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Friday, September 25, 2015

Maria Comnena, Lady of Ibelin and Founder of Two Dynasties, Part II

Uta von Ballenstedt in Naumberg Cathedral, ca. 1250
In late 1177 Maria Comnena, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, made a surprise second marriage to Balian d’Ibelin, the younger brother of the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. Although it is recorded that Maria had the explicit consent of the king for this marriage, there is no reason to suppose this marriage was imposed on her. The very fact that the candidate was the younger brother of a local baron from a parvenu family makes it all the more likely that he was her choice; otherwise she could have rejected him as far beneath her dignity — with the full backing of the Byzantine Emperor. No one, much less the weakened Baldwin IV, would have risked a break with the Byzantine Emperor over a marriage that brought no apparent advantages to the crown.

In short, we can assume that Maria’s marriage to Balian d’Ibelin was a love-match — at least on her side. While Balian’s motives may have been more venal, what followed provides ample evidence that Balian and Maria became close and were viewed by others as a pair, a team, a partnership. In addition, Maria was to give Balian four children, two sons and two daughters, all born between 1178 and 1183.

Meanwhile, Maria faced the first serious crisis of her life.  In 1180, her daughter by Amalric, the 8 year-old Princess of Isabella was taken from her (and Balian) and betrothed to Humphrey de Toron IV, the grandson of the formidable and much-admired Humphrey de Toron II.  By this time, however, the old Constable was dead as was his son and the fourth Humphrey de Toron was still a minor, living with his widowed mother and her third husband, the infamous Reynald de Chatillon. The marriage between Humphrey and the child Princess Isabella was allegedly idea of the Queen Mother, Agnes de Courtenay, who had been set aside by King Amalric and replaced by Maria. It can be assumed that Agnes had no kind feelings toward Maria. The timing of the marriage is also significant. Agnes had just engineered the marriage of her own daughter to Guy de Lusignan — thereby earning the bitter enmity of Baldwin of Ramla, Balian's elder brother, who apparently had had hopes of marrying Sibylla himself. Certainly, from 1180 onwards, Ramla and his younger brother Balian were staunch opponents of Guy de Lusignan. Under the circumstances, King Baldwin apparently felt compelled — or more likely was compelled by the poisonous advice of his mother — to remove his half-sister Isabella from Balian’s control out of fear that if he did not the Ibelins would use her to challenge Sibylla and Guy’s claim to the throne.

The historical record amply demonstrates, however, that King Baldwin was unjustified in imputing treasonous intentions to the Ibelins; both brothers were staunchly loyal to both him and his nephew Baldwin V. Indeed, although the elder Ibelin refused to do homage to Guy after he usurped the crown, preferring to leave the kingdom, Balian honorably served Guy de Lusignan right up until the death of Sibylla in 1190.  Furthermore, there is no objective way to portray this removal of a small child from her mother and the only father she had ever known as benign. The fact that she was not only taken from her parents but sent to a border fortress controlled by a notoriously brutal man was a cruel, vindictive act that undoubtedly acerbated the hostility between Maria and Agnes and between the Ibelins and Lusignans, in both cases to the detriment of the kingdom.

Kerak Castle in Oultrejourdain as it looks today.
For three years, Isabella was denied the right to even visit her mother in Nablus, and it was not until 1183 that we know Maria saw her daughter again — on the occasion of her daughter’s marriage to Humphrey when Isabella was still only 11 years old. No sooner had Maria, Agnes and other wedding guests arrived at the bleak castle of Kerak, set atop a mountain overlooking the desert, than Salah-ad-Din laid siege to the castle.  Maria was trapped inside with her daughter, her new son-in-law and hundreds of other guests. The bulk of the barons of Jerusalem, including Balian, however, were still in Jerusalem at a meeting of the High Court. 

In a stormy session the barons unanimously refused to accept Guy de Lusignan as regent — not even to go to the relief of their wives, the Dowager Queen, the Queen Mother and the Princesses of Jerusalem. That is quite a resounding vote of “no-confidence” in the incompetent but arrogant Guy de Lusignan! Baldwin IV, now completely lamed and going blind with leprosy, had to take up the reins of government himself and lead the royal army to the relief of Kerak. Salah-ad-Din retreated before King; Maria — and Isabella — were reunited with Balian.

One year later, Maria again found herself under siege, and this time it was at home in Nablus.  Salah-ad-Din had set-out on a second attempt to capture Kerak, but was again thwarted by the timely arrival of the feudal host of Jerusalem. He withdrew, but plundered and burned his way north to Damascus.  Nablus, an unwalled town, was in his path, and Maria commanded in the city since Balian with his knights, sergeants and other feudal levees was with the army. Remarkably, although the city was unwalled and so virtually indefensible, there were no Frankish casualties because Maria provided refuge to the entire civilian population in the citadel. This was in marked contrast to neighboring towns and cities. The citadel of Nablus was not a major castle and it has completely disappeared over the centuries — nothing like the almost impregnable Kerak. The over-crowding must have been appalling and the risks enormous, but the Christian army was hot on Salah-ah-Din’s heels and came to Maria’s relief — at least that portion under her husband did.

Such an action was unthinkable the next time Saracen forces threatened to overrun Nablus. That was in July 1187 and Salah-ad-Din had just destroyed almost the entire Christian army, killing or enslaving roughly 17,000 men, and taking the King of Jerusalem, most of his barons, and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar captive. In short, like every other city and castle in the crusader kingdom, Nablus had no hope of relief because there was no longer an army left to come to its aid. Furthermore, unlike the port cities from Ascalon to Beirut, there was also no hope of relief by sea from the kingdoms in the West. Maria was a realist. She abandoned Nablus and with her children (and probably with the majority of the other inhabitants) fled to Jerusalem.  

The choice of Jerusalem was probably dictated more by sentiment than logic: it was not the closest defensible city.  Arsuf, Jaffa and Caesarea were all geographically closer, and they were seaports with both hope of relief or routes of escape. But Jerusalem was the heart of the kingdom and it was a walled city. Furthermore, the Ibelins had a residence there so Maria and her children had some place to go. In the first moment of shock, as word of the disaster of Hattin reached Nablus and Maria probably did not know if Balian had been killed or captured, it probably seemed like the best place to go. Maria may, however, have come to regret her decision.

Jerusalem from the south.

Jerusalem was soon flooded with refugees from the surrounding countryside. While the regular population was probably no more than 20,000, a number that swelled to perhaps 40,000 during the pilgrim season, as many as 30,000 or 40,000 Franks sought refuge in Jerusalem after Hattin, bringing the population to over 60,000. (Some estimates put the population at this time as high as 100,000.) Most of those refugees were women, children, churchmen and old people because the able-bodied men had been called-up to the army and were now dead or enslaved. Yet despite the lack of fighting men (there is said to have been not a single knight in the city) the leaders chosen (by what means we do not know) to represent the city to Salah-ad-Din refused to surrender the city on generous terms. The Franks in Jerusalem may have been commoners with little experience of combat, but they felt the weight of responsibility keenly. As they told Salah-ad-Din, they could not surrender Jerusalem because it would disgrace them for all eternity. They did not expect to defend the city successfully, they simply preferred martyrdom to shame.

It is unknown how Maria Comnena felt about this stand. She was certainly not part of the delegation, although as Dowager Queen and one of the most prominent people in the city she was probably involved in both selecting the delegation that met with Salah-ad-Din and determining what answer they would give him. It is likely that, although she understood the sentiments expressed to Salah-ad-Din, she was less than enthusiastic about sacrificing her four children, all of whom were under the age of 10.  She was in all probability greatly relieved, not to say ecstatic, when against all odds her husband appeared in Jerusalem to escort her to safety.

The arrival of Balian d’Ibelin in Jerusalem sometime after the fall of Hattin struck the Christians in Jerusalem as miraculous. It was all but miraculous that he had escaped from the debacle at Hattin, but even more amazing that having gained the safety of Tripoli or Tyre, he would return — unarmed — for the sake of bringing his wife and children to freedom. This act more than any other suggests the depth of feeling Balian had for his wife. Other lords, notably Raymond of Tripoli, abandoned their wives to their fate, trusting to Salah-ad-Din’s sense of honor not to humiliate them. Ibelin took the unprecedented -- and risky — step of seeking a safe-conduct from Salah-ad-Din and giving his word to go to the city unarmed (and presumably unescorted) remain there only a single night and then then return to Tripoli.

The arrival of a respected and experienced battle-commander in the militarily leaderless city sparked popular jubilation — until the people learned of Balian’s intention to rescue his family and withdraw. They then begged Balian to remain and take command of the city’s defenses and resistance. The Patriarch hastily absolved Balian of his oath to Salah-ad-Din, and Balian decided it was his duty to remain.

Did he decide alone? That is hardly conceivable. He had been married to Maria Comnena for almost 10 years at this point in time, but she remained his social superior by many orders of magnitude. They had been equally impoverished by the loss of Nablus no less than Ibelin, but the habits of ten years are not washed away in an afternoon. Balian would not have been in the habit of dictating to his wealthier, better connected and higher-born wife, and at this critical moment he would not have abruptly changed his behavior or tried to do so. Maria Comnena must have shared his decision and very likely contributed to it  — without knowing that Salah-ad-Din had another surprise for both of them.

When Balian sent word to the Sultan that he was compelled by the appeals of his countrymen to remain in Jerusalem, Salah-ad-Din was not angry or offended. On the contrary, respecting Balian’s decision, he sent fifty of his own personal guard to Jerusalem to escort Maria Comnena and her children to safety. Why? The romantic answer is that he was chivalrous and respected Balian. The more realistic answer is that Maria Comnena was a cousin of the Byzantine Emperor and Salah-ad-Din had signed a truce with the Byzantines; he had no desire to muddy the waters by having a Byzantine Princess caught in a city he had vowed to take by storm.  The risks of something happening to her and a diplomatic incident resulting were simply too high.

Maria must have been relieved for the sake of her children to get that escort to safety. She was probably equally distressed to have to leave her husband behind to almost certain death. She could not have known as she rode out of Jerusalem sometime in early September 1187 that Balian would pull off yet another miracle: the ransom of tens of thousands of Christian lives even after the walls had been breached. (But that is the subject of a separate post....)

After the fall of Jerusalem, Maria and Balian were reunited, but they now had no income and were nobody in a kingdom that no longer existed. It is unclear how they survived, but it is notable that at this moment when the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been reduced to the city of Tyre and that was a city under siege and frequent attack, Maria did not choose to return “home.” To be sure, her great-uncle was dead and the new Emperor was a tyrant hostile to the Latin west, but she was a Byzantine Princess, a Comnena, and she had very powerful relatives across the Eastern Empire. That she remained in the pitiable remnants of the crusader states was a tribute to her loyalty to her second husband and her eldest daughter.

Balian, probably with considerable misgivings and inner revulsion, joined the army that Guy de Lusignan raised after his release in 1188 and took part in the Christian siege of Muslim Acre. Many women were in the Christian camp, including Queen Sibylla and her two daughters by Guy. Whether Maria Comnena and her children were there went unrecorded. Very likely, she was not. We know only that in 1190 she was in Tyre.

In 1190, Sibylla of Jerusalem and both her daughters died of fever in the Christian camp outside of Acre. With her death, Guy de Lusignan’s right to the throne of Jerusalem was extinguished. To be sure, he had been anointed king, but without the consent of the High Court of Jerusalem, and in Balian’s eyes that made him a usurper, tolerated only so long as the rightful heir to Jerusalem, his wife, reigned jointly with him.  With her death, everything changed for Balian.

The next in line to the throne was Maria’s daughter, Isabella. Isabella was now 18 years old and still married to the man imposed on her by her half-brother Baldwin IV, Humphrey of Toron. The problem with Humphrey in the eyes of Balian and most of the surviving barons, knights and burghers of Jerusalem was that he was weak (some say effeminate) and was not credited with the ability to play a constructive role in regaining the lost territories of the Kingdom. In contrast, Conrad de Montferrat, who had saved the city of Tyre at the critical juncture when it too had been on the brink of collapse was widely viewed as having the personality and skill to recapture the kingdom. Balian and the only other baron to escape Hattin and still be alive, Reginald de Sidon, decided that Isabella must marry Conrad de Montferrat and rule the kingdom jointly. There was no question that Isabella had been too young to consent at the time of her marriage to Humphrey and this provided legal grounds for the annulment of her marriage. Unfortunately, Isabella had grown attached to Humphrey and the chronicles agree that her mother had to “browbeat” her into agreeing to the divorce.

While this is usually interpreted as an unscrupulous and ambitious woman (Maria) heartlessly pressuring a sweet young girl into betraying the man she loved, the record is not quite so unambiguous. First, the sources we have are all hostile to Conrad de Montferrat and should therefore be treated with caution. Second, the divorce was undoubtedly in the best interests of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Maria should be given credit — not blame — for putting the interests of the kingdom ahead of the affections of her teenage daughter. Third, at least one chronicler was outraged into a diatribe against all women by the fact that Isabella soon seemed content in her new marriage. Fourth, there is no indication that Maria’s stand resulted in lasting tensions between her and her daughter. Maria and Balian both played roles in Isabella’s court long after Conrad de Montferrat was dead. Finally and most convincing, when Conrad de Montferrat was murdered, Isabella did not try to re-marry Humphrey de Toron and make him king. Instead, she accepted the King of England’s choice for her third husband. Later, she would accept the High Court’s choice for her fourth husband as well. Isabella, I believe, wanted to be Queen and was willing to sacrifice Humphrey de Toron, if reluctantly at first, for that goal.

But back to Maria. Isabella’s elevation to the throne opened the gates for Maria to play a role similar to the notorious intriguing and influence brokering of Agnes de Courtenay in King Baldwin's court  — but she did not. Rather, she appears to have retired with Balian and their children to the much reduced estates now at their disposal. (The truce between Richard of England and Salah-ad-Din did not include the restoration of Nablus or any of the Ibelin lordships to Christian control, but Balian was explicitly granted the smaller lordship of Caymont northeast of Caesarea and the Ibelin family is also recorded controlling Arsuf.)  Balian, as step-father of the queen, initially took precedence over all other lords, but fades from the historical record after 1193, presumably he became ill or died at about this time -- or was occupied in Cyprus, where the Ibelins were soon very powerful.

Maria, however, appears to have been instrumental in reconciling Isabella’s third husband, Henri of Champagne, with the House of Lusignan, now established as kings of Cyprus, by negotiating marriages between Henri and Isabella’s daughters with Aimery de Lusignan’s sons. She was still alive when Aimery de Lusignan married Isabella, and when Lusignan appointed John d'Ibelin, Maria and Balian's son and Isabella’s half-brother, to the position he had himself once held under Baldwin IV: Constable of Jerusalem. She also lived to see John enfeoffed with the Lordship of Beirut and would have personally enjoyed the palace he built there with its lifelike mosaics, polychrome marble and views to the sea.

When Maria Comnena died in 1217, her five-year-old great-granddaughter Yolanda (sometimes also referred to as Isabella) was Queen of Jerusalem, while her children by Balian had all married into noble families. Her sons John and Philip would both serve as regents, in Jerusalem and Cyprus respectively, and in the centuries to follow, Ibelins married into the royal houses of the Christian East including Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Armenia.

Maria plays a major role in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                   Buy now (paperback)
                                                                                                                or Kindle!

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

 A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem
Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!                                                     Buy now!

Read more about Balian, Isabella and other historical figures at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Maria Comnena: Byzantine Princess and Queen of Jerusalem

Empress Irene from Agia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul)
Maria Comnena was probably born in 1154 or 1155, the daughter of John Comnenos, Protovestiarius, the grandson of the Byzantine Emperor John II, and nephew of the ruling Emperor, Manuel I.  As such she was a member of the Byzantine Imperial family, but not in direct line to the throne. At the time of her birth, Manuel I had already been Emperor of the Eastern Empire for over a dozen years. 

Manuel I consistently pursued a policy of cooperation with the crusader states, which included joint military operations, and a series of marriage alliances. In 1158, one of Manuel’s nieces, Theodora, was married to King Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and in 1161, Manuel himself took Maria of Antioch, sister of Bohemond III, Prince of Antioch, to wife. Finally, when Amalric I of Jerusalem decided to seek a second wife (the High Court had required him to set aside his first wife in order to be crowned king), he turned to the Byzantine Emperor. An Embassy was sent to Constantinople in 1165 to find a suitable candidate and negotiate the marriage contract.

King Amalric’s emissaries spent the next two years in the Byzantine capital negotiating the marriage. From the surviving sources, it is impossible to know why the negotiations took so long, but Amalric’s emissaries and the Byzantine Emperor clearly had plenty of time to consider various candidates. Maria was either the most suitable or the most pleasing from the point of view of Amalric’s representatives. 

Whatever their reasoning, we can be certain that Maria Comnena had up to this point enjoyed the famously luxurious life-style of the Emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire, and — more important — the very high level of education typical of the women of her family. The Comnenas were not only literate in Greek classics, but versed in theology and history, as the writings of Anna Comnena, Maria’s great-great-aunt, attest. Furthermore, the Comnenen Emperors had sponsored a significant building program that in turn sparked a revival of Byzantine arts and letters including the introduction of new styles in mosaics and frescoes. Maria would, therefore, have come to Jerusalem with not only a substantial dowry, (her aunt Theodora had a dowry of over 100,000 gold pieces), and a large retinue of Byzantine advisors and scholars, but also with knowledge and tastes cultivated in the most sophisticated Christian court of the age.

When Maria married Amalric and was crowned queen at the end of August 1167 she was probably no more than 12 or 13 years old; Amalric was already over 30. While Maria’s young age precluded a major role for her in politics, it is nevertheless probable that the magnificent renovation of the Church of the Nativity, a work that included beautiful mosaics with heavy Byzantine influence, was initiated after her arrival in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 

And just as notable, her eldest son — who was not royal — built a house in Beirut in which, according to a visitor in 1212, the mosaics depicting a sandy shore were so realistic he “feared to tread on [it] lest he should leave a footmark.” (Wilbrand of Oldenburg, in Steven Runciman, “The Families of Outremer: The Feudal Nobility in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291,” (London, 1960), p. 1) In addition to the mosaics, her son’s home had walls paneled with polychrome marble, vaulted ceilings painted to resemble the night sky, and glazed windows opening onto the sea or “delicious” gardens. In short, Maria retained throughout her life and passed on to her children a love of beauty and an appreciation of artistic excellence and design.

It is also notable that four years after his marriage to Maria, Amalric undertook a state visit to Constantinople, the first Latin king to do so as a reigning monarch. Furthermore, Byzantine sources suggest that he acknowledged Manuel I as his overlord during this trip. While this was a political not a personal trip, it is hard to imagine that Maria was not a voice in his ear encouraging this unprecedented step — and just as hard to imagine that he would have listened if he had been displeased with his Byzantine bride. We furthermore have the evidence (such as it is) of William, Archbishop of Tyre, who was an close friend of King Amalric, who writes that after his marriage to Maria, King Amalrich “cherished his wife ever after with affection worthy of praise and is believed to have been faithful to her even to the end. Having thus laid aside light conduct, as if changed from that former man, he began to undertake important works and to occupy himself entirely with serious matters.” High praise indeed for the influence of a bride who was still more child than woman!

Notably, at the time this trip took place, Amalric’s positive attitude toward his Byzantine bride could not be traced to her fertility because she had yet to give him any children; it is far more likely that he respected her for her education and intelligence, although beauty as a factor cannot be excluded, despite the fact that there is no explicit reference to her attractiveness in existing texts. 

It was not until the next year, 1172, that she gave birth to a live child, a daughter who was Christened Isabella. Maria was by then 17 or 18 years old.

Two years later, her husband was dead. As his widow, she would have taken part in the meeting of the High Court of Jerusalem that elected the next king.  The choice, apparently by mutual consent and without serious dissention, fell on Amalric’s only male heir, his son by his previous marriage to Agnes de Courtenay.  Because Baldwin IV was a minor at the time of his father’s death, the kingdom was placed in the hands of a regent, Raymond of Tripoli.

At this point Maria retired from court, but there is no indication she did so in disgrace. On the contrary, her retirement appears to have been entirely voluntary. King Amalric had settled on her the large and wealthy barony of Nablus as her dower-portion. This lordship, directly north of the royal domain of Jerusalem and lying at an important cross-roads, had once been independent, but had reverted to the crown in 1161. It owed 85 knights to the feudal levee, and included the ancient city of Nablus famous for its perfumes and soaps. At this time, it was still inhabited by a sizable population of Samaritans, Jews and Muslims. Notably, Maria was granted Nablus for life, but was not enfeoffed, i.e. the lordship reverted to the crown at her death.

In short, at roughly the age of 20, Maria Comnena found herself a very wealthy widow with complete independence.  She had enough wealth and enough men (85 knights is only the tip of the iceberg of the men at her command) to protect herself, her property and her independence. She was a Dowager Queen, mother of the second-in-line to the throne, and she could not be forced into a second marriage by either her step-son or her great-uncle, although she needed the former’s permission to re-marry. Maria, however, was in no hurry to remarry. She retired to Nablus, and made no attempt to interfere in the government of the realm.

Nevertheless, in mid-1177 the Count of Flanders, who had come to the Holy Land with a small army of crusaders, sought her out in Nablus. Flanders was at loggerheads with Baldwin IV and the High Court of Jerusalem about who should select Princess Sibylla’s next husband (her first husband had just died unexpectedly) and about a proposed campaign against Egypt that was supported by Manuel I, who had sent a fleet of seventy warships. Philip wanted assurances that he would be made king of Egypt if he helped conquer it, and Baldwin IV felt that any territory won by the expedition should belong to Jerusalem since he brought the greater resources to the campaign. That Philip sought out Maria in Nablus suggests that he saw her as a woman who could advise him on the likely reaction of the Byzantine Emperor to his actions and demands. Even more noteworthy, however, is that as a result of his meetings with Maria he had a change of heart and sent messengers from Nablus to Jerusalem declaring his acceptance of the High Court’s decisions with respect to the campaign in Egypt.  Maria Comnena at 23 was evidently a woman who could talk politics with the most savvy of Western noblemen and be persuasive without the least personal interest in the outcome.

It was also in late 1177 that Maria made a surprise second marriage to Balian d’Ibelin, the younger brother of the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. Her life as Lady of Ibelin is the subject of a separate entry.

Maria plays a major role in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                   Buy now (paperback)
                                                                                                                or Kindle!

Read more about Maria's rivals and daughter at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Baldwin V

“Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child”
Ecclesiastes 10:16

Baldwin the V is one of the tragic “child kings” of the Middle Ages, similar to Edward VI and other more familiar figures of Western Europe, but perhaps even more deserving of pity.

Baldwin was born in August 1177 to Princess Sibylla of Jerusalem. She was the elder sister of the ruling King of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, who by this time had already been diagnosed with leprosy.  Sibylla was thus the heir apparent to the Kingdom, with the expectation of reigning within a few years due to her brother’s deteriorating and debilitating disease. At Baldwin’s birth she was at most 17 years old, and already a widow. Her husband, William “Longsword,” Marquis of Montferrat, had died only two months earlier in June, possibly from malaria. In consequence, Baldwin never knew his father.

His mother, being very young herself, does not appear to have taken a strong interest in her child. Certainly it was imperative for her to find a new husband, as the laws of Jerusalem required a queen to have consort; the precarious security of the Kingdom made a ruler capable of leading the feudal armies imperative. No sooner was Sibylla widowed than the search for a new husband began and various names were put forward for her, while she herself appears to have favored a local baron, Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel — until she met and fell in love with Guy de Lusignan.

There can be little doubt that Sibylla was infatuated with — and throughout her life intensely loyal to — Guy de Lusignan, and this attachment appears to have further weakened her ties to her child by her previous marriage.  Sibylla’s marriage to Guy when she was at most 20 years of age and her son not yet three years old, effectively endangered the boy’s future. Guy de Lusignan had every reason to covet the throne for himself or, at a minimum, want to see his own children wear the crown of Jerusalem; Baldwin V stood in the way of both goals, and he had no reason to look kindly on his step-son.

It appears that Baldwin V was removed from his mother’s care at this stage in his life, if not before. Certainly, two years later, when his uncle King Baldwin IV dismissed Guy as regent, Baldwin was not in his mother’s keeping. On the contrary, while Sibylla was trapped in the Castle of Kerak surrounded by a besieging army led by Saladin, her brother had her son crowned co-King of Jerusalem with himself. Baldwin was just six years old and his coronation was a device to prevent Guy de Lusignan seizing the throne of Jerusalem via Sibylla at the death of the fatally ill Baldwin IV.

For the remaining 16 months of his reign, the dying king sought to have his sister’s marriage to Lusignan annulled, while Baldwin presumably was cared for and educated by men and women who enjoyed the King’s favor. Who these people were is not recorded, but at the death of Baldwin IV the young king, now sole ruler of Jerusalem, was placed under the guardianship of his maternal great-uncle, the titular Count of Edessa, and his kingdom was placed in the hands of a regent, Raymond III of Tripoli.

Edessa was a singularly ineffective, not to say cowardly and selfish, man, whose title was empty: the County of Edessa had fallen to the Saracens in 1144. He distinguished himself by intriguing against the High Court to put his niece illegally on the throne, and then, after the debacle at Hattin, by negotiating the surrender of the rich and defensible of city of Acre without a fight — a completely unnecessary act of cowardice that caused rioting in the streets. His position as guardian of the young king did not arise from concern for the boy’s welfare, but rather the determination of the Count of Tripoli to avoid blame for Baldwin’s death.

This latter fact highlights the fact that by the time his uncle died making his sole King of Jerusalem, young Baldwin V was already so sickly that his death was anticipated. The fragile state of his health is underlined by his uncle’s demand that the barons of Jerusalem swear to send to the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of England and France for a successor to his eight-year-old nephew. The assumption of everyone seems to have been that he would not live to maturity, let along long enough to have children of his own.

They were right. Baldwin V died in August 1186 just barely nine years old. He had lived all his life as a pawn of the powerful in the kingdom, effectively an orphan, whose closest relative (after his neglectful mother) was a youth dying of leprosy. It is hard to imagine that his short life was a particularly happy one.  

Baldwin V's short reign is described in:

A divided kingdom,

              a united enemy,

                            and the struggle for                    


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Friday, September 4, 2015

Jerusalem on the Brink: The Constitutional Crisis of 1183

In the summer of 1183, the health of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem took a dramatic turn for the worse.  The King had long been suffering from leprosy, contracted when he was still a child, but the chancellor of the kingdom and chronicler William Archbishop of Tyre reported that by the summer of King Baldwin “had lost his sight and the extremities of his body became completely diseased and damaged, so that he was unable to use his hands and feet.” This is in sharp contrast to Baldwin’s ability to lead his armies on horseback in 1177 and 1179.

The deterioration of the king’s health coincided with a major victory by Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Damascus. On June 12, Saladin took possession of the strategic city of Aleppo that had for nearly a decade defied Saladin, refusing to recognize him as the heir to Nur ad-Din. With the surrender of Aleppo, resistance by other fortresses and towns in northwestern Syria also collapsed. Saladin had eliminated a powerful rival and greatly expanded his own empire. Saladin used that new strength to turn again against the thorn in his side: the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, which he had vowed to destroy.

King Baldwin, despite his deteriorating health, summoned the feudal host and roughly 1,300 cavalry and 15,000 infantry mustered at the springs of Suffuriya (Sephoria), while the King, attended by his mother and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, moved to nearby Nazareth. Here the King was taken by fever and his death appeared imminent. The High Court, most of whom had already mustered with the feudal host, hastened to the King’s bedside. Baldwin IV named his sister Sibylla’s husband Guy de Lusignan regent while retaining for himself (for as long as he should live) the title of King, the city of Jerusalem and an annual income of 10,000 pieces of gold. The arrangement suggests that Baldwin was not so sure he was on death’s door, but was feeling too ill to bear the burden of ruling — particularly of leading the army. The arrangement, therefore, was essentially about allowing the King to retire from public life and die in peace. Notably, however, the King first required Guy de Lusignan to swear he would not try to seize the throne while Baldwin yet lived — a clear indication that Baldwin was highly suspicious of Guy de Lusignan and his motives already.

Guy swore as requested and became both regent and commander-in-chief of the army. By September 17, the size of the Saracen muster so alarmed the Christian leadership that appeals for reinforcements were sent out to the coastal cities, and on September 29 the Sultan crossed the River Jordan with a large host to lay siege to the city of Bethsan. In one early skirmish, Humphrey de Toron was bested by the Saracens, and in a second at the Springs of La Tubanie, “the brothers Ibelin” reinforced the Constable, Guy’s able elder brother Aimery, and chased the Saracens away to retain control of the vital source of water. And then — nothing. Despite raiding in the surrounding countryside, Saladin singularly failed to provoke the Christians into fighting on his terms and vice-versa. By October 14, Saladin’s supplies were running low and he withdrew. After a few cautious days, the Christians likewise demobilized.

That is what we know for sure, but based on what happened next it is probably only half the story. Shortly afterwards word reached Jerusalem that the strategically pivotal castle of Kerak was under siege with half the ladies of Jerusalem trapped inside (they had collected for a wedding). Clearly, the feudal army needed to muster again and go to the relief of Kerak — but the Barons of Jerusalem unanimously refused to go to the rescue of their ladies until Guy de Lusignan was dismissed as regent. 

Clearly Guy de Lusignan had done something between September 17 and October 22 that alienated the entire High Court of Jerusalem. The same men who had accepted Lusignan and followed him in September now flatly refused. Apologists for Lusignan that attribute mere “jealously” to all the other barons fail to recognize that these barons had followed Guy in September and would again — tragically — follow him to catastrophe at Hattin. These weren’t inherently rebellious men. They recognized the need to fight together and throughout Baldwin IV’s reign they repeatedly overcame their internal rivalries to face the common enemy. That they at this critical juncture flatly refused Lusignan’s leadership suggests that something had happened — unrecorded as it is — that made them collectively determined to rid themselves of Guy’s leadership. The disaster at Hattin proved the High Court of Jerusalem tragically correct in their assessment of Guy, but that is getting ahead of the story.

In November 1183, King Baldwin IV was facing a peaceful but near unanimous (Oultrejourdain, Toron and Edessa were trapped in Kerak with the ladies) revolt by the barons of Jerusalem against the man he had appointed regent. Baldwin’s immediate response was to dismiss Guy de Lusignan and take the reins of government back into his own hands, but this solution was clearly not satisfactory. Baldwin had recovered from the fever that had appeared to threaten his life in August/September, but he was still slowly dying of leprosy. He knew he could not live much longer, but he also recognized that he could not leave Guy de Lusignan as his heir. He had to find an alternative to Lusignan.

The solution Baldwin IV found was to not only designate his nephew and namesake, Sibylla’s son by her first husband, his heir but to crown the boy king immediately. By crowning his nephew king in his own life-time, he was attempting to avert a crisis at his death. There would be no risk of factional fighting at his death, if a king (his nephew) was already crowned an anointed.

On November 20, 1183, Baldwin’s six-year-old nephew was crowned and anointed in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Only after that, did the barons muster their feudal levies and follow King Baldwin IV, commanding from a litter, to the relief of Kerak. The siege was successfully lifted without bloodshed — and Baldwin IV spent the rest of his reign trying to annul his sister’s marriage to Lusignan.

This constitutional crisis is described in:

A divided kingdom,

              a united enemy,

                            and the struggle for