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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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