All content on this blog is protected by copyright.
Content used elsewhere without attribution constitutes theft of intellectual property and will be prosecuted.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Balian of Beirut: Part II

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:

Best Christian Historical                                                                  Best Historical Fiction
Fiction 2019!                                                                                               2020

BUY NOW!                                        BUY NOW!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome feedback and guest bloggers, but will delete offensive, insulting, racist or hate-inciting comments. Thank you for respecting the rules of this blog.