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Friday, October 27, 2017

Madman or Hero? A Closer Look at Reynald de Châtillon

Reynald de Châtillon is often portrayed in history and historical fiction as a “rogue baron” — a violent, self-interested man who broke a truce with Salah-ad-Din triggering the campaign that ended in disaster for Christian forces at Hattin in 1187.  In the Ridley Scott film “The Kingdom of Heaven” he is depicted even more negatively: as a madman intent on making war. Yet the noted historian Bernard Hamilton has worked hard to rehabilitate Châtillon, arguing he was an intelligent strategist, who did much to save the Kingdom of Jerusalem rather than the reverse.  What follows is a short summary of Châtillon’s life in the Holy Land.

Châtillon was born in 1125, the younger son of a comparatively obscure French nobleman, the Sire of Donzy. William, Archbishop of Tyre, went so far as to describe his as “almost a common soldier,” but was undoubtedly going too far.  It is fair, however, to call him an adventurer, who came to the Holy Land during the Second Crusade. Apparently, while Louis VII was worrying (probably unnecessarily) about his wife committing adultery with her uncle Raymond of Poitiers, Châtillon was busy seducing Raymond’s wife, the heiress of the Principality of Antioch, Constance. No sooner had Raymond been killed in an ambush in 1153, than Constance took the obscure and still young (he was 28) Châtillon for her second husband. It worth noting that according to Tyre the King of Jerusalem had suggested a variety of other “suitable” bachelors — men of stature and proven ability in the crusader states — to Constance, but the lady chose the patently unsuitable Châtillon.  It was clearly a case of a widow exercising her right to choose her second husband, and so a “love” match — at least on Constance’s part.

It is hard for us, however, to imagine what she saw in him. Within a very short period of time his avarice and violence had scandalized even his contemporaries. Tyre claims that out of sheer animosity to the Patriarch of Antioch, who opposed his marriage and didn’t hesitate to say so publicly, Châtillon had him seized, bound and exposed to the blazing summer sun with his head covered with honey. The honey attracted the flies and the old man, the highest church official in Châtillon’s lordship, was thus tormented with heat and flies until — according to Tyre — the King of Jerusalem intervened. Another version suggests (more plausibly I would think) that he was released when he agreed to pay Châtillon a large sum of money. Regardless of how he secured his release, the Patriarch understandably did not feel safe in Châtillon’s territory and fled to Jerusalem.

Châtillon next attacked the Island of Cyprus, a Christian country under the authority of the Byzantine Emperor. As Tyre points out Cyprus “had always been useful and friendly to our realm.” Châtillon’s justification for the raid was that he had not been paid by the Emperor for his service in subduing the rebellious Armenian Lord Thoros of Cilicia. But as Tyre also points out, the Emperor’s tardy payment of mercenary wages hardly justified over-running an unsuspecting and friendly island destroying cities, wrecking fortresses, plundering monasteries and raping “nuns and tender maidens.” The ravaging lasted for days, showing “no mercy to age or sex.” The violence of Châtillon’s raid, by the way, is confirmed by Syrian sources and so not simply a function of some alleged “bias” on the part of Tyre. Furthermore, his actions so outraged his contemporaries that the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin III, offered to deliver him to the Byzantine Emperor.

Manuel I opted instead to invade Antioch and force Châtillon to submit himself. As the army of the Emperor approached, Châtillon recognized he didn’t stand a chance of defying the Emperor (and probably realized he was in the wrong with no allies) so he threw himself on the Emperor’s mercy in a dramatic gesture. He went barefoot to the Emperor with a noose around his neck and presented his naked sword hilt-first to the Emperor. As if that weren’t enough, he then threw himself face-down at the Emperor’s feet until (according to Tyre) “all were disgusted and the glory of the Latins was turned to shame; for he was a man of violent impulses, both in sinning and in repenting.” Roughly three years had elapsed between the sack of Cyprus and Châtillon’s submission to the Emperor in 1159.

Two years later in 1161 he was captured by the Seljuk leader Nur ad-Din and imprisoned in allegedly brutal conditions because his reputation for brutality was not confined to the treatment of Latin clerics and Orthodox civilians but to his enemies as well.  He was not released for 15 years, by which time his wife, Constance of Antioch had died and her son by her first marriage, Bohemond had come of age.  In short, when Châtillon was released from prison in a political exchange (no ransom was high enough for Châtillon’s captor), he was 52 years old and Prince of nothing. Indeed, he was landless and penniless.

A situation he rapidly remedied by marrying the widow (and heiress) of the vast and important frontier barony of Oultrejourdain, Stephanie de Milly. It is hard to imagine that a man recently released from a Saracen prison after 15 years and well past his prime was particularly seductive to the widow Stephanie de Milly, and he certainly offered her neither wealth nor high connections, but — in retrospect — he offered her something even more important and maybe we should give her credit for having perceived his value at the time: Châtillon was a brilliant tactician, who proved capable of defending her vulnerable inheritance as long as he lived.

Châtillon’s release and remarriage also coincided with the start of the personal reign of Baldwin IV, who came of age in 1176. He appears to have favored Châtillon. He certainly would have had to approve of his marriage to the Stephanie de Milly and Châtillon’s assumption of the title of Baron of Oultrejourdain. In any case, just a year after his release he was entrusted with a mission to Constantinople in which Baldwin IV renewed his father’s “homage” to the Byzantine Emperor (no doubt Reynald’s earlier dramatic submission to the Emperor made him an ideal candidate to do this, combined with the fact that his step-daughter by his deceased wife Constance was now the Byzantine Empress.) In addition, he was to negotiate details of a joint operation against Egypt that Baldwin IV and Manuel I wanted to pursue. While it is hard to see the Châtillon of film and fiction as an ambassador, it must be conceded that he apparently fulfilled his commission in this case well. The Byzantine Emperor sent a fleet of 70 ships to support and land invasion by troops supplied by the crusader states and armed pilgrims.

Unfortunately, the ambitions of Philip Count of Flanders combined with Baldwin IV’s leprosy foiled the joint campaign and while the Counts of Flanders and Tripoli with the young prince of Antioch attacked targets on the border of Antioch, Salah-ad-Din invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Egypt. It was late 1177, and King Baldwin had less than 400 knights left for the defense of the realm. Still he rushed to Ascalon and raised the commons in defense of the realm eventually delivering a crushing defeat of Salah-ad-Din at the field of Montgisard on November 25, 1177. 

Bernard Hamilton claims that Châtillon was the “real” commander at Montgisard, siting Arab sources. However, the Archbishop of Tyre and the Chronicle of Ernoul, the two contemporary Christian sources both of which were in far better position to position to assess who was commanding on the Christian side, singularly fail to mention his role. He is just one of several prominent men in the King’s forces including Baldwin of Ramla “and his brother Balian, Renaud of Sidon and Count Joscelin, the King’s uncle and seneschal.” The fact that the Arabs attribute the command to Châtillon may have for to do with the fact that they knew him (and hated him) so well than any real role; Châtillon is not the kind of man to be easily overlooked and the Arab sources may have confused prominence on the battlefield with command. Tyre, however, was at this time chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and made a meticulous attempt to interview the survivors of the battle. It is hardly likely that he would have omitted Châtillon’s role had Châtillon really been the mastermind of the victory of Mongisard. In the absence of credible testimony to the contrary, therefore, the assumption should be that the most senior official at the battle was the commander — and that was none other than King Baldwin himself!

Châtillon’s next important contribution to history was his raid deep into Sinai in November 1181. This raid definitely contributed to his reputation as a war-monger because it occurred in the middle of a truce with Salah-ad-Din. However, as Hamilton points out, far from being an opportunistic act of a self-adventurer with no regard for treaties the raid was a highly effective tactical move in defense of the crusader kingdoms. The raid occurred immediately after the death of Nur-ad-Din’s legitimate heir Prince as-Salih in Aleppo. The prince had designated his cousin, a Seljuk prince and lord of Mosul, as his successor with the explicit intention of preventing the Kurdish usurper Salah-ad-Din from taking any more of his father’s inheritance. Salah-ad-Din immediately recognized that the powerful Lord of Mosul was likely to be a far greater obstacle to his ambitions than the weak as-Salih and so immediately ordered his nephews to prevent any forces from Mosul reaching Aleppo. From the Christian point of view, it was critical to prevent Salah-ad-Din from expanding his power to Aleppo, and the Lord of Mosul was to be preferred to the jihadist Salah-ad-Din.  Châtillon’s raid into Sinai effectively 1) prevented Salah-ad-Din from taking his forces from Egypt north to Aleppo and 2) prevented his nephews from doing his work for him either. Farrukh-Shah had to divert his forces from interdicting the Lord of Mosul to protecting his uncle’s possesses in Sinai. Aleppo therefore did not fall to Salah-ad-Din at this time — a small price to pay for a truce that was due to expire less than six months later.

To be sure, Châtillon also enriched himself by seizing a very lucrative caravan and refusing to ransom the survivors or pay compensation for the dead, but this should be seen as Châtillon’s usual avarice and does not detract from his rapid and effective response to critical threat to the very existence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

A year latter, Châtillon expanded on his probably ad-hoc raid into Sinai but launching a fleet of ships in the Red Sea. These raids have generally drawn approbation from historians, who portray them as cruel piracy against innocent pilgrims — largely because the Arabs had no fighting ships in the Red Sea at this time and Châtillon’s ship sacked towns and burned ships initially at will. Against this portrayal is the fact that Arab warships and slavers had preyed upon Christian pilgrims for centuries before the First Crusade, and the fact that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was by this time in a life-or-death struggle with a man who had promised to drive it into the sea and, indeed, wipe out Christianity everywhere in the world. No, Châtillon’s raids were not pretty. Medieval Warfare rarely was. Yes, his ships attacked “unarmed” pilgrims (though it’s hard to imagine Arab men travelling anywhere unarmed at this time). They certainly caused havoc and spread terror across the Arabian Peninsula. And far from being acts of piracy by a “rogue” baron, they served a clear strategic purpose.

Hamilton makes the argument that the costs and complexities of launching these ships far exceeded he resources of Châtillon alone and argues convincingly that he must have had the support of the King of Jerusalem himself. He certainly needed the skills of Italian shipwrights and sailors — scarce commodities in his land-locked, desert lordship. More important, by threatening the trade and pilgrim routes of the Red Sea, Châtillon was challenging Salah-ad-Din’s claim to be the Defender of Islam. As Hamilton words it: “[Salah-ad-Din’s] credibility would have been severely damaged in the eyes of the entire Islamic community if the Franks had succeeded in preventing pilgrims from reaching the holy cities [of Islam] of which he was protector while he and his arms were fighting Sunnite princes in Iraq.” (Hamilton, The Leper King and His Heirs, p. 181.) Hamilton goes on to point out that the campaign had the added advantage of aiding the Frank’s allies in Syria while restraining Salah-ad-Din’s growing power.

Salah-ad-Din had no choice but to respond to the raids. He had warships dragged across Sinai and launched in the Red Sea. These eventually tracked the Christian raiders down, bottled them up in the harbor of al-Haura, and when the Frankish crews abandoned their ships, to track down the survivors. The Sultan than dealt with the survivors in a notably non-chivalry fashion: he ordered them distributed about his kingdom and publicly executed (against the laws of Islam that dictate that prisoners who voluntarily surrender should be shown mercy).  Two of the raiders, presumably the men identified as the leaders, were taken to Mecca and slaughtered like sacrificial animals to the wild jubilation of the crowds of pilgrims on the haj.

Châtillon’s role in these raids (and he took full credit/blame for them despite the probability that he was aided by King Baldwin) made him more hated than ever in the Islamic world. Salah-ad-Din clearly felt personally insulted, and in the years that followed he twice laid siege to Châtillon’s main fortress at Kerak.   

The first of these sieges occurred while on the one hand the Queen Mother, Dowager Queen and Princess of Jerusalem had gathered in Kerak for the wedding of Princess Isabella (aged 11) to Humphrey de Toron (aged 15 or 16), and on the other hand when the High Court of Jerusalem was meeting in Jerusalem to discuss Guy de Lusignan’s deplorable performance as Regent of the Kingdom during an invasion of the Kingdom by Salah-ad-Din in October 1183. This meant that Châtillon found himself with only his own fighting men but hundreds if not thousands of non-combatants on his hands. Tyre claims he “rashly” tried to defend the town outside the castle, but was nearly overwhelmed by the suddenness of Salah-ad-Din’s attack, and barely managed to pull back into the castle, his villagers losing everything. Although Tyre tries to make this sound like poor leadership on the part of Châtillon, it sounds far more like a successful surprise attack to Salah-
ad-Din’s credit. Châtillon was lucky not to lose his castle under the circumstances and despite the overcrowding and lack of combatants he held his castle for more than a month before the royal army came to his relief.

A year later the scene repeated itself, but this time there was no wedding and no constitutional crisis going on. Both sides were better prepared, but the outcome remained the same. The royal army came to the relief of Kerak and Salah-ad-Din was forced to break off his siege. He would not succeed until more than a year after the destruction of the Christian army at Hattin and the execution — at Salah-ad-Din’s own hand — of Châtillon himself.

But that is getting ahead of the story. Châtillon still had two other contributions to history to make. During the succession crisis after the death of Baldwin V, Châtillon threw his weight behind Sibylla — but it is unclear if he supported Guy de Lusignan or not. He is said to have urged the people of Jerusalem to accept Sibylla without naming Guy as her consort. He may have been one of her supporters who urged her to set Guy aside and take a new husband (maybe he even imagined himself as his consort given his past successes!). Or he may have known she intended to keep Guy as her consort. In any case, he can be counted in her faction.

There is no evidence that I have seen, however, that he was particularly hostile to Raymond of Tripoli and there is no reason to believe he particularly agitated for war in 1187. On the contrary, Salah-ad-Din needed no particular provocation. He’d been launching invasions almost yearly from more than a decade and he knew as well as anyone that Guy de Lusignan was neither popular nor powerful. He recognized that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was weaker than it had been at any time in his own lifetime and he gathered his forces and struck again. Châtillon followed the royal summons to muster — as did all the other barons and fighting men of the kingdom. And, as an experienced battle commander with a large contingent of troops he inevitably played a role in the Battle — but nothing suggests he was the one whispering idiocy in King Guy’s hear: that distinction belongs to the Grand Master of the Knights Templar Gerard de Rideford.  

At the Battle of Hattin, Châtillon fought bravely beside the King and was taken captive with him along with many other nobles including Aimery de Lusignan and Humphrey de Toron. The only thing that made him different from the others is that Salah-ad-Din was not willing to forgive the Red Sea Raids and — again in violation of Islamic practice — did not show mercy, although Châtillon surrendered no less than the other lords did. Salah-ad-Din allegedly killed Châtillon with his own hand — or wounded him and let his men finish him off. It was a violent end for a violent man; he may well have preferred it to the thought of languishing in a Saracen prison again or a life in slavery. He would have been 62 years of age at the time of his execution.

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:

I have tried to do justice to Châtillon's complexity in my portrayal of him in "Defender of Jerusalem" (winner of five literary awards):

Friday, October 20, 2017

Courts of All Kinds: The Legal System in the Crusader Kingdoms

Arguably the most fundamental function of any state is the administration of justice. It is when a government fails to deliver justice that it loses its legitimacy, and either becomes tyrannical or starts to disintegrate into anarchy. This is what makes the study of legal systems so essential to the understanding and assessment of the legitimacy and efficacy of any government. The legal system in the Kingdom of Jerusalem is no exception.

Fundamental to an effective system of justice is that the participants accept and recognize the legitimacy of the legal authorities. This is notoriously difficult when the administrators of justice speak a different language, have a different faith, or follow different legal traditions from the subjects of the legal system. As a result, the imposition of law by an invading force is inherently challenging, and wise conquerors have generally been cautious about replacing local law and custom with their own system.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem faced a particularly daunting challenge, because from its inception the Kingdom of Jerusalem was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and religiously diverse state.  Quite aside from the new comers from Western Europe, the native population of the Holy Land was already polyglot and non-homogeneous when the men of the First Crusade arrived. There were, for example, still Jews living in the Holy Land, although their numbers were comparatively small, a large portion of the native population had converted to Islam at some point in the more than four hundred years since the first Arab invasion. However, often forgotten by modern commentators, the majority of the population was composed of Orthodox Christians. These, in turn were composed not only of Syrian Orthodox Christians (both Maronite and Jacobite), but also Greek, Armenian, Coptic and even Ethiopian Orthodox communities.  

The rulers of the crusader states responded intelligently to the challenge confronting them by allowing a network of partially over-lapping local courts (in the vernacular) to continue, while adding two additional courts for the newcomers, the High Court (see separate entry) and the Low Court.  They then followed the overriding principle of judgement by one’s peers, supplemented by two corollary principles: that in disputes between individuals from different strata of society, the case should be tried before the peers of the weaker (lower) person, and in cases between individuals from different ethnic groups of the same strata, the case should be brought before the peers of the defendant. 

The practical outcome of this theoretical approach is that in all matters of family and religious law, the residents of the crusader states sought resolution from the religious authorities of their respective religion whether Islam, Judaism, one of the many forms of Orthodoxy, or before Latin Christian (Catholic) ecclesiastical courts. In rural areas, furthermore, civil and criminal cases not involving a Frank were tried before local/native judges in accordance with the laws and customs predating the First Crusade.

In urban areas, however, the intermingling of peoples was too great to allow such a simple rule, and the Cour de la Fond evolved for the resolution of commercial cases and the Cour de la Chaine evolved for the resolution of maritime disputes. In each, a representative of the lord presided over the court as “bailli,” but did not rule on a case. Rather, the case was tried by six jurors drawn from the same class of the parties to the dispute. So, for example, in the Cour de la Chaine, the jurors had to be sailors or merchants. Of these, two were Franks and four natives, a ratio that clearly favored the Franks on a national scale, but may have roughly reflected the composition of urban populations because a large portion of new immigrants were city dwellers, and, correspondingly, a larger portion of the rural population was native.

However, there was an exception to the jurisdiction of these court, which again recognized the diversity of the population: the independent “communes” or urban colonies of the Italian city states were granted the right rule on cases involving their own members in accordance to their own laws and before their own courts. Thus two Venetians would be tried by the laws of Venice, and Pisans by the laws of Pisa etc. Disputes between members of different communes, however, would be tried in the courts of the defendant.

During the first century of the crusader states, however, the communes were a comparatively small minority and the bulk of the Frankish population was drawn from all across Western Europe from Norway to Sicily. These residents of the crusader states were Westerners, whose common language was Latin/French, and making them subject to the local Syrian courts would have been illogical and unacceptable.  Instead, a new court, the Cour des Bourgeois, or Low Court, was created to address criminal and civil cases involving non-noble Franks that did not fall within the jurisdiction of the commercial or maritime courts. Although often translated into English as the Lower Court, the Cour de Bourgeois was the only court for disputes involving burghers or bourgeois residents. The High Court was not an appellate court; it was the court for disputes between members of the First Estate or feudal elite, i.e. knights, nobles, and vassals of the king.  

In the Cour de Bourgeois cases were tried before a “viscount” appointed by the local lord (e.g. the King in royal domains, the Prince of Galilee in Galilee, the Count of Jaffa in Jaffa and Ascalon, the Lord of Oultrejourdain, Ibelin, Sidon etc. in their respective baronies), and twelve jurors. The viscount like the baillis of the other courts did not have a say in the verdict or sentence but was charged with ensuring due process, maintaining order in the courtroom, and enforcing the sentences pronounced by the jurors.

Interestingly, the various Cour de Bourgeois met more regularly than the High Court, presumably because they had more business to conduct given the larger numbers of burgers compared to nobles. Another striking feature of these courts was the right of the litigants to request “counsel” from the court. If requested (and it was highly recommended by the medieval commentators!), the court appointed one of the jurors, who thereafter did not sit in judgement of the case but became an advocate, much like a court-appointed lawyer today. Furthermore, although there was not yet a profession known as “lawyers,” men who gained a reputation for understanding the law were revered and repeatedly appointed either as jurors or counsellors. The names of some have come down to us, such as John d’Ibelin, and Philip of Novare, because they were also legal scholars, who wrote legal tracts about the laws they were interpreting. There was, however, no such thing as the “prosecution.” The state as such had not yet assumed the role of pursuing justice and punishing crime for itself. Instead, someone had to bring a case to trial by accusing another person of a violation of the law. 

Somewhat alienating to modern sensibilities, trial by combat or some other form of “test” (fire or water) were the preferred means of determining guilt and innocence. But this was normal in this period and accepted by litigant and defendant alike. 

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:

Her award-winning novels set in the crusader states attempt to reconstruct society accurately including an accurate portrayal of the legal system.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Children of the Crusades

Today, on 710th the anniversary of Philip IV's "coup" against the Knights Templar and before readers are totally distracted by "Knightfall", I wanted to reflect on the origins of the great "militant orders" of which the Knights Templar were the most prominent.

The Hospitaller and Templar Churches - side-by-side - in Famagusta, Cyprus
Initially, true to the Word of Christ, the Church of Rome condemned violence of any kind. By the 5th century, however, the Church conceded that there were circumstances under which the use of force – even homicide – was necessary, excusable, and potentially pious. The concept of the “just war” emerged and was recognized theologically by St. Augustine.

Furthermore, the more Islam threatened the Christian world, the more the Church recognized the need for armed men to defend it against armies determined to spread Islam with the sword. (See: Jerusalem Forgotten? The Struggle for Jerusalem Before the First Crusade.) Meanwhile, wherever secular power was weak, the need for men willing to protect clerics, women, and peasants against everything from Vikings to common robbers was equally evident and urgent.

St. George, the Epitome of the Christian Warrior

The fact that the Church drew its leadership from the ruling class – the secular lords with strong military traditions – meant that most clerics in the Middle Ages were themselves imbued with a warrior ethos. This fact is underlined by the number of bishops who donned armor and took active part in warfare — from the Battle of Hastings to the Battle of Crécy. Thus, it is not surprising that by the end of the first Christian millennium, Christianity recognized the need for armed force and men who wielded it, but that did not mean the Church had completely abandoned its principles.
On the contrary, the Church sought repeatedly to restrict, reduce, control, and direct warfare and violence. Violence against churches and clergy was punished with excommunication, for example, and there were frequent clerical diatribes against the vanity, arrogance, and violence of the warrior class. When the Byzantine Emperor appealed to Pope Urban II for aid in fighting the Seljuk Turks and freeing the Holy Land, there is little doubt that Urban II had double motives for calling for a crusade: on the one hand, he wanted to free the Holy Land, but on the other he also wanted to free France and Western Europe from excess numbers of violent young men, trained in the profession of arms, who were too quick to fight each other and prey upon the defenseless.

Pope Urban II Calling for the First Crusade

Balderic, one chronicler of Urban II’s speech calling for the First Crusade, quotes the Pope as saying:

Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext. You, who have so often been the terror of your fellow men, go and fight for the deliverance of the holy places. You, who sell for vile pay the strength of your arms to the fury of others, armed with the sword of the Maccabees, go and merit eternal reward …. If you must have blood, bathe in the blood of the infidels …. Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!

What is remarkable in retrospect is the extent to which Pope Urban II struck a chord with his audience. Not only did they take the cross in great numbers (and proceed to bathe in the blood of infidels when they reached Jerusalem), but for the next 200 years fighting men flocked to serve Christ, not just in crusades, but as fighting monks bound by monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

This was made possible by the creation of new monastic orders that enabled men to be both monks and knights. While members of these orders were expected to abjure all wealth, to attend Mass multiple times a day, to fast, pray, and eat in silence, and to live in controlled communities cut off from the outside world, especially women, members were not required to give up the profession of arms. Rather, these orders were designed to capture the religious zeal of the time and funnel the fervor and energy of fighting men into religious channels.

Before this spirit of militant Christianity had burned itself out, no less than 17 military orders, 8 on the Iberian Peninsula, 2 in what is now Italy, and 2 in German speaking Europe had been founded. The most famous and most powerful militant orders, however, were the Templars and the Hospitallers, both founded in the Holy Land yet international in their structures and membership. 

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:

Starting December 7, Dr. Schrader will be running a series "Ten True Stories of the Knights Templar" in cooperation with +Real Crusades History+ to draw attention to the significant historical role played by the Knights Templar.  The entries will be published the day after each episode of "Knightfall,"  in an effort to counter the misinformation and sensationalism of this TV series. While the Templars were not always well-led and individual members of this Order may have committed crimes, they should not be collectively slandered (as Philip IV and successive generations of charlatans have done) as heretics, sodomites and devil worshipers.

Meanwhile, you might be interested in Schrader's novel which describes in detail the attack on the Knights Templar by Philip IV of France, their defense and final defeat. Although the characters are largely fictional and the "Free Templars" are invented, there are historical hints that suggest at least some Templars fought a "guerrilla" war against the French King for a few years. The book won praise for its nuanced depiction of the effect of torture on the psyche of the victims:

The Militant Orders also play an important role in my award-winning three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

Buy now!                                         Buy now!                                        Buy now!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187

The Damascus Gate of Jerusalem by which some of Saladin's troops would have entered the city.
On Oct. 2, 1187, the gates of Jerusalem opened to admit Salah ad-Din and his army. The holiest city in Christendom, site of Christ’s passion, had been surrendered to the Muslims after 88 years of Christian rule. The surrender of Jerusalem was the inevitable consequence of the devastating defeat of the feudal forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin three months earlier. That battle had left Jerusalem defenseless; all fighting men including the knights of the Temple and the Hospital had been called up to halt the invasion that ended in disaster at Hattin, leaving the city itself denuded of troops. Left behind in Jerusalem were non-combatants: women, children, the old and infirm and the clergy. Furthermore, by the time Jerusalem surrendered, these civilian residents of Jerusalem had been joined by as many as 60,000 to 80,000 refugees from other parts of the Kingdom overrun by Saladin’s troops. An estimated 100,000 Christians were in Jerusalem when it surrendered, predominantly women, children and clergy.

What is remarkable about the surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 was not that it surrendered under the circumstances, but that it did not surrender without a fight. Saladin had offered the inhabitants very generous terms. He said he did not want to risk damage to the holy sites in Jerusalem (as was nearly inevitable in a siege and assault) and therefore offered to let the inhabitants leave peacefully with all their portable goods if they would surrender peacefully. But the anonymous “burgesses” who represented the city of Jerusalem in the absence of any noblemen refused. According to the Old French continuation of the Chronicle of William Tyre (widely believed to be based on first-hand accounts), the “burgesses” replied, “if it pleased God they would never surrender the city.” Saladin then offered to leave the city alone for roughly six months if they promised to surrender the city at the end of that time if no reinforcements had arrived. They still refused, saying again “if it pleased God they would never surrender that city where God had shed His blood for them.” (Tyre, p. 55) This was a clear commitment to martyrdom rather than surrender — perhaps not such a surprising sentiment from a city that at this time must have been dominated by clergy as they would have been the only men of “authority” (read noble birth and education) left in the city.

The "Dome of the Rock" erected over the rock on which Mohammed allegedly ascended into Heaven; it was this monument sacred to Islam that Saladin did not want to risk damaging in a siege and assault.
But Saladin did not enter Jerusalem over the corpses of “martyrs” and their families. He entered it peacefully after a negotiated settlement that ended a week of ferocious fighting.  Ibn al-Athir writes: “Then began the fiercest struggle imaginable; each side looked on the fight as an absolute religious obligation. There was no need for a superior authority to drive them on: they restrained the enemy without restraint and drove them off without being driven off. Every morning the Frankish cavalry made sorties to fight and provoke the enemy to battle; several of both sides fell in these encounters.” (pp. 140-141. 

Imad ad-Din’s report is (as always) even more melodramatic in his description. According to him, “They challenged [us] to combat and barred the pass, they came down into the lists like enemies, they slaughtered and drew blood, they blazed with fury and defended the city, they fumed and burned with wrath, they drove us back…. They fought grimly and struggled with all their energy, descending to the fray with absolute resolution… they blazed and set fire to things…they made themselves a target for arrows and called on death to stand by them.” (p.154) 

Turning to Christian sources, the source considered by scholars the most authentic claims that: “The Christians sallied forth and fought with the Saracens…. On two or three occasions the Christians pushed the Saracens back to their tents.” (Tyre, p. 56) Women, children, and clergy did that? For eight days?

Clearly, this was not merely a fanatical but a well-organized defense. Key to that is one man: Balian d’Ibelin. 

Balian, Baron of Ibelin, had been one of only four barons to escape the catastrophe at Hattin. At Hattin he had commanded the third largest contingent of troops after the King and the Count of Tripoli, and he, along with the Templars, had been charged with the thankless and gruesome task of commanding the rear-guard in a situation where it was under near continuous attack while on the march. The Templars suffered enormous losses during this march and we must assume that Ibelin did too. Certainly, when he broke out of the trap at Hattin it was with at most 3,000 infantry and a couple hundred knights. These troops, however, he had led to Tyre. 

His presence in Jerusalem, however, was solitary — the result of a safe-conduct granted him by Saladin so that he could remove his wife and children to safety. The terms of the safe-conduct were that he go to Jerusalem unarmed and remain only one night. On arrival, however, the citizens of Jerusalem and particularly the Patriarch begged him to remain and take command of the defense. This he did, although in so doing he believed he was condemning his wife and children to death.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Patriarch clearly recognized Ibelin’s value. He wasn’t just any baron, he was a man who had played a prominent role in the defeat of Saladin at Montgisard, and had fought at every major battle against Saladin since. Still, he was just one man. He brought not a single additional fighting man to the defense of Jerusalem, and -- on taking stock of what men he had in Jerusalem -- he discovered there was only one other knight in the entire city. This induced him to knight over eighty youths of “good birth,” which was undoubtedly a morale-booster to the individuals honored, but hardly a significant increase in the fighting strength of the defenders!

The Seal of Balian d'Ibelin's son John
So how did Ibelin put up such a ferocious and effective defense with women, children, and clergy for 8 days?  We don’t know exactly, however, it is clear Ibelin must have had an exceptional organizational talent and also been a charismatic and inspirational leader. He would have had to organize civilians into improvised units, and then assign these units discrete tasks — whether it was defending a sector of the wall, putting out fires, or ensuring that the men and women doing the fighting were supplied with water, food, and ammunition. Most astonishing, his improvised units not only repulsed assaults, but they also sortied out several times, destroying some of Saladin’s siege engines, and “two or three times” chasing the Saracens all the way back to the palisades of their camp.

Ibelin must have relied heavily upon women in his defense of Jerusalem. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre quotes the Patriarch of Jerusalem saying: “For every man that is in this city, there are fifty women and children.” (Tyre, p. 58) Furthermore, we know from sieges only a few decades later in the Languedoc (notably the siege of Toulouse in which Simon de Montfort was killed) that women could be very active in manning the walls. Unlike Victorian women, medieval women were not known for being delicate and prone to swooning. They were partners in crafts and trades, often had their own businesses, and when it came to this siege they understood perfectly what was at stake: their freedom.

Although hard to see in this medieval depiction, the siege engine that fired the fatal shot against Simon de Montfort was allegedly manned by women.
Notably, Arab sources never acknowledge this simple fact. It was considered dishonorable to be killed by a woman under any circumstances, so no one wanted to even contemplate this possibility; it would have disgraced the fallen. Instead, the Arab sources explained the surprisingly spirited and tenacious defense of Jerusalem to phantom survivors of Hattin. Imad ad-Din conjures up no less than “70,000 Frankish troops, both swordsmen and archers” (p. 154) — a fantastic figure more than double the total Frankish army deployed (and destroyed) at Hattin!

After five days of futile assaults on the northwest corner of the city from the Gate of St. Stephen to David's Gates, Saladin had nothing but casualties to show for his efforts. He, therefore, redeployed opposite the northeast corner of the city. More important, he deployed sappers to undermine the walls.  The sappers were protected by heavy wooden roofs and platforms as well as covering fire. Within three days they managed to dig tunnels under the city walls, and on September 29 a segment of the northern wall roughly 30 meters long collapsed. Although the Christians managed to beat back the initial assaults sent through the breach, by nightfall it was clear that the city was now no longer defensible.

That night, Ibelin led a last desperate sortie out of the Jehosaphat Gate, probably directed at Saladin’s own tent, which had been set up on the Mount of Olives. The sortie was easily repulsed. As dawn broke on September 30, the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem, residents and refugees alike, were facing almost certain slaughter. Because they had rejected his generous terms earlier, Saladin had sworn before multiple witnesses that he would take the city by force and spare no one.

Nevertheless, under a flag of truce Ibelin sought a parlay with Saladin. The Sultan met with Ibelin outside the walls of the city but flatly refused to negotiate. He reiterated his intention to take the city by force. Indeed, while Ibelin and Saladin were speaking, the Sultan’s banners were planted on the northeast corner of the city, and Saladin pointed out that no one negotiated for a city he already possessed. Fortunately for the Christians in the city, the Sultan’s banners were tossed down again; Ibelin could retort that Saladin did not yet possess the city. Ibelin then played his only trump. He told Saladin that if the defenders knew they would be granted no mercy, then they would fight all the harder. Not just that, he said, they would slaughter their own families, the Muslim prisoners/slaves inside Jerusalem, and the livestock, and then they would destroy the holy places — including the Rock sacred to Islam — before sallying forth to certain death intent on taking as many of the enemy to their graves with them as possible.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Today; the Dome of the Rock is visible between the trees.
Saladin, who had already made his desire to preserve the holy places known, capitulated in face of this blackmail. After consulting with this emirs, he agreed to spare the lives of the Christians in Jerusalem, but only on the condition that they bought freedom. After much haggling, it was agreed that each man would have to pay 10 dinars, each woman 5 and each child 2. Those that could not pay this ransom would become the property of the Sultan, slaves.

Ibelin protested that the city was full of refugees, who had already lost everything. According to the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, he argued “In a city such as this there are only a few people apart from the burgesses who could manage [the ransom], and for every man who can pay the ransom there are a hundred who could not redeem themselves even for two bezants. The city is full of ordinary people who have come from the surrounding area for protection.” (p.60)  After considerable haggling, the Sultan agreed to a lump-sum payment of 30,000 bezants for (varying by source) between 7, 000 and 18,000 Christian paupers.

The Medieval Working-Class would have had difficulty paying the ransom set by Saladin. 
These 30,000 bezants were paid by the Hospital with the money deposited by King Henry II of England, but even so when the 40 days granted the Christians to raise their ransoms were up, some 15,000 Christians were unable to pay and condemned to slavery. Ibelin, appalled, offered to stand surety for them while the ransom was raised, but Saladin refused, although he did “give” 1,000 slaves to his brother and 500 each to Balian and the Patriarch of Jerusalem so that 2,000 souls were freed at the last minute.

Allegedly, some non-Latin Christians also opted to pay the extra taxes imposed on Christians in Muslim states in order to remain in Jerusalem, but there is no indication that the non-Latin Christians undermined the defense of Jerusalem itself. On the contrary, they appear to have contributed substantially to the defense of Jerusalem as long as the fighting was going on. Only after the city became indefensible as a result of the breach in the wall, did they begin to seek a compromise with their assailants — a perfectly comprehensible reaction that does not imply fundamental hostility to the Latin rulers of Jerusalem.

On November 18, 1187, forty days after the surrender of Jerusalem, the Christians departed Jerusalem, leaving the city in Muslim hands. The news of the fall of Jerusalem allegedly killed Pope Urban III and so shocked the Christian kingdoms in the West that it set in motion the Third Crusade.

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 and surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 is the climax and described in detail in award-winning:

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Tyre, William (Old French Continuation of). The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, translated  by Peter Edbury, .

Ibn al-Athir. Trans by Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades.

Imad ad Din. Trans by Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades