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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The House of Ibelin: The Wolflings, Balian of Beirut's Brothers

 John d’Ibelin, the “Old Lord” of Beirut was blessed with five sons who grew to adulthood. They were collectively referred to as the “wolflings” in some contemporary satirical literature. The story of the first born, Balian, was told last week, but much less is known about his younger brothers described below.


Baldwin, Seneshal of Cyprus, 1208(?) - 1266

The Lord of Beirut’s second son Baldwin lived in the shadow of his more prominent father and brother. He was knighted with his brother Balian, shared Balian’s fate as a hostage of Emperor Frederick in 1228 and took part in the Battle of Nicosia and the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230). He was also one of three Ibelins surprised by the enemy at Casal Imbert in 1232, a debacle caused by the Ibelin’s poor leadership and hubris. Sir Baldwin was wounded in the engagement yet recovered sufficiently to command a division at the Battle of Agridi.

After that, he remained in Cyprus while his elder brother assumed the senior title of Lord of Beirut. For the astonishing stretch of twenty-one years, from 1246 until 1267, he served as Seneschal of Cyprus, a hugely influential position and by no means a nominal title. He took part in King Louis’ crusade and was taken captive at the Battle of Mansoura. Jean de Joinville reveals in his account of this crusade that Baldwin understood Arabic well.[i] Sir Baldwin was ransomed along with Joinville, his brother Guy and his cousin Philip de Montfort. He married Alice, the sister of one of his family’s bitterest enemies, Amaury de Bethsan. They had many children, one of whom, Philip, married the titular heiress of Galilee and is mentioned as Constable of Cyprus in 1302.

Hugh d’Ibelin, 1210 (?) - 1238

Hugh died without heirs sometime in 1239 and did not attain any prominence in his short life. Nevertheless, he is recorded taking part in the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230) along with his elder brothers Sirs Balian and Baldwin. He, too, was surprised at Casal Imbert, and his horse was killed under him. He was discovered with a lone companion defending a small house in the town. At the Battle of Agridi, Sir Hugh was given the honour denied elder brother Balian of leading the first division. Sir Hugh was also prominent in the siege of Kyrenia in the following winter. Hugh was granted estates in Cyprus rather than in Syria at his father’s death. He was roughly 28 years old and still single when he died from unknown causes in 1238. 

John d’Ibelin, Lord of ‘Foggia’ and Arsur, 1213 (?) - 1258

John served in the emperor’s household as a squire during the latter’s sojourn in Syria from September 1228 to May 1229. Like his elder brother Balian, he was effectively a hostage for his father’s good behaviour. Young John, however, appears to have ingratiated himself with the Hohenstaufen. Novare claims Frederick liked him so much he tried to induce him to return to the West, promising him the lordship of Foggia in Apulia.[ii] John did not take the emperor’s bait and remained in the Holy Land, although his family was said to call him John ‘of Foggia’ in jest.

John led the Ibelin relief force that ran the imperial sea blockade of the citadel of Beirut in an open boat. With a hundred volunteers (knights, sergeants and squires), he successfully scaled the castle to reinforce the garrison. Thereafter, the garrison ‘defended themselves more vigorously, made a countermine against the miners … recaptured the fosse by force … [and] made many brave sallies and gained somewhat over those without, and burned several engines’.[iii] Whether all that can be attributed to the inspiration and leadership of a youth hardly older than 16 or 17 seems doubtful, but it appears he did not disgrace himself.

On the other hand, he does not rate a mention for his deeds at the subsequent Battle of Agridi or the siege of Kyrenia. At his father’s death, he succeeded to his mother’s lordship of Arsur with the explicit consent of his brothers. The latter suggests that Sirs Balian, Baldwin, Hugh and Guy believed they were adequately endowed with properties and power elsewhere. Notably, except for Sir Balian, all three of John’s other brothers held estates exclusively in Cyprus, a reminder of just how plentiful (and wealthy) the Cypriot estates were — despite being mostly invisible in history because they did not bestow the titles used by the chroniclers.

In 1240, John took part in the Barons’ Crusade, getting involved in the rout near Gaza, but escaping capture with his cousins Balian de Sidon and Philip de Montfort. In 1241, he commenced fortification of his castle at Arsur, and two years later, was involved in the capture of Tyre.

In 1246, he was named Constable of Jerusalem and baillie at Acre. He stepped down on the arrival of King Louis of France, possibly to take part in the Seventh Crusade, but was persuaded to take up the position again roughly a year later. Significantly, he initially succeeded in convincing the warring Pisans and Genoese to conclude a truce but was less successful in the next intra-Italian war. Nevertheless, John retained the respect of his peers and died in 1258, serving once again as Baillie.

John married Alice of Caiphas and had several children, including his son and heir Balian. 

Guy, Constable of Cyprus, 1216 (?) – 1255 (?)

Guy was one of the Ibelins caught (almost literally) with their pants down during a night attack on Casal Imbert in early 1232. Given his age of roughly 16, however, Guy’s role in the debacle could hardly have been great. He was possibly still a squire, and even if newly knighted, was not in command. Furthermore, Guy is not recorded at the subsequent battle of Agridi or the siege of Kyrenia, suggesting that he was very young and, perhaps after the debacle at Casal Imbert, his father felt he needed more training rather than more responsibility. 

At his father’s death in 1236, like his elder brother Baldwin and Hugh, he was given properties in Cyprus rather than in Syria. He did not participate in the Barons’ Crusade, remaining in Cyprus instead. By 1247, he was constable there, which explains why he commanded a force of 120 knights in the Seventh Crusade. In 1250, he was taken captive with St. Louis. One of his fellow prisoners, Jean de Joinville, called him ‘one of the most accomplished knights I have ever known’ – and more significantly — ‘and one who most loved the islanders in his care’.[iv]

Joinville also tells of another incident. After the Mamluks had murdered the Ayyubid Sultan and cut his heart from his still warm body, the Christian prisoners expected to be slaughtered. Baldwin d'Ibelin translated what the Mamluks were saying among themselves and confirmed they were discussing whether to decapitate the captive crusaders. There was only one priest aboard Joinville's galley, and he was overwhelmed by men seeking to confess. So, Joinville tells us, ‘Guy d'Ibelin knelt down beside me, and confessed himself to me. “I absolve you”, I said, “with such power as God has given me”. However, when I rose to my feet, I could not remember a word of what he told me’.[v]

In the event, the Mamluks found the potential ransoms too tempting to throw away and entered negotiations instead. Guy d'Ibelin was one of the noblemen who witnessed the discussions. King Louis and the Mamluks came to terms, and after many delays and some chicanery, were eventually set free. Guy returned to Cyprus.

Long before this crusade, Guy had married Philippa Barlais, the daughter of the Ibelin’s arch-enemy during the civil war. Edbury notes that Barlais’ estates were forfeited to the crown for his treason against King Henry in 1232. With this marriage, the Ibelins probably obtained those lands while restoring them to Barlais’ daughter, who could not be held responsible for her father’s treason. The couple had ten children, and one of their daughters, Isabella, married Hugh de Lusignan, who reigned in Cyprus as Hugh III. 

[i] Jean Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, trans. Margaret Shaw (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 252.

[ii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 87.

[iii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 133.

[iv] See note 24, Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, 248.

[v] See note 24, Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, 253.

Balian’s brothers, particularly Baldwin, are characters in the Rebels of Outremer Series.

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:


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