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Monday, October 25, 2021

Diplomatic Maneuvering: Winning Hearts and Minds

 By early April 1232, it was evident that Lord of Beirut did not have sufficient force to relieve his castle at Beirut. After smuggling in some 100 fighting men to reinforce the garrison, thereby ensuring its ability to hold out longer, Beirut turned his attention to finding additional allies. The results were both significant and surprising.

The Lord of Beirut undertook a three-pronged effort to increase the forces at his disposal for the difficult task of relieving his beleaguered castle. First, he sought international support from the closest international neighbor, the Prince of Antioch. Secondly, he sought support from a maritime power, the Genoese. Last but not least, he sought support from the burgesses or middle class. 

To secure support from the Prince of Antioch, the Lord of Beirut sent his son and heir, Sir Balian, to meet with the Prince in nearby Tripoli. Sir Balian took with him a marriage proposal sanctioned by (or originating from) King Henry of Cyprus, offering a marriage between King Henry's older sister Isabella and Prince Bohemond's younger son. Philip de Novare traveled with Sir Balian, as did Sir William Viscount, a wise and seasoned jurist. The party with Sir Balian took lodgings with the Templars and were, according to Novare, initially received by the Prince of Antioch with great honor and hospitality. 

Abruptly, however, everything changed. First the Templars closed their doors on them, throwing them out. When they turned to the Hospitallers and Cistercians, who also maintained large houses in Tripoli, the other religious houses likewise refused them shelter. At the same time, Balian was prevented from rejoining his father by the hostility of the barons controlling the road south.  According to Novare, Sir Balian's life was repeatedly threatened by knights with close ties to the former baillies of Cyprus and allies of the Holy Roman Emperor

Sir Balian was forced to create lodgings for himself and his entourage in an unused grange, cleaning it out and furnishing it as best they could. He also sought to escape from Tripoli by requesting the Genoese to send ships. This route of escape was closed, however, when the rudders of the Genoese ships were removed on orders from the Prince of Antioch. Next, Sir Balian turned to the Sultan of Damascus, Malik al Aschraf, requesting a safe-conduct to pass through Saracen-controlled territory on his way to Acre. The Sultan obliged, but by that time the safe-conduct arrived it was no longer necessary; the direct route had mysteriously re-opened. 
It is impossible with the information available to us to know exactly what was going on here. Novare attributes this sudden change in heart to "forged letters" from the Emperor, requesting Antioch not to render assistance to the Ibelins. Why such letters would have been forged is mysterious since the Emperor was engaged in a very open war against Beirut. For three years before this incident, he had repeatedly sent messengers to various lords of Outremer ordering them to arrest, disseize and otherwise harm the Ibelins.  

Historians largely discount Novare's account of forgeries and his role in exposing them and are inclined to think Antioch simply changed his mind in the middle of the negotiations. Supposedly he (suddenly?) decided Beirut was going to lose his war and wanted to be on the winning side. Given the fact that Sir Balian arrived after his father had already abandoned his attempt to relieve Beirut, this hardly seems logical either. Nothing in Beirut's situation changed radically in the month Sir Balian was in Tripoli.

What might explain the sudden change in attitudes, particularly on the part of clerics, however, was the arrival of news about Sir Balian's excommunication. In March 1232, the pope excommunicated him for his marriage to Eschiva de Montbelliard, a marriage that was within the prohibited degrees. This would explain why all the religious houses refused him lodging and would have made him persona non grata at the court of the Prince as well. We will probably never know. 

Meanwhile, in Acre, the Lord of Beirut with the aid of King Henry had been able to persuade the Genoese to throw in their lot with him. This was not so difficult a task, one presumes, for two reasons. On the one hand, the Genoese had a long history of hostility toward the Hohenstaufens. Under the motto, "our enemy's enemy is our friend" they were undoubtedly sympathetic to Beirut's cause. What turned sympathy into serious support, however, was the lure of the rich profits that could be made in Cyprus. 

Up to this point, none of the Italian maritime powers had established a firm foothold on Cyprus. The Italian sea powers had won their privileges on the mainland by providing often vital maritime support to sieges during the early stages of the conquest of the coastal cities of the Levant. (See: 
Cyprus, on the other hand, had fallen into the lap of King Richard of England without any contribution by Italian navies. The Genoese were keen (to say the least) to get their foot in the door and secure the kind of trading privileges that promised to enrich their metropolitan city.  They agreed to replace the Cypriot fleet that had been wrecked with a Genoese one.

Far more remarkable was Beirut's success in winning the support -- indeed, as events would prove, the tenacious and passionate support -- of a large portion of the middle class in the commercial heart of the kingdom, Acre.  It was only three years since the people of Acre had expressed their opinion of Frederick Hohenstaufen by pelting him with offal and intestines on his departure. Undoubtedly, this act was not a collective act by responsible citizens, but it must have met with more approval than disapproval as one never hears of outrage much apologies or expressions of contrition on the part of the citizens of Acre to the Holy Roman Emperor. In short, Emperor Frederick was hugely unpopular in Acre because of the way he had behaved during his short sojourn in the Latin East. 
(For more see:

Yet popular or not, what happened next had no precedent in the history of Jerusalem. It seems that after Riccardo Filangieri presented his credentials as the Emperor's deputy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a delegation of nobles, headed by the former regent of the kingdom Balian de Sidon firmly objected to the siege of Beirut as it was an attempt to disseize a lord without due process and a judgment of the High Court. Filangieri replied that he was only following orders and that if anyone didn't like what he was doing they could take it up with Emperor Frederick II personally. 

Aside from this being an abject admission of powerlessness, the answer made it clear to everyone -- from baron and bishop to the man on the street -- that Filangieri had no intention whatever of acting as an independent regent or, more important, of respecting the laws and constitution of the Kingdom. That made people nervous.

If Filangieri, in the Emperor's name, was prepared to attack a former regent, what might he do to ordinary knights and burgesses? If Filangieri was prepared to deny a man with close ties to royalty due process and the protection of the law, where was the Rule of Law for the man on the street? While it is claimed that the Lord of Beirut was popular, it was far more self-interest than personal affection that inspired men to take an unusual step: they decided to form a mutual protection society. 

Historian Jonathan Riley-Smith puts it like this:
In Acre there happened to be a confraternity dedicated to St. Andrew and chartered perhaps by Baldwin IV and Henry of Champagne...[It] was unusual in that its membership was not limited to those of one nationality or sect but was open to all.... So barons, knights and burgesses assembed and sent for the confraternity's cousellors and charters. These were read out and the majority  of those present solemnly swore themselves in as members.
Thereafter, they took to calling themselves simply the "Commune of Acre." This implied -- somewhat disingenuously -- that the men who had voluntarily joined represented the entire community of the city. That was hardly the case, but the Commune was sufficiently influential to meet with no opposition in Acre either. They next elected John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, their "mayor," a position that was good only for one year requiring annual elections. As Riley-Smith makes clear, the Commune had no other functions than to resist the Emperor and his minions. 

With the men of the Commune and the ships of the Genoese, Beirut was finally strong enough to make a new attempt at relieving his castle. Indeed, he felt that public sympathy had swung so much in his favor that he could risk an even more dramatic attack: an assault on Filangieri's power base in the city of Tyre.  

The City of Tyre sat on an island, connected to the mainland only by a narrow causeway that was defended by three successive walls. The sea around the city was full of rocks and bad for navigation. Tyre alone -- of all the cities of the kingdom -- had successfully defied Saladin in 1187. It had remained a lonely bastion of Christendom for four years until the arrival of the Third Crusade. For Beirut to think that he might capture Tyre with his rag-tag army of Cypriot and Syrian knights, Genoese and burgesses sounds like hubris, not to say madness.  

Yet despite the apparent futility of his task, Beirut had calculated correctly -- not because he could take Tyre, but because Filangieri could not risk losing it. No sooner did Filangieri learn of Beirut's objective than he abandoned the siege of the citadel of Beirut and sailed in haste to Tyre, leaving his army to follow by land. This prompt, apparently panicked, retreat suggests that Filangieri felt his hold on Tyre was not sufficiently secure. Perhaps he feared that some of the burgesses of Tyre would turn against him, if they realized Beirut at the head of the "Commune of Acre" was approaching. Whatever his reasons, Filangieri withdrew to his base at Tyre, the siege of the citadel of Beirut was lifted. Sir Balian took possession of his father's city and castle. Beirut had established the "status quo ante bellum," but the war was far from over. 

The story of Beirut's struggle with Frederick II continues next week. Meanwhile, these events are depicted in detail in my latest release:

Monday, October 18, 2021

Winter War for Beirut

 In the fall of 1231, an army under the command of the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri seized control of the port city of Beirut. John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut, had just been disseized without a judgment of the court. That should have been the end of the story -- but it wasn't.

Above a 19th-century watercolor of Beirut harbor by Charles Pierron -- before the destruction of the castle. Copyright Christie's Images   

As described last week, Beirut had been caught in Cyprus with nearly all his men when the Imperial Marshal struck at his lordship of Beirut. Ibelin knew that his citadel was well-stocked to withstand a siege, but the garrison was too small to withstand a determined assault. If he were to avoid complete defeat, he knew he had to raise a military force capable of breaking the siege of the citadel. The challenges were threefold: 1) he didn't himself command enough knights and men-at-arms to take on the Imperial army; 2) he didn't have any ships to transport his men and horses from Cyprus to the mainland, and 3) it was now late fall, the winter storms had started and the Mediterranean was largely closed to shipping.

Beirut addressed the first two issues by making a dramatic appeal to King Henry of Cyprus for aid. This appeal is notable in that Beirut was Henry's acting regent since the defeat of the Imperial baillies the previous summer. Presumably, Beirut could have simply commanded the resources of Cyprus. Instead, we are told that he went on his knees before the 14-year-old king and begged him for assistance. Pure theater? Probably, but at least the forms of legality were respected, in contrast to the Emperor's actions.

The High Court of Cyprus was summoned and knights and barons came in unprecedented number, "friends and enemies" both. The Lord of Beirut rose and reminded the king that he and his family (meaning his father and brother) had on more than one occasion defeated attempts to depose the Lusignans, a fact for which he had many witnesses and was not in doubt.  Then, according to the chronicler Philip de Novare, who was personally present, Beirut appealed to the king as follows:
"Now it has happened that the Langobards have taken my city and besieged my castle so closely that it is in danger of being lost, and ourselves and all our Syrian men disinherited. Wherefore I pray you, by God and by your honor, for our great services and because we are of one blood and nourished by a common motherland...that you come in person in all your power with me to succor my castle."
At this the lord of Beirut was silent and knelt as if to kiss the foot of the king. The king arose to his feet and all the others knelt, and the king and all the others said that they agreed willingly.... [Novare, LXXXIV]
Not everyone came willingly, as events soon showed, but what Beirut had achieved with his show of requesting aid where he could have commanded it was to leave the youthful king his dignity. The importance of that would become evident within six months.

First, however, the entire Cypriot host had to muster and cross to the mainland in the dead of winter. The army collected at Famagusta shortly after Christmas, there to await favorable weather for a crossing.  They waited a long time in weather that Novare describes as terrible. One source claims they did not risk a crossing until after the spring equinox, another that they departed on the first day of lent, that would have been Feb. 25, 1232. Fatefully, Beirut refused to leave any of his bannerets or sons behind on Cyprus. According to Novare, Beirut argued that everything hinged upon the recovery of Beirut and that they needed every single fighting man they had, adding that many battles had been lost for the lack of a single nobleman. He concluded: 
"If we conquer, Cyprus will not need any captains; if we lose, it will be ended with us and the captain who would be in Cyprus could only hold out for a little time and after he would perish... For this I do not wish that any one of my family who bears the name of Ibelin should remain. If we conquer, each will have his part in the honor and profits; if we lose, we will all die together and for God in our rightful heritage, there where most of my relatives have been born and died." [Novare, LXXXVI]
Fine as these sentiments were (and Shakespeare appears to have liked them well enough to include them in Henry V's speech at Agincourt), they ignored a dangerous reality: the five former Imperial baillies might have yielded to peer pressure at the session of the High Court but they remained discontented and opposed to action against the Emperor. Throughout the winter they sought both to absent themselves from the host and to induce other knights and barons to abandon the Ibelin cause. 

At last, the order was given to embark apparently on Cypriot ships as there is no mention of assistance from one of the Italian cities at this point. The fleet sailed at night, according to Novare, in "very bad weather and heavy rain" -- but presumably in better weather than had gone before. The wind drove them to Puy du Constable in the County of Tripoli, where the army safely disembarked. Here, however, the five former baillies with their retinues and followers numbering roughly 80 knights or 20% of the Cypriot feudal host, "fled." These men later turned up in Beirut fighting alongside Filangieri, so one presumes they made it to Tripoli and took ship from there to reinforce the Imperial besiegers.

Meanwhile, the main force of the Cypriot/Ibelin army headed south to the relief of Beirut. The desertion of such a large contingent of men right at the start of the campaign we naturally demoralizing. Beirut, however, countered the dismay by making a show of relief and declaring that he was glad to be rid of the traitor. He reasoned, "as long as they were following him he momentarily waited for them to strike him between the shoulders. Now since they had broken their faith to their lord...had deserted him in the field and were perjured toward  him...they were not people whom it was necessary to fear...." [Novare, LXXXVIII] 

King Henry's army advanced south along the coastal road, flanked -- as Richard the Lionheart's troops had been during the Third Crusade -- by their fleet. Unfortunately, the winter storms were far from over and almost immediately a violent storm drove their ships ashore at Botron. Nearly all the vessels were wrecked and with them the Cypriot siege engines and most of their tents. The advance continued overland "through rain and bad weather, through great torrents, deep and overflowing their banks, and through the Pass of the Pagans and the Pass of the Dog, which was most perilous to cross" until the came to the River of Beirut. [Novare, LXXXIX] Here they could be seen from the castle, inspiring great joy and hope of relief.

The castle, meanwhile, had been badly battered by the besiegers. The fosse (dry ditch surrounding the castle), "one of the finest in the world," had been turned into a covered street from which the enemy was digging tunnels under the walls of the castle. A large siege engine had also been set up on a hill outside the city, which caused great damage to the battlements. 

News of the arrival of the Cypriot army under the command of the Lord of Beirut also spread through the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Beirut's allies started to collect around him. Most important, his nephew the Lord of Caesarea brought up reinforcements. It appeared that a confrontation was, at last, going to take place. The  Imperial army issued forth from Beirut to draw up in battle array on the opposite side of the River of Beirut, but it did not risk crossing the river -- and nor did the Ibelins and their allies. Instead, they faced each other all day, and then both returned to their camps. On another occassion, the Cypriot army crossed the river and got as far as the fosse of the citadel hoping to lure the Imperial forces out for a confrontation. Instead, Filagnieri answered with only a feeble sally that was easily chased back into the city, but left the Ibelins and their allies outside and no closer to their goal.

At some point, during this standoff,  the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Masters of the Temple and Hospital, and Beirut's other nephew, Balian of Sidon, came to Beirut. They attempted to persuade the parties to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Yet, neither side was ready to compromise. The clergy and Sidon withdrew.

The Imperial Marshal retained the upper hand. He was in firm possession of the town of Beirut, and for obvious reasons, the Lord of Beirut and his allies could not assault him there. Furthermore, the Sicilians had established a blockade of the citadel by sea as well as land by tying their gallies bow and stern on a great chain of iron that cut off the castle on the seaward side. Beirut's army could not penetrate to the citadel either through the enemy-held city or through the sea blockade. They had no choice but to remain on the far side of the River of Beirut, where supplies soon started to run low. Despite his dramatic appeal to King Henry, despite bringing the entire host of the Kingdom of Cyprus (minus 80 "traitors"), despite a hazardous crossing in winter storms, despite bringing his army down the coast in bad weather, and despite support from local supporters, Beirut was unable to muster sufficient force to break the Imperial stranglehold on his citadel, much less force the Imperial forces out of his city. 

Still, Beirut did not concede defeat. Instead, he asked for volunteers willing to risk taking an open boat through the blockade by night and attempting to scramble up the steep embankment to reach the postern of the castle. At once his heir Sir Balian, and his other adult sons Sir Baldwin and Sir Hugh, as well as roughly 100 other armed men -- knights, sergeants, and squires -- volunteered to make the attempt. Novare writes: " man was ever so loved by his people, for the vessel was so full of men that the water came up to the bulwarks." [Novare, XCIII] Yet Beirut chose his fourth son Sir John to lead the attempt, ignoring the vehement protests of his elder sons. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that he gave the operation so little chance of success that he did not want to risk his firstborn and heir!

Sure enough, the boat was seen by the Sicilians and there was a great deal of shouting and shooting. Worse, when the Ibelin men landed and started up toward the castle, the garrison thought they were being assaulted by the enemy and started to hurl boulders, lances and other missiles at them. Eventually, someone (presumably Sir John) managed to convince the garrison that this was a relief effort and the reinforcements were welcomed "with great joy."

From the shore, of course, it wasn't entirely clear what was happening out in the dark, and Beirut, thinking all was lost, threw himself face down on the earth with his arms outstretched like a cross praying to God. Finally, lights and faint cheering from the castle reached him. He could give thanks rather than begging for assistance. 

Nor was this perious mission merely a gallant gesture. According to Novare, the reinforced garrison thereafter "defended themselves more vigorously, made a countermine against the miners, killed the miners without and within the mine, recaptured the fosse by force and fired the covered street...made many brave sallies and ... burned several engines." [Novare, XCIV] Beirut, meanwhile, confident that his castle could hold out for months more, moved his army to Acre where it could be better provisioned and began a diplomatic offensive to gain more allies.
The story of the Lord of Beirut's confrontation with the Holy Roman Emperor continues next week. Meanwhile, the events described here are depicted in more detail in:

Monday, October 11, 2021

An Emperor, A King and a wronged Vassal

 mperor Frederick sailed away from the Kingdom of Jerusalem on May 1, 1229 -- still wearing the intestines his furious subjects had pelted at him. He never again set foot in the Holy Land. However, until his death in December 1250 he continued to call himself "King of Jerusalem." In those 21 intervening years, he made numerous attempts to exert his authority in Jerusalem and to control the kingdom of Cyprus as a vassal state. He was consistently foiled by a coalition of forces led by the very man he had tried to disseize, humiliate and exile: John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut. 

Today I begin a five-part series looking at the second phase of the conflict: Emperor Frederick's attempt to eliminate Beirut by force of arms.
On his departure from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Frederick named two men, Balian de Sidon (a grandson of the Balian d'Ibelin who defended Jerusalem in 1187) and Garnier l'Aleman (Werner von Egesheim) as his baillies. In Cyprus, he left five men (who paid him 10,000 silver marks for the privilege) as his baillies. (See: The Emperor's Men) As described in The Battle of Nicosia and The Sieges of Kantara and St. Hilarion) the baillies on Cyprus were militarily defeated but then pardoned by the still under-aged king Henry I under the tutelage of the Lord of Beirut. 

Emperor Frederick received the news of the defeat of his appointed baillies in his Kingdom of Sicily. His immediate reaction is not recorded, but just over a year later in the autumn of 1231, he outfitted a fleet of 32 ships filled with more fighting men than he had taken with him on his "crusade" of 1228. This force of 600 knights, 100 squires, 700 foot soldiers, and 3,000 armed sailors was commanded by one of Frederick's most trusted officers, the Imperial Marshal, Riccardo Filangieri. Frederick's orders were to expel the Ibelins from their lands and titles and restore Imperial control over both the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus. 
News of the Emperor's fleet and intentions was brought to the Lord of Beirut in Acre -- either by an Ibelin spy in the Emperor's camp or by an Imperial defector/traitor. Beirut was at this point acting regent of the Kingdom of Cyprus for the 14-year-old King Henry I. Believing that Filangieri's first port of call would be Cyprus, he gathered his men and allies, denuding his base of Beirut of fighting-men, and took ship for Cyprus, arriving almost simultaneously with the Imperial fleet. 

Significantly, Filangieri himself was not with the ships that made landfall on the south coast of Cyprus and anchored off Limassol. Instead, the Emperor was represented by the Bishop of Melfi. The presence of an apparently large (but probably not very large) armed force under the Lord of Beirut's heir, Sir Balian, dissuaded the Imperial forces from attempting a landing, but the Bishop of Melfi requested an interview with King Henry.

This could hardly be refused, and the Bishop went ashore accompanied by two knights to meet with the King, notably in the presence of the Lord of Beirut, who was, after all, still nominally at least his baillie. Notably, the Eracles (a less pro-Ibelin source than Philip de Novare) describes the meeting between the Emperor's spokesperson and King Henry in great detail. According to this contemporary source, via his envoy Emperor Frederick addressed the young king as his vassal, and "ordered him" to "dismiss and require to leave your land, John d'Ibelin, his children, his nephews, and his relatives." 

The imperious tone strikes any reader familiar with Frederick Hohenstaufen as authentic. He clearly viewed himself as dealing with a subordinate -- and a child subordinate at that. He had recently brought his own son, the crowned "King of the Romans," to heel. Frederick no doubt expected little opposition for a fourteen-year-old, who had to date been his prisoner and pawn, married three years earlier to the woman of his choice, and besieged for nearly a year by the very men Frederick was asking him to disseize and expel. Perhaps he assumed that Henry resented or even hated the Lord of Beirut for that siege. Certainly, the fact that he was demanding a fellow monarch to break the constitution of his kingdom by disseizing vassals without due process does not appear to have bothered the Emperor in the least.  

The Hohenstaufen had miscalculated. After hearing the Emperor's "orders," Henry took counsel with his advisors and on his return allowed his seneschal and celebrated jurist, Sir William Viscount, to deliver his answer. While this may sound as if Henry was not free to speak for himself and that the answer was formulated not by the king by his advisors (including the Lord of Beirut himself), subsequent events belie that interpretation. We must assume that Henry wholeheartedly backed the sentiments expressed in the answer that Viscount gave. 

Viscount pointed out that King Henry "greatly marveled" at the Emperor's demands because to follow them he would put himself in the wrong -- i.e. violate feudal law and custom. Henry also reminded the Emperor via the Bishop of Melfi that he was himself a relative of Beirut so that the Emperor's demand that he expel "all Beirut's relatives" was an order for him to expel himself from his own kingdom. 

Perhaps something was lost in translation then or now. Perhaps the Emperor did not mean to suggest Henry quit his own kingdom. Perhaps he thought it was obvious he didn't mean that. However, Henry appears to have been deeply offended by the demand nevertheless as subsequent events made clear. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Melfi had no choice but to withdraw, his job as an ambassador for Emperor Frederick complete if unsuccessful. 

Meanwhile, Marshal Filangieri had caught up with the rest of his fleet. Without attempting a landing or seeking an interview with King Henry, he ordered his fleet to sail by night making directly for Beirut's lordship and power base: Beirut.

It is impossible to know if this had been the plan all along. It is possible that the man who brought the Lord of Beirut the news about Imperial intentions to land on Cyprus was an Imperial plant. Perhaps the mission to King Henry had been a ruse, intentionally designed to lure the Lord of Beirut away from his city with the bulk of his fighting men. Or, maybe, Filangieri had simply improvised brilliantly. Either way, it was an astute tactical move. Arriving off Beirut by night, Filangieri's forces "took the city unawares," according to the close ally and intimate of the Ibelins, Philip de Novare. Immediately, Novare tells, "as might a timid priest," the Bishop of Beirut surrendered the port city -- the source of much of the Lord of Beirut's wealth and revenue. 

Although the citadel of Beirut held out under a skeletal garrison, Emperor Frederick via his deputy Filiangieri had decisively won the opening round of this renewed confrontation with the Lord of Beirut. 

The story of Frederick's confrontation with Beirut continues next week. Meanwhile, the story forms the basis of The Emperor Strikes Back:

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Indecisive Battle of Nicosia - July 14, 1229

  In 1229, the rapaciousness of the Emperor’s baillies provoked a response they apparently had not  anticipated. In less than three months, they were facing not resistance or insurgency but a full-scale challenge to their authority in the shape of an invasion. Whereas, with their mercenaries, they had held a monopoly on force of arms up to this point, in early July 1229 they were confronted by an army led by two barons with hundreds of knights.

In the most comprehensive modern history of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Prof. Peter Edbury writes that “spurred on by the news of the sequestration of their fiefs and plight of their womenfolk,”[i] a force of men raised by the Lord of Beirut set sail from Acre and landed at the Templar fort of Gastria to the north of Famagusta. The size of that force is unrecorded, but it must have included several hundred knights. The Five Ballies Frederich II had left in control of Cyprus (See: The Emperor’s Men) controlled not only the feudal resources of the Kingdom of Cyprus, of which they were the effective regents, they had also been supplied with a large force of mercenaries by Emperor Frederick. Although the exact size of this force is likewise unrecorded, all sources agree that it heavily outnumbered the men  brought to Cyprus by the Lord of Beirut and his brother-in-law the Lord of Caesarea.

The Ibelins chose to land at a Templar port, possibly in the hope of landing unopposed. The Templars were at this point bitter enemies of Emperor Frederick, who had tried to seize from them their castle at Athlit and then laid siege to their headquarters at Acre. While the Templars had effectively repelled both of these attacks, the Emperor had the last laugh by confiscating their properties across the Holy Roman Empire and in his Kingdom of Sicily as soon as he arrived back in the West. Meanwhile, however, the Templars chose to remain scrupulously neutral in the secular conflict on Cyprus.

According to Novare, “the five baillies strongly resisted the capture of the port; nonetheless, it was taken by force.”[ii] Given the fact that the return of the Ibelins was hardly expected, it seems unlikely that all five baillies got down to Gastria to defend the port. More probable is simply that they had mercenaries stationed at all the ports of the kingdom, and these forces, representing the five baillies put up a fight but were overwhelmed.

The Imperial forces (whoever they were) withdrew from the coast all the way to the capital of the kingdom, Nicosia, and King Henry was sent under guard to the most luxurious yet still unassailable mountain fortresses of St. Hilarion. Meanwhile, the Lord of Beirut advanced “warily” toward Nicosia, sending “friendly words to the king and even the five baillies, saying that they came from the service to God, that they desired to return to their homes and their fiefs, and that they were prepared both to do right and to exact their rights.”[iii] The baillies, according to Novare, “never deigned to answer.”[iv] 

Instead, they called up the feudal army including the commons. This included all the tenants-in-chief of the king, their rear-vassals and knights, the turcopoles or light cavalry supplied by the local elites, and the foot-soldiers and archers of the commons. They also pulled together the mercenaries left behind by Frederick II, who Novare identifies as German, Flemish, and Langobard (south Italian), in short forces from the Holy Roman Empire. They were presumably cross-bowmen for the most part, as that was the preferred weapon of mercenaries in this era. They may also have engaged local mercenaries. Their total force would have numbered in the thousands, with several hundred knights.

When the Ibelin force approached Nicosia, the five baillies took their army and marched out to meet them on the outskirts of the city. Despite efforts by the clergy to broker a reconciliation between the parties, there was really no readiness for compromise nor interest in peace by the point. The baillies had taken oaths to prevent the Ibelins from returning and knew that the Emperor would not look favorably upon them if they failed to expel Beirut. Since they held their positions at the Emperor’s pleasure, they really had no choice but to attempt to defeat Beirut so soundly that he never dare return.

Indeed, the sources claim that the baillies took the precaution of detailing 25 of their best knights with the task of killing Beirut. This was hardly chivalrous, to say the least, but the reasoning was undoubtedly that the elimination of Beirut would end their troubles. Whether they also tasked knights to kill his brother-in-law the former Constable of Cyprus is not recorded, but in light of the outcome, this is not impossible.

It was Saturday, July 14, 1229. The two armies drew up across a plowed field. “The captains of the squadrons surveyed each other and reconnoitered on the one hand and on the other; each placed himself  opposite to him whom he most hated…”[v] When the sides clashed, it was (as in all civil wars) with a fury and passion unknown between strangers. Soon the dust of the field had been churned up by the hundreds of hooves and was blown about by a strong west wind. Vision was severely impaired. 

Beirut soon found himself cut off from his sons and squires. He was confronted by an attacker without a visor and with a sword-thrust to his mouth cut his head in two, but the collision of the horses forced his own horse into a ditch. Unhorsed, he found himself surrounded by some fifteen enemy knights and none of his own. Fortunately, he had an unnamed number of loyal “sergeants” with him. They took refuge together in the called enclosure of a church and here defended themselves against the attempts of the fifteen imperial knights to break in and slay them. His situation was apparently desperate, when Sir Anseau de Brie, a loyal supporter of the Ibelins, rode to the rescue, taking on all fifteen knights so vigorously that he broke his lance, his sword, and even his dagger. Novare records that “he received so many blows that he could hardly use his hands.”[vi] 

Meanwhile, the Lord of Beirut's’ eldest son and heir, a young man only about 22-years-old at this time, had succeeded in setting a portion of the enemy army under Sir Hugh de Gibelet to flight.  Having chased them off the field, he turned back and re-entered the fray with his still large and intact contingent of knights. This charge appears to have been decisive. Novara describes it like this:
“…as soon as his enemies saw and recognized his standards they were afraid and fled towards the city of Nicosia. Sir Balian, who came in advance of all the others, encountered them most eagerly and struck their standard bearer so hard that he himself fell to the ground, he and his horse falling together; there were many taken and killed, but many escaped due to the fall of Sir Balian.”[vii]

When the dust finally cleared, a bloody field revealed an exceptionally large number of human and equine corpses. The dead included two prominent noblemen: Walter, Lord of Caesarea and former Constable of Cyprus, and Sir Gerard de Montaigu, who had the distinction of being the nephew of both the Master of both the Temple and the Hospital, as well as a nephew of the Archbishop of Nicosia. It was not recorded how Caesarea died, but Montaigu was pinned beneath his horse and evidently crushed. 

The dead did not include any of the baillies. All had managed to escape the field. Sir Gauvain de Cheneché took refuge in Kantara, Sir Hugh de Gibelet and the two Amaurys (Barlais and Bethsan) all made it to St. Hilarion where they held the king captive. Sir William Rivet appears to have made it to the port of Kyrenia and from there to have taken ship for Armenia to try to get word to and help from the Emperor. He failed in both as he died in Armenia, possibly of wounds incurred at the battle.

The Ibelins had won a great victory and in so doing had re-established themselves on Cyprus, rewarded their followers with the return of their fiefs, and also rescued the women and children who had been frightened into seeking sanctuary with the Knights of Saint John. But they had by no means won the war. Their first task was to drive the four remaining baillies out of their impregnable fortresses — and free King Henry of Cyprus.

The Battle of Nicosia is described in detail in:

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[i] Edbury, Peter. The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191-1374. Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 60.

[ii] Novare, Philip. The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus. Columbia University Press, 1936, p. 100.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid, p. 102.
[vii] Ibid.