Monday, July 11, 2011
King Baldwin the Leper, A Second Look
The Crusades, while undeniably a just cause (because the Holy Land was originally part of the Roman Empire and the Christians were only taking back what was first taken from them), are often a touchy subject because of the painful fact that many of the Crusaders did not always behave in a manner reflecting the Faith and Church they were fighting for. However, a great example of the true spirit of the Crusaders was King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. He must stand among the best examples of Christian chivalry in the struggle for the Holy Land. He was a man who understood suffering, who understood the Church and who understood the principles behind the chivalric code of Christianity. He was born in 1161 to King Amalric I of Jerusalem and Queen Agnes of Edessa. When playing as a child it was noticed that he seemed to feel no pain in his limbs, an examination discovered that he had leprosy. A chronicler wrote, "all of his life was nothing more than a struggle against the irreversible evil. And, more yet, much more, it was a testimony to the powers of a man over himself and of the amazing incarnation of his highest obligations".
King Amalric I died on July 11, 1174 and Baldwin IV ascended the throne at the tender age of 13 and so his power was exercised by a regent, Raymond of Tripoli, though Philip of Flanders attempted to seize control in 1176. When he finally became old enough to rule on his own, he ruled well, but age never stopped him from doing his duty. When he was still 13-years-old, in 1174, he attacked Damascus to draw the Muslim Sultan, the fierce Saladin, away from Aleppo. In 1176 he led similar attacks at Damascus and Andujar repelling Muslim attacks, always leading personally from the front, sharing the danger with his men. In 1177 he responded to an attack by Saladin on Ascalon, though he had only 500 men to come to the city's aid. Saladin, thinking Baldwin was trapped and Jerusalem defenseless, split his huge army to take both cities. Saladin was mistaken. King Baldwin summoned the Knights Templar from Gaza and launched a joint attack with them on the forces besieging Ascalon.
The combined force then turned to pursue Saladin, overtaking him near the city of Ramleh. Despite his reinforcements, the Christian knights were still outnumbered, but they put their faith in God and none moreso than King Baldwin IV. The Bishop of Bethlehem was with them, carrying the True Cross, before which the King prostrated himself in prayer. Baldwin lured the Egyptians over a ravine and then turned and charged at the crucial moment when his enemy was most vulnerable. The Christian knights saw a vision of St George in the sky over the battlefield and dealt the Muslims a crushing defeat. Saladin himself would have been captured if his bodyguard had not been sacrificed to buy time for his escape.