All content on this blog is protected by copyright.
Content used elsewhere without attribution constitutes theft of intellectual property and will be prosecuted.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Swansong of the House of Ibelin

 By the mid-thirteenth century, the House of Ibelin, had many branches and through marriage was interrelated with nearly all the prominent families of Outremer. Although from 1259 to the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, no Ibelin held the position of baillie or regent, the family was neither obliterated nor powerless.  Yet it was undoubtedly in decline.

Balian of Arsur (son of John of Arsur) was constable of the kingdom from 1268 to 1277, and Baldwin d’Ibelin was constable of Jerusalem in 1286. Although Balian of Beirut’s heir, John of Beirut, never played an important role in the kingdom, Jaffa’s younger son, Balian of Jaffa, was a chamberlain of the kingdom 1283-1285. This, however, was the last known Ibelin to hold an office in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In Cyprus, the family remained powerful for considerably longer, while three sons of Jaffa and two of his daughters settled in Armenia. In Cyprus, Ibelins held the post of constable from 1247-1256 (Guy d’Ibelin, son of John of Beirut), 1286 (Baldwin d’Ibelin, father unknown) and 1302 (Philip d’Ibelin, and brother of the ruling queen). Jaffa’s eldest son James established himself as a legal expert in Cyprus and was extremely successful in pleading cases in the courts, although the legal treatise he wrote is not regarded as highly as his father’s work. Philip d’Ibelin, a son of Guy d’Ibelin, held the powerful position of seneschal for Henry II and remained loyal to him during the revolt of 1306. Other Ibelins found themselves on the other side, and the family weathered the dynastic crisis of 1306-1310 well.

Meanwhile, the daughters of the house were marrying into the royal family on a nearly regular basis. Isabella d’Ibelin, the daughter of Guy d’Ibelin (the youngest son of John of Beirut), married Hugh III. Eschiva, a granddaughter of Balian of Beirut, married Guy de Lusignan and was the mother of Hugh IV, who himself married first a Marie d’Ibelin, and later, an Alice d’Ibelin.

The Ibelins remained powerful noblemen in Cyprus until the war with the Genoese, 1373-1374. The Genoese beheaded the last titular lord of Arsur, a direct descendant of the first Ibelin lord of Arsur, son of John of Beirut. Another Ibelin, Nicholas, probably still a child, was sent as a hostage to Genoa and never heard from again. Although descendants of the House of Ibelin may have survived in Armenia or through the female line (and wherever the name Balian surfaces, an Ibelin connection can be suspected), the last male known to bear the name of Ibelin disappeared from the historical record in 1374.

Like the crusader states themselves, the House of Ibelin faded from prominence and memory to be remembered only occasionally by historians, novelists and filmmakers.


Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!


For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read:


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The House of Ibelin: John, Count of Jaffa

 Without doubt, the most famous of the fourth generation of Ibelins — and arguably the best-known Ibelin today — was John of Jaffa, the son of Philip. His fame derives not from deeds of arms and high politics, but rather from a book commonly known as the ‘Assises of Jerusalem’, described as one of the great works of thirteenth-century thought.[i] This was his final legacy, written at the end of an eventful life.

John was born in Cyprus two years before his father became regent, and the first fourteen years of his life were probably ones of wealth and privilege. All that abruptly ended when, in February 1229, Emperor Frederick II sent the Sicilian Count of Cotron to lay waste to the Ibelin’s lands. In fear for their lives, John’s mother, Alice de Montbéliard, fled with her children in a small boat, encountering such storms, they all nearly drowned. Having barely escaped death at sea, John arrived in Syria to find the emperor had already given orders to disseize him of his estates. He had not yet come of age, much less taken any action against the emperor; his crime was simply being an Ibelin.

Unsurprisingly, he became a staunch supporter of his uncle, the Lord of Beirut. In 1232, aged seventeen, he was present at the debacle at Casal Imbert and was wounded in the engagement. The experience did not dull John’s ardour for the Ibelin cause; shortly afterwards, he sold properties in Acre to help finance the expedition to Cyprus. He took part in the campaign that ended with the Ibelin victory at Agridi and was tasked by his uncle of Beirut with rounding up the imperial troops still at large.

Throughout the next decade, he was in regular attendance at the High Court of Cyprus, where he was one of the most powerful lords. In 1237, King Henry of Cyprus married the sister of the Armenian King Hethoum, and John married a second sister of Hethoum sometime before 1242. This made John the brother-in-law of both the King of Armenia and the King of Cyprus. For the rest of his life, John moved in exalted circles and was viewed in East and West as a nobleman of the first rank.

Meanwhile, he evolved into a legal scholar. He was probably the author of the proposal, signed by his cousin Balian, proposing Simon de Montfort as imperial baillie of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He was active in devising legal justifications for his cousin’s attack on Tyre. His account of the incident is a case study in creative legality. He even found ‘legal’ explanations for his cousin’s cynical refusal to surrender Tyre to the regent the Ibelins had created, something Peter Edbury rightly calls ‘transparent hypocrisy’. Notably, he played no role in military actions.

When Alice of Champagne died in 1246, John d’Ibelin’s sophisticated legal reasoning warranted declaring King Henry of Cyprus the rightful regent of the still absent Conrad of Hohenstaufen. King Henry, however, could not be treated as a mere figurehead. He had been the reigning monarch of Cyprus for fourteen years. He was 29 years old and brother-in-law of the Armenian king. Henry of Cyprus could not be ignored or dismissed the way Ralph of Soissons had been.

However, King Henry showed no real interest in Jerusalem; he was content to name deputies to rule for him on the mainland. The first of these was Balian of Beirut. At about the same time, Henry granted Tyre to Philip de Montfort, made Balian’s younger brother John of Arsur the Constable of Jerusalem, and enfeoffed his brother-in-law John with the County of Jaffa and Ascalon as well as the traditional Ibelin lordship of Ramla and Mirabel, both of which had been restored to the Kingdom of Jerusalem through treaties concluded with the Ayyubids at the close of the Barons’ Crusade.

Henceforth, John took great pride in his title of ‘count’. In keeping with the spirit of the times, John engaged in lavish displays of pageantry designed to enhance his honour. King Louis IX’s seneschal Jean de Joinville writes of the landing of King Louis’ army on the shore before Damietta, noting:

To left of us, the Comte de Jaffa … was about to land; he made the finest show of any as he came towards the shore. His galley was covered, both under and above the water, with painted escutcheons bearing his arms, which are or with a cross ‘gules patee’. He had at least three hundred rowers in his galley; beside each rower was a small shield with the count’s arms upon it, and to each shield was attached a pennon with the same arms worked in gold.


As the galley approached, it seemed as if it flew, so quickly did the rowers urge it onwards with the powerful sweep of their oars; and what with the flapping of the pennons, the booming of the drums, and the screech of Saracen horns onboard the vessel, you would have thought a thunderbolt was falling from the skies. As soon as this galley had been driven into the sand as far as it would go, the count and his knights leapt on shore, well equipped, and came to take their stand beside us.[ii]

But for all his fine display, John was soon seriously in debt. The cost of restoring and maintaining the defences of his county — the southernmost in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and a frequent target of Saracen raids — was exorbitant. In the succeeding decades, as the Mongols, Khwarizmians and Mamluks increasingly threatened the Frankish kingdom, other secular lords gave large portions of their lands to the military orders, but John of Jaffa stubbornly hung on to his county.

In the decade after the departure of King Louis, Jaffa was periodically called to serve as baillie of the kingdom but does not appear to have been terribly keen to hold the position. He took this office in 1255 but surrendered it to his cousin of Arsur in 1258. The War of St. Sabas had seriously damaged the fabric of the country, and the Mongols successively attacked the trade routes that fed the kingdom’s economy. The Count of Jaffa was forced to conclude truces with the resurgent Saracens. Notably, these were private truces for Jaffa alone, a clear indication of the disintegration of central authority noted earlier. In this period, Jaffa’s wife and the mother of his six (or possibly nine) children returned to her native Armenia, taking most of her children. At about the same time, John was admonished by the pope for carrying on an affair with Cyprus’ young dowager queen, Plaisance of Antioch. It is hard to know which of these events was the cause and which the effect.

In the difficult years of 1258-1266, Jaffa wrote his opus magnum. We catch a glimpse of the author in the preface:

I pray the Holy Trinity that I may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit so as to bring this book to such perfection that it will be to the honour of God and to the profit of my soul and the government of the people of the kingdom of Jerusalem… . I pray, entreat and demand in the name of God that they who read should not use anything here falsely so as to deprive anyone of their rights, but that they use it to defend their rights or those of others as need arises.[iii]

 John died in 1266. He was succeeded very briefly by his son James before Jaffa fell to the Mamluk Sultan Baybars in 1268. 

The two daughters of this generation, Isabella, the daughter of the Lord of Beirut, and Maria, the daughter of Philip, became nuns.


[i] Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277 (New York: Macmillan Press, 1973), 230.

[ii] See note 24, Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, 204.

[iii] John, Count of Jaffa, quoted in John of Jaffa, His Opponents, and His Fiefs, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 128, no. 2 (1984): 134-63,


John is a minor character in the early books of the Rebels of Outremer Series, but will play a more important role in the later books.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!


For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read:


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The House of Ibelin: The Wolflings, Balian of Beirut's Brothers

 John d’Ibelin, the “Old Lord” of Beirut was blessed with five sons who grew to adulthood. They were collectively referred to as the “wolflings” in some contemporary satirical literature. The story of the first born, Balian, was told last week, but much less is known about his younger brothers described below.


Baldwin, Seneshal of Cyprus, 1208(?) - 1266

The Lord of Beirut’s second son Baldwin lived in the shadow of his more prominent father and brother. He was knighted with his brother Balian, shared Balian’s fate as a hostage of Emperor Frederick in 1228 and took part in the Battle of Nicosia and the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230). He was also one of three Ibelins surprised by the enemy at Casal Imbert in 1232, a debacle caused by the Ibelin’s poor leadership and hubris. Sir Baldwin was wounded in the engagement yet recovered sufficiently to command a division at the Battle of Agridi.

After that, he remained in Cyprus while his elder brother assumed the senior title of Lord of Beirut. For the astonishing stretch of twenty-one years, from 1246 until 1267, he served as Seneschal of Cyprus, a hugely influential position and by no means a nominal title. He took part in King Louis’ crusade and was taken captive at the Battle of Mansoura. Jean de Joinville reveals in his account of this crusade that Baldwin understood Arabic well.[i] Sir Baldwin was ransomed along with Joinville, his brother Guy and his cousin Philip de Montfort. He married Alice, the sister of one of his family’s bitterest enemies, Amaury de Bethsan. They had many children, one of whom, Philip, married the titular heiress of Galilee and is mentioned as Constable of Cyprus in 1302.

Hugh d’Ibelin, 1210 (?) - 1238

Hugh died without heirs sometime in 1239 and did not attain any prominence in his short life. Nevertheless, he is recorded taking part in the siege of St. Hilarion (1229-1230) along with his elder brothers Sirs Balian and Baldwin. He, too, was surprised at Casal Imbert, and his horse was killed under him. He was discovered with a lone companion defending a small house in the town. At the Battle of Agridi, Sir Hugh was given the honour denied elder brother Balian of leading the first division. Sir Hugh was also prominent in the siege of Kyrenia in the following winter. Hugh was granted estates in Cyprus rather than in Syria at his father’s death. He was roughly 28 years old and still single when he died from unknown causes in 1238. 

John d’Ibelin, Lord of ‘Foggia’ and Arsur, 1213 (?) - 1258

John served in the emperor’s household as a squire during the latter’s sojourn in Syria from September 1228 to May 1229. Like his elder brother Balian, he was effectively a hostage for his father’s good behaviour. Young John, however, appears to have ingratiated himself with the Hohenstaufen. Novare claims Frederick liked him so much he tried to induce him to return to the West, promising him the lordship of Foggia in Apulia.[ii] John did not take the emperor’s bait and remained in the Holy Land, although his family was said to call him John ‘of Foggia’ in jest.

John led the Ibelin relief force that ran the imperial sea blockade of the citadel of Beirut in an open boat. With a hundred volunteers (knights, sergeants and squires), he successfully scaled the castle to reinforce the garrison. Thereafter, the garrison ‘defended themselves more vigorously, made a countermine against the miners … recaptured the fosse by force … [and] made many brave sallies and gained somewhat over those without, and burned several engines’.[iii] Whether all that can be attributed to the inspiration and leadership of a youth hardly older than 16 or 17 seems doubtful, but it appears he did not disgrace himself.

On the other hand, he does not rate a mention for his deeds at the subsequent Battle of Agridi or the siege of Kyrenia. At his father’s death, he succeeded to his mother’s lordship of Arsur with the explicit consent of his brothers. The latter suggests that Sirs Balian, Baldwin, Hugh and Guy believed they were adequately endowed with properties and power elsewhere. Notably, except for Sir Balian, all three of John’s other brothers held estates exclusively in Cyprus, a reminder of just how plentiful (and wealthy) the Cypriot estates were — despite being mostly invisible in history because they did not bestow the titles used by the chroniclers.

In 1240, John took part in the Barons’ Crusade, getting involved in the rout near Gaza, but escaping capture with his cousins Balian de Sidon and Philip de Montfort. In 1241, he commenced fortification of his castle at Arsur, and two years later, was involved in the capture of Tyre.

In 1246, he was named Constable of Jerusalem and baillie at Acre. He stepped down on the arrival of King Louis of France, possibly to take part in the Seventh Crusade, but was persuaded to take up the position again roughly a year later. Significantly, he initially succeeded in convincing the warring Pisans and Genoese to conclude a truce but was less successful in the next intra-Italian war. Nevertheless, John retained the respect of his peers and died in 1258, serving once again as Baillie.

John married Alice of Caiphas and had several children, including his son and heir Balian. 

Guy, Constable of Cyprus, 1216 (?) – 1255 (?)

Guy was one of the Ibelins caught (almost literally) with their pants down during a night attack on Casal Imbert in early 1232. Given his age of roughly 16, however, Guy’s role in the debacle could hardly have been great. He was possibly still a squire, and even if newly knighted, was not in command. Furthermore, Guy is not recorded at the subsequent battle of Agridi or the siege of Kyrenia, suggesting that he was very young and, perhaps after the debacle at Casal Imbert, his father felt he needed more training rather than more responsibility. 

At his father’s death in 1236, like his elder brother Baldwin and Hugh, he was given properties in Cyprus rather than in Syria. He did not participate in the Barons’ Crusade, remaining in Cyprus instead. By 1247, he was constable there, which explains why he commanded a force of 120 knights in the Seventh Crusade. In 1250, he was taken captive with St. Louis. One of his fellow prisoners, Jean de Joinville, called him ‘one of the most accomplished knights I have ever known’ – and more significantly — ‘and one who most loved the islanders in his care’.[iv]

Joinville also tells of another incident. After the Mamluks had murdered the Ayyubid Sultan and cut his heart from his still warm body, the Christian prisoners expected to be slaughtered. Baldwin d'Ibelin translated what the Mamluks were saying among themselves and confirmed they were discussing whether to decapitate the captive crusaders. There was only one priest aboard Joinville's galley, and he was overwhelmed by men seeking to confess. So, Joinville tells us, ‘Guy d'Ibelin knelt down beside me, and confessed himself to me. “I absolve you”, I said, “with such power as God has given me”. However, when I rose to my feet, I could not remember a word of what he told me’.[v]

In the event, the Mamluks found the potential ransoms too tempting to throw away and entered negotiations instead. Guy d'Ibelin was one of the noblemen who witnessed the discussions. King Louis and the Mamluks came to terms, and after many delays and some chicanery, were eventually set free. Guy returned to Cyprus.

Long before this crusade, Guy had married Philippa Barlais, the daughter of the Ibelin’s arch-enemy during the civil war. Edbury notes that Barlais’ estates were forfeited to the crown for his treason against King Henry in 1232. With this marriage, the Ibelins probably obtained those lands while restoring them to Barlais’ daughter, who could not be held responsible for her father’s treason. The couple had ten children, and one of their daughters, Isabella, married Hugh de Lusignan, who reigned in Cyprus as Hugh III. 

[i] Jean Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, trans. Margaret Shaw (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 252.

[ii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 87.

[iii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 133.

[iv] See note 24, Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, 248.

[v] See note 24, Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, 253.

Balian’s brothers, particularly Baldwin, are characters in the Rebels of Outremer Series.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!


For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read:


Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The House of Ibelin - Balian of Beirut, 1207 - 1247

 The “Old Lord” of Beirut’s oldest son and heir, although named for his famous grandfather Balian, was like neither his wise father nor his diplomatic grandfather. Balian of Beirut, the “young” lord of Beirut was hot-headed, passionate and uncannily successful in his endeavours — an almost archetypical medieval nobleman.


Balian, the Lord of Beirut’s eldest son and heir, first appears in the historical record on the (unnamed) day of his knighting. Significantly, the entire event was held in Cyprus rather than in Balian’s future lordship of Beirut, which suggests he had spent his youth on Cyprus, consistent with the medieval custom of sending adolescents to serve as squires away from home.

At the banquet in Limassol where Frederick II confronted the Lord of Beirut, Balian and his younger brother Baldwin were among the twenty hostages turned over to the emperor as guarantors for Beirut’s appearance before the High Court. Novare records that Balian and his brother were ‘put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross of iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs’.[i] Balian and his brother were not released until weeks later. By that time, Novare notes, they ‘had endured so long an imprisonment on land and in the galleys at sea and were so miserable that it was pitiful to behold them’.[ii] Despite his release, Balian was forced to remain in the emperor’s household, in effect still a hostage, albeit under more respectable conditions.

As soon as the emperor sailed from Acre on 1 May 1229, Balian stood at the forefront of the struggle against him. He sailed with his father to Cyprus in June 1229 and took part in the Battle of Nicosia. After his father had been unhorsed and isolated, and his uncle of Caesarea slain, Balian rallied the knights of Ibelin and led a decisive charge that put their enemies to flight. He was active in the siege of St. Hilarion; at one point, when a sally from the castle had overrun the Ibelin camp, ‘Sir Balian came … recovered the camp, and, spurring up to the gate of the wall, broke his lance on the iron of the wall gate’.[iii] In another instance, when Novare himself was badly wounded before the castle, Balian ‘succored him and rescued him most vigorously’.[iv] Even considering Novare’s bias and affection for his ‘compeer’, by the age of 22, Beirut’s heir had a reputation as an exceptionally bold knight. 

At about this time, Balian married Eschiva de Montbèliard, the daughter and heiress of Walter de Montbèliard, the former Regent of Cyprus (1205-1210) by his wife, Burgundia de Lusignan. Eschiva was the widow of a knight, who had been killed in the Battle of Nicosia while fighting on the Ibelin side, Gerard de Montaigu. Furthermore, Balian and Eschiva were cousins and needed a papal dispensation to marry;  for whatever reason they failed to obtain this in advance. The Archbishop of Nicosia took the case to Rome, and the pope excommunicated the couple on 4 March 1232.[v] The news of this excommunication reached Outremer shortly before the Battle of Agridi in June 1232.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1231, the Lord of Beirut entrusted his heir with holding the port of Limassol against the emperor’s fleet. Although Balian had only a few troops, Filangieri opted not to force a landing, sailing instead to Syria, where he captured the city of Beirut — but not the citadel. In early 1232, Balian crossed over to Syria with his father and the Cypriot army to relieve the citadel. When it became necessary to smuggle additional fighting men through a sea blockade by night to reinforce the citadel’s garrison, Balian volunteered to lead the task force. Much to Balian’s outrage, Beirut chose his younger brother John instead — reasoning that young John was expendable, but Balian was not.

Instead, Beirut sent Balian to Tripoli to persuade the Prince of Antioch to support the Ibelin cause. Antioch preferred neutrality. Although he did not arrest or harm Balian, he prevented him from returning to his father. Balian’s frustration with his enforced inactivity can be measured by the fact that he sought a safe conduct from the Sultan of Damascus so he might pass through Saracen territory to rejoin his father at Acre.

As fate would have it, before he could make use of his safe conduct, the imperial forces abandoned Beirut and withdrew to Tyre. Coming south from Antioch with just his personal entourage, Balian was the first Ibelin to reach Beirut after the siege was lifted. He found the citadel severely damaged but was received with great joy by the garrison. Because he remained in Beirut, he was not present at the debacle of Casal Imbert, where his brothers Baldwin, Hugh and Guy were humiliated and defeated in a surprise night attack.

When the imperial forces seized Cyprus, Balian’s wife was one of the few women of the Ibelin faction who neither sought sanctuary nor suffered imprisoned at the hands of the imperial authorities. Instead, Eschiva de Montbèliard, ‘dressed in the robes of a minor brother … mounted a castle called Buffavento … [which] she provisioned with food, of which it had none’.[vi]

Balian joined King Henry and his father when they led an army back to Cyprus, yet conspicuously played no role in the capture of Famagusta, evidently because news of his excommunication had reached the Lord of Beirut. On the eve of the Battle of Agridi, Novare reports that Beirut ‘made [Balian] come before him and demanded that he swear to obey the command of the Holy Church, for he was under sentence of excommunication because of his marriage. [Balian] replied that he could not accede to this request. The nobleman [Beirut] … said: ‘Balian, I have more faith in God than in your knighthood, and since you do not wish to grant my request, leave the array for, and it please God, an excommunicated man shall never be a leader of our troop’.[vii]

Balian disobeyed. As Novare tells us:


‘He escaped and went to the first rank where were his brother Sir Hugh and Sir Anceau; he gave them advice and showed them that which he knew to be of advantage, and then he left them and placed himself before them to the side. He had but few men who were with him, for at that time there were only five knights who would speak to him, all the others having sworn to respect the command of Holy Church.


‘When the advance guard of the first company of Langobards [Imperial troops] approached the division of my lord of Beirut and the king, Sir Balian spurred through a most evil place, over rocks and stones, and went to attack the others above the middle of the pass. So much he delayed them and did such feats of arms that no one was able to enter or leave this pass … Many times was he pressed by so many lances that no one believed that he would ever be able to escape. Those who were below with the king saw him and knew him well by his arms and each of them cried to my lord of Beirut: “Ah, Sir, let us aid Sir Balian, for we see that he will be killed there above”. [The Lord of Beirut] said to them: “Leave him alone. Our Lord will aid him, and it please Him, and we shall ride straight forward with all speed, for if we should turn aside, we might lose all”.’[viii]

The Cypriot forces were eventually victorious and chased the imperial troops up and over the mountain to Kyrenia. Here, the survivors, including the leaders of the imperial faction, first took refuge in the citadel before later sailing to safety. A garrison of imperial loyalists held the castle for almost a year against a bitter siege in which Balian (evidently back in his father’s favour) led an assault on the city. After the surrender of the castle at Kyrenia, the Lord of Beirut returned to Syria, but Balian remained in Cyprus with King Henry. In March 1236, he was named Constable of Cyprus, but his father died in October of the same year. At the age of 29, Balian had become Lord of Beirut. 

In 1239, Balian resigned the constableship of Cyprus to take part in what has become known as the ‘Barons’ Crusade’, led by Thibaud of Champagne, King of Navarre; and Richard, Duke of Cornwall. Although Sir Balian was not involved in the ill-advised attack on Gaza, the crusade is significant because it brought Balian together with his cousin Philip de Montfort. Balian signed the letter to Emperor Fredrick in which the Ibelins agreed to accept imperial rule if the emperor would name Simon de Montfort his baillie in Jerusalem. One can only speculate on how the history of the crusader states and England might have been different if Frederick II had accepted the proposal. 

In April 1242, Conrad Hohenstaufen, the son of Emperor Frederick and Yolanda of Jerusalem, announced that he had come of age (14) and was replacing Riccardo Filangieri with Tomaso of Acerra as his regent. While Filangieri was hated, Acerra had a reputation for brutally enforcing imperial policies on the Sicilian nobility. His appointment amounted to an imperial declaration of war.

It was nearly fourteen years since the emperor’s men had tortured Balian because his father had stood up to false accusations, extortion and an attempt to disseize him without due process. For the last ten, the imperial forces held the north of the kingdom, and the rebels occupied the south in an uneasy stalemate. Both sides claimed to have the law on their side; neither side seriously considered a compromise, yet neither side dared attack the other. The threat of a Hohenstaufen king (not just regent) and a new imperial ‘baillie’ alarmed Balian of Beirut.

When four citizens from Tyre offered to surrender the city to Beirut, the temptation was too great. Balian consulted his closest advisors (first and foremost Philip de Montfort) and decided to seize the city. Balian does not appear to have cared much about the legality of his action; this was war. Nevertheless, a legal fig leaf was found, as described earlier. 

Tyre was a nearly invincible city that had held out against Saladin twice. However, allies inside the city opened a seaward postern, enabling Balian and some of his knights to enter. Although almost overwhelmed, other sympathisers lowered the harbor chain enabling Venetian galleys to sail into Tyre harbor in time to reinforce Balian and his men. Assisted by the many residents who joined in the attack, the Ibelins and their allies captured the city of Tyre.

Lotario Filangieri and the bulk of the imperial mercenaries took refuge in the citadel. Aware that Accera was already on his way with strong imperial reinforcements, they prepared to hold out, but luck favoured the Ibelins. Riccardo Filangieri, who had sailed for Sicily before the Ibelin attack, encountered terrible storms. His ship foundered, and he returned to Tyre in a coastal vessel, unaware that the city had meanwhile fallen to his enemies. Balian of Beirut took personal custody of the imperial marshal and manifestly subjected Filangieri to the same treatment he had suffered at the emperor’s hands in 1229. Furthermore, he had the imperial marshal led to a prominent point with a noose around his neck. Riccardo’s brother caved in and agreed to surrender the citadel of Tyre. The Filangieris and their men were then allowed to depart with their portable treasure.

Yet while Balian kept his word to the Filangieris, he acted far less honourably towards his ‘queen’. Balian flatly refused to hand Tyre over to the queen or her French consort, using a flimsy excuse. The queen’s consort ‘saw then that he had no power nor command and that he was but a shade. As a result of the disgust and the chagrin which he had over this, he abandoned all, left the queen his wife, and went to his own country’.[ix] 

It is unimaginable that John of Beirut would have acted with so little regard for the law or respect for his queen. Yet Balian had succeeded where his principled father had failed. He had reduced the last stronghold of the imperialists, expelled the last imperial ‘baillie’ and ensured that the latter’s replacement did not dare set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Acerra landed in Tripoli and remained there, with no influence in Jerusalem whatsoever.

Four years later, Balian was named Baillie of Jerusalem by King Henry I of Cyprus, who the barons of Outremer recognised as regent for the absent Conrad Hohenstaufen at the death of his mother, Queen Alice. Balian died on 4 September 1247 of unknown causes. He would have been roughly 40 years of age. He left behind at least one son, John, who succeeded to the title of Lord of Beirut. 

Balian was less admirable than his father. Balian was not prepared to risk arrest and death for the sake of an ethical reputation. He did not trust promises, certainly not from the emperor. Novare never describes him, as he does his father, prostrating himself face down on the earth in prayer. Rather, Balian's life was characterised by deeds of courage, military competence and leadership, and also by undeniable impetuosity and passion. He charged in, regardless of risks.  Nor does he appear to have inherited his grandfather's gift for negotiation, and there is not a trace of his father's caution, calm, restraint and reason in the stories told about him. Nearly alone among his generation of peers, he was not famous as a legal scholar, historian, philosopher or troubadour.

There may be a reason. Balian insisted on custody of Filangieri because of what Filangieri had done to Beirut ten years earlier. Likewise, he insisted on the same kind of pillory for Filangieri as the emperor had made for him. This suggests that Balian was traumatised by the experience of being tortured in the emperor’s custody. The 21-year-old nobleman had not expected the treatment he received, and he never fully recovered psychologically.

Balian appears to shine as a soldier, a leader of men — and as a husband. He did not give up his Eschiva; he forced first his stubborn, principled, and pious father – and then the pope himself – to recognise the marriage. He did not do it for land, he had more than enough, and there were plenty of other heiresses, including ones with royal blood he could have had. He did it for love. Once Balian gave his heart, nothing would induce him to abandon his lady.

[i] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 81.

[ii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 87.

[iii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 106.

[iv] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 106.

[v] The date is often given as 4 March 1231, but at that time, the Kingdom of Cyprus used a calendar in which the new year started on 25 March, so the date corresponds to 4 March 1232.

[vi] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 142.

[vii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 151.

[viii] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 153

[ix] Novare, The Wars of Frederick II against the Ibelins in Syria and Cyprus, 199. 

Balian is the hero of the Rebels of Outremer series starting with Rebels against Tyranny.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!

 For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read:


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

House of Ibelin - The Daughters of Balian d'Ibelin

Balian d'Ibelin, the defender of Jerusalem in 1187, had two daughers, Helvis and Margaret. Both helped establish the Ibelin dynasty by  strengthening the kinship ties of the House of Ibelin with marriages to leading noblemen in the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and France. Both women married twice.


When still a young girl, Helvis married Reginald, Lord of Sidon. Sidon had fought his way off the field at Hattin and evaded capture. He defended his castle of Belfort against Saladin, allegedly pretending an interest in converting to Islam to buy time to build up his defences. He was seized when he came to negotiate and either tortured in sight of the castle (until he ordered the garrison to surrender) or held in captivity in Damascus until the castle surrendered to secure his release. Out of remorse, the chronicles tell us, Saladin restored Sidon to him as an ‘iqta held from the Sultan of Damascus rather than a fief of the crown of Jerusalem. This may be the reason Balian d’Ibelin married his still young daughter to the grizzled Baron of Sidon: Sidon was the only baron of Jerusalem that still had at least a promise of land from the victor. If so, it was a miscalculation. The restoration of Sidon to Christian rule remained a promise until 1197 when the German Crusade recaptured it.

In 1202, five years after regaining his barony, Reginal de Sidon died. He was probably close to or more than 70 years of age, and Helvis would have been just 24. She was also the mother of a young son named after her father, Balian. Helvis assumed control of the barony and served as her son’s guardian until he came of age in 1213. Balian de Sidon played a prominent role in the conflict between the barons of Jerusalem and the Holy Roman emperor, serving as regent of the kingdom (often jointly with others) for many years during the Hohenstaufen’s absence. He also attempted to mediate between the factions.  

Helvis married a second time. Since Helvis was not an heiress, she could was not required to remarry, and we can assume this second marriage was of her choosing. Her choice was a newcomer to Outremer, a man who had followed the call to the Fourth Crusade but refused to be misused as a Venetian mercenary. Rather than joining in the sack of Zara and then Constantinople, he proceeded in the company of his brother and others of their affinity to the Holy Land, arriving about the time of Reginald de Sidon’s death. He was Guy de Montfort, brother of Simon the Elder and uncle of the British parliamentary reformer.

Guy was born in 1160, which made him a good 18 years older than Helvis and already in his early forties when he arrived in the Holy Land. He was widowed and had an adult son and two adult daughters in France. However, he was willing to stay in the Holy Land and was granted the vacant Syrian barony of Toron, presumably by Queen Isabella, before her death in 1205. Since Helvis was Isabella’s half-sister, granting an ‘appropriate’ title to Helvis’ new husband would have been in accordance with feudal practice of the time.

Helvis had one son by her new husband, named for her brother Philip, and two daughters, Maria and Petronilla. Helvis died in or shortly after 1210. As she would have been no more than 33 at the time, the probability that she died in childbirth is high. After her death, her husband Guy returned to France to join his brother Simon’s crusade against the Albigensians. His young family was taken under the wing of his brother’s wife, the vigorous and pious Alice de Montmorency until she died in 1221. During these childhood years, Philip forged close ties with his cousin Simon. Later, Philip returned to the Holy Land, took up the title of Lord of Toron and vigorously supported the Ibelin rebellion against Frederick II. 

Balian and Maria’s second daughter Margaret married Hugh of Tiberias in her teens. Hugh was the son and heir of the Prince of Galilee and a stepson of Raymond de Tripoli. Since Galilee had been lost in the aftermath of Hattin, his title was nominal, but as a staunch supporter of Henri de Champagne, he probably enjoyed royal patronage. When Henri de Champagne died in the autumn of 1198, Hugh proposed his younger brother Ralph as consort for the widowed Queen Isabella of Jerusalem, but the High Court preferred Aimery de Lusignan, King of Cyprus.

When in 1198 Aimery de Lusignan barely escaped an assassination attempt, his suspicions fell on the Tiberias brothers. He seized their properties and ordered them out of the kingdom. Significantly, the barons of Jerusalem, including Margaret’s brother John, rallied to the Tiberias brothers. John, then still constable of the kingdom, argued that the king did not have the right to disseize a vassal without the judgement of the High Court. Nevertheless, the Tiberias brothers did not feel safe in Lusignan’s kingdom and chose voluntary exile instead.

Margaret and Hugh first went to Tripoli but continued to Constantinople after the establishment of Frankish control there. As the daughter of a Byzantine princess, Margaret may have been the driving force behind this move. Hugh’s arrival in the city is the last recorded event of his life. He is believed to have died in Constantinople between 1204 and 1210. The couple had no children. 

After her husband’s death, Margaret returned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1210 and married Walter, the heir to the Lordship of Caesarea. Walter’s inheritance was still held by his mother and her second husband, Aymar of Laron, so Walter and Margaret went to Cyprus, where Walter was named constable in 1210. 

As constable of Cyprus, Walter led a contingent of 100 Cypriot knights to Egypt for the Fifth Crusade. He was in Egypt when Saracen forces broke through to Caesarea and laid it to waste, effectively ending his interest in regaining control of his hereditary lordship. He was present at the coronation of Yolanda (Isabella II) of Jerusalem at Tyre in 1225 and witnessed the emperor’s infamous banquet in Nicosia. After that, Walter was a steadfast supporter of the Ibelins in their struggle against the Holy Roman emperor. He died fighting with the Ibelins at the Battle of Nicosia on 14 July 1229.

Margaret was left a widow with one son and four daughters, all of whom must have been less than 20 years of age. She did not remarry and probably remained in Cyprus, where she held substantial estates. In 1241, the lordship of Ibelin was recovered from the Saracens by treaty. According to Jerusalem’s laws, the lordship fell to Margaret, then 60 years old, as the ‘nearest’ relative of the last lord, her father, Balian. It must have been deeply satisfying to her to regain Ibelin after more than a half-century. One can only hope she died before it was lost once again in 1253, but the date of her death is unrecorded.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Helvis and Meg are characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!


For more about the Ibelins and the world they lived in read: