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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: "The Crusader States" by Malcolm Barber

Far more has been written about the crusades than the states they established and supported.  Yet it was the threat to the Christian states that justified every crusade after the First. Furthermore, the crusader states were catalysts for a number of key developments in Western Europe from dramatic improvements in shipping to the exchange of goods, technology and ideas with Constantinople and the Arab/Turkish world.  Indeed, historian Claude Reignier Condor wrote at the end of the 19th Century that: “…the result of the Crusades was the Renaissance.” (The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1099 to 1291 AD, The Committee of Palestine Exploration Fund, 1897, p. 163.)

Professor Malcolm Barber is a distinguished scholar who has already produced seminal works about the Templars and Cathers. In this long overdue work Barber provides a comprehensive history of the crusader states rather than the sporadic crusades. It is meticulously researched and documented, as one would expect from a professor of history, and as such is an invaluable reference work for anyone interested in the period and indeed in the West’s presence in the Near East.

Whereas histories of the crusades invariably focus on military campaigns and so on “aggression,” Barber reminds us that the crusader states themselves were builders rather than destroyers. Barber concludes his comprehensive history by noting that: the crusaders “pragmatic approach to the challenge of providing for defense, administration and economic development produced political entities which resist stereotyping…and predetermined models.” He furthermore stresses that their accomplishments cannot be reduced to military conquests but also “entailed the rebuilding and embellishment of the holy shrines” and notes that they “ultimately produced their own independent and vibrant culture.”

Barber draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources in Latin, Arabic, French, and German, and his bibliography alone is a treasure trove for the historian.  However, the very detail of his account tends to slow the pace and complicate the flow of the narrative. This is more a reference or a research resource than a good read. 

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, March 28, 2018

Aimery de Lusignan Part I: The Elder Brother

Guy de Lusignan is rightly remembered as the king who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by his incompetent leadership in 1186-1187. He has accordingly received considerable attention in both serious histories of the crusader kingdoms and fictional accounts of the period. But Guy was not the only Lusignan to make his fortune in the Holy Land. On the contrary, he was following in the footsteps of his older brother Aimery, and it was Aimery, not the feckless Guy, who founded a dynasty. 

Aimery de Lusignan was the third son of Poitevan nobleman, Hugh VIII de Lusignan, a troublesome vassal of the Dukes of Aquitaine. The Lusignans had been lords of Lusignan since the early 10th century and Counts of La Marche since 1091, but in 1166 they were in revolt against their liege lord (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and siding with the Capets against the Plantagenets. It was in this period that the “Lusignan brothers” — some sources say Geoffrey and Guy, the second and fourth sons of Hugh VIII — attacked and killed the Earl of Salisbury while he was escorting Eleanor of Aquitaine. Since Salisbury was unarmed, unarmored and stabbed in the back, it was a notorious act, which according to some sources forced Guy to flee the continent as persona non grata. Curiously, Aimery’s name is never linked to the murder of Salisbury, yet it was Aimery who first went to the Holy Land.

Aimery was following in the footsteps of generations of young noblemen who sought their fortune “overseas” — in Outremer, but especially in the tradition of his own family, which had a distinguished crusading record. Hugh VI had come to the Holy Land in 1101 and died at the Battle of Ramla a year later.  Hugh VII took part in Louis VII’s Second Crusade, and Aimery’s own father, Hugh VIII, had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1163, taken part in the Battle of Harim, been captured by Nur ad-Din and died in a Muslim prison. In short, Aimery would have heard a great deal about the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his family and their retainers long before he ever set out. Very likely, there were also many men in Outremer who would have remembered his father and grandfather.

Sometime before 1174, Aimery de Lusignan arrived in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and, like his father before him, promptly got himself captured by the Saracens. Fortunately for him, King Amalric was prepared to pay his ransom.  This suggests either that the King felt responsible for the young nobleman – or perhaps just badly that his father had died in prison.  It also suggests that Aimery was an agreeable enough young man, who had made friends among the knights and barons of Jerusalem.

This assessment is reinforced by the fact that, despite being a younger (third) son, he soon succeeded in marrying into one of the most important and influential of the local baronial families, the Ibelins.  This was not the usual case of a Western adventurer seducing a widow as his bride. His wife Eschiva was probably only a young girl at the time, and the marriage was arranged by her father.  Furthermore, although at the time of this marriage Eschiva was not yet her father’s heir, the marriage would have been considered advantageous nevertheless as it made Aimery brother-in-law to the Baron of Ramla, Ibelin and Mirabel, a combined barony holding 80-some knights’ fiefs.

By 1180, Aimery had been named to the immensely powerful and important post of Constable of Jerusalem, succeeding the important local baron Humphrey II of Toron, who had died of wounds received at the Battle on the Litani in 1179. This promotion occurred in the reign of Baldwin IV and according to the Chronicle of Ernoul was attributable to the influence of Agnes de Courtney, the king’s mother, with whom — again according to Ernoul — Aimery was having an affair. If Aimery was married to a child, there would have been nothing so unusual about him having an affair with an older woman, but this was also the year in which his younger brother Guy arrived in Jerusalem and married Princess Sibylla in great haste.

There are a number of versions of Guy’s marriage to Sibylla. One of which, incidentally,  includes Aimery travelling to France to fetch Guy for the purpose of seducing Sibylla. This can be dismissed as nonsense simply because at the time of Aimery’s alleged trip, Sibylla was betrothed to the Duke of Burgundy — not the kind of man a Lusignan would risk alienating. Alternatively, Baldwin IV married his sister to the wholly unsuitable Guy to forestall a coup d’etat planned by Raymond of Tripoli, Bohemond of Antioch and Baldwin d’Ibelin, an equally implausible thesis, in my opinion, because it imputes treasonous intentions to three barons who repeatedly risked their lives as vassals of Baldwin IV and had many other opportunities to conduct a “coup,” if that had been their intentions. The most plausible explanation of Sibylla’s wedding is quite simply that she fell in love with/was seduced by Guy, and her brother King Baldwin didn’t have the heart to punish her and her lover. Instead he let them marry despite the fact that in alienated many of his vassals. With Guy married to the heir to the throne, however, Aimery’s future appeared secure, and it is most probable that he was appointed constable due to the influence of his brother rather than that of Agnes de Courtney — whether he was her lover or not.

Regardless of how he came to the post, Aimery acquitted himself well as constable. He would have been the effective commander of the feudal army at the Battle of La Forbelet, because Baldwin IV was by this time confined to a litter. In short, although the King was “in command” and making the strategic decisions, it was his Constable, Aimery de Lusignan, that rode with the royal banner and actually led, rallied, held, inspired and corralled the royal forces. We know he did this effectively because the Christians forced the Saracens to withdraw after La Forbelet — and any failure on Aimery’s part would have been duly noted.

One year later, during Saladin’s invasion of 1183, when his brother Guy managed to earn the enmity and contempt of the entire feudal leadership of his future kingdom, Aimery was the only commander who successfully engaged the Saracens. When Saladin tried to seize control of the important springs of La Tubanie, Aimery — supported by the Ibelins — successfully beat-off the attack. It is notable, that the Ibelin brothers, who were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, are seen here cooperating closely with Aimery. Aimery was, Guy or no Guy, still Baldwin d’Ibelin’s son-in-law and ties of blood and marriage were very strong in this period.

Unsurprisingly, Aimery is listed as one of his brother’s closest allies and supporters during Guy and Sibylla’s coup d’etat in 1186.  It was in his interest to support their usurpation of the throne and any other behavior would have been highly abnormal. It does not imply, however, that he thought highly of his brother or his brother’s leadership. This was simply a matter of family loyalty and self-interest.

And it took him to the Horns of Hattin, humiliating defeat and captivity.  He was with his brother when King Guy surrendered, and went with him into Saracen captivity. As the Lusignan brothers and most of the other barons of Jerusalem moldered in a Saracen prison, the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem fell city by city and castle by castle to Saladin until only the city of Tyre and isolated castles still held out. There was now no kingdom from which to raise a ransom, and Aimery’s wife had also lost her inheritance to Saladin’s forces.

As 1188 dawned, Aimery de Lusignan must have expected he would suffer his father’s fate and die in Saracen captivity. It would have been very hard for him to envisage that one day he would be a king and found a dynasty that would last roughly 300 years. (Aimery’s story will be continued in next week.)

Aimery de Lusignan's life as Guy's brother is a secondary plot in my award-winning Jerusalem trilogy:

       Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                         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, March 22, 2018

Leprosy in Crusader Times

People familiar with the film "The Kingdom of Heaven" know that King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem suffered from leprosy, but few realize either how common the disease was in the Holy Land -- nor how it was viewed by contemporaries. Dr. Schrader provides a brief overview of "The Holy Disease" below.

The Mask of Baldwin IV in the Hollywood Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem was a leper. This fact is so shocking and so exceptional in the history of Western monarchies that Baldwin has gone down in history as “the Leper King.” Most people know nothing else about him, not even his Christian name.  Portrayals of Baldwin in literature and art nowadays use his leprosy mostly for sensationalist effect. Thus in the Hollywood film “The Kingdom of Heaven” he was given a mask to disguise his face, which is only revealed after his death. In Cecilia Holland’s “Jerusalem” men quail at the sight of him, but she utterly ignores the devastating impact on Baldwin’s mobility and eyesight and shows no understanding whatever of the real impact and progress of the disease. Yet what is significant about Baldwin IV’s leprosy is not the disfigurement it caused but the fact that he could be a leper and remain a respected and effective king. How was that possible?

Without doubt, leprosy is one of the most appalling diseases known to man. Victims of the disease suffer from symptoms including a loss of feeling in their affected limbs, a discoloring and hardening of the skin, disfiguring growths or nodules that deform the face, hands and legs, open ulcers, particularly on the soles of the feet, and, in its most virulent form, the disease can deform even the skeleton and skull, while progressively triggering a deterioration of control over one’s limbs, leading finally to the loss of toes, fingers, ears, noses, and eyesight. This gradual decay of the body led observers to compare lepers to the “living dead” or “walking corpses.”

Medieval carving showing a leper
Leprosy is a global phenomenon, present today on every continent.  While some scientists suggest it originated in East Africa (along with mankind and horses), the oldest anthropological evidence of the disease is a nearly 3,000 year old skeleton found in India. Certainly it was known in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient China, and is recorded in the Old Testiment as well.

In Western medical texts, Hippocrates described symptoms that match leprosy as early as 460 BC, but no cure was found for leprosy until the 20th century. Furthermore, while modern medical research shows that as much as 30% of a population may become infected during an epidemic, once endemic, only 5% of any given population is likely to contract the disease. However, that research was not available until the last century, and throughout most of human history the disease was believed to be not only incurable but highly contagious.  At the extreme, some medical tracts (including Arab ones) suggested that just breathing the same air as lepers could result in infection. It was this terror of catching such a horrible and incurable disease that led many societies to ostracize lepers, notably the Jews and the Germanic tribes of northeastern Europe excluded lepers from their societies.
So how could there be a leper king? The key is that he was king in Christian Jerusalem in the late 12th century. By this time, Christianity had come to view leprosy not as a curse, not as an outward expression of sin, not as a form of divine punishment nor even something unclean, but rather as a symbol of divine grace.

According to the gospels, Christ cured a leper following the Sermon on the Mount, and in the gospel of Luke (16:19-31) a poor beggar “covered with soars” called Lazarus is scorned by a rich man but finds favor with God. In the Medieval tradition, this man was a leper and Lazarus became the patron saint of lepers. The significance of lepers in the New Testament is twofold. First, leprosy was at the time incurable, so that healing a leper could only be a miracle, a divine act, and Christ demonstrates his divinity by curing the leper. Second, and often overlooked today, lepers were outcasts in Jewish society, prohibited from entering the Temple, so in curing the leper Christ was extending his grace even to outcasts.

By the 4th century AD, Church leaders in both the East and the West had seized upon these biblical references to argue that the greatest Christian virtue was to demonstrate love and charity toward the outcasts of society — something best demonstrated by love for those most commonly rejected in heathen societies: lepers. Within a short space of time, the sufferings of Job were associated with leprosy, and leading theologians reminded the Christian community that each leper (no less than any other man) had been made in God’s image and been redeemed by Christ. 

The argument went farther: Disease humbled even the proudest and wealthiest, bringing them closer to God, and no disease did that more thoroughly than leprosy. Far from being a punishment for sin, therefore, leprosy was the ultimate test of righteousness. While the victims were, it was argued, already marked by God for salvation, those willing to show them Christian love and charity would also win the favor of God. Legends started to evolve in which Christ appeared on earth as a leper, and the disease started to be referred to as “the Holy Disease.”

A monk treats a child with leprosy; a sign of charity.
Furthermore, early Christian advocates of leprosy as divine grace did more than preach; they led by example. The lives of saints often highlight acts of charity or kindness toward lepers, including kissing them. Likewise, from this period onward, we can trace the development and spread of hospitals especially established for the care of lepers, particularly in the Byzantine Empire. They are recorded in Constantinople itself and all the way to Alexandria. Notably, there was an important leper hospital in Jerusalem as well.

The Leper Hospital at Jerusalem no longer exists; this is the Hospitaller HQ at Acre
The establishment of leper hospitals enabled the removal of lepers from homes, markets, and work-places and so to a degree isolated lepers from mainstream society. No matter what the Church preached about the Christ-like nature of loving lepers, most ordinary humans preferred not to undergo the ultimate test of holiness by suffering such a debilitating and humiliating disease! A degree of segregation was therefore both rational and understandable. It is also notable, that many of these establishments were large complexes with their own churches, dormitories, kitchens, water reservoirs, orchards and land. People, whether the wealthy relatives of victims of the disease, or men and women anxious to gain credit in heaven were willing to endow leper hospitals or make charitable gifts to them in coin or kind.

Leper hospitals were not prisons, however, in which lepers were incarcerated against their will. On the contrary, the evidence suggests lepers could come and go as they pleased, and if they remained it was because they benefited from the charity and care they received rather than from compulsion. Furthermore, the lepers in these hospitals largely governed their own affairs, electing their own officials, who they then obeyed as in the monastic tradition. Likewise, they had chapter meetings, like monks, and female lepers appear to have had the same rights as their male counterparts. In at least one case a woman is recorded as a “commander” of a leper hospital. 

A "Chapter House" where collective decisions would have been made.
Significantly, however, it was in Jerusalem that a leper hospital grew into an order in its own right, the Order of St. Lazarus. The leper hospital had been established during Byzantine rule of the Holy City but after the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, it was taken over by the Knights Hospitaller. By in 1147, however, the leper hospital had broken away from the Hospitallers and was recognized as a religious order in its own right. Initially referred to as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem, the members of this new religious order soon came to be called the Knights of St. Lazarus, and adopted a green cross as their symbol. (Note: the Templars wore red crosses on white, the Hospitaller at this time white crosses on black, and the Teutonic Knights adopted a black cross on white.) 

Membership in the Order of St. Lazarus was mandatory for knights of the other militant orders who developed leprosy after taking holy vows, and for members of the nobility of Outremer, who came down with the disease, but was not confined to these individuals. Any leper, of course, could join the community, and healthy individuals, intent on showing Christian love and charity, could do so by joining the order and serving the lepers. Enough healthy knights belonged to the Order by the 13th century for knights to have fought at the Battle of Gaza in 1244, the Battle of Ramla in 1253, and during the defense of Acre in 1291. They may also have fought at Hattin in 1187.

All the above battles post-date the death of Baldwin IV and while that may be pure chance, it seems more likely that it was Baldwin IV’s steadfast service to his kingdom on the battlefield that inspired knights to join the Order of St. Lazarus and encouraged the Order itself to take on a more militant role. Baldwin initially led his armies on horseback, despite being unable to use his hands, and later led from a litter. A greater example of courage from a man suffering from such a debilitating disease can hardly be imagined. 

King Baldwin IV leads his army on horseback in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
But it is equally significant that his powerful barons, their knights, and all the free burghers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were willing to do homage to and obey a leper. Baldwin IV could not have defeated Saladin repeatedly (as he did!), if he had not commanded the undivided and unquestioning loyalty of his subjects. This fact, more than his own actions, tells us that leprosy in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was indeed recognized as a “holy disease.” Baldwin IV’s leprosy, far from evoking contempt or even revulsion, as Hollywood and many modern writers would have us believe, inspired awe among his contemporaries. 

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:

Contemporary attitudes toward leprosy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem are reflected in Schrader's award-winning Jerusalem Trilogy, particularly the first and second books in which Baldwin IV is an important character:

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                         Buy now!