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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The House of Ibelin: Obscure Origins

 In the fourteenth century, the Ibelins claimed to be descendants of the Counts of Chartres, but the claim is patently concocted, and modern historians have been puzzling over the roots of the family ever since.


Sir Steven Runciman believed the house of Ibelin ‘was founded by the younger brother of a certain Guelin, who was deputy viscount of Chartres, that is to say, the Count of Blois’ representative in Chartres’. He noted that ‘such officers in those days did not enjoy hereditary rank but were often drawn from lawyers’ families’.[i] Peter Edbury, argued that onomastic evidence points to Tuscan or Ligurian (i.e. Italian) origins instead.

Recent genealogical research and DNA samples reinforce Edbury’s thesis, while suggesting further that the Ibelins descended from Italian merchants who immigrated to the Holy Land prior to the First Crusade. There are indications that, although Latin Christians, they had already established themselves in positions of economic and social power under the Abbasids and possibly played a role in aiding the first crusaders take Jaffa and Jerusalem. Such a thesis is hugely exciting and would explain a number of mysteries and anomalies. However, until the results of preliminary research have been published this thesis remains speculative.

Whatever his place of origin, and whatever he called himself before coming to the Holy Land, the first man to identify himself as an ‘Ibelin’ was a certain Barisan. His date of birth is unknown, as is the date he arrived in the Holy Land. The fact that he does not appear to have taken part in the First Crusade, gives credence to thesis noted above that he one of the small minority of Latin Christians already resident in the Levant prior to the First Crusade.  What is certain is that by 1115 he was ‘Constable of Jaffa’, a significant position, suggesting he had made a name for himself and earned the trust of the king. Since such positions did not go to youths unless they were of high birth, we can assume that Barisan was a mature man by that time.

In 1134, he prominently refused to side with his rebellious lord, Hugh of Puiset, Count of Jaffa, siding with the crown, and it may have been for this loyalty that Barisan was rewarded by the king with a fief almost a decade later. In about 1142, the new castle and lordship of Ibelin south of Jaffa was bestowed on Barisan. Notably, he became a vassal of the new Count of Jaffa rather than a tenant-in-chief. Through hard work and loyal service, Barisan had reached the lowest rung of the feudal elite, but he was not yet a baron.

Meanwhile, in 1138, he had married a certain Helvis (or Heloise), daughter of Baldwin of Ramla, one of the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. At the time of this marriage, Helvis was not the heiress; she had a younger brother, Renier. So, this marriage was between a man not yet raised to the nobility and the daughter of a nobleman. It was a good marriage but not a spectacular one. The situation changed, however, when Renier of Ramla died childless in 1148. Suddenly, Helvis was the heiress of the prestigious and prosperous barony of Ramla and Mirabel. (Despite the two names, this was a single barony.) Through sheer luck, a good marriage had turned into a spectacular one.

Barisan had little time to enjoy his increased status. He died in 1150, probably peacefully in his bed of old age; he was most likely more than 60 years old and could easily have been 70 or older at the time of his death.

[i] Sir Steven Runciman, ‘The Families of Outremer: The Feudal Nobility of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291’, The Creighton Lecture in History 1959 (London: University of London Press, 1960), 7.

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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1 comment:

  1. Fascinating stuff. Wealth, power and prestige earned, not inherited. Any American would love it. Woot!


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