Thursday, April 25, 2019

Women's Rights in Outremer


It is a common misconception that women in the Middle Ages lacked fundamental rights and were nothing but “chattels.” I’ve written about this in various forums in the past. Today I want to take a closer look at the rights Frankish women enjoyed (or didn’t) before the High Courts of Jerusalem and Cyprus based on the writings of two of the most important 13th-century jurists, Philip de Novare, and John d’Ibelin of Jaffa.




First, let me explain exactly what "the High Court" was. The High Court of both Jerusalem and Cyprus was composed of all the vassals — from 1162 including “rear-vassals,” i.e. men who owed their fief to another vassal — of the king. It ruled on all matters pertaining to relations between the King and his vassals and between members of this feudal upper class. A series of other courts (e.g. the Court of the Bourgeois, the Court of the Chain, canonical courts, manorial courts) regulated the affairs of the merchant class, commercial disputes, matters governed by canon law and disputes involving the clergy, tenants and more respectively. (For more on these other courts see: See: http://www.crusaderkingdoms.com/judiciary.html) These courts also covered cases between a member of the feudal elite and someone from a different strata of society, as the courts followed the fundamental principle of trying a case before the peers of the lower-ranking of the parties to the dispute. Critically, as John La Monte points out in his seminal work Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291:



All members of the High Court were peers, and trial by peers being the fundamental formula of Outremer law, the king as well as any of the barons was subject to the decisions of the court.[1]



The High Court was first and foremost responsible for matters pertaining to the attainment, retainment, and loss of fiefs — including the kingdom itself. In other words, all issues of inheritance — including succession to the crown.  No fief, no matter how small, could change hands without the approval of the High Court.[2] The corollary thereto being that no vassal could lose his fief without a judgment of the High Court.




The High Court also ruled on taxes, treaties, and truces with the enemy, as well as on the marriage of heiresses. It ruled on the duties of vassals to the king — and those duties that the king could not impose.  It ruled on cases involving wardship, debt, even the sale of horses. Last but not least, the High Court sat in judgment on any vassal (member of the feudal class) accused of a capital offense, such as murder, rape or assault, and, of course, in all cases of alleged treason.  


It was because women in the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus could be vassals of the King that they had any business with the High Court — and the importance of this can hardly be overstated. In Outremer, women could inherit even the kingdom itself, and so women were viewed as part of the ruling class and peers. Nothing can be farther from being a chattel!




Which does not mean that they were not in some significant ways disadvantaged, as we shall see. First, however, allow me to focus on the significant rights women enjoyed.



The right to inherit and hold fiefs took several forms. Women could be outright heiresses (in which case all daughters inherited equally, rather than the eldest alone as for men). They could be widows holding 50% of their husband’s former fief as their dower (for more on dowers see: Of Dowers, Dowries, and Dowagers), they could be guardians for minor heirs, not yet come into their inheritance, or they could be wives representing husbands in enemy captivity. However, because fiefs entailed a military obligation and the need to keep the feudal army of the Kingdom Jerusalem was so pressing, heiresses over the age of 12 were obliged to marry.




While the principle is clear, the practice if much murkier. The legal theorists say that the heiresses lord had to “summon her” — which lords did not always do, as the court records show.  If they did summon the heiress, they were required to offer the heiress a choice between “three candidates of comparable social standing.[3] Failure on the part of the heiress to comply with a summons was theoretically punishable by the loss of the fief for one year and a day, after which the fief was returned and the heiress summoned again. Aside from the fact that this gave the heiress (and or her relatives) a great deal of leverage in ensuring a suitable candidate was presented, we know of not one single case where this procedure was put into effect. The only similar incident was the case of the widowed Constance, Princess of Antioch, who — as William of Tyre laments — refused to follow the advice of King Baldwin III. He describes the situation as follows:



Great was the anxiety of King Baldwin of Jerusalem at this time on behalf of Antioch and the lands adjacent to it. He feared lest, deprived as it was of the protection of its prince, it might fall into the hand of the enemy and suffer the pitiable fate of Edessa… He therefore repeatedly advised the princess to choose one of the nobles as a husband… The princess, however, dreaded the yoke of marriage and preferred a free and independent life. She paid little heed to the needs of her people….



There is no talk here of her losing her fief — perhaps because Antioch was not a vassal state of Jerusalem and there was absolutely nothing King Baldwin could do. In the end, she married exactly who she pleased, in this case, the infamous Reynald de Châtillon.



Widows in Outremer, like widows in the west, enjoyed even greater freedom as they were under no compulsion to remarry — unless they were heiresses, in which case the above rule applied to them as well. Furthermore, they were financially better protected than their sisters in the West, as the dower in the Latin East was recognized as one half of their husband’s property, compared to one third in England, for example. They could also purchase new fiefs — provided they could do knight’s service, which meant effectively only if they had a younger son who did not own service for the paternal fief, or if they were prepared to re-marry. If they were inclined to re-marry for whatever reason, however, they needed the permission of their feudal overlord. (An her new husband, presumably faced sanctions.) 




Before the law, women were also recognized as peers in that they could both initiate and be the defendants in court proceedings. In capital cases, i.e. cases that could be referred to judicial combat or trial-by-combat, female litigants were allowed to employ “champions.” In effect, these were witnesses, willing to demonstrate the veracity of their testimony (in favor of the lady litigant) by facing combat.



This is a critical point. If a peer (male or female) brought charges against another peer, they would testify in court by swearing on scripture. The defendant had to challenge them as a perjurer, and if no out-of-court settlement could be reached, a judicial duel would be organized. The loser of this judicial combat was deemed a perjurer. Since a woman was not capable of fighting a knight in judicial combat (presumably mounted and with lance, sword or mace), she needed a champion to testify on her behalf and fight the duel for her. Whoever lost the combat (if he survived) was hanged; if the man had been the witness for a woman litigant, she too lost her life. She was burned at the stake.




However, because it was the witnesses to a case that had to stand the trial-by-combat, women were excluded from bearing witness in the High Court — except in matters (e.g. inheritance, lesser crimes) that did not carry capital punishment for the guilty party and so the possibility of judicial combat. While this may seem like a “misogynous” provision, it had nothing to do with sex at all. The Latin clergy — hardly an otherwise oppressed or disadvantaged class — was also excluded from bearing witness at trials involving capital offenses for the same reason.



Likewise, non-Latins, serfs and children were excluded from bearing witness too, since none were deemed able — or entitled — to face a knight in mortal combat. Here the principle of trial by one’s peers was the operable issue. Members of other strata of society, much less serfs, were not the peers of a knight and so could not have a role in determining his guilt or innocence.



The capital crime of greatest relevance to women was probably rape. Here another anomaly crops up. Unmarried women (maidens, nuns) and widows could initiate court proceedings for rape on their own. They would, of course, still need two witnesses willing to swear on the scripture and face a recalcitrant defendant in combat if necessary. Married women, however, could not initiate proceedings at all; their husband had to do it for them. Their husband was expected to face judicial combat for them. The implication was that if the husband was not, i.e. if he had doubts that his wife had been an unwilling partner, then no one else would believe her.


In another way too, married women were disadvantaged before the law: there was no legal recourse in the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus for domestic violence. While it was unchivalrous and the church condemned violence against the weak — including wives and children, a man could legally employ violence against his wife, his children and his slaves with impunity.



Unclear based on the evidence we have is whether women could plea before the High Court (that is make arguments), but this seems on the whole very unlikely. Most men chose legal counsel over arguing their own cases as well, and a woman would have had even more reason to want the benefit of a highly respected and experienced lawyer in order to compensate for any latent prejudice against women.




It is also unrecorded whether women holding fiefs in their own right but without husbands due to death (i.e. widows) or imprisonment could take part in the deliberations of the High Court. In the case, the fact that it was not explicitly prohibited suggests rather that it was allowed since in feudal society — and especially in the crusader kingdoms — class was always more important than sex. From the time of Queen Melisende, women had been involved in the government of Jerusalem, and the heiresses of the great baronies such as Galilee and Oultrejourdain were also prominent. Most important, we know that Queen Melisende attended meetings of the High Court after she had abdicated power and in her capacity as a “baron.”



As in all societies, practice will have been far more diverse — both for better and for worse in individual cases — than theory. Certainly, Edbury notes, the recorded cases of trial by combat are limited, suggesting that very many cases were, in fact, settled out of court.


Crusader society is depicted as accurately as possible in all of my novels set in Outremer: 

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[1] John La Monte, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291 (Cambridge, Mass: Medieval Society of America, 1932) 92.

[2] La Monte, 95.


[3] Peter Edbury, Law and History in the Latin East (Farnham, Surry: Ashgate, 2014) V:287.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Balian II: Lord of Beirut


Balian, the Lord of Beirut’s eldest son and heir, was the head of the Ibelin family in the fourth generation of the House.  He was a grandson of that Balian d’Ibelin who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187, and the eldest son and heir of the leader of the baronial opposition to Frederick II, the “Old Lord” of Beirut. Yet according to his close friend and “compeer” Philip de Novare, he was a man of decidedly different temperament and personality from his more famous forefathers. Today I conclude my biographical sketch of Balian d’Ibelin II.  




Philip de Novare tells us that when making his testament, the “Old Lord” of Beirut “gave many fiefs to his children and ordered that they should hold them of their eldest brother and be his vassals.”[i] In short, Balian was to the senior and greatest beneficiary of his father’s estate.  Clearly, Balian had been fully forgiven of any transgressions against his father. He assumed the leadership of the family. Yet we should make no mistake that his authority was equal to his father’s. Brothers are brothers, and all Balian’s brothers were relatively close to him in age.



Between his father’s death and the start of the Baron’s crusade in 1239, we have no indication of where Balian was or what he did, but he was still Constable of Cyprus and may have remained in that kingdom after briefly regulating his affairs in Beirut. In 1239, however, he resigned that position in order to take part in what has become known as the “Baron’s Crusade” led by Thibaud of Champagne, King of Navarre, and Richard, Duke of Cornwall. Balian was evidently not involved in the ill-advised attack on Gaza, however, it was probably at this time that he became acquainted for the first time with his cousin Philip de Montfort.



Philip was the son of Balian’s aunt Helvis and her second husband Guy de Montfort. The latter was a younger brother of the elder Simon de Montfort, who is now infamous for his role in the Albigensian crusades. Philip had been a child of only four or five when his mother died and so had returned with his father to France, where his father had died in 1228. He had evidently been raised by his Montfort relatives, who included a first cousin roughly his own age, Simon, later Earl of Leicester and leader of the English parliamentary reform movement of 1258-1265.




Philip came east in the company of his cousin Simon, who had only the year before married the sister of the English king, Eleanor Plantagenet. Philip de Montfort, on the other hand, was already a widower. He was soon persuaded by his Ibelin cousins to take a new wife. His connections with the English court enabled Philip to marry very well: Maria of Armenia, heiress to the Lordship of Toron. Henceforth he would be not only a loyal adherent of the Ibelin cause but a forceful voice in the politics of Outremer generally — and an extremely close friend of Balian.



Meanwhile, however, Emperor Frederick had also married a sister of Henry III, Isabella, making cousin Simon de Montfort a relative of the Holy Roman Emperor through his wife. It was probably this fact that, in 1241, induced the Ibelins to put forward a proposal to the Emperor in which they agreed to submit to the Emperor and disband the Commune of Acre (which did not recognize the Emperor’s writ) if he would replace the hated Riccardo Filangieri with Simon de Montfort and pardon the rebels. Although submitted in the name of “the barons, knights and citizens of the Kingdom of Jerusalem,” Balian d’Ibelin heads the list of signatories. It seems highly probably that Balian was the leading force behind this proposal.  Furthermore, Edbury contends that “there is no doubt the proposal was intended to lead to a reconciliation.”[ii] One can only speculate on how the history of both the crusader states and England might have been different if the proposal had been accepted by Frederick II, but it was not.



No sooner had the crusaders departed, however, than the Imperial baillie Riccardo Filangieri decided he could risk a new attack on the baronial faction. In Oct. 1241, after Balian had returned to Beirut and his brother Baldwin and Guy were on Cyprus, Filangieri won over two prominent members of the Acre Commune and the Hospitallers to the Imperial cause. Slipping into the city by a postern leading to the garden of the Hospital, he set about wringing oaths of allegiance from various leading citizens. Philip de Montfort got wind of the planned coup, however, and raised the alarm. He exploited the hostility of the Venetians and Genoese to the Emperor, and they secured the streets, while Montfort (on what authority is unclear) arrested the two leading conspirators. He also sent messengers flying to his friend Balian.

The Hospital in Acre Today
Balian returned immediately to Acre and took command. Believing Filangieri to still be within the Hospital, he laid siege to it. The Master of the Hospital was absent at the time but returned in alarm on learning that his brothers were under siege. He encamped with a large body of Hospitallers outside of Acre. At once mediators set to work reconciling Balian with the Hospital. Balian not only ended the siege, he also acknowledged his mistake and expressed his “greatest possible regret.” The Hospital accepted his apology, but it is hard to believe there were no hard-feelings.



In April of the following year 1242, Conrad Hohenstaufen, the son of Emperor Frederick and Yolanda of Jerusalem, announced that he had come of age (14) and that he was, therefore, recalling the unpopular Imperial baillie Riccardo Filangieri. Unfortunately for Conrad, boys did not come of age in the Kingdom of Jerusalem until 15, so Frederick (who was obviously behind the letters) was, once again, blissfully but illegally applying the customs of the Holy Roman Empire to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Furthermore, while Filangieri was hated, Tommasso of Acerra was also known quantity -- a man who had a reputation for brutally enforcing imperial policies on the Sicilian nobility. Edbury concludes that his appointment “cannot have been intended as a conciliatory gesture.”[iii] It was certainly not received as one.



It was now nearly 14 years since Balian had been tortured by the Emperor’s men because his father had stood up to false accusations, extortion, and an attempt to disseize him without due process. For the last 10 years, an uneasy stalemate had held, with the imperial forces in Tyre and the baronial forces in Acre. Both sides had claimed to have the law on their side; neither side had been seriously willing to compromise, but neither side had dared to attack the other either. The threat of a Hohenstaufen king (not just regent) and a new Imperial “Baillie” appears to have alarmed Balian. When four citizens from Tyre came to Balian claiming that the Imperial party was “greatly hated” and offered to surrender the city to him, the temptation was too great to resist. Balian met with his closet advisors (first and foremost Philip de Montfort) and they agreed they should seize the city. Balian does not appear to have cared much about the law at this point; this was a pure power play.



