Monday, July 11, 2011

King Baldwin the Leper, A Second Look

It was on this day in 1174 that King Amalric I died and was succeeded by one of my very favorite monarchs King Baldwin IV of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, who I have mentioned before and will doubtless mention again. Rather like St Joan of Arc, it is impossible for me to look at the life of King Baldwin IV and not come to the conclusion that some divine power had to be operating on his behalf. God is the only explanation for how is life was possible. Here is a look back at his life:

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.

The Sultan was not finished yet though and he attacked the Holy Land again in 1181 but was defeated at Belvoir castle by the Jerusalem army near the Sea of Galilee. He then turned toward Beirut but once again King Baldwin was waiting and again defeated Saladin's attack. However, after a period of internal conflict among the Muslims, Saladin was back again in 1183, attacking Kerak Castle. Once again, King Baldwin came to the rescue. Despite being so frail and sick that he had to be carried on a litter, Baldwin again defeated Saladin and forced him to retreat. The Muslim commander was to threaten Jerusalem again, but unfortunately there would be no one like Baldwin IV to defend the city. The leper king died on March 16, 1185, not long after the death of his mother. He had reigned longer than anyone thought and won victories that many would have dismissed as impossible. Baldwin the Leper represented what was best about the crusading spirit and fully deserves to stand alongside the likes of Raymond of Toulouse, Bishop Ademar, Godfrey de Bouillon and Richard the Lion-Heart.

21 comments:

  1. Despite he died young he was an brave crusader-king.

    The crusades where a just cause, but it was almost imposible to the european crusaders to win because in that moment the muslim where superiors in technology, their civilisation was superior and they had more soldiers than the europeans.

    Also is true that where ill-intentioned people in both sides, that made looting and killed civilians, but the worst crime of the midle ages was the forth crusade that destroyed the byzantine empire.

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    1. Actually Western technology was superior and so was our economy as is proven by the fact that it was possible for Europe to project power into the Middle East and maintain a stronghold there for two centuries in the fact of strong resistance.
      The myth of Muslim technical superiority is based on a few scientific and mathematical advances that were purely theoretical in nature and had no impact on the lives of the people.

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    2. European technology and civilisation was way superior. That's why we got there and kept the kingdom in the first place.

      The Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed because Christians didn't unite.

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  2. He endured the passion everyday in his entire life. I am surprise that no one has made him a saint.

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  3. If he had a cause I would certainly support it. However, if nothing else, I'm sure simply being King of Jerusalem would make him "untouchable" (no pun intended) as that would generate lots of controvery with the Muslim world (maybe even the Israelis) no matter how unfounded. During his reign, all religions were treated fairly and he wanted peace, but he did go to war when necessary and I just don't see someone like that being canonized these days.

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  4. What a shame he probably won't be canonized. He certainly is very deserving, and was given a particularly heavy cross to bear.

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  5. Argentinian, I question that the muslim's were superior in technology. The crusaders had the edge in technology, but they were vastly outnumbered, and scattered throughout the Holy Land. Saladin was able to unite the Muslims from Egypt to Basra and that's why they eventually won.

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  6. Elizabeth, actually Argentinian is right! Muslims were topping the world in technology back then. their Arsenal was enough developed to achieve the win!

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  7. In most technologies the Muslim world was superior. However, with exception of siege weapons, the Crusaders did generally have better armament. Military tech was the strong point of European knowledge at the time, and Saladin himself mentioned that "Frankish merchants sell the best weapons, thus ensuring their defeat". Medieval Europe was, as they say, a society built for war. Those ages have simply been demonized by liberalism and socialism as the antithesis of what they stand for.

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  8. To whom does one go to suggest that Baldwin be canonized? Let's get this thing started.

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    1. I think the local bishop usually is the one to petition so, in this case, I suppose it would be the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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  9. I enjoyed your article, "King Baldwin the Leper, A Second Look", who was perhaps the greatest human, earthly king that ever lived. I am very much in agreement w/ many of the posted views here, in that King Baldwin IV should unquestionably be canonized as a saint and recognized as a protector and defender of the Cross in the Holy Land.

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    1. Thanks. He is one of my very favorite monarchs as well.

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    2. I plan to petition the U.S. Conference of Bishops for Baldwin IV's canonization as a saint - your prayers are most coveted! If you are interested I will post updates on your sight as things, hopefully, proceed.

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  10. I have begun the process of petitioning the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for Baldwin IV's canonization! As details come in I will post them, but please pray Bishop Marcuzzo, Vicar in Nazareth and Bishop Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem, will have conviction, fervor and an overwhelming sense of urgency as postulators raising this subject to His Beatitude Archbishop Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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  11. I also wondered why he wasn't canonised - For us, he truly deserves to be a saint. After some research, I found out that to be canonised, the person concerned should fit a lot of facts/actions. For exemple, the Church should recognize a certain number of miracles due to this person in particular - I asked a man of church If it should be always and for ever the rule, even in the case of Baldwin, that have made so much for his people and his faith - But it wasn't suffisant... I think it'sa terrible injustice to this man for he deserved it. He didn't made mystical miracles, but I can only say that as human being, he still amazes us. He is truly inspiring - and the vertus of his actions goes higher than the expectations of the Church back in the Middle Age - So I guess he is for us, humble people, far more than a saint :)

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    1. Given what has happened lately, there really is no reason why he could not be. It has now been made clear that the Pope can dispense with the rules and pretty much canonize whoever he wants, so if the will existed, King Baldwin could be canonized. As far as I am concerned, he is a saint as I have no doubt he sits with the angels now.

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  12. This was a very interesting article regarding a intriguing historical figure, and I myself much enjoyed this article, as a amateur student of the times of the Crusader Kingdoms. Despite this, I must say I noticed a few errors with part of this article, regarding the portrayal of the Sultan of Egypt, Saladin. Saladin was one of the foremost military minds of his time, and was a brilliant commander and strategist, not to be underestimated or underated. To begin with, regarding the Knights Templar arriving from Gaza, those were originally working with King Baldwin IV. They were at Gaza due to a successful feint on the part of Saladin, which caused the Templars to shore up their numbers at Gaza, separating them from the King Baldwin. From there, Saladin led his army to Ascalon, and even that was not his true goal. He used a small part of his forces to box in the King at the defensible position, keeping his forces pinned there, while the larger part of Saladin's army continued forth to his true target, that being the city of Jerusalem. Only after realizing they were fooled did King Baldwin and the Knights Templar regroup to attack Saladin's forces. Although he lost that battle, Saladin did demonstrate his great knowledge of tactics and strategy, which I feel was not properly portrayed in this article. On another note, to Saladin, his goal was just as noble as any Christian crusader, as he saw himself reclaiming land that had been taken from his people. Ultimately, the atrocities committed by both sides ruin any nobility in their aims, and it is myopic to portray the crusaders as being particularly righteous or noble in their cause. Ignoring the atrocities they committed in favor of the perceived righteousness can only end in further loss of life similar to what occurred in the crusades, with both sides unwilling to back down due to their beliefs they are both in the right.

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    1. Differences of opinion or perceptions of emphasis are not "errors". If you choose to regard both the aggressor and the defender in a war as equally culpable that is your opinion, not a fact. Likewise, any perception that the talents of Saladin were downplayed are the product of your own imagination, it was certainly not in the writing. Saladin was not the focus of the post, Baldwin the Leper was, so of course the emphasis is going to be on him.

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  13. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment.
    When I referred to the crusades, that was my own opinion, and you are correct, there are no errors in opinions. When I refer to the portrayal of Saladin, I simply believe that although there may not be errors, from a historical perspective I find it lacking in the proper context that gives more weight to the story. Without explaining the tactics or strategies employed by both sides of the battle, you end up downplaying both of their achievements. What King Baldwin IV did was remarkable because not only of his disability, but also because of the caliber of foe he was facing. I apologize for any perceived attack on your article, as I previously stated, I did enjoy it very much, however if I may offer contstructive criticism I feel the things I mentioned in my comment help to provide context for the battle, and make the achievements even more illustrious. Once again, I apologized for any perceived attack on you or your writing, I write in only with the intent of helping to improve this article.

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  14. Whatever the personal opinions of the Crusades are, I definitely agree that King Baldwin IV should be canonized a saint. In the meantime, those of us who feel this way can honor him already as a saint in our own lives. He was a great and holy man.

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