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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Money Lenders in the Temple: The Banking Activities of the Knights Templar

In the end, it was not the strength of Islam or any Muslim power, but Templar wealth ― and the greed of a Christian king ― that brought down the mighty Order of the Knights Templar.  It is one of the many ironies of history that a religious order so poor at its inception that the very word “poor” was incorporated in its name (the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem) should not only gain wealth but become famed for its financial services. Cynics looking at the record of the Knight Templar might even be justified in suggesting that the Templars were better bankers than fighters. Today I take a look at just what financial services the Knights Templar offered.

It all started quite humbly and, I believe, innocently. In an age where there was not yet paper money, much less online and mobile banking, liquid capital took the form of metal, primarily gold and silver, coins.  These coins were bulky, heavy and valuable to anyone, so very tempting to thieves. Anyone in the Middle Ages in possession of gold or silver coins was at pains to protect it in some way, either by hiding it or placing it in “treasuries” of some kind, with locks and metal bindings, preferably in a deep cellar or high tower, guarded by reliable thugs.

Life being what it is, however, not everyone had reliable thugs to protect their gold and silver. So it became the practice for people of a civil occupation (i.e. without large numbers of armed men at their disposal) to place their valuables in “safekeeping” with religious institutions because these were supposed to be immune from theft and robbery. Unfortunately, religious houses being by definition home to men who did not pursue the profession of arms yet known to be in possession considerable gold and silver, became particularly attractive targets for sack and pillage by heathen, irreligious or merely desperate armed men. (e.g. Viking raids on monasteries and churches, and the sack of the like by desperate mercenaries and kings.)  

The establishment of the Knights Templar, however, provided a perfect solution to the problem of keeping large sums of gold and silver safe.  Here was a religious institution with its own highly-trained and fierce fighters. Within a very short space of time, Templar houses from Ireland and Iberia to Jerusalem had become the preferred place to deposit liquid capital assets (gold, silver, and jewels) for safe keeping.  The Templars dutifully assumed responsibility for the safe-keeping of these valuables, without ― it should be well noted ― charging interest for such services or using the money for their own purposes. As Helen Nicholson writes (The Knights Templar: A New History. Sutton Publishing, 2001, p. 163): “Money deposited with [the Templars] was not pooled and reinvested, but remained in its owners’ strongboxes within the Order’s treasury, and could not be accessed without the owners’ permission.”

The Templars, it should be noted, took this duty to protect money deposited with them very seriously. The most famous example of their diligence in this regard occurred during the Seventh Crusade when King Louis IX of France was taken captive along with the bulk of his nobles and knights.  A ransom was at length negotiated (characteristically for a man who would be a saint, King Louis bore the full financial burden for the men captured with him), but when the royal treasury was counted the French found to their dismay that it was short some thirty thousand livres. The Seneschal of France, Jean de Joinville, realizing that the Templars must have that much money aboard their flagship, promptly requested that the Knights Templar advance the sum to the King of France, so he and his leading nobles could escape captivity. The Templars refused because it was not Templar money and they had sworn not to release it to anyone without the owner’s permission. The threat of force by Joinville persuaded the Templars to bend the rules a little, but less dire circumstances would have made a threat of force against the Templars nearly unthinkable and their surrender even less so.

From accepting deposits to transporting those deposits was only a short and logical step.  The Knights Templar rapidly built up a network of houses and commanderies stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the River Jordan. They were constantly sending armed men from one place to another and their raison d’ĂȘtre was the protection of pilgrims.  So what could have been more natural than that they would take on the job of transporting money from place to place ― a sort of medieval Brinks armored service?

But, then again, why risk and expend resources carrying heavy coins around, when a letter would do the same thing? So the “letter of credit” was invented. Now people could deposit money at the nearest Templar establishment, and withdraw the same amount of money (adjusted, of course, for currency conversion) in a different town, province or kingdom! This was truly a brilliant innovation, but only made possible by the fact that so much money was being deposited all across Christendom and the Temple itself was earning so much money from its own properties and business that they were now (by the late 12th century) truly in possession of sufficient cash in any major house to meet demand.

Not that Templar resources weren’t occasionally strained. When King Louis VII of France (the great-grandfather of Louis IX) washed up in the Holy Land having lost the bulk of his army and all of his treasury in a disastrous overland crusade, the Knights Templar loaned him so much cash to cover his expenses during the remainder of his time in the Holy Land that it “brought the Order close to financial ruin.” (Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple. Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 271.)

But by then, the Templars and the French crown already had a symbiotic relationship that lasted roughly 100 years ― until Philip IV decided to bite the hand that fed him and unscrupulously attacked, tortured and destroyed his former friends.  During the preceding hundred years, however, the Temple in Paris served as the treasury of France. Period. The royal treasurers were all senior officials of the Temple, and the French treasury was housed in the Paris Temple.

Although in no other kingdom was the relationship quite so close, many other monarchs likewise appointed Templars to serve as their financial managers. In England, a Brother Geoffrey of the Knights Templar was appointed by Henry III to manage all his personal expenditure. The Kings of Scotland, Ireland, and Aragon and many popes did the same at various times.

Yet while the Templars were frequently found in the role of “almoner” ― i.e. the person who dispenses royal largess ― they were also often entrusted with collecting money as well.  Thus the Templars were made responsible for raising the “Saladin Tax” levied on every household in England to support the war in the Holy Land. The Popes also entrusted them will collecting exceptional tithes, usually those in association with the defense of the Holy Land in some way.  Yet there are also instances when the Templars were simply employed as reliable agents, men who had a reputation for scrupulous honesty combined with effective military might, to collect purely secular dues, such as customs duties in Ireland.

When they weren’t directly involved in collecting or distributing funds for royal or papal authorities, their, by now formidable, reputation as sophisticated accountants earned them the task of auditing the accounts of others. In short, if a monarch, lord or bishop had any reason to doubt the accounts his own servants put before him, he could turn to the Knights Templar and ask them to audit said accounts.

Although the evidence left to us is fragmentary, it is sufficient to confirm that the Templars were indeed by the mid-thirteenth century very sophisticated accountants. They had to be sophisticated accountants to keep track of all the money they managed from so many different sources. Debts and credits were carefully noted in parallel accounts with sources and destinations meticulously noted. Receipts and books were signed by individual cashiers ensuring accountability. Templar money could not ― and did ― simply disappear or get lost.

But at some point along the way, doing all those services for others turned into a business and a function in its own right. From rescuing crusading kings in financial distress (1150) to offering loans to merchants for purely commercial purposes (1300) was not so great a step, perhaps, but it was a significant one nevertheless. The once incorruptible “poor knights” of the early 12th century, had become the “money-lenders in the Temple.” From providing the poor with protection (for their goods as well as their person) they had become tax-collectors for kings and “money-grubbing” financiers. That loss of innocence and reputation, along with the loss of their justification for being ― the Holy Land ― undoubtedly contributed to their downfall.

The Knights Templar and Louis IX of France feature in:

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Knights Hospitaller - The Oldest Military Order

Of the many "militant orders," the Knights Hospitaller, were the oldest and the most enduring.  Today I pay a tribute to them with a short summary of their history. 

The roots of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem go back before the First Crusade. In about 1070, a hospice for pilgrims was established near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with funds from Italian merchants and staffed by Benedictine monks and nuns. Although the Benedictines were expelled from Jerusalem before the arrival of the first crusaders, they returned after Jerusalem was in Christian hands, and with help from the Christian secular authorities, re-established a hospital. Soon, further grants of money and land from the Christian lords enabled the monks to establish a chain of hospitals throughout the Holy Land and to set up hospices at the embarkation ports for pilgrims setting out from Europe or returning from Outremer. The monks and nuns running these hospitals and hospices soon became known as the “Hospitallers.”

In 1113, the monks of the Hospital (also referred to as the Brothers of St. John and the Brothers of the Holy Sepulcher) requested and received from the Pope the right to become an order in their own right. This new order, as with the Templars a decade later, was made directly subordinate to the Pope, and in or about 1130 it adopted the Augustine Rule. Meanwhile, this new order was rapidly acquiring significant donations in land and treasure in both the West and in the Holy Land, a reflection of the undiminished support for a Christian-controlled Holy Land.

The "Hospital" in Acre is still massive and impressive; the Hospital in Jerusalem was much larger.
Photo by H. Schrader 
Nevertheless, the Hospital of St. John remained a traditional monastic order. Although it had been granted the explicit right to defend its properties and pilgrims, members of the Order were prohibited from bearing arms. As a result, throughout the 12th century the Hospital was dependent for its protection on knights who owed feudal duty to the Hospital via their landholdings, voluntarily offered their services, or were hired mercenaries. These defensive forces, whatever their source, must have been substantial, however, because the Hospital was given very powerful fortresses, notably the most impressive crusader castle of them all: Krak des Chevaliers.

