Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Story of Monarchy: Latin Jerusalem

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
The founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the crowning achievement of the Christian victory in the First Crusade, summoned by Pope Urban II when Muslim forces invaded and threatened to overrun the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. The retaking of the Holy City by Christian forces was an event which gave no indication of the tolerance to follow. After miraculously snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, the Crusaders stormed into the city and in their pent up rage carried out a massacre horrific by all accounts. However, not all the crusaders took part in this shameful act, one being Godfrey of Bouillon, a great knight, who was offered the throne of the newly proclaimed Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey, however, was a humble man and refused to, as he put it, wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Rather than the title of king he was called the Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher and was installed into that office in a solemn ceremony in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Arnulf of Chocques was elected first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, thus fulfilling the balance in leadership between the lay and the clerical that existed in the Middle Ages throughout Christendom.

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
King Baldwin I died while leading an attack on Egypt, which would be long sought as a possession, in 1118 and was succeeded by his cousin King Baldwin II who staved off a massive Muslim invasion and drove the Muslims out of Antioch after they had briefly conquered that principality. He also conquered Tyre, adding it to his possessions and his reign saw the creation of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers. He also enacted laws to more plainly codify the government of the new kingdom. His fellows considered him a good Christian and an exceptional general, an opinion driven home by the fact that even his Muslim enemies had some respect for him.

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.

Queen Melisende
One of the marks Queen Melisende left on the kingdom was her charitable support for the arts and the Church, which she richly embellished. Despite the official name of the country being the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, this referred mostly to religion as culturally the kingdom was very cosmopolitan. The court would have appeared more eastern than western and Byzantine etiquette and styles were the norm. Jewish and Muslim influences remained and even among the Christians there was great diversity between the Catholic and Orthodox as well as eastern rites within the Catholic Church alongside the Latin rite. However, as was always the case with the Kingdom of Jerusalem, trouble was on the horizon. Edessa was attacked by Muslim forces and appealed to the Queen for help. She sent what forces she could but it was to no avail and Edessa fell in 1144. This prompted Queen Melisende to appeal to the Pope, Eugene III, for help. The result was the calling of the Second Crusade to be led by King Louis VII of France (accompanied by his formidable wife Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Emperor Conrad III of Germany.

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
An alliance, of sorts, was secured in 1158 when the 28 year old King Baldwin III married the 13 year old niece of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel; Princess Theodora. However, the two never had any children and King Baldwin III died only a few years later in 1162. Queen Melisende died the previous year, living long enough at least to see her playboy son become a faithful husband and respected king, even earning the praise of his Muslim enemies. He was succeeded on the throne by his brother King Amalric I. It seemed that with his ascent of the throne the succession was better secured as Amalric had married Agnes of Courtenay in 1157 and the couple had three children, two of which survived childhood, Prince Baldwin and Princess Sibylla. Yet, the marriage also proved a stumbling block. The former Patriarch of Jerusalem had objected to the match on the grounds that they shared a great-great-grandfather and though they later married anyway the High Court objected to the succession of Amalric unless his marriage was annulled. He at last did so, the marriage was annulled, though the children remained legitimate and Amalric ascended the throne without Agnes as his Queen of Jerusalem.

Saladin, the formidable foe
In spite of these problems though, Amalric became one of the most accomplished kings of Jerusalem. He took advantage of the disorder in Egypt and managed to take Cairo on two occasions, once in 1167 and again in 1168, captured Alexandria for a time and made Egypt a protectorate of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until the rise to power of the formidable Sultan Saladin. Amalric had to rush back north to deal with a Muslim attack in Syria but later arranged an alliance with the Byzantines to take the fight back to Egypt. One of the most problematic figures in the Syrian campaign was a French knight named Raynald of Chatillon who had made an enemy of Emperor Manuel. Raynald was a rather unsavory character, once torturing the Latin Patriarch of Antioch to force him to finance one of his revenge expeditions and he would prove continuously troublesome for Jerusalem in the years to come.

To be continued in Part II...


  1. I've been looking forward to this post ever since you mentioned it coming up. Thanks for sharing this, looking forward to part II!

  2. Excellent post, MM, but I must point out that the head of Haus Habsburg-Lothringen in the person of Archduke Karl also claims the Kingdom of Jerusalem in his titles.

  3. Probably true, the Emperor of Austria certainly did, as did the King of Italy and one or two others but King Juan Carlos is the only one who is actually a reigning monarch. It would seem odd (to me at least) for the Archduke of Austria to claim Jerusalem while Austria itself remains a republic.


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