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Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Wolflings" - The Sons of the "Old" Lord of Beirut

In the midst of the struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the barons of Outremer, Philip de Novare wrote a political satire about the conflict.  He adapted an already popular fable featuring a deceitful and misanthropic fox, Reynard, who torments an upright wolf, Ysengrim, and is eventually brought to justice by the (lion) king. In Novare’s version of the Roman de Reynard, Novare transforms the opponents of the Ibelins into the fox and his cronies, and the Lord of Beirut is cast in the role of the noble Ysengrim. Novare added, however, the characters of “the wolflings” to do justice to the Lord of Beirut’s five sons. 
Today I want to briefly introduce the sons of Beirut.

John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, was married first to a lady by the name of Helvis of Nephin, by whom he had five sons, all of whom died as infants, the last taking his mother with him to the grave. Sometime around 1205, Beirut remarried (although the date is not known), this time the widow and heiress to the lordship of Arsur, Melisende. By her he had six children who survived to adulthood; if there were children who died young, they are not recorded.

The eldest child of this marriage was a boy, named for John’s beloved and famous father, Balian. The date of his birth is not recorded, but he and his next younger brother Baldwin were both knighted in 1224, which suggests they were born in or about 1206 or 1207 respectively, as it was unusual for youths to be knighted much before 18. Since both boys were knighted at the same time, it is presumed that they were very close in age, possibly only eleven or twelve months apart. They were followed by another boy, Hugh, who appears to have been only marginally younger than his elder brothers as he was already knighted by 1228. The next child was a daughter, named for her father’s royal half-sister Isabella. There followed two more boys, John and Guy. 

When Frederick II arrived in the Holy Land in the summer of 1228, the three eldest boys of Beirut were already knighted and so deemed adults, although by our standards they were still young, at most 21, 20 and 19 respectively. The fourth son, John, on the other hand, is explicitly described as a squire in 1228/1229, when he served the Holy Roman Emperor during the latter’s stay in Syria. Four years later he is referred to as “Sir John,” however, suggesting he was born in or about 1214. Guy must have been only a year or two younger as he is also engaged in military operations in 1232.

With the exception of Sir Hugh who died young, all the sons of Beirut rose to prominence in the history of the crusader states. Below is a summary of their key historical contributions; a more detailed biography of Balian of Beirut will follow in the future.

Balian II or Balian of Beirut

Unsurprisingly, Balian was an ardent and prominent supporter of his father throughout the latter’s struggle with the Holy Roman Emperor. He stood hostage for his father in 1228, suffering significant maltreatment at the hands of the Emperor’s supporters. Later, his father repeatedly entrusted him with command of the vanguard, or the leading troops in engagements.  He played a decisive role in the Battle of Nicosia, took an active part in the siege of St. Hilarion, and distinguished himself again at the Battle of Argidi. Beirut also entrusted his heir with a diplomatic mission to obtain the support of the Prince of Antioch in early 1232, but the Emperor’s purse proved more enticing that whatever Balian could offer.

While his relationship with his father was generally good, it could also be stormy. Notably, in 1232, Balian categorically refused to set aside the lady he had taken to wife, Eschiva de Montbèliard, the widow of Gerard de Montaigu, despite a ban of excommunication issued against the couple by the pope. Beirut, in consequence, sent him to the rear of the host on the eve of the Battle of Argidi. However, Balian disobeyed his father and led a troop of just five knights up a dangerous defile to fall on the enemy unexpectedly from the side. He stood by his lady until the pope lifted the excommunication and issued a dispensation for marriage sometime before 1239.

In 1236, at his father’s death, Balian succeeded his father as Lord of Beirut. He assumed leadership of the baronial opposition to Hohenstaufen rule in Jerusalem. At the same time, he was named Constable of Cyprus by King Henry I. In 1239, he surrendered that position to take part in the “Baron’s Crusade” under Thibaut King of Navarre/Count of Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239-1240). Notably, Simon de Montfort, the famous leader of the English baronial revolt two decades later, also took part in this crusade, and the men must have come to know each other well because Balian was willing to recognize Montfort, a brother-in-law of Emperor Frederick, as regent of Jerusalem. (Simon de Montfort’s wife Eleanor Plantagenet was a sister the Emperor’s third wife, Isabella Plantagenet.)

In 1243, Balian commanded the troops that captured the last imperial bastion in Outremer, Tyre. From 1246-1247 he was “baillie” or regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He died in 1247 of unknown causes, roughly 40 years old. He was succeeded by his son John. His grand-daughter Isabella married into the royal house of Cyprus and her son was King Hugh IV. 

Baldwin d’Ibelin

The Lord of Beirut’s second son lived in the shadow of his more prominent father and brother, but we know that he shared Balian’s fate as a hostage of Emperor Frederick in 1228. He took part in the Battle of Nicosia and in the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230). He was also one of the three Ibelins surprised by the enemy at Casal Imbert in 1232, an Ibelin debacle caused by poor leadership and hubris. Sir Baldwin was wounded in the engagement, yet had recovered enough to command a division at the Battle of Argidi.

Thereafter, he appears to have remained on Cyprus, while his elder brother assumed the senior title of Lord of Beirut. For the astonishing stretch of 21 years, from 1246 until 1267, he served as Seneschal of Cyprus, an important and powerful royal official. He took part in King Louis’ crusade, where he was taken captive at the Battle of Mansoura.  Jean de Joinville reveals in his account of this crusade that Baldwin understood Arabic well ("was well acquainted with their language.")[i] He was ransomed along with Joinville, his brother Guy, and his cousin Philip de Montfort.  He married Alice, the sister of one of his family’s bitterest enemies, Amaury de Bethsan. They had many children, one of whom, Philip, is mentioned as Constable of Cyprus in 1302.

Hugh d’Ibelin

Hugh died without heirs sometime in 1239 and did not attain any prominence in his short life. Nevertheless, he is recorded taking part in the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230) along with his elder brothers Balian and Baldwin. He too was surprised at Casal Imbert and had his horse killed under him. He was discovered, separated from the host, with a lone companion defending a small house in the town. At the Battle of Argidi, Sir Hugh was given the honor denied elder brother Balian because of the latter’s excommunication: command of the leading division. Sir Hugh was also prominent in the siege of Kyrenia in the following winter. According to Prof. Peter Edbury, Hugh was granted estates on Cyprus rather than in Syria at his father’s death. He was probably just about 30 years old at his death. It is unknown why he did not marry.

John d’Ibelin, Lord of “Foggia” and Arsur

John is first mentioned in Novare’s account as a squire sent to serve in the Emperor’s household during the latter’s sojourn in Syria from September 1228 to May 1229. Prof. Peter Edbury believes that like his elder brother Balian he was effectively a hostage for his father’s good behavior. However, young John (who was probably no more than thirteen or fourteen at this time) appears to have known how to ingratiate himself with the Hohenstaufen. Novare claims that Frederick liked him so much “he said he would give him Foggia which is in Apulia, and because of this he was called John of Foggia.”[ii] Since John never went to Apulia and was never invested with Foggia, but rather remained a loyal partisan of his House, Edbury suggests he was called “of Foggia” only by his brothers in jest.

John is next mentioned in connection with the Ibelin efforts to lift the Imperial siege of the citadel at Beirut. Having taken the city of Beirut, the Imperial forces invested the citadel, which continued to hold for Ibelin.  The citadel was well-stocked with food and had ample supplies of water, but was desperately short of troops because the Lord of Beirut had taken every man he thought he could spare to Cyprus to defend himself against the Emperor there.  Beirut returned to Syria in early 1232 with the support of the King of Cyprus but rapidly recognized that he did not have sufficient force the Imperial forces out of the city of Beirut.  His next priority, therefore, was to smuggle more fighting men into the citadel so that it could continue to resist. Since the Imperial forces had established a land and sea blockade of the citadel, the only way to get troops into the castle was for them to swim under the galleys forming the blockade at the back of the castle, swim ashore and the climb up the cliff to a postern high overhead. Not many men could get in this way, so Beirut decided to risk sending a boat loaded with a hundred fighting men (knights, sergeants, and squires) to slip between the galleys in the dark of night. To command this daring and risky operation, Beirut chose John, who had apparently only just recently been knighted. John’s elder brothers, particularly Balian, were outraged at their father’s choice of their young brother, but Beirut insisted he had “other” tasks for them.

John successfully took the boat in and scaled to the castle where he and his men were received with great joy.  According to Novare, thereafter the garrison “defended themselves more vigorously, made a countermine against the miners…recaptured the fosse by force…[and] made many brave sallies and gained somewhat over those without, and burned several engines.”[iii] Whether all that can be attributed to the inspiration and leadership of a youth hardly more than 16 or 17 seems doubtful, but he certainly did not disgrace himself.

On the other hand, he does not rate a mention for his deeds at the subsequent Battle of Argidi or the siege of Kyrenia, and it is not until his father’s death in 1236 that he again finds mention in the chronicles of the age. He succeeded to his mother’s lordship of Arsur, with the explicit consent of his brothers, which suggests that Balian, Baldwin, and Hugh believed they were adequately endowed with properties and power, Balian in Beirut, of course, but Baldwin and Hugh on Cyprus. The latter fact is an enticing indication of just how plentiful (and rich!) the Ibelin estates on Cyprus were, although they remain largely invisible to us because they did not bestow titles with them.

In 1240, John took part in the Baron’s Crusade, getting involved in a rout near Gaza, but escaping capture along with both his cousins Balian de Sidon and Philip de Montfort. In 1241 he commenced fortification of his castle at Arsur, and two years later was involved in the capture of Tyre from the Imperial forces.

In 1246, he was apparently named Constable of Jerusalem and certainly baillie of Acre. He stepped down on the arrival of King Louis of France, possibly to take part in King Louis’ crusade, but was persuaded to take up the position again roughly a year later. Significantly, he succeeded in convincing the warring Pisans and Genoese to agree to a truce.  He was less successful in the next intra-Italian war, siding for whatever reason with the Genoese, who lost to the greater might of Venice — but not before the war between the two merchant cities had done much damage to Acre and the Holy Land generally. Nevertheless, John retained the respect of his peers and died in 1258, once again in the position of baillie of Acre.

John married Alice of Caiphas and had a number of children including his son and heir Balian. 

Guy, the Youngest Son

Guy's first appearance in the historical record is hardly auspicious. He was one of the three sons of Beirut caught (almost literally) with their pants down during a night attack on Casal Imbert in early 1232. The Ibelin forces had been, even according to the pro-Ibelin Novare, “badly camped, one here, one there, and nothing did they fear”[iv] when the Imperial forces struck. King Henry of Cyprus was put on a fast horse “practically naked” and sent to Acre to get aid from the Lord of Beirut, while the surprised “wolflings” put up a wild and uncoordinated fight. According to Novare, through great deeds of arms they managed to hold their camp during the hours of darkness, but when dawn came, they were overwhelmed by men from the Imperial galleys. They fled to a hilltop but lost nearly all their horses, their tents, and all their equipment. Guy’s role in the debacle, however, could hardly have been great. He was possibly still a squire, given his tender age of at most 16, and even if newly knighted, he was certainly not in command — an honor that belonged to Sir Anseau de Brie.

Guy is not recorded, however, at the subsequent battle of Argidi or the siege of Kyrenia, suggesting that he was indeed very young and, after the debacle at Casal Imbert, his father felt he needed more training not more responsibility. 
At his father’s death in 1236, like his elder brother Baldwin and Hugh, he was given properties on Cyprus rather than in Syria. He does not appear to have participated in the Barons’ crusade of 1239-1240, being mentioned specifically on Cyprus. By 1247, he was Constable there.  This explains why he commanded a force of no less than 120 knights in St. Louis’ crusade. In 1250 he was taken captive along with St. Louis. One of his fellow prisoners, Jean de Joinville, called him “one of the most accomplished knights I have ever known” -- and more significantly in my opinion "and one who most loved the islanders in his care."[v]
Joinville also tells another incident. After the Mamlukes had murdered the Ayyubid Sultan and cut his heart from his still warm body to thrust at King Louis, the Christian prisoners expected to be slaughtered. Indeed, Baldwin d'Ibelin translated what the Mamlukes were saying and confirmed they were indeed discussing whether to cut off the heads of the captive crusaders. There was only one priest aboard Joinville's galley, and he was overwhelmed with men seeking to confess, so Joinville says:

Guy d'Ibelin knelt down beside me, and confessed himself to me. "I absolve you," I said, "with such power as God has given me." However, when I rose to my feet, I could not remember a word of what he told me." [vi]

The Mamlukes, however, decided the ransoms were too large to throw away and entered into negotiations instead. Guy d'Ibelin was one of the noblemen who witnessed the negotiations. King Louis and the Mamlukes came to terms, and after many delays and some chicanery were eventually set free. Guy returned to Cyprus.

Long before this crusade, Guy married Philippa Barlais, the daughter of the Ibelin’s arch-enemy during the civil war. Edbury notes that Barlais’ estates were forfeit to the crown for his treason against King Henry in 1232, but by this marriage, the Ibelin’s may have obtained those lands while also giving Barlais’ daughter, who could not be held responsible for her father’s treason, her home back. The couple appears to have been contented with as they had a total of ten children. One of their daughters, Isabella, married Hugh de Lusignan, who would reign Cyprus as Hugh III. 

[i] Joinville, Jean de."The Life of St. Louis," Chronicles of the Crusades. Penguin Classics,  1963, p. 252
[ii]Novare, Philip de. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Columbia Univ. Press, 1936, p. 87.

[iii] Ibid, p. 133.

[iv] Ibid, p. 139

[v] Joinville, p.248.
[vi] Ibid, p. 253.
The sons of the Lord of Beirut are all characters in my new series, starting with:

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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:

1 comment:

  1. Worthy grandsons. I still put the emphasis on their Grandfather, Balian . . . my personal favorite of the family. LOL


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