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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Worshiping Christ in Frankish Cyprus

 During the last century, the assumption was that during the reign of the Lusignans the Latin elite oppressed and despised the Greek Orthodox majority. However, historians of the 21st century have uncovered a wealth of evidence that suggests rather than tensions or mere tolerance, the dominant feature of religious life in Frankish Cyprus was mutual respect and joint worship. 

The key to understanding the religious situation on Cyprus is to recognize that the Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th centuries did not view Greek Orthodoxy as either heretical or schismatic. Throughout the period of Frankish rule in Cyprus, a succession of popes confirmed that the differences between the churches were ones of "rites" (i.e. practice) rather than doctrine.   

The tensions that misled historians of the last century into hypothesizing hostility and oppression were -- on closer examination -- competition between the clergy of the respective churches, not tensions between the believers of either church. Rather than dogma and theology, the two issues that agitated the Latin Church were access to Greek Orthodox lands and other sources of income and the primacy of the pope. The resident Greek clergy, on the other hand, was primarily concerned about retaining control over the lives of their flock and autonomy from Rome. 

The Latin church hierarchy on Cyprus incessantly nagged the crown and Latin nobles for more land and more income sources not from greed alone. It was also a reflection of the fact that the Greek church had, contrary to popular assumptions, suffered very few expropriations in the course of the conquest.  Furthermore, the land that was taken away was never that on which churches or monasteries stood, but rather the productive estates that had generated income for those institutions. The beneficiary of those land-grabs, however, was not the Latin Church but rather secular lords during the first decade of Lusignan rule. 

The Greek Orthodox Church was undoubtedly impoverished by the exodus of wealthy Greek aristocrats who had been it's most lavish patrons. It lost some of its economic land-holdings as well, but it retained all its churches and the tithes of the Orthodox population. The Latin Church, in contrast, had a very small population of Latins which it could tithe and otherwise had to live from donations. Notably, the secular lords of Cyprus repeatedly backed the Orthodox Church in stopping the Latin Church from claiming the lands of the Greeks -- in large part to protect their own properties!

The other principal point of tension, the primacy of the pope, was superficially doctrinal, but in practice an issue of prestige. Initially, the Cypriot clergy steadfastly refused to take an oath of fealty to the pope in Rome. Eventually, after a series of negotiations, the Cypriot clergy opted to swear fealty in exchange for effective autonomy. Professor Schabel summarized the deal as follows: 
Greek Orthodoxy survived the Frankish period not so much because of a successful national struggle against complete absorption as because the Greeks always remained the majority and neither the Franks nor the Latin Church ever attempted any Latinization. The Latin Church required what it thought was the bare minimum from the Greek clergy -- nothing from the Greek laymen -- and the Greek clergy gave the Latin Church what it required, including by the end of the thirteeth century, an oath of obedience from the bishops and an end to active opposition concerning unleavened bread. Almost all other particulars of the Greek rite, what we now call Greek Orthodoxy, were allowed to remain the same. [Chris Schabel, "Religion" in Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374, editor Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Chris Schabel, 201; italics addded by HPS]
The drawn-out struggle between the Latin and Greek clergies, however, had very little impact on daily life or popular attitudes. Only on three occasions in the history of Frankish rule on the island did the inter-clerical disputes rise to the level of popular unrest. Two of these instances, both from the fourteenth century, were riots "lasting only a matter of hours and directed successfully at the actions of a single outsider." [Schabel, 207] The other incident was far more serious and shocking. It entailed the burning at the stake of thirteen Orthodox monks in the mid-13th century.

The execution of thirteen Orthodox monks dates to either 1231 or 1232 -- in either case to a period of "chaos" when King Henry I was not yet of age. Indeed, King Henry was very probably not even present in his kingdom as from February until June 1232 he was in Syria with his regent and all his barons. Furthermore, the Latin Archbishop of Nicosia was also absent from the kingdom much of 1231 and early 1232. Most significantly, from May to mid-June, the Kingdom of Cyprus was occupied by the forces of the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri. 

In short, Cyprus was effectively without its legal rulers either secular or ecclesiastical for this critical period.  It appears that this fact was exploited by outsiders with no history of peaceful co-existence. At the urgings of a certain Dominican friar -- the Order of the Inquisition and possibly fresh from fighting the Alibigensians -- the Greek Orthodox monks were condemned to die a heretic's death. Yet, as the documents prove, they were not condemned because they used leavened bread, but rather "because for years they refused to stop calling the Latins heretics for using unleavened bread." Schabel suggests that despite knowing that the pope did not consider the use of leavened bread heretical, the Dominicans could "not tolerate the Greek accusation that they were heretics for their practice." (Schabel, 196). 

Sadly, these images of intolerance and violence, isolated and unrepresentative as they were, have dominated the popular image of the relationship between the churches on Cyprus. In fact, Frankish rule was characterized not only by tolerance but by patronage that fostered an expansion of Orthodox building. 

For example, the Frankish period saw a flourishing of Greek Orthodox monastic activity on the island. The number of monasteries on Cyprus more than doubled from 40 under Byzantine rule to over 100 by 1363. While a number of these monasteries were Latin (the Hospitallers, Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Augustinians all had three to four houses on Cyprus), Orthodox monasteries undoubtedly made up the vast majority of these religious houses. Furthermore, Orthodox parish churches, even in rural areas, also experienced an inflood of donations that enable renovations and redecoration. Far from languishing in oppression, the Orthodox church flourished under the Lusignans.

There were a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, the Lusignans viewed themselves as the kings of all Cypriots, not just the Latin Cypriots. The Lusignans and their (often Ibelin) wives regularly made generous donations to Greek Orthodox institutions. The nobility also made significant gifts to Greek Orthodox institutions, and there are recorded instances of Italian merchants doing the same. Indeed, by the fourteenth century at the latest, Latin prelates were complaining about "the noble and plebeian women" frequenting the churches of the Greeks, while their husbands "barons, knights, and burgesses" preferred to attend mass in private chapels. 

This situation arose primarily because of the large number of marriages between Latins and Greeks. With the Greek population so dominant, many immigrants found their wives among the local Greek population. The Italians, notoriously, left their wives at home, and one wonders how many took local "wives." Meanwhile, the rising Greek middle class that dominated the bureaucracy and increasingly merged into the gentry made good matches for younger daughters of poorer knights.

Another factor in the gradual slide toward Orthodoxy on the part of the Frankish population was the sheer lack of Latin parish churches. Even in Nicosia, the capital and heart of Frankish Cyprus, the Latin Cathedral was the only parish church. The suffragan bishops also had their cathedrals, but for Franks living outside the main cities, those living on their estates, there were no Latin churches at all. As a result, we have instances of Latin knights and ladies buried in Orthodox churches. The assumption must be that during their lives they also regularly attended mass at these churches, confessed their sins to the Orthodox priests, and possibly married and baptized children there as well. 

Even those Latins who remained true to their traditions gradually absorbed elements of Greek religious culture into their lives and churches. Cypriot saints such as Barnabas, Hilarion, and Epiphanios were worshiped in Latin as well as Orthodox churches. Latin patrons developed a taste for icons, particularly the vita icons that surrounded a portrait of the saint with scenes from his/her life. Frankish artisans became adept at producing icons. Indeed, icons have been found with labeling in the same hand in both Greek and Latin, suggesting that they hung in churches used by both Greek and Latin congregations.

In short, despite the bickering between the Latin and Greek clergy over hierarchy and income, for the average Cypriot whether Greek and Latin the shared belief in Christianity was paramount. Rather than hostility or tensions, the people of Cyprus worshiped Christ and his saints together evolving a distinctive form of almost ecumenical sacred architecture and other art forms. 

For more on the disputes between the Cypriot clergy and the pope as well as the evolution of unique art forms see: Nicolaou-Konnari, Angel and Chris Schabel (eds). Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374 (London: Brill, 2005).

My most recent novels set in medieval Cyprus reflect this overall atmosphere of inter-faith cooperation punctuated by moments of tensions:

                                                    Best Christian Historical Fiction 2019
         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 current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

An Economic Powerhouse: Cyprus under the Lusignans

The importance of Cyprus to the crusader states can hardly be overstated. Cyprus protected the sea lanes to the Levant. It provided a staging ground for offensive action and a place of refuge in defeat. It provided many of the lords and knights of Outremer with the rural estates so important to raising and training both men and horses for medieval warfare. Yet first and foremost it was the wealth of Cyprus, the resources it could put at the disposal of the mainland crusader states, that made it such a valuable addition to the Latin East. Today I look more closely at the components of its economy. 

Ruins of a 13th century Sugar Factory at Kolossi; sugar was an immensely lucrative cash crop throughout the Lusignan period from the start of the 13th century to the end of the 14th.
Cyprus is roughly 3,500 square miles in size, 225 miles long and 95 miles wide, with a coastline 400 miles long. At the time of Richard the Lionheart's invasion (see:, historians estimate the population was at most 100,000 strong. Of that, the vast majority of the population were Greek peasants, with a very small ruling elite of Greek aristocrats, bureaucrats, and clergy.  There were also small communities of foreigners, mostly Armenians, Maronites, Syrian Christians, and Jews. A province of only secondary or tertiary importance to the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople, the economic base of Byzantine Cyprus was agriculture with small quantities of commodity exports. 

Richard the Lionheart's conquest leading to the establishment of the Lusignan dynasty on Cyprus two years later initially had little or no impact on the economy. The conquest neither dislocated large numbers of people nor altered the structure of land tenure nor the means of production. For the vast majority of the Cypriot rural population, the change in regime meant only that the landlords changed. Where once the landlords had been (often absentee) Greek aristocrats, after the establishment of Lusignan rule they were Latin noblemen, also often absentee, predominantly from the crusader states. These landlords now held their estates as feudal fiefs with obligations to the crown, but for the peasant little changed. Likewise, Imperial lands became part of the royal domain, but the duties and dues remained the same for the tenants. 

What changed was the explosion in commercial activity. Arguably, this would have happened even without the change in regime. The loss of the interior of the Kingdom of Jerusalem combined with the recovery of the Levantine coast for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem meant that the Christian cities on the mainland were no longer self-sufficient in food and other products. They were dependent on imports for basic commodities, most of which Cyprus was readily able to provide. Whether this development was inevitable or not, commerce became the face of Lusignan Cyprus and contributed to dramatic economic growth that made the Lusignan period one of the most prosperous in Cypriot history.

Furthermore, the demands of trade triggered a diversification of the Cypriot economy. In addition to its traditional agricultural products of wheat, barley and pulses, Cyprus began to produce -- and export -- carobs, fish, meat, flax, cotton, onions and rice. Minor exports of saffron, nutmeg, pepper, and other spices were also recorded. Last but not least, Cyprus exported salt, a highly lucrative commodity -- so lucrative in fact that the Lusignans maintained a royal monopoly on its extraction. 

More important economically, however, was the move away from the export of raw products toward agricultural processing. As a rule, the more refined a product is, the greater the value and so the greater the profit that can be derived from its sale. Cyprus under the Lusignans produced and exported a variety of processed agricultural goods such as wine, olive oil, wax, honey, soap, cheese and above all sugar. Indeed, the production of sugar on an industrial scale became one of Cyprus' most important sources of revenue. 

Furthermore, under the Lusignans, Cyprus developed entire new industries. The manufacturing of pottery flourished at Paphos, Lemba, Lapithos, and Engomi. Textile production also developed from the mid-thirteenth century onwards including the production of samite, camlets, and silk, and the textiles were often dyed locally, increasing the value-added captured on the island. Other examples of high-value products were the production and export of icons and manuscripts. 

Notably, excavations show that Cyprus employed the cutting-edge technology of the age, notably highly sophisticated waterworks to power its mills and then reuse the water to irrigate surrounding fields. Leading crusades scholar Nicholas Coureas concludes:
The sophistication of Cypriot agriculture is best seen in the Lusignan plantations around Potamia south of Nicosia. The recently excavated system of wells, waterwheels, canals and mills irrigated the fields and processed produce of the royal estate. ("Economy" in Cyprus: Society and Culture 1191 - 1374, editors Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Christ Schabel [London: Brill, 2005] 113.)

It is no coincidence that this splendid example of first-rate agricultural practices was found on a royal estate. Coureas estimates that as much as one-third of Cyprus' arable land was held in the royal domain. Nor did Lusignan control end there. The Lusignans were more Byzantine than Western in their tight control over the Cypriot economy, building on a system of centralized administration that they inherited from the Byzantines -- including the personnel! 

In contrast to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the kings of Cyprus maintained a monopoly on minting coins and also established kingdom-wide standards for a variety of wares. They instituted some price controls (notably on bread) and maintained control of public highways. Perhaps most important, they granted far fewer privileges to the Italian city-states than did the crusader states on the mainland.

Last but not least, Cyprus was home to a shipbuilding industry and banking, two of the most important economic sectors of the age. The former was concentrated in Famagusta and grew up mostly after the fall of the shipbuilding centers on the Syrian coast, banking was centered in Nicosia, which became a major center for money lending. So much so, in fact, that it attracted the outrage of the Church by the introduction of a variety of shady measures designed to evade laws against usury. Coureas notes that despite the de facto high interest charged, customers were clearly prepared to borrow anyway, a strong indication of just how lucrative commercial activities on Cyprus were in the thirteenth-century. 

This positive picture is marred by the fact that Cyprus clung to Byzantine traditions in another, less admirable, way also: slavery was practiced on the island. While in the 12th and 13th century most slaves were Muslim war captives, as the influence of the Italian city-states grew so did the number of slaves procured from other regions. This was because the Italian city-states were the principle slave-traders of the age, engaged primarily in bringing slaves from northeastern Europe to the voracious slave-markets of the Arab world. After the fall of the mainland crusader states, a major slave market developed on Cyprus itself, a fact that evidently encouraged the purchase and employment of slaves directly on Cyprus particularly in labor-intensive industries such as sugarcane production and viticulture as well as for domestic work. 

In retrospect, the first two hundred years of Lusignan rule was a "golden age" for Cyprus,  characterized by independent government and economic prosperity. Neither Venetian nor Ottoman rule delivered so many benefits nor such high standards of living for the population at large  -- including peasants but excluding slaves -- as did the centuries of Lusignan rule.

 My most recent novels are all set in medieval Cyprus:

                                                    Best Christian Historical Fiction 2019
         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 current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at:


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Battle of Agridi

The Emperor's deputy in Outremer had now decisively defeated the Ibelin/Cypriot army at the Battle of Casal Imbert and occupied Cyprus without a fight. Henry I may have come of age, but he was a king without a kingdom. He appeared on the brink of becoming an obscure footnote in history. Instead, he recovered his kingdom in less than two months and ruled for another two decades. Indeed, he delivered such a resounding blow to the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor that he was able to shake off the Imperial yoke altogether.

In the surprise attack at Casal Imbert, the Cypriot/Ibelin army had lost roughly 30 knights and the bulk of their horses and equipment. More important, the Genoese had lost their ships. Thus, while Filangieri struck in Cyprus, King Henry had no means of responding. Filangieri had brilliantly taken advantage of his enemy’s concentration of forces in one place, to attack in another. 

Yet Filangieri had underestimated the Cypriot King. Henry had come of age on the same day that he had to flee from Casal Imbert in his nightshirt. He now proved that he had been no puppet of the Ibelins. Had he been merely their prisoner up to now, he would have abandoned their cause and turned to Filangieri to help him crush his former jailers. Instead, he used his increased stature as king to make significant concessions to the Genoese, securing their continued support, and in order to obtain revenue and fighting men through the bestowal of fiefs in Cyprus upon Syrian knights. In just one month, the Cypriot/Ibelin army was sufficiently reequipped to return to Cyprus — in Imperial ships.

The latter had been tied up in Acre idle. Henry and the Lord of Beirut appealed to the anti-Imperial Patriarch of Jerusalem, arguing that Filangieri in occupying Cyprus had committed a grave sin that threatened the safety of the Holy Land. The point was that Filangieri had attacked a Christian monarch without justification. While the Patriarch sympathized, he demurred, saying he could not interfere in secular affairs. However, he also noted that he would not stop anyone from seizing the ships. At once, the pro-Ibelin mob rushed down to the harbour, where they managed to seize 13 of the large Imperial "salanders" (apparently warships), while the remaining Imperial ships managed to escape by slipping anchor and sailing away.

In these "confiscated" ships, the Cypriot/Ibelin knights, turcopoles and sergeants sailed for Cyprus at the very end of May or the first days of June. Expecting the ports to be heavily defended, Beirut took the radical decision to beach (i.e. wreck) their confiscated Imperial galleys on the shore of an island near Famagusta. This island was connected to the mainland only at low tide. From here, some of the men took small boats into Famagusta harbor to make noise and create a diversion, while the bulk of the army crossed via the ford to the mainland at dawn without encountering serious opposition. 

Indeed, by daybreak, it was clear that the Imperial forces, possibly overestimating the strength of the Cypriot/Ibelin force in the darkness, had opted for a strategic withdrawal. King Henry and his troops spent three days in Famagusta receiving the surrender of the key castle of Kantara and collecting further support before advancing cautiously toward Nicosia. Although they encountered no resistance, they found that the retreating Imperial troops had burned the granges and also vandalized the water and windmills. 

On arrival in Nicosia, the Cypriot/Ibelin army found that, again, the enemy had retreated before them. With a sense of relief, they sought food and lodging — only to be called to arms at vespers. The men rushed out, mustered and marched north to face an Imperial attack. When they were beyond the walls, however, they discovered that the alarm had been rung by Beirut himself. Recognizing that they still faced an intact and formidable enemy army that might strike at any time, Beirut wanted no repeat of Casal Imbert. He ordered the collected and alerted army to camp in a defensible position near water and gardens and a watch was established. 

The next morning, the army set out along the main road from Nicosia to Kyrenia. Between these two cities a dramatic mountain range with jagged peaks and deep pine forests rises up. From Nicosia, the road runs almost due north, weaving with the terrain, until it turns sharply to the right to enter a pass that runs west-east. Then having crested the pass, the road turns north again to descend toward the coastal plain and the port of Kyrenia. Just before the end of the pass, the main road to the royal castle of St. Hilarion branches off. 

St. Hilarion still held for King Henry and was filled with many women and children of Ibelin supporters as well as King Henry’s two sisters. King Henry had received word that the castle was dangerously short of supplies and would soon have to capitulate if it did not receive aid. Anticipating an attempt to relieve St. Hilarion, Filangieri positioned the main body of his army inside the pass, where it was invisible from the lower part of the road, but he had deployed two advance divisions across the Nicosia-Kyrenia road just below the entrance to the pass. 

The mountains separating Kyrenia from Nicosia, seen from the north looking west.
The Imperial forces on Cyprus consisted of the Cypriot traitors and the bulk of the Sicilian knights and Imperial mercenaries. Altogether, Filangieri could deploy over 2,000 horsemen and an unknown number of archers and infantry. The Cypriot/Ibelin army, on the other hand, had been decimated by the desertions, the reinforcement of Beirut, and the losses of Casal Imbert. King Henry could field only 236 knights, supported by sergeants and turcopoles of unrecorded number. The advancing Cypriot/Ibelin army was not only much smaller, it was below the Imperial army and would have to fight uphill to breakthrough. 

However, King Henry knew of a steep and narrow path that ascended the mountain from a village called Agridi just less than a mile west of the main road, i.e., before the enemy positions. Beirut proposed advancing to Agridi, and under cover of darkness the next night, sending relief to St. Hilarion over the narrow path. Beirut divided his army into four divisions, commanded as follows: 1) Sir Hugh d’Ibelin (Beirut’s third son) and Sir Anseau de Brie, 2) Sir Baldwin d’Ibelin (Beirut’s second son, 3) the Lord of Caesarea (Beirut’s nephew) and 4) Beirut with King Henry. 

Beirut’s eldest son Balian, who already had a reputation for prowess from earlier engagements, was publicly denied the place of honor in command of the vanguard, because he had been excommunicated for failing to set aside his wife — and cousin — Eschiva de MontbĂ©liard. (That same lady who had provisioned and was holding the only other castle that had remained loyal to the king as described last week) Saying he trusted God more than Sir Balian’s knighthood, Beirut ordered his firstborn and heir to the rear.

Daylight, however, revealed the pathetic size of the Cypriot/Ibelin army. Immediately, the Sicilians took heart and with cheers, the first division started to descend the slope to attack. Led by Count Walter of Manupello, this division only glancingly engaged with Beirut’s rearguard before continuing toward Nicosia. Christopher Marshall in Warfare in the Latin East suggests this was a matter of incompetence; that the charge was carried out so badly that momentum swept it past the enemy doing no damage. It is equally possible, however, that the intention was to either divert some of Beirut’s troops and divide his forces or to reestablish Imperial control of Nicosia and cut Beirut and King Henry off from retreat. We know some of Beirut’s knights wanted to pursue and Beirut had to prevent them. Certainly, it was only after the Cypriot/Ibelin force carried the day that Count of Manupello retreated to Gastria to seek refuge with the Templars.

Meanwhile, however, the second Imperial division had fallen on the first division of the Cypriot/Ibelin army and pressed it so hard that it had to be reinforced by the second division. The fighting became fierce and hand-to-hand. Sir Anseau de Brie unhorsed the commander, the Count de Menope, and the Cypriot infantry closed in to kill. According to the account of Philip de Novare, no less than seventeen Sicilian knights dismounted to protect him and help him remount — only to be slaughtered by the Cypriot sergeants shouting “Kill! Kill!” Not exactly the picture of chivalry.

The image is from the Hundred Years War -- another in which infantry would often prove decisive.

Yet the battle was far from won. Filangieri’s main force was still safe within the pass. Had they reinforced at this point, the Cypriot army would probably have been overwhelmed. Instead, Sir Balian, with only five knights, attacked from a point high up the slope along a rugged and steep path leading to the head of the pass, cutting off reinforcements at this choke point. He was so hard-pressed that the men around Beirut urged him to go to his son’s assistance, but Beirut insisted that his division — with the King — must continue to advance, presumably toward St. Hilarion. Without further assistance, Sir Balian’s small troops held the foot of the pass and prevented Filangieri from reinforcing his advance divisions.

Below the pass, the Cypriot/Ibelin army decimated the Imperial troops that had engaged them. No less than sixty knights — a huge number by 13th century standards — had been killed and forty more had been taken prisoner. Filangieri decided to cut his losses and disengaged, retreating up the pass and down again to Kyrenia. King Henry and the Ibelins proceeded to the successful relief of St. Hilarion.

Castle of St. Hilarion

Although the Imperial army had sustained shockingly high losses by the standards of the day, it was by no means annihilated. Yet, apparently the fight had gone out it. The Count of Manupello’s division, denied refuge by the Templars, surrendered, while Filangieri and the Cypriot traitors retreated to the fortress of Kyrenia. From here they sent appeals for help to Armenia, Antioch, and the Emperor himself, but when these yielded nothing, Filangieri and the traitors sailed away. The garrison they left behind eventually capitulated after a year-long siege. In short, Agridi had proved decisive. Frederick II never again attempted to send “orders” to King Henry, and the Pope later absolved King Henry of all oaths to the Holy Roman Emperor.

(Note: much of the text of this essay first appeared in Medieval Warfare magazine. For the full article see:

These events are depicted in detail in my latest release:

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 current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at:

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Behind the King's Back: The Imperial Siezure of Cyprus

Flushed with a sense of triumph after his victory at Casal Imbert, the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri made the strategic decision to strike at Cyprus. Just as he had seized at the city of Beirut while the Lord of Beirut was still on Cyprus with his fighting men, Filangieri took his army back to Cyprus while King Henry and the entire Cypriot host was in Syria -- without a fleet.

Cyprus had been denuded of troops by the call-up of the feudal host the previous fall. For a second time, the need to concentrate his defenses in one kingdom had left Ibelin vulnerable in the other. This time, however, King Henry of Cyprus stood to lose his entire kingdom. 

Marshal Filangieri's host supposedly numbered roughly 1000 mounted troops including the 600 knights and 100 squires he had brought with him, some 80 knights supporting the former imperial baillies, and allied knights from Armenia and Tripoli. The defensive installations at Famagusta and Kyrenia had already surrendered to the Cypriot lords siding with the Emperor, Amaury Barlais, Amaury de Bethsan, and Hugh de Gibelet. After the Imperial Marshal's arrival, the castle of Kantara also surrendered to him without a fight. 
Kantara Castle
The news of Filangieri's landing struck terror into the hearts of the "ladies and damsels" of Cyprus. Those that could, fled head-over-heels toward the mountain fortress of St. Hilarion, whose castellan Philip de Caffran held fast for the king. Most importantly, the king's two sisters, Isabella and Maria, took refuge here. Unfortunately, events had unfolded so fast that there had been no time to make preparations and the castle was poorly provisioned and not prepared to withstand a siege. It's walls and small garrison were, however, a sufficient deterrent to attack for the short term.

St Hilarion Castle
Those who found refuge here were the lucky ones. The vast majority of dependents who had no chance to get to St. Hilarion found themselves seeking other forms of refuge. According to Philip de Novare:

"... ladies dressed themselves as shepherdesses and their children as shepherds' children, and these women went to glean the grain which was there, and on this they lived, both themselves and their children, in such great misery that it is pitiful to relate. [The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins, CXI)
Others, on the other hand, took refuge in churches and "houses of religion," particularly with the militant orders, the Templars and Hospitallers. However, there was one notable exception. Lady Eschiva de Montbeliard "dressed in the robes of a minor brother" not only got herself to the least accessible of all the royal mountain castles (Buffavento), she "provisioned it with food, of which it had none." [Novare, CXI] Unfortunately for historians and novelists we know no more about this remarkable feat than this tantalizing mention in Novare's account -- and the fact that Eschiva was the wife of Beirut's heir, Balian.

Lady Eschiva, the royal princesses and the women in shepherds' disguise were the lucky ones. Filangieri's men had no scruples about breaking into churches and the Knights of Christ, who were not supposed to fight fellow Christians, stood by while the Imperial mercenaries dragged the women and children out of their houses. Novare claims that "they dragged out the ladies and children who clung to the altars and to the priests who chanted the Masses....They put the ladies and children into carts and on donkeys most shamefully and sent them to [Kyrenia] to prison, and they pricked with goads those who refused to go at once." [Novare, CXII]

With the bulk of the ladies and damsels of Cyprus now in a dungeon, the Imperialist army set about laying siege to St. Hilarion. The goal of this appears to have been the capture of the King's sisters, both of whom were of marriageable age. Presumably, Filangieri believed that if he had the princesses in his hands, he could force concessions from King Henry along the lines of "your sisters or the Ibelins." Alternatively, Frederick II, then a widower of five years already and not yet betrothed to Isabella Plantagenet, might have entertained the notion of marrying one of the girls and ruling Cyprus through her, deposing or sidelining King Henry. 

Any way one looked at it, Cyprus had been occupied by a hostile force not interested merely in control of strategic positions, but vindictively concerned about obtaining hostages with which to extort concessions from their foes.  It was probably during this period of Imperial occupation that the only incident in three centuries of Lusignan rule of religious violence against Greek Orthodox clergy occurred. Sometime in early 1232, 13 Orthodox monks were burned at the stake on the orders of a Dominican friar. 

Cyprus had good reason to wish for the return of her young king....

These events are depicted in detail in my latest release:

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 current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at:

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Defeat at Casal Imbert

The Lord of Beirut appeared to have his opponent, the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri on the run. Filangieri had lifted the siege of Beirut citadel in order to withdraw his forces to Tyre. But the triumph was short-lived, and the wheel of fortune spun again.

Beirut's army and his Genoese fleet had only got as far as Casal Imbert when news reached them that the Imperial forces had lifted the siege of the citadel and departed from Beirut altogether, effectively turning it back over to its rightful lord. The very next day, the Patriarch of Antioch sought out the Lord of Beirut to suggest that peace should and could be made between the parties. He had just passed Tyre on his way south and claimed to have full powers to negotiate on behalf of Filangieri. He urged the Lord of Beirut accompany him to Acre where, with the advice of other wise men of the kingdom such as the former regents Balian de Sidon and Eudes de Montbellieard, he promised to arrange an honorable peace between the adversaries.  

The Lord of Beirut, who according to Novare "never refused a reasonable peace" willingly agreed to return with the Patriarch to Acre. He did not, however, trust the Archbishop so much as to disperse his army.  Instead, he left both the bulk of his army and his fleet at Casal Imbert under the command of his loyal vassal Sir Anseau de Brie. Notably, the King of Cyprus also remained with the army at Casal Imbert along with three of Beirut's sons (Baldwin, Hugh and Guy) and his nephew John, the future Count of Jaffa. The latter, Novare, says was only newly knighted and just 17. Guy was roughly the same age and possibly younger, while Hugh and Baldwin were respectively 23 and 24 at the most. King Henry himself was still 14. 

The youth and inexperience of these men may explain why they were so complacent. They appear to have interpreted the Imperial withdrawal from Beirut and the peace overtures as weakness on the part of their adversaries. They encamped dispersed, apparently some taking lodgings in the town. More reprehensible was the fact that no sentries were set nor other precautions taken against attack. Indeed, Sir Anseau de Brie allegedly received warnings of an impending Imperial attack and dismissed them as not credible.

But Filangieri had his spies. As soon as he realized the Cypriot host's poor state of preparedness, he gathered his forces and struck. On twenty-two gallies, he brought his army to Casal Imbert from Tyre and struck at night. The Cypriot/Ibelin forces were taken completely by surprise in their sleep. 

In the ensuing chaos, the Cypriots fought in their nightshirts and virtually unarmed. Some tried to capture the untacked horses and fight without bridles or saddles.  As long as darkness held, the general confusion appears to have favored them, but with the dawn, their small numbers and lack of equipment and horses were all too plainly revealed. The attack became a rout. The Imperial forces seized the entire camp capturing all the tents with their content and nearly all the horses. According to Novare, they only killed "a few" knights, but took 24 to hold for ransom.

What they did not take was King Henry. At the start of the attack, King Henry had been put "naked" on another man's horse and sent to Acre. He was not simply fleeing the combat and securing his own safety. He was sent to bring word to Beirut of what was happening. He reached Acre at dawn on the morning of May 3, 1232 -- the morning of his 15th birthday. He had just come of age, and no longer needed a "regent." Henceforth, he was his own man.

Meanwhile, however, the arrival of the "naked" king on a borrowed horse sent shock waves through Acre. Not only did Beirut rapidly muster what men he had, but he was accompanied by the Lords of Sidon, Caesarea, and Caiphas as well as Eudes de Montbeliard.  Sidon and Montbelliard had earlier served as Imperial regents and were considered neutral in the conflict. Their presence is a reminder that, despite what blame the Cypriots bore for carelessness, the attack occurred during peace negotiations. International custom -- even in the 13th century -- precluded hostilities during negotiations. Sidon and Montbeliard's presence with Beirut indicates non-partisan condemnation of the attack. 

The distance from Acre to Casal Imbert is just over 8 miles. As Beirut advanced, he started to encounter men fleeing from Casal Imbert. They cleared the road to make way for the advancing men under Beirut, but a sergeant with Beirut offered to search among the fleeing men for Beirut's sons. Beirut told him not to bother because his sons, he said, would not dare to run so far -- or at least not in a direction where they might run into him!

A little farther along the road, they encountered a sergeant who had been surprised at Casal Imbert. Weeping, he reported that "all" Beirut's sons had been killed in the engagement. Beirut answered, "And what of this? Thus should knights die defending their bodies and their honor."

By the time Beirut and the men with him reached Casal Imbert, the Imperial forces were already withdrawing with their booty -- prisoners, horses, arms and equipment. The Cypriot survivors of the battle were clustered atop a nearby hill, some riding bareback, most still in their nightclothes and haphazardly armed, but apparently preparing to charge the retreating enemy. 

Beirut put an immediate end to that nonsense and started taking stock of his losses instead. His second son Baldwin was perilously wounded; his nephew John likewise. His son Hugh was completely missing, but he was later found in the town defending himself inside a house, the carcass of his horse on the street outside. Roughly 30 Cypriot knights were dead or captured, and "most" of their horses were gone. Thirty knights may not sound like many, but at this point that represented nearly ten percent of the knights King Henry had brought with him from Cyprus. Perhaps most significantly, the Genoese ships which had been provided to support the operation against Tyre had apparently also been seized by Filangieri's men. 

In short, the Ibelins had just suffered a dramatic setback. Flushed with a sense of triumph, Filangieri made the dramatic strategic decision to strike at Cyprus. Just as he had struck at the city of Beirut while the Lord of Beirut was on Cyprus, he now struck at Cyprus while the entire Cypriot host was in Syria.

The story of the struggle between Beirut and Filangieri continues next week. Meanwhile, these events are depicted in detail in:

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 current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: