|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.|
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 fact that “the Ibelin brothers” are so often named jointly has led many to assume that the Ibelin brothers were very close. This is not necessarily the case.
In the 12th century, family ties were imprisoning. Everything revolved around family. Families stuck together through thick and thin. They paid each other's ransoms, they stood as hostages for one another, they were witnesses for one another, they were each other’s clients and lords. They fought together under the same banner and were buried together in the same crypt. Does that mean that all family members got along with one another all the time? Highly unlikely. On the contrary, the tensions within medieval families could be brutal, enormous and bitter. (The best example is, of course, the Plantagenets. Henry II had to fight wars with his sons, and the brothers fought each other in a series of shifting alliances.) But most families, where there was less at stake perhaps or personalities (and egos) were less excessive, usually worked together and presented a common front to the outside world regardless of how many rivalries and tensions they had among themselves.
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.
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
A landless knight,
a leper king,
and the struggle for Jerusalem.