Krak de Chevaliers in Modern Day Syria. Photo by H Schrader
It would have been pointless to turn over such vitally important military resources to an order incapable of maintaining and defending them, but the exact status of the Hospital’s fighting men remains obscure until 1206 when the Hospitaller Rule was changed to allow for fighting monks. Thereafter, the Hospitallers began to recruit fighting men, probably starting with those who were already associated with it in some way, and like the Templars, they had both knights (men of noble birth) and sergeants. Within a very short time, the knights dominated the Order. The Hospitallers, however, continued to have priests, monks, and nuns devoted solely to the care of the sick, and the network of hospitals was not abandoned. At about this time, the entire Order adopted black robes (reminiscent of their Benedictine origins) adorned with a white cross. One notable difference with the Templars, however, was that there was no distinction in dress between the knights and the sergeants of the Hospital.

The Hospitallers, like the Templars, warned new recruits that “… when you desire to eat, it will be necessary for you to fast, and when you would wish to fast, you will have to eat. And when you would desire to sleep, it will be necessary for you to keep watch, and when you would like to stand on watch, you will have to sleep. And you will be sent this side of the sea and beyond, to places which will not please you, and you will have to go there. It will be necessary for you, therefore, to abandon all your desires to fulfill those of another and to endure other hardships in the Order, more than I can describe to you.” (Barber, Richard, The Knight and Chivalry, p. 275) Like the Templars, the Hospitallers vowed poverty and chastity as well as obedience.

Austere Monastic Accommodation; in this case the Cistercian Monastery of Fontfroid
The similarity between the two powerful militant orders led to open rivalry between them for recruits, resources, and power in the first half of the 13th century. This led on occasion to open fighting between members of the orders on the streets of Acre and Tripoli, but more often to subtle maneuvering behind the scenes. For decades, the Hospitallers and Templars consistently backed rival claimants to the throne of Jerusalem and rival Italian trading communities. As the end of Christian Palestine neared, however, the Hospitallers and Templars put aside their differences and jealousies to rally to the now lost cause. In the last decades of Christian Palestine, Hospitallers and Templars fought side by side, ferociously and futilely, at Antioch, Tripoli, and finally Acre.

After the fall of Acre, the Hospital also relocated its headquarters to Cyprus, but conflict with the King of Cyprus convinced the leadership of the Hospital (evidently more flexible, imaginative, and analytical than the tragic Jacques de Molay) of the necessity for independence from secular authority. The Hospitallers undertook the capture of the island of Rhodes from Turkish forces in 1306, finally seizing the capital city in 1309. With this move, the Hospitallers removed themselves, and the bulk of their movable treasure, from the grasp of Philip IV – or any king inclined to follow his example. Even more important, however, from this island base the Hospitallers built up a powerful fleet capable of challenging the naval power of the Turks and of launching hit-and-run raids into Saracen territory. The Hospitallers had “reinvented” themselves and had found a new justification for their existence.

Hospitaller Castle at Kolossi, Cyprus. Photo by H. Schrader
The Hospitaller fleet remained a significant force protecting Christian shipping and commerce throughout the next two and a half centuries. The base of this fleet on Rhodes, so close to the Turkish coast, was a constant provocation to Turkish, rulers. Numerous attempts were made to capture Rhodes, notably in 1440, 1444, 1480, and 1522. During the first 3 sieges, the Hospitallers withstood vastly superior numbers, in one case (1444) driving off the enemy with a daring sortie from within the city. On the other two occasions, they were rescued by the timely arrival of a relieving fleet from the West. In 1522, an army allegedly 100,000 strong attacked a force of just 600 knights and 4,500 local auxiliaries. After 2 months of bombardment a breach in the landward wall was made, yet 3 assaults through the breach, carried out with complete disregard for casualties, failed. Sultan Suleiman called off the costly assaults and settled down for a long siege, cutting Rhodes off from all relief. Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, the surviving Hospitallers, now more commonly called Knights of St. John, surrendered on honorable terms.

When the Hospitallers withdrew on their ships from Rhodes, they were effectively homeless, but Emperor Charles V offered them the island of Malta as their new headquarters. From here they continued to operate their fleet so effectively that Sultan Suleiman decided he had to dislodge them from their new home. In 1565 he again assembled a large siege force. The Knights of St. John had 500 knights of the Order and 10,000 other troops. The Turks launched their first attack in May and after a month of fighting captured an outlying fort, slaughtered the garrison, and floated their mutilated bodies across the harbor to the main fortress as a warning of what was to come. The Hospitallers replied by executing Turkish prisoners and catapulting their heads into the Turkish camp. A Turkish assault on the main fortifications was undertaken on July 15, and a breach in the walls effected by August 7. Yet two assaults through the breach, on August 19 and 23, both failed. On September 7 a Spanish fleet arrived from the West and scattered the demoralized Turkish forces. The defense of Malta had cost the Hospitallers half their knights and 6,000 of the other defenders.

A dramatic 19th century of the Hospitaller defense of Malta.

Thereafter, the Knights of St. John focused again on making the seaways of the Mediterranean safe for Christian shipping, a task that became increasingly easy as Turkish naval power declined. But this victory, like the defeat in Acre 300 years earlier, robbed them of their raison d’ĂȘtre. The Knights of St. John, now commonly known as the Knights of Malta, slid into a slow decline. They became more involved in commerce than warfare, and their fortresses turned into palaces. When Napoleon laid siege to Malta in 1798, the last frail remnants of the once mighty Hospitaller Order surrendered in just two days.

The Hospitallers played an important role in the Holy Land in the 12th century and so also figure in my biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin and the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Kingdom Divided

 In his introduction to Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom: The Battle of Hattin and the Loss of Jerusalem W.B Bartlett writes

During the latter decades of the twelfth century, Outremer was sleepwalking to disaster. Seemingly oblivious to the dangers of a resurgent Islam, the kingdom began to split apart. The nobles who governed with the king sought to outmaneuver one another, seeking to raise themselves up and bring their political opponents down.

This is by no means an isolated view, and most modern fiction about the period has followed the portrayal whether it is Cecilia Holland’s Jerusalem in which, according to the New York Times review, she brings to life the “atmosphere of conspiracy, betrayal…and political intrigue….” or Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” in which the fictional Tiberius condemns the struggles for power and land that he claims corrupted the ideals of the Holy City.
I question this interpretation.

The character of Tiberius, loosely based on Raymond of Tripoli, in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven."

But let’s be realistic. There has never been a kingdom or state that has been entirely without factions — not even totalitarian dictatorships.  To expect a state to have perfect harmony and unity is not merely idealistic, it is naive. Where there is power, there will be differences of opinion on policy, and where there are competing policy options there will be factions — usually aggravated by personalities, rivalries and the prospect of personal gain associated with proximity to power or the execution of one policy over another.

It is, in short, absurd to expect the Kingdom of Jerusalem to be without factions supporting competing policies.  Whether these can be divided into “hawks” and “doves” or “insiders” and “outsiders” is not the issue here. The fact is that the mere presence of advisors advocating competing policies and/or even passionate rivalry between powerful noblemen in a medieval kingdom is neither unusual nor inherently self-destructive.

The question is whether the divisions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the twelfth century mortally crippled the kingdom to the point where the threat posed by Salah-ad-Din was ignored.  Let's look at the historical record.
The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Although it is safe to say that no kingdom on earth would have welcomed the ascension of a man suffering from leprosy, the High Court of Jerusalem took no longer than usual to recognize Baldwin IV as his father’s heir.  Furthermore, a powerful regent was rapidly installed who peacefully surrendered the keys to the kingdom to the leper prince when he turned fifteen. No sign of exceptionally destructive factions here, despite the explosive situation of a leper boy being heir to the throne.

Just a little over a year after Baldwin IV came of age, the Kingdom of Jerusalem faced the first full-scale invasion led by Salah-ad-Din.  The Count of Tripoli, the Hospitallers and hundreds of other knights from the Kingdom were at the time laying siege to Hama in Syria; Salah-ad-Din invaded from Egypt and immediately invested Ascalon. It was a very dangerous situation. The sixteen-year-old king, with no experience of battle whatsoever, gathered his forces — some 376 knights — and rode to the relief of Ascalon. He then broke out of Ascalon, met up with a Templar force from Gaza and called up the army of Jerusalem. And they came. At Montgisard, under Baldwin IV’s personal leadership, the Christian army dealt Salah-ad-Din a devastating and humiliating defeat. The bulk of the Saracen army was killed or captured, and Salah-ad-Din barely escaped on a pack camel. Nothing about this suggests a kingdom divided against itself — nor blind to the threat posed by Salah-ad-Din.

A Depiction of Montgisard, Copyright Fireforge Games

The very next year, King Baldwin ordered the construction of a castle at Jacob’s Ford — a clear indication that he recognized the threat posed by the Kurdish leader. Two years later, during the next invasion by Salah-ad-Din, Baldwin again successfully mustered his forces and successfully broke the Saracen vanguard.  Unfortunately, the Templars (who were not under Baldwin’s command) were routed by Salah-ad-Din’s main forces at the same time. When the Templars fell back, the entire Christian army withdrew. While the Templars lack of coordination is certainly to be condemned, it has nothing to do with internal rivalries or factions among the barons of Outremer.

The first hint of serious internal divisions surfaces in 1180. According to William Archbishop of Tyre, who was chancellor to Baldwin IV and so not only a contemporary but an insider, Baldwin IV’s illness had taken a dramatic turn for the worse by this time. It was clear, therefore, that the crown of Jerusalem would pass through Baldwin’s older sister Sibylla to whoever her husband might be; Sibylla in 1180 was a twenty-year-old widow. 

Sibylla as depicted in Ridley Scott's "The Kingdom of Heaven"

For whatever reasons (and they are controversial), the Baron of Ramla and Mirabelle with the backing of the Count of Tripoli and the Prince of Antioch considered himself the best candidate for Sibylla’s hand, but Sibylla — with or without her brother’s consent — married a young French noblemen of dubious character, Guy de Lusignan. 

Now Guy de Lusignan was a younger son with no title or wealth, and, more important, he had allegedly been expelled from the realm and territories of Baldwin IV’s first cousin, Henry II Plantagenet, for killing the Earl of Salisbury by stabbing him in the back.  Not a very savory character, to say the least, and I submit it is entirely understandable that the barons of Jerusalem did not think him a suitable man to become their liege lord — not to mention be crowned in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns…..

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem today.

And yet! The uproar did not tear the country apart. To be sure, Ramla refused to do homage to the new Count of Jaffa (the title given by Baldwin to his sister’s husband) — but he still brought his troops to muster at each of the subsequent invasions by Salah-ad-Din — as did the other barons. Admittedly, in 1182 during the full-scale invasion that led to the battle at La Forbelet, Baldwin IV was still personally in command of the army, leading from a litter. But a year later, in September 1183, Baldwin IV had officially abdicated his authority, retaining only the title of King, the city of Jerusalem and an annual income of 10,000 gold pieces, while naming Guy de Lusignan regent.  Yet the barons of Jerusalem all mustered — even Tripoli and Antioch and Ramla. It was allegedly the largest army ever mustered by the crusader kingdoms. Indeed, the force was so big that Salah-ad-Din preferred not to give battle and withdrew to lay siege to the castle of Kerak on his way home to Egypt instead.

View from Kerak Castle today.

Nevertheless, something happened here that has escaped the pages of history. William of Tyre had been passed over for the post of patriarch and apparently lost his insider knowledge. He was to die shortly afterward, and with him, we lost our window into what was happening inside the Kingdom of Jerusalem at this crucial moment. But one thing is clear, the barons of Jerusalem refused to go to the relief of Kerak under the leadership of Guy de Lusignan. Baldwin IV — whether reluctantly or furiously — dismissed him from the regency and had himself dragged in a litter all the way to Kerak with his army around him. Salah-ad-Din abandoned the siege rather than face the leper in a liter across a battlefield.

Baldwin IV returned from Kerak determined to find a way to dissolve his sister’s marriage to Guy de Lusignan. Why? Regardless of possible personal slights, the most obvious reason is simply that the barons of Outremer, who had rallied readily enough in September of 1183, were by November of the same year not prepared to follow Lusignan. Baldwin IV knew he could not leave his kingdom in the hands of a man who did not command the respect of the barons. 

So here is a dangerous rift — but hardly one in which the kingdom is “sleepwalking to disaster.” Baldwin IV was obviously acutely aware of the danger. He sent out a desperate, indeed almost pathetic, plea to the most powerful Christian monarchs, the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of France, and the King of England, to come to Jerusalem’s aid. He offered whichever Western monarch would come to the defense of Outremer the keys to the Tower of David, effectively offering to abdicate — and bypassing both his sisters — turn the crown over to whoever would pick up the burden of defending Jerusalem.

The Tower of David in the Citadel of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV’s appeal went unheeded, and so to prevent Guy de Lusignan from becoming king Baldwin had his nephew, Sibylla’s son by her first husband, crowned in his own lifetime as Baldwin V. At Baldwin IV’s death, the crown passed seamlessly to Baldwin V and the Count of Tripoli was named regent by the High Court of Jerusalem. Again, there is amazing unity here.

Unfortunately, Baldwin V died within a year. Defying Baldwin IV’s wishes and without the consent of the High Court of Jerusalem, Sibylla had herself crowned Queen of Jerusalem and then placed the crown on her husband’s head as her consort.  This was a clear “coup d’etat,” a usurpation of the throne. And here — in the summer of 1186 — the Kingdom started to crack.  Faced with a usurpation, a number of barons considered crowning a rival king, the husband of Baldwin IV’s younger sister, Isabella. But the young man, Humphrey de Toron, rejected the role of rival-king and paid homage to Guy de Lusignan.  So, reluctantly, did all the other barons with two notable exceptions.

The key here is that despite a clear case of usurpation, the danger of division was fully recognized. Humphrey de Toron must be credited with putting the well-being of the kingdom ahead of his personal ambitions, and the bulk of the other barons likewise swallowed their distaste of Lusignan and did homage. The two exceptions were the Baron of Ramla, Guy de Lusignan’s erstwhile rival for the hand of Sibylla, and the Count of Tripoli. Ramla took the unprecedented course of turning his entire inheritance over to his younger brother, Balian d’Ibelin, and leaving the kingdom, never to be heard of again. Tripoli simply withdrew to his own territories and concluded a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din.

This was an act that can best be described by the German term “Landesverrat.” In contrast to “Hochverrat” (treason against the state or government), Landesverrat is treason against the nation. Tripoli might have legally been correct not recognize Guy de Lusignan as his overlord, but by allying himself with the man who had vowed to drive the Christians from the Holy Land, he hurt more than King Guy, he hurt all the crusader states and their inhabitants.

The Sea of Galilee, part of Raymond de Tripoli's lands by right of his wife.

King Guy threatened to invade Tripoli’s territories and “force” his submission, but the rest of the Christian leadership — from the Grand Masters of the Military Orders to the Patriarch of Jerusalem — recognized that this was suicidal in the face of Salah-ad-Din’s threat. No one was stumbling blindly to destruction here except, perhaps the two embittered protagonists themselves!  

Guy was prevailed upon to send mediators instead of troops. The Masters of the militant orders, the Archbishop of Tyre and two leading barons, including Balian d’Ibelin, whose brother had been such an inveterate opponent of King Guy, were sent to Tripoli to effect a reconciliation between Tripoli and King Guy. They were ultimately successful.

When Salah-ad-Din again invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Raymond de Tripoli was among the commanders who mustered, bringing with him one of the largest contingents of troops. His voice in the war councils was a voice of reason, but it went unheeded. Despite this — and unlike the fictional characters of Tiberias and Balian d’Ibelin in “The Kingdom of Heaven,” when Guy de Lusignan marched the Christian army out onto the Horns of Hattin, he led the entire army of Jerusalem including Tripoli and Ibelin. To destruction.

In retrospect, perhaps more division would have served the Christian kingdom better. If Raymond de Tripoli (with the men of Tripoli and Galilee) and Balian d’Ibelin (with the troops of Nablus, Ramla, Mirabelle, and Ibelin) had not been at Hattin, the Kingdom — or at least Jerusalem — might have been defensible even after this devastating defeat. But no one believed that the combined forces of Jerusalem could be so poorly led that they would be obliterated by the same man the Leper King had forced to withdraw on no less than five occasions. And had Tripoli and Ibelin failed to muster, they would have been blamed for the defeat. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Guy de Lusignan alone lost Jerusalem. 

My award-winning biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th Century.

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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, August 8, 2018

William Marshal in the Holy Land: Part II

Last week I summarized the known facts about the English medieval hero William Marshal and his two-year-long pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Today I pick up his story by looking at the context of Marshal's pilgrimage and what he found in the Holy Land.

The Crusader Kingdoms were defended by a network of castles such as this: Krak de Chevaliers -- albeit at William's time Krak did not yet have its outermost wall.

Marshall most probably reached the Holy Land, traveling by either land or sea, in the spring of 1184. If he spent two years there he departed at the latest in the autumn of 1186. However, there is evidence that he was already back in England by February 1186, which would mean he could have spent only 18 months in the Holy Land, departing in or around October 1185. Although Marshal was not long in the Holy Land, he was there at a significant junction in the history of the kingdom -- and this may have impacted both the duration of his stay and his peculiar silence about it later.

On the one hand, the Muslims, which had long been bitterly divided between the Sunnis loyal to the Caliph of Baghdad and the Shiites of the Fatimid Caliphate, had been united under the strong and charismatic Kurdish leader Salah ad-Din.  Saladin, as he is known in western writings, had called for jihad, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was more threatened than it had been since the early years of its existence. At the same time, the Kingdom was weakened from within because the king, Baldwin IV, was suffering from leprosy and slowly dying. His heir was a young boy, the son of his sister Sibylla, by her first husband.

Not long after William Marshal arrived in Jerusalem a delegation headed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Templars and Hospitallers was dispatched by King Baldwin to the West. The delegation carried with it the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the keys to the Tower of David: effectively the symbolic keys to the kingdom. The three men sought first the aid of Philip II of France and then Henry II of England, begging the later to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, turn his Western Kingdom over to his adult and capable heir, and take up the cause of Christendom by defending the Holy Land. If he would not do that, the delegation pleaded, then he should send one of his sons in his stead.  One has to wonder if this was pure coincidence of timing, or if William Marshal, who knew the Plantagenets so well had not recommended – or at least encouraged – the appeal.

Meanwhile, Baldwin IV, in anticipation of his death, made his vassals vow an oath with regard to the succession.  Because his co-monarch and nephew Baldwin V was sickly, he had his vassals swear that if he did not live to manhood and sire heirs of his own, they were to send to the Kings of France and England and to the Pope, who were then to jointly name a successor. Baldwin IV expressly excluded his sister Sybilla and her second husband, Guy de Lusignan, from the succession.  

Marshal would have had every reason to applaud this action by the dying king because he knew Guy de Lusignan all too well.  As a landless knight in his uncle’s entourage, he had been escorting Queen Eleanor through her own territories, when they were attacked by the Lusignan brothers, then in rebellion against her. Accounts vary on which of the Lusignans was present (there were four brothers: Hugh, Geoffrey, Aimery, and Guy), but there is no disagreement on how the Earl of Salisbury was killed: he was pierced from behind by a lance when unarmored. This was clearly an “unchivalrous” blow, a despicable act, that outraged the young William Marshal.  William himself was severely wounded in the encounter, taken captive, and ill-treated by the Lusignans.

Meanwhile, William appears to have spent his years in the Holy Land as one of the many secular knights who temporarily served with the Templars.  These knights did not take the final vows of poverty and chastity, but for the period of the voluntary service, submitted themselves to the discipline and Rule of the Knights Templar.  Indeed, in William’s case, we know that he vowed to join the Temple – as he eventually did. 

Significantly, on Marshal’s arrival in the Holy Land, the Grand Master of the Templars was a certain Arnold de Toroga. He had been part of the delegation sent to plead with Henry II to come to the Holy Land. Unfortunately, he died during this mission and was replaced by a man who was an ardent supporter of Guy de Lusignan. Indeed, Rideford threw the entire force of the Templars behind a coup d’etat by Lusignan in the summer of 1186. It seems possible, therefore, that Marshal’s decision not to take his final vows and stay with the Templars in their hour of need in 1185 may have had to do with his unwillingness to serve Gerard de Ridefort and be an instrument of his pro-Lusignan policies. 

An illustration from Matthew Paris’ “Greater Chronicle” depicting Knights Templar.

We will never know, but Marshal’s very silence to his household and family about this episode in his life suggests that he left the Holy Land with a bitter taste in his mouth – or opinions he felt he should best keep to himself.

William Marshal makes a "guest" appearance in award-winning Defender of Jerusalem.

Biographies of William Marshal available today include:

·         William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron and Regent of England, by Sidney Painter, 1933.
·         William Marshal, Flower of Chivalry, George Duby, 1985.
·         William Marshal: Knighthood, War and Chivalry, by David Crouch, 2002.
·         William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, by Catherine Armstrong, 2007

Recommended works of historical fiction featuring William Marshal:

·   Christian Balling’s Champion is delightful, but it only covers a tiny slice of Marshal’s life. 
·   Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, and Templar Silks are well-researched and well-written tributes to William Marshal.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

William Marshal and the Holy Land: Part I

Yesterday I reviewed a novel by Elizabeth Chadwick that imagines what the famous English knight William Marshal encountered during his two years in the Holy Land on the eve of the Battle of Hattin. Today I summarize the historical record -- what we know about Marshal and his pilgrimage.
Marshal loved and excelled at tournaments, depicted here in a 13th century German manuscript.

William Marshal has gone down in English history as one of the most famous non-royal heroes of the Middle Ages. He was famed even in his lifetime as one of the greatest knights of a knightly age and a “flower of chivalry.”

His story is better than fiction. If his biography were not so well documented, it would be easy to dismiss the stories about him as pure invention. But William Marshal really existed, and he really rose from being a landless knight to regent of England by his merits. Even his wife, through whom he became a magnate of the realm, was won by his prowess and loyalty, for he was granted the rich heiress by the dying Henry II as a reward for his decades of service to the Plantagenets.  The grant was confirmed by Richard I to secure Marshal’s loyalty in the future. But in addition to being a paragon of chivalry, Marshal was typical of his generation in that he was also a faithful son of the Holy Catholic Church. On his deathbed he renounced the world and took vows as a monk, a Templar monk, and was buried in the Temple in London.

Tomb of a Knight in the Temple of London, sometimes identified as William Marshal

He also went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Because Marshal was such a famous knight and powerful figure at the time of his death, his eldest son commissioned a poem to record his life for posterity.  The poem is nineteen thousand nine hundred and fourteen verses long, and it is a remarkable document in itself, both lively and evocative.  Perhaps even more astonishing, the poem identifies sources and distinguishes between hear-say and verifiable fact, points out when sources are contradictory, and recounts many events at first hand, stating explicitly “this I have seen” in many places. The latter suggests that the author was an intimate of William Marshal, or at least a trusted member of his household. This document, otherwise so rich in detail, however, tells us almost nothing about Marshal’s stay in the Holy Land.

What we do know is that William Marshal was bequeathed the crusader cross – the vow to go to Jerusalem and pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – by his liege Henry the Young King. Henry had taken crusader vows sometime in 1182 or 1183 – which did not stop him from sacking churches and monasteries to pay his mercenaries. William Marshal appears to have been a witness – if not a participant – in the sack of Rocamadour, at which the Young King stole the sword of Roland and much other treasure.  Returning from this disgraceful act, the Young King fell abruptly ill. In a high fever and fearing for his soul at last, he sent messengers to his father begging for forgiveness, and turned over his mantle with the crusader cross over to William Marshal.  He begged Marshal to fulfil his vow in his stead, then lay on a bed of ashes with a noose around his neck and died. It was June 11, 1183.

Medieval depiction of a Crusader

According to Marshal’s biographer, William spent “two years” in Syria, serving the King of Jerusalem, doing great deeds of arms and winning the respect of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller. However, he was back in Europe by 1187, months before the devastating Battle of Hattin, and he brought with him two white, silk shrouds for his own burial.  He also returned having vowed to join the Knights Templar before his own death.

Those are the only known facts we have about William Marshal in the Holy Land, but even these facts are intriguing. Next week I will explore the the context of Marshal's pilgrimage.

William Marshal makes a "guest" appearance in award-winning Defender of Jerusalem.

Biographies of William Marshal available today include:

·         William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron and Regent of England, by Sidney Painter, 1933.
·         William Marshal, Flower of Chivalry, George Duby, 1985.
·         William Marshal: Knighthood, War and Chivalry, by David Crouch, 2002.
·         William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, by Catherine Armstrong, 2007

Recommended works of historical fiction featuring William Marshal:

·   Christian Balling’s Champion is delightful, but it only covers a tiny slice of Marshal’s life. 
·   Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, and Templar Silks are well-researched and well-written tributes to William Marshal.