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Friday, August 25, 2017

Frankish Armies of Outremer

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 armies 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 axe. Lances, on the other hand, were relatively cheap, “throw away” 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 maybe 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 largely Arabic speaking Muslims and/or native Christians of limited military experience after years of Muslim oppression, the Kings of Jerusalem were not inclined to rely upon these men to fight their battles. 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 (most commonly padded linen “aketons,” or quilted “gambesons,” in rare-cases leather, or even 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 maybe as much as half the settlers living in cities, it is not surprising that sergeants 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, they were nevertheless 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.


Despite the name, which was borrowed from the Byzantines, the term “Turcopole” in the context of the crusader states refers not to an ethnic group but simply to “mounted archers” — of diverse ethnic character.

There was no tradition of mounted archers in Western Europe due to: 1) the cost of raising and maintaining horses of sufficient strength, agility, and intelligence to be suitable for mounted combat and 2) to the broken and wooded terrain that did not favor this kind of troops. In the Near East, in contrast, the open steppe was ideal both for the breeding, rearing and the deployment of light cavalry.

The Crusaders came in contact with the superb horse-archers of the Turks almost as soon as they crossed into Asia. Turkish mounted archers had by the First Crusade already conquered most of central Asia. They were a formidable enemy and the Franks who settled in Outremer and faced the Turkish archers in every engagement learned to respect them.

The Franks soon recognized that they needed light cavalry capable of conducting reconnaissance, carrying out hit-and-run raids, and providing a protective screen for their “fighting box.” They were also remarkably rapid in developing it. Already by 1109, there are references in the primary sources to these troops. From that point forward, they played an increasingly important role in the fighting tactics and military successes of the Frankish armies of Outremer, in some cases operating independently, and in other cases in support of the infantry and heavy cavalry. Historical studies suggest that the turcopoles made up on average 50% of the mounted forces of the crusader armies and is some engagements as much as 80%. Furthermore, both the Templars and Hospitallers had Turcopoles integrated into their organizations and their Rule carefully accounts for them.

Note: the “Turcopoles” were not Muslim converts much less Muslim troops. Nor were the Turcopoles the children of mixed marriages. Rather the Turcopoles were native Christians, primarily Armenians and Maronites, who still had a strong tradition of warfare and over the generations of Crusader rule developed outstanding skills as mounted archers to counter the Turks.

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.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:

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

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Lusignan Siege of Acre

In the history of the Holy Land there were many sieges of Acre. During the crusader era the most famous was the last siege in 1291 that marked the end of the crusader states and the swansong of the crusades themselves. One hundred years earlier, however, Acre had been the setting for the first military engagement of the Third Crusade -- and of a massacre that has blotted Richard the Lionheart's record (rightly or wrongly) ever since. That 12th century siege was not, however, started by the leaders of the Third Crusade. Rather they "inherited" it from the strategist that gave us the Frankish humiliation at Hattin: Guy de Lusignan.  Today I look at how Guy de Lusignan came to establish the siege of Acre and the consequences of it.

In August 1189 a Frankish army under the command of King Guy of Jerusalem laid siege to the city of Acre.  Once the economic heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Acre had surrendered to the Saracens just days after the Battle of Hattin, and by August 1189 it was garrisoned by Egyptian troops fiercely loyal to the Sultan Salah ad-Din.

Located deep inside Saracen held territory, the siege of Acre was maintained largely by reinforcements arriving by sea, and the siege camp was itself encircled on land by the armies of Salah ad-Din, so that the besiegers were themselves besieged. The siege was to last two full years and cost tens of thousands of Christian lives. According to the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, one of the most important contemporary accounts, the siege cost Christendom the Patriarch of Jerusalem, six archbishops, twelve bishops, forty counts, and five hundred barons. It also cost Jerusalem a queen and two princesses, all of whom died of fever in the siege camp. While there are no reliable sources for the number of commoners lost, such high casualties among the privileged elites (that could afford the best armor, accommodation and food even in times of scarcity) suggests that tens of thousands of ordinary people -- fighting men, clergy and camp followers -- were lost in the siege of Acre. They died in combat, from disease and even starvation.

Furthermore, although both sides repeatedly launched assaults against the other, all were ultimately defeated at high cost. Between these major battles, small scale skirmishing occurred on an almost daily basis, causing continuous attrition. Ultimately, however, disease, deprivation, and unsanitary conditions accounted for the lion’s share of the casualties. Even after the arrival of large crusading forces under the kings of England and France (the Third Crusade), victory was not achieved by offensive action, but rather through a naval blockade that cut the Saracen garrison off from supplies and reinforcements. The garrison at Acre surrendered and received terms rather than being crushed by Christian arms. In short, the history of the Siege of Acre is a grim tale of stalemate reminiscent of the horrible trench warfare of WWI.

