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Monday, May 3, 2021

The Reluctant Rebel: John d'Ibelin, Part II

 When the Lord of Beirut stood up to Frederick II's threats and then walked out of the trap set by the Emperor a free man, it was by no means clear that he would ultimately win. He left behind his eldest sons, and, while the bulk of the Cypriot nobles and knights backed him at that moment, he had just flung down the gauntlet at the most powerful man in Christendom. 

Just who was the Lord of Beirut, and what sort of man was he? Today, the second part of my three-part biography.

Having served as regent of the Kingdom ofJerusalem to the satisfaction of his queen and her subjects from April 1205 until October 1210, John d'Ibelin stepped down in Oct. 1210.  The business of government was turned over over to Marie de Montferrat, now 18, and her consort, King John de Brienne. (For details see: The Remarkable Career of John de Brienne, Part II.) 

John then all but disappears from the witness lists of the kingdom. The assumption of historians is that there was some kind of a breach between the former regent and the new king consort, but this is by no means certain.  John had been married early to a certain  Helvis of Nephin. We know nothing about the lady -- except that she bore John five sons, who all died in infancy.  We also know that John remarried the widow, Melisende of Arsur, sometime during his regency, because his eldest sons were old enough to be knighted in 1224.  In addition, John's mother died in 1217. In short, it is possible that John chose to retire from court for personal reasons.

Nevertheless, both John and his younger brother Philip took part in the Fifth Crusade, notably under the banner of the King of Cyprus rather than the King of Jerusalem. Again, this may be indicative of strained relations between the Ibelins and Brienne -- or simply a reflection of more cordial relations between them and the young Lusignan King Hugh, now married to another of the Ibelin's nieces, Alice of Champagne. Certainly, King Hugh commended his kingdom to the keeping of Philip d'Ibelin on his deathbed in 1218. His unexpected death while still a vigorous man in his early twenties took everyone by surprise and left an 18-month-old infant, Henry, as his heir. Philip was duly elected by the High Court to rule until Henry came of age (May 1232), but himself died in 1227.  At his death, the High Court of Cyprus chose his brother, John, the Lord of Beirut, to step into his shoes. It was this election that put John on a collision course with the Holy Roman Emperor.

Two years earlier, in 1225 the Holy Roman Emperor married Yolanda of Jerusalem, the daughter of John de Brienne and Marie of Jerusalem. She was just 13 years old, and no sooner had she landed in Brindisi that her new bridegroom dismissed her father like a superfluous servant and announced the he was henceforth "King of Jerusalem." All the barons of Outremer who had escorted her to her marriage duly took the oath of fealty to Frederick Hohenstaufen. 

John of Beirut was conspicuously absent from Queen Yolanda's escort. Presumably he was still out of favor with Brienne, or simply too busy on Cyprus or in Beirut. There is no reason to presume he would have refused to take the oath, however, since there was a clear precedent for the consort of a ruling queen to take precedence over the widower (even if crowned an anointed) of a deceased queen: this was precisely the precedent set -- with the full and hearty support of John's parents -- when Queen Isabella and Conrad de Montferrat had been preferred over Guy de Lusignan in 1190.

Unfortunately for all, however, by the time the Emperor Frederick finally landed on Cyprus on his way to the Holy Land, his fifteen-year-old empress was dead, leaving behind an infant son, Conrad. This boy was now legally the King of Jerusalem in his own right, and while Frederick was within his rights to claim the regency, he had lost the right to call himself King -- something Frederick either never understood or never admitted. Curiously, he also arrived -- for reasons that remain completely obscure -- determined to "break" the Lord of Beirut.

The basis for the Emperor's hostility to the Lord of Beirut can only be conjectured. Since the Emperor dismissed Brienne discourteously, making him a permanent enemy, it can hardly have been Beirut's less than ardent support of Brienne. However, Beirut's brother had crowned Henry de Lusignan King of Cyprus without awaiting imperial permission. Furthermore, in light of his personal experience with regents plundering his treasury, perhaps it was natural for the Hohenstaufen to assume the Ibelins had enriched themselves illegally at the expense of young King Henry. Edbury suggests it was primarily greed for revenue on the eve of an expensive undertaking that motivated the Emperor. Yet it remains a mystery why the Emperor believed the Lordship of Beirut, which had been given to John d'Ibelin with the appropriate royal charters by his own sister, did not legally belong to him. 

As we have seen, after fair words to lure Beirut, his sons, friends and vassals to a banquet, the Emperor sprang a trap and attempted to bully Beirut into surrendering both revenues and his lordship of Beirut. (See: The Emperor's Banquet.) Beirut must have had some indication that the Emperor was hostile, or his council would not have advised him from attending the banquet, yet it is hard to believe the Beirut truly expected what happened -- and still walked into the trap.

Tellingly, although Beirut angrily rejected an offer to murder the Emperor by over-zealous supporters, he withdrew to the mountain fortresses of Cyprus and readied them to withstand a siege. While this was clearly an act of defiance, it was not a act of treason. Beirut explicitly held the castles for young King Henry of Lusignan, a promise that may sound disingenuous but which later actions proved honest.  His response was rather a proportionate response to the treachery of the Emperor, who had promised honors yet demanded bribes instead. Furthermore, his action which involved no violence, nevertheless check-mated the Emperor, who did not have the time (Sicily was under attack from his father-in-law and the pope) or resources for an all-out war.  

The Emperor was forced to seek terms. In exchange for the return of the castles to royal officers, the Emperor promised to release the hostages.  In addition, Beirut promised to take part in the Emperor's crusade, along with all his vassals, while the Emperor agreed, in writing 1) to take no action against Beirut or his supporters without the judgement of the appropriate court (i.e. the High Courts of Cyprus and Jerusalem respectively), and 2) to bear no malice for all that had passed between them in the preceding months.

The value of the Emperor's sworn and signed word was soon demonstrated when, as soon as he had Beirut and all his men on the mainland, he sent imperial mercenaries to Cyprus to attack, harass and intimidate the wives and children of these same men now serving in his army. He entrusted one of his Sicilian noblemen, the Count of Cotron, with this task. The degree of their success can be measured by the fact that Beirut's his sister-in-law, the widow of his brother Philip, was in sufficient fear for her life that she risked a winter crossing to Syria in a small craft with her young children and all nearly drowned in the attempt to escape. 

After concluding his secret peace with al-Kamil and parading around in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in his Imperial crown, Frederick II had had enough of his Kingdom of Jerusalem. After briefly laying siege to Templar headquarters in Acre, threatening the Patriarch, ordering the harassment of the mendicant orders, and being pelted by offal by the common people, Frederick sailed away from Acre never to return -- although he continued to call himself "King of Jerusalem" for the next 25 years. 

But he wasn't done with the Lord of Beirut....

* Edbury, Peter. John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Boydell Press, 1997, p. 56 
** William of Oldenberg, cited in Edbury, p. 57.
*** "...there is a marked resemblance between Ibelin and St. Louis of France, for while both were personally deeply religious neither permitted the Church to dictate to him against the mandates of his own conscience and better judgement." La Monte, John. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus by Philip de Novare. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 49.

The story of John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, continues next week.
John d'Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut, is a major character in the "Rebels of Outremer" Series starting with:

Find out more and buy at: Crusades (

1 comment:

  1. Frederick II had a lot in common with a certain member of the Equidae family.


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