Novare, however, came up with stratagem to give the action a veneer of legality. He pointed out that when Conrad came of age in accordance with the laws of Jerusalem (in April 1243) all of Emperor Frederick’s claims to be his regent would be dissolved. At that point, the constitution of Jerusalem called for the closest relative of the monarch resident in the kingdom to act as regent until the king could come in person. If he didn’t come, that candidate would become monarch in his place. The closest relative of King Conrad resident in the Kingdom was Alice of Champagne, the dowager Queen of Cyprus and the sister of Conrad’s grandmother. Alice of Champagne was roughly 45 years old at this time. She was recently married to a certain French nobleman, Sir Ralph of Soissons, who Philip de Montfort (it is said) had persuaded to marry her in order to have a claim to Jerusalem. Alice and Ralph eagerly accepted the notion that Alice should be proclaimed queen until Conrad came to the Kingdom of Jerusalem to claim his inheritance. 



According to John, Count of Jaffa, another contemporary and witness of these events, the High Court first dutifully sent Conrad a letter saying he was required to come in person to be recognized as their liege, and it was only in a second session of the High Court that Alice of Champagne was recognized. There is some ambiguity in the sources, but Jaffa and Novare both refer to Alice as “queen” and report that the barons did homage to her. This would suggest that they were already anticipating Conrad’s failure to appear.  The first to take the oath of homage was Balian of Beirut, followed by his cousin Philip de Montfort, Lord of Toron.



The exact date of these events is uncertain.  The entire process with letters being sent at probably two sessions of the High Court probably dragged out over the latter part of 1242 and the spring of 1243. It was also probably in the early spring of 1243 that Filangieri, the Emperor’s face for the last fourteen years, obeyed the Emperor’s recall. He sailed from Tyre with his most of family, leaving only his brother Lothar to hold the city until Accera could arrive.



Alice de Champagne promptly played her role by demanding the surrender of Tyre to her person. Lotario Filangieri predictably refused. Balian d’Ibelin and Philip de Montfort proceeded immediately with military plans that had obviously been drawn up well in advance, presumably while the legal pretext was being given a chance to unfold. 





Tyre was a nearly invincible city that had held out against Saladin twice. It was virtually unassailable by land and Balian’s strategy entailed using a postern that opened onto the sea, which Ibelin sympathizers had promised to leave unlocked. Balian led a mounted force along the base of the city on the seaward side, a very dangerous operation because, as Novare reports, “the sea was high and the horses fell on the stones and many people were in danger of death.”[iv] The postern was indeed opened from the inside, but the attackers were nearly overwhelmed before their supporting galleys could pass over the chain (also lowered by sympathizers inside Tyre). However, they were able to win the upper hand, assisted by many residents of the city who took the opportunity to attack the Imperial partisans.



However, just as at Beirut thirteen years earlier, only the city had been captured in this daring attack; the citadel held firm. Lotario Filangieri and the bulk of the Imperial mercenaries had taken refuge there and knew that Imperial reinforcements under Tommaso de Accera were underway. They were prepared to withstand a long siege.



But then the Ibelins had a stroke of luck: Riccardo Filangieri, their old enemy, had encountered terrible storms on his way back to Sicily. His vessel had foundered, and he had barely managed to transfer to a smaller vessel before it sank. This second ship, however, was too small to risk crossing the open sea. Filangiere and his party had, therefore, followed the coast back to Tyre, ignorant of the fact that the city had meanwhile fallen to the Ibelins. They sailed blissfully into Tyre harbor — and were immediately seized. 
Medieval Shipping by Charles Hamilton Smith

The prisoners were initially taken into custody by Sir Ralph de Soissons as the King Consort, but Balian “requested” (one imagines forcefully) that he be given custody of Filangieri because of the great injuries Filangieri had done to his castle at Beirut. Soissons resisted. Novare takes credit for convincing him that Filangieri’s fear of Balian would be greater and this could be used to their advantage. Significantly, according to Novare: “[Balian of] Beirut made such chains of iron as the emperor had made for him when he held him prisoner and hostage at Limassol.”



Filangieri was also persuaded to send a message to his brother in the citadel, informing him of his capture and requesting the surrender of the castle. His brother steadfastly refused. (Perhaps he was remembering the precedent set by Conrad de Montferrat when Saladin had paraded his captive father before the gates of Tyre and demanded surrender.) Unfortunately for Lotario, his opponents (unlike Saladin in 1187) had a personal grudge against his brother. Balian did not hesitate to have Riccardo Filangieri, another of his brothers and a nephew led to a prominent point with nooses around their necks. Lotario caved in and called out for them to send someone to negotiate. Novare was sent and successfully negotiated the surrender.



Interestingly, the terms allowed for the Filangieris to go in peace with all their belongings. Yet on his arrival in Sicily, Riccardo was imprisoned by the ever-vindictive Emperor for his "failure." Apparently, it never occurred to Frederick that it was his own policies and intransigence that had lead to the utter defeat of his cause in both Cyprus and Syria.



Yet while Balian kept his word to the Filangieris, he acted far less honorably towards his “queen.” Once the Imperial forces were gone, Ralph de Soissons, as the consort of the queen, demanded that Balian surrender Tyre to him.  Balian flatly refused, using a flimsy excuse. Soissons “saw then that he had no power nor command and that he was but a shade. As a result of the disgust and the chagrin which he had over this, he abandoned all, left the queen his wife, and went to his own country.”[v]  (Soisson's actions confirm that his interest in Alice of Champagne was exclusively in her claims to the crown of Jerusalem.) According to Edbury, the Venetians were also shortchanged (by their own account), although given Venice’s near-insatiable greed in this period it is hard to know if their expectations for reward were justified or excessive in the first place. 



Yet, niceties aside, Balian had succeeded where his honorable father had failed. He had reduced the last stronghold of the imperialists, expelled the last imperial “Baillie” and ensured that his replacement did not dare set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Tommaso di Acerra landed in Tripoli and remained there, with no influence in Outremer whatsoever.

Balian was rewarded by being named Baillie of Jerusalem by King Henry I of Cyprus when the latter succeeded his mother as the closest relative of the absent Conrad Hohenstaufen. Thus, for the last year of his life Balian d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, was not only the ruler of Jerusalem in fact but also in name.



He died on September 4, 1247, of unknown causes. He would have been roughly 40 years of age. He left behind at least one son, John, who succeeded to the title of Lord of Beirut. 

Tomb of William of Salisbury
Clearly, Balian was a very different — and less admirable — man than his father. Balian was not prepared to risk arrest and death for the sake of an honorable reputation. He was not prepared to trust promises, certainly not from the Emperor. Novare never describes him, as he does his father, prostrating himself on the earth face-down in prayer, nor does he publicly declare his faith in God. Balian d’Ibelin does not, like his father, get named in the same breath as St. Louis.



Nearly alone among his generation of peers he was not famous as a legal scholar, a historian, a philosopher, or a troubadour. There may be a reason. Tellingly, Balian insisted on custody of Filangieri because of what Filangieri had done to Beirut ten years earlier. Likewise, he insisted on the same kind of pillory for Filangieri as the Emperor had made for him. This suggests to me that Balian was traumatized by the experience of being tortured in the Emperor’s custody. The 21-year-old nobleman had not expected the treatment he received, and he never fully recovered from it psychologically.



Balian appears to shine only as a soldier, a leader of men — and as a husband. He did not give up his Eschiva, he forced first his stubborn, principled and pious father and then pope himself to recognize the marriage instead. He did not do that for lands — he had more than enough and there were plenty of other heiresses including ones with royal blood he could have had. He did it for love.



Balian II strikes me, a novelist, as a wonderfully flawed hero, a man of passion more than principle, and a man of courage, iron will and determination. He is the hero of my current series of novels starting with:





[i] Edbury, John d’Ibelin, p. 50.
[ii] Ibid, p. 68.
[iii] Ibid, p. 70.
[iv] Novare, p. 179.
[v] This is the text translated by John La Monte from the Gestes des Chiprois, a 14th century history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by an unknown author, that some attribute to Novare. It is contained in an appendix to Novare, p. 199.



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



Friday, April 12, 2019

Balian II: Son and Heir to Beirut


 Balian, the Lord of Beirut’s eldest son and heir, was a close friend and “compeer” of Philip de Novare. He, therefore, figures comparatively prominently in Novare’s autobiographical account of the civil wars.  He was an ardent supporter of his father’s struggle for the Rule of Law in Outremer and took over as the leader of the baronial opposition to Hohenstaufen rule in the crusader states at his father’s death in 1236. Yet, based on Novare’s account (who knew both men well), he had a decidedly different temperament and personality from his father. I provide a biography in two parts.

 



Balian first enters the historical record on the (unnamed) day of his knighting. Interestingly, Novare notes that he and his younger brother Baldwin were knighted jointly, suggesting that either Balian’s knighting was delayed or his brother’s was moved forward — or both. The knighting of a lord’s eldest son was always celebrated more or less lavishly, and a lord was often allowed to levy special taxes to help finance the occasion. Knighting two sons at once was a means of getting the most out of that expenditure. More significantly, the entire event was held in Cyprus rather than in Balian’s future lordship of Beirut.  At the time of the knighting (ca. 1224), Beirut’s younger brother Philip was acting regent of Cyprus for the child king Henry I.  The fact that Balian was knighted on Cyprus suggests that he had served his apprenticeship as a squire with his uncle in Cyprus. The event was marked by great celebrations lasting several days and including jousting, plays, and other games. Unfortunately, it was in one such game that Sir Amaury Barlais believed he was cheated by a certain Sir Toringuel, a charge that eventually led to attempted murder and exile, and contributed to the tensions that eventually erupted in civil war. (See: Seeds of Civil War).



While Balian had no role in this drama aside from being the cause of the celebration, his father tasked him with escorting Barlais out of the Kingdom of Cyprus. It was a delicate mission for one so young, and subsequent events suggest that he may not have handled it all too well. Then again maybe nothing he could have done would have convinced Barlais that the Ibelins were not his enemies.

 

Balian’s next historical appearance was more fateful. In 1228, when the Holy Roman Emperor arrived on Cyprus on his way to Syria, he sent avowals of his great love and respect for his “dear uncle” of Beirut (i.e. uncle of his deceased Empress Yolanda) and invited him and all his sons to a banquet. Balian and one of his brothers (sources differ on whether it was Baldwin or Hugh) were singled out for the greater “honor” of serving the Emperor at the table, “one with the cup and the other with the bowl.”[i] As related in The Emperor’s Banquet, Frederick II used the occasion (when his guests were unarmed and he had hundreds of armed men surrounding them) to attempt to extort money from Beirut.  When the latter refused to cave-in without a judgement of the court, Frederick took twenty hostages, including both of Beirut’s sons. They were to serve as assurances that Beirut would appear before a court. Again, Balian is here an object rather than an actor.



He was a victim next. Novare records that Balian and his brother were “put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross of iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs….”[ii] Note: they were hostages for their father’s good behavior; the Emperor had not so much as accused them of committing a crime — much less proven that they were guilty of wrong-doing. Furthermore, Balian and his brother were not released until weeks later. Novare notes that the Ibelin sons “had endured so long an imprisonment on land and in the galleys at sea and were so miserable that it was pitiful to behold them.”[iii]


Despite this, Novare claims that after his release, Balian joined the Emperor’s household “willingly and amiably.” This is a little too much “goodness and light” in the opinion of historians. Peter Edbury’s far more logical interpretation is that Balian remained a hostage — albeit under better conditions.[iv] That the Emperor considered holding Balian the best means of coercing his father is clear from Novare’s report which puts the following words into the Emperor’s mouth: “I well know that Balian is your very heart and so long as I have him I shall have you.”[v]



Yet again, he was not the only hostage. The Emperor released Baldwin (or Hugh) but insisted that Beirut’s fourth son John, a youth of no more than 13 or 14, join his household as a squire. Clearly he was a second hostage, and one can only speculate why Frederick preferred the younger son older the older hostage Baldwin/Hugh.  Surprisingly, John ingratiated himself so well with the Emperor that he was offered a fief in Italy (Foggia). Balian, on the other hand, remained an inveterate opponent of the Hohenstaufen — something wholly understandable after having been tortured for nothing.



Henceforth, Balian is found at the forefront of the struggle against the Emperor. He sailed with his father in June 1229 to Cyprus and at the Battle of Nicosia, after his father had been unhorsed and isolated and his uncle slain, it was Balian who rallied the knights of Ibelin and led a decisive charge that put their enemies to flight. (See: Battle of Nicosia).


He was also active in the siege of St. Hilarion, at one point when a sally from the castle had over-run the Ibelin camp, “Sir Balian came… recovered the camp, and, spurring up to the gate of the wall, broke his lance on the iron of the wall gate.”[vi] At another point, when Novare himself was badly wounded before the castle, Balian “succored him and rescued him most vigorously.”[vii] Even taking into account Novare’s bias and affection for his “compeer” Balian, it would appear that by Beirut’s heir, now about 22 years old, was developing into an exceptionally bold knight.


It was probably at this juncture, after the defeat of the five imperial baillies but before the expedition of Riccardo Filangieri in 1231, that Balian married Eschiva de Montbèliard. Eschiva was the daughter and heiress of Walter de Montbèliard, the former Regent of Cyprus (1205-1210), and his wife Burgundia de Lusignan; her maternal grandparents were Aimery de Lusignan and Eschiva d’Ibelin. She had married sometime before 1229 Gerard de Montaigu, a nephew of both the Templar and Hospitaller Masters, Pedro and Guerin de Montaigu respectively, and also the nephew of the Archbishop of Nicosia, Eustorge de Montaigu.  Gerard had been killed in the Battle of Nicosia (July 14, 1229), fighting on the Ibelin side. The traditional year of mourning would have ended in July 1230, making the second half of 1230 the most probably date of the wedding.



Because Balian and Eschiva were cousins (Balian’s uncle Philip had married Eschiva’s aunt Alys, the sister of her father) they needed a dispensation from the pope for their marriage. However, this appears to have been lacking. Because it was lacking, Edbury states that the Archbishop of Nicosia excommunicated them and was then “hounded…out of his province” to take refuge in Acre.[viii] According to other sources, a papal excommunication was issued on March 4, 1231, however, in Cyprus at this time the year started on March 25, so a date of March 4, 1231 in Cypriot chronicles corresponds to March 4, 1232 in today's reckoning.*






Most probably, Nicosia (an uncle of Eschiva’s deceased husband and possibly offended by her desire to remarry so soon) threatened an excommunication. Something (probably intimidation from Balian and his friends) induced him to flee to Acre before he could implement it. At that point Nicosia may have appealed to the Papal Legate and Patriarch of Jerusalem, but the latter — owing much to the Lord of Beirut and being a bitter opponent of Frederick II — did nothing. So Nicosia appealed over the Patriarch’s head, directly to the pope. The latter then issued the excommunication in March of 1232, the news reaching Outremere only shortly before the Battle of Argidi.



In any case, we know that in the fall of 1231, the Lord of Beirut entrusted his heir with holding the key port of Limassol against the Emperor’s fleet with some 600 knights and roughly 3,800 other fighting men on board. These men under the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangiere had been sent to re-establish imperial rule on Cyprus. Balian was so successful (despite having few troops at his disposal) that Filangieri opted not to force a landing at all. Instead, the imperial ships sailed across to Syria, where Filangieri promptly took the city of Beirut — but not the citadel.



The citadel of Beirut was well-provisioned with supplies and water, but Beirut had reduced the garrison to a minimum to concentrate his fighting men on Cyprus. Now it faced a siege with woefully inadequate manpower. Beirut, who was still on Cyprus, recognized the peril his castle was in and appealed to the King of Cyprus to aid him in recovering his city and relieving his castle. The King of Cyprus not only agreed but called up the entire army of Cyprus.



Delayed by storms and bad weather, however, it was the spring of 1232 before the Ibelin army reached Beirut. It was rapidly apparent that the Ibelin forces were too weak to dislodge the Imperialists, so the next best option was to send men through the Imperial blockade to reinforce the garrison. Roughly 100 men (knights, sergeants and squires) volunteered for this dangerous mission, and Balian expected to be entrusted with it. Instead, Beirut chose his younger brother Johnny — much to Balian’s outrage. Why? There is no mention of displeasure or excommunication. Rather, Beirut blandly announced that he had “greater need” for Balian “without than within.”[ix] In other words, young John was expendable; Balian was not.



Short term, Beirut wanted his heir to undertake a diplomatic mission to win the Prince of Antioch to the Ibelin cause. Antioch, however, appears to have doubted the Ibelin’s chances of success in their rebellion against the most powerful monarch on earth and preferred not to anger the Hohenstaufen. Balian found himself isolated and cut off, as Antioch refused him permission to return to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Balian’s frustration and determination to rejoin his father can be measured by the fact that he contracted with the Genoese to bring two ships from Cyprus to take him off, and when they were disabled by Antioch, he sought a safe-conduct from the Sultan of Damascus so he might pass through Saracen territory and from there to Acre to join his father.



As fate would have it, he did not need to make use of this safe-conduct. The Lord of Beirut had persuaded the Genoese of Acre to aid him and obtained so much support from his peers that the Imperial forces feared a confrontation. They abandoned Beirut and withdrew to Tyre, which was Imperialist in sentiment. Balian coming south from Antioch was the first Ibelin to reach Beirut after the siege was lifted. He found the citadel badly damaged but was greeted with great joy by his younger brother John and the rest of the garrison. Because he remained in Beirut, he was not present at the debacle of Casal Imbert, where his brothers Baldwin, Hugh and Guy, were humiliated and defeated in a surprise night attack.



However, encouraged by their success at Casal Imbert, the Ibelin’s inveterate, old opponent Amaury Barlais led Imperial mercenaries back to Cyprus and seized control of the entire island in the Emperor’s name. According to Novare, the Imperialist return had been so sudden that:



“most of the ladies and damsels and children of Cyprus were … not able to go to [the fortress of St. Hilarion] and so they took refuge in the churches and houses of religion, and many there were who took refuge and hid in the mountains and caves. These ladies dressed themselves as shepherdesses and their children as shepherds’ children, and these women went to glean the grain which was there and on this they lived, both themselves and their children, in such great misery that it is pitiful to relate.”[x]



Notably, Balian’s wife was not one of those who took refuge in a church or disguised herself as a shepherdess. Eschiva de Montbèliard, Novare tells us, “… dressed in the robes of a minor brother and…mounted a castle called Buffavento…[and] she provisioned it [Buffavento] with food, of which it had none.”[xi]


Meanwhile, Novare tells us dramatically,



“The Langobards…committed all the abominations and outrages and villainies of which they knew and were capable. They broke into the churches and the Temple and the house of the Hospital and all the religious houses, and they dragged the ladies and the children who clung to the altars and to the priests who chanted Masses….They put the ladies and children into carts and on donkeys most shamefully and sent them to [Kyrenia] to prison.”[xii]



The King of Cyprus could not allow these conditions to reign in his kingdom and he hurried back with the Cypriot host. He had come of age on May 3, during the Battle of Casal Imbert, and he led his army, but he wisely left the command to the experienced Lord of Beirut.



And Balian? He joined his father directly from Beirut, as the Cypriot army sailed up the coast of the Levant from Acre. The Cypriots made landfall at Famagusta that was strongly garrisoned by Imperial forces. They therefore landed on an island off the coast connected by a ford at low tide. They were able to off-load men and horses out of range of the Imperial forces. During the night small boats were sent into the city by cover of darkness, causing great confusiong among the enemy. Frightened into thinking they were outnumbered, the Imperial forces set fire to their ships and pulled out. Throughout this operation there is no mention of Balian, suggesting that he was indeed in “disgrace” at this time. This would have been consistent with a March 1232 excommunication.



The King of Cyprus advanced unopposed to his capital. The Imperial forces chose to make a stand across the road from Nicosia to Kyrenia. They chose a strong position on the flank of the steep mountain range that cuts Nicosia off from the coast. The Imperial forces were drawn up on the slope and had the tactical advantage. All they really had to do was wait, but over-estimating their own strength they threw this advantage away. They charged the Cypriots. And Balian? This is what Novare, who was present at the battle, has to say:



Sir Balian, his son, had always in this war led the first troop. At this time [Beirut] made [Balian] come before him and demanded that he swear to obey the command of the Holy Church, for he was under sentence of excommunication because of his marriage. [Balian] replied that he could not accede to this request. The noble man [Beirut] … said: “Balian, I have more faith in God than in your knighthood, and since you do not wish to grant my request, leave the array for, and it please God, an excommunicated man shall never be a leader of our troop.”[xiii]



Balian disobeyed. 

 More than that, as Novare tells us:



“…he escaped and went to the first rank where were his brother Sir Hugh and Sir Anceau; he gave them advice and showed them that which he knew to be of advantage, and then he left them and placed himself before them to the side. He had but few men who were with him, for at that time there were only five knights who would speak to him, all the others having sworn to respect the command of Holy Church…



“When the advance guard of the first company of Langobards approached the division of my lord of Beirut and the king, Sir Balian spurred through a most evil place, over rocks and stones, and went to attack the others above the middle of the pass. So much he delayed them and did such feats of arms that no one was able to enter or leave this pass…Many times was he pressed by so many lanes that no one believed that he would ever be able to escape. Those who were below with the king saw him and knew him well by his arms and each of them cried to my lord of Beirut: “Ah, Sir, let us aid Sir Balian, for we see that he will be killed there above.” [The Lord of Beirut] said to them: “Leave him alone. Our Lord will aid him, and it please Him, and we shall ride straight forward with all speed, for if we should turn aside we might lose all.”[xiv]



The Cypriot forces were eventually victorious and chased the Imperial troops up and over the mountain to Kyrenia. Here the survivors, including the leaders of the Imperial faction, took refuge in the powerful fortress on the shore.  Because the Cypriots lacked a fleet, however, the leaders of the Imperial party were able to sail from Kyrenia to safety. Barlais, Bethsan, and Gibelet sailed to Italy where they were received by the Emperor and rewarded with Italian fiefs. Filangieri sailed for Tyre, where he continued to assert his claim to be Baillie of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, a strong garrison held the castle of Kyrenia for the Emperor, and the Ibelins were forced to besiege it.

The siege was bitter with treason on both sides. Sir Anceau de Brei, one of the Ibelin’s staunchest and most colorful supporters, was wounded in the thigh by a crossbow and died some six months later of the infection. The Queen of Cyprus, Alice of Montferrat, who had sided with the Langobards and put herself in the castle of Kyrenia of her own free will, died of illness during the siege. At one point, Balian is reported leading an assault on the city that was fought off after grievous injuries to the attackers. So, apparently, Balian was back in his father’s favor, yet it is unclear if the excommunication had been lifted in the meantime or not.



Kyrenia fell after roughly a year-long siege, and the Lord of Beirut returned to Syria, where the Emperor tried to convince him that all would be forgiven and forgotten if he would just — as a point of honor — first come into the Emperor’s territory and place himself at the Emperor’s mercy. Beirut answered by relating a fable of a stag who an aging lion sweet-talks into coming into his lair. Twice he escapes with serious wounds, but the third time he is killed. Beirut stoutly declared he would heartless (more like brainless!) to trust the Emperor after all the times the Emperor had broken his word and attacked him or his without cause or due process.



Balian, however, appears to have remained in Cyprus with King Henry.  At all events, In March 1236 he was named Constable of Cyprus. In October of the same year, however, his father died. At the age of 29 or at most 30 Balian had become Lord of Beirut. 

The first half of Balian's life was characterized by deeds of courage, military competence and leadership, but also by undeniable impetuosity and passion. He charged in regardless of risks, and once he gave his heart nothing would induce him to abandon his lady. He does not appear to have inherited his grandfather's gift for negotiation and there is not a trace of his father's caution, calm and reason in the stories told about him. Yet he would need both to step into his father's shoes effectively.

Balian's story continues next week. Meanwhile, you can learn more about Balian in my of my current series describing the war between Frederick II and the barons of Outremer starting with:





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





[i] Novare, Philip. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936) 77.

[ii] Novare, 81

[iii] Novare, 87.

[iv] Edbury, Peter. The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191 – 1374 (Cambridghe: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 59.

[v] Novare, 81.

[vi] Novare, 106.

[vii] Novare, 106.

[viii] Edbury, Peter. John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997) 56

[ix] Novare, p.132.

[x] Novare, 142.

[xi] Novare, 142

[xii] Novare, 143.

[xiii] Novare, 151.


[xiv] Novare,153
* Peter Edbury demonstrated this peculiarity in the dating of Cypriot events of the 12th and 13th centuries in his essay: "Redating the death of Henry I of Cyprus?" Law and History in the Latin East (Farnham Surry: Ashgate, 2014) 339-348.