Luxury Exports and Religious Tourists: The Urban Economy of the Crusader Kingdoms

This is a guest article by fellow writer, Helena Schrader.

It has been estimated that roughly 50% of the Frankish population in the crusader kingdoms was urban. That represents a much higher proportion than in Western Europe at this time, and particularly in the post-Hattin era, the majority of noblemen were dependent on non-agricultural income for their wealth. In short, the degree of urbanization in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, particularly the 13th century Kingdom, resembled the Italian city states more than the large western kingdoms such as England and France. To understand the crusader kingdoms, therefore, it is important to understand the urban economy.

The most obvious source of wealth was the control of the key ports along the coast of the Levant which meant the points at which the “riches of the Orient” were transshipped for export to the increasingly prosperous population of the West. It was in Beirut and Tyre, Acre and Caesarea, Jaffa and Ascalon that Damascus steel and Indian spices, Ethiopian incense and Nubian gold, Persian carpets and Chinese silk, African ivory and Egyptian papyrus were exported to the hungry markets of Italy, and from there onward to the Holy Roman Empire, France, Iberia and far off England and Scandinavia.

In addition to these transshipped items, the crusader kingdoms themselves had a number of export goods that were highly lucrative. While sugar was probably the most important bulk commodity, the export of Holy Relics and souvenirs should not be under-estimated. By some estimates, the population of Jerusalem doubled during the summer pilgrimage (tourist) season, and all of those pilgrims wanted to take some mementos home with them as well as gifts for family and friends, just like modern tourists today.

All those pilgrims also needed a place to stay and food to eat — and not just in Jerusalem. The pilgrimage sites included not just obvious sites such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, but also the site of every moment in Christ’s life as recorded in the Gospels, and places associated with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other saints. There was hardly a place in the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem that could not lay claim to some biblical event of importance, and devout pilgrims, who ventured so far at such cost and risk, generally stayed until the fall sailing season, which meant spending roughly six months in the Holy Land. In short, the pilgrimage “service industry” was in proportion to the population of the time at least as important as tourism is to Israel today.

Last but not least, a large proportion of the Latin settlers were skilled craftsmen. Serfs could not legally leave their villages and lands (and most probably didn’t want to), so the pilgrims, whether armed and unarmed, were predominantly men of higher status: craftsmen, guildsmen, or merchants. They brought their skills with them, and established themselves in the cities and towns of the crusader kingdoms, where they worked side-by-side with native craftsmen. Here some of the most productive if most prosaic of inter-cultural exchanges took place in the development of dying and cloth-making, leatherworking, gold and silver workmanship, pottery, carpentry, masonry, glass-working, and all the countless other skills essential to survival and a high contemporary standard of living.

Based on the names of the streets alone, it is clear, for example, that Jerusalem had a high concentration of furriers and tanners, but also gold and silver smiths. Pottery from the region, glazed on the inside, is known to have been a particularly popular practical ware, (an early version of Teflon), and that glass-makers and glass-blowers were renowned. The massive construction projects undertaken primarily in the mid-12th century, ensured work for carpenters, masons and sculptors, and the remaining fragments of their work are testimony to the high quality of their workmanship.

At the high-end, Jerusalem also exported illustrated manuscripts from a scriptorium established by the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher. Books produced in such a sacred place had an added value beyond the high quality of the work, and undoubtedly represented one of the luxury goods with the highest margins exported from the crusader kingdoms — albeit, as with all truly valuable, custom made objects, only in very small quantities.

The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, far from being a wasteland inhabited by barbarians, was a highly cultured, economically dynamic powerhouse.

For more information about crusader society and the crusader states see:

Principal sources:

Barber, Malcolm, The Crusader States, Yale University Press, 2012.

Hamilton, Bernard, The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Riley-Smith (ed), The Atlas of the Crusades, Facts on File, 1990.

Conder, Claude Reignier, The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1099 to 1291, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1897.

Categories: The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Tancred’s Act of Treason

In 1110, for the first time since the Franks conquered Jerusalem, the Turks planned a counter-crusade. Their goal was to re-conquer Syria and oust the Franks for good. In the spring, Muhammad the Seljuk Sultan of Baghdad raised a large Mesopotamian army and placed it under the command of Maudud, aTurkish warlord who had recently come to power in Mosul (Asbridge, 150). Maudud’s first goal was to re-capture Edessa.

Unfortunately King Baldwin had been unable to unite Tancred and Baldwin le Bourcq: or, rather Tancred and Baldwin refused to reconcile. Tancred refused to go to Edessa’s relief, so Baldwin sent Joscelin de Courtenay to Jerusalem to request aid from King Baldwin. Within a couple of weeks, King Baldwin managed to assemble an army, a rather large one. According to historian Rita Stark, his army totalled around 15,000 soldiers. The king and his army then marched to relieve Edessa. When they arrived, they found the city under siege. However, the Turks had not anticipated to encounter such a large Frankish force. So, as they had time and again since the crusaders set foot in the Holy Land, the Turks panicked and retreated to Harran.

Fortunately for the kingdom, but especially for Tancred, Edessa was saved. Tancred’s unwillingness to to aid his fellow Christians against the enemy was considered treasonous. If Edessa had fallen to the Turks, Tancred would have faced severe repercussions. In any case, Baldwin was determined to unite all of the Franks. That involved putting Tancred in his place.

