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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The House of Ibelin: Hugh I

 The first Ibelin, Barisan, left behind three sons, Hugh, Baldwin and Balian. This second generation of Ibelins were renowned fighting men, praised by William of Tyre as “noble men, valiant in arms and vigilant in every respect.”[i] Each contributed to the rise of the family in significant ways. Today I discuss the eldest son, Hugh.

Historians conventionally assume that all three were the sons of Helvis of Ramla because no other wife was mentioned in the historical record. However, Hugh immediately came into his inheritance in 1150. Since the laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem designated 15 years as the age of majority, and a boy under that age required a guardian/regent, Hugh must have been at least 15 in 1150, something not physically possible if he were a child of a marriage concluded in 1138. Furthermore, Hugh played a leading role in the siege of Ascalon three years later, again something he could not have done as an unknighted 14-year-old minor. William of Tyre describes the host that gathered for an assault on Ascalon as follows:

Among the lay princes present were: Hugh d’Ibelin, Philip of Nablus, Humphrey of Toron, Simon of Tiberias, Gerard of Sidon, Guy of Beirut, Maurice of Montreal, Renaud de Ch√Ętillon and Walter of St. Omer. These last two served the king for pay.[2]

The prominence Tyre gives to Hugh in 1153 strongly suggests that Hugh was not only a grown man but one who had by 1153 already acquired a considerable reputation at arms.

It is also notable that Hugh only very briefly styled himself Lord of Ramla. This was in the period between Helvis of Ramla’s death in 1158 and the year when his younger brother Baldwin came of age at 15 in 1160. This is consistent with Hugh being the guardian of his brother after Helvis of Ramla’s death (and hence lord of Ramla for his brother) but not entitled to hold the title after his brother came of age.

In short, Hugh was evidently the child of an earlier, unrecorded marriage -- and recent genealogical research suggests she was a native Christian woman resident in Outremer. That Barisan, himself of non-noble birth, would have married a local woman before his elevation into the feudal class is consistent with the pattern of most non-noble settlers in the Holy Land. It would explain why this woman is ignored in later sources when the House of Ibelin was jealous of its status and careful to avoid mentioning anything that might detract from its prestige.

In 1157, Hugh had the misfortune to be one of the ‘prominent men’ taken captive in an ambush laid by Nur al-Din at Jacob’s Ford. King Baldwin III was returning from relieving and fortifying Banyas. Taken completely by surprise, the king barely escaped capture, while Hugh d’Ibelin, along with the Templar master Bertrand of Blancfort and the Templar marshal (and later master) Odo of Saint-Amand, were taken prisoner. Altogether, some eighty-seven Templars and three-hundred secular knights were killed or captured in this ambush. Nur al-Din paraded his trophies — the heads of the killed Franks and his prisoners roped together — through the streets of Damascus before cheering crowds.

Hugh’s captivity came at a pivotal moment in his life. Only shortly before, he had become betrothed to a young woman from the highest echelons of Frankish society, the daughter of Count Joscelyn II of Edessa. At the time of the betrothal, however, the Count of Edessa was in a Saracen dungeon after losing most of his county. Agnes was virtually penniless and already a widow. In short, the marriage brought Hugh no material gain.

Fortunately, his stepmother Helvis of Ramla died in 1158. Hugh, at last, became the guardian of his younger brother Baldwin, the heir to Ramla. He therefore temporarily controlled the income of his brother’s barony of Ramla and Mirabel and could use it to contribute to his ransom. Even so, Hugh was unable to raise his ransom without help. In 1159 he was in Antioch where he met with the Byzantine emperor to thank him for ransom payments, and in 1160 Hugh made a grant to the canons of the Holy Sepulchre in gratitude for their contributions as well.

Meanwhile, Agnes de Courtenay had married his overlord, the Count of Jaffa, Prince Amalric of Jerusalem. At least one account claims that Aimery took Agnes ‘by force’. However, there is no indication of animosity between Hugh and Amalric after Hugh’s release from captivity. Ostensibly Hugh viewed royal contributions to his ransom as more important than Agnes. 

In February 1163, King Baldwin III died unexpectedly. Since his young Byzantine queen had not yet produced an heir, his younger brother Amalric, Count of Jaffa, was the heir apparent. However, the High Court of Jerusalem refused to recognise Amalric as king unless he first set Agnes of Courtney aside. The reason given was that Agnes and Amalric were related within the prohibited degrees, but such an obstacle could easily have been overcome with a papal dispensation. The real reason may have been that the barons of Jerusalem feared Agnes would use her influence to reward her penniless relatives or that her reputation was so sullied she was deemed unsuitable to wear the crown of Jerusalem. Another explanation is that the Church, which viewed a betrothal as sacrosanct, considered Agnes’ marriage to Amalric bigamous. This explanation is suggested in the ‘Lignages d’Outremer’, which claims that no sooner had Agnes been set aside,  she went to Hugh and announced she was his wife. Hugh took Agnes back, but the marriage remained childless. 

In 1167, Hugh played a prominent role in Amalric’s invasion of Egypt. William of Tyre mentions that Hugh was entrusted with constructing a bridge over the Nile and tasked with protecting Cairo. Later in the same campaign, Hugh led an attack on Bilbais, which was under siege. During this engagement his horse fell in the fosse, breaking its neck and Hugh’s leg. According to Ibelin family legend, Hugh’s life was saved by Philip of Nablus, who came to his aid at the risk of his life. [3] Perhaps it was due to this event that Hugh undertook a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1169. Thereafter, he disappears from charters and chronicles and is presumed to have died either on pilgrimage or shortly after returning. By 1171, his younger brother Baldwin was styling himself Lord of Ibelin as well as Lord of Ramla.

William of Tyre consistently praised Hugh d’Ibelin as a man of courage, vigor and diligence. It was probably these attributes that enabled him to marry into the highest rank of Frankish society. While the union appears to have brought Hugh little, it greatly benefitted his younger brothers. Through Hugh’s marriage, the younger Ibelin brothers became uncles of the king’s only son, the future king, Baldwin IV.


[1] William Archbishop of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, Trans. Emily Atwater Babcock (New York: Octagon Books, 1976), 131.

[2] Tyre, 218

[3] Malcolm Barber, ‘The Career of Philip of Nablus in the Kingdom of Jerusalem’, in The Experience of Crusading: Defining the Crusader Kingdom, eds. Peter Edbury and Jonathan Phillips (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 61.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The House of Ibelin: Obscure Origins

 In the fourteenth century, the Ibelins claimed to be descendants of the Counts of Chartres, but the claim is patently concocted, and modern historians have been puzzling over the roots of the family ever since.


Sir Steven Runciman believed the house of Ibelin ‘was founded by the younger brother of a certain Guelin, who was deputy viscount of Chartres, that is to say, the Count of Blois’ representative in Chartres’. He noted that ‘such officers in those days did not enjoy hereditary rank but were often drawn from lawyers’ families’.[i] Peter Edbury, argued that onomastic evidence points to Tuscan or Ligurian (i.e. Italian) origins instead.

Recent genealogical research and DNA samples reinforce Edbury’s thesis, while suggesting further that the Ibelins descended from Italian merchants who immigrated to the Holy Land prior to the First Crusade. There are indications that, although Latin Christians, they had already established themselves in positions of economic and social power under the Abbasids and possibly played a role in aiding the first crusaders take Jaffa and Jerusalem. Such a thesis is hugely exciting and would explain a number of mysteries and anomalies. However, until the results of preliminary research have been published this thesis remains speculative.

Whatever his place of origin, and whatever he called himself before coming to the Holy Land, the first man to identify himself as an ‘Ibelin’ was a certain Barisan. His date of birth is unknown, as is the date he arrived in the Holy Land. The fact that he does not appear to have taken part in the First Crusade, gives credence to thesis noted above that he one of the small minority of Latin Christians already resident in the Levant prior to the First Crusade.  What is certain is that by 1115 he was ‘Constable of Jaffa’, a significant position, suggesting he had made a name for himself and earned the trust of the king. Since such positions did not go to youths unless they were of high birth, we can assume that Barisan was a mature man by that time.

In 1134, he prominently refused to side with his rebellious lord, Hugh of Puiset, Count of Jaffa, siding with the crown, and it may have been for this loyalty that Barisan was rewarded by the king with a fief almost a decade later. In about 1142, the new castle and lordship of Ibelin south of Jaffa was bestowed on Barisan. Notably, he became a vassal of the new Count of Jaffa rather than a tenant-in-chief. Through hard work and loyal service, Barisan had reached the lowest rung of the feudal elite, but he was not yet a baron.

Meanwhile, in 1138, he had married a certain Helvis (or Heloise), daughter of Baldwin of Ramla, one of the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. At the time of this marriage, Helvis was not the heiress; she had a younger brother, Renier. So, this marriage was between a man not yet raised to the nobility and the daughter of a nobleman. It was a good marriage but not a spectacular one. The situation changed, however, when Renier of Ramla died childless in 1148. Suddenly, Helvis was the heiress of the prestigious and prosperous barony of Ramla and Mirabel. (Despite the two names, this was a single barony.) Through sheer luck, a good marriage had turned into a spectacular one.

Barisan had little time to enjoy his increased status. He died in 1150, probably peacefully in his bed of old age; he was most likely more than 60 years old and could easily have been 70 or older at the time of his death.

[i] Sir Steven Runciman, ‘The Families of Outremer: The Feudal Nobility of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291’, The Creighton Lecture in History 1959 (London: University of London Press, 1960), 7.

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Ibelins: An Archetypical Frankish Family

 Today I start a series on the history of the Ibelin Family -- arguably the most powerful and most charismatic of all the "Frankish" families. Certainly their influence pre-dated and out-lasted that of the Lusignans.

The Ibelin family was one of the most powerful noble families in the crusader states. Sons of the House of Ibelin were at various times Lords of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel, Nablus, Caymont, Beirut, Arsur, and Counts of Jaffa and Ascalon, the last, a traditionally royal domain and title of the heirs to the throne. Ibelins married into the royal families of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus and Armenia. An Ibelin daughter founded the Cypriot royal family, and three other Ibelin women were queens of Cyprus. Ibelins were repeatedly regents, constables, marshals and seneschals of both Jerusalem and Cyprus. The Ibelins also led a successful revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II. 

Yet the Ibelins were not mere politicians. They were respected scholars. One translated Arab poetry into French; another wrote a legal treatise that is not only a goldmine of information about the laws of the crusader kingdoms but admired for its elegance of style and the sophistication of its analysis. The Ibelins built at least one magnificent palace, whose mosaics, fountains, gardens and polychrome marble inspired the admiration of contemporaries. Their display of wealth and panache during the Seventh Crusade awed the nobility of France. 

Yet while the Ibelins were undoubtedly exceptionally successful, they were also in many ways typical. They embodied the overall experience, characteristics and ethos of the Franks in the Holy Land. They came from obscure, probably non-noble origins, and the dynasty’s founder can be classed as an ‘adventurer’ and ‘crusader’. They rapidly put down roots in the Near East, intermarrying with native Christian and Byzantine elites. They were hardened and cunning fighting men able to deploy arms and tactics unknown to the West and intellectuals who could win wars with words in the courts. They were multilingual, cosmopolitan and luxury-loving, as comfortable in baths as in battles. Perhaps most importantly, they worked closely with turcopoles and sergeants and forged alliances with the merchant communities, reflecting the Latin East’s tolerant and fluid social structures. Finally, like the crusader states themselves, they disappeared from history when the last crusader kingdom fell to the greed of the Italian commercial city-states. In short, the story of the Ibelins is a microcosm of the crusader states, and I will be telling their story over the next weeks.

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

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