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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Balian d'Ibelin and Maria Comnena

 The fortunes of the 13th-century Ibelins had their roots in a single fact: Balian d'Ibelin, although only the landless, third son of a local baron, married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem. This made the children of that marriage, the siblings of royalty, namely Maria's daughter by King Amalric of Jerusalem. It was the blood ties to royalty that gave the next generation of Ibelins the right to act as regents in both Cyprus and Jerusalem. Over the next few weeks, I will provide short biographies of the two of the leading historical figures in the thirteenth century from the House of Ibelin: John and Balian of Beirut. 
Today, however, I take a closer look at what we know -- and don't know -- about that all-important marriage of Balian d'Ibelin and Maria Comnena.

Let me start by saying, there is no contemporary source that describes or explains the marriage. In fact, and more striking, there is no commentary on the marriage despite the fact that we have two contemporary sources both of which were well-placed to know about the background of the marriage: William of Tyre’s history and the Chronicle of Ernoul written by Balian’s own squire.

What we do know is that Maria Comnena could NOT be forced into a second marriage by anyone. It was against the law and custom of the kingdom to force any widow into a second marriage. As Peter Edbury summarizes in his detailed essay on “Women and the Customs of the High Court of Jerusalem” [Law and History in the Latin East, Ashgate Variorum, 2014, p. 288]

...whereas lords could control the marriage of heiresses, they had no such control over widows who were not heiresses but held dower.
This was exactly the case for Maria Comnena as Dowager Queen of Jerusalem. In Maria’s case, her position to resist unwanted suitors was particularly strong because 1) Nablus was an extremely wealthy lordship owing 85 knights to the feudal levee, which made her rich and powerful enough to resist any unwanted attention, and 2) as Byzantine Princess any marriage beneath her dignity or against her wishes would have offended the powerful Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. In short, Balian d’Ibelin was her choice for second husband.

But why might she have chosen him?

Not for his wealth or power. Balian appears to have been landless (which means without wealth, men or power) at the time of their marriage in late 1177. However, this is not 100% certain. The laws of the Kingdom tried to prevent any lord from holding multiple fiefs. Balian’s oldest brother Hugh had been Lord of Ibelin, his second brother Baldwin was Lord of Ramla & Mirabel (a single lordship despite the double-barrelled name). It is possible, therefore, that Balian had already inherited Ibelin on the death of his brother Hugh, who died childless in or about 1171, while his older brother inherited the larger and more important maternal lands and title of Ramla.

On the other hand, he is not referred to as Lord of Ibelin by William of Tyre at any time. Tyre notes only the following:

When the fortress [of Ibelin] was finished and complete in every detail, it was by common consent committed to a certain nobleman of great wisdom, Balian the Elder. He was the father of Hugh, Baldwin and Balian the Younger, all of whom took the surname Ibelin from this place…After the death of their father, his sons, noble men, valiant in arms and vigilant in every respect, maintained the same careful custody over [the castle of Ibelin] until the city of Ascalon was finally restored to the Christian faith. [A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, Vol 2. Book 15, Chpt. 24]
Note, Tyre explicitly says Ibelin was a surname, not a title.

Furthermore, in two other references to Balian (the Younger) Archbishop William of Tyre refers to Balian only as the brother of Baldwin, Lord of Ramla, not giving him a title in his own right. Namely, when speaking of his prominent role at the Battle of Montgisard [Tyre, Vol. 2, Book 21, Chpt. 22] and when speaking of the coronation of Baldwin V [Tyre, Vol 2, Book 22, Chpt. 29]. In Tyre’s only other mention of Balian, during the campaign of 1183, he refers to him as “Balian of Nablus,” which, as we will see, was his wife’s title.

William of Tyre, who was chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at this time, says the following about Balian’s marriage:

About the same time [as the Count of Flanders and his crusaders headed north to the County of Tripoli to undertake an operation against the Sultan of Damascus] Balian d’Ibelin, the brother of Baldwin of Ramlah, with the king’s consent espoused Queen Maria, widow of King Amaury and daughter of John the protosebastos, so often referred to above. With Maria, Balian received the city of Nablus, which had been given her under the name of jointure at the time of her marriage and which he was to hold during the life of his wife. [Tyre, Vol. 2, Book 21, Chpt. 18.]
It seems to me that had Balian held any lordship at the time of this marriage, he would have been referred to by his title and not merely as “the brother of Baldwin of Ramla.”

What is also striking about Tyre’s reference to the marriage is that he expresses neither surprise nor disapproval, but is careful to note that the marriage occurred with the king’s explicit consent. In contrast, Tyre is very critical of Constance of Antioch’s marriage to Reynald de Chatillon writing:

Many there were, however, who marveled that a woman so eminent, so distinguished and powerful, who had been the wife of a very illustrious man, should stoop to marry an ordinary knight. [Tyre, Vol. 2, Book 17, Chpt. 26]
Likewise, Tyre is not afraid to criticize even his patron the king with respect to Sibylla’s marriage to Guy de Lusignan, writing:

But without waiting to consider that ‘too much haste spoils everything,’ the king, for reasons of his own, suddenly married his sister to a young man of fairly good rank, Guy de Lusignan…Contrary to the usual custom the marriage was celebrated during the week of Easter. [Tyre, Vol. 2, Book 22, Chpt .1]
In short, Tyre felt that Constance married beneath herself and Sibylla married in obvious haste for hidden reasons — which might very well include hiding a scandalous, illicit affair. The contrast between these two passages and Tyre’s description of Balian’s marriage to Maria Comnena makes it clear that despite his lack of land and title, Balian was not considered an unsuitable match for the Dowager Queen.

This still does not answer the question of why or how Balian could have convinced not only Maria herself, but the king and chancellor (Tyre) of his suitability. Presumably, he might have seduced or at least courted Maria into agreement, but that was less likely to earn him the approval of the king, much less the Archbishop of Tyre.

There is, however, one other possible explanation of how Balian d’Ibelin won favor with the king and his chancellor at this point in time. According to Tyre, the marriage took place after the Count of Flanders had headed north in 1177. Very shortly after Flanders went north with 100 knights of the Kingdom, the Knights Hospitaller and many Templars, Saladin invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Egypt. Baldwin IV rushed to the defense of his realm with just some 376 knights, including 80 Templars. Only five knights are listed by name: the king’s uncle the titular Count of Edessa, the lords of Sidon, Transjordan and “Baldwin of Ramlah and his brother Balian.” On November 25, Baldwin IV’s small force shattered and scattered Saladin’s much more numerous army, forcing Saladin himself to flee on a pack camel.

Despite attempts by Chatillon’s admirers to make him the hero of this dramatic Christian victory, Tyre attributes no particular role to the Lord of Transjordan. Arab sources, which highlight Chatillon, are unreliable in this case because they were justifying Chatillon’s execution ex post facto by stressing the many ways in which he had harmed Islam. Likewise, Chatillon's earlier appointment as Baldwin's deputy for the campaign in Egypt is relevant to the battle of Montgisard because any such appointment is automatically null and void the moment the king himself is present -- as he was at Montgisard.
Furthermore, Michael Ehrlich’s excellent analysis of the battle based on all available sources concludes that the victory at Montgisard was not won because of Saladin’s mistakes so much as by effective Frankish leadership. That leadership came not from Chatillon, who was operating outside his own lordship, but from the “local lord” who knew the terrain best. Ehrlich writes:

It is not clear to what extent Saladin knew the terrain, yet it is clear that [King] Baldwin knew it much better and he thus succeeded in maneuvering Saladin to the place he wanted: a marshy area surrounded by dense hydrophilic flora…In these conditions numerical superiority became a burden rather than an advantage. It demanded additional efforts to maneuver the trapped army, which fell into total chaos. Led by a local lord, who certainly knew the terrain better than anybody else on the battlefield, the Frankish army managed to defeat the Muslim army…. [Michael Ehrlich, “Saint Catherine’s Day Miracle - the Battle of Montgisard,” in Journal of Medieval Military History, Vol. XI, 2013, pp. 95–105]
There were two local “lords” present at Montgisard, both men who had grown up nearby and spent all their adult lives in the defense of this region: Baldwin and Balian d’Ibelin. The customs of the kingdom gave command of the vanguard to the lord of the territory in which a battle was fought. In this case, that was clearly Baldwin, Baron of Ramla.

And Balian?

We will never know, but I hypothesize that Balian’s role either in advising the king or in the course of the battle was sufficiently prominent and meritorious to “earn” him the approval of the king and chancellor — and apparently the rest of his contemporaries, since we hear of no complaints from other sides — for his marriage to Maria Comnena.

Ehrlich’s article is just one of many sources that came to my attention since the publication of Knight of Jerusalem. Continued, in-depth research in preparation for the release of my non-fiction study of the crusader states with Pen & Sword had resulted in new insights and understanding of Balian and his environment, inducing me to undertake a major revision of Knight of Jerusalem. The new edition will be released later this year.  Meanwhile, the current edition remains on the market as part of the Jerusalem Trilogy:

                                                                                                                               Best Biography 2017

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                               Buy now!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Defender of Jerusalem, Balian d'Ibelin

 The The Kingdom of Heaven, a film directed by Ridley Scott and released by 20th Century Fox in 2005, was based — very loosely — on the story of Balian d’Ibelin, a historical figure. Although Scott’s film was a brilliant piece of cinematography, the story of the real Balian d’Ibelin was not only different but arguably more fascinating than that of the Hollywood hero. 
Below is a summary of the known facts about the historical figure.

Balian was born in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1150. He was the third son and fifth or sixth child of the first Baron of Ibelin and Helvis of Ramla. In the year of his birth, his father died and his mother remarried. He was almost certainly raised by the eldest of his brothers, Hugh, who inherited the lordship of Ibelin at his father's death. In 1158, at the death of his mother, her title to the lordship of Ramla/Mirabel passed to the second of the Ibelin brothers, Baldwin, who was the oldest child of their father's second marriage to Helvis of Ramla. In 1171, Hugh died childless, and the title of Ibelin also passed to Baldwin. Balian was a landless, younger son.

Balian first enters history at the Battle of Montgisard in which he is consistently mentioned. The Frankish army spent the night before the battle at Ibelin, while Saladin's army occupied Ramla. The battle itself took place within the lordship of Ramla, and, in accordance with the customs of the kingdom (which gave leadership of the vanguard to the baron in whose territory a battle was fought), Balian's older brother Baldwin of Ramla held the most prominent command position. Even more important, scholarship has shown that the Franks effectively lured Saladin into a swampy area on a secondary road where his superior numbers were neutralized by the terrain. The victory was as much a function of intimate familiarity with the countryside as courage and audacity. The men with that intimate knowledge of the terrain necessary to know where to trap Saladin were the two men who had grown up less than 20 miles away: Baldwin of Ramla and his younger brother Balian. 

 "Montgisard" copyright Talento

Aside from his prominent mention among the leaders at the battle (prominent because he was at this time not yet a baron) evidence for Balian playing an important -- if unclear -- role in the battle is provided by the fact that at this time King Baldwin IV approved his marriage to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, the Byzantine princess Maria Comnena. This match can best be described as "scandalously" advantageous, although there is no hint of either scandal or disapproval. Whatever Balian had done to win this unique honor, it met with the approval of the kingdom's chancellor, the Archbishop of Tyre.

Above: Maria Comnena and her 1st Husband King Amalric
Maria Comnena brought with her into the marriage her dower portion: the barony of Nablus. This large and prosperous barony owed fully 85 knights to the feudal muster, but it was not a hereditary title. It would revert back to the crown at Maria's death. Nevertheless, Balian is henceforth often referred to as Baron of Nablus. To secure an inheritance for children of his marriage with Maria, it appears his brother Baldwin transferred to him the barony of Ibelin at roughly the same time. With this marriage, Balian also became step-father to King Baldwin's half-sister, Isabella, his wife's child from her first marriage with King Amalric.

From this point onwards, Balain took part in all of the major military campaigns of the next decade and was also a member of the High Court of Jerusalem. Significantly, in 1183 when Baldwin IV decided to crown his nephew during his own lifetime to reduce the risk of a succession crisis, Balian was selected -- ahead of all the more senior and important barons in the kingdom -- to carry the child on his shoulders to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

A medieval depiction of this event: Balian holding Baldwin V

At the death of Baldwin V in the summer of 1186, Balian took a leading role in opposing the usurpation of the throne by Sibylla of Jerusalem and most especially her devious tactics to get her unpopular second husband, Guy de Lusignan, crowned as her consort.  At his wife's dower property of Nablus, just north of Jerusalem, Balian hosted a meeting of the majority of the High Court -- all those opposed to Sibylla and Guy. At this rump-High Court, the bishops and barons proposed crowning Sibylla's half-sister (Balian's step-daughter) Isabella Queen of Jerusalem as the legitimate rival to Sibylla and Guy. These plans were thwarted by Isabella's young husband, Humphrey of Toron, who secretly did homage to Guy, robbing Isabella's supporters of a viable alternative to Sibylla/Guy.

In consequence, the majority of the barons became reconciled with Sibylla and Guy's usurpation and did homage to them, but Balian's older brother, Baldwin of Ramla/Mirabel, refused. Instead, in a dramatic gesture, he abdicated his titles in favor of his small son and gave both the boy and his baronies into the keeping of his brother Balian. He then quit the Kingdom to seek his fortune in the Principality of Antioch and disappears from the historical record.

With the departure of his brother, Balian was suddenly elevated to one of the most powerful barons in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, controlling (in the name of his nephew and wife) the second-largest contingent of feudal levies owed to the crown. He used this power to try to reconcile the usurper, Guy de Lusignan, with the only baron more powerful than himself: Raymond Count of Tripoli. The latter, like his brother, was refusing to do homage to Guy, despite the clear and present danger posed by Saladin.  

Balian was ultimately successful in his reconciliation efforts, and shortly afterward, Balian and Raymond demonstrated their loyalty to the crown by answering the royal summons to muster under the leadership of Guy de Lusignan when he faced Saladin’s invasion of July 1187.  Against the the advice of the majority of the barons, Guy chose to abandon the Springs of Sephorie and march the army across an arid plateau to the relief of the beleaguered city of Tiberius. The siege of Tiberius was bait, and Guy led the army into a trap set by Saladin that ended in the disastrous defeat of the Christian army on the Horns of Hattin.

Balian was one of only three Christian barons to escape the debacle.  Exactly, how, he escaped capture is not recorded, however, contemporary sources say he was in command of the rear-guard, so it is possible that he managed to fight his way out the way he'd come. (Note, however, that the rear-guard had been savagely attacked throughout the previous day.) Arab sources also note that toward the end of the battle, the Franks Ied a more than one charge, one of which endangered Saladin himself. Possibly, one of these broke through the surrounding Saracen army enough to let Balian and some of his knights escape. However, he escaped, he is believed to have ridden to Tyre or Tripoli with the men he led out of the encirclement.

The destruction or capture of the bulk of the Christian army, however, left the Kingdom of Jerusalem undefended. Saladin followed up his victory at Hattin by capturing one city and castle after another until, by the start of September 1187, Saladin controlled the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem except for some isolated castles, the city of Tyre, and the greatest prize of all: Jerusalem. 

In Jerusalem were concentrated somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 Christians; twenty thousand inhabitants and between forty and eighty thousand refugees from the territories Saladin had already conquered. But there were no knights in Jerusalem and no commander. Saladin called a delegation from Jerusalem to him at Ascalon and offered to let those trapped in the city go free in exchange for the surrender of the city. The representatives from Jerusalem refused. According to Arab sources, they said that Jerusalem was sacred to their faith and that they could not surrender it; they preferred martyrdom. Saladin vowed to slaughter everyone in the city since it had defied him.

Among the refugees in the city of Jerusalem were Balian’s wife, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, and his four young children. Balian had no intention of letting his wife and children be slaughtered and so he approached Saladin and requested a safe-conduct to ride to Jerusalem and remove his wife and children. Saladin agreed -- on the condition that he ride to Jerusalem unarmed and stay only one night.

Balian had not reckoned with the reaction of the residents and refugees in Jerusalem. The arrival of a battle-tested baron -- one of only two who had escaped Hattin with his honor still intact -- was seen as divine intervention and the citizens along with the Patriarch of Jerusalem begged Balian to take command of the defense. The Patriarch demonstratively absolved him of his oath to Saladin. Balian felt he had no choice but to stay. He sent word to Saladin of his predicament and Saladin graciously sent 50 of his own men to escort Balian’s family to the Tripoli (still in Christian hands), while Balian remained to defend Jerusalem against overwhelming odds.

And defend Jerusalem he did -- despite there being fifty women and children in the city for every man, and despite having only one other knight to fight with him. He hastily knighted sixty to eighty youth "of good birth" and organized the civilian population. Probably with native troops (turcopoles) he conducted foraging sorties to collect supplies for the population from the surrounding Saracen-held territory in the days prior to the siege. Once the city was enclosed, he successfully held off assaults from Saladin’s army from September 21 – 25 and led sorties that in at least one case drove the Saracens all the way back to their camp.  Saladin was forced to re-deploy his army against a different sector of the wall. On September 29, Saladin’s sappers successfully undermined a portion of the wall and brought down a segment roughly 30 meters long. Jerusalem was no longer defensible.

It was now that Balian proved his talent as a diplomat. With Saracen forces pouring over the breach and into the city, their banners flying from one of the nearest towers, Balian went to Saladin to negotiate. According to Arab sources, Saladin scoffed: one doesn’t negotiate the surrender of a city that has already fallen.

But as he dismissively pointed to his banners on the walls of the city, those banners were thrown down and replaced again by the banners of Jerusalem. Balian played his trump. If the Sultan would not give him terms, he and his men would not only kill the Muslim prisoners they held along with all the inhabitants: they would desecrate and destroy the temples of all religions in the city, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque before sallying out to die a martyrs death taking as many as the enemy with them as possible. Saladin gave in. 

The Christians were given 40 days to raise ransoms of 10 dinars per man, 5 per woman and 2 per child. Realizing that many refugees who had already lost everything would be unable to raise these sums, Balian talked Saladin into accepting 30,000 dinars for 18,000 paupers. His negotiations saved somewhere between forty and sixty thousand men, women and children from slaughter or slavery. Yet he could not find the resources inside Jerusalem to save everyone. When the forty days were up, an estimated fifteen thousand Christians were still marched off into slavery despite Balian's offer to stand surety for the ransoms, while efforts were made to raise their ransoms in the west. Saladin rejected the offer, but "gave" Balian 500 slaves as a personal gift. (I.e. he freed 500 Christians that would otherwise have gone into slavery.) He gave the same number to the Patriarch, who had also offered to stand surety according to some accounts.

Balian escorted a column consisting of roughly one-third of refugees from Jerusalem to Tyre, the closest city still in Christian hands. The man commanding Tyre at the time, Conrad de Montferrat, however, could not admit fifteen thousand more people to a city already under siege and at risk of starvation if relief did not come from the West. So while the bulk of the non-combatants continued to Tripoli, Balian and other fighting men remained in Tyre to continue the fight against Saladin.

In 1188, Saladin released Guy de Lusignan, taken captive at Hattin, but Montferrat refused to either admit him to the city of Tyre or recognize him as king. On the advice of his brother Geoffrey, recently arrived from France, Guy de Lusignan laid siege to the city of Acre, formerly the most important port of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and now in Saracen hands. Balian, despite his profound disagreements with Guy, joined him there; his determination to recapture some of the former kingdom was more important to him than his disagreements with Guy de Lusignan.

Above: the surrender of Acre to Philip II of France during the Third Crusade
When Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem and both her daughters by Guy de Lusignan died in 1190, however, the situation changed for Balian. Guy's claim to the throne was through his wife. With her death, the legitimate queen of Jerusalem was Balian's step-daughter, Isabella. Isabella had been married since the age of 11 to an ineffectual young nobleman, Humphrey de Toron. Realizing that the Kingdom at this time needed a fighting man as its king, Balian and his wife convinced Isabella to set Humphrey aside on the grounds that she had been forced into the marriage against her will before reaching the legal age of consent. (She had been forcibly separated from her mother and step-father at age eight and married at age eleven.) Having divorced Toron, she at once married Conrad de Montferrat. 

Thereafter, Balian staunchly supported Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. This initially put him in direct conflict with Richard I of England, who backed Guy de Lusignan, the latter being the brother of one of his vassals. As a result, during the first year of Richard’s presence in the Holy Land, Balian remained persona non grata in Richard’s court. In fact, he served as an envoy for Conrad de Montferrat to the Sultan’s court — something Richard’s entourage and chroniclers viewed as nothing short of outright treason to the Christian cause.

Richard the Lionheart, however, was neither a fool nor a bigot. He recognized that after he went home (as he must) only the barons and knights of Outremer could defend the territories he had conquered in the course of the Third Crusade. He also reluctantly recognized that Guy de Lusignan would never be accepted as King by the barons and knights of the Kingdom he had led to a disastrous defeat at Hattin. So in April 1192, Richard withdrew his support for Lusignan and recognized Isabella and her husband as the rightful rulers of Jerusalem.

By In doing so, he opened the doors to cooperation with Balian d’Ibelin.  Soon thereafter, Richard employed Ibelin as a negotiator with Saladin and in August Balian cut a deal with Saladin that provided for a three-year truce (neither side wanted peace for both were unsatisfied with the status quo). This truce did, however, allow unarmed Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. Like the surrender of Jerusalem five years earlier, this was not a triumph -- but it was far better than what might have otherwise been expected under the circumstances. Notably, Balian's truce left Ibelin and Ramla in Muslim hands, something that he must have negotiated with a heavy heart. He was compensated, allegedly at Saladin's initiative, with the barony of Caymont near Acre.

Richard the Lionhearted returned to Europe and Isabella was crowned Queen of the much reduced but nevertheless viable Kingdom of Jerusalem. The man crowned as her consort was not, however, Conrad de Montferrat, who had fallen victim to an assassin only shortly before her coronation. Instead, her consort was her third husband, Henry of Champagne, a French nobleman, who had come out to the Holy Land for the Third Crusade. (Henry of Champagne was a grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, which made him a nephew of both Philip II of France and Richard of England.)

Balian was the leading nobleman in his stepdaughter's kingdom, but he disappears from the historical record in 1194. It is usually presumed that he died about this time, but it is equally possible that instead he was simply out of the kingdom, possibly on a diplomatic mission -- or helping his niece and her husband establish Latin rule on Cyprus. See:
The Ibelins on Cyprus and the Role of a Byzantine Princess

Whenever he died, Balian left behind two sons, John and Philip. John became Constable of Jerusalem in 1198, Lord of Beirut, and Regent of Jerusalem from 1205 - 1210. He also led the baronial revolt against Emperor Frederick II. Philip was to be Regent of the Kingdom of Cyprus 1218-1227. From these sons the Ibelin dynasty descended, a family often described as the most powerful of all baronial families in the Latin states of the Eastern Mediterranean for the next three hundred years.
Balian is the central character in the Jerusalem Trilogy and plays a secondary role in the Last Crusader Kingdom.

Continued, in-depth research in preparation for the release of my non-fiction study of the crusader states with Pen & Sword had resulted in new insights and understanding of Balian and his environment, inducing me to undertake a major revision of Knight of Jerusalem. The new edition will be released later this year.  Meanwhile, the current edition remains on the market as part of the Jerusalem Trilogy:

                                                                                                                               Best Biography 2017

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                               Buy now!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Baldwin the Proud, Third Baron of Ibelin

Although Balian d’Ibelin is better known today, his elder brother Baldwin was arguably the more colorful and (initially at least) more important figure during their lifetime. He reached for a crown but ended up renouncing all his honors and titles. He abandoned his wife and children to disappear from the pages of history, yet the daughter of the wife he divorced became a queen and founder of a dynasty that lasted more than 300 years.

So who and what sort of man was Baldwin, Third Baron of Ibelin?

As with all the early Ibelins, we don’t know the exact date of his birth, only that it was after his father received the lordship of Ibelin and married Helvis of Ramla in the 1138. However, German historian Hans Eberhard Mayer has estimated a date of birth of 1145 based on charter evidence. He was thus just five years old when his father died in 1150, and his mother married for a second time.

Baldwin appears to have remained in the custody of his elder half-brother, Hugh, who had inherited the lordship of Ibelin on their father's death, but this is not certain. In 1158, when Baldwin was probably only 13, his mother died leaving to him the Barony of Ramla/Mirabel, which she held in her own right. As Baldwin was still a minor at this time, however, control of the barony passed temporarily into the hands of his guardian, his elder brother Hugh, son of the First Lord of Ibelin but by an earlier wife, and so not entitled to the barony of Ramla/Mirabel. It would have been Hugh who arranged Baldwin's marriage to Richildis of Bethsan, which took place in the same year. 

On coming of age in 1160, Baldwin assumed the title of "Ramla," by which he is most commonly identified in all contemporary documents and presumably set up a separate household with his wife Richildis in Ramla. When in 1171, his brother Hugh died childless, the title of Ibelin also fell to Baldwin. This made Baldwin of Ramla an important baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, albeit in the second tier. He owed 50 knights to the army of Jerusalem, a number that is respectable but only half of what Galilee, Sidon or Caesarea owed. 

If we are to believe Muslim sources, Baldwin was not a particularly good -- or least not a very tolerant -- lord. Diya al-Din Muhammad al-Muqaddasi reports that his ancestor Ahmad ibn Qudama, a religious scholar, fled to Damascus in 1156 because Baldwin d'Ibelin planned to kill him for agitating against Baldwin's oppressive rule. Allegedly the primary issue was a requirement to work on Friday afternoons, which was a violation of Sharia law. Having fled, Ahmad urged his family to join him in Damascus and was eventually joined by at 139 people from nine different villages whose names are recorded.  

There are, however, serious reasons to question the validity of the report. First, at the time of the incident, Baldwin would have been about 11 years old; in short, he was still a minor and cannot be held accountable for the policy of labor on Fridays. More problematic is the venue, which is clearly identified by the names of the villages impacted as being within the lordship of Nablus. In 1156, Nablus was not in Ibelin hands. Rather, Nablus was held in 1156 by the unrelated Philip of Nablus, who on July 31, 1161 exchanged Nablus for the barony of Transjordan. Nablus reverted to the crown and was became the dower portion of the Byzantine wife of King Amalric. She brought it with her into her second marriage with Balian d'Ibelin in late 1177, but at no time did Baldwin  control Nablus. In short, vivid and precise as the account appears to be, it cannot be correct; there is a mistake either of the timing, the location, the lord or all three.
Baldwin's first significant contribution to history was his role at the Battle of Montgisard, fought only a few miles from Ramla and Ibelin both. Historian Michael Erhlich in a reassessment of the Battle of Montgisard published in Medieval Military History [Vol. XI, 2013, pp. 95-105] argues convincingly that far from being a "miraculous" victory or a matter of good luck, the Franks, in fact, very cleverly lured Saladin into marshy ground, where Saracen superiority of numbers could not come into play. Ehrlich demonstrates that the decisive factor was local knowledge of the terrain and noted that "Led by a local lord, who certainly knew the terrain better than anybody else on the battlefield, the Frankish army managed to defeat the Muslim army, in spite of its initial superiority." That "local lord" was Baldwin d'Ibelin. (For more details on the Battle of Montgisard see:

Shortly after this dramatic victory in which his younger brother also played a notable role, that young brother Balian married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena. Baldwin appears to have surrendered the title to Ibelin to Balian at roughly the same time, one presumes to make him a more suitable match for the Dowager Queen. How willingly Baldwin gave up his paternal inheritance is not known, but as the alliance was very much in the interests of the Ibelin family as a whole, Baldwin may not have needed much persuasion.

What is clear is that Baldwin’s ambitions were increasing. Sometime before Montgisard, Baldwin had set aside the mother of his two daughters to make way for a more favorable marriage. He took to wife a widowed heiress, Elizabeth Gotman, but she died in 1179. This freed Baldwin to look even higher. By this time, the king’s eldest sister Sibylla was a young widow with an infant son. She was also the heir apparent to the throne of Jerusalem. While the High Court of Jerusalem sent to France for a suitable husband, Baldwin courted Princess Sibylla directly.

According to the contemporary chronicle written by “Ernoul,” a client of the Ibelin family, Princess Sibylla was not disinclined to his suit. Unfortunately for Baldwin, however, he had the misfortune to be taken captive by the Saracens in the Battle on the Litani in June 1179. The fact that he was seen as a prospective King of Jerusalem is suggested by the outrageous ransom Salah ad-Din demanded for his release: 200,000 gold bezants, or more than had been paid for a crowned and ruling king (Baldwin II) in 1123. There is no way the prosperous but relatively small barony of Ramla/Mirabel could have raised this enormous sum; Salah ad-Din could only have assumed that the entire kingdom would raise his ransom, as was customary for a captive king.

Furthermore, when Baldwin was released to collect his ransom, he turned to the Byzantine Emperor — and was successful. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor was the great-uncle of his brother’s wife does not explain such generosity. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor believed Baldwin was destined to be the next King of Jerusalem might.

The most convincing evidence for Baldwin’s aspirations to the throne of Jerusalem via marriage with Sibylla, however, is provided by the most reliable of all contemporary sources, William Archbishop of Tyre. The Archbishop was at this time the chancellor of the kingdom and so a veritable “insider” without any bias in favor of the Ibelins. He records that shortly before Easter 1180 King Baldwin received news that Baldwin of Ramla was approaching Jerusalem in company with the Prince of Antioch and the Count of Tripoli, all accompanied by large retinues.  According to Tyre, the king (who was suffering from leprosy) feared that the two men ruling the other crusader states (the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli) had come to depose him by raising up Baldwin of Ramla in his place via marriage to his sister Sibylla. As I have pointed out elsewhere, I find it unlikely that Tripoli was intent upon a coup d’etat at this point, but the fact that Tyre mentions the possibility of a marriage between Sibylla and Baldwin of Ramla underlines the fact that rumors to this effect were in circulation.

Ramla’s hopes were dashed by Sibylla’s hasty marriage to an adventurer from the west, Guy de Lusignan. Whether she had been seduced by Lusignan or forced into a hasty and demeaning marriage by her frightened brother is unimportant. Ramla’s hopes of gaining a crown through marriage to the heir were crushed. 

Ramla had every reason to be disappointed (not to say outraged) by these developments, particularly because Guy was in no way his equal in terms of status or experience. (Guy was a landless younger son and as a newcomer to the Holy Land had absolutely no experience in fighting the Saracens.) Ramla’s feelings would have been further complicated by the fact that Guy was the younger brother of his own son-in-law; sometime prior to 1180 Baldwin’s eldest daughter Eschiva had married to Aimery de Lusignan. To add insult to injury, King Baldwin IV raised his new brother-in-law Guy to Count of Jaffa and Ascalon (to make him worthy of Princess Sibylla). That effectively demoted Baldwin from tenant-in-chief to “rear vassal” — a man holding a fief from another baron rather than the crown directly -- and worse still, owing fealty to the very man who had just stolen the woman he sought to marry.

There can be little doubt that this rankled and, indeed, embittered the proud Baldwin of Ramla, but it did not make him a rebel. On at least of three occasions between 1180 and Baldwin IV’s death in 1185, he dutifully mustered with his knights when called upon to do so. Indeed, he played a prominent role (with his brother Balian) in defeating the Saracen forces attempting to take the springs at Tubanie in 1183.  Notably, this action at the springs of Tubanie was in support of his son-in-law, the elder brother of his hated rival Guy de Lusignan, suggesting that Ramla may have retained good relations with his son-in-law despite his hostility of Guy. In any case, as long as King Baldwin IV was king, Ramla appears to have accepted his fate, even marrying again, this time Maria of Beirut.

At Baldwin IV's death in 1185, Sibylla’s son by her first marriage was recognized as Baldwin V. Since he was still a child of eight, the welfare of the kingdom was placed in the hands of a regent, the Count of Tripoli. Baldwin was on good terms with Tripoli and showed no signs of rebelliousness. The elevation of his hated rival, Guy de Lusignan, to King of Jerusalem in a coup d’etat after the death of Baldwin V in 1186, on the other hand, was too much.

For more on the constitutional crisis of 1186 see; I will not go into the details here. Significant for this article is only that two barons initially refused to do homage to Lusignan on the grounds that he was not legally king: 1) the Count of Tripoli withdrew to his own lands and made a separate peace with Salah ad-Din (which he later abrogated before eventually doing homage) and 2) the Lord of Ramla, who took the even more dramatic and unusual step of renouncing all his lands and titles in favor of his infant son.

According to Ernoul, he did this is a public confrontation at Acre before the whole High Court. It was a dramatic and unprecedented act. Peter Edbury, author of a detailed biography of Baldwin’s great-nephew, (John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Boydell Press, 1997, p. 12) notes: “It was an extraordinary thing to do. It meant giving up his inheritance, jeopardizing the future of his heirs and abdicating the political and social standing that he, the senior member of his family, and his father and elder brother before him had nurtured for the past three-quarters of a century.”

A man who took such a dramatic step was clearly a man of strong emotions. His hatred and resentment of Guy de Lusignan must have been enormous. More baffling, however, is that his outraged pride was more important to him than the substance of power and wealth. Equally notable, if less obvious is that he was a singularly callous husband and father.  He’d discarded the mother of his two daughters for no better reason than a better marriage, and now he abandoned his latest wife and only son to the dubious mercy of Guy de Lusignan. To be sure, he claimed he was leaving his wife and son in the care of his younger brother Balian, but this was legally dubious. A vassal who refuses homage usually forfeits his fief to his overlord, in this case to none other than Guy de Lusignan as both Count of Jaffa and King of Jerusalem. It is a forgotten measure of Lusignan’s chivalry (or his intelligent appreciation of his how precarious situation was) that he took no action to seize Ramla/Mirabel from Balian d’Ibelin, but rather allowed him to control both until Hattin obliterated all the baronies of the kingdom.

Ironically, it was the daughter of Baldwin’s discarded wife Richildis who was to wear a crown. 

Baldwin d'Ibelin is an important character in Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem (see below).

The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of six novels.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Hugh the Forgotten, Second Baron Ibelin

The first Baron Ibelin died in 1150 and was succeeded by his eldest son Hugh. Although he is often overlooked or forgotten in histories of the Holy Land, even when speaking of the Ibelins, it was his marital adventures that laid the foundation of future Ibelin successes.

Hugh's date of birth is unknown -- and so is his mother. Although usually assumed that he was the eldest son of his father's marriage to Helvis of Ramla, based on an off-hand remark made by William of Tyre in his history, there is good reason to doubt this. Namely, Barisan did not marry Helvis until 1138, so Hugh's earliest date of birth had he been her child by Barisan would have been 1139. This, however, would have made him only 11 at the time of his father's death in 1150 -- and so legally incapable of inheriting Ibelin until four years later, when he attained the age of legal maturity (15) in 1154. As an eleven-year-old child, he would have required a guardian. 

Hugh had none. He was immediately recognized at his father's death as Lord of Ibelin. Not only that, he played a prominent role in the siege of Ascalon, three years later. Had he been a child of Helvis, he would have been no more than 14 at that siege, not yet recognized as an adult, and probably not yet knighted. 

All of these facts indicate Hugh was the son of Barisan by an earlier marriage. Given his father's age this would sense. His father was probably already 30 in 1115 and would have been close to 55 at the time of his marriage to Helvis, who may have been as young as 12. It is also easy to explain why we do not know the name of Barisan's first wife: she was almost certainly a native Christian of non-noble birth. Since Barisan himself did not come from a noble family, he was in no position to marry well until after he had gained royal favor by his support of the king in the latter's conflict with the Count of Jaffa in 1134.

Hugh, however, as the legitimate son of this earlier union, had a clear right to inherit his father's barony of Ibelin at his father's death. He did not, however, have the right to inherit Ramla/Mirabel, which came to the Ibelins only after the death of Helvis in 1158. This is consistent with the chronicles, in which Hugh is not referred to as Lord of Ramla, except for two short years (1158-1160), when he held Ramla in trust for his younger brother Baldwin. In contrast, Baldwin, Barisan's second son but the eldest son of Helvis of Ramla, is always referred to as "Ramla" -- Ibelin being his family name but not his title. 

Returning to Hugh, in or about 1157, Hugh married the (not yet but soon to become) notorious Agnes de Courteney.

Agnes de Courteney came from one of the best families in Outremer, being the daughter of Count Joscelyn II of Edessa. By the time she married Hugh d'Ibelin, however, she was nothing but a penniless and landless orphan.  The County of Edessa had been hopelessly and completely lost to the Saracens by 1148. She was also already a widow. Her first husband, Reynald of Marash, had been killed in battle in 1149. Since she would have been at least 12 at the time of her first marriage, she was in all probability in her late teens when she became betrothed to Hugh d'Ibelin.

It is unlikely she had much to say about her marriage. At the time it took place, her father was languishing in a Saracen prison (never to return; he died there ca. 1159). Her brother, the ever ineffectual Joscelyn III of Edessa, was in control of her, and both she and he were living on lands held by their mother (since their entire paternal inheritance was in the hands of the enemy) in the Principality of Antioch. Antioch was at the far north of the crusader territories; Ibelin was in the extreme south. It is unlikely that Agnes had ever met Hugh d'Ibelin, a man holding a small and comparatively unimportant fief, held not from the crown but from the Count of Jaffa. A match between a sub-tenant and a penniless widow was a completely suitable match, even if Agnes' family had previously been powerful. In short, there is nothing really remarkable here.

But then things get interesting. Hugh d'Ibelin was taken captive by the Saracens in 1157 -- the year he presumably or allegedly married Agnes. Peter Edbury in his outstanding book John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Boydell Press, 1997, p. 8) speculates based on a variety of primary sources that Agnes was betrothed to Hugh, but that on her arrival in Ibelin to celebrate the marriage, he was already in a Saracen prison. Under the circumstances, since Hugh's father was dead and his brothers were still young children, Agnes' care fell to Hugh's feudal lord, the Count of Jaffa. The Count of Jaffa, however, was none other than the younger brother of the ruling King Baldwin III, Prince Amalric of Jerusalem.

What happened next is shrouded in obscurity, but at least one account suggests that Amalric "took her by force on the advice of his men." (See Edbury). On the other hand, there does not appear to have been any animosity between Hugh and Amalric in later years, and the king may even have helped pay Hugh's ransom. Since many captives did not ever return from captivity (such as Agnes own father) or spent years and years in prison (Raymond de Chatillon spent 15 years in a Saracen dungeon, and Raymond de Tripoli, 7), Hugh may well have viewed giving up a girl he'd never seen in exchange for Amalric's contributions to his ransom a perfectly reasonable, indeed good, deal.

In any case, when Hugh was released, Agnes was already married to Amalric and within the next half dozen years gave him two children, Sibylla (ca. 1159) and Baldwin (1161). Hugh, apparently still financially burdened by the after-effects of his ransom, did not marry. Then in February 1163, King Baldwin III died abruptly. His young Byzantine wife, the reputedly stunningly beautiful Theodora, had not yet produced an heir. Amalric, as the younger but mature brother of the king, a fighting man who already had two children, was the obvious best candidate to succeed him.

Yet the High Court of Jerusalem did not immediately recognize him because objections were raised about his wife Agnes. We do not know why the High Court objected to her. Officially, it suddenly discovered that she and Amalric were related within the prohibited degrees, but this hardly seems credible as it could easily have been overcome by a papal dispensation. Historians have therefore speculated that the real reason was that the barons of Jerusalem feared Agnes would use her influence to reward her penniless relatives with offices (thereby denying them these lucrative appointments) -- or that her reputation was so sullied that she was considered unsuitable to wear a crown in the Holy City. Another explanation is that the Church, which viewed a betrothal as sacrosanct, considered her marriage to Amalric bigamous because -- in the eyes of the Church -- she was still married (via the betrothal) to Hugh d'Ibelin.  

The latter explanation has a certain charm and is supported by the fact that after Amalric set Agnes aside in order to secure the crown of Jerusalem, she became the wife of Hugh d'Ibelin. She was his wife at the time of his death in ca. 1171. 

Since Hugh and Agnes had no children together, the significance of this marriage is often overlooked. Yet, whatever the reasons the High Court objected to Agnes, Amalric must have been very grateful to Hugh d'Ibelin for taking her off his hands and clearing the way to the throne. From Hugh's perspective, on the other hand, Agnes was "damaged goods" (and possibly discarded on moral grounds, i.e. because of infidelity and licentiousness; she was later said to have had affairs with Aimery de Lusignan and with the future patriarch Heraclius.) Yet, while Agnes herself may have been no great prize, she was the mother of the heir to the throne since the High Court had explicitly recognized the legitimacy of Agnes' children even as it forced Amalric to discard her. Thus Hugh d'Ibelin got a wife of dubious virtue and tarnished reputation, but he earned the gratitude of the king and the status of step-father to the future king. 

Unfortunately for Hugh, he did not live long enough to capitalize on his relationship to the young Baldwin. He was dead in 1171. Yet it was possibly the Ibelins' ties to Agnes de Courtney that brought them within the royal circle. Certainly, after Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, the surviving Ibelins were in a stronger position than before as (step) uncles of the king. 

Even Balian d'Ibelin's marriage to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena, the woman who had replaced Agnes in Amalric's bed and had been crowned queen in her place, was in an ironic way the result of Agnes influence -- though not necessarily her intention. It may have been because his sister-in-law was such a powerful woman at Baldwin's court that Balian had the opportunity to meet and court the Dowager Queen Maria. We will never know for sure, but the ties between Agnes and the Ibelins have too often been overlooked. We should never forget, however, that while family relations were more important in power-sharing in the Middle Ages, they were no less fraught with emotional complexities than they are today.

The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of six published novels. 

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