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Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Ibelin Brothers"

In the chronicles that record the history of the Holy Land in the later 12th century, "the Ibelin brothers" are often named together. This is actually quite odd because Baldwin, the elder brother, was Lord of Ramla and Mirabel, probably from a very early age. Together Baldwin's baronies owned 60 knights to the crown of Jerusalem. Ibelin owed only 10. So Baldwin should have been referred to by contemporaries as "Ramla."

That he is referred as "Ibelin" in the chronicles probably stems from the fact that most chronicles (except William of Tyre) were written in the 13th century when the descendants of his younger brother, Balian Baron d’Ibelin, had become one of the most important families in the Latin East, and had married into both royal families. In short, the fact that Baldwin is referred to as an "Ibelin" is a tribute to the fact that within a generation his younger brother had completely eclipsed him in importance and memory. By the start of the 13h century, Baldwin had disappeared from the pages of history, while Balian had become the revered founder of a dynasty. Baldwin had renounced his titles, gone to Antioch and disappeared without a trace. He left no surviving children in Jerusalem. Balian briefly held his lordships of Ramla and Mirabel, but only from July 1185 until they fell to Saladin in July 1186, so name of Ibelin (also lost in 1187) stuck to Balian, but not Ramla and Mirabel. Ibelin became a family surname, with the various members of the family all calling themselves d’Ibelin regardless of what other titles they held.
The Ibelin Seal from the mid-13th Century

The tombs of Henry II and Richard I lie side-by-side at Fontevrault, yet these two men -- some of England's most colorful and each in their own way attractive kings -- were bitter enemies in life.

Thus, although "the Ibelin" brothers are often lumped together by chroniclers and historians of the era, this is not proof that they were best friends and always of one opinion. On the contrary, William of Tyre claims that Baldwin of Ramla (Ibelin) plotted with Tripoli and Antioch to depose Baldwin IV, and refused to take the oath of fealty to Guy de Lusignan, eventually renouncing his entire inheritance to go to Antioch. Clearly, Baldwin was impulsive and hot tempered, and as a novelist I have chosen to make him flamboyant and arrogant as well – as I believe many older sons were.

Balian, on the other hand, must have been a man of a very different temperament as was demonstrated by the fact that he tried on two occasions to reconcile Tripoli with Lusignan. His loyalty to Baldwin IV and V is never questioned, and indeed he must have had a close relationship with Baldwin IV or he would never have been given the right to marry Maria Comnena or singled out ahead of all the more senior and more powerful noblemen of the realm to carry Baldwin V to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In their personal lives also, the brothers would appear to have been equally different. Baldwin married very young, and then set this wife of almost two decades and the mother of his daughters aside, apparently for no better reason than he hoped to marry the Princess Sibylla. When that failed (for whatever reason) he married again twice. He had one son, but he either disinherited him when he renounced his own titles and went to Antioch, abandoning the boy to the care of his brother Balian, or his son had already died in obscurity.

In the Hollywood film "The Kingdom of Heaven," Balian is portrayed having an affair with Sibylla of Jerusalem; historically, his brother Baldwin allegedly had the affair.

Balian, in contrast, married only once and the marriage appears to have been not only fruitful (two sons and two daughters), but Balian and his wife Maria Comnena are described even by their detractors as a team.  Certainly, the idea of riding hundreds of miles through enemy held territory – even if it was with a safe-conduct from Saladin – to rescue his wife and children from Jerusalem is almost crazy, and suggests ties of affection unusual in this age.  Tripoli, remember, urged the army not to relieve the siege of Tiberius, although his wife was caught in the fortress and had requested relief.

Even after Balian had been persuaded by the Patriarch and people of Jerusalem to take command of the defense of Jerusalem, he still saw to the safety of his wife and children; they were escorted out of the city by Saladin’s own guard. After the fall of Jerusalem, Balian rejoined his family, now a penniless man and baron of nothing. Yet Maria did not return to Constantinople or join any of her other powerful family members in safe places. Instead she joined Balian at the siege of Acre! That too is a pretty strong act of devotion from a woman born to the purple in the Greek Empire.

In short, I think it is safe to suggest that "the brothers Ibelin," no matter how closely they cooperated with one another in war or how often the chroniclers lumped them together in history, were in fact very different men with different temperaments and character.

Read more about the Ibelin brothers in:

A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin
Book I

A landless knight,
                  a leper king,
                             and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Lionheart's Greatest Conquest

Tomb of Richard I in Fontevrault

Richard I has gone down in history as the “Lionhearted” because of his military prowess, but most of his victories were ephemeral. The bulk of the Angevin Empire was lost in the reign of his brother and successor John, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem that Richard salvaged from obliteration in 1191-1192 was wiped off the map roughly a century after his death. But one conquest, an almost incidental conquest, proved enduring:  it was the conquest of Cyprus in 1191. In just four weeks, Richard I seized control of the entire island, and within a year he had established a Latin kingdom that endured almost four hundred years until the second half of the 16th century.  

In 1191, after a tempestuous winter on Sicily, Richard I of England and his assembled crusader army of vassals and mercenaries set sail for the Holy Land.  Philip II, also on crusade, had quarreled with Richard on Sicily and proceeded with his contingent of crusaders without the English/Angevin forces. Richard’s fleet set sail on April 1, but encountered a storm that blew the vessels off course and scattered the fleet.  Richard’s galley eventually made safe harbor on the island of Rhodes on April 22, but the ship carrying his betrothed, Princess Berengaria of Navarre, and his sister Joanna, the widowed Queen of Sicily, was missing.  When Richard was well enough (he fell ill at Rhodes) and his ships were again seaworthy, he set out once more for the Holy Land collecting his fleet as he went.  He sailed deliberately for Cyprus, the largest of the islands in the eastern Mediterranean in the hope that many of his missing ships, including the one with his bride and sister, might have found refuge there.

And indeed they had, but their reception had been far from welcoming. The survivors of three ships wrecked on Cyprus, far from receiving the charity expected of a Christian monarch (Cyprus was ruled at this time by a self-styled Byzantine “Emperor”) were – in Richard’s own words – “robbed and despoiled.”  The ship carrying the royal ladies had avoided shipwreck, but in distress had taken refuge in the harbor of Limassol.  The knights aboard this vessel somehow received word of what had happened to their comrades, and Joanna of Plantagenet (a woman who deserves a novel of her own!) was clearly not buying the assurances offered by “Emperor” Isaac Comnenus about her safety.  She smelt a rat and stayed aboard her damaged vessel.

Thus when Richard sailed into Limassol harbor on the evening of May 5, he found his bride-to-be and sister in a precarious situation aboard an unseaworthy vessel running out of water but afraid of being held for ransom or worse if they went ashore.  Richard responded as could only be expected of the proud Plantagenet: he attacked.

The exact sequence of events varies according to which chronicle one follows.  One version has Richard order his galleys to break through a blockade of ships at the mouth of Limassol harbor and then storm ashore on foot, without waiting for horses to be off-loaded.  Another version claims he landed on a beach beyond Limassol harbor against opposition, and then took Limassol from landward, again without horses. In either case,  Isaac Comnenus was not captured with the city, and so the English King and the Byzantine “Emperor” faced off in battle at a location sometimes identified as Kolossi, the later site of a lovely Hospitaller commandery.

 The Hospitaller Commandery at Kolossi

Where ever it was, Richard put the forces of Isaac Comnenus to flight with no casualties of his own because, as at the earlier engagements, the self-styled “Emperor” little support among the population.  He had been appointed (if at all) by a Byzantine Emperor, who had himself since been deposed.  Furthermore, his despotic rule had earned him only the hatred of the native population. In short, Richard the Lionhearted did not need much of his vaunted military skill to win a victory here. After Isaac had surrendered to him, Richard returned to Limassol and on May 12 married Berengaria and had her crowded Queen of England. The exact location is unknown, and several churches in Limassol claim the honor.

This Templar Church in Famagusta is of a later date, but incorporated some architectural features typical of the Byzantine churches on the island.

Since Richard was in a hurry to get to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where only the city of Tyre remained in Christian hands although a Christian siege of Muslim held Acre was underway, he probably would have sailed shortly after this happy event if Isaac Comnenus had not made the mistake of breaking his promise to sail with Richard on crusade. Infact, Isaac fled to the mountains in a transparent attempt to re-establish his rule of the island, and Richard responded by an all-out campaign of conquest – which again took little time or effort because of the hostility of the population to Isaac Comnenus. After landing at Famagusta, Richard marched on Nicosia, handily defeated Isaac’s mercenaries in the field and continued on to the capital where he also took custody of Isaac’s only child, a girl, who has remained nameless in history.  By the end of May, Isaac Commenus had surrendered to Richard a second time – despite having three unassailable castles in which he might have sought refuge.  Apparently, he could not trust the garrisons of these castle or muster enough loyal men to replace the existing garrisons.

The still dramatic ruins of the Castle of St. Hilarion, one of the three castles built by the Byzantines.

Isaac set only one condition to his surrender: that he not be placed in irons.  Richard therefore had shackles made of silver especially for him.  He was to die three years later in Syria trying to incite the Sultan of Konya to attack the Byzantine Empire. 

Richard was still in a hurry to get to the Holy Land (and join the siege at Acre before his rival King Philip II of France could claim credit for victory), but he also saw the strategic importance of Cyprus to the crusader kingdoms.  The port of Famagusta is only 118 miles from Tripoli, the closest of the crusader cities, and just 165 miles from Acre.  Furthermore, Cyprus was a fertile island capable of producing grain, sugar, olives, wine and citrus fruits in abundance.  Although Richard recognized that he could not possibly rule Cyprus himself, he wanted to secure it as resource for the crusader states and a base for operations against the Saracens.  So, although he left Cyprus on June 4, 1191, exactly a month after he arrived, shortly afterwards Richard sold the island to the Knights Templar for 100,000 pieces of gold.

Unlike Richard, who had come to an agreement with the Greek nobility on the island to let them retain their laws and customs, the Templars allegedly sought to impose Latin rites and tax the population at excessive rates. Within six months the island was in rebellion against them and the Templars, were forced to face the fact that they did not have the manpower to quell this rebellion and fight for the Holy Land at the same time; they returned the Island to Richard.

Richard promptly sold it a second time, this time to his vassal and former King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan.  Guy de Lusignan had a long and colorful past -- which included seducing a Princess (Sibylla of Jerusalem) and losing a Kingdom (on the Horns of Hattin above the Sea of Galilee), but he was now a landless widower.  Guy came to Cyprus in the spring of 1192, probably accompanied by other knights and barons from the once proud Kingdom of Jerusalem who had lost their lands to Salah ad-Din.  Two years later he was dead, and Cyprus passed to his elder brother, Aimery de Lusignan, who founded a stable, Latin dynasty that lasted three hundred years.

The Premonstratensian Monestary of Bellapais was founded by the Lusignans.


Several of my novels set in the Age of Chivalry feature the Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. St. Louis' Knight opens in Cyprus during the VIIth Crusade:

A crusader in search of faith --

A lame lady in search of revenge --
And a king who would be saint.

St. Louis' Knight takes you to the Holy Land in the 13th century, and a world filled with knights, nobles, prophets -- and assassins.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Kingdom Divided

W.B Bartlett in his recent work, Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom: The Battle of Hattin and the Loss of Jerusalem (The History Press, 2007), writes in the Prologue:

During the latter decades of the twelfth century, Outremer was sleepwalking to disaster. Seemingly oblivious to the dangers of a resurgent Islam, the kingdom began to split apart. The nobles who governed with the king sought to outmaneuver one another, seeking to raise themselves up and bring their political opponents down.

This is by no means an isolated view, and most modern fiction about the period has followed the portrayal whether it is Cecilia Holland’s Jerusalem in which, according to the New York Times review, she brings to life the “atmosphere of conspiracy, betrayal…and political intrigue….” or Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” in which the fictional Tiberius condemns the struggles for power and land that he claims corrupted the ideals of the Holy City.

The character of Tiberius, loosely based on Raymond of Tripoli, in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven."

But let’s be realistic. There has never been a kingdom or state that has been entirely without factions — not even in monolithic and totalitarian dictatorships.  To expect a state to have perfect harmony and unity is not merely idealistic, it is naive. Where there is power, there will be differences of opinion on policy, and where there are competing policy options there will be factions — usually aggravated by personalities, rivalries and the prospect of personal gain associated with proximity to power or the execution of one policy over another.

It is, in short, absurd to expect the Kingdom of Jerusalem to be without factions supporting competing policies.  Whether these can be divided into “hawks” and “doves” or “insiders” and “outsiders” is not the issue here. The fact is that the mere presence of advisors advocating competing policies and/or even passionate rivalry between powerful noblemen in a medieval kingdom is neither unusual nor inherently self-destructive.

The question is whether the divisions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the twelfth century mortally crippled the kingdom to the point where the threat posed by Salah-ad-Din was ignored.  Let's look at the historical record.
The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Although it is safe to say that no kingdom on earth would have welcomed the ascension of a man suffering from leprosy, the High Court of Jerusalem took no longer than usual to recognize Baldwin IV as his father’s heir.  Furthermore, a powerful regent was rapidly installed who peacefully surrendered the keys to the kingdom to the leper prince when he turned fifteen. No sign of exceptionally destructive factions here, despite the explosive situation of a leper boy being heir to the throne.

Just a little over a year after Baldwin IV came of age, the Kingdom of Jerusalem faced the first full-scale invasion led by Salah-ad-Din.  The Count of Tripoli, the Hospitallers and hundreds of other knights from the Kingdom were at the time laying siege to Hama in Syria; Salah-ad-Din invaded from Egypt and immediately invested Ascalon. It was a very dangerous situation. The sixteen-year-old king, with no experience of battle whatsoever, gathered his forces — some 376 knights — and rode to the relief of Ascalon. He then broke out of Ascalon, met up with a Templar force from Gaza and called up the army of Jerusalem. And they came. At Montgisard, under Baldwin IV’s personal leadership, the Christian army dealt Salah-ad-Din a devastating and humiliating defeat. The bulk of the Saracen army was killed or captured, and Salah-ad-Din barely escaped on a pack camel. Nothing about this suggests a kingdom divided against itself — nor blind to the threat posed by Salah-ad-Din.

A Depiction of Montgisard, Copyright Fireforge Games

The very next year, Baldwin ordered the construction of a castle at Jacob’s Ford — a clear indication that he recognized the threat posed by the Kurdish leader. Two years later, during the next invasion by Salah-ad-Din, Baldwin again successfully mustered his forces and successfully broke the Saracen vanguard.  Unfortunately, the Templars (who were not under Baldwin’s command) were routed by Salah-ad-Din’s main forces at the same time. When the Templars fell back, the entire Christian army withdrew. While the Templars lack of coordination is certainly to be condemned, it has nothing to do with internal rivalries or factions among the barons of Outremer.

The first hint of serious internal divisions surfaces in 1180. According to William Archbishop of Tyre, who was chancellor to Baldwin IV and so not only a contemporary but an insider, Baldwin IV’s illness had taken a dramatic turn for the worse by this time. It was clear, therefore, that the crown of Jerusalem would pass through Baldwin’s older sister Sibylla to whoever her husband might be; Sibylla in 1180 was a twenty-year-old widow. 

Sibylla as depicted in Ridley Scott's "The Kingdom of Heaven"

For whatever reasons (and they are controversial), the Baron of Ramla and Mirabelle with the backing of the Count of Tripoli and the Prince of Antioch considered himself the best candidate for Sibylla’s hand, but Sibylla — with or without her brother’s consent — married a young French noblemen of dubious character, Guy de Lusignan. 

Now Guy de Lusignan was a younger son with no title or wealth, and, more important, he had allegedly been expelled from the realm and territories of Baldwin IV’s first cousin, Henry II Plantagenet, for killing the Earl of Salisbury by stabbing him in the back.  Not a very savory character, to say the least, and I submit it is entirely understandable that the barons of Jerusalem did not think him a suitable man to become their liege lord — not to mention be crowned in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns…..

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem today.

And yet! The uproar did not tear the country apart. To be sure, Ramla refused to do homage to the new Count of Jaffa (the title given by Baldwin to his sister’s husband) — but he still brought his troops to muster at each of the subsequent invasions by Salah-ad-Din — as did the other barons. Admittedly, in 1182 during the full-scale invasion that led to the battle at La Forbelet, Baldwin IV was still personally in command of the army, leading from a litter. But a year later, in September 1183, Baldwin IV had officially abdicated his authority, retaining only the title of King, the city of Jerusalem and an annual income of 10,000 gold pieces, while naming Guy de Lusignan regent.  Yet the barons of Jerusalem all mustered — even Tripoli and Antioch and Ramla. It was allegedly the largest army ever mustered by the crusader kingdoms. Indeed, the force was so big that Salah-ad-Din preferred not to give battle and withdrew to lay siege to the castle of Kerak on his way home to Egypt instead.

View from Kerak Castle today.

Nevertheless, something happened here that has escaped the pages of history. William of Tyre had been passed over for the post of patriarch and apparently lost his insider knowledge. He was to die shortly afterwards, and with him we lost our window into what was happening inside the Kingdom of Jerusalem at this crucial moment. But one thing is clear, the barons of Jerusalem refused to go to the relief of Kerak under the leadership of Guy de Lusignan. Baldwin IV — whether reluctantly or furiously — dismissed him from the regency and had himself dragged in a litter all the way to Kerak with his army around him. Salah-ad-Din abandoned the siege rather than face the leper in a liter across a battlefield.

Baldwin IV returned from Kerak determined to find a way to dissolve his sister’s marriage to Guy de Lusignan. Why? Regardless of possible personal slights the most obvious reason is simply that the barons of Outremer, who had rallied readily enough in September of 1183, were by November of the same year not prepared to follow Lusignan. Baldwin IV knew he could not leave his kingdom in the hands of a man who did not command the respect of the barons. 

So here is a dangerous rift — but hardly one in which the kingdom is “sleepwalking to disaster.” Baldwin IV was obviously acutely aware of the danger. He sent out a desperate, indeed almost pathetic, plea to the most powerful Christian monarchs, the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of France, and the King of England, to come to Jerusalem’s aid. He offered whichever Western monarch would come to the defense of Outremer the keys to the Tower of David, effectively offering to abdicate — and bypassing both his sisters — turn the crown over to whoever would pick up the burden of defending Jerusalem.

The Tower of David in the Citadel of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV’s appeal went unheeded, and so to prevent Guy de Lusignan from becoming king he had his nephew, Sibylla’s son by her first husband, crowned in his own lifetime as Baldwin V. At Baldwin IV’s death, the crown passed seamlessly to Baldwin V and the Count of Tripoli was named regent by the High Court of Jerusalem. Again, there is amazing unity here.

Unfortunately, Baldwin V died within a year. Defying Baldwin IV’s wishes and without the consent of the High Court of Jerusalem, Sibylla had herself crowned Queen of Jerusalem and then placed the crown on her husband’s head as her consort.  This was a clear “coup d’etat,” a usurpation of the throne. And here — in the summer of 1186 — the Kingdom started to crack.  Faced with a usurpation, a number of barons considered crowning a rival king, the husband of Baldwin IV’s younger sister, Isabella. But the young man, Humphrey de Toron, rejected the role of rival-king and paid homage to Guy de Lusignan.  So, reluctantly, did all the other barons with two notable exceptions.

The key here is that despite a clear case of usurpation, the danger of division was fully recognized. Humphrey de Toron must be credited with putting the well-being of the kingdom ahead of his personal ambitions, and the bulk of the other barons likewise swallowed their distaste of Lusignan, and did homage. The two exceptions were the Baron of Ramla, Guy de Lusignan’s erstwhile rival for the hand of Sibylla, and the Count of Tripoli. Ramla took the unprecedented course of turning his entire inheritance over to his younger brother, Balian d’Ibelin, and leaving the kingdom, never to be heard of again. Tripoli simply withdrew to his own territories and concluded a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din.

This was an act that can best be described by the German term “Landesverrat.” In contrast to “Hochverrat” (treason against the state or government), Landesverrat is treason against the nation. Tripoli might have legally been correct not recognize Guy de Lusignan as his overlord, but by allying himself with the man who had vowed to drive the Christians from the Holy Land, he hurt more than King Guy, he hurt all the crusaders states and their inhabitants.

The Sea of Galilee, part of Raymond de Tripoli's lands by right of his wife.

King Guy threatened to invade Tripoli’s territories and “force” his submission, but the rest of the Christian leadership — from the Grand Masters of the Military Orders to the Patriarch of Jerusalem — recognized that this was suicidal in the face of Salah-ad-Din’s threat. No one was stumbling blindly to destruction here except, perhaps the two embittered protagonists themselves!  

Guy was prevailed upon to send mediators instead of troops. The Masters of the militant orders, the Archbishop of Tyre and two leading barons, including Balian d’Ibelin, whose brother had been such an inveterate opponent of King Guy, were sent to Tripoli to effect reconciliation between Tripoli and King Guy. They were ultimately successful.

When Salah-ad-Din again invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Raymond de Tripoli was among the commanders who mustered, bringing with him a large contingent of troops. His voice in the war councils was a voice of reason, but it went unheeded. Despite this — and unlike the fictional characters of Tiberias and Balian d’Ibelin in “The Kingdom of Heaven,” when Guy de Lusignan marched the Christian army out onto the Horns of Hattin, he lead the entire army of Jerusalem including Tripoli and Ibelin. To destruction.

In retrospect, perhaps more division would have served the Christian kingdom better. If Raymond de Tripoli (with the men of Tripoli and Galilee) and Balian d’Ibelin (with the troops of Nablus, Ramla, Mirabelle and Ibelin) had not been at Hattin, the Kingdom — or at least Jerusalem — might have been defensible even after this devastating defeat. But no one believed that the combined forces of Jerusalem could be so poorly led that they would be obliterated by the same man the Leper King had forced to withdraw on no less than five occasions. And had Tripoli and Ibelin failed to muster, they would have been blamed for the defeat. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Guy de Lusignan alone lost Jerusalem. 

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th Century.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin
Book I: Knight of Jerusalem was released in September 2014.

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,
                                    and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Learn more about crusader society at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.