John d'Ibelin, 1179 - 1236, has gone down in history as "the Old Lord of Beirut." The description originates with 13th century historian and jurist Philip de Novare, who makes "the Old Lord of Beirut" the hero in his account of the baronial revolt against Emperor Fredrick II. While modern historians warn that Novare was a vassal of the Ibelins and obviously a biased observer, he nevertheless provides a first-hand account of events that are rarely contradicted outright by other sources. Rather, it is the invariable positive "spin" on the motives and actions of the Ibelins that modern historians object to. Furthermore, none can deny that John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, was a towering figure of the early 13th century, a man admired for his learning, wisdom and influence.
Beirut was retaken for Christendom by German crusaders in 1198, but was so badly destroyed in the process (either by the retreating Saracens or the advancing Germans or both) that it was allegedly an uninhabitable ruin. Despite that, it was an immensely valuable prize because of its harbor, the fertile surrounding coastal territory, and the proximity to Antioch and Damascus. It was clearly a mark of great favor and trust that John d'Ibelin was granted the lordship of Beirut.
The fact that John was strongly supported by the commons of Acre further underlines the fact that he was not solely self-interested. John had no problem accepting the authority of John de Brienne and Henri de Lusignan, after all. I believe, therefore, a strong case can be made for John opposing not the concept of central authority but rather the individual ― Frederick II, who even his admirers describe as arrogant and authoritarian. Frederick II believed that, like a Roman Emperor, he was God’s representative on earth. Frederick II provoked revolts in the West as well as the East, and was excommunicated several times. John d'Ibelin, on the other hand, was widely admired in his own lifetime and has been compared to St. Louis of France by later historians.
He died from injuries obtained fighting against the Saracens on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1236. On his deathbed he joined the Knights Templar.
Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land
in the Era of the Crusades. John of Beirut is one of the main characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom, Rebels against Tyranny and The Emperor Strikes Back.
For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read: