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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Reluctant Rebel - John d'Ibelin, Part II

When the Lord of Beirut stood up to Frederick II's threats and then walked out of the trap set by the Emperor a free man, it was by no means clear that he would ultimately win. He left behind his eldest sons, and, while the bulk of the Cypriot nobles and knights backed him at that moment, he had just flung down the gauntlet at the most powerful man in Christendom. 
Just who was the Lord of Beirut, and what sort of man was he? Today, the second part of my three-part biography.

Having served as regent of the Kingdom ofJerusalem to the satisfaction of his queen and her subjects from April 1205 until October 1210, John d'Ibelin stepped down in Oct. 1210.  The business of government was turned over over to Marie de Montferrat, now 18, and her consort, King John de Brienne. (For details see: The Remarkable Career of John de Brienne, Part II.) 

John then all but disappears from the witness lists of the kingdom. The assumption of historians is that there was some kind of a breach between the former regent and the new king consort, but this is by no means certain.  John had been married early to a certain  Helvis of Nephin. We know nothing about the lady -- except that she bore John five sons, who all died in infancy.  We also know that John remarried the widow, Melisende of Arsur, sometime during his regency, because his eldest sons were old enough to be knighted in 1224.  In addition, John's mother died in 1217. In short, it is possible that John chose to retire from court for personal reasons.

Nevertheless, both John and his younger brother Philip took part in the Fifth Crusade, notably under the banner of the King of Cyprus rather than the King of Jerusalem. Again, this may be indicative of strained relations between the Ibelins and Brienne -- or simply a reflection of more cordial relations between them and the young Lusignan King Hugh, now married to another of the Ibelin's nieces, Alice of Champagne. Certainly, King Hugh commended his kingdom to the keeping of Philip d'Ibelin on his deathbed in 1218. His unexpected death while still a vigorous man in his early twenties took everyone by surprise and left an 18-month-old infant, Henry, as his heir. Philip was duly elected by the High Court to rule until Henry came of age (May 1232), but himself died in 1227.  At his death, the High Court of Cyprus chose his brother, John, the Lord of Beirut, to step into his shoes. It was this election that put John on a collision course with the Holy Roman Emperor.

Two years earlier, in 1225 the Holy Roman Emperor married Yolanda of Jerusalem, the daughter of John de Brienne and Marie of Jerusalem. She was just 13 years old, and no sooner had she landed in Brindisi that her new bridegroom dismissed her father like a superfluous servant and announced the he was henceforth "King of Jerusalem." All the barons of Outremer who had escorted her to her marriage duly took the oath of fealty to Frederick Hohenstaufen. 

John of Beirut was conspicuously absent from Queen Yolanda's escort. Presumably he was still out of favor with Brienne, or simply too busy on Cyprus or in Beirut. There is no reason to presume he would have refused to take the oath, however, since there was a clear precedent for the consort of a ruling queen to take precedence over the widower (even if crowned an anointed) of a deceased queen: this was precisely the precedent set -- with the full and hearty support of John's parents -- when Queen Isabella and Conrad de Montferrat had been preferred over Guy de Lusignan in 1190.

Unfortunately for all, however, by the time the Emperor Frederick finally landed on Cyprus on his way to the Holy Land, his fifteen-year-old empress was dead, leaving behind an infant son, Conrad. This boy was now legally the King of Jerusalem in his own right, and while Frederick was within his rights to claim the regency, he had lost the right to call himself King -- something Frederick either never understood or never admitted. Curiously, he also arrived -- for reasons that remain completely obscure -- determined to "break" the Lord of Beirut.

The basis for the Emperor's hostility to the Lord of Beirut can only be conjectured. Since the Emperor dismissed Brienne discourteously, making him a permanent enemy, it can hardly have been Beirut's less than ardent support of Brienne. However, Beirut's brother had crowned Henry de Lusignan King of Cyprus without awaiting imperial permission. Furthermore, in light of his personal experience with regents plundering his treasury, perhaps it was natural for the Hohenstaufen to assume the Ibelins had enriched themselves illegally at the expense of young King Henry. Edbury suggests it was primarily greed for revenue on the eve of an expensive undertaking that motivated the Emperor. Yet it remains a mystery why the Emperor believed the Lordship of Beirut, which had been given to John d'Ibelin with the appropriate royal charters by his own sister, did not legally belong to him.

As we have seen, after fair words to lure Beirut, his sons, friends and vassals to a banquet, the Emperor sprang a trap and attempted to bully Beirut into surrendering both revenues and his lordship of Beirut. (See: The Emperor's Banquet.) Beirut must have had some indication that the Emperor was hostile, or his council would not have advised him from attending the banquet, yet it is hard to believe the Beirut truly expected what happened -- and still walked into the trap.

Tellingly, although Beirut angrily rejected an offer to murder the Emperor by over-zealous supporters, he withdrew to the mountain fortresses of Cyprus and readied them to withstand a siege. While this was clearly an act of defiance, it was not a act of treason. Beirut explicitly held the castles for young King Henry of Lusignan, a promise that may sound disingenuous but which later actions proved honest.  His response was rather a proportionate response to the treachery of the Emperor, who had promised honors yet demanded bribes instead. Furthermore, his action which involved no violence, nevertheless check-mated the Emperor, who did not have the time (Sicily was under attack from his father-in-law and the pope) or resources for an all-out war. 

The Emperor was forced to seek terms. In exchange for the return of the castles to royal officers, the Emperor promised to release the hostages.  In addition, Beirut promised to take part in the Emperor's crusade, along with all his vassals, while the Emperor agreed, in writing 1) to take no action against Beirut or his supporters without the judgement of the appropriate court (i.e. the High Courts of Cyprus and Jerusalem respectively), and 2) to bear no malice for all that had passed between them in the preceding months.

The value of the Emperor's sworn and signed word was soon demonstrated when, as soon as he had Beirut and all his men on the mainland, he sent imperial mercenaries to Cyprus to attack, harass and intimidate the wives and children of these same men now serving in his army. He entrusted one of his Sicilian noblemen, the Count of Cotron, with this task. The degree of their success can be measured by the fact that Beirut's his sister-in-law, the widow of his brother Philip, was in sufficient fear for her life that she risked a winter crossing to Syria in a small craft with her young children and all nearly drowned in the attempt to escape. 

After concluding his secret peace with al-Kamil and parading around in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in his Imperial crown, Frederick II had had enough of his Kingdom of Jerusalem. After briefly laying siege to Templar headquarters in Acre, threatening the Patriarch, ordering the harassment of the mendicant orders, and being pelted by offal by the common people, Frederick sailed away from Acre never to return -- although he continued to call himself "King of Jerusalem" for the next 25 years. 

But he wasn't done with the Lord of Beirut....

* Edbury, Peter. John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Boydell Press, 1997, p. 56 
** William of Oldenberg, cited in Edbury, p. 57.
*** "...there is a marked resemblance between Ibelin and St. Louis of France, for while both were personally deeply religious neither permitted the Church to dictate to him against the mandates of his own conscience and better judgement." La Monte, John. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus by Philip de Novare. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 49.

The story of John d'Ibelin continues next week. Meanwhile:

John d'Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut, is a major character in:

Buy Now!

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:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Man who Defied an Emperor - John d'Ibelin Part I

When the Lord of Beirut stood up to Frederick II's threats and then walked out of the trap set by the Emperor a free man, it was by no means clear that he would ultimately win. He left behind his eldest sons, and, while the bulk of the Cypriot nobles and knights backed him at that moment, he had just flung down the gauntlet at the most powerful man in Christendom. 
Just who was the Lord of Beirut, and what sort of man was he?

John d'Ibelin was born in 1179, the eldest son of the Baron of Ibelin and the Byzantine princess and Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena. While born to privilege, he was only eight years old when Saladin destroyed the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin and over-ran all of John's inheritance. In just weeks, he lost both from his mother's vast holdings at Nablus to his father's more modest barony at Ibelin. He found himself trapped in Jerusalem with tens of thousands of refugees, until his father, one of the few barons to escape from the debacle at Hattin, obtained a safe-conduct from Saladin to ride through Saracen-held territory and bring him, his mother and siblings to safety. However, his father was soon persuaded to remain in Jerusalem and assume command of the defense. So John left Jerusalem not with his father but with an escort of Mamlukes sent by Saladin a gesture of exceptional chivalry. We can only speculate on how these tumultuous events impacted the character of one so young.

John d'Ibelin next enters the historical record ten years later, when as youth of 18 or 19 Aimery de Lusignan, newly crowned King of Jerusalem, named him Constable of Jerusalem -- a prestigious and important royal official. The Constable was responsible for commanding the feudal army in the absence of the king. The position had been filled by such outstanding men as Humphrey II of Toron, a well-respected and highly-educated nobleman, and by Aimery de Lusignan himself. Baffled by how a youth such as John could hold the title and even more confounded by the fact that he was awarded it by a man alleged to be his father's enemy, historians have suggested the title had suddenly become "nominal." But there is no evidence of this. 

On the contrary, John's appointment suggests rather that 1) there was no serious breach between Aimery de Lusignan (as opposed to Guy de Lusignan) and the Ibelins, and 2) that John had matured rapidly in the turbulent years 1187-1197. Although we can not prove it, we cannot exclude the possibility that he was at his father's side (he was old enough to serve as a squire after all) during the Third Crusade, gaining insight into strategy, warfare and diplomacy from Richard the Lionheart and his father.  In any case, by 1197 King Aimery was prepared to appoint him to one of the most important and influential royal offices. It did not hurt, of course, that John was half-brother Queen Isabella of Jerusalem, Lusignan's new wife and the woman through whom he had gained the crown. 

John may have been appointed by Lusignan, but he was no puppet. Within a year of his appointment, Lusignan accused the Tiberias brothers, Ralph and Hugh, of an attempted assassination and banished them from the kingdom. Lusignan acted without a judgement of the High Court, and for this John d'Ibelin reproached him. Although his objections did not deter the king, it is significant that at these early stage in his life he was involved in a legal case involving the rights of vassals and the role of the High Court. 

John's stand on this matter did not negatively impact his good relationship with King Aimery. Indeed, to the end of his life John d'Ibelin spoke highly of King Aimery, particularly his understanding of legal matters. It was, after all, under King Aimery that an attempt was made to write down the laws of Jerusalem, the records of which had been destroyed during the capture and sack of the Kingdom during the years of Saladin's invasion and occupation. The result of this effort was known as the Livre au Roi. Conceivably, Beirut was active in supporting King Aimery in this endeavor, as throughout his life he retained a reputation of knowing the laws of the kingdom exceptionally well.  In deed, his opinion on legal matters was so renowned that in latter years no one felt qualified to challenge him.

Nevertheless sometime before 1200, John surrendered the Constableship to the king in exchange for being granted the re-captured city and lordship of Beirut.  Beirut had fallen to the forces of Saladin in 1187 and had remained in Saracen hands until the German crusade of 1197. According to Beirut's own account, the city and surrounding territory had been devastated and left in such a ruinous state that not even the wealthy militant orders wanted to pick up the burden of re-building.  John's sister Queen Isabella and King Aimery bestowed the lordship of Beirut on John d'Ibelin in or about 1200. John of Beirut, as he would henceforth be called, was at this point roughly 21 years of age. He began the process of re-settling and rebuilding the fortifications, castle, port, and city and stimulating the economic activities of the region. He did so with great success. 

Indeed, he constructed one of the most magnificent palaces in the Latin East. The Bishop of Oldenburg traveling through the Holy Land in 1212 described a palace with tall glazed windows opening on the sea or on beautiful gardens, with walls paneled with polychrome marble, life-like mosaic floors, vaulted chambers painted like the night sky, and fountains gushing fresh water day and night. In short, within roughly a dozen years of obtaining Beirut, John d'Ibelin had the means to build lavishly and exquisitely. In terms of quality and taste, it undoubtedly didn't hurt that his mother was a Comnenus, a family famous for fostering a renaissance of Byzantine art. (Maria Comnena was, incidentally, still alive when this palace was built.)

Yet even before the Bishop could give a witness to John's successful revitalization of Beirut, King Aimery, Queen Isabella and their only son died in quick succession. Isabella's oldest daughter, Marie de Montferrat,was the left heir to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was April 1205, and Marie was just 13 years old.  The High Court of Jerusalem selected Marie's closest male relative on her mother's side (from which she derived the throne) as her regent; this was John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut. 

So at the "ripe old age" of 26 John became the de facto King of Jerusalem. He ruled for the next five years wisely and without incident, maintaining the existing truce with the Saracens. During his tenure he married another of his sister Isabella's daughters, Alice, to the King of Cyprus, and negotiated the marriage of his charge, Queen Marie de Montferrat, with the man selected by the King of France at the request of the High Court of Jerusalem: John de Brienne. When John de Brienne at last arrived in the Kingdom of Jerusalem to wed his bride and be crowned king-consort, John's "reign" ended. So far there was no reason to think he would be come the leader of a rebellion against the Holy Roman Emperor, but at the age of 31 he had held the pinnacle of power -- and peacefully surrendered it again.

The story of John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, continues next week.
John d'Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut, is a major character in:

Buy Now!

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:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Emperor's Banquet

Emperor Frederick vowed to liberate Jerusalem at his coronation as "King of the Romans" (Germans) in December 1212, and renewed that vow many times afterwards. Yet when he finally arrived in Outremer on July 21, 1228, the first thing he did was to alienate one of his most powerful vassals by a trick more worthy of a pirate than an emperor and a crude attempt at extortion.  His actions were so astonishing  that not even his admirers attempt to justify them; they prefer to simply ignore them altogether. It all started with a sinister banquet...

In July 1228, when the Emperor Frederick finally arrived on his long-awaited crusade, his first port of call was Limassol in the Kingdom of Cyprus.  This King of Cyprus was at this time an eleven-year-old boy, Henry, not yet old enough to rule for himself. In accordance with the laws of Cyprus, the High Court of Jerusalem had recognized Henry's mother Alice as his regent, but because she chose not to exercise that office, the High Court had elected a "baillie" to act in her stead. In July 1228 this was John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut, who held large fiefs in both the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Cyprus.

On his arrival in Limassol, Frederick sent a very pleasant letter to the Lord of Beirut, the text of which was recorded in contemporary accounts. This letter addressed Beirut as "my lord and honored uncle," explained that: "we desire to have the satisfaction of seeing you with the king and your children, all our dear and well-beloved cousins, that we may have the pleasure of embracing you and knowing you personally."(1) The Emperor closed the letter with "Your very affectionate nephew, Frederick Emperor."(2) (Beirut was an uncle of the Emperor's late Empress, Yolanda of Jerusalem.)

Despite the outward tone of the letter, Beirut's friends and council smelled a rat. Whether they had intelligence from other sources or simply mistrusted the Emperor generally, Beirut's council unanimously advised him not to attend upon the emperor. Beirut insisted on going, saying explicitly that he would rather be arrested or killed than have it said that he -- by his refusal to work with the emperor -- had ruined a chance of recovering Jerusalem. This underlines the fact that despite the emperor's words, Beirut knew that he was out of favor. He was not taken in by the emperors words of friendship, but rather determined to do all in his power to patch over their differences in order to increase the prospects of a successful crusade. Ibelin pointedly and consciously put the liberation of Jerusalem ahead of his personal security and status.

So Beirut took King Henry to Limassol, accompanied by the entire Cypriot army, both knights and sergeants, and also his three adult sons, Balian, Baldwin and Hugh. On arrival in Limassol, the Emperor welcomed them with the appearance of joy, and they dutifully submitted to the Emperor's leadership, pledging their bodies and worldly goods in his service in the impending crusade. The Emperor further begged that they set aside the mourning they were wearing for Beirut's brother Philip, and instead accept robes of scarlet from him. He also personally invited them to attend a great banquet he would hold for them the next day. Beirut, his sons and vassals readily agreed.

Yet, on the same night as the invitation, "the Emperor caused to enter secretly by night three thousand men-at-arms or more, sergeants, arbelesters, and sailors, so that nearly all the fighting men of his fleet were there; and they were disposed throughout the stables and rooms."(3)

On the next day, the guests came unarmed in the lavish robes the Emperor had given them and insisted that they wear. The Emperor sat at a high table flanked only by the Lord of Beirut and Beirut's brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea. Furthermore, as a mark of "favor," Beirut's eldest sons were designated to serve the Emperor, "one with the cup , the other with the bowl, while the young lord of Caesarea and Sir Anceau de Brie should carve before him."(4)

When the last course was brought in, "armed men came out from those places where they had been posted and they took possession of the palace...some holding the hilts of swords and others daggers."(5) Only after his armed men had surrounded the unarmed Cypriots did the Emperor show his true colors. Now he turned to the Lord of Beirut and demanded that he 1) surrender the revenues he had stolen from Cyprus during his own and his deceased brother's terms as baillie of Cyprus, and 2) that he surrender his title and lordship of Beirut.

Beirut first tried to dismiss the claims as a "poor joke" and suggest the Emperor had been listening to evil gossip, but the Emperor insisted that he would have Beirut's lordship and allegedly ill-gotten gains or he would arrest him. Despite being unarmed and surrounded by the Emperor's troops, Beirut replied that he has received his lordship legally from his half-sister Queen Isabella and had made a full accounting for the revenues of Cyprus. Nevertheless, he asserted he would be happy to put his case before the respective High Courts. He would not surrender either lordship or revenue, however, without a judgement of the appropriate court. The Emperor grew more enraged, declaring: "I shall show you that your wit and subtlety and your words will avail naught against my force." (6)

Apologists for Frederich Hohenstaufen are quick to point out that the Lord of Beirut and his brother before him had been tenacious and used dubious legal tricks to remain in the position of "baillie" of Cyprus after their falling-out with Queen Alice. They suggest that Beirut very probably did have something to hide. Possibly.  Yet no one has ever been able to come up with even a shadow of a justification of why he should not have been entitled to the Lordship of Beirut, a lordship he built up at great expense after it had been devastated by years of Saracen occupation and a violent re-capture by German crusaders.

Furthermore, even if Beirut was guilty of one of the "crimes" -- which is far from proven simply because historians think it possible -- that hardly justifies the Emperor's action. The Emperor, allegedly the protector of law and justice, baldly stated that he didn't give a damn about the law and courts; he declared bluntly that "might was right." He did not offer counter-arguments, nor agree to put the case before a court of law, but simply threatened the use of force like the most illiterate and rapacious robber baron. 

Undoubtedly, the Hohenstaufen's defenders would argue that as Emperor he could not subject himself to any court. But he didn't have to -- he only had to allow Beirut to defend himself before his peers in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms in which the crimes had allegedly been committed. By refusing to allow Beirut to defend himself in accordance with the laws of the kingdoms, the Emperor -- allegedly the source of all justice --- was denying justice to one of his most important, and up to this point completely loyal, vassals. 

Beirut refused to be intimidated by the Emperor's threats. He said he would accept the fate Christ decreed, but he would surrender nothing without due process and a judgement of the High Court. 

At this point the many lords of the Church tried to mediate. The best they could negotiate, however, was that Beirut would surrender 20 hostages as surety that he would submit himself to the judgement of the respective High Courts. The Emperor demanded that Beirut's eldest sons be among the hostages. The Emperor noted to Beirut as he made the demand, "I well know that Balian is your very heart and that so long as I have him I shall have you."(7)

It is hardly surprising that an Emperor who felt he had the right to simply take away fiefs and demand bribes (for demanding the "repayment" of revenues that have not been stolen in the first place is extortion) at the point of a sword did not keep his word about "honoring" his hostages either. Although not even Emperor had accused the hostages of wrong-doing, Beirut's sons were "put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs, and at night the other men were put in irons with them."(8)

The actions of an "enlightened," "modern" and "tolerant" monarch? Not in my opinion!

1) Novare, Philip De. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Trans. John La Mont, Columbia University Press,1936, p. 74f.
2) Ibid. 
3) Ibid, pp. 76-77.
4) Ibid, p. 77.
5) Ibid. 
6) Ibid, p. 79
7) Ibid, p. 81
8) Ibid.

This incident is an important episode and its consequences are an important thematic element in:

Buy Now!

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:

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Seeds of Civil War

Emperor Frederick II spent less than a year in the Holy Land. Yet despite being absent, attempts by the Hohenstaufen Emperors to impose their will upon the crusader states lasted for a total of 43 years.  The Hohenstaufens tried to rule their distant kingdoms through proxies without reference to the respective constitution of the kingdoms involved. This sparked tenacious resistance from the local barons which ultimately resulted in civil war.  

Throughout those 43 years, a minority faction among the local barons supported the Imperial cause. Indeed, it could be argued that while Frederick II used the disaffection of some individuals for his purposes, they used his hubris and arrogance for theirs. Indeed, pre-existing hostility to the entrenched leadership in Outremer was instrumental in encouraging and fostering imperial contempt for the constitutional order in the crusader states. Today  I look at the tensions and factions within the ruling elite of Outremer that pre-dated the arrival of Frederick II.

The opposition to the Holy Roman Emperor was led by John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, supported his large kinship network, the majority of the local barons and knights, the Templars, Genoese and the common people of Acre. The imperial faction was led most forcefully by Sicilian nobles appointed by the Emperor, notably his admiral Richard Filangieri, and supported by the Pisans, Hospitallers, and a minority faction in Outremer. 

While local support for the Emperor in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was fluid and declined over time as Filangieri alienated more and more of the Franks, on Cyprus the Emperor enjoyed strong support from a minority faction of local lords and knights led by Sir Amaury Barlais, Gauvain de Cheneche, Amaury de Bethsan, William de Rivet, and Hugh de Gibelet. These five men were briefly appointed joint regents (baillies) of Cyprus by Frederick II and are widely referred to as “the five baillies.” They commanded the loyalty of 80 knights, or effectively 20% of the Cypriot feudal elite. 

What explains the difference between Jerusalem and Cyprus? Where did the local opposition on Cyprus come from and why?

Philip de Novare explains the bitter divide in Cypriot society entirely in terms of personal jealousies and resentment. He tells a colorful tale of Sir Amaury Barlais trying to murder a knight he accused of cheating in a joust.  According to Novare, although he failed and was pardoned for the attempt, the hostility and mutual suspicions between Barlais and the Ibelins started with this incident and festered thereafter.

Certainly Amaury Barlais’ attempted to oust Philip d’Ibelin as “baillie” of Cyprus sometime after 1224 and before 1227. (The exact date is unknown.) The sequence of events is as follows. In 1218, King Hugh I died, leaving as his heir a nine-month-old son, Henry, and a widow, Alice de Champagne, who was a niece of the Ibelin brothers John and Philip. According to the constitution of the kingdom, Alice, as the king’s closest blood relative, was recognized as the regent of the kingdom. However, Alice (for whatever reason) chose not to take up the reins of government. Instead, she contented herself with the bulk of the revenues while turning the business of ruling over to her uncle Philip d’Ibelin. Significantly, this choice of actual (as opposed to nominal) regent was agreed to in the High Court of Cyprus, and the members of the High Court (i.e. the knights and nobles of Cyprus) took an oath to support Philip until King Henry came of age at 15.

Sometime in 1224, Alice had a falling out with Philip d’Ibelin (probably over money) and decided to marry a second time (she was roughly 30 years old at this time). She chose as her second husband Prince Bohemond of Antioch, and moved to Antioch, leaving her children by her first marriage behind. Sometime thereafter she appointed Amaury Barlais as her “baillie,” presumably on the expectation that he would be more amenable to her demands.

Her appointment of Barlais, however, lacked the consent and approval of the High Court. This was unconstitutional (even if the members had not sworn allegiance to Philip “until Henry came of age”) and so the High Court rejected Barlais’ claim to be regent for Alice of Champagne. This probably had less to do with preferring Philip d’Ibelin over Amaury Barlais than with preserving the privileges of the High Court itself; the members could not accept Barlais without surrendering their own prerogative to designate regents/baillies.

However, at this point, one of the knights in the High Court and a relative of the Ibelins, a certain Anseau de Brie, took things a step farther and accused Barlais of treason for accepting and attempting to claim the appointment. Brie challenged Barlais to judicial combat. Brie was a large and powerful man; Barlais was slight of stature. The latter fled back to Syria.

This is where the rivalries of Cyprus became entwined with the policies of the Holy Roman Emperor. This accusation of treason apparently occurred near to the time when Yolanda of Jerusalem married Frederick II. Barlais recognized that the Emperor Frederick could be a very powerful ally in his struggle with the Ibelins, and he set about winning the Emperor’s favor.  

It may also have been at this point that Barlais became allied with Sir Gauvain de Cheneche, who had already gone to the Emperor’s court from Cyprus after a judicial combat that went poorly for him. Cheneche was reputedly very good with falconry, a passion of Frederick II, and had thereby won the Emperor’s favor. Together Cheneche and Barlais complained about the Ibelins to the Emperor.

The Ibelins, although uncles of the Emperor’s new wife Yolanda, had already earned Frederick II’s disfavor by crowning Henry king of Cyprus, while the latter was still a child of seven. Based on German law (not the law of Outremer), Frederick II claimed that he (not Alice de Champagne) was the rightful regent of Cyprus and viewed the crowning of the young king as an attempt to pre-empt him. The coronation very probably was an attempt to check-mate the Emperor, but it was at least based on the law of the land rather than the law of the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, it meant that Barlais’ complaints about the abuse of power by the Ibelins fell on open ears. It did not help the Ibelin cause that Frederick II apparently had no respect or affection for his wife, their niece, Yolanda.

Again according to Novare, in anticipation of the Emperor’s immanent arrival Barlais returned to Cyprus and accepted judicial combat with Brie. What he thought to achieve by this is unclear, but the resulting trial by combat is described in detail by Novare. Barlais won an early advantage when he succeeded in prying Brie’s visor open. He stabbed Brie three times in the face before Brie managed to wrest the lance from Barlais’ hand and fling him to the ground, injuring him. Brie, who was still mounted, should have been able to dispatch Barlais, but when the latter ran to the perimeter barriers, his loyal horse again and again put himself between Brie and his master so Brie could not deliver the coup de grace. Eventually, the judges – the Lord of Beirut and his brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea, who was also Constable of Cyprus -- intervened to prevent Barlais’ death. Yet Barlais felt he had been humiliated a second time and returned to the Emperor’s court full of yet more bitterness against the Ibelins.

Historians, notably Peter Edbury, are reluctant to accept Novare’s account and explanation of the conflict. Edbury points to the fact that the five baillies all came from the second generation of families that had helped establish Lusignan control over Cyprus. He argues that these men opposed the Ibelins because the latter were perceived as “parvenus” in Cyprus. (See Edbury’s The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades 1191 – 1374 and his John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.) He suggests they legitimately resented Ibelin prominence in the reign of Henry I because the Ibelins had not set foot on Cyprus before 1210 and been inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan in the previous century.

While there are legitimate grounds for doubting the Ibelins were “late-comers” to Cyprus (see: and, resentment of Ibelin prominence remains the most reasonable explanation of the hostility of this minority.   

This does not mean that Novare’s detailed descriptions of duels and violent arguments were fabricated. Rather, he has described events that reflected more than caused the tensions. Yet while Edbury is right to point out that the Ibelins were not universally popular, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Ibelins retained the support of the overwhelming majority (80%) of Cypriot knights and nobles. Perhaps even more telling, they retained the affection and favor of their young lord, King Henry I of Cyprus right until his death decades later.

Philip de Novare's account of the Emperor's crusade and the civil war in the crusader states is the primary source for the events described in a new series of novels set in Outremer in the early 13th century.

Buy Now!

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:

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Starred Blue Ink Review of Rebels against Tyranny


Rebels Against Tyranny: Civil War in the Crusader States
Helena P. Schrader WheatMark, 430 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 9781627876247 (Reviewed: September 2018) 

The lovely 13th century-inspired cover of Helena Schrader’s Rebels Against Tyranny suggests the promise of a well-wrought yarn set in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the author delivers a robust and irresistible tale brimming with historical accuracy. 
Schrader’s story takes place in the early 1200s, just beyond the major Crusades in what is sometimes referred to as the “bloodless Crusade.” It focuses on a cast of characters in Cyprus, other areas of the Levant in and around Jerusalem, and Sicily.  

Dashing Balian d’Ibelin is the oldest son and heir of upstanding John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut and a key protector of teenaged Henry, King of Cyprus. Fiendish Amaury Barlais has a grievance with the Ibelin family and consistently schemes against them, even worming his way into the graces of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who has plans to conquer the Holy Land and selfish reasons for opposing the Ibelins. Eventually a clash is inevitable.  

The story surrounds the efforts of the Ibelins and their compatriots to oppose the despotic emperor Frederick and his followers in a classic good versus evil tale. Not all is swordplay, however, as the story also follows the budding romance between noted ladies’ man Balian and the brave Lady Eschiva de MontbĂ©liard.   

Although the cast of characters is mammoth, Shchrader provides a thorough cast list and meticulous family tree. Readers will particularly appreciate Eschiva’s three-dimensional characterization, as women in similar narratives tend to be little more than cardboard props. In fact, the author brings the qualities of each main character to life: the wide-eyed innocence of young Henry; the cringe-worthy activities of Barlais. Together, the dialogue, plot, and descriptive language make this a compulsive page-turner.  

Schrader has done diligent research, and it shows in her historical accuracy, welcome glossary of medieval terms, and extensive set of historical notes. Those who enjoy stories of the period— and even readers with only a passing interest in the era—will relish this tale. 
Also available as an ebook.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Philip de Novare – Lawyer, Historian, Poet and Philosopher

 Among his contemporaries, Novare was most famous for his legal handbook on the laws of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus full of practical tips for how to “plea,” i.e. argue a case.  Today he is remembered as the author of the only comprehensive narrative describing the baronial resistance to Emperor Frederick II’s rule in Outremer. Novare was present at many of the events described and knew all the important actors personally. Given his importance to our understanding of this period in the history of Outremer, I thought this 13th Century "Renaissance man" who was not just a knight but a poet, troubadour, philosopher, historian, and lawyer, deserved a short biography.

This is NOT a portrait. None exists. I selected an image that was evocative of a man of learning.
By the time Novare died, he was so well-respected that he served as the executor of King Henry I of Cyprus’ will in 1254, yet his origins are obscure, his parents unnamed and probably insignificant. Historians believe he derived his name from the town of Novara in Lombardy, where he was presumably born sometime between 1205 and 1208.  The date is interpolated from his autobiography in which Novare describes himself as a “page” to a certain Cypriot knight, Peter Chappe, taking part in the first siege of Damietta in 1218. Were he older than 13, he would almost certainly have been a squire, and if he were younger than ten it seems unlikely he would have been taking part in a crusade so far from home.

Apparently, Novare was already orphaned at this time but sufficiently educated that he could read to his master.  One day, Chappe invited the famous lord and lawyer, Ralph of Tiberias, to dinner in his tent, and Novare was asked to read aloud as entertainment.  Tiberias was so pleased with his reading that, when he fell ill, he asked Chappe to send Novare to him. In his memoirs, Novare admits that he was not pleased with this assignment, but he was an obedient boy and for the next three months found himself spending hours with the dying Tiberias.

It was a fateful meeting. Ralph of Tiberias has been called the “Socrates” of the baronial movement. He was, according to Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, “an inspiration to succeeding generations…the sovereign of cleverness in court cases and in speaking beautifully and highly.”[i] At this man’s knee Novare learned the laws of Jerusalem and made Novare’s fortune.

But his future was not clear, much less bright, in 1218 when Tiberias died. Fortunately, the orphaned and still very young Novare was given an undefined place in the household of John d’Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut.  Beirut and Tiberias had been friends, so one assumes that Tiberias commended Novare to Beirut’s keeping on his deathbed. As Novare grew up, he evidently moved from page to squire and was, eventually knighted. At some point before 1228 Novare was granted a fief on Cyprus by Beirut, and later one on the mainland as well, but they could not have been very large or very lucrative because Novare remained “poor.” Indeed, he makes multiple albeit vague references to his debts which were evidently so infamous that his enemies used them to try to manipulate him.  His financial embarrassment did not end until Queen Alice paid all his accumulated debts and granted him a money fief worth 1,000 marks of silver for convincing the High Court of Jerusalem to recognize her claim to be Queen in 1243.

This royal grant and the peace that came with the fall of the last Imperial stronghold, Tyre, paved the way for Novare to devote more of his time to legal activities and writing. His “History,” the account of the civil war 1228-1243 which is the basis of most of our knowledge of this conflict, was written shortly after the end of the war. His book on the laws and legal norms of the Kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem, the Livre de forme de plait, appeared sometime around 1250. His last book, a philosophical reflection on the four ages of man (Les Quatre Ages de l’homme) was written shortly before his death in 1265. In addition to these major works, Novare tells us that he wrote poems on love, politics, and religion. Only a few of these have survived, but enough to testify to his wit, humor, and talent, even if he does not rank among the great poets of his age.

What is striking about Philip de Novare’s life is that a man of obscure origins and limited financial resources could gain so much stature by his scholarship in the mid-thirteenth century crusader states. Novare was viewed by contemporaries as “the best pleader [i.e. lawyer] this side of the sea.”[ii] He was admired for this. His services were in demand, and he was influential as a result. That says a great deal about the society in which he lived: that it valued intellectual as well as military prowess, and that it was less bigoted and class-conscious than many assume.

Equally striking is that Novare was a man of action as well as letters. While so many chronicles were drafted in the peace and isolation of monasteries by men who had no familiarity with the clash of weapons much less the events described, Novare’s “history” was conceived as an autobiography. Novare knows his subject ― too well, some modern historians argue. Writing an autobiography, Novare makes no attempt at objectivity.  Novare is telling his story as he saw it. His friends and patrons are the heroes; their enemies are his enemies.

Novare was a close friend of Balian the younger, the eldest son of Beirut. They were much the same age, and the fact that Novare often refers to the younger Ibelin as his “compeer,” suggests they may have served together as squires and so earned their spurs together. Certainly, the first personal action Novare describes entails him refusing to take an oath of homage to the imperial baillies on Cyprus in order to remain true to “his lord,” the Old Lord of Beirut, John d’Ibelin.  Yet, after being pilloried for his “treason” and narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Philip sends a plea for help to his “compeer” Balian d’Ibelin, a youth without the resources to actually help. It is as if Novare, at this point just 23-years-old, is too in awe of Beirut to write him directly. He trusts that his “compeer” Balian will persuade his powerful father to come to his rescue.

Having so publicly cast his lot with the Ibelins, Novare had no choice but to stand by them through all that was to come. He took part in the sieges of Kantara and St. Hilarion in 1229, receiving a wound at the latter.  He also composed satirical songs about the plight of the Imperial garrisons, and poems predicting the treachery of the enemy after Beirut pardoned his enemies. Novare took part in the attempt to relieve Beirut in 1232, accompanied Balian of Beirut to Tripoli on his diplomatic mission to gain the support of the Prince of Antioch, and he negotiated the surrender of the citadel at Kyrenia and Famagusta. Significantly, when in early 1233, the Lord of Beirut had a falling out with his heir Balian because of the latter’s marriage, Novare was one of just five knights who stood by the younger Ibelin. He took part in Balian’s daring and dangerous charge up the slope at the Battle of Agridi.

We know very little about Novare’s marriage. His wife has not been positively identified but was probably Stephanie, the daughter of a Cypriot knight Berthelmy du Morf. We know of only one child that came of this marriage, a son baptized Balian after Philip’s “compeer,” Balian of Beirut. The marriage does not appear to have been particularly happy. Novare says nothing about it or his wife in any of his (surviving) writings, yet he exhibited clearly misogynous tendencies. For example, he argued against the right of daughters to inherit except when there was no male heir, an extreme position in Outremer, where women were recognized as heiress, regents, and guardians. Many of Novare’s contemporaries argued the contrary, underlining the fact that his hostility to female inheritance was not “the norm.” Novare also expressed doubts about the value of education for girls; again an extreme position in a society in which most noblewomen were highly educated. 

Novare’s final work, The Four Ages of Man, provides us with his own reflections on his rich life.  In retrospect, Novare divided life into four phases of twenty years each. The first phase of life, he says, is “childhood,” a period of learning from one’s elders. The second phase “youth,” is a period characterized (for both men and women) by “love, sin and folly, and of impetuous acts of violence and revolt.”[iii] Middle age, by contrast, is when a man develops his greatest virtues and accomplishes his greatest achievements. It is characterized in men by prudence, loyalty, and moderation, but, tellingly, Novare claims that in women “middle age” is a period of even greater folly than youth. Novare claims that women between 40 and 60 seek to regain their youth by affairs with younger men. (This sounds remarkably like a man speaking from bitter experience and then generalizing to an entire sex!) Finally, the last twenty years of life, “old age,” is a period granted by a benevolent God to give man time to “recall adequately God’s kindness and the debts he owes to his Creator.”[iv]

If we apply this measuring rod to Novare’s own life we see it matches remarkably well with the phases he lived through. From ca. 1205 to 1225 he was still learning at the knee of Tiberias and then Beirut. The two decades from 1225 to 1245 encompass all the deeds described in his history of the baronial revolt ― from his impetuous declaration of loyalty to the Ibelins when surrounded by Imperial loyalists and his taunting of his enemies with song, to his various, sometimes daring, deeds at arms.  The next twenty years, however, witness his rise to prominence as a lawyer and scholar. It is in these years that Novare is an advisor to kings. As he settles down to write his final work, however, his attention has turned to the hereafter.  He is clearly reflecting on his own feelings when he says the years after age sixty are a blessing. Most of his contemporaries, after all, including the Old Lord of Beirut and his “compeer” Balian, died before they reached that age. Nor did Novare live much beyond this marker. His name no longer appears as a witness after 1264 and his eldest son appears on the witness lists in 1269. Sometime between those two dates, Philip de Novare died.

[i] Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174 – 1277. MacMillan, 1973, p. 122.
[ii] La Monte, John. The Wars of Frederick II Against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus by Philip de Novare. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 12.
[iii] La Monte, p. 14.
[iv] Ibid.

Philip de Novare is an important character in my new series of novels set in Outremer in the early 13th century. His account is the primary source for the events described from the Sixth Crusade to the civil war in the crusader states.

Buy Now!

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: