This blog is dedicated to discussing the Crusader Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus. I will post information about the history and legacy of these remarkable kingdoms, as well as post reviews of books relevant to the crusades and the Crusader Kingdoms.
I have joined the Real Crusades History team and will posting simultaneously to the Real Crusades History Blog.
Bernard Hamilton's The Leper King and his Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem is an excellent, detailed and
well-documented account of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem in the late 12th
century. It focuses on the quarter century of Baldwin IV's life span, 1161 to
1186. This was a particularly critical period in the history of the crusader
kingdom, and Hamilton's book provides details too often skipped over or even
blurred together in accounts that try to cover the whole two hundred years of
crusader history. Furthermore, Hamilton provides an excellent summary of his
sources up front and impresses with his familiarity with not only Latin and
Arab, but Greek, Jewish and Armenian sources.
Particularly impressive is Hamilton's treatment
of Reynald de Chatillon. Chatillon is usually depicted as a rogue adventurer,
more robber than baron, and often blamed for the war with Saladin. Hamilton, in
contrast, effectively defends many of Chatillon's most controversial actions.
While not denying his violent and ambitious character, Hamilton convincingly
argues that Chatillon followed sound strategic principles when launching his
raids into Sinai, putting Christian warships in the Red Sea, and even when
breaking the truce with Saladin to attack a heavily armed caravan.
Reynald de Chatillon as depicted in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Hamilton's treatment of Raymond of Tripoli is
less convincing. He tries to paint Tripoli as a treasonous threat to the
throne, and even suggests that Sibylla's marriage to Guy de Lusignan was
arranged by King Baldwin in an attempt to prevent a coup by Tripoli. The
evidence is very weak for this and contradicted by other accounts, notably the
Chronicles of Ernoul, that other historians have followed. Furthermore, Baldwin
soon withdrew his favor from Lusignan, while Sibylla remained remarkably loyal to her ineffective husband -- two historical facts that give credence to the more common intepretation of
a love-affair between Lusignan and Sibylla forcing the king's hand. But even
here, where Hamilton's arguments are weak, he presents them cogently and names
his sources, leaving the reader in a good position to judge for himself which
interpretation of history he finds more compelling.
Where this book falls short of the mark is in
the essential biographical function of making the subject come to life. For all
his meticulous reporting on what happend during "the Leper King's"
reign, Hamilton singularly fails to get inside the leprous skin of his subject
and help us understand him. We are given no inkling of what he was thinking and
feeling, why he behaved in certain ways, how he succeeded in winning the undoubted loyalty of his subjects despite his illness or what motivated him at critical
junctions. We are not even told until the epilogue that he was chaste but not
Baldwin IV - another image from "The Kingdom of Heaven" -- that brought him more to life than this biography.
Baldwin IV of Jerusalem deserves a better
biography precisely because despite his severe handicap he successfully held
his kingdom together in a very difficult period, and despite his severe
physical handicap he repeatedly defeated Saladin on the battlefield. He also
pursued a highly sophisticated foreign policy, which showed profound
understanding of the geopolitical position of his kingdom. I would like to read
a book that explores the character and psyche of such a man; Hamilton's history unfortunately does not.
Baldwin IV plays a major role in the first two volumes of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:
Book I: Knight of Jerusalem A landless knight, a leper king, and the struggle for Jerusalem. ' Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!
The Kingdom of Heaven, a 20th Century Fox film directed
by Ridley Scott and staring Orlando Bloom, was based
— very loosely — on the story of Balian d’Ibelin, a historical figure. Although Scott’s film was a brilliant piece of
cinematography, the story of the real Balian d’Ibelin was not only different
but arguably more fascinating than that of the Hollywood hero.
was the younger son of Barisan d’Ibelin, an adventurer from Western Europe, who
first emerged in history when he was made Constable of Jaffa and then later
granted a fief in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the mid-1140s. Barisan than did what every self-respecting
adventurer did: he married an heiress, the heiress of Ramla and Mirabel. On his
death, his eldest son Hugh, evidently by an earlier marriage, inherited the
paternal title of Ibelin, while Barisan’s eldest son by his second and richer
wife inherited Ramla and Mirabel. The youngest son, Balian, was left
empty-handed — a phenomenon unknown in earlier ages but increasingly a problem
by the 12th century.
handicap, Balian rose to such prominence in the Kingdom of Jerusalem that Arab
sources describe him as “like a king.” Unusually, and in sharp contrast to his
elder brother, he was not merely an outstanding fighting man and knight,
effective on the battlefield in offense and defense, but he was a diplomat and
peacemaker. Balian played a decisive mediating role between factions within the
Kingdom of Jerusalem and between the Kingdom and its external enemies,
including negotiations with Saladin himself on two known occasions.
astonishing for a younger son, he made a brilliant marriage that catapulted him
into the royal family, and, indeed, his descendants would repeatedly intermarry
into the royal houses of both Jerusalem and Cyprus. Furthermore, this marriage
was as close to a love-match as one could come among the nobility in the 12th
Such a man, it
seemed to me, deserved a biography — a biography based on all the known facts,
not just those that fit into Ridley Scott’s film concept. But while there are
many intriguing known facts about Balian, there are many more things we do not know, making a traditional biography
impossible. A biographical novel,
on the other hand, is a media that can turn a name in the history books into a
person so vivid, complex and yet comprehensible that history itself becomes
That is my
objective with a novel in three parts: to tell Balian’s story and to describe
the fateful historical events surrounding the collapse of the Christian Kingdom
of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th century. The historical
record is the skeleton of this biographical novel, but the flesh and blood,
faces, emotions, dreams and fears are extrapolated from those known facts. I hope I have created a tale that my readers
will find as fascinating, exiting and engaging as I do. A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I:
A landless knight, a leper king, and the struggle for Jerusalem. Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!
The opening chapter of this book was so engaging and
insightful that it perhaps raised my expectations excessively. The opening scene describes the capture of
the True Cross during the Battle of Hattin and captures vividly both the
carnage and the emotions of the Christian participants. Unfortunately, Allibone
singularly fails to live-up to the promise of this first tantalizing chapter.
The True Cross being carried into battle at Hattin as depicted in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven."
Indeed, from this first action packed scene, Alibone backs
away from his subject and begins to write in a laborious style introducing
layers of narrators who spend the first quarter of the book retelling the
Battle of Hattin from different perspectives. Even after leaving the
regurgitated topic of Hattin, Allibone maintains for the most part (but not
consistently) the first person narrative so that the reader is told about
events rather than shown them. Allibone
is at pains to describe his narrator as sober and objective, so rather than a
lively, first-hand personal account of events, the reader is treated to a
scholarly description that sometimes degenerates in to pages and pages of tedious
The book is further marred by abrupt and inexplicable
switches in tense — sometimes in the middle of a scene. Bizarrely, for the only
scene that describes the principal narrator’s love and marriage — the only
really personal scene in the whole book — the author switches from the first to
third person narrative. It all makes for
an inconsistent mix in which the story-telling detracts from the story.
Equally irritating is that, despite the very meticulous
research, the use of Arab and contemporary terms and lengthy direct quotes from
contemporary sources, the book is still filled with significant inaccuracies. The worst of which is the premise, on which
the entire book is based, that peaceful co-existence between the crusader
states and their Muslim neighbors was possible.
While it is true that a degree of co-existence had prevailed in the
first decades of Christian presence in the Holy Land because the various
Islamic states were at war with each other, Nur ad-Din and after him Salah-ad-Din both declared jihad against the
Christian states. It was Saladin’s stated intention to utterly destroy the
Christian presence. As the Israelis know, you can’t peacefully co-exist with
states that deny your right to exist. Saladin was undoubtedly a rational and honorable
man. He was not a fanatic. He was capable of generosity, even toward his
enemies, and he was willing to make tactical truces with the Christian leaders
when it suited his purposes — mostly when his own armies were exhausted and
disintegrating or when drought threatened his power base. But at no time did he
waver from his goal of destroying the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus,
peace was not a long-term option.
Likewise, although even his own Arab source for Richard
I’s massacre of hostages at Acre only speaks of “fighting men,” Allibone makes
a point of having women and children slaughtered — something for which there is
absolutely no historical evidence. Likewise, he repeats the myth that the
Crusaders killed all inhabitants of Jerusalem in 1099 and makes no mention of
the many times when the crusaders also let Saracen garrisons walk away free such
as at Ascalon in 1153.
It is equally baffling why, with so much apparent
attention to accuracy, he gives William Marshal a prominent role in Richard I’s
crusading army, when it is well known that Marshal remained in England as one of
Richard’s trusted justicars. Or why
pretend that the squire of the fictional narrator is a real historical figure
and then have him conform in not a single known fact about Ernoul? (In this
novel Ernoul is the orphan of low-born crusaders from Gascony of crude of
speech, who ends his life in back in France; the real Ernoul was probably the
son of a prominent family from Outremer and most certainly served Balian
d’Ibelin; he was highly educated — so much so that he wrote a chronicle that is
one of the two contemporary Christian sources for the period. He probably ended
his life as a leading noble in the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus.)
In short, while the book is on the whole accurate, it
deviates significantly on important points, thereby marring its value as a
source. It is furthermore
written in a cumbersome and inconsistent style.
The result is that the book both fails to educate and fails to bring to
life the exciting events or colorful characters of this fascinating episode of
St. Louis' Knight, Book one of the Templar Tales by Helena P. Schrader, is the best book about the thirteenth century crusades that you will ever hope to get your hands on. Lady Eleanor does not respond to the news that France has been overtaken like a normal noblewoman should. She's curious about it, and wants to know more from the herald. The Saracens have beaten back much of the western world and are keeping the French monarch and his brothers hostage. Although the rest of the country mourns, Eleanor rejoices for all the wrongs that she feels the king and the other French nobles have done to her and her family. In order to escape the Cypriot ladies, she embarks on a "pilgrimage" to pray for the king's release, but not everything is as it seems. On her journey, Eleanor learns more about herself than she ever thought possible.
Now, admittedly, I have very little experience in dealing with books about the crusades. Knowing that Robin of Locksley (yes...Robin Hood) was away on a crusade when his father's lands were taken, causing him to rebel, is about the extent of my knowledge. Helena P. Schrader has helped to open up my eyes somewhat on the matter. I really enjoyed the action and adventure that she portrayed. I know that it was a very violent time and Schrader didn't pull any punches. The story was engaging, and definitely seemed very accurate to the times. It's clear that Helena did her research, as I was particularly taken by some of the intricate detailing she applied to the story and the characters. I enjoyed Eleanor's memories of how her family fell apart. It was thrilling, sad, but gave you a real feel for why she acted the way she did. A very good book and one that many historical fans will go crazy for.
Henry II of
England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial
kings. He is usually remembered for
forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his
strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of
Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations
of English Common Law.
He is not
remembered as a crusader. This is because, although he took crusader vows, he
never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II
with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home.
Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulchre from the
Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what
he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”
Yet a focus
on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land
were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather,
Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to
go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem,
Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III
(reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry
II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.
Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and
the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor
capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five
year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is before this incipient
succession crisis, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that
the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights
Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen. Baldwin IV sent these
emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David first
to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s
real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities
on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or
one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself.
Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession
crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.
The Tower of David in Jerusalem, Seat of the Kings of Jerusalem
Henry II, as
I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender
his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far from indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land. As early as 1172, when Henry II had become reconciled with the Church
for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he had taken the cross and started
accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm
Barber writes in The Crusader States,
(Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he
eventually travelled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an
additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights
Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was
bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of
15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the
Illustration of a 12th Century King
Since he did
not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years
later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom in 1185 (at a time
when the French and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a
special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were
also to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits
of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and
even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he
was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his
crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We
will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the
Third Crusade got underway.
however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of
Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was,
but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will
of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin
Tax” that came afterwards. Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the
militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited
in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and
Hospitallers. Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that
Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather
than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his
treasure having two very different uses.
In 1187, as
Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom
of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put
the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of
45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000
knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the
Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s
treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether
these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200
additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army
that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on
July 4, 1187.
Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in
advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the
Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered
to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40
days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars
per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom, became slaves by right of
conquest at the end of the 40 days.
At the time
these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian
d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin
Christian refugees in the city. He knew
that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin
already. They were in no position to pay their ransom. Ibelin therefore negotiated the
release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars.
differ, however, on where this money was to come from. Some suggest that it
came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid
from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident
that there were many more poor in the city than Ibelin had estimated
– or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already
too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King
Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could. In the end, even
Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into
slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in
ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number
sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing
the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….