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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

House of Ibelin: Baldwin of Ramla

 Although historically he would be overshadowed by his younger brother Balian, Baldwin of Ramla was the more prominent of the surviving Ibelin brothers at Hugh's death. He succeeded to his maternal barony at her death and his father's smaller lordship at his brother's death. He was exceptionally ambitious and hoped to gain a crown by marriage. In the end, however, his very pride reduced him to landless poverty. In many ways, Baldwin of Ibelin was a quintessential medieval nobleman with many of the virtues and weakness of the feudal elites in the age of chivalry.


Baldwin, Barisan’s second son, was only 5 years old when his father died. [1] His mother remarried the same year, taking the powerful Manassas of Hierges – a close adherent of Queen Melisende – as her second husband. The marriage aroused the ire of Hugh d’Ibelin because, according to William of Tyre, it removed the wealth and prestige of the barony of Ramla from his command. Since Helvis’ second marriage would hardly have impinged on Hugh’s claim to Ramla had he been Helvis’ son, the issue at stake was control of Baldwin, the young heir. Hugh had expected to benefit from the resources of Ramla and Mirabel until Baldwin came of age in 1160. Helvis’ marriage removed Baldwin from his control and denied him access to the revenues of Ramla and Mirabel. This caused Hugh to turn against Queen Melisende and support her son Baldwin III in their domestic power struggle.

When Baldwin III outmanoeuvered his mother and became the sole monarch two years later, Manassas of Hierges was sent into exile, never to return. Helvis of Ramla, however, remained in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and in possession of her fief and her son Baldwin. In 1156, at just 11 years of age, Baldwin was married to Richildis of Bethsan, a maiden of noble birth but not an heiress.[2] In 1158, when Baldwin was still two years short of his majority, his mother died, and his brother Hugh at last became his guardian. In 1160, Baldwin turned 15 and so reached legal maturity.

Baldwin (usually referred to by his title of Ramla in the chronicles) first emerges as an important figure for his contribution to the Battle of Montgisard. Based on the most recent analysis of the battle, the Franks manoeuvered Saladin onto swampy terrain, where the Sultan’s superior numbers could not be brought to bear. This effective use of the topography was possible because the army of Jerusalem was ‘led by a local lord, who knew the terrain better than anybody else on the battlefield’.[3] Despite what numerous modern commentators have alleged, that ‘local lord’ was not Reynald de Ch√Ętillon, a Western adventurer who had spent most of the previous fifteen years in a Saracen prison and before that had been Prince of Antioch in the North. It was the nobleman in whose lordship the battle was fought and the man who led the vanguard: Baldwin d’Ibelin.

Meanwhile, after the birth of two daughters, Baldwin separated from his first wife, Richildis, sometime before 1175 when he married Elizabeth Gotman, the widow of Hugh of Caesarea. Elizabeth died childless in 1179, leaving Baldwin free to marry again when the heir apparent, Baldwin IV’s sister Princess Sibylla, became a 20-year-old widow with an infant son. While the High Court of Jerusalem sent to France for a suitable husband, Ramla courted Princess Sibylla directly with the apparent ambition of becoming king-consort.

According to the contemporary chronicle written by a client of the Ibelin family (Ernoul), Princess Sibylla was not disinclined to Ramla’s suit. Unfortunately for Ramla, he was taken captive by the Saracens in June 1179. Saladin demanded the outrageous ransom of 200,000 gold bezants, or twice what was paid for Baldwin II in 1123. The size of the ransom demand, which could never have been raised from Baldwin’s small lordship, suggests that Salah al-Din viewed Baldwin was the next king and  expected the entire kingdom to pay the ransom — as was customary for a captive king.

Ramla’s hopes of gaining a crown through marriage, however, were crushed by Sibylla’s hasty marriage to Guy de Lusignan. Ramla had every reason to be disappointed (not to say outraged) by these developments, particularly because Guy was in no way his equal in terms of status or experience. Ramla’s feelings would have been further complicated by the fact that Guy was the younger brother of his son-in-law; Baldwin’s eldest daughter Eschiva had been married prior to 1180 to Aimery de Lusignan. To add insult to injury, Baldwin IV raised his new brother-in-law Guy to Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, thereby effectively demoting Baldwin from tenant-in-chief to ‘rear vassal’. Most insulting of all, it made Baldwin a vassal of the very man who had just stolen the heiress he’d courted. 

There can be little doubt that this embittered the proud Baldwin of Ramla, but it did not make him a rebel. On at least three occasions between 1180 and Baldwin IV’s death in 1185, Ramla dutifully mustered with his knights when summoned by the king. Indeed, he played a prominent role, with his brother Balian, in defeating the Saracen forces attempting to take the springs at Tubanie in 1183. As long as Baldwin IV and his son Baldwin V ruled, Ramla accepted his fate. He married one last time, Maria of Beirut, by whom he had his only son Thomas after 1181.

The elevation of Guy de Lusignan to the crown in the coup d’etat of 1186, however, proved too much for Ramla to bear. Rather than do homage to Guy de Lusignan, Ramla took the dramatic and unusual step of renouncing his lands and titles in favour of his infant son. ‘It was an extraordinary thing to do. It meant giving up his inheritance, jeopardizing the future of his heirs and abdicating the political and social standing that he, his father and elder brother had nurtured for the past three-quarters of a century’.[4] Baldwin took service with the Prince of Antioch, but he disappears from the historical record after his departure from the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1186.

A man who took such a dramatic step was clearly a man of strong emotions. His hatred and resentment of Guy de Lusignan must have been enormous. More baffling, however, is that his outraged pride was more important to him than power and wealth. Equally notable, if less obvious, is that he was a singularly callous husband and father. He had discarded the mother of his two daughters for no better reason than the chance of a better marriage, and he abandoned his third wife and only son to the dubious mercy of Guy de Lusignan. To be sure, he nominally left his wife and son in the care of his younger brother Balian, but this was legally dubious. A vassal who refuses homage forfeits his fief to his overlord, in this case to none other than Guy de Lusignan. It is a forgotten measure of Lusignan’s chivalry (or his intelligent appreciation of how precarious his situation was) that he took no action to seize Ramla and Mirabel from Balian d’Ibelin, but instead allowed him to control both until Hattin obliterated all the baronies of the kingdom. Baldwin, meanwhile, had earned the obscurity to which his pride had condemned him.

[1] For the dates of birth of Baldwin and Balian, I have followed Hans Eberhard Mayer’s essay ‘Carving up Crusaders: The Early Ibelins and Ramlas’, in Hans Eberhard Mayer, Kings and Lords in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Farnham: Ashgate, 1994), XV, 101-118.

[2] Arab sources allege that, in this same year, Baldwin (a child of eleven) was responsible for oppressing Muslim tenants in villages near Nablus, causing forty families to emigrate to Muslim-held Syria. Since Baldwin was neither of age nor ever in possession of the lordship of Nablus, this account is  confused. The Lord of Nablus in this period was Philip of Nablus, later, Master of the Templars. Nablus did not pass to the Ibelins until 1177 when it was part of Maria Comnena’s dower. From 1177-1187, it was held by Balian, never by Baldwin d’Ibelin. The ‘oppression’ allegedly consisted of forcing Muslims to work on Friday. Many Muslim villagers refused to emigrate, showing that hostility to the Christian lord was by no means as great or widespread as the emigrants later alleged.

[3] Michael Ehrlich, ‘Saint Catherine’s Day Miracle — the Battle of Montgisard’, Journal of Medieval Military History, Vol. XI (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2013): 105.

[4] Peter Edbury, John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997), 12.


Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Baldwin of Ramla is a major character in Balian d'Ibelin, and Defender of Jerusalem.


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


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