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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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1 comment:

  1. "Hugh the Forgotten?" Somehow, I don't see you letting that happen. "Hugh the Constantly Overlooked" has more truth to it. LOL

    Another fine piece, Professor. Most educational and interesting, as usual. thanks for sharing this.


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