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Friday, April 29, 2016

The Army of Jerusalem

For the nearly ninety years between the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Christian army at Hattin in July 1187, the Kingdom of Jerusalem fielded troops for both defensive and offensive warfare that were surprisingly effective. Yet like that of their opponents, their composition was far more complex than is commonly understood. In addition to the feudal contingents and mercenaries common at this time, they also included “armed pilgrims,” contingents of militant monks (i.e. Knights Templar and Hospitaller) and types of fighting men completely unknown in the West: Sergeants and Turcopoles. Also exceptional in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the "arriere ban" that enabled the King to keep his army in the field up to one year in contrast to the 40 days feudal service of his contemporaries in the West. 

Below is a short description of the key components of the Army of Jerusalem in the 12th Century.

Barons and Knights

As in the West, the backbone of the Army of Jerusalem was the feudal host composed of the “knights” which the “tenants-in-chief” of the king owed in exchange for their fiefs. Tenants-in-chief might be secular lords (barons) or ecclesiastical lords (bishops and independent abbots).  

The baronies of Outremer could be very substantial or almost insignificant. Jonathan Riley-Smith in his Atlas of the Crusades, for example, lists the baronies of Sidon, Galilee, and Jaffa/Ascalon as all owing 100 knights, while according to the incomplete records of John d’Ibelin, the Bishops of Nazareth and Lydda owed 6 and 10 knights respectively.  (John d’Ibelin, Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, was writing in the mid-13th century but attempting to catalogue military service owed to the King of Jerusalem at the time of his grandfather Balian d’Ibelin.)

It is important to remember that the term “knight” does not refer to a single man but rather to a fighting-unit consisting of a knight and his warhorse (destrier), one or more mounted squires, a riding horse (palfrey) and one more pack-horses.  Knights were expected to be armed and armored, which means that throughout the 12th century they would be expected to provide their own chainmail hauberk, coif and mittens, and chainmail chausses for their legs. In addition, they would need a helmet, a sword, dagger and optionally a mace or ax. Lances, on the other hand, were relatively cheap, “throwaway” weapons that the lord would provide or could be purchased as needed.

However, the fighting power that a baron brought to the battlefield generally exceeded the minimum set by feudal obligations. Barons would have been supported by younger brothers and adult sons, if they had them, and by “household knights,” i.e. men without land holdings of their own who served the baron (i.e. were “retained”) in exchange for an annual salary (that would include payments in-kind such as meals, cloaks, and in some cases horses). Peter Edbury’s analysis of the John d’Ibelin’s catalogue suggests that the ratio of “retained” knights to “vassals” (knights who owed their service by right of holding land from the lord) ranged anywhere from 1:2 to 3:2, making it clear that the knights fielded in the feudal army due to feudal obligation made up perhaps no more than half of the total host!

So far, all is as it would have been in the West, including the large number of “household” or mercenary knights. However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was unique in that activities and income sources not usually associated with feudal service were also often subject to military service obligations. Thus, for example, Baldwin d’Ibelin owed four knights service to the crown in exchange for the right to rent out grazing land to the Bedouins.  More common, income from customs duties, tariffs and other royal sources of income could be “enfeoffed” on a nobleman/knight in exchange for feudal service.  In the prosperous coastal towns of Outremer, there were many such “money-fiefs” with a military obligation.

While great lords, like Baldwin d’Ibelin, might hold multiple fiefs, they could only personally fulfill the obligation for one knight, which meant that a lord enjoying the income of a fief — whether from grazing Bedouins or customs duties — had to spend some of his income to hire as many trained and fully equipped “knights” (think fighting unit) as he owed. These knights would be drawn from the younger sons and brothers of fellow barons or from landless armed pilgrims, willing to stay in the Holy Land, but would like his landed knights be viewed as “vassals.”

Armed Pilgrims

The Holy Land, unlike the West, benefited from the fact that at any one time — and particularly during the “pilgrim season” between roughly April and October — there would be tens of thousands of pilgrims in the kingdom, a portion of whom would have been knights capable of rendering military service in an emergency. Sometimes barons brought small private armies of retainers and volunteers with them to the crusader states explicitly for the purpose of fighting in defense of the Holy Land. A good example of this is Philip Count of Flanders, who arrived at Acre in 1177 at the head of what Bernard Hamilton describes as “a sizeable army.” His army even included the English Earls of Essex and Meath. More common were individual knights and lords who came to the Holy Land as genuine pilgrims, only to be sucked into the fighting by military necessity. One such example is Hugh VIII de Lusignan, Count of the March, who came in 1165 and ended up dying in a Saracen prison. Another example is William Marshal, who came in 1184 to fulfill a crusader vow taken by his liege, Henry the Young King. It is impossible to know how many “armed pilgrims” — and not just knights! — took part in musters and engagements between the forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its enemies at any time.

Fighting Monks

Another anomaly of the armies of Outremer were, of course, the large contingents of fighting monks — most famously Templars and Hospitallers, but also Knights of St. Lazarus and later Teutonic Knights as well. The major “militant” orders of the 12th Century were founded in Jerusalem with the explicit mandate to protect the Holy Land and Christian residents in and pilgrims to it. While the Templars started with just nine knights and the Hospitallers did not officially have “brother knights” until the 13th century, contemporary descriptions suggest that both orders fielded hundreds of knights by the end of the 12th century. David Nicolle in his book on the Battle of Hattin suggests that by 1180 the Templars had 300 knights deployed in the Holy Land and the Hospitallers 500 knights, but many of these knights would have been scattered about the country garrisoning castles. Undisputed is the fact that 230 Templars and Hospitallers survived the Battle of Hattin to be executed on Saladin’s orders on July 6, 1187. Given the intense, two-day long nature of the Battle of Hattin, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that both militant orders, known for their fanaticism and willingness to die, had suffered significant casualties before the battle ended. It is likely, therefore, that close to 500 Hospitallers and Templars were in the field with royal army and this seems a good “ball-park” figure for the kind of resources the militant orders could contribute to the army of Outremer in the latter part of the 12th century generally.

It is often forgotten in modern depictions of medieval warfare that the knights were the smallest contingent of medieval armies. The infantry made up the bulk of any feudal force and, far from being superfluous, the infantry was vitally important to success. But whereas in the West the infantry in the 12th century was largely composed of peasant levees (plus mercenaries), in the crusader states the infantry consisted of free “burghers” (citizens) -- plus mercenaries, of course.


If prostitution is the oldest profession on earth than mercenaries must belong to the second oldest profession. Mercenaries are recorded in ancient Greece and only my own ignorance prevents me from asserting with confidence that they were known in ancient Egypt as well. Certainly, in the Middle Ages mercenaries were a vital component of warfare precisely because feudal levies in the West were only obligated to serve for 40 days at a stretch, but most kings and nobles needed fighting men who could serve whenever and for as long as needed.  Furthermore, certain military skills such as firing cross-bows, or building and manning siege engines, required a great deal of expertise and practice, making them unsuited to amateur armies composed of farmers. Mercenaries were everywhere on medieval battlefields. They were found in Outremer as well and, given the resources of the kingdom, were probably more prevalent there than in the West. But we have no clear numbers. 

Citizen Soldiers -- Sergeants

A far more interesting and unusual feature of the armies in the crusader states were the “sergeants.” Because the “peasants” of Outremer were a polyglot mixture of Orthodox Christians and Muslims,  the Kings of Jerusalem were not inclined to rely upon these men for offensive warfare. On the other hand, as much as one-fifth of the population (ca 140,000 inhabitants) were Latin Christian settlers. All settlers were freemen and whether they settled in the cities as merchants and tradesmen or in agricultural settlements on royal and ecclesiastical domains, they were classed as “burghers” — not serfs or peasants. These freemen who had voluntarily immigrated to the crusader states were subject to military service, and when they served they were classed as “sergeants.”

The term “sergeant” in the context of Outremer appears to be a term similar to “man-at-arms” during the Hundred Years War. In short, it implies the financial means to outfit oneself with some form of body armor (just as padded linen “aketons,” or quilted “gambesons,” or in rare-cases leather, or chainmail) and a helmet of some kind (usually on open-faced “kettle” helm or later a crevelliere), and some kind of infantry weapon such as a spear, short sword, ax or sling.

With perhaps as much as half the settlers living in cities, it is not surprising that sergeants, along with the native Christians, bore the brunt of the burden of providing garrisons for the cities, but according to John d’Ibelin’s records sergeants from the rural settlements in the royal domain and ecclesiastical fiefs were required to muster with the royal army.  We also know that both the Templars and Hospitallers maintained significant forces of “sergeants,” and these were — notably — mounted fighting men. Although not as well equipped as the knights themselves, they were entitled to two horses and one squire! It is not clear, however, whether the “sergeants” of the king and the ecclesiastical lords were also mounted.

Perhaps the most exotic component of the armies of Outremer were the so-called “Turcopoles.” These are not, as their name misleadingly suggests, Muslim converts nor the children of mixed marriages. Rather, these were mounted archers drawn predominantly from the native Christian population. The Armenians, for example, had a long history of independence and military prowess and Armenians made up a significant portion of the population in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, having their own quarter there and their own cathedral. Other Syrian Christians were by this time Arabic speakers and may have looked like “Arabs” and “Turks” to visitors from the West, but as Christians, they were reliable troops. There were also Greek, Coptic, Maronite and Ethiopian Christians resident in the crusader states, all of whom were, as freemen, theoretically subject to military service and as Christians native to the region probably some of the most willing fighting men. They, after all, had memories or personal experience with the taxes, insults and oppression of Turkish rule. 

The number of Turcopoles deployed were remarkably high, averaging 50% of the mounted forces and sometimes as much as 80%. There are also recorded incidents of them operating independently. As light cavalry, they were particularly effective in reconnaissance, skirmishing, and hit-and-run harassment of enemy troops.

Arriere Ban

Last but not least, the Kings of Jerusalem had the right to issue the “arriere ban” which obligated every free man to come to the defense of the kingdom. This was in effect an early form of the “levee en masse” of the French Revolution. Significantly, the King of Jerusalem could command the service of his vassals for a full year, not just 40 days as in the West, but such service was intended for the defense of the realm.  If the king took his army outside the borders on an offensive expedition, he was required to pay for the services of his subjects.

Feudal warfare in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was an unavoidable feature of a nobleman's life as described in my three-part biography of Balian Baron of Ibelin.

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Kings and Lords in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem" by Hans Eberhard Mayer

This is a collection of scholarly essays by academics on various topics related to the crusader kingdoms. As is inevitable in a collection of this sort, the quality of the contributions varies, and readers should also be advised that despite the English title many of the articles are reproduced in their original language.  Of a total of 18 essays, 5 are in German and 1 is in French. The excellent article on the legitimacy of Baldwin IV, for example, is in German, making it inaccessible to many English-speaking readers.  Several of the other articles are more concerned with refuting the arguments of other scholars than informing the interested layman about the purported subject of the article. Given the price, I would only recommend this to researchers in need of some of the specific information included.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Curious Proposal for Inter-Faith Marriage to End the Third Crusade

One of the most bizarre diplomatic incidents of the Third Crusade was a proposal to re-establish a Kingdom of Jerusalem under Saladin’s brother al-Adil (as king) and Richard the Lionheart’s sister, Joanna (as queen). The idea of a marriage between the Muslim al-Adil and the Christian Joanna, who was the Dowager Queen of Sicily, has long captured the imagination of novelists. None less than Sir Walter Scott wove the incident (modified to Richard’s niece and Saladin himself) into his novel The Talisman. Meanwhile, serious historians have puzzled over Richard’s motives, while the idea of an inter-faith marriage that guaranteed a kingdom of tolerance and peace in the Holy Land has mesmerized modern advocates of peace in the Middle East.

But was there such a proposal? And if so, who originated it and why?

The Christian chronicles, notably the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi and the Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, are completely silent on the proposal — as if it never happened.  John Gillingham in his excellent biography Richard I notes that many historians doubt that the proposal was made or dismiss it as a joke. He then notes that it is mentioned in two of the contemporary Arab sources (Baha ad-Din and Imad ad-Din) and suggests that “Richard’s proposals may have been intended as probes in the hope of finding and widening splits at Saladin’s court, perhaps above all between Saladin and the brother whom he [Saladin] admired, respected and trusted — yet who inevitably posed a threat to the peaceful succession of his own sons.” (Richard I, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 185).

The French historian Jean Flori sites Imad ad-Din as blaming “Christian leaders — in his opinion too ‘intolerant’ — to ‘deliver her body to a Muslim.’” Imad ad-Din suggests that Richard offered a niece in place of his sister, after claiming “the Christian people disapprove of me giving my sister in marriage without consulting the pope, the head and leader of Christianity.” Imad ad-Din says Richard even claimed he had sent a message to the pope requesting “permission.”

While it seems unlikely Imad ad-Din fabricated the whole thing, it still raises the question: Was Richard serious and why would he make this astonishing offer?

Gillingham thinks “there is nothing implausible” about Richard suggesting his sister marry a Muslim as such marriages “had occasionally, in eleventh century Spain for example, occurred.” With all due respect to Gillingham, what had occasionally happened in the previous century in a kingdom Richard hardly knew is not the same thing as Eleanor of Aquitaine’s son giving away his allegedly beloved sister. She was furthermore a widow, and widows could not legally be coerced into marriage against their will, and she was a Dowager Queen. She was not a handy piece of flesh to sell on the market. Yes, marriages at this time were made for political and dynastic reasons not for love, and later Joanna would prove an extremely valuable instrument for pulling the Count of Toulouse out of Philip of France’s camp and into Richard’s. That’s not the same thing as suggesting she join the harem of Muslim leader.

The proposal to re-establish the Kingdom of Jerusalem within the territories of the earlier Kingdom lost to Saladin after Hattin posed other serious challenges for Richard as well. First and foremost, the deal required Richard delivering all the territories in the former kingdom held by the Christians to his sister as her dowery, but Richard was in no position to do so. Aside from the fact that he did not control Tyre (Conrad de Montferrat did), he was faced with almost continuous rebellion on the part of the French crusaders led by the Duke of Burgundy, and last but not least, no peace would be viable without the consent of the local barons and the militant orders. Less than forty years later, when another Western king made a deal with the Saracens without taking into account the concerns of those who would be left to live with it, he was furiously criticized and pelted with rubbish and refuge as he made his way to depart on his waiting ships. Friedrich II’s deal with the Sultan al-Kamil was far less onerous or insulting than the deal allegedly proposed by Richard the Lionheart. It restored Jerusalem and Bethlehem entirely to Christian rule — it simply didn’t provide for their fortification, making it a fragile and indefensible, indeed, sham victory. It is quite hard for me to image that the Templars and Hospitallers, much less the lords of Outremer, would have accepted a settlement that placed the entire Holy Land under Salah ad-Din’s control, as the terms were that al-Adil would hold the kingdom as fief of his brother the Sultan.

Likewise, the idea that Richard would make a deal with Saladin that would be greeted with outrage by the local barons and the militant orders is not in keeping with Richard’s record on the Third Crusade. From the very start, Richard relied heavily on the militant orders not only militarily but for advice as well. He also listened to the advice of the barons of Outremer and it was on their advice that he twice broke off the attempt to regain Jerusalem. Richard, unlike Friedrich II, was not so arrogant that he thought he knew better than everyone else.

Nor was Richard a fool, as his later, highly successful and sophisticated diplomatic maneuvering against Philip of France was to prove. Yet, the proposal as outlined by the Arab chronicles would have been very foolish indeed. In exchange for placing his sister in al-Adil’s haram, he was to give up all the territory he had reconquered and then sail away with his entire army and leave the entire Holy Land in the “benevolent” hands of the Saracen Sultan. To be sure, the terms of the treaty were that Christians would be able to visit all the holy places, but only as unarmed pilgrims. So, as soon as all the crusaders had sailed away, what was to stop al-Adil from repudiating Joanna Plantagenet (all he needed to do was repeat the divorce formula three times), sending her in disgrace to beg in the streets or prostitute herself (since she had no male relatives to defend her honor or protect her) and then closing the pilgrim routes, making slaves of the Christians already in country and then trashing the churches?

For Richard Plantagenet to have made this proposal of marriage between his “beloved” sister Joanna and the brother of Saladin, he would have had to be: 1) completely ignorant of Sharia law, 2) completely disinterested in the opinion of those who would have to live with the consequences of his plan (his sister, his allies, the military orders, the lords of Outremer, and 3) stupid. I don’t think Richard was any of the above.

Which doesn’t mean the proposal was not made. Turning to the far more reliable of the Arab chronicles, Baha ad-Din we find the answer: that this proposal so obviously beneficial to the Saracens was proposed not by Richard but by al-Adil. Baha ad-Din states very explicitly: “On 22 ramadan/20 October al Malik al-Adil sent for me…and showed us proposals that had been sent to the King of England by his [al-Adil’s] messenger. He said that his plan was that he himself should marry the King’s sister, whom Richard had brought with him from Sicily where she had been the wife of the late King.” (Italics added.) Baha ad-Din could not have been more explicit. This plan did not originate with Richard.

As a proposal from ad-Adil it makes perfect sense. He carved out a large and very profitable fiefdom under his brother, ended the war that was wearing everyone down and absorbing resources, and got rid of the troublesome and far too successful crusaders — all for the price of adding one more woman to his harem that he could repudiate at any time without cause just by telling her he divorced her! At which point, as I noted above, there would be no one left to take her in or defend her honor. Could there be a better deal? Why shouldn’t he propose it and see if the Christian king was stupid enough to accept?

Baha ad-Din also provides the very telling information that when al-Adil sought his brother’s approval for the plan, Saladin approved “knowing quite well that the King of England would never agree to [the terms] and they were only a trick and a practical joke on his [Saladin’s] part.” Al-Adil might have dreamed of being king of a powerful kingdom that had for a hundred years maintained its independence; his brother had no intention whatsoever of giving his brother lands that valuable or self-sufficient. Saladin appears to have had a higher opinion of Richard’s intelligence than al-Adil.

And Saladin was right. Richard made excuses (like needing the pope’s approval, which is nonsense) or claiming “the Christian people” were against the proposal (impossible since he didn’t tell “the people” about it). Allegedly he even jestingly suggested al-Adil become Christian, to which al-Adil suggested Joanna become Muslim. It was, by then, clearly nothing but a joke between them. It remains to this day, however, a colorful incident perfect for novels.

The incident is incorporated into my novel “Envoy of Jerusalem” covering the Third Crusade and Balian d’Ibelin’s prominent role  in the negotiations with Saladin.

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