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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Philip d'Ibelin, Regent of Cyprus

 Philip is often lumped together with his brother John, Lord of Beirut, by chroniclers and historians much the same way his father and uncle, Balian and Baldwin, were treated a generation earlier.  Yet, this should not be taken to mean that the brothers were identical, interchangeable or always in accord with one another. While we know much more about the words and deeds of John of Beirut than of his younger brother Philip, there is one revealing incident recorded in Novare that gives us a glimpse of Philip as an individual in his own right ― and a tantalizing hint of a man with passion and loyalty.

In 1224 or 1225 (the date remains unclear) at the days-long tournament to mark the knighting of John of Beirut’s two eldest sons, a knight of Philip d’Ibelin’s household “smote” down a certain Cypriot lord, Amaury Barlais, in a game of “barbadaye.” (No one nowadays knows exactly what this was, but it is assumed to be a kind of melee.) The next day, Barlais and his men waylaid the knight and came near to killing him.  At this point, according to Novare, “Sir Philip, the bailli, was much angered and wished to attack [Sir Amaury]… My lord of Beirut, his brother, intervened between them and held them apart by force and ordered his son, Sir Balian, to conduct Sir Amaury Barlais there where he wished to go.” (Novare, Philip. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Colombia University Press, 1936, p.66.) So Philip was a man who, out of love and loyalty to a man in his service, could become enraged.

Furthermore, Novare tells us, Beirut was so set on reconciling his brother with Barlais, that he “went from Cyprus to Beirut and ordered the seeking out of Sir Amaury Barlais at Easter, and he carried him into Cyprus before his brother so suddenly that the latter knew nothing of it. He [my lord of Beirut] said to his brother that he wished him to pardon Sir Amaury in every manner and in every way; saying that if he would not do this he would never speak to him more….” (Novare, pp.66-67.) This tells us that Philip loved his brother so much that the threat not to speak was enough to make him cave in on a matter that greatly impassioned him.

Yet these are the only incidents that put flesh on the skeleton left by history. How he became the man he did can only be speculated upon based on the known facts.

Philip was the fourth and youngest child of Balian d’Ibelin and Maria Comnena. His earliest possible date of birth was 1181, although he might have been born a year or two later. Like his siblings, he was trapped in Jerusalem after the disaster at Hattin and would have witnessed his father’s dramatic return as well as have benefitted from Saladin’s generosity. Yet, given his young age (at most six and probably younger), it is unlikely that he was shaped by this event.

His childhood years between the ages of roughly five to ten were lived in reduced economic circumstances and great uncertainty. He would surely have been aware that everything might be lost at any moment, and his father would have been frequently absent, particularly during the Third Crusade. His situation, however, would have improved considerably after the Truce of Ramla.  With his half-sister secure on her throne, it is not too far-fetched to imagine Philip obtained his schooling as page and squire at his sister’s court under her husband Henri de Champagne (1192-1197).

Sometime between 1198 and 1200, on turning 17 or 18, he would have been knighted, probably by his brother-in-law the king (now Aimery de Lusignan) or his elder brother John, who was by this time Constable of Jerusalem (1198-1200). In 1205, when Philip was in his early twenties, his sister and her husband died, and his brother John became regent of Jerusalem for their niece Marie de Montferrat. Given how close the brothers were in later years, we can assume that Philip enjoyed substantial trust and power, but we have no details of his actual positions.

In the same year, the crown of Cyprus passed to the 10-year-old Hugh de Lusignan, and Walter de Montbéliard was elected regent by the High Court of Cyprus. Montbéliard was a recent arrival in the Latin East married to King Hugh’s elder sister and heir apparent Burgundia.  Sometime between 1207 and 1210, while Montbéliard was regent of Cyprus and Beirut regent of Jerusalem, they agreed on the marriage of Montbéliard’s sister Alys to Beirut’s brother Philip.  This marriage was clearly a political marriage, possibly designed to bind the two kingdoms closer together ― or possibly to breach differences that had already surfaced between the Montbéliards and Ibelins.

I say this because in 1210, when Hugh of Cyprus came of age, he accused Montbéliard of massive embezzlement and effectively drove him out of Cyprus altogether, while turning to his Ibelin kinsmen for support. His ties to the Ibelins had been strengthened by his marriage to their niece Alice de Champagne. Both Ibelin brothers accompanied Alice to her new kingdom. At the very latest, therefore, 1210 was the year in which Ibelin power in Cyprus began to wax. (This is the traditional interpretation. I have argued elsewhere that the Ibelins may already have been well-entrenched on Cyprus long before this late date. See: Certainly, Philip became a close friend and confidante of the young king and, again based on what happened eight years later, earned the respect and trust of the majority of Cypriot barons. Unfortunately, we know nothing about how he did that.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Marie de Montferrat had married John de Brienne, also in 1210, and Beirut had stepped down as regent. His relationship with King John was evidently cool from the start but deteriorated further after Marie de Montferrat died in childbed in 1212, leaving an infant daughter heiress to Jerusalem.  John de Brienne assumed that he remained king, despite the death of his wife, and continued to rule the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Beirut (and we presume Philip) appear to have questioned Brienne’s claim to rule, following the precedent set by their parents in opposing the rule of Guy de Lusignan after the death of Queen Sibylla three decades earlier. The breach between Beirut and Brienne almost certainly led to the Ibelins spending more time in and building up a client base on Cyprus.  Here they were welcome and either already held or were granted by King Hugh important properties, including at least the lordship of Peristerona and Episkopi. Significantly, during the Fifth Crusade, both John and Philip of Ibelin were listed as vassals of King Hugh of Cyprus rather than King John of Jerusalem, although John d'Ibelin still held the Lordship of Beirut in the latter kingdom.  This suggests either that they had more property in Cyprus, despite Beirut being extremely wealthy, or that they refused to serve under Brienne.

As the crusade got underway, King Hugh and King John quarreled. King Hugh removed himself from the crusade, heading for Antioch. Here he died abruptly (in an accident? of dysentery?) at the age of 23.  He left behind two little girls and a son just nine months old. Cyprus needed a new regent.

According to one of the chronicles of the period, on his deathbed, Hugh recommended Philip d’Ibelin to the High Court as regent for his infant son, Henry. Other chronicles claim that Hugh’s widow Alice of Champagne urged the High Court of Cyprus to select Philip d’Ibelin to “govern the land, hold the court and command over men.” A third version refers only to the knights, nobles, and people of Cyprus selecting Philip d’Ibelin. Clearly, in the eight years since the majority of King Hugh and his death, Philip (not John!) d’Ibelin had established himself as a man who could be trusted with the reins of government. There is no hint of factions or opposition to his appointment, which suggests that he did indeed enjoy widespread support at this time. 

However, the law of crusader kingdoms put him in a more dubious position.  According to the constitution of Cyprus, the regent for minor was the nearest relative, which in this case was the infant king’s mother Alice. At the time of her husband’s death, Alice preferred to name a deputy (the term used was bailli) to rule for her rather than taking up the reins of government herself. Controversial, however, was whether she was at liberty to recall him at any time. Most sources claim that the vassals of the crown swore an oath to Philip until the infant Prince Henry came of age. Other sources, however, suggest that the oath was until either the prince came of age, or Alice remarried.

This is significant because in 1223 or 1224, Alice fell-out with Philip and wanted to replace him. Why is unclear. One source suggests Philip bullied and humiliated Alice. Novare, on the other hand, claims that Philip had “much work and grief, while the queen held the revenues, which she spent freely.” (Novare, p. 63.) One can imagine a situation in which Alice was profligate with her expenditures, perhaps demanding more and more of the revenues, thereby provoking protests, rebukes, and criticism from Philip, which Alice, in turn, felt were “humiliating and bullying.”

In any case, Alice wanted to be rid of Philip, but the High Court wouldn’t hear of it ―clearly siding with Philip. This suggests they did not see him as bullying or over-reaching his authority, but rather as defending the interests of the kingdom. Alice responded by going to Tripoli and marrying the Prince of Antioch.  This only served to weaken her position in Cyprus, however, because she had not bothered to obtain the permission of her knights and nobles. The latter were now more outraged than ever. Rightly or wrongly, they alleged that if Antioch set foot on Cyprus, the life of their “little lord” King Henry would be in danger.

Alice’s position was further weakened by the outrage of the Pope, who claimed Alice and Bohemond were related within the prohibited degrees. He ruled the marriage invalid. Clearly, Bohemond was not going to be able to gain control of Cyprus for her. So Alice tried a different tactic: she appointed the disaffected Sir Amaury Barlais, the man who had already clashed with Philip over the near-murder of one of Philip’s knights, as her bailli.  When Barlais appeared before the High Court of Cyprus to present his credentials as bailli, however, he was accused of treason (because he had sworn an oath to Philip) and challenged to judicial combat by another baron.

In the midst of this power-struggle between Philip d’Ibelin and the dowager queen, Philip had young Henry, now aged eight, crowned king. The move was probably intended to bind the knights and nobles of Cyprus to Henry by oath, and so ensure that Alice and Bohemond ― or Alice and a different husband ― could not so easily depose him. Yet the crowning aroused the outrage of the Holy Roman Emperor, who was technically the overlord of Cyprus.

When the Holy Roman Emperor came east, he accused Philip of misusing the revenues of Cyprus, but by then Philip was already dead. In late 1227 or early 1228, he died of a “mortal malady” that had kept him bed-ridden for at least a year before his death and so weakened him that he had voluntarily offered to resign his position of bailli.

Those are the naked facts, but what do they tell actually tell us about Philip? 

Modern historians are quick to point out that Philip clung to power even though the acknowledged regent no longer wanted him. The allegations of impropriety leveled by the Holy Roman Emperor are also highlighted, casting Philip in a dubious light. Yet the Holy Roman Emperor never allowed his charges to go before a court of law.  On the contrary, he used every kind of force and deceit to ensure they did not come to court ― most probably because he knew his charges were entirely bogus. It is also significant that a large majority (between two-thirds and four-fifths depending on how many knights Cyprus had in this period) of the High Court consistently sided with Philip d’Ibelin. Finally, King Henry was extremely loyal to his Ibelin kin throughout his reign, a poignant hint that he had loved Philip, the man who had been a father for him from the age of one to ten.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Philip is a character in Rebels against Tyranny.


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


1 comment:

  1. Philip sounds awesome, but John disappointed me in this instance.


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