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Friday, November 27, 2015

Montgisard Revisited -- The Consequences of the Christian Victory

A modern portrayal of the Battle of Montgisard by Mariusz Kozik, copyright Marius Kozik

As described last year, Baldwin IV of Jerusalem crushed and humiliated Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard on Nov. 25, 1177. Although Saladin had invaded with a force estimated at 26,000 light horse and an unspecified number of infantry, he was decisively defeated by a force under the command of Baldwin IV numbering something less than 500 knights, also supported by unquantified numbers of foot soldiers.  Baldwin IV was at this time an untried youth of 16, already suffering from leprosy. Saladin, in contrast, was a highly successful leader already 41, who had proved himself repeatedly in both defensive and offensive warfare. 

Just ten years later, however, on July 4, 1187 the entire Christian army with an estimated 1,600 knights, thousands of Turcopoles and tens of thousands of infantry was obliterated by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin. The garrisons of the cities and towns of the kingdom had been denuded to bring together this record force, and after the battle there were insufficient fighting men left alive in freedom to defend the rest of the kingdom. City after city and castle after castle surrendered to Saladin. Within a year, the once proud Kingdom of Jerusalem that had stretched from modern-day Turkey to the Red Sea, encompassing much of modern-day Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, had been reduced to a single city: Tyre. 

Despite the Third Crusade that recovered the coast of the Levant for Christendom, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was never again self-sustainable, much less a threat to the Muslim states surrounding it. It survived almost a hundred years longer, but from 1187 onwards it was living on borrowed time. The defeat at Hattin has so over-shadowed the victory at Montgisard, that Montgisard is treated as little more than a footnote in history, a curiosity rather than a event of historical significance. 

This is somewhat oversimplified because it ignores two important consequences of Montgisard. First, that Saladin learned his lesson and never again showed contempt for his Christian opponents. He was, as a result of Montgisard, a far more cautious commander when engaging the Franks in the decade that followed. He was careful to retain control of his troops (for the most part), and avoided pitched battles with the Franks unless he had chosen the position and believed himself at a clear advantage. 

Second, the victory at Montgisard (and subsequent victories of King Baldwin, especially at Le Forbelet and Kerak) lulled Western rulers into a sense of complacency. Baldwin's frantic appeals for sustainable assistance in the form of a king ready to take up his burden fell on deaf ears. No monarch in Western Europe understood just how precarious the situation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was -- until Jerusalem fell.

Had Baldwin IV been defeated at Montgisard, it is highly unlikely that this would have led to the loss of the Kingdom. The bulk of the Christian army was not even at Montgisard; it was engaged in an offensive campaign in the north. Thus even the complete obliteration of Baldwin's force at Montgisard would not have denuded the kingdom of fighting men as did the defeat at Hattin did ten years later. The defeat would have created a highly dangerous situation in which Saladin might well have seized control of key assets from Ascalon to Jerusalem itself. However, an intact fighting force and the kingdom's most experienced commanders such as Humphrey de Toron II and Raymond de Tripoli, would still have been in a position to come to the relief of any city taken by Saladin.  In short, the Christian kingdom would have been in a difficult, but not hopeless, situation, and the West might have been alerted to the danger facing the crusader states before it was too late.

Even the death of Baldwin IV at Montgisard would not have had disastrous consequences. It would have shortened his own life by less than a decade, and it would have made Sibylla queen before her marriage to Guy de Lusignan. As a reigning queen, she would probably have been a more attractive bride to a Western ruler. At a minimum, her marriage would have been negotiated by the High Court of Jerusalem with a mind to what was best for the kingdom, not Sibylla's personal inclinations. 

Satisfying as the victory at Montgisard seemed at the time -- and it was widely seen as a sign of Divine favor for Baldwin and his kingdom -- in retrospect it contributed to the disaster at Hattin. Montgisard did not make Hattin inevitable. Many other developments (e.g. William of Montferrat's survival, Sibylla's marriage to the Baron of Ramla, the successful coronation of Isabella instead of Sibylla etc.) could also have averted the catastrophe at Hattin. Nevertheless, with the wisdom of hindsight, Montgisard was perhaps too successful for the long term good of the Christianity in the Holy Land.

The Battles of Montgisard and Hattin are key events in my novels Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem respectively.

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

 A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem

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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Abduction of Isabella

A Medieval Depiction of the Marriage of Princess Isabella - the Core of the Controvery
In November 1190, Princess Isabella of Jerusalem, then 18 years old, was forcibly removed from the tent she was sharing with her husband Humphrey of Toron in the Christian camp besieging the city of Acre.  Just days earlier, her elder sister, Queen Sibylla, had died, making Isabella the hereditary queen of the all-but-non-existent -- yet symbolically important-- Kingdom of Jerusalem.  A short time after her abduction, she married Conrad Marquis de Montferrat, making him, through her, the de facto King of Jerusalem.  This high-profile abduction and marriage scandalized the church chroniclers and is often sited to this day as evidence of the perfidy of Conrad de Montferrat and his accomplices. The latter included Isabella’s mother, Maria Comnena, and her step-father, Balian d’Ibelin. 

The anonymous author of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi (Itinerarium), for example, describes with blistering outrage how Conrad de Montferrat had long schemed to “steal” the throne of Jerusalem, and at last stuck upon the idea of abducting Isabella—a crime he compares to the abduction of Helen of Sparta by Paris of Troy “only worse.”  To achieve his plan, the Itinerarium claims, Conrad “surpassed the deceits of Sinon, the eloquence of Ulysses and the forked tongue of Mithridates.” Conrad, according to this English cleric writing after the fact, set about bribing, flattering and corrupting bishops and barons alike as never before in recorded history. Throughout, the chronicler says, Conrad was aided and abetted by three barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Sidon, Haifa and Ibelin) who combined (according to our chronicler) “the treachery of Judas, the cruelty of Nero, and the wickedness of Herod, and everything the present age abhors and ancient times condemned.” Really? The author certainly brings no evidence of a single act of treachery, cruelty, or wickedness — beyond this one allleged abduction, which (as we shall see) was hardly a case of rape as we shall see.

Indeed, this chronicler himself admits that Isabella was not removed from Humphrey’s tent by Conrad himself, nor was she handed over to him. On the contrary she was put into the care of clerical “sequesters,” with a mandate to assure her safety and prevent a further abduction, “while a clerical court debated the case for a divorce.” Furthermore, in the very next paragraph our anonymous slanderer of some of the most courageous and pious lords of Jerusalem, declares that although Isabella at first resisted the idea of divorcing her husband Humphrey, she was soon persuaded to consent to divorce because “a woman’s opinion changes very easily” and “a girl is easily taught to do what is morally wrong.” 

While the Itinerarium admits that Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey was reviewed by a church court, it hides this fact under the abuse it heaps upon the clerics involved. Another contemporary chronicle, the Lyon continuation of William of Tyre, explains in far more neutral and objective language that that the case hinged on the important principle of consent. By the 12th century, marriage could only be valid in canonical law if both parties (i.e. including Isabella) consented. The issue at hand was whether Isabella had consented to her marriage to Humphrey at the time it was contracted.  

The Lyon Continuation further notes that Isabella and Humphrey testified before the church tribunal separately. In her testimony, Isabella asserted she had not consented to her marriage to Humphrey, while Humphrey claimed she had. The Lyon Continuation also provides the colorful detail that another witness, who had been present at Isabella and Humphrey's wedding, at once called Humphrey a liar, and challenged him to prove he spoke the truth in combat. Humphrey, the chronicler says, refused to “take up the gage.” At this point the chronicler states that Humphrey was “cowardly and effeminate.” 

In the 12th Century judicial combat was still recognized as a legal means of settling disputes.

Both accounts (the Itinerarium and the Lyon Continuation) agree that following the testimony and deliberations the Church council ruled that Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey was invalid. There was only one dissenting voice, that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, both chroniclers insist that this decision was reached because Conrad corrupted all the other clerics, particularly the Papal legate, the Archbishop of Pisa. The Lyon Continuation claims that the Archbishop of Pisa ruled the marriage invalid and allowed Isabella to marry Conrad only because Conrad promised commercial advantages for Pisa from should he win Isabella and become king. The Itinerarium on the other hand claims Conrad “poured out enormous generosity to corrupt judicial integrity with the enchantment of gold.”

There are a lot of problems with the clerical outrage over Isabella’s “abduction” — not to mention the dismissal of Isabella’s change of heart as the inherent moral frailty of females. There are also problems with the slander heaped on the barons and bishops, who dared to support Conrad de Montferrat's suit for Isabella.

Let’s go back to the basic facts of the case as laid out by the chroniclers themselves but stripped of moral judgements and slander:

  • Isabella was removed from Humphrey de Toron’s tent against her will.
  • She was not, however, taken by Conrad or raped by him.
  • Rather she was turned over to neutral third parties, sequestered and protected by them.
  • Meanwhile, a church court was convened to rule on the validity of her marriage to Humphrey.
  • The case hinged on the important theological principle of consent. (Note: In the 12th Century, both parties to a marriage had to consent. To consent they had be legally of age. The legal age of consent for girls was 12.)
  • Humphrey claimed that Isabella had consented to the marriage, but when challenged by a witness to the wedding he “said nothing” and backed down.
  • Isabella, meanwhile, had “changed her mind” and consented to the divorce.
  • The court ruled that Isabella's marriage to Humphrey had not been valid.
  • On Nov. 25, with either the French Bishop of Beauvais or the Papal Legate himself presiding, Isabella married Conrad.  Since a clerical court had just ruled that no marriage was valid without the consent of the bride, we can be confident that she consented to this marriage. In fact, as the Itinerarium so reports (vituperously) reports, “she was not ashamed to say…she went with the Marquis of her own accord.”

To understand what really happened in the siege camp of Acre in November 1190, we need to look beyond what the church chronicles write about the abduction itself.

The story really begins in 1180 when Isabella was just eight years old. Until this time, Isabella had lived in the care and custody of her mother, the Byzantine Princess and Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Commena. In 1180, King Baldwin IV (Isabella’s half-brother) arranged the betrothal of Isabella to Humphrey de Toron. Having promised this marriage without the consent of Isabella’s mother or step-father, the king ordered the physical removed of Isabella from her mother and step-father’s care and sent her to live with her future husband, his mother and his step-father. The latter was the infamous Reynald de Chatillon, notorious for having seduced the Princess of Antioch, tortured the Archbishop of Antioch, and sacked the Christian island of Cyprus. Isabella was effectively imprisoned in his border fortress at Kerak and his wife, Stephanie de Milly explicitly prohibited Isabella from even visiting her mother for three years.

Kerak in Transjordan, where Isabella was Imprisoned for Three Years

In November 1183, when Isabella was just eleven years old, Reynald and his wife held a marriage feast to celebrate the wedding of Isabella and Humphrey. They invited all the nobles of the kingdom to witness the feast. Unfortunately, before most of the wedding guests could arrive, Saladin's army surrounded the castle and laid siege to it. The wedding took place, and a few weeks later the army of Jerusalem relieved the castle, chasing Saladin’s forces away. 

Note, at the time the wedding took place, Isabella was not only a prisoner of her in-laws, she was only eleven years old. Canonical law in the 12th century, however, established the “age of consent” for girls at 12. Isabella could not legally consent to her wedding, even if she wanted to. The marriage had been planned by the King, however, and carried out by one of the most powerful barons during a crisis. No one seems to have dared challenge it at the time.

At the death of Baldwin V three years later, Isabella’s older sister, Queen Sibylla, was first in line to the throne but found herself opposed by almost the entire High Court of Jerusalem (that constitutionally was required to consent to each new monarch). The opposition sprang not from objections Sibylla herself, but from the fact that the bishops and barons of the kingdom almost unanimously detested her husband, Guy de Lusignan. Although she could not gain the consent of the High Court necessary to make her coronation legal, she managed to convince a minority of the lords secular and ecclesiastical to crown her queen by promising to divorce Guy and choose a new husband. Once anointed, Sibylla promptly betrayed her supporters by declaring that her “new” husband was the same as her old husband: Guy de Lusignan. She then crowned him herself (at least according to some accounts). 

The Coronation of Sibylla and Guy as depicted in "The Kingdom of Heaven"
This struck many people at the time as duplicitous, to say the least, and the majority of the barons and bishops decided that since she had not had their consent in the first place, she and her husband were usurpers. They agreed to crown her younger sister Isabella (now 14 years old) instead.  The assumption was that since they commanded far larger numbers of troops than did Sibylla’s supporters (many of whom now felt duped and were dissatisfied anyway, no doubt), they would be able to quickly depose of Sibylla and Guy.

The plan, however, came to nothing because Isabella’s husband, Humphrey de Toron, had no stomach for a civil war (or a crown, it seems), and chose to sneak away in the dark of night to do homage to Sibylla and Guy. The baronial revolt collapsed. Almost everyone eventually did homage to Guy, and he promptly led them all to an avoidable defeat at the Battle of Hattin. With the field army annihilated, the complete occupation of the Kingdom by the forces of Saladin followed – with the important exception of Tyre.

Tyre only avoided the fate of the rest of the kingdom because of the timely arrival of a certain Italian nobleman, Conrad de Montferrat, who rallied the defenders and defied Saladin. Montferrat came from a very good and very well connected family. He was first cousin to both the Holy Roman Emperor and King Louis VII of France. Furthermore, his elder brother had been Sibylla of Jerusalem’s first husband (before Guy), and his younger brother had been married to the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I. Furthermore, he defended Tyre twice against the vastly superior armies of Saladin, and by holding Tyre he enabled the Christians to retain a bridgehead by which troops, weapons and supplies could be funneled back into the Holy Land for a new crusade to retake Jerusalem. While Conrad was preforming this heroic function, Guy de Lusignan was an (admittedly unwilling) “guest” of Saladin, a prisoner of war following his self-engineered defeat at Hattin. 

So at the time of the infamous abduction, Guy was an anointed king, but one who derived his right to the throne from his now deceased wife (Sibylla died in early November 1190, remember), and furthermore a king viewed by most of his subjects as a usurper—even before he’d lost the entire kingdom through his incompetence. It is fair to say that in November 1190 Guy was not popular among the surviving barons and bishops of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and they were eager to see the kingdom pass into the hands of someone they respected and trusted. The death of Sibylla provided the perfect opportunity to crown a new king because with her death the crown legally passed to her sister Isabella, and, according to the Constitution of the Kingdom, the husband of the queen ruled with her as her consort.

The problem faced by the barons and bishops of Jerusalem in 1190, however, was that Isabella was still married to the same man who had betrayed them in 1186: Humphrey de Toron. He was clearly not interested in a crown, and it didn’t help matters that he’d been in a Saracen prison for two years. Perhaps more damning still, he was allegedly “more like a woman than a man: he had a gentle manner and a stammer.”(According to the Itinerarium.)

The Barons of Jerusalem were Still in Force to be Reckoned with in 1190.
Whatever the reason, we know that the barons and bishops of Jerusalem were not prepared to make the same mistake they had made four years earlier when they had done homage to a man they knew was incompetent (Guy de Lusignan). They absolutely refused to acknowledge Isabella’s right to the throne, unless she had first set aside her unsuitable husband and taken a man acceptable to them. We know this because the Lyon Continuation is based on a lost chronicle written by a certain Ernoul, who as an intimate of the Ibelin family and so of Isabella and her mother, and provides the following insight. Having admitted that Isabella “did not want to [divorce Humphrey], because she loved [him],” the Lyon Continuation explains that her mother Maria persuasively argued that so long as she (Isabella) was Humphrey’s wife “she could have neither honor nor her father’s kingdom.” Moreover, Queen Maria reminded her daughter that “when she had married she was still under age and for that reason the validity of the marriage could be challenged.” At which point, the continuation of Tyre reports, “Isabella consented to her mother’s wishes.”

In short, Isabella had a change of heart during the church trial not because “woman’s opinion changes very easily,” but because she was a realist—who wanted a crown. Far from being a victim, manipulated by others, or a fickle, immoral girl, she was a intelligent princess with an understanding of politics. 

Isabella of Jerusalem, like her contemporary Eleanor of Aquitaine depcited here, was an intelligent and politically savvy woman.

As for the church court, it was not “corrupted” by Conrad or anyone else. It simply faced the unalterable fact that Isabella had very publicly wed Humphrey before she reached the legal age of consent. In short, whether she had voiced consent or not, indeed whether she loved, adored and positively desired Humphrey or not, she was not legally capable of consenting.

No violent abduction, and no travesty of justice took place in Acre in 1190. Rather a mature young woman recognized what was in her best interests -- and the interests of her kingdom -- to divorce an unpopular and ineffective husband and marry a man respected by the peers oft he realm. To do so, she allowed the marriage she had contracted as an eleven-year-old to be recognized for what it was -- a mockery. Isabella's marriage in 1183 as a child prisoner of a notoriously brutal man not her marriage in 1190 as an 18 year old queen was the real "abduction" of Isabella.

Isabella, Humphrey, her mother Maria and her step-father are major characters in my three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Traitor or Tragic Figure? Raymond de Tripoli

The character "Tiberius" in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven" was inspired by Raymond of Tripoli
Raymond of Tripoli, the most powerful baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th century, was a controversial figure in his own lifetime and remains so today. His independent truce with Saladin in 1186 threatened the very existence of the kingdom at a time when it was surrounded by enemies, and the Templar Grand Master accused him of conspiring with Saladin for a Saracen victory at the Battle of Hattin. In short, Tripoli has been blamed for nothing short of the disaster at Hattin and the loss of the Holy Land to Saladin. Yet, later historians such as Sir Stephen Runciman, have seen in him a voice of reason, compromise and tolerance in positive contrast to the fanaticism of the Templars and men such as Reynald de Chatillon. Tripoli was the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s “Tiberius” in the Hollywood film “The Kingdom of Heaven.”

While the Grand Master’s accusations can largely be dismissed as self-serving (the two men detested one another), and Scott’s portrayal is far from fact, even the most reliable and credible chronicler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in this period, William Archbishop of Tyre, has left an ambiguous image. On the whole the Archbishop of Tyre portrays Tripoli in a positive light, a good administrator of the kingdom as regent, and an effective diplomat. Yet he also off-handedly suggests that Tripoli was plotting a coup against Baldwin IV in 1180.

So who was Raymond of Tripoli? 

The County of Tripoli was created after the liberation of Jerusalem in 1099 by Raymond Count of Toulouse, one of the most important leaders of the First Crusade. Toulouse was widely believed to have coveted the crown of Jerusalem and when it fell to Godfrey de Bouillon instead, he set about conquering his own kingdom eventually capturing the entire coastal area between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Principality of Antioch. The County of Tripoli thus connected Jerusalem to the other two crusader states and gave the Latins control of the shore of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although de jure autonomous, in reality the County of Tripoli did not have the resources to defend itself and so it was always quasi-dependent on its larger, more prosperous neighbors, Antioch and Jerusalem. In return, the Counts of Tripoli usually brought their knights, turcopoles and sergeants to the feudal muster of Jerusalem.

The Raymond of Tripoli under discussion here was in fact the third by that name. His father Raymond II of Tripoli had been Count of Tripoli from 1137 and his mother, Hodiera, was a Princess of Jerusalem, the younger sister of Queen Melisende. However, the marriage was so notoriously turbulent that Queen Melisinde intervened and recommended an amicable separation. In 1152, Raymond II was assassinated, leaving his minor son Raymond III, his heir. The King of Jerusalem served as regent until Raymond came of age, and not long after this, in 1164, Raymond was taken captive by the Saracen leader Nur ad-Din. He was not released for eight years, and became proficient in Arabic while in captivity. When he was at last set free, it was for a ransom beyond the means of his county and so largely paid for by the Knights of St. John. In exchange, Raymond gave the Hospitallers extensive territory on his western border, where they built a series of castles including the most famous of all crusader castles: Krak de Chevaliers. So far, Raymond’s career had not been very auspicious.

Krak de Cheveliers today.
In 1174, however, King Amalric died suddenly, leaving his 13 year old son Baldwin as his heir.  As the closest male relative of the young king, Raymond of Tripoli was chosen as regent, although not immediately. William of Tyre describes him as follows:

He was a slight-built, thin man. He was not very tall and he had dark skin. He had straight hair of medium color and piercing eyes. He carried himself stiffly. He had an orderly mind, was cautious, but acted with vigor.

Contemporary Arab chronicles noted he was highly intelligent, and this was borne out by his sophisticated diplomatic policies in the coming 15 years.

Shortly after becoming regent, Raymond also married for the first time, taking to wife the greatest heiress in the Kingdom, Eschiva, Princess of Galilee. She was a widow with four still young sons by her previous marriage. William of Tyre explicitly states it was a happy marriage and that Tripoli was on excellent terms with his step-sons. More important, however, the marriage made Tripoli the greatest magnate in the realm, and he commanded the largest contingent of troops to the feudal levy, owing 200 knights to the crown. Thus, even after his regency ended when Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, he remained a powerful figure inside the Kingdom of Jerusalem as well as in his own right as Count of Tripoli.

By now, however, it was evident that Baldwin IV was suffering from leprosy and was not going to sire an heir — or live very long. The need to find a successor was acute. Baldwin had two sisters, the elder of which, Sibylla, was the heir apparent to the throne, but the constitution of Jerusalem dictated that a female heir could only rule jointly with a consort. Sibylla was duly married to a suitable candidate (William Marquis de Montferrat), but he promptly died of malaria, leaving her a young (and pregnant) widow. In 1180, she made a surprise and hasty marriage to a young nobleman only recently arrived in the Holy Land, Guy de Lusignan. There are various versions about why she married Guy (see my essays on Sibylla and Guy). The version provided by William of Tyre is that the Prince of Antioch, the Baron of Ramla, and Raymond of Tripoli had been planning to marry Ramla to Sibylla and then depose Baldwin IV, so he married his sister off in great haste — only to regret it later.

A Manuscript Illustration possibly depicting Guy and Sibylla
Because William of Tyre is considered such a knowledgeable insider and sober historian, most modern historians accept this version uncritically. I find it flawed in many ways. First, if Tripoli had been intent on power, he was in a far better position to seize it while still regent. Secondly, Tyre himself admits that the trio of lords came to Jerusalem as if to attend Easter Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, and when they found Sibylla already married they went away peaceably without any fuss whatsoever — which hardly sounds like the behavior of men intent on a coup d’etat. Most important, Sibylla’s behavior from this point until her death ten years later was that of a woman passionately in love with her husband. Had she in fact been married in haste against her will to a man far beneath her station by a panicked brother, she would probably have been resentful and receptive to the idea of setting the unwanted husband aside the minute her brother changed his mind and wanted Guy removed from the succession. Instead, she resisted vehemently, and later went to great lengths to get her husband crowned king despite the opposition of the entire High Court.

Meanwhile, Baldwin IV was getting weaker. He briefly made Guy his regent in the hope of being able to retire from the world and prepare to face God, but Guy was such an unmitigated disaster that he took the reins of government back into his decaying hands. He then took the precaution of having his nephew (Sibylla’s son by William de Montferrat) crowned co-king as Baldwin V, and the High Court (i.e. his peers) selected Raymond of Tripoli to be regent after Baldwin IV’s death. The latter occurred in 1185, and Raymond duly became regent of Jerusalem a second time. He explicitly refused to be the guardian of the young king, however, arguing that if anything happened to the boy he would be accused of have done away with him.

Clearly some people thought him capable of this, and Arab sources suggest that he already coveted the crown, but no one suggests that, in fact, he did murder the young king. Baldwin V was in Sibylla’s -- not Raymond’s -- custody when he died in August 1186. What followed was clearly a usurpation by Sibylla (see the Constitutional Crisis of 1186) which left the crusader states in the hands of a completely incompetent man. 

Raymond’s refusal to pay homage to Guy de Lusignan was completely comprehensible under the circumstances. His separate peace Saladin, on the other hand, was just as clearly treason because it endangered not just the usurper Guy but every man, woman and child in the crusader states.

In his defense, Tripoli soon saw the error of his ways. In May 1187 a Saracen “reconnaissance force” requested a safe-conduct through Tripoli's territory of Galilee, and Tripoli felt compelled to grant it because of his treaty with Saladin. This force proceeded to slaughter a much smaller Christian force that had the audacity to attack it. The attack was led by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, who was one of only three Templars to escape the debacle. The sight of Templar heads carried on the tips of Saracen lances so distressed Raymond that he heeded the pleas of the Baron of Ibelin to make peace with Guy de Lusignan. He did homage to the usurper as his king, and received the kiss of peace from Guy.

The problem was that while Raymond’s action (and the abrogation of his treaty with Saladin) healed the fracture of the kingdom, it did not turn Guy de Lusignan into a competent leader. Raymond of Tripoli dutifully brought his troops to the feudal muster called by Lusignan in late June 1187, and he followed Lusignan’s orders, even though he vehemently disagreed with him. The catastrophe of Hattin was not of Raymond’s making; it was Guy de Lusignan and Grand Master of the Temple between them who had engineered the unnecessary defeat. (See Hattin.)

Trapped on the Horns of Hattin, Raymond of Tripoli led a successful charge through the Saracen lines. There is nothing even faintly cowardly or treacherous about this action. It was the most effective tactic the Franks had against the Saracens — the charge of massed heavy cavalry. It was a tactic Richard the Lionheart used to win the Battle of Arsuf. It was not the charge that discredited Tripoli, but the fact that so few men broke out with him, and apparently no infantry. But that was hardly Tripoli’s fault. He spearheaded the attack with is knights. It was the duty of the King to reinforce his shock-troops. Something Guy de Lusignan singularly failed to do.

So the Kingdom of Jerusalem was lost, and Raymond of Tripoli retreated to his own county to die within a few months, by all accounts a broken man.

In summary, Raymond of Tripoli was a highly intelligent, well-educated and competent man. As regent and Count of Tripoli he ruled prudently and effectively. Yet he was condemned to watch as a parvenu usurper led the crusader states to avoidable ruin. It is hardly any wonder that he harbored hopes of seizing the throne himself, when the alternative candidate, as history was to show, was so totally unsuited to wear a crown. If Tripoli was a traitor, it was for the right reasons: to save the kingdom from destruction. For me his more a tragic figure than a traitorous one. 

Raymond of Tripoli is a character in:

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Friday, November 6, 2015

For the Love of her Husband….The Constitutional Crisis of 1186

In August 1186, Baldwin V of Jerusalem died at the age of nine. His death had been anticipated even before he became king, and it was the presumption that he would not live to sire heirs of his body that led his predecessor and uncle, Baldwin IV, to settle the succession in advance. 

On his deathbed, Baldwin IV had made his barons and bishops swear to seek the advice of the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of England and France about the successor to his nephew, Baldwin V. The reason was simple: Baldwin V’s closest relative (and so his heir presumptive) was his mother.  While the constitution of Jerusalem allowed women to reign in their own right, it did so only if they had a consort, a husband capable of leading the feudal armies in the threatened Christian kingdom. Sibylla of Jerusalem had a husband — but one that almost no one on the High Court of Jerusalem considered worthy or capable of fulfilling that task. He was the man who would ultimately lead the feudal armies to an unnecessary defeat — but that is getting ahead of the story. At the time of his brother-in-law’s death, Guy de Lusignan was simply a comparative newcomer to the Holy Land, who had succeeded in alienating almost the entire local elite in less than a decade.

Thus, when Baldwin V died, the lords secular and sacred of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were bound by oath to seek the advice of the most powerful men in the Latin West.   The kingdom was also surrounded by enemies that had been united by the ambitious, charismatic and ruthless Kurdish leader Salah ad-Din, more commonly known in the West as Saladin. By 1186, Saladin had declared jihad against the crusader states and had already led four full-scale invasions in addition to numerous smaller-scaled campaigns. There was a short truce in effect and the forces of Jerusalem had so far succeeded in beating off Saladin’s attacks, but the situation was clearly precarious. Under the circumstances, the bishops and barons of Jerusalem were understandably reluctant to await the decision of Western leaders notoriously at odds with one another. The Kings of England and France (Henry II and Philip II respectively) were engaged in nearly perpetual warfare against one another, after all.  Another solution was needed.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was by this time a well-developed document, which had evolved based on the unique history of the kingdom. The kingdom had been established in 1099 as a result of the First Crusade. That campaign had been led by a group of noblemen, who commanded jointly and did not recognize any of their number as superior to the others.  When, having captured Jerusalem, they recognized the need for more permanent leadership structures, they chose among themselves Godfrey de Bouillon to “rule,” but he was still effectively little more than “first among equals.” Furthermore, he explicitly refused the title of “king” on the grounds that it would be inappropriate for a man to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Furthermore, within a year Godfrey de Bouillon was dead. The leaders of the First Crusade met again to “elect” their leaders, and although this time their choice, Baldwin de Bouillon (younger brother of Godfrey) had himself crowned, the precedent had been set that the kingship was based less on hereditary right than on the consent of the leaders. By 1186 this tradition had been institutionalized in the form of the High Court of Jerusalem, which retained the right to “elect” the next king at the death of the last.

It is notable that the most famous militant orders established shortly after the Kingdom of Jerusalem likewise elected their leaders. Here the Hospitallers.
Although over the years the High Court had shown a strong bias toward choosing a close relative of the previous king, on more than one occasion there were several viable candidates and the High Court had effectively exercised its rights. Furthermore, the High Court had demonstrated the power to make contenders bow to its will as when, for example, it forced the obvious heir to Baldwin III, his brother Amalric, to set aside his wife of six years (Agnes de Courtenay) before he was acknowledged, crowned and anointed.

Given the threat Saladin posed, no one in the Kingdom of Jerusalem wanted to risk a long interregnum after the death of Baldwin V, while the Pope, Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of England and France were consulted (and possible bickered) over the next king. Furthermore, there were two obvious successors to Baldwin IV: his elder, full-sister Sibylla — who was unfortunately married to the unacceptable Guy de Lusignan, and his younger, half-sister Isabella, married to a perfectly acceptable young man, Humphrey de Toron. Had Sibylla been married to a man more agreeable to the High Court, there is little doubt that the High Court would rapidly have recognized Sibylla. But Guy, as I said, had made himself so hated that Sibylla knew she was facing serious opposition — as did Guy.

Rather than risk a reversal in the High Court, the couple rushed to Jerusalem to seize the throne illegally — i.e. without the consent of the High Court. Guy had secured the support of the Templar Grand Master, who used his knights to secure control of the Holy City. Once there, Guy and Sibylla, supported by Sibylla’s maternal uncle the Count of Edessa, and her mother’s former lover the Patriarch, badgered the aging Master of the Hospital into giving up the third key needed to remove the coronation vestments from the treasury.  

But there was still the issue of popular opinion, and Sibylla felt compelled to promise she would divorce Guy in order to garner sufficient support to carry out her planned coup. Sibylla made her promise to set Guy aside conditional on being allowed to choose his successor as her husband. On the basis of this promise, Sibylla was crowned queen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in August 1186. She then promptly broke her promise to her own supporters and crowned Guy de Lusignan as her consort, saying she chose him as her “next” husband.*

The problem was that most members of the High Court were not in agreement and not in Jerusalem. They were meeting in the royal city of Nablus to discuss the succession. While surprised by Sibylla’s coronation, they did not accept it. In their view, without the consent of the High Court, her coronation was invalid.

The High Court (or the majority meeting in Nablus) decided that their best course of action, therefore, was to crown Sibylla’s younger half-sister Isabella queen. They sought to thereby create a legitimate ruler who could force Sibylla into irrelevance if not submission. Given that the barons known to have collected at Nablus represented the some of the richest of the baronies (Tripoli/Galilee, Sidon, Toron, Nablus, Ramla/Mirabel and Ibelin), and probably included a number of unnamed barons as well, any armed confrontation between the factions of the rival queens would almost certainly have resulted in Sibylla’s forces being outnumbered. Sibylla is known to have had only three supporters: Edessa (an empty title since 1144),  Oultrejourdain — and the Templars.

An illustration allegedly depicting Isabella of Jerusalem and one of her four husbands.

The High Court’s choice of queen, Isabella, was the youngest child of King Amalric, and her mother was the Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena. In 1186 she was 14 years old and she had been married for three years to Humphrey de Toron.  Although Toron was young, probably in his late teens, his family had been in Outremer for generations. His grandfather had been Constable of Jerusalem, and had been highly respected. Toron was present in Nablus when the decision was made to crown his wife as an alternative to Sibylla. That same night he fled Nablus, made his way to Jerusalem and did homage to Sibylla.

When the bishops and barons meeting at Nablus discovered what Toron had done, most resigned themselves to the fate of taking oaths to Sibylla and Guy, but the two most powerful barons did not. The Baron of Ramla and Mirabel refused to do homage to Guy de Lusignan, preferring to abdicate his rights and titles to his infant son. He left the latter and his lands in the care of his younger brother, Balian d’Ibelin, and he left the kingdom altogether to seek service with the Prince of Antioch. The other baron to refuse to recognized Sibylla and Guy’s illegal coronation was Raymond III, Count of Tripoli. Raymond had been regent of the kingdom for both Baldwin IV and Baldwin V. He ruled Tripoli in his own right as an independent county, which did not owe homage to Jerusalem, and he furthermore held the rich and vitally important barony of Galilee by right of his wife. The latter straddled the River Jordan and surrounded the Sea of Galilee. Raymond III refused to take the oath of homage, withdrew from court altogether, and went so far as to seek a separate peace with Salah ad-Din to protect himself from an anticipated attack on his territories by Guy de Lusignan.

While the departure of Ramla did not seriously weaken the kingdom because his brother was a highly competent commander, Tripoli’s defection gutted it. The barony of Galilee lay on the border and extended far toward the coast. It also owed one of the largest contingents of knights to the crown. Without Galilee and Tripoli, the Kingdom of Jerusalem became effectively indefensible.

Sibylla must have known this, and all she had to do to save her kingdom was to keep her word, i.e. to set Guy aside and marry a man acceptable to Tripoli and the other disaffected bishops and barons. She refused. Her love of Guy was so great, she preferred to see her kingdom torn apart, gutted and, ultimately, overrun by the enemy.

To be sure, thanks to the diplomatic skills of Ibelin, a temporary reconciliation was patched up between Tripoli and Lusignan. Tripoli loyally brought his full feudal contingent to the feudal call-up in July 1187. But Lusignan was still king and he proved all his detractors right by leading the combined forces of the kingdom to a completely unnecessary defeat at the Battle of Hattin.

Sibylla lost her kingdom and three years later her life as well. She died of fever during a squalid siege of the jewel of her former kingdom, Acre. Neither need have happened had she acted legally and sought election by the High Court of Jerusalem, rather than seizing the throne in a coup d’etat. Had she followed the constitution, it is almost certain that the High Court would have recognized her as queen but required her to set aside Guy before she was crowned and anointed, just as her father had been forced to set aside her mother.  She would have been required to choose a different husband, a man who enjoyed the confidence and support of the barons of Jerusalem. Whoever that man might have been, he is unlikely to have been as disastrous for the Kingdom of Jerusalem as Guy de Lusignan.


The exact timing of the coronation of Guy is unclear. Some sources suggest she did it immediately, during her own coronation; others that it was done later in a separate ceremony.

The constitutional crisis of 1186 is described in Book II of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

A divided kingdom,

              a united enemy,

                            and the struggle for                    


Or read more about the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.