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Wednesday, November 8, 2023

House of Ibelin - The Daughters of Balian d'Ibelin

Balian d'Ibelin, the defender of Jerusalem in 1187, had two daughers, Helvis and Margaret. Both helped establish the Ibelin dynasty by  strengthening the kinship ties of the House of Ibelin with marriages to leading noblemen in the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and France. Both women married twice.


When still a young girl, Helvis married Reginald, Lord of Sidon. Sidon had fought his way off the field at Hattin and evaded capture. He defended his castle of Belfort against Saladin, allegedly pretending an interest in converting to Islam to buy time to build up his defences. He was seized when he came to negotiate and either tortured in sight of the castle (until he ordered the garrison to surrender) or held in captivity in Damascus until the castle surrendered to secure his release. Out of remorse, the chronicles tell us, Saladin restored Sidon to him as an ‘iqta held from the Sultan of Damascus rather than a fief of the crown of Jerusalem. This may be the reason Balian d’Ibelin married his still young daughter to the grizzled Baron of Sidon: Sidon was the only baron of Jerusalem that still had at least a promise of land from the victor. If so, it was a miscalculation. The restoration of Sidon to Christian rule remained a promise until 1197 when the German Crusade recaptured it.

In 1202, five years after regaining his barony, Reginal de Sidon died. He was probably close to or more than 70 years of age, and Helvis would have been just 24. She was also the mother of a young son named after her father, Balian. Helvis assumed control of the barony and served as her son’s guardian until he came of age in 1213. Balian de Sidon played a prominent role in the conflict between the barons of Jerusalem and the Holy Roman emperor, serving as regent of the kingdom (often jointly with others) for many years during the Hohenstaufen’s absence. He also attempted to mediate between the factions.  

Helvis married a second time. Since Helvis was not an heiress, she could was not required to remarry, and we can assume this second marriage was of her choosing. Her choice was a newcomer to Outremer, a man who had followed the call to the Fourth Crusade but refused to be misused as a Venetian mercenary. Rather than joining in the sack of Zara and then Constantinople, he proceeded in the company of his brother and others of their affinity to the Holy Land, arriving about the time of Reginald de Sidon’s death. He was Guy de Montfort, brother of Simon the Elder and uncle of the British parliamentary reformer.

Guy was born in 1160, which made him a good 18 years older than Helvis and already in his early forties when he arrived in the Holy Land. He was widowed and had an adult son and two adult daughters in France. However, he was willing to stay in the Holy Land and was granted the vacant Syrian barony of Toron, presumably by Queen Isabella, before her death in 1205. Since Helvis was Isabella’s half-sister, granting an ‘appropriate’ title to Helvis’ new husband would have been in accordance with feudal practice of the time.

Helvis had one son by her new husband, named for her brother Philip, and two daughters, Maria and Petronilla. Helvis died in or shortly after 1210. As she would have been no more than 33 at the time, the probability that she died in childbirth is high. After her death, her husband Guy returned to France to join his brother Simon’s crusade against the Albigensians. His young family was taken under the wing of his brother’s wife, the vigorous and pious Alice de Montmorency until she died in 1221. During these childhood years, Philip forged close ties with his cousin Simon. Later, Philip returned to the Holy Land, took up the title of Lord of Toron and vigorously supported the Ibelin rebellion against Frederick II. 

Balian and Maria’s second daughter Margaret married Hugh of Tiberias in her teens. Hugh was the son and heir of the Prince of Galilee and a stepson of Raymond de Tripoli. Since Galilee had been lost in the aftermath of Hattin, his title was nominal, but as a staunch supporter of Henri de Champagne, he probably enjoyed royal patronage. When Henri de Champagne died in the autumn of 1198, Hugh proposed his younger brother Ralph as consort for the widowed Queen Isabella of Jerusalem, but the High Court preferred Aimery de Lusignan, King of Cyprus.

When in 1198 Aimery de Lusignan barely escaped an assassination attempt, his suspicions fell on the Tiberias brothers. He seized their properties and ordered them out of the kingdom. Significantly, the barons of Jerusalem, including Margaret’s brother John, rallied to the Tiberias brothers. John, then still constable of the kingdom, argued that the king did not have the right to disseize a vassal without the judgement of the High Court. Nevertheless, the Tiberias brothers did not feel safe in Lusignan’s kingdom and chose voluntary exile instead.

Margaret and Hugh first went to Tripoli but continued to Constantinople after the establishment of Frankish control there. As the daughter of a Byzantine princess, Margaret may have been the driving force behind this move. Hugh’s arrival in the city is the last recorded event of his life. He is believed to have died in Constantinople between 1204 and 1210. The couple had no children. 

After her husband’s death, Margaret returned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1210 and married Walter, the heir to the Lordship of Caesarea. Walter’s inheritance was still held by his mother and her second husband, Aymar of Laron, so Walter and Margaret went to Cyprus, where Walter was named constable in 1210. 

As constable of Cyprus, Walter led a contingent of 100 Cypriot knights to Egypt for the Fifth Crusade. He was in Egypt when Saracen forces broke through to Caesarea and laid it to waste, effectively ending his interest in regaining control of his hereditary lordship. He was present at the coronation of Yolanda (Isabella II) of Jerusalem at Tyre in 1225 and witnessed the emperor’s infamous banquet in Nicosia. After that, Walter was a steadfast supporter of the Ibelins in their struggle against the Holy Roman emperor. He died fighting with the Ibelins at the Battle of Nicosia on 14 July 1229.

Margaret was left a widow with one son and four daughters, all of whom must have been less than 20 years of age. She did not remarry and probably remained in Cyprus, where she held substantial estates. In 1241, the lordship of Ibelin was recovered from the Saracens by treaty. According to Jerusalem’s laws, the lordship fell to Margaret, then 60 years old, as the ‘nearest’ relative of the last lord, her father, Balian. It must have been deeply satisfying to her to regain Ibelin after more than a half-century. One can only hope she died before it was lost once again in 1253, but the date of her death is unrecorded.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


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For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read:


1 comment:

  1. When one considers the merritts, is there really any doubt tht Balian should have been king?


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