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

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

House of Ibelin: John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, Regent of Jerusalem and Cyprus

 John d'Ibelin, 1179 - 1236, has gone down in history as "the Old Lord of Beirut." The description originates with 13th century historian and jurist Philip de Novare, who  makes "the Old Lord of Beirut" the hero in his account of the baronial revolt against Emperor Fredrick II.  While modern historians warn that Novare was a vassal of the Ibelins and obviously a biased observer, he nevertheless provides a first-hand account of events that are rarely contradicted outright by other sources. Rather, it is the invariable positive "spin" on the motives and actions of the Ibelins that modern historians object to.  Furthermore, none can deny that John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, was a towering figure of the early 13th century, a man admired for his learning, wisdom and influence.

John was the eldest son of Balian d’Ibelin and the Byzantine princess Maria Comnena. He was probably born in 1179, the second of their four children.  He was presumably a child of eight when the Battle of Hattin destroyed the world into which he had been born. He was certainly in Jerusalem when father came to the city to rescue his family―only to remain in the city and organize the defense. John, along with his siblings and his mother, however, was escorted from the apparently doomed city by Saladin’s own body-guard in a profoundly generous gesture on the part of the Sultan before the siege.

The next time John is mentioned in the historical record is in 1198, when he is named Constable of Jerusalem by King Aimery de Lusignan. He would have been only 19 at the time, and historians, balking at the idea of such a young man might have been capable of fulfilling the duties of Constable, hypothesize that the appointment was nominal, a means of providing for him materially. Yet, as his father’s eldest son, he would have already inherited the barony of Caymont, if (as historians assume) his father was already dead. Furthermore, historians appear to overlook the fact that young noblemen and kings came of age at 15 in the Holy Land, so a noblemen of 19 would have been young but not viewed as immature. If kings could command at 15, why shouldn’t a constable at 19? Last but not least, John witnessed all existing charters of King Aimery, suggesting a close relationship between the two men.

John was still quite young, 24, when he was named Regent of Jerusalem first for his half-sister Isabella (following the death of her fourth husband, King Aimery), and then for his niece, Isabella's eldest daughter and heir, Maria de Montferrat, after Isabella’s death a few months later. As regent he arranged a marriage between his niece Alice of Champagne (Isabella’s daughter by her third husband, Henri de Champagne) with the heir to the Cypriot throne, Hugh de Lusignan. In addition, he was influential in the marriage of Maria de Montferrat to John de Brienne. Meanwhile, sometime between 1198 and 1205, he had traded the position of Constable for the lordship of Beirut. It was as Lord of Beirut that he has gone down into history.

Beirut was retaken for Christendom by German crusaders in 1198, but was so badly destroyed in the process (either by the retreating Saracens or the advancing Germans or both) that it was allegedly an uninhabitable ruin.  Despite that, it was an immensely valuable prize because of its harbor, the fertile surrounding coastal territory, and the proximity to Antioch and Damascus.  It was clearly a mark of great favor and trust that John d'Ibelin was granted the lordship of Beirut.

John d’Ibelin resettled the city and rebuilt the fortifications. He also built a palace that won the admiration of visitors for its elegance and luxury. It included polychrome marble walls, frescoes, painted ceilings, fountains, gardens, and large, glazed windows offering splendid views to the sea.  

John first married (presumably in 1198 or 1199) a certain Helvis of Nephin, about whom nothing is known beyond that she delivered to him five sons, all of whom died as infants. Helvis herself died before 1207, when John married the widowed heiress of Arsur, Melisende. By Melisende, John had another five sons and a single daughter, all of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1210, Maria de Montferrat came of age, married John de Brienne, and the couple were crowned Queen and King of Jerusalem; John’s regency was over. Furthermore, he completely disappeared from the witness lists of the kingdom, suggesting he had withdrawn to Beirut rather than remaining in attendance on the new king and queen―whether voluntarily, or after some dispute is unknown.

While nothing is known for sure about John’s whereabouts between 1210 and 1217, by the latter date John and his younger brother Philip headed the list of witness to all existing charters of King Hugh I of Cyprus. This suggests that at some unknown point before 1217 he had acquired important fiefs on Cyprus. In 1227, he was named regent for the orphaned heir to the Cypriot crown, Henry I.

Only a year later, however, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen arrived at the head of the Fifth crusade, and John immediately found himself on a collision course. At stake was the constitution of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus, with John defending the traditional pre-eminent role of the High Court against the Holy Roman Emperor's attempt to impose absolute monarchy on both kingdoms.  In the long-run, the Hohenstaufen suffered a complete defeat, eventually losing his suzerainty over Cyprus altogether, while neither he nor his heirs were ever able to exercise his royal authority  throughout the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But the cost was high: a civil war that dragged out over a quarter century.

John has been accused by historians of defending only the parochial interests of his family and the leading baronial families. Certainly, his stance undermined central authority in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and ultimately weakened it. Against this argument stands the fact that his rebellion actually strengthened the position of the Kings of Cyprus. Furthermore, Frederick II’s heavy handed attempts to disinherit men without due process and run rough-shod over local laws and customs meant John was fighting as much for the rule of law as for personal interests.   

The fact that John was strongly supported by the commons of Acre further underlines the fact that he was not solely self-interested.  John had no problem accepting the authority of John de Brienne and Henri de Lusignan, after all.  I believe, therefore, a strong case can be made for John opposing not the concept of central authority but rather the individual ― Frederick II, who even his admirers describe as arrogant and authoritarian.  Frederick II believed that, like a Roman Emperor, he was God’s representative on earth. Frederick II provoked revolts in the West as well as the East, and was excommunicated several times.  John d'Ibelin, on the other hand, was widely admired in his own lifetime and has been compared to St. Louis of France by later historians.

He died from injuries obtained fighting against the Saracens on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1236. On his deathbed he joined the Knights Templar.


Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. John of Beirut is one of the main characters in  The Last Crusader Kingdom, Rebels against Tyranny and The Emperor Strikes Back.


           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, October 18, 2023

House of Ibelin: Eschiva d'Ibelin, Founder of a Dynasty

Although Eschiva d'Ibelin never wore a crown, she was the founder of a dynasty that ruled Cyprus for roughly 300 years. Eschiva was married to a landless adventurer as a child and ended up married to a king without changing husbands. While we know very little about her, what we do know hints at a vital role during a critical juncture in history.


Eschiva was the daughter of Baldwin d'Ibelin, who held the barony of Ramla and Mirabel by right of his wife, Richildis. Eschiva’s birthdate is not recorded, but she must have been born about 1165 and had one sister, Stephanie. The Ibelins’ comparatively low rank at this time is illustrated by the fact that Stephanie married Amaury, viscount of Nablus (i.e., a household official, not a lord), while Eschiva was married to a landless adventurer from France, Aimery de Lusignan. Aimery was the third son of the French Lord de la March, and he married Eschiva before his brother Guy came to Jerusalem and seduced his way to a crown.

Eschiva was probably already married when her father distinguished himself at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177, an event which appears to have gone to his head and sparked new ambitions. In that same year but months before the battle, the heiress of Jerusalem, King Baldwin’s sister Sibylla, had been widowed, and rumours soon started to circulate that Baldwin of Ramla hoped to marry her. Of course, that was only possible if he could rid himself of his wife, Richildis, the mother of his two daughters. He successfully did, although she appears to have been blameless, and no grounds for the divorce are given in the surviving records.

Furthermore, the divorce did not bring him the desired results. Princess Sibylla was instead betrothed to the far more powerful and prestigious Duke of Burgandy. Ramla evidently consoled himself with a marriage to the daughter of the Lord of Caesarea, Elizabeth Gotman. Two years later, however, she was dead, and Baldwin’s ambitions again turned towards Sibylla. He may have had some form of encouragement from Sibylla herself because when he found himself in Saracen captivity in the summer of 1179, Saladin felt he could ask a king’s ransom for Ramla’s release. Presumably, the sultan had heard rumours that Ramla was about to marry the heir apparent to Jerusalem’s throne and would one day be king-consort. Furthermore, the Byzantine Emperor proved willing to pay a large portion of that ransom on the assumption that Baldwin of Ramla would become king of Jerusalem in due time.  

Instead, Sibylla married Guy de Lusignan in haste and secrecy. This meant that with one stroke, Eschiva’s brother-in-law had snatched away from her father the prize he had been pursuing for roughly three years – and the justification for humiliating her mother.[RS1]  That act created an irreparable breach between Sibylla’s father and husband. Although her father married a third time to Maria of Beirut, Ramla never reconciled with Guy de Lusignan.

Meanwhile, around 1182, Baldwin IV appointed Eschiva’s husband, Aimery de Lusignan, constable of the kingdom. While this was a prestigious and important position, Eschiva’s joy at seeing her husband raised in status may have been dimmed by rumours that he owed his appointment to an intimate relationship with Queen Mother Agnes de Courtenay.

 At the death of Baldwin IV, Eschiva’s father and husband found themselves on a collision course. Aimery backed Sibylla and Guy’s usurpation of the throne, while Baldwin of Ramla opposed them and sought to crown Isabella. Although Sibylla’s coup was successful, and she crowned Guy herself, Ramla was one of two barons who flatly refused to accept it. Rather than do homage to his hated rival Guy, Ramla chose exile, abandoning his third wife Maria, his infant son Thomas – and Eschiva, who probably never saw him again.

While we cannot know what Eschiva felt, it is hard to imagine that such a bitter break between her father and her husband did not cause her emotional distress. On the surface, she remained loyal to her husband, but any joy in the triumph of Guy de Lusignan must have rapidly turned sour. Firstly, Aimery benefitted in no way from Guy’s crown; Aimery was neither appointed to new offices nor awarded lands and titles. Secondly, within a year, Guy had led the kingdom to disaster at the battle of Hattin, and Aimery was a prisoner of Saladin. Soon Ramla and Mirabel, along with Acre, Jaffa and Ascalon, had been overrun by Saladin’s armies. Eschiva was a refugee with several young children. Her father had disappeared, her husband was a prisoner, and she had no means to support herself or her children, let alone raise a ransom for her husband. We have no idea where she found refuge in this period of great uncertainty. The most likely scenario is that she joined the household of her father’s younger brother, Balian d'Ibelin, Lord of Nablus.

The Lord of Nablus had fought his way off the field at Hattin and was described by contemporary Arab sources as ‘like a king’ among the Christians in the immediate aftermath of Hattin. He extracted his family from Jerusalem before the siege began and had them taken to an unspecified place of safety, possibly Tyre or Tripoli. Most likely, his niece Eschiva and her children were welcomed into his household and maintained by Nablus as long as needed.

Meanwhile, after a year in captivity, Aimery was released by Saladin along with his brother Guy. He remained loyal to the latter, joining him at the siege of Acre in 1189. However, Eschiva’s whereabouts during this period are unknown. There is no mention of her at the siege camp of Acre. Had she been there, she would have attended her sister-in-law, Queen Sibylla, at the time of her death. It appears she was left somewhere safer. It is also possible that in the wake of Guy’s disastrous reign, she and Aimery were estranged at this time.

At the end of the Third Crusade, Richard of England sold the island of Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan. Meanwhile, Aimery de Lusignan is conspicuously absent from the names of those who went with Guy to Cyprus to establish his rule there. Instead, Aimery remained in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where he continued to hold the post of constable. However, his situation there was undermined by Guy’s resentment at losing the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was believed that Guy was plotting against Queen Isabella and her husband, Henri de Champagne, to regain the crown of Jerusalem with the support of the Pisans. When Aimery spoke up in favour of the Pisans, Henri de Champagne ordered Aimery’s arrest on the assumption that Aimery sided with his brother Guy. Aimery’s arrest aroused the anger of the other barons, however, and the High Court pressured Champagne into releasing him. Yet, there was no longer any trust between the two men, and Aimery could ill resume his tenure as constable. Instead, he followed his brother to Cyprus. There is no evidence that Eschiva went with him at this time.

In 1194, Guy de Lusignan died in Cyprus. Despite Aimery’s years of loyal support and service to his younger brother, Guy slighted Aimery to bequeath the island to their elder brother Hugh. For Eschiva, Guy’s ungratefulness would have been particularly bitter given that Aimery’s loyalty to Guy cost her all contact with her father.

Hugh de Lusignan, however, had no interest in abandoning his French lands for distant Cyprus, and the rich island fell to Aimery by default. Aimery seized the opportunity and rapidly proved to be a far more able administrator than his brother had ever been. He pacified Cyprus, and opened it to immigration by those made homeless through Saladin’s victories in Syria, yet left the Greek civil service largely in control and made no disruptive changes to the tax structure. Likewise, although he established a Latin church on the island, he left the Greek church in possession of most of its lands and tithes. Finally, to elevate his own status, he offered to do homage to the Holy Roman Emperor for Cyprus in exchange for a crown. Emperor Henry VI agreed and sent word that he would crown Aimery when he came to the Holy Land on his planned crusade. In the meantime, the emperor sent the archbishops of Brindisi and Trani a sceptre as a symbol of monarchy. Aimery styled himself ‘King of Cyprus’ from this time forward.

Meanwhile, sometime after Aimery became lord of Cyprus, but before he was made king, Eschiva joined him. By then, she was roughly 30 years of age and had given Aimery six children, three boys and three girls. Two of her sons and a daughter, however, had died young. The surviving children were Burgundia, Helvis and Hugh. Significantly, Hugh was born in 1196, so he was presumably conceived and born in Cyprus after Eschiva had joined her husband there.

That same year, Eschiva took ill from an unknown cause, probably in the aftermath of Hugh’s birth. This led to her becoming a victim of her husband’s otherwise admirable efforts to curb the rampant piracy in the eastern Mediterranean. What befell her is described in considerable detail in the Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre. The account deserves to be quoted in full.

‘[The pirate Canaqui] learned that … the queen and her children had come to stay near the sea in a village named Paradhisi. The queen had been ill, and … had come there to rest and recuperate. As soon as Canaqui knew where she was, he landed with some companions. He was familiar with the lie of the land, and he came at dawn to the village where he surprised the people who were with her, captured the queen and her children, and took them off in his galley.[i]

‘After he had absconded with the queen, the hue and cry arose in the land and the news came to the king who was greatly angered … The king and queen’s relations and everyone else were very sorrowful at this shameful event that had taken place in the Kingdom of Cyprus … When Leo of the Mountain, who was lord of Armenia, came to hear of the outrage that had befallen King Aimery and his lady, he was deeply saddened because of the love that he had both for King Aimery who was his friend and for Baldwin of Ibelin whose daughter she had been. He immediately sent messengers to Isaac [the backer of Canaqui] to say that if he valued his life, he would have the lady and her children brought to Gorhigos the moment he read this letter. As soon as Isaac heard this order from the lord of Armenia, he accepted that he would have to do as he was told. He sent [the kidnapped lady and her children] to Gorhigos is fitting style, and when Leo heard of their arrival, he went to meet them and, receiving them with appropriate honour, did much to please them.[ii]

‘As soon as the lady had arrived in Gorhigos, he sent messengers to King Aimery telling him not to be angry or troubled for he had freed his wife and children from the power of their enemies. When the king heard this news, he was delighted at the great service and act of kindness [Leo] had done them. He had galleys made ready and went to Armenia, accompanied by his best men. There he was received honourably, and he was overjoyed to find his wife and children safe and sound’.[iii]

Several points are striking in this account. The reference to Baldwin d’Ibelin being a friend of Leo of the Mountain is intriguing, as it suggests that after leaving the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the former lord of Ramla went to Armenia. More significant for Eschiva herself, however, is that there is no hint of sexual abuse or disgrace. On the contrary, much is made of her being greeted with ‘appropriate honour’. Furthermore, Eschiva was clearly welcomed back by Aimery without recriminations or doubts. Was this because the kidnapper was Orthodox Christian rather than Muslim or because the entire episode was considered political hostage-taking rather than a criminal or military kidnapping?

Even in the absence of sexual abuse, however, the experience of being held hostage by a known pirate must have been traumatic in the extreme for Eschiva, both as a young woman and the mother of two young, possibly nubile, daughters and an infant son. Although Eschiva returned with Aimery to Cyprus, she appears to have never fully recovered from the trauma or the illness that had taken her to Paradhisi in the first place. Although she lived long enough to witness the reconciliation between her husband and Henri de Champagne, who came to Cyprus explicitly for that purpose, she died before she could be crowned. Her husband of more than twenty years was crowned and anointed king of Cyprus in September 1197 without Eschiva at his side. Within weeks, Henri of Champagne would fall to his death, and before the end of the year, Aimery had married the widowed Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem.

Eschiva lived in the vortex of Jerusalem politics in the last two decades of the twelfth century. She was an Ibelin by birth and a Lusignan by marriage. She founded a dynasty that would rule Cyprus for more than 300 years. But we do not know if she was politically active. Did she have a say in affairs of state? Did she whisper advice to her husband? Or did she console and support her sister-in-law Sibylla? Did she advise Sibylla not to renounce Guy, no matter the pressure from the High Court? Or did she see what her father and uncle saw in him, that Guy would make a disastrous king and try to talk Sibylla into abandoning him? Unless new sources come to light, we will never know.

Yet it does not take too much imagination to see Eschiva as the bridge that enabled the Ibelins to become the most powerful supporters of the Lusignan dynasty in Cyprus. Historians puzzle over the fact that the Ibelins, who were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, could quickly become so entrenched in his brother's Kingdom of Cyprus. Eschiva was likely the key.  


[i] The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, 127, paragraph 149.

[ii] The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, 127, paragraph 150.

[iii] The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, 128, paragraph 152.

Find out more about the House of Ibelin in 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. Eschiva is a character in Balian d'Ibelin, Defender of Jerusalem, Envoy of Jerusalem, and is a leading character in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

          Buy Now!                                               Buy Now!                                                      Buy Now!



Wednesday, October 11, 2023

House of Ibelin: Balian of Nablus

  Balian d'Ibelin has been made famous by a Hollywood movie, which successfully distorts his biography in almost every significant way. The historical Balian was far more interesting, important and inspiring. 


The youngest of Barisan’s sons and his namesake was an infant at the time of his father’s death, two years old when his stepfather was exiled, and eight years old at his mother’s death. He first enters the historical record at the age of 17  where he is the only knight amidst barons credited with a prominent role in the important Christian victory at Montgisard in 1177. 

At roughly the same time, Balian made a scandalously brilliant match, marrying the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena. With this marriage, he became a relative of the Byzantine emperor and a stepfather of the king’s half-sister Isabella. Possibly as part of the marriage arrangement, Balian was accorded the title of Lord of Ibelin. One presumes his older brother was persuaded to turn this, the smaller of his two lordships, over to his younger brother to make him a more suitable match for a dowager queen.

It is important to remember that, as a widow who was not an heiress, the dowager queen could not be forced into a new marriage. She was financially independent, holding one of the most prestigious and wealthy fiefs of the kingdom, Nablus. This made her "lord" over one of the largest contingents to the feudal host. She did not need to remarry. Maria Comnena’s marriage to Balian d’Ibelin can only have been voluntary.

The dowager queen brought with her into her second marriage her dower portion, the wealthy and strategically important royal domain of Nablus. As Maria’s consort, Balian assumed command of the barony’s feudal levees, including eighty-five knights. Combined with Ibelin’s ten knights, this made Balian one of the most powerful feudal lords — with more than twice the troops of his elder brother Baldwin of Ramla. He was frequently referred to as Balian of Nablus in the records of the time, although the title of Ibelin is more common now. 

In accordance with his new status, Ibelin took part in every major military campaign of the next decade and was also a member of the High Court of Jerusalem. In 1183, when Baldwin IV decided to crown his nephew during own his lifetime to reduce the risk of a succession crisis, Ibelin was selected — ahead of all the more senior barons in the kingdom — to carry the young king on his shoulders to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He also raised Princess Isabella until 1180, when she was forcibly taken from her mother and taken to live with her betrothed, Humphrey de Toron, at the border fortress of Kerak.

When Baldwin V died in the summer of 1186, Ibelin took a leading role in opposing Sibylla’s usurpation of the throne and her devious tactics to crown her unpopular second husband, Guy de Lusignan. When efforts to crown Isabella as a rival to Sibylla failed due to Toron’s defection, the majority of the barons, including Balian, did homage to Guy and Sibylla. After his brother Baldwin’s departure, Balian took control of Ramla’s forty knights, making him leader of one of the largest contingents of feudal levees owed to the crown. He used this power to try to reconcile the usurper, Guy de Lusignan, with the only baron more powerful than himself: Raymond, Count of Tripoli. Like his brother, Raymond was refusing to do homage to Guy, despite the clear and present danger posed by Saladin.  

Ibelin was ultimately successful in his reconciliation efforts. Shortly thereafter, he and Tripoli demonstrated their loyalty to the crown by answering the royal summons to muster under the leadership of Guy de Lusignan to stop Saladin’s invasion of July 1187. Against the advice of Tripoli, Balian d’Ibelin and others, Guy chose to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march the Christian army across an arid plateau to the relief of the beleaguered city of Tiberius. 

Tripoli commanded the van of this army, and King Guy the centre, and Ibelin commanded the rearguard. The latter was savagely attacked throughout the advance on July 3, decimating the ranks of the Templars fighting with Ibelin. As commander of the rearguard, Ibelin was not with the Count of Tripoli when the latter broke through the encirclement. However, Arab sources note that towards the end of the battle, the Franks Ied several charges, one of which endangered Saladin himself. Possibly, one of these broke through the surrounding Saracen army enough to enable Ibelin and some of his knights to escape. All that is certain is that Ibelin was one of only three barons to fight his way off the field at Hattin. Based on the number of survivors, it appears that roughly 3,000 men escaped with him to Tyre.

Ibelin’s wife and four children, all under the age of 10, however, were trapped in Jerusalem with some 60,000 other refugees. As Saladin’s armies overran the rest of the kingdom and a siege of Jerusalem became inevitable, Balian did a remarkable thing: he approached Saladin and requested a safe conduct to ride to Jerusalem and remove his wife and children.

Saladin agreed — on the condition that he ride to Jerusalem unarmed and stay only one night. Ibelin agreed to these conditions but had not reckoned with the reaction of the residents and refugees in Jerusalem. The citizens and Patriarch of Jerusalem begged Ibelin to take command of the defence. The patriarch demonstratively absolved him of his oath to Saladin. Ibelin felt he had no choice. He sent word to Saladin of his predicament, and Saladin graciously sent fifty of his personal Mamluks to escort Balian’s family to Christian-held territory, while Ibelin remained to defend Jerusalem against overwhelming odds.

And defend Jerusalem he did. After conducting foraging sorties to collect supplies for the population from the surrounding Saracen-held territory, he successfully held off assaults from Saladin’s army from September 21-25. Saladin was forced to redeploy his army against a different sector of the wall. On September 29, Saladin’s sappers successfully brought down a segment of the northern wall roughly 30 metres long. Jerusalem was no longer defensible.

With Saracen forces pouring over the breach and into the city, their banners flying from one of the nearest towers, Ibelin went to Saladin to negotiate. According to Arab sources, Saladin scoffed: one does not negotiate the surrender of a city that has already fallen. But as he dismissively pointed to his banners on the walls of the city, those banners were thrown down and replaced with those of Jerusalem. Ibelin played his trump card. If the sultan would not give him terms, he and his men would kill the Muslim prisoners along with the inhabitants, desecrate and destroy the temples of all religions in the city – including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque – and then sally forth to die a martyr’s death, taking as many Saracens as possible with them. Saladin relented. 

The Christians were given forty days to raise ransoms of ten dinars per man, five per woman and two per child. Although an estimated fifteen-thousand Christians were still marched off to slavery at the end of the forty days, between forty-five and sixty-thousand Christians survived as free men and women thanks to Ibelin’s skill as a negotiator. Notably, Ibelin offered to stand surety for the ransoms owed by the destitute, while efforts were made to raise their ransoms in the West. Saladin rejected his offer but ‘gave’ Balian 500 slaves as a personal gift; that is, he freed 500 Christians that would otherwise have gone into slavery.

Ibelin escorted a column consisting of roughly one-third of the refugees from Jerusalem to Tyre, the closest city still in Christian hands. The man commanding Tyre at the time, Conrad de Montferrat, however, could not admit 15,000 additional people to a city about to come under siege. They would have risked starvation if relief did not come from the West. So, while the bulk of the non-combatants continued to Tripoli, Ibelin and other fighting men remained in Tyre to continue the fight against Saladin.  

In 1188, when Guy de Lusignan laid siege to the city of Acre, Ibelin – despite his profound disagreements with Guy – joined him there; his determination to regain territory was more important to him than his disagreements with Lusignan. However, when Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem and both her daughters by Guy de Lusignan died in 1190, the situation changed. Guy's claim to the throne was through his wife. With her death, Ibelin’s stepdaughter, Isabella, became the legitimate queen. Recognizing that the kingdom at this time needed a fighting man as its king, Ibelin and his wife played the deciding role in convincing Isabella to set aside her husband Humphrey de Toron. The grounds for annulment of the marriage were that she had been forced into the marriage against her will before reaching the legal age of consent. Having divorced Toron, Isabella immediately married Conrad de Montferrat.[i]

Thereafter, Ibelin staunchly supported Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. This initially put him in direct conflict with Richard I of England, who backed Guy de Lusignan, the latter being the brother of one of his vassals. As a result, during the first year of Richard’s presence in the Holy Land, Ibelin remained persona non grata in Richard’s court. In fact, he served as an envoy for Conrad de Montferrat to the Sultan’s court — something Richard’s entourage and chroniclers viewed as treason to the Christian cause.

Richard the Lionheart, however, was neither a fool nor a bigot. He recognised that after he went home (as he must), only the barons and knights of Outremer could defend the territories he had recovered during the Third Crusade. He also reluctantly realised that Guy de Lusignan would never be accepted as king by the barons and knights of the kingdom he had led to such a disastrous defeat at Hattin. So, in April 1192, Richard withdrew his support for Lusignan and recognised Isabella and her husband as the rightful rulers of Jerusalem. 

Thereafter, Richard employed Ibelin as a negotiator with Saladin, and in August, Ibelin negotiated the truce that ended hostilities and allowed free access to Jerusalem for unarmed Christian pilgrims. Like the surrender of Jerusalem five years earlier, this was not a triumph, but it was far better than what might have been expected under the circumstances. Notably, Ibelin’s truce left Ibelin and Ramla in Muslim hands, something he must have negotiated with a heavy heart, despite being compensated later with the barony of Caymont near Acre.[ii]

Richard the Lionheart returned to Europe, and Isabella was crowned queen. Ibelin became the foremost nobleman in his stepdaughter's kingdom, but he disappears from the historical record in 1194. It is usually presumed that he died about this time, but it should be noted that there are other reasons for noblemen to cease signing charters. Both of Ibelin’s sons disappear from the charters of King John de Brienne, not because they were dead, but because they were active in Cyprus. Balian and his Byzantine wife may also have taken an active role in establishing Frankish rule in Cyprus,[iii] or, like his brother Hugh, he might have gone on a pilgrimage to the West or been engaged in diplomatic activities anywhere from Constantinople to Cairo.

From relative obscurity as the youngest and landless son of a rear-vassal, Balian d’Ibelin rose to premier lord of the realm. Yet Balian’s most pivotal role was that of a peacemaker — between Tripoli and Lusignan, between Richard the Lionheart and Montferrat and between Richard and Saladin. He was also instrumental in setting aside the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron, paving the way for the re-establishment of a viable monarchy around which the barons could unite. Yet, his moment of greatest glory was when he offered himself as a hostage for 15,000 destitute refugees who could not pay their ransom. Saladin rejected his gesture, but that does not diminish the spirit of compassion and charity that inspired it.

[i] This incident is the source of much slander against both Balian and Maria Comnena. For more details, see: 'Abduction of Isabella of Jerusalem',

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Balian is the main protagonist of Balian d'Ibelin, Defender of Jerusalem, Envoy of Jerusalem, and 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: