for his own strengths rather than condemning him for his brother’s weaknesses.



Furthermore, the conventional argument that Balian d’Ibelin died in late 1193 because he disappears from the charters of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at that date is reasonable -- but not compelling. The fact that Balian d’Ibelin disappears from the records of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1193 may mean that he died, but it could just as easily mean that he was occupied elsewhere. The Ibelin brothers of the next generation, John and Philip, "disappear" from the records of Jerusalem from 1210 to 1217 too, but they were very much alive, active and powerful -- one in Beirut and the other apparently on Cyprus.

In short, Balian's disappearance from the records of Jerusalem could also have been because he was busy on Cyprus. The lack of documentary proof for his presence on Cyprus is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of his presence because 1) the Kingdom of Cyprus did not yet exist so there was no chancery and no elaborate system for keeping records, writs and charters etc., and 2) those who would soon make Cyprus a kingdom were probably busy fighting 100,000 outraged Orthodox Greeks on the island!



But why would Balian d’Ibelin go to Cyprus at this time? 

Because his wife, Maria Comnena, was a Byzantine princess. Not just that, she was related to the last Greek “emperor” of the island, Isaac Comnenus.  She spoke Greek, understood the mentality of the population, and probably had good ties (or could forge them) to the Greek/Orthodox elites, secular and ecclesiastical, on the island. She had the means to help Aimery pacify his unruly realm, and Balian was a proven diplomat par excellence, who would also have been a great asset to Aimery.




If one accepts that Guy de Lusignan failed to pacify the island in his short time as lord, then what would have been more natural than for his successor, Aimery, to appeal to his wife’s kin for help in getting a grip on his unruly inheritance?



If Balian d’Ibelin and Maria Comnena played a role in helping Aimery establish his authority on Cyprus, it is nearly certain they would have been richly rewarded with  lands/fiefs on the island once the situation settled down. Such feudal holdings would have given the Ibelins a seat on the High Court of Cyprus, which explains their influence on it. Furthermore, these Cypriot estates would most likely have fallen to their younger son, Philip, because their first born son, John, was heir to their holdings in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  John was first Constable of Jerusalem, then Lord of the hugely important port city of Beirut, and finally, after King Aimery’s death, regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his niece.  Philip, on the other hand, was constable of Cyprus under Hugh I and later regent of Cyprus for Henry I ― notably despite the fact that his elder brother was still alive at the time.



The role of the Ibelins -- and particularly Maria Comnena -- needs to be rethought, but in the absence of hard evidence I have done so in novel form. 

Read the story in:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Creation of the Kingdom of Cyprus

The history of Outremer in the 13th century was materially altered by the establishment of a stable Latin Kingdom on the island of Cyprus.  It is important to understand how this kingdom came into being and the role the Ibelins played in its development before looking more closely at the civil war of the 13th century. 

 Unfortunately, the sources for the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus are not only scanty but dubious. After much research, I developed two theses that challenge existing historiography. The first of those thesis is presented below.


We know that Richard I of England, having conquered Cyprus in May 1191, sold it to the Knights Templar for 100,000 bezants in July of the same year. According to Peter Edbury, the leading modern historian of medieval Cyprus, their rule was “rapacious and unpopular,” resulting in a revolt in April 1192. Although a Templar sortie temporarily scattered the rebels, the causes of the revolt were hardly addressed and the latent threat of continued/renewed violence was clear. In the circumstances, the Grand Master of the Templars recognized that his Order would have to invest considerable manpower to regain control of the island.  He also recognized that he did not have the resources to fight in both Cyprus and Syria. In consequence, he gave precedence (as he must) to the struggle on the mainland, the Holy Land itself, against the Saracens. The Templars duly returned the island to Richard of England.



Richard promptly sold the island a second time, this time to Guy de Lusignan. Guy de Lusignan had been crowned and anointed King of Jerusalem in 1186 in a coup d’etat engineered by his wife, Sibylla. Although widely viewed as a usurper, the bulk of the barons submitted to his rule in order to fight united against the much superior forces of Saladin that threatened the Kingdom. Guy, however, proceeded to prove the low-opinion of his barons correct by promptly leading the entire Christian army to an avoidable defeat on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187. He spent roughly a year in Saracen captivity, while his Kingdom fell city by city and castle by castle to Saladin, until only the city of Tyre remained. Needless to say, this further discredited him with the surviving barons, prelates, and burghers of his kingdom. His claim to the crown of Jerusalem was undermined fatally when his wife, through whom he had gained it, died in November 1190. Although Guy continued to style himself “King of Jerusalem,” a fiction at first bolstered by King Richard of England’s support, by April 1192 King Richard had also given up on him. Bowing to the High Court of Jerusalem, Richard acknowledged Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. The sale of Cyprus to Guy was evidently a means of compensating him for the loss of his kingdom of Jerusalem.



Guy may have left for Cyprus at once, in which case he would have arrived in April 1192.  However, this is far from certain because the Third Crusade was still being conducted.  It is unlikely that Guy would have been able to recruit many knights to accompany him as long as Richard the Lionheart was still fighting for Jerusalem and Jaffa. A more likely date for Guy’s arrival on Cyprus is therefore October 1192, after Richard’s departure for the West. 

Guy was apparently accompanied by a small group of Frankish lords and knights whose lands had been lost to Saladin in 1187/1188 and not been recaptured in the course of the Third Crusade. The names of only a few are known. These include Humphrey de Toron, Renier de Jubail, Reynald Barlais, Walter de Bethsan, and Galganus de Cheneché. (Guy's older brother Aimery is notably absent.) 

Guy would have arrived on an island that was either still in a state of open rebellion or completely lawless. Admittedly, historian George Hill (who was actually an expert in ancient history, coins and iconography rather than a medievalist), tries to explain how Guy arrived on an island eagerly awaiting him by inventing (that is the only word one can use since he sites no source) the story that the Templars “slew the Greeks indiscriminately like sheep; a number of Greeks who sought asylum in a church were massacred; the mounted Templars rode through [Nicosia] spitting on their lances everyone they could reach; the streets ran with blood…The Templars rode through the land, sacking villages and spreading desolation, for the population of both cities and villages fled to the mountains.” (George Hill, A History of Cyprus, Volume 2: The Frankish Period 1192 – 1432,” Cambridge University Press, 1948, p. 37.)



There’s a serious problem with this lurid tale. (Quite aside from the technical one of lances being unsuitable for spitting multiple victims.) As Hill himself admits, the Templars had just fourteen knights on Cyprus and 29 sergeants; the Greek population of the island at this time was roughly 100,000. Yes, in a surprise sortie to fight their way out of Nicosia and flee to Acre (as we know they did), the Templars would surely have killed many civilians, including innocent ones. It is unlikely, however, that the fleeing Templars would have taken the time to stop and slaughter people collected in a church; that would have given the far more numerous armed insurgents (who had forced them to seek refuge in their commandery in the first place) to rally, attack and kill them. They certainly did not have the time and resources to slaughter people in other cities and towns scattered over nearly 10,000 square kilometers of island. In short, we can be sure the Templars slaughtered enough people to be remembered with hatred, but not enough to break the resistance to Latin rule, much less to denude the island of its population. If nothing else, if they had broken the resistance, they would not have fled to Acre, admitted defeat and urged the Grand Chapter to return Cyprus to Richard of England!



Despite the absurdity of the notion that Guy arrived on a peaceful island willing to receive him without resistance, most histories today repeat a charming story. Namely: as soon as Guy arrived on Cyprus he sent to his arch-enemy Saladin for advice on how to rule it. What is more, the ever chivalrous and wise Sultan graciously responded that “if he wants the island to be secure he must give it all away.” (See Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191 – 1374, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 16.) Allegedly, based on this advice, Guy invited settlers from all the Christian countries of the eastern Mediterranean to settle on Cyprus, offering everyone rich rewards and making them marry the local women. According to this fairy tale, the disposed peoples of Syria, both high and low, flooded to Cyprus and were rewarded with rich fiefs, until Guy had only enough land to support just 20 household knights, but after that everyone lived happily ever after.



History isn’t like that, although―often―there is a kernel of truth in such legends. I think it is fair to assume that very many of the men and women who had lost their lands and livelihoods to the Saracens after Hattin did eventually come to settle on Cyprus, but I question that they arrived in the first two years after Guy acquired the island. The reason I doubt this is simple. The Knights Templar had just abandoned the island because it would be too costly, time-consuming and difficult to pacify.  In short, whoever came to Cyprus with Guy in early or late 1192 would not have found an empty island―much less one full of happy natives waiting to welcome them with song and flowers. On the contrary, they were already in active rebellion against the Templars and ready to resist further attempts by the Latins to control and dominate them. Perhaps the one sentence about making the settlers marry local women is a hint to a more chilling reality: that, after years of resistance to Latin rule, when the settlers finally came, they found a local population with few young men but many young widows.


Furthermore, we know that at no time in his life did Guy de Lusignan distinguish himself by wisdom or common sense. He had alienated his brother-in-law King Baldwin IV and nearly the entire High Court of Jerusalem within just three years of his marriage to Sibylla.  He lost his entire kingdom in a disastrous and unnecessary campaign less than a year after he was crowned king. He started a strategically nonsensical siege of Acre that consumed crusader lives and resources for three years. He did nothing of note the entire time Richard the Lionheart was in the Holy Land. Is it really credible that he then took control of a rebellious island (that the Templars thought beyond their capacity to pacify) and set everything right in less than two years?



I think not. 

And Guy had only two years because he died in 1194, either in April/May or toward the end of the year depending on which source one consults. That is too little time even for a more competent leader to be the architect of Cyprus’ success. That honor belongs, I believe, to his older brother, the ever competent Aimery de Lusignan, who was lord of Cyprus not two years but eleven. 


It was certainly Aimery, who obtained a crown by submitting the island to the Holy Roman Emperor, and it was Aimery who established a Latin church hierarchy on the island. Indeed, there is ample evidence of Aimery’s able administration of both Cyprus and, from 1197 to 1205, the Kingdom of Jerusalem as well.  It was Aimery de Lusignan who collected the oral tradition for the laws of Jerusalem (that had worked so well) and had them written down in a legal codex known as The Book of the King.  Thus, it was Aimery, who founded not only the dynasty that would last three hundred years, but also laid the legal and institutional foundations that would serve Cyprus so well into the 15th century. 

In short, in my opinion, far more likely that it was Aimery, not Guy, who brought settlers in―after first pacifying the native population and institutionalizing tolerance for the Orthodox church that mirrored the customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is this thesis that forms the basis of: The Last Crusader Kingdom: Founding of a Dynasty in 12th Century Cyprus.

My second revisionist thesis concerning the Ibelins will be the subject of my next entry.

My novel, The Last Crusader Kingdom, is available in both ebook and trade paperback formats. You can buy it now on amazon. Remember, books make great Christmas presents!





Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Holy Roman Emperor and the Crusader States: A Clash of Cultures


When the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II married the heiress of Jerusalem in November 1225, Christendom expected that he, the most powerful Christian monarch, would restore Jerusalem to its former glory. Instead, Frederick II spent less than eight months in the Holy Land and departed draped in the offal and intestines pelted at him by his furious subjects. 

Furthermore, he never returned, although he sent lieutenants to fight for him in a civil war that lasted two decades. That struggle ended in a complete and utter defeat for the Imperialist faction. Although Frederick’s son and grandson were nominally “kings” of Jerusalem, they were powerless and absent throughout their “reigns.” 

The Hohenstaufens failed so miserably in the crusader states because of a fundamental clash of ideology and culture that was only plastered over with legal arguments. Today I analyze the ideological conflict underlying that confrontation.



Biographers of Frederick II are understandably apt to ignore the Hohenstaufen’s utter and complete humiliation in the Holy Land. His life was so packed with dramatic events, colorful characters, and significant victories that there hardly seems any room or reason to discuss, much less analyze, his poor showing in the crusader kingdoms. Frederick’s admirers prefer to focus on the bloodless return of Jerusalem to Christian control, and to dismiss his critics as “blood-thirsty” and “bigoted.”[i] 

Even a comparatively balanced observer such as David Abulafia,[ii] who concedes that the baronial opposition was “ideological,” deals with the consequences of Frederick’s policies in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in just one page of his 440-page biography.  Abulafia notes that “the emperor began by assuming that it would be sufficient to proclaim his rights as he interpreted them.” (Emphasis added by H.P. Schrader) Yet the fact that the Emperor’s “rights” could legitimately be interpreted otherwise is glossed over. Abulafia then explains how hard the Emperor found it to “envisage the degree to which the Latin states of the East, despite the bitter threat from the Islamic world, were divided by family rivalries and constitutional conflicts,”[iii] but fails to acknowledge that the Emperor had created both those rivalries and the constitutional crisis in Jerusalem. Finally, he clearly sympathizes with his subject when he notes that Frederick was “amazed by the lack of response to what he clearly saw as his own tremendous achievement.”[iv] Abulafia too cannot comprehend why the residents of Outremer saw nothing valuable in the Emperor thumbing his nose at the pope and then leaving them to face the consequences. According to Abulafia, Frederick II “returned to Italy more than ever conscious of his imperial rights,” ― and that was exactly the problem.




Frederick II viewed the Kingdom of Jerusalem as just one of his many possessions without recognizing it as an independent kingdom with its own traditions, customs, and laws. He believed he could dispose of it as he liked, rule it as he liked, and that the inhabitants held their lands and titles not by heredity right or royal charter but simply at his personal whim. In short, he treated fiefs as iqtas, thereby violating the fundamental principles of feudalism that recognized that not even a serf could be expelled from his land without due process and just cause. He also, and even more significantly, rejected the feudal principle of ruling with the advice and consent of the barons of the realm.

These attitudes were the root cause of the conflict between Frederick and the baronial faction in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Emperor’s absolutist view of monarchy clashed with the barons’ insistence on constitutional government based on the laws and customs of the kingdom. Frederick viewed himself as Emperor and King by the Grace of God. He recognized no fetters on his rights to rule ― neither laws nor institutions nor counsels.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the other hand, was a feudal state par excellance, frequently held up by scholars as the "ideal" feudal kingdom. (See for example John La Monte's work Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1100 to 1291, or John Riley Smith's The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174 - 1277.) The nobility of Outrmer in the age of Frederick II had developed highly sophisticated constitutional views, and based on the history of Jerusalem saw kings as no more than the “first among equals.” Furthermore, they upheld the concept that government was a contract between the king and his subjects, requiring the consent of the ruled in the form of the High Court.


Historians have rightly pointed out that, as the struggle between the Hohenstaufen and the barons dragged on, the baronial faction became ever more inventive in finding “laws” and customs that undermined Hohenstaufen rule. This ignores the fact that the Emperor had by then long-since squandered all credibility by repeatedly breaking his word and behaving like a despot. The baronial opposition was indeed desperately trying to keep a proven tyrant from gaining greater control of the kingdom, and they were indeed very creative in finding (or inventing) legal pretexts for achieving that aim. That does not negate the fundamental belief in the rule-of-law as opposed to the rule-by-imperial whim that lay at the core of the baronial opposition to Frederick.

Frederick proved his contempt for the laws and constitution of Jerusalem within the first four years of his reign by the following actions: 1) refusing to recognize that his title to Jerusalem derived through his wife rather than being a divine right; 2) by demanding the surrender of Beirut and nearly a dozen other lordships without due process; and 3) by ignoring the High Court of Jerusalem and its functions ― which included approving treaties.

Of these actions, the second has received the most attention because Frederick’s attempt to disseize the Lord of Beirut without due process was the spark that ignited the civil war. Because the Lord of Beirut was a highly respected, powerful and learned nobleman, the Emperor’s arrogant, arbitrary and unconstitutional attempt to disseize Beirut met with widespread outrage and finally armed opposition.  Beirut was able to rally a majority of the kingdom ― and not just the nobility, but the Genoese, the Templars and the commons of Acre ― to his cause. After each bitter defeat when Frederick tried to find a means of placating the opposition, he refused to budge on the principle of his right to arbitrarily disseize lords without due process.  Like a spoiled brat having a temper tantrum, he kicked, screamed, lied and cheated, but he would not take his case against the Lord of Beirut to court. To the end, he insisted that Beirut abdicate his lordship without due process. To the end, Beirut refused.


