Thursday, December 6, 2012

Story of Monarchy: Latin Jerusalem, Part II

...continued from Part I

King Baldwin the Leper
In 1174 Amalric died and the throne passed to his son King Baldwin IV. He was a brave and upright young man of great intelligence but had been afflicted from childhood with leprosy, which led to his nickname of Baldwin the Leper or the Leper King. He was only 13 years old and brought his mother back to the court in Jerusalem previously denied her. The first year of his reign the fearsome Saladin threatened Aleppo but the young warrior king attacked Damascus to draw the Muslims away. Despite his physical condition, Baldwin IV led from the front with great courage and exceptional skill for one so young. In 1177, with his troops carrying the True Cross before them, Baldwin IV won a brilliant victory over a massive Muslim army under Saladin near the city of Ramleh. In fact, only the self sacrifice of his body guard prevented Saladin himself from being captured.

During the first year of his reign, Baldwin IV was acted for by Raymond the Younger of Tripoli who was regent. He made William of Tyre, who had tutored Baldwin IV as a boy and discovered his leprosy, regent and arranged the marriage of Princess Sibylla to William Longsword who died in 1177 but not before fathering a future heir to the throne. In 1180 Raymond attempted a coup in response to marriage negotiations concerning Sibylla and Hugh of Burgundy. He would have preferred a marriage to the family of Balian of Ibelin to whom he was closely allied. Neither the marriage nor the coup came to fruition but it prompted Baldwin IV to marry Sibylla to Guy of Lusignan who had powerful foreign connections. Nor was palace intrigue all the diseased young monarch had to worry about. In 1181 Sultan Saladin attacked again but again he was defeated near the Sea of Galilee at Belvoir castle. He then marched on Beirut but Baldwin IV was waiting for him and stopped the Muslim advance. Peace ensued for a time until it was broken by the troublesome Raynald of Chatillon. In 1183 Saladin besieged Kerak, the castle of Raynald of Chatillon. By this time the Leper King was so infirm he had to be carried with his army on a litter but still he forced Saladin to retreat. So long as Baldwin IV, who was a pious young man and an undeniably brilliant commander, lived it seemed Jerusalem was safe from the Muslim hordes but his leprosy only grew worse. Toward the end he was totally disabled, blind and tormented by the eating away of his flesh. The young monarch who had defeated the best general in the Islamic army as a diseased teenage boy finally died on March 16, 1185 not long after his beloved mother.

As per the wishes of the late monarch the throne passed to his nephew, the son of Princess Sibylla by her first husband as King Baldwin V. However, the child did not live to remain long on the throne. He was dead the very next year, officially due to lifelong poor health but amid persistent rumors of poisoning. Against the opposition of many nobles of the country the throne then passed to Sibylla who became Queen of Jerusalem. The problem, though, was not so much with her as with her rather dimwitted husband Guy of Lusignan. He had earlier been regent in the infirmity of the Leper King but lost the job due to his incompetence and indeed Baldwin IV had recognized his mistake in arranging the marriage and tried to undo it. By then it was too late though and in spite of the wishes of the court, the very first act of Queen Sibylla was to crown her husband Guy of Lusignan King of Jerusalem alongside her. She was nothing if not a loyal wife though the support of the infamous Raynald of Chatillon was probably most instrumental in Guy coming to power. Unfortunately, for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, wearing the crown brought with it no greater ability and Guy of Lusignan was soundly defeated by Saladin in a Muslim invasion provoked by Chatillon. On July 4, 1187 at the Horns of Hattin the army of Jerusalem met with a devastating defeat at the hands of Saladin with Guy himself being taken prisoner.

The relic of the True Cross which the army of Jerusalem carried before it was also captured, causing many to believe the fight had been doomed and God had not approved of it as it had previously been believed that, much like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, no army could be defeated which bore the True Cross. In any event, the battle was a disaster for the Christians with most of the survivors being massacred by the victorious Muslim forces and it left Jerusalem vulnerable to Saladin and his massive army. He quickly laid siege to the Holy City which was defended by Queen Sibylla, the Patriarch Heraclius and Balian of Ibelin with a relative handful of soldiers. After a hopeless but heroic fight Jerusalem finally surrendered on October 2, 1187. Saladin released all those who could pay a ransom for their freedom, and there were desperate efforts by the Christians to raise money, but those who could not were sold into slavery. After such a disaster, many Christians attributed the stunning defeat to the hedonism that had become rather prevalent in the social life of the city in recent years and reasoned that God denied His protection to those who denied Him.

European Christendom was stunned and horrified by the news of these disasters and France and England both started the so-called Saladin tithe to raise money for a counter-attack and Pope Gregory VIII immediately called for the Third Crusade to retake the Holy City of Jerusalem for the Christian faith. The call was answered with probably greater fanfare than any other crusade as the three preeminent monarchs of Christendom, namely Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip Augustus of France and King Richard the Lionheart of England all took up the cross and marched their forces east. In what was left of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Queen Sibylla relocated to Tripoli and was rejoined by her husband who had been held prisoner in Damascus. Saladin, however, was not simply trying to be merciful. He knew that the succession had been in dispute and he knew that of all his enemies Guy of Lusignan was not the sharpest tack in the box and would be easier to defeat if he could maintain his role as king consort. He also received the city of Ascalon as ransom for the hapless king consort of Jerusalem. It would prove to be successful tactic.

Queen Sibylla and Guy of Lusignan reunited on the march to Tyre in 1189, by this time the only major city in the kingdom the Muslims did not control. However, the crusader in command of that city, Conrad of Montferrat, former brother-in-law of Queen Sybilla, was determined to uphold the last will and testament of King Baldwin the Leper who had ordered that, should anything befall Baldwin V, the throne was to remain vacant until the crowned heads of Christendom could choose a successor. This may seem like a recipe for disaster but given the lack of ability displayed by Guy of Lusignan and the fact that Sibylla was totally devoted to him, Baldwin the Leper likely felt he had few other options. The last thing he ever wanted was for the Kingdom of Jerusalem to fall into the hands of Guy of Lusignan. Waiting for the arrival of the knights from Europe though would not provide a quick fix.

Counting on ultimate victory, Guy de Lusignan took his remaining forces and besieged the city of Acre, during which campaign the bold Queen Sybilla died in an epidemic that swept the camp, along with her daughters. In addition to the personal tragedy it was also a political blow for Guy who lost his only legitimate claim to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with the death of Sybilla. The throne then passed to Queen Isabella who was the daughter of King Amalric I and his second wife. Since the death of Baldwin IV there had been strong support for Queen Isabella, including Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin, to succeed to the throne but it was only after the death of Sybilla that she was able to assume her place. However, Queen Isabella also had problems due to her marriage. Her husband was a man with no ambition, no warrior spirit and worst of all a supporter of Guy of Lusignan. In what seemed the best course of action to everyone the Papal Legate annulled the marriage and Queen Isabella married the more worthy Conrad of Montferrat, the closest living male relative of the late King Baldwin IV. Conrad thus became king consort of Jerusalem.

However, the troublesome Guy de Lusignan was still on the scene and still clinging to his title of King of Jerusalem. Having never been popular this would not have been much of a problem were it not for the fact that he was supported by his former overlord King Richard I of England who had just arrived with his crusader army. However, the French and the Austrians supported Conrad though it would take a great deal of argument and battlefield action before the status of the Jerusalem throne was settled; a throne, incidentally, none of them actually held at this point. The Third Crusade had lost a great deal of its steam before the first troops even arrived in the Holy Land. Emperor Frederick had drowned in a river in Turkey and the King of France gave up on the enterprise not long after. King Richard I alone pressed ahead with the hope of retaking Jerusalem, but despite many fierce battles fought against tremendous odds, he was unable to do so and had to settle for a stalemate with Saladin which would allow Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy City though it remained in Muslim hands. By this time, virtually all that remained of the once mighty Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem which had stretched from southern Turkey to Egypt was a narrow strip of land with a few coastal cities and those were saved only by the audacity of the King of England.

To be concluded in Part III ...

1 comment:

  1. Due to "technical difficulties" I am unable to add the further illustrations to the text. Sorry, Blogger is bugging out on this one.


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