Baldwin held a council meeting in his tent where he obliged Tancred to explain why he had refused to defend Edessa against the Turks. “The city has always belonged to the Principality of Antioch,” (R Stark, 52). Tancred allegedly told the king in an attempt to exonerate himself and to reassert his authority over Edessa. If the County of Edessa had truly belonged to Tancred, he would have defended it. So, that careless and haughty response did nothing to exonerate himself. It just demonstrated to all his compatriots how much disdain he had for Baldwin le Bourcq. Understandably the other leading nobles at the council meeting — especially Baldwin le Bourcq’s allies — were not at all inclined to defend Tancred. In fact, they blamed him for allying with the Muslims and for inciting Maudud to attack Edessa (Asbridge, 151).

Albert d’Aix chronicled Baldwin’s following speech: “My dear Tancred, what you ask is not right…you must remember that, when we departed for the Holy Land, it was agreed that whoever conquered land from the Infidel could keep it for himself. For the rest you have elected a king to serve you as chief, guard and guide in the conservation and expansion of the conquest. That is why I am demanding from you in the name of the whole Christian community here represented a sincere reconciliation with Baldwin le Bourcq. Otherwise, if you prefer intrigues with the Turks, you can no longer be one of ours and we will fight you without mercy” (quoted in Rita Stark, 52).

With no other recourse, Tancred backed down and, from then on, he stopped demanding tribute payments from Edessa.

Categories: Setting up the Kingdom, The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Coming Soon: Why Does the Heathen Rage? by J Stephen Roberts

This summer, Why Does the Heathen Rage?, a work of hisorical fiction, will be released by RCH Media, an exciting new press that will be established by J Stephen Roberts and Joseph Scott Amis. J Stephen Roberts, creator and host of the Real Crusades History podcast, is the author of Why Does the Heathen Rage?.

Why Does the Heathen Rage? is set during the Crusades, during the reign of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

In 1118, Baldwin II was named King of Jerusalem. Already in his fifties, he was advanced in years for a newly crowned king, but proved to be a militant and energetic monarch. He ruled an impressive swath of territory in western Syria and Palestine conquered by European Christian knights during the First Crusade (1096-1099). His lands were surrounded by Muslim enemies: Fatimid-held Egypt in the south, to the east Damascus under the Emir Toghtekin, and to the northeast the Ortoqid Turks, who reigned from the cities of Mardin, Harran, and Aleppo.

Barely was the crown on his head when Baldwin faced an invasion from the Ortoqids, then headed by the fierce Emir Ilghazi. With a great host of Turkish horsemen, Ilghazi swept down on the Principality of Antioch, governed by King Baldwin’s brother-in-law: the brawny, red-headed Norman, Roger of Salerno. The King gathered his army and set out for Antioch, but before he arrived Roger, with his own cavalry, chose to engage the enemy. Ilghazi triumphed, decimating nearly the whole of Antioch’s forces and slaying Roger in a battle that came to be known as Ager Sanguinis – the Field of Blood. King Baldwin, with the aid of his vassal Pons of Tripoli, gave Ilghazi no time to celebrate, attacking and defeating him at the Battle of Hab. The Turks retreated. Baldwin had saved Antioch, avenged Roger’s fallen knights, and become known as a king to be reckoned with.

With Roger dead, Antioch was without a ruler. The King spent months organizing Antioch’s administration, and finding husbands for the many widows created by the Battle of Ager Sanguinis. He turned the Principality’s government over to the head of the Antiochene church, the Patriarch Bernard.

In 1122 a new Ortoqid made his presence felt: Balak, Ilghazi’s nephew and lord of Khanzit. Young, ambitious, and warlike, Balak convinced his uncle to join him for an attack on the Christians. The Turks burned the fields of Zerdana and besieged the castle. Baldwin sent for the True Cross, a precious relic kept in Jerusalem and believed by the Christians to have been an actual piece of the wood on which Christ was crucified. With the Cross at the vanguard, the King moved in with his army. The Turks tried to lure him into a trap with a feigned retreat, but he kept his army in a solid formation before the castle. Once again, Baldwin’s wisdom paid off, and once again the Turks withdrew, having achieved nothing. Later that year, Ilghazi died, leaving Balak as the leading figure of the powerful Ortoqid house.

Before the True Cross had even been returned to Jerusalem, Baldwin received disturbing news. Balak had moved north and led his forces against Joscelin, Count of Edessa, one of Baldwin’s most important vassals. Joscelin held the northernmost Crusader territories, which stretched across part of Mesopotamia. With a force of his horsemen, Joscelin had suffered an ambush at Birejik, and Balak captured the Count of Edessa along with his knight Walrean. King Baldwin, who was at Antioch at the time, set out with a picked force for the County of Edessa, where he intended to reconnoiter the site of his vassal’s capture and protect the territory from further attack. There, Baldwin visited the County’s principal cities, Edessa and Turbessel, as well as its outlying castles. He next recaptured Birejik, which Balak had seized at the time of his defeat of Joscelin, then headed back toward Edessa, when he was surprised by Balak’s army.


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The Grand Frankish Alliance: King Baldwin’s Attempt to Reconcile the Fighting Nobles.

To the south, in the fledgling county of Tripoli, divisions between the Christian lords threatened to destroy what Count Raymond had founded. Shortly after Raymond’s death, Raymond’s nephew, William-Jordan arrived in the Holy Land and assumed control of the county. He conquered Arqa, a city north of Tripoli, while continuing to pressure the city of Tripoli into submission.

However, in March 1109, Bertrand of Toulouse, Raymond’s son, arrived in the Holy Land accompanied by a sizeable fleet. He was determined to obtain his inheritance, but William-Jordan had already ruled the county for four years and he was not about to hand it over to Bertrand. So, he barred Bertrand from entering his father’s lands. The ensuing conflict between the two men posed a serious threat to the new county of Tripoli. Moreover, like the conflict between Tancred and Baldwin le Bourcq over Edessa, it demonstrated a gross lack of unity between the leading nobles in the new Christian Kingdom. It would seem that greed had replaced their religious motives for reclaiming the Holy Land for Christ and for Christendom.

If William-Jordan was to claim Tripoli once it fell, he realized he needed an ally: one who had a lot of power. So, he turned to Tancred and offered to become Tancred’s vassal in exchange for support. Tancred, seeing this as a golden opportunity to expand Antiochene influence in the Holy Land, eagerly accepted William-Jordan’s offer of vassalage. Once he was able to browbeat Baldwin le Bourcq into submission, he would have no problem doing the same with William-Jordan. Then, Tripoli would be obliged to accept Tancred as it’s overlord. That, Tancred realized, would make Antioch the most powerful state in the Holy Land, much more powerful than the Kingdom of Jerusalem. No doubt, Tancred had long desired to become more powerful than his adversary, Baldwin of Boulogne (I of Jerusalem).

Meanwhile, Bertrand appealed to King Baldwin for help to reclaim his inheritance. In return, Bertrand swore his allegiance to Baldwin.

King Baldwin had his own designs for Outremer. He wished to unite all of the crusader states, including yet to be conquered territory, under his royal authority. However, Tancred’s ruthless ambitions threatened to undermine his power. Worse, the in-fighting between the princes jeopardized the survival of the new Kingdom at large. Baldwin realized that, so instead of raising an army to crush Tancred, Baldwin chose to use diplomacy. “In the name of the Church of Jerusalem I summon you both to a royal meeting in Tripoli,” Baldwin said to Tancred and William-Jordan (quoted in Rita-Stark, 49).

In the summer of 1109, Baldwin called upon all of the barons in the Levant to assist Bertrand in the siege of Tripoli. Baldwin’s real motivation was to unite all of the barons in what would be known as a grand Frankish alliance. That was his first step in enhancing his royal authority in the Holy Land.

Baldwin marched on Tripoli with an army 500 strong; Tancred and William-Jordan arrived in Tripoli with 700 knights; Baldwin le Bourcq and Joscelin de Courtenay also brought with them a sizeable force. The presence of Bertrand’s provencal navy and a Genoese fleet greatly strengthened the crusader force, making it the largest and most formidable army since the time of the First Crusade.

At some point during the siege, Baldwin held a tribunal where he invited all of the leading barons to voice their grievances. After the king had listened to every man’s complaints, he forced them to reconcile: Tancred with Baldwin le Bourcq and Bertrand with William-Jordan. Tancred agreed to relinquish — albeit grudgingly — all territory within the County of Edessa to Baldwin. As compensation, Baldwin reinstated Tancred as lord of Haifa and Galilee. It was agreed that William-Jordan would keep Tortosa and Arqa while Bertrand would assume control over Mount Pilgrim, Jubail and Trippoli once Tripoli fell to the crusaders.

Fortunately for Bertrand and for the rest of the kingdom, the Muslims of Tripoli capitulated, unable to hold onto the city for very long. Their terms of surrender was that they’d be allowed to leave the city with as many belongings they could carry or they could remain in the city and pay their Frankish overlords an annual tribute fee. Bertrand, now Count of Tripoli, agreed to their terms and the Franks entered the city on 12 July 1109.

Sadly William-Jordan didn’t live long to enjoy the wealth yielded by Tortosa and Arqa. Shortly after Tripoli capitulated, he was assassinated. Who killed him and for whatever reason is unknown. But William-Jordan’s death added to Bertrand’s holdings, making Bertrand the Count of all of Tripoli. No doubt Bertrand did not grieve or even regret the loss of William-Jordan.

Categories: Baldwin I, The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

Guest Post: To Shine With Honor

Scott Amis, a follower of Crusades and Crusaders and a writer himself, recently sent me a chapter of his work-in-progress, Volume II of To Shine With Honor. To Shine With Honor is a work of historical fiction set in the 11th century, during the time of the First Crusade.

Chapter 1

5 October 1096, the Barony of Mirefleurs, Southeastern France

Knight Thierré de Coudre picked up his sword and turned it round in the light from the window. The broad steel blade was polished to a fine grey shine. He drew his left thumb along an edge, a thin line of blood appeared, and he smiled.

Hinges screeched. Sergeant Otto Huber stepped into the arming room. “Sir, the monk is soon to arrive.” Thierré nodded and put the sword on the work table. “Otto, I pray God that he’ll convince you to come with me.”

The sergeant scratched his stubbly head. He grinned. “I pray that he’ll not be akin to the last two ragged madmen.”

Thierré and Otto dismounted at the foot of the trail down from Fortress Mirefleurs. Fourscore people were gathered on the main road, chatting in the cool air and warm sun of early autumn. Commoners bowed their heads politely to Thierré with “Sir de Coudre,” and stepped aside for the formidable Otto. A man pointed south. “He’s coming.” Voices grew silent and all heads turned.

Thierré watched fascinated as the band of pilgrims approached and stopped before the crowd. The monk was of no like to those that had come before him. He stood tall and erect of bearing, fresh-shaven and dressed in a spotless habit, regular of features and clear and steady of eyes. He looked over the crowd, smiled kindly, and spoke with a finely honed voice. “Good souls of the Barony of Mirefleurs, His Holiness the Pope asked that I address you, and I thank you for coming to hear our humble words. Let us pray.” The monk knelt in the dirt of the road and the people followed, heads bowed in reverence as he said the Pater Noster.

The monk stood, raised his arms in blessing, and began. He spoke of Pope Urban’s address at Clermont on the cold day in November 1095, the great campaign begun there, and the people from western lands that heard the call of Christ, left all behind to walk in the footsteps of the blessed monk Peter, and set out behind him for the Holy Land the March past.

“These tens of thousands of souls most dear to God have surely reached the ancient city of Constantinople and now make ready to cross into Christian lands long occupied by unholy Mohametan Turks, to risk their own lives to pave the way for those who will follow.”
“And of those of you who remain here? Will you open your ears and hearts to Christ’s same call? Armies led by the greatest noblemen of France gather as I speak. They welcome every man of the sword who would join their ranks. Be you knight or foot man, come forward. Take the vow and have the Cross pinned to your breast. Though you might lose the world, you gain your own eternal soul and the keys to the Kingdom of God.”

The monk again said blessings. Thierré glanced at Otto, to see tears run down the sergeant’s hardened face. He felt eyes. The monk looked from the black cross sewn to the right shoulder of Thierré’s gambeson and smiled at him. “Young knight, you’re ready to take your place with God’s armies, but what of your good companion?”

Otto looked at Thierré. “I’d speak with this holy man, Sir. Have I your own blessings?”

“By all means! I’ll sit beneath that shady oak tree and watch our horses graze. Take the time you need.”

The monk put an arm round Otto’s shoulders and they strolled away. Thierré sat on the grass, back resting against the tree trunk. Warm sunlight filtering through branches that were losing their leaves to winter’s coming fell onto his face. He felt sleepy and his head dropped forward in a doze.

“Sir?” Thierré heard the voice in his dream and woke. The sun had fallen lower in the sky, and Otto stood above him, black cross pinned to the right shoulder of his gambeson. Thierré got up and gripped his shoulders. “Now I know the Turks won’t have a chance!”

Otto laughed. “Sir Thierré, I’m only one man and they are legion.”

“One man who’s well worth twoscore. I’m curious to know what you and the monk talked about, but won’t ask.”

“I’d very much like to tell you, Sir. Something happened to me while we were listening to him.”

“Let’s get our horses and ride back up to the Fortress. We can talk over some wine.”

In the armory hall a serving man brought them wine and a platter of bread, cheese, and olives. “So, let’s hear about it,” Thierré said.

“It’s this, Sir. After the Pope’s speech at Clermont, you said that you felt that he spoke to you without words, from within your own heart. In truth, I thought you a bit touched then.”

Thierré grinned. “You’ve seen me drink till I was the last man standing and watched Baldwin de Betancourt bash my head in. I’m not so surprised.”

“Perhaps I thought so at Clermont, but as the monk spoke I came to hear the same voice.”


“Yes, Sir, and I could not refuse what it bade me. And afterward, I told the monk things I’ve never talked of with any man.”

“If you still want to tell me of your words with him, I’m listening.”
Otto scratched his head and took some food and a drink of wine. “I told him of my shame at the kind of man I am, of the twoscore and more men I’ve killed in battle and of those I’ve executed by means merciful and not so. I told him of the voice I heard and asked how such a man as me could come to be so blessed.”

“And his reply?”

“A good yet most puzzling one, Sir. He told me that my sins would all be forgiven and that I forewith belonged to Christ, to use what skill I have solely in His service. And I said, ‘As a killer and hangman, good Brother?’ He only replied that God would reveal all in His own time, then bade me blessings and went on to the next man.”

Thierré took a drink. He thought for long seconds and spoke. “Otto, I can only tell you this.  Your station bids you do brutal deeds, but who else could conduct an execution like you do, that the men who must hang drop to sure and instant death without pain? No other man can question prisoners with such skill, that he almost never need torture them to get answers. In truth, you’re a merciful man.”

Otto scratched his head again. “Sir Thierré, you’ve cast a new light.” His expression grew serious. “If you’ll have me I’ll join your company, but know this. I’ll kill every Turk that comes before me in battle, but for prisoners that need be questioned by cruel means or die so, you’ll need find someone else than Otto Huber.”

Thierré reached across the table and shook with Otto. “Welcome to the company, Otto Huber. You’ll have the post of first sergeant, with charge of all of the men.”

“I’m honored and grateful, Sir.”

“I’m like honored and more than grateful to finally have you,” Thierré said, and he mused. “Otto, you helped train me as a squire and gave me a couple of hard floggings. Since I’ve been a knight we’ve been brothers in arms, and now we’re brothers in Christ’s great cause.”

Otto bowed his head. “Indeed we are, Sir.” He looked up and chuckled. “There’s much I regret in my life but those floggings I don’t. If ever a man deserved such, you did.”

6 October 1096, Fortress Mirefleurs

Thierré de Coudre finished dressing for the evening and walked into the great hall. Knight Lorens le Mareschal was alone on a bench before the cooking fire, a cup of wine beside him.

“Why so glum, Lorens?” Thierré said.

“Not glum, only lost in my thoughts. I saw that Huber’s taken the cross and vow.”

“Think you to do the same?”

“I am thinking so, Thierré. Since Lisette called off our plans last summer to marry your brother, I’ve not been able to find my ground.”

“A broken heart is no good reason. Knights are sorely needed here at home and Jean Loudon would promote you to a leading post in short time. Pretty noblewomen stand in wait for a good young knight. I’d think that they’d be at your choice.”

“My heart has healed but I’m still sad. Lisette was a commoner like I was, and I felt most at ease for us to enter the nobility together.”

“You’re a knight and a nobleman now. You seem to be getting on well with it.”

“Thierré, in truth I don’t yet feel full easy in noble company, what to speak of approaching a knight of family to ask for his daughter’s hand.”

Thierré nodded. “Lorens, I understand. Lisette and I talked much before she decided to marry Galien. She had the same misgivings about her place with my father and our family.”

Lorens’ face grew dark. “And I suppose you talked her into leaving me for Galien?”

“My good friend, rest assured that that decision was hers alone. Can we return to your thoughts to join the expedition? I’m willing to help you sort them out.”

“I trust that you speak truth about Lisette, and I’ll like willingly tell you my thoughts. Perhaps God has other purpose for me than marriage, a landholding, and children, that purpose to take the cross and vow and follow you to the Holy Land.”

“I’ll say that’s a much better reason than a broken heart.”

“If I decide to go, might I have a place in your company?”

“Should you join Walter d’Avesnes and Guy Robard in the company, I’d have a firm force of three good knights to ride beside me, and Sergeant Huber behind to keep the men in sharp form. I think your question is already answered.”

“Then I accept with honor. Think you the monk too far gone for me to find him?”

“He was to continue on to Grand-Forêt and then into the County of Saint-Lille. We’ll get our horses saddled right away and find him together.”


Categories: The First Crusade, Vignette | Leave a comment

Guy de Lusignan: The Man who Destroyed the Kingdom of Jerusalem

In this article, Dr. Helena Schrader talks all about Guy de Lusignan, the man who destroyed the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Guy de Lusignan has the distinction of being the man who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by leading the Christian army to an unnecessary but utterly devastating defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187.  Such noted modern historians such as Malcolm Barber, Bernard Hamilton and W.B. Bartlett argue Lusignan’s disastrous decision to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march to the relief of the garrison of Tiberius in July 1187 can be explained by the fact that he was criticized for not taking the offense in the campaign of 1183.  Guy, they argue, was in a difficult psychological position and had every reason to doubt the Count of Tripoli’s loyalty. They generally portray Guy more as a victim of circumstances than the cause of disaster.  Indeed, it has become popular to blame the “disloyalty” of other lords rather than Guy for the loss of his kingdom. Guy’s contemporaries saw it differently.

So who has the right of it? A brief resume of Guy de Lusignan’s career.

Guy de Lusignan enters history with his marriage to Sibylla of Jerusalem, King Amalric’s first-born child and older sister too King Baldwin IV. Or does he?

In the spring of 1168, the Earl of Salisbury was escorting Queen Eleanor of England to Poitiers with a small escort when the party was ambushed by “the Lusignans.” The Lusignans had recently been dispossessed of their lands for rebelling against Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. They hoped by capturing Eleanor to gain a bargaining chip for the restoration of their fortunes. The Earl of Salisbury turned over his own horse, which was stronger and faster, to Eleanor so she could escape, but while he was remounting he was fatally pierced from behind by a lance. Salisbury’s nephew William Marshal (later famous as tutor of the Henry the Young King, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England) was in Salisbury’s entourage.  According to the 13th century biography of William Marshal, commissioned by his eldest son and based on the accounts of many of Marshal’s contemporaries, this ambush was led by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey. Some sources claim that Guy himself wielded the murderous lance.  Allegedly, this act made Guy persona non grata in the courts of the Plantagenets and induced him to seek his fortune in Outremer. Maybe, but there was a gap of some 12 years, so maybe not.

Nevertheless, when considering Guy de Lusignan’s later reputation, it is important to remember that he was accused of a profoundly unchivalrous murder by contemporaries — before he ever set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Guy appears to have arrived in Jerusalem in late 1179 or early 1180 at the invitation of his elder brother Aimery. Aimery was making a career in Jerusalem, according to some, by sleeping with the Queen Mother, Agnes de Courtenay. At the time Guy arrived in the Holy Land, Baldwin IV was king — and clearly dying of leprosy. Since it was also clear that Baldwin IV would not sire heirs of his body, his nephew Baldwin was his heir apparent. This boy had been born to his elder sister Sibylla after the death of her first husband, William of Montferrat. Sibylla herself was thus a young (20 year old) widow. There were rumors, however, that she had pledged herself to the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. The rumors were widespread enough for Salah-ad-Din to demand a king’s ransom when Ramla was taken captive on the Litani in 1179 (apparently in anticipation of Ramla becoming King of Jerusalem) — and for the Byzantine Emperor to pay that exorbitant ransom (since Ramla could not possibly pay it from his own resources) in anticipation of the same event.

But suddenly at Easter of 1180, Sibylla married not Ramla (who was on his way back from Constantinople) but the virtually unknown and landless Guy de Lusignan.  The wedding was concluded in a hasty ceremony lacking preparation and pomp. According to the most reliable contemporary source, the Archbishop of Tyre (who was also Chancellor at the time and so an “insider,”) Baldwin rushed his sister into the marriage with the obscure, landless and discredited Guy because the Prince of Antioch, the Count of Tripoli and the Baron of Ramla were planning to depose him and place Ramla on the throne as Sibylla’s consort.

Perhaps, but there is no other evidence of Tripoli’s disloyalty, and Ramla’s hopes of marrying Sibylla had been known for a long time — and all the way to Damascus and Constantinople. Why did that marriage suddenly seem threatening to Baldwin IV?

Another contemporary source, Ernoul, suggests another reason for the hasty and unsuitable (for there is no way the third son of a Poitevin baron could be considered a suitable match for a Princess of Jerusalem) marriage: that Guy had seduced Sibylla. Aside from the fact that this had happened more than once in history, the greatest evidence for a love match is Sibylla’s steadfast — almost hysterical — attachment to Guy, as we shall see.  Meanwhile, however, the marriage alienated not only the jilted Baron of Ramla, but the Count of Tripoli as well. In short, it was not a very wise political move and thus hard to explain as a political decision.  Last but not least, even the Archbishop of Tyre admits the King soon regretted the decision. All these factors point to Ernoul’s explanation of a seduction, a scandal and an attempt to “put things right” by a King who was devoted to his sister.

Guy was named Count of Jaffa and Ascalon and appears to have been accepted by the Barons of Jerusalem as a fait accompli that could no longer be changed — until, in September 1183, King Baldwin became so ill that he named his brother-in-law Regent.  As such, Guy took command of the Christian forces during Salah-ad-Din’s fourth invasion of the Kingdom. What happened next is obscure. Although Saladin managed to burn some monasteries and there were some bitterly fought skirmishes, ultimately the Saracens were forced to withdraw; an apparent Christian victory (and certainly better than what happened four years later, the next time Guy was in command!)

Yet something more must have happened on this campaign because just two months later, when word reached Jerusalem that the vital castle of Kerak was besieged by Saladin, the barons of Jerusalem “unanimously” refused to follow Guy. They flat out refused to come to the relief of an important border fortress in which both royal princesses (Sibylla and Isabella), the Queen Mother and the Dowager Queen were all trapped (because of a wedding) until Guy was stripped of the regency.

That is an incredibly strong statement.  The fact that the historical record is too patchy to enable us to explain it does not negate the importance of the event. The collective barons of Outremer were not dolts, cowards or fools.  They had accepted Guy’s command two months earlier. Even Tripoli and Ramla, who both detested him, had mustered under Guy’s command to face Salah-ad-Din in September, putting the welfare of the kingdom ahead of their personal feelings. But two months later even men who had previously shown no particular animosity toward Lusignan refused to accept his leadership. King Baldwin had no choice but to take back the reins of government, command of his army and have his nephew crowned as co-king. The latter was to reassure the barons that even if he died in the near term (as he expected), they would not have to pay homage to Guy.

After Kerak had been successfully relieved, Baldwin IV sought desperately to have his sister’s marriage to Guy annulled. This had nothing to do with personal grievances against Guy (although he had those too); it was necessary in order to find a long-term solution to the succession crisis. His nephew was a sickly boy, and the kingdom needed a vigorous and militarily competent leader. Baldwin’s efforts to replace the discredited Guy were thwarted by Sibylla, who refused to consider a divorce — something she is hardly likely to have done, if the marriage had been political in the first place. If Sibylla had married for reasons of state, she would have divorced for reasons of state.  Less than a decade later, her half-sister Isabella put the kingdom ahead of her affections when she divorced the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron to marry the man around whom the barons had rallied, Conrad de Montferrat.

Baldwin IV died in 1185 and was succeed by his nephew with Raymond de Tripoli as regent.  The fact that Tripoli was made regent — with the consent of the High Court — and the Count of Edessa was made the boy’s guardian are both indications of the intensity of the animosity and suspicion the bishops and barons of Jerusalem harbored for Guy de Lusignan by this time. There was, after all, a precedent for a queen reigning for an under-aged son, Melisende had reigned in her own right for her son Baldwin III.

At the death of Baldwin V roughly one year later, hostility to Guy had not substantially weakened. As was usual following the death of a king, the High Court was convened to elect the next monarch. Some modern historians have made much of the fact that Tripoli summoned the High Court to Nablus rather than convening in Jerusalem itself. This is interpreted as a sign of disloyalty, but there is nothing inherently disloyal about meeting in another city of the kingdom. High Courts also met in Acre and Tyre at various times.  Nablus was part of the royal domain, comparatively close to Jerusalem, and the Templars under their new Master, Gerard de Ridefort (surely the worst Master the Templars ever had), were said to have taken control of the gates and streets of Jerusalem. The Templars did not have a seat in the High Court, but they controlled 300 knights and the decision to hold the High Court in Nablus can better be explained as the legitimate desire to avoid Templar pressure than as disloyalty on the part of Tripoli.

In any case, while the bulk of the High Court was meeting in Nablus, Sibylla persuaded the Patriarch to crown her queen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  In addition to the Patriarch (allegedly another former lover of her mother) and the Templars (whose Grand Master had a personal feud with Tripoli), Sibylla was supported by her uncle Joscelyn Count of Edessa and the colorful and controversial Reynald de Chatillon, Lord of Oultrejourdan by right of his wife.  We know of no other supporters by name, but we know that Reynald de Chatillon sought to increase Sibylla’s support by saying she would be queen in her own right without mentioning Guy.  Even Bernard Hamilton, one of Guy’s modern apologists, admits that: “Benjamin Kedar has rightly drawn attention to sources independent of the Eracles [e.g. Ernoul] and derived from informants on the whole favorable to Guy de Lusignan, which relate that Sibyl’s supporters in 1186 required her to divorce Guy before they would agree to recognize her as queen.” (The Leper King and His Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000 p. 218).

According to these sources, Sibylla promised to divorce Guy and choose another man for her husband as her consort. Instead, once she was crowned, she chose Guy as her consort — and crowned him herself when the Patriarch refused.  Once again, Sibylla had chosen Guy over not only the wishes of her subjects but in violation of an oath/promise she had made to her supporters (not her enemies, note, to her supporters). I repeat: this is not the behavior of a woman who had been forced in to a hasty and demeaning marriage by her brother out of political expediency; it is consistent with a woman who was passionately in love with the man who she had foisted upon her brother and her subjects against their wishes.

With this dual coronation, Sibylla and Guy had usurped the throne of Jerusalem, but without the Consent of the High Court they were just that — usurpers.  The High Court (or rather those members of it meeting at Nablus) was so outraged that, despite the acute risk posed by Salah-ad-Din, they considered electing and crowning Sibylla’s half-sister Isabella. To risk civil war when the country was effectively surrounded by a powerful and united enemy is almost incomprehensible — and highlights just how desperate the opposition to Guy de Lusignan was. In retrospect, it seems like madness that men would even consider fighting their fellow Christians when the forces of Islam were so powerful, threatening and well-led.

Then again, with the benefit of hind-sight, maybe it would have been better to depose of Guy de Lusignan before he could lead the country to utter ruin at Hattin?

In the event, Humphrey de Toron, Isabella’s young husband, didn’t have the backbone to confront Guy de Lusignan. In the dark of night he fled Nablus to go to Jerusalem in secret and pay homage to Guy. With this act, the High Court lost their alternative monarch and capitulated — except for Ramla and Tripoli, the most inveterate opponents of Lusignan.  Ramla preferred to quit the kingdom altogether, turning over his lucrative lordships to his younger brother and seeking his fortune in Antioch. (He disappears from history and we don’t know where or when he died.) Tripoli simply refused to recognize Guy as his king and made a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din — until he was reconciled after a tragic incident in May 1187.

Two months later, Guy de Lusignan proved that Ramla, Tripoli and the majority of the High Court had rightly assessed his character, capabilities and suitability to rule. Guy led the Christian kingdom to an unnecessary but devastating defeat which resulted in the loss of the holiest city in Christendom, Jerusalem, and indeed the entire kingdom save the city of Tyre. Only a new crusade would restore a fragment of the Kingdom and enable Christendom to hang on to the coastline for another century.

With all due respect to revisionism and the legitimate right of historians to question familiar and popular interpretations of events, it is also wise to remember that chronicles and other historical documents provide us with an imperfect and incomplete picture.  The actions and judgment of contemporaries, on the other hand, were based on much more comprehensive knowledge and information we do not have.  Based on the actions of Guy de Lusignan’s contemporaries, I believe the Ernoul’s portrayal of Guy de Lusignan is closer to the mark than the apologist image of modern historians.

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Guy de Lusignan: Kingdom Destroyer

Guy de Lusignan, famous from the film, Kingdom of Heaven, is credited as the King who destroyed the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But was he completely at fault, or was he just a pawn used by his powerful allies, Reynald de Chatillon, Gerard de Ridefort and his wife — the princess herself — Sybilla? In this video, J Stephen Roberts and I examin this issue.

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Tancred vs Baldwin le Bourcq: The Fight Over Edessa

When Bohemond left Antioch, the principality consisted of no more than the city of Antioch and it was extremely vulnerable to Muslim reoccupation. The treasury was also nearly depleted, so when Tancred assumed control over the principality, he had very little to work with. But Tancred’s ambitions knew no limits. By the second decade of the 12th century, he had expanded the Principality of Antioch and greatly improved its wealth and influence in the Mediterranean.

For five years, Tancred worked hard and fought consistently, expanding Antioch’s boundaries through conquest and by beating the neighbouring Muslim groups into submission. Unfortunately Tancred also waged war against his fellow Christians.

In 1104, after Baldwin le Bourcq was taken captive by the Turks, the County of Edessa was left without a governor and it was on the brink of collapse. The Country of Edessa was the wealthiest of all the crusader states. Located along the banks of the Euphrates River, Edessa yielded more than 40,000 gold bezants per year from agriculture and trade. Seeing this as one very lucrative opportunity, Tancred assumed control over the County of Edessa, but ruled as its overlord. He appinted his brother-in-law, Richard, as regent of Edessa. When Count Baldwin’s captors attempted to negotiate Baldwin’s ransom payment, Tancred ignored them. He enjoyed the wealth Edessa gave him and the Principality of Antioch so he was not at all inclined to give it up.

Baldwin le Bourcq wasn’t released until the summer of 1107. Baldwin’s companion, Joscelin de Courtenay, lord of Tell Bashir, was ransomed by the populace of his own town (Asbridge, 146). As soon as he was released, Joscelin negotiated Baldwin’s release from Mosul. The Turkish ruler of Mosul, Chavli agreed to the terms of Baldwin’s release, but on one condition: the crusaders would make a military alliance with Mosul in addition to Baldwin’s ransom money. Chavli’s actions reflected his fear of all the political conflict that threatened his authority.

Sometime in the summer of 1108, Baldwin le Bourcq attempted to reclaim Edessa, but Tancred refused to give it up it on grounds that it was he who had saved Edessa from Muslim conquest. He tried to force Baldwin into making an oath of allegiance to him, recognizing Antioch as his overlord. Furious, Baldwin refused, not only because he owed his allegiance to Baldwin I, but also because Edessa was his inheritance (Baldwin of Boulogne had given the county to him before Baldwin became King).

No compromise was reached, so war was imminent. In early September, each man raised an army, prepared to shed blood over this matter. Surprisingly, Chavli and around 7,000 Muslim warriors joined forces with Baldwin. Most likely those Muslims sought to capitalize on Frankish disunity to strengthen their own power somehow.

Baldwin’s and Tancred’s forces engaged in a bloody, hard-fought battle somewhere near Tell Bashir. Around 2,000 Christians died on both sides. After the battle had ended, Patriarch Bernard, the spiritual overlord of Antioch and Edessa attempted to settle the dispute between Baldwin and Tancred once and for all. It was in that moment that witnesses — whose names were not known — revealed that Tancred had promised to return the County of Edessa to Baldwin upon Baldwin’s release. On those allegations, Tancred was forced to hand back the Country of Edessa to Baldwin le Bourcq. Although Tancred refused to give up his control over territory in the northern region of the county. To add insult to injury, Tancred forced Baldwin to make a tribute payment in exchange for peach with Antioch. That action only intensified the hatred between the two men.

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Raymond’s Prize: The City of Tripoli


The Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1102. Photo credit: Odejea.

Raymond turned his attention to Tripoli once again. That city was his prize and he was determined to capture it. However, since his force was so small and since there was no Genoese fleet present to help him, Raymond was unable to lay siege to Tripoli. So, he built a fortified castle on a ridge — known as Mount Pilgrim — located about 2 miles east of Tripoli along the main route from the north and the east (Malcolm Barber, 86). The castle was named Qal at Sanjil (or Saint-Giles). It was used as a residence and as a fortress from which to threaten Tripoli. Raymond did so by forcing the Tripolitans to pay an annual tribute. Meanwhile, Raymond extended his conquests, effectively creating a new crusader state in the Levant. Sometime in the spring of 1104, he captured Gibelet, a maritime city located south of Tripoli. That time he had help from a Genoese fleet.

Even though Tripoli remained out of Raymond’s grasp, he began to call himself the Count of Tripoli. He even appointed one of his followers, Albert, abbot of St. Evrard, as Bishop of Tripoli (Barber, 87). Throughout his newly conquered territory, Raymond established various religious institutions that took care of pilgrims and holy shrines. He also oversaw the construction of a church on Mount Pilgrim — which he had granted to the canons of the Holy Sepulchre — as well as the Church of St. George, a church located somewhere in the Lebanese Mountains. Raymond made no secret of his intention of making Tripoli the capital of his principality. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his dream become a reality.

On 12 September 1104, Fakhr al-Mulk launched a surprise attack on Mount Pilgrim. Many Frankish soldiers and pilgrims were killed. A portion of the settlement was razed to the ground and a large amount of the settlement’s treasury was raided, including livestock and other provisions. Raymond himself died from injuries received after a burning roof collapsed underneath him.

Tripoli would not fall to the crusaders until July 1109.

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Raymond of Toulouse: Founder of the County of Tripoli

Of all the crusaders who set out for the Holy Land in 1096, Raymond, Count of Toulouse was by far the wealthiest. Many people at that time, including Pope Urban and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy believed that Raymond would lead the Crusade. But that did not happen. Raymond’s lust for power and inadequate leadership skills cost him that opportunity. Instead, the less wealthy princes, Baldwin I (Boulogne), Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto and his feisty nephew Tancred, gained power, wealth and prestige.

By the summer of 1099, Raymond was the least liked of all the crusader princes. Although he had fulfilled his vows, Raymond had not obtained a lordship like he wanted to, but Raymond was a determined man. He could have returned to his county in France; it would have offered him all the comforts most people in those days only dreamt of having. But Raymond did not want it. His heart’s desire was to spend the rest of his life in the Holy Land, fighting for the Cross.

Unfortunately Raymond’s friendship with the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus had hurt his already damaged reputation. The Franks didn’t like or trust Alexius, especially after he had abandoned them at Antioch in 1098, so they considered Raymond’s friendship with Alexius as treacherous. The Franks also didn’t trust Raymond’s ambitions. Regardless, Raymond was not going to end his friendship with Alexius. He recognized Alexius as a powerful ally; one who could help him obtain a lordship in the Levant. Tripoli was that principality Raymond wanted for himself.

Once Tancred released Raymond from prison, Raymond set out with Stephen of Blois, Welf of Bavaria and William of Acquitaine to Jerusalem. They were accompanied by a sizeable Genoese fleet. For that reason alone, they were able to capture Tortosa in mid-February 1102. According to Fulcher of Chartres, the Muslim governor of the city willingly surrendered Tortosa to Raymond. The possession of Tortosa was Raymond’s first stepping stone to carving out a reasonably sized principality in the Levant.

Raymond coveted the wealthy city of Tripoli, so for that reason, he did not continue the journey to Jerusalem with his companions. Instead, Raymond assembled his troops — those who had remained with him — and prepared to launch an attack on Tripoli. But the Emir of Tripoli, Fakhr al-Mulk, refused to capitulate. The fact that the Frankish army numbered no more than 300 must have bolstered al-Mulk’s confidence. Regardless, al-Mulk called upon Duqaq of Damascus and Janah al-Daula of Homs for help. They responded promptly and assembled an army much larger than Raymond’s in a short period of time.

As was so often the case in the early years of Latin settlement in the Levant, the crusaders were forced into battle when the odds were stacked heavily against them. Battle was joined outside of Tortosa in April 1102. Once again the crusaders’ prudent military strategy and expertise, combined with disunity within the Muslim ranks worked in the crusaders’ favour. Neither Muslim or Christian chroniclers wrote about the outcome of this battle, but what is known is this: the contingent from Homs, for reasons unknown, retreated, allowing the Franks to close in on the Tripolitans. Raymond did not succeed in capturing Tripoli, but he did manage to beat off the Tripolitans into submission. More importantly, his victory ended the threat posed by Homs and Damascus on the fledgling principality of Tripoli. Raymond’s victory also restored his reputation and bolstered his confidence.

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