Unfortunately, because the clash between Beirut and the Emperor is the focus of a lively, colorful and detailed contemporary account by the jurist and philosopher Philip de Novare, most historians (if they bother to look at the conflict at all) reduce the baronial resistance to a struggle over land and titles. This greatly oversimplifies the concerns of the opposition and overlooks the other two constitutional principles that Frederick II violated blatantly.


The issue of whence he derived his right to rule in Jerusalem actually surfaced first. The very day after his wedding to Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem, Frederick demanded that the lords of Jerusalem do homage to him as king. This was in direct violation of the marriage agreement he had negotiated with his wife’s father, John de Brienne. John took the position that because he had been crowned and anointed, he remained king until his death, but Frederick dismissed this argument because John had only held the crown by right of 1) his wife (the late Marie de Montferrat) and 2) his daughter Yolanda, so long as the latter was a minor. Just three years later, however, at the death of his own wife, Frederick abruptly ― and without a trace of shame or embarrassment ― adopted Brienne’s position. He refused to recognize his son by Yolanda as King of Jerusalem and continued to call himself by that title until the day he died.



Indeed, on his deathbed in December 1250, Frederick II bequeathed Italy, Germany, and Sicily to his son Conrad, his son by Yolanda, but suggested that Conrad give the Kingdom of Jerusalem to his half-brother Henry, the son of his third wife, Isabella of England. This proves that Frederick utterly failed to recognize or accept that the crown of Jerusalem was not his to give away. It had derived from his wife, and could only pass to her heirs ― not to whomsoever he pleased. This attempt to give Jerusalem away to someone with no right to it is like a final insult to the bride he neglected and possibly abused. It also demonstrates that to his last breath he remained either ignorant of or indifferent to the constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Since the First Crusade, the Kings of Jerusalem had been elected.  The election of the next monarch was one of the most important prerogatives of the High Court. In short, by trying to dispose over the kingdom without consulting the High Court, Frederick was breaking the constitution. Yet this is hardly a surprise since he had ignored the High Court when trying to disseize Beirut  ― and in signing the truce with al-Kamil.



In the general enthusiasm for Frederick bloodless crusade and the truce that followed it, historians and novelists overlook the fact that the constitution of Jerusalem gave to the High Court the right to make treaties. Just like the Senate in the United States, the executive (in this case the King) might negotiate and sign treaties, but the consent and approval of the High Court was required.  Frederick II Hohenstaufen blissfully ignored this constitutional nicety. He negotiated in secret and presented the barons of Jerusalem with a fait accompli. This, as much as the seriously flawed terms of the treaty, outraged the local nobility. Modern writers like Boulle take the attitude that no one should let something as insignificant as the law of the land get in the way of the “genius,” who could “retake” Jerusalem without any loss of life. Their contempt for the rule of law ought to give us pause, and they also conveniently forget the 40,000 Christians slaughtered in Jerusalem because they had no defenses and no arms in 1244.
 




Arguably, Frederick’s contempt for the High Court was the single most important factor that doomed his rule in Outremer. He flaunted the High Court by not seeking its advice on who should rule for his infant son. He flaunted it again by not bringing his charges against Beirut before it. He flaunted it by not obtaining the advice and consent of the High Court for his treaty with al-Kamil. He would continue to ignore the High Court to his very death. Yet the High Court was composed not of families or factions, but rather the entire knightly class of Jerusalem. That some men nevertheless sided with the Hohenstaufen had more to do with toadyism than principle since in supporting the Imperial faction they were acting against their constitutional interests purely for personal gain.



Ultimately, it was because he was attacking the collective rights of the ruling class that Frederick failed so miserably in Outremer. As he lay dying, he was engaging in self-deception to think he could bequeath Jerusalem to anyone. He had never controlled it, and he had already lost the loyalty of his subjects just four years into his 25-year-reign ― as they articulated by pelting him with offal.


I couldn't find a picture of a king wearing offal, so I chose this image that also suggests contempt for a king.





The consequences of Frederick II's policies in the crusader states are the subject of my next series of novels starting with:

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[i] An excellent example of this kind of polemics is Pierre Boulle’s L’etrange Croisade de l’Empereur Frédéric II. Flammarion, 1968.
[ii] Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor. Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 193
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid, pp.193-194.
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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Frederick II and Islam



Frederick II Hohenstaufen has attracted many modern admirers, in large part because he is perceived as an example of religious tolerance, allegedly far ahead of his time. The fact that he was twice excommunicated by the Pope, made him the darling of Reformation and Enlightenment historians, who equated the papacy with everything backward and corrupt. Twentieth Century atheists delight in the fact that Frederick allegedly claimed the Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were all shysters, who made fools of their followers.[i]  The fact that the Sicily he ruled still had large Jewish and Muslim populations, some of whom found employment at his court, qualified him in the eyes of more recent commentators as an early example of “multi-culturalism.” Some admirers go so far as to suggest that Frederick converted to Islam.  Today I look a more closely at Frederick and his relationship with Islam.

                                                                                                    





Heiko Suhr in a short paper on this topic published in 1968[ii] identified four factors that contributed to Frederick’s image as pro-Islamic: 1) his childhood in a Palermo allegedly dominated by Muslims, 2) the city of Lucera in Southern Italy populated by Sicilian Muslims who enjoyed complete religious freedom, 3) his culturally and religiously diverse court and his amicable correspondence with Muslim scholars and scientists, and finally 4) his diplomatic relations with al-Kamil culminating in the return of Jerusalem to nominal Christian control without bloodshed.



Unfortunately, for Frederick’s admirers, the legend that he grew up wandering freely through the streets of Palermo, learning fluent Arabic by chatting with the people of the markets and streets, has been exposed as fiction. Not only did Frederick enjoy (or suffer, depending on your perspective) a conventional education for a future king at the hands of predominantly clerical tutors, but Palermo in the decades of Frederick’s youth was no longer predominantly Muslim. In fact, the Muslim population of Sicily had already been pushed into the mountainous interior (where they were to offer armed resistance to Frederick on more than one occasion). The educated Arab elites had withdrawn even farther -- to Muslim-held Spain or North Africa rather than submit to Christian subjugation.



The city of Lucera, established in 1246 toward the end of Frederick's reign, did indeed provoke the outrage of the Pope because it was full of mosques, and the entirely Muslim population lived openly according to their faith.  Even more problematic for the Pope, as Muslims, they couldn’t have care less about being excommunicated or put under interdict.  In short, the Pope had no weapons with which to threaten or intimidate them, and they were utterly loyal to Frederick.  The fact that Lucera sat in a vital geo-strategic position that blocked the access of papal forces to Foggia and Trani undoubtedly made him livid.  


Yet, it is important to remember that the creation of Lucera followed the expulsion of the entire Muslim population from Sicily proper.  This expulsion was Frederick’s response to a renewed Muslim revolt. Historians estimate that between 15,000 and 60,000 Muslims were forced to leave their homes and re-settle in Lucera.  In short, Frederick was not exhibiting humanitarian tolerance for his Muslim subjects, but rather pursuing the strategic goal of removing rebellious subjects from the heartland of his kingdom. To his credit, he did not massacre them, but with what was truly ingenious foresight recognized that he could use them in his struggle with the pope because they were his only subjects that could not be bullied by papal threats.



Turning to Frederick’s famed erudition which included correspondence with a wide range of scholars from Spain to Syria, there is little question that his fascination with scientific, philosophical, and intellectual problems was exceptional. Frederick II conducted experiments (apparently without the slightest concern for the welfare of the participants), and he took part in public, mathematical debates. This is impressive, but by no means as exceptional as Frederick’s admirers suggest. The education of princes was very rigorous and included languages, theology (not just dogma), mathematics and natural sciences. Frederick’s contemporary Louis IX of France was also highly educated, for example, including a sound grounding in ancient Greek and Roman texts.



The fact that Frederick II corresponded with Arab scholars and he spoke Arabic is also far less exceptional that historians (particularly German historians) make it appear. The biographies of Frederick II which I have read (an admittedly limited sample) reveal an astonishing ignorance of the history and society of the crusader states. The fact that most knights and nobles in Outremer also spoke Arabic, that they too corresponded with Saracen leaders, and that some could translate Arab poetry into French has escaped the notice of the admirers of Frederick. Frederick was not the first or only Western monarch to recognize the humanity and intellectual qualities of individual Muslim leaders. Richard the Lionheart developed a degree of rapport with al-Adil before Frederick II was even born. The bottom line is that a command of Arabic had nothing to do with an admiration for Islam.



Far more indicative of a cultural attraction to Islam than correspondence with Arab intellectuals is the fact that Frederick maintained a harem full of sex-slaves.  This was in clear violation of Church law, and not comparable to a succession of mistresses as, say, Henry II of England had. 


Frederick’s campaign to the Holy Land likewise presents hints of a more tolerant attitude toward Islam than was common among the Hohenstaufen’s contemporaries.  This has nothing to do with the fact that Frederick preferred negotiations to bloodshed. Any and every general prefers to win without risking battle. Richard the Lionheart, the ultimate soldier’s soldier so often portrayed as a mindless killing machine, likewise sought to negotiate with Saladin almost from the moment he set foot in the Holy Land. (See Diplomacy of the Third Crusade Part I and Part II.)



Far more damning are the terms of the treaty Frederick concluded.  By accepting a “demilitarized” Jerusalem surrounded by Muslim-controlled territory, he revealed that he cared only about a temporary victory ― the medieval equivalent of a “photo op” in the shape of him wearing his crown in the Holy Sepulcher. The truce (it was never a treaty because it had a limited duration of ten years, five months and forty days) served not the interests of Christendom, but rather the Emperors desire to thumb his nose at the Pope. The truce was about show rather than substance. The fact that the truce prohibited Christians from setting foot on the Temple Mount effectively added insult to injury, and it is not surprising that the Patriarch of Jerusalem characterized the terms of the Treaty as “unchristian.” 


Added to this is an incident recorded in Arab sources of Frederick rebuking the Qadi of Nablus for silencing the muezzins during his short visit to Jerusalem. According to al-Gauzi, Frederick went so far as to claim that his “chief aim in passing the night in Jerusalem was to hear the call to prayer given by the muezzins, and their cries of praise to God in the night.”[iii]



Despite such apparently pro-Islamic words (assuming they are correct at all), the rest of Frederick’s life does not square with a man who had a genuine affinity for Islam. Within a few months he had sailed away,  and returned to Sicily ― where he proceeded, as noted earlier, to expel every last single Muslim from the island.



Frederick II was not pro-Islam, rather he appears to have been profoundly cynical about religion. The legend about him saying Moses, Jesus and Mohammed hoodwinked the gullible, while not a genuine quote, may nevertheless capture his skepticism about faith generally.  The Arab chroniclers certainly saw him as a materialist. A man who played with religion and theology, rather than respecting God. Devout themselves, they had more admiration for genuine Christians (like St. Louis) than for Frederick Hohenstaufen.



While it is impossible to know a man’s soul ― particularly after nearly 1,000 years ― it is fair to say that Frederick consistently put “raison d’état” ― not to say self-interest ― before religious considerations. His sexual gratification was more important than respecting church law. Returning to Sicily with the appearance of regaining Jerusalem, was more important than securing a sustainable solution for the Holy City. Retaining his temporal power was more important than finding a compromise with the Pope. Having soldiers impervious to papal influence was worth allowing Muslims to publicly exercise their religion (under the nose of the Pope, so to speak.) And so on. While this may arouse admiration in many, it is hardly something particularly modern. Nor, in my opinion, does it qualify Frederick to be viewed as particularly “enlightened,” “tolerant” or “modern.”



[i] Boulle, Pierre. L’etrange Croisade de l’Empereur Frédéric II. Flammarion, 1968.
[ii] Suhr, Heiko. Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: Seine politischen and kulturellen Verbindungen zum Islam. GRIN Verlag, 2008.
[iii] Abulafia, David. Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor. Oxford University Press, 1988, p.185.



Frederick II is an important character in "Rebels against Tyranny" and his curious "crusade" an important part of the plot of this novel, the first in a new series set in the crusader states.

Buy Now!

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