The Kingdom of Jerusalem was the dream, prize and crown jewel of the Crusades. It existed from 1099 until 1291 though the Holy City of Jerusalem fell to the Muslims earlier in 1187. There were roughly 23 monarchs over Jerusalem in that time and the claims to the kingdom and the dream it represented continued for much longer. In fact, the claim nominally continues to this day as King Juan Carlos of Spain still includes among his long list of titles that of King of Jerusalem. Today it has become rather fashionable to emphasize the failures and shortcomings of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Crusades as a whole, but it should not be forgotten that there were many great, heroic and upright figures associated with that long lost kingdom and the vision of those who founded it still shines in the mind all these centuries later. For a time the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was a beacon of light; a cosmopolitan kingdom, a crossroads of the world, a hub of trade and a place where Christian, Jew and Muslim lived and worked side by side in peace.
|Godfrey and Crusader leaders|
There was some doubt, at the outset, as to whether or not the Kingdom of Jerusalem would ever have a monarch at all; some wanted to see the establishment of a Christian theocracy under the guidance of the Pope, and whether or not the new country would be able to maintain its independence. That matter was settled when Godfrey of Bouillon marched out with the True Cross before him and defeated a Muslim army at Ascalon in August, securing the immediate independence of Jerusalem. The matter of government was firmly secured following the succession of Baldwin I, the brother of Godfrey, who took the title and was formally crowned Latin King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Christmas day in 1100 by the Patriarch. Although he was not the man his brother was, and was far from perfect (many compared him to King Saul of Israel) King Baldwin I did expand the Kingdom of Jerusalem and won many battles against the Muslims. He also secured the support of the Italian city states, with their powerful navies, in controlling the coast in exchange for trade rights there. The County of Tripoli and the Principality of Edessa also became vassals of the Kingdom of Jerusalem under his reign.
|King Baldwin I|
The same could not be said, unfortunately, for his successors, at least in Muslim eyes, given their view of the status of women for the next monarch to reign over the Kingdom of Jerusalem was a woman; namely Queen Melisende, daughter of Baldwin II. She was very popular with the Church and the High Court (rather like a parliament) but she was challenged for power by her wealthy and militarily strong husband Fulk V of Anjou. Fulk, incidentally, was the father of Geoffrey Plantagenet from whom descended a long line of English kings. Given the nature of this old crusader it is not surprising that there was initially a power struggle between Fulk and his Queen, however, Jerusalem was not an arbitrary monarchy but rather was a nation of laws. The High Court had considerable power and if the monarch failed to obey the laws or fulfill their obligations he or she could legally be removed from power. Queen Melisende had right on her side, the law, as well as the bulk of the local nobility and the support of the Church while the authority of her husband rested on his own knights and newly arrived French forces. She finally managed to retake the reigns of power from her husband who died in a hunting accident in 1143.
Unfortunately, the second crusade was not as glorious as the first and the crusader armies suffered considerably before reaching Jerusalem. Once there the focus soon fell on the city of Damascus. King Baldwin III, the son of Queen Melisende, favored attacking the city and the crusaders were easily persuaded. The siege ended in disaster and disunity and represented the failed last gasp of the Second Crusade. Baldwin III captured Ascalon in 1153 and his reign saw the greatest expansion of the territory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Even the city of Cairo, Egypt was occupied for a time. However, there was also civil strife between Baldwin III and his mother the Queen. The High Court tried to avoid disaster by splitting the kingdom between the two of them, but Baldwin III wanted to rule before his time and rule all. He launched an invasion of the southern half of the kingdom held by his brother Amalric, loyal to their mother, and Manassas who the Queen had appointed Marshal of Jerusalem. In the end, Baldwin was successful in taking power, though the Church was able to arrange a peace in the family and Queen Melisende and Baldwin III were eventually reconciled.
|King Amalric I|
|Saladin, the formidable foe|
To be continued in Part II...