And just like WWI, one wonders if it was worth the sacrifice made and if at any time the siege made military sense?

The Siege of Acre was the “brainchild” of the man who gave us the catastrophe at Hatttin: Guy de Lusignan. Furthermore, it was apparently undertaken by default more than design. After losing the Battle of Hattin, surrendering to Saladin and then swearing to depart the Holy Land and never take up arms against Islam again in order to secure his release, Guy de Lusignan went first to Tripoli and then Antioch. Here Guy spent a year doing we know not what before deciding to break his oath to Saladin (with the blessings of the Christian church, which argued he had made the oath under duress) and return to his own kingdom.

Guy's kingdom by this point in time consisted of only a single city, Tyre, which had been saved from ignominious surrender by the timely arrival of Conrad de Montferrat. So Guy left Antioch with a body of several hundred knights and several thousand foot soldiers, all volunteers prepared to support Guy regain the kingdom he had squandered at Hattin – or, more probably, volunteers dedicated to the recapture of Jerusalem, even if that meant following Guy de Lusignan. Guy went naturally to his only remaining city with the intention of making it his base of operations.

On arrival in Tyre, however, Conrad de Montferrat flatly refused to admit him to the city and furthermore refused to acknowledge him as king at all. Montferrat reasoned Lusignan had 1) forfeited his kingdom with his defeat at Hattin, and 2) renounced the right to regain it in order to obtain his release from captivity. This turn of events had not been anticipated by Guy and took him by surprise. Allegedly, Guy was at a complete loss about what to do next, and implicitly prepared to just go back to Antioch with his tail between his legs.

Guy’s older brother Geoffrey is credited with convincing him to take the offensive instead. Geoffrey was the second of the four Lusignan brothers. The eldest brother Hugh “le Brun” was Lord of the March and Lusignan, a vassal of the Plantagenets.  The third brother was Aimery, Constable of Jerusalem and like Guy a former captive of Saladin. Guy was the fourth and youngest of the Lusignan brothers of this generation.  Hugh would arrive later in the train of Richard of England with a significant crusader contingent, and Aimery was already with Guy. Geoffrey, the second of the four Lusignan brothers, appears to have been too impatient to await the ponderous collection of the entire crusader host. He rushed out to the Holy Land to join his younger brothers well before the departure of his elder brother with the men of Lusignan.

Geoffrey may have been impulsive and impatient by nature. Before coming on crusade, he was credited with leading a Lusignan attack on Eleanor of Aquitaine that resulted in the murder of the Earl of Salisbury. In this incident, Guy is sometimes blamed for wielding the fatal lance, but Geoffrey as the elder brother was the man who made the decision to attack the unarmed and unsuspecting troop with the Queen of England. In any case, in August of 1189 Geoffrey de Lusignan had only recently arrived in the Holy Land. His proposal to lay siege to Acre may, therefore, have been either merely impulsive or based on ignorance because it is hard to imagine a military reason for the selection of Acre as a target.

To be sure, taking offensive action made sense. Jerusalem was never going to be recovered by defensive actions alone. By August 1189, it was more than two years since the disaster at Hattin and fighting men committed to regaining the Holy Land for Christendom were spoiling for a fight. They were tired of being cooped up in Tyre and anxious to start fighting back. This is well illustrated by the attempt to retake Sidon just two months earlier. (See Jerusalem Fights Back)

The difference between the campaign to take Sidon and Lusignan’s siege of Acre, however, is that Sidon lay between the two Frankish strongholds of Tyre and Tripoli. Recapturing Sidon and the coast between Tyre and Sidon (and presumably between Sidon and Tripoli) would have extended Frankish control to a continuous coastal strip, greatly increasing the strategic and economic viability of remaining Frankish territory. Acre on the other hand was even farther from Tripoli and Antioch than Tyre and, as the course of events show, rapidly isolated.

Some historians have argued that Acre’s port was particularly valuable, which is certainly true, and that the riches that could be garnered from a port would have supported many “money fiefs,” which is also true. But given its isolation, its excellent defenses and the size and loyalty of the garrison holding it for Saladin, these arguments for selecting Acre as a target seem less than compelling.  Rather, the siege of Acre was a tactical blunder by a man (Guy de Lusignan) who never evidenced a shred of military acumen.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: 
The Siege of Acre is an important event described in award-winning Envoy of Jerusalem.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Baronial Scholars of Outremer

 It is still common for people today to believe (and tell others) that most noblemen and knights in “the Middle Ages” were illiterate. Even authors of otherwise quite credible historical fiction make this assumption about their knightly and even noble characters. In reality, the noblemen of Outremer were not only literate, many of them spoke multiple languages -- including a command of written Arabic, Latin and Greek as well as the vernacular French, some were themselves composers of lyrics and poetry, and many more were highly sophisticated scholars and jurists.

Kenneth Setton notes in Volume IV of his comprehensive "A History of the Crusades," for example, that a number of noblemen from Outremer distinguished themselves as translators of Arabic into French. He names specifically Renard de Sagette of Sidon, Baldwin d'Ibelin, Yves le Breton, and Stephen of Antioch. The latter, for example, translated the medical texts of the Arab physician Ali ibn Abbas. (See Setton, Kenneth M. ed, A History of the Crusades, Volume 4: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States, University of Wisconsin Press, 1977, p. 21.)

The court-system in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, meanwhile, required both jurors and counselors at every trial and these men were all drawn from the knightly class. They all had to be versed in the law and capable of entering and refuting pleas, of debating, deliberating and rendering judgement based on a legal opinion.  Indeed, every knight in the realm had the right to sit in the High Court and deliberate on such existential issues as the selection of regents, taxes and treaties. They were expected to know the law, and that meant reading about it.

Even more extraordinary, in the mid-13th century, an entire school of legal scholars evolved that wrote no less than seven books on legal issues and six other scholarly works. These men, none of whom were in Holy Orders and all of whom held fiefs, fought with sword and lance on horseback, and commanded troops, wrote histories, books of poems, philosophical works and legal discourses. Riley-Smith goes so far as to write: “Perhaps the greatest monument to the western settlers in Palestine, finer even than the cathedrals and castles still dominating the landscape, is the law-book of John of Jaffa, which…is one of the great works of thirteenth-century thought.” (The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277, Jonathan Riley-Smith, Macmillan Press, 1973, p. 230.) 

These books were not, however, merely philosophical or scholarly. They were also meant a practical handbooks for the ordinary knight and burgher involved in litigation, for his counselors and jurors. Thus, in addition to discussing the theories and issues, these books provided practical advice on the procedures for filing cases, how to protect witnesses, how to answer an opponent and test his evidence, the importance of using the right words ― even how to use the law to one’s advantage!

Moving from the abstract to the specific, let me introduce you to some of the most prominent among them:


Royal Wisdom:

Arguably the first of the great jurists of Jerusalem was none other than Aimery de Lusignan, the elder brother of the incompetent Guy de Lusignan (who usurped a crown only to lose the kingdom in less than a year). Aimery was a very different man than Guy, notably popular with the same barons who detested his brother. He had been in the Holy Land since about 1175. He was named Constable of the Kingdom by Baldwin IV in 1182. He fought and was taken captive at Hattin. Released in 1188, he joined the siege of Acre in 1189 and fought throughout the Third Crusade. In 1193, he joined his brother on Cyprus, and after Guy’s death he succeeded him as lord. He negotiated with the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor to make Cyprus a Kingdom within the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1196 was granted the title of King of Cyprus. In late 1197, after the death of Henri de Champagne, he was selected by the High Court of Jerusalem as the fourth husband if Isabella of Jerusalem and in January 1198, he was crowned in Acre.

Between 1198 and his death in 1205, King Aimery either wrote (or commissioned the writing) of a book intended to capture all known laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been lost when Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187. It is questionable whether the laws of Jerusalem had really been neatly written down, sealed and stored in the vaults of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but this was what contemporaries claimed. Certainly, when Aimery set out to collect and transcribe the laws of his kingdom, he was working from oral records based on a consensus of what people remembered about the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during its first century of existence. Throughout the twelfth century, those laws had been evolving largely through practical necessity, but from this point onwards there was a clear point of reference: Aimery de Lusignans “Livre au roi” ― the Book of the King.

The “three wisest men this side of the sea”

After Aimery (who is revered more for compiling than analyzing or interpreting the law), came three men who in subsequent generations were revered as exceptionally wise. These were:

·      Ralph of Tiberias – the Socrates of the Barons. Ralph was a son the Prince of Galilee, a step-son of Raymond of Tripoli. He had fought at Hattin but escaped with Tripoli rather than falling into Saracen captivity. He participated in the siege of Acre, and in 1194 was named Seneschal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a position he held for the next thirty years. Like the real Socrates, he passed on his wisdom in oral form to the next generation of jurists rather than writing himself, but by the mid-thirteenth century he was viewed by his successors as “the finest jurist there had ever been in the kingdom.” (Riley-Smith, p. 157.)

·    John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut ― “The Old Lord of Beirut.” John was the eldest son of Balian d’Ibelin. He had been no more than eight years old when the Kingdom had been lost at Hattin, including his home and inheritance at Ibelin. He spent the next five years in considerable uncertainty in Tyre, while his father and the other surviving lords fought to regain the Kingdom. In 1192, his father was granted the small lordship of Caymont, but the Ibelins never seemed to identify with it. John was appointed Constable of Jerusalem in or about 1198 by Aimery de Lusignan, but he traded the office for the newly conquered lordship of Beirut. Here he built a magnificent palace much admired by visitors. While Beirut was his principle base of power, he also held extensive fiefs (unnamed) on Cyprus, also from Aimery de Lusignan. John of Beirut was the leader of the baronial revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor and his lieutenants, which was based strictly (at least initially) on a point of law, i.e that the King of Jerusalem did not have the right to “lay hand on vassal or his property without a judgement of the High Court.” According to Riley-Smith, John of Beirut enjoyed such prestige in later years that his opinions effectively decided cases. (Riley-Smith, p. 123).

·   Balian of Sidon. Balian was the son of Reginald (also Reynald/Renaud) of Sidon, an important baron in the later half of the twelfth century, and his wife Helvis d’Ibelin, Balian d’Ibelin’s eldest daughter. Reginald had escaped Hattin and for a period defied Saladin at his castle Belfort, but he was eventually forced to surrender Belfort after being seized and tortured by Saladin. Allegedly, as an act of remorse, Saladin restored a portion of his barony to him, and King Aimery restored the rest after it had been recaptured in 1197, which is interesting as Sidon had been a staunch opponent of Guy de Lusignan.

The Writers of Legal Wisdom

·       Philip of Novara. His origins are obscure and he is used as an example of how a man could make a fortune through legal scholarship and practice. Eventually he held a fief on Cyprus from the Ibelins, but his fame rests on his literary works. He wrote a history of the war between the barons and Friedrich the II, poetry, philosophy and a legal tract on “how to plea.”

·   John of Jaffa: The Plato of the Barons. John was the son of Philip d’Ibelin, Balian d’Ibelin’s second son, who had been regent of Cyprus 1218 – 1227. He fought with his uncle against the Emperor, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Casal Imbert. In 1241 he acquired the old Ibelin fief of Ramla, and in 1247 was granted the County of Jaffa and Ascalon. He spent much of the rest of his life trying to defend that exposed fief on the borderland. He took part in Louis IX’s crusade against Egypt. And he is the man described by Jean de Joinville in his account of the crusade as follows: “He arrived most nobly of all, for his galley came painted below the waterline and above with escutcheons of his arms ― or a cross paté gules. He had at least 300 oarsmen in his galley….As he approached it seemed as though his galley flew as the oarsmen drove it forward….” (Joinville, Life of St. Louis, Chapt. 4) I think we can safely say he was not particularly humble, but maybe he had no need to be. He is also the author of the book sited above as the most impressive legacy of the Kingdom of Jerusalem!

·       Geoffrey le Tor. Like Philip, a man of knightly rather than baronial estate, his family held property in and near Acre in the twelfth century, and he later received a fief on Cyprus from King Henry I. He was also chamberlain in the Kingdom of Cyprus, and twice served as ambassador to the Holy See. He is credited with writing one of the seven surviving books on legal practices.

The Others

Lest you think this a paltry number of men to make my claim that most of the knightly class were well-educated and highly literate, the above are the leaders, but the following men are also recorded as being notable and respected jurists among an even wider class of jurors and counsellors including men of bourgeois origins: Renier and Arneis of Gibelet, Rostain Aimer, Reynald Forson, Paul of Nablus, Philip Lebel, William Raymond, Philip of Baisdoin, Raymond of Conches, Raymond and Nicholas of Antiaumes, and James Vidal.  Riley-Smith argues that “the practice of law was a route to fame and status in the Latin East.” (Riley-Smith, p. 124).

I hope I have laid to rest any remaining doubts about whether the barons and knights of Jerusalem were illiterate and uneducated brutes….

Recommended Reading: Riley Smith, Jonathan, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277, MacMillan, 1973.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: