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Baldwin II: Man of God, Man of Reconciliation

Posted by on September 1, 2015

William of Tyre described Baldwin II as a just man, pious and God-fearing (Barber, 118). Baldwin II was much like Godfrey of Bouillon and the complete opposite of Baldwin I. Whereas Baldwin I ruled with force, Baldwin II preferred negotiation and gentle persuasion. He also used quirky, yet brilliant strategies that worked for the greater good of the County of Edessa and later, the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

According to William of Tyre, while Baldwin II was still Count of Edessa, he encountered financial problems because the salary of his knights exceeded his revenues. Baldwin had married the Armenian princess, Morphia, daughter of the wealthy count, Gabriel of Malaya. Unlike most marriages of the time, Baldwin and Morphia’s marriage was based on mutual love and respect. Gabriel and Baldwin also shared a close friendship.

Baldwin knew that Gabriel would be able to help him out, but he did not want to exploit Gabriel’s good will. So, Baldwin rode with his knights to visit Gabriel. Gabriel received Baldwin gladly, so Baldwin stayed for a length of time.

One day, while Baldwin and Gabriel were engaged in conversation in the palace hall, one of Baldwin’s knights (staged by Baldwin) entered the hall and demanded payment of a salary. Baldwin then had to admit to Gabriel that he had not enough money to pay his knights, so he promised to let them cut off his beard. In Greek and Armenian culture, men grew their beards as long and as thick as they were able to. It was considered a dishonor to cut it. Gabriel, abhorred by Baldwin’s decision, gave him 30,000 bezants, demanding that Baldwin never cut his beard (Rita Stark, 60).

Edessa, located along the furthest northern edge of Christian Outremer, was more prone to Turkish attacks than neighboring Antioch. That was the main reason why Baldwin constantly ran into financial troubles. In the early 12th century, Edessa suffered a period of famine after bands of Turkish warriors ravaged the countryside. That left Baldwin’s treasury nearly empty.

Meanwhile, Joscelin de Courtenay, who held the fief of Turbessel, a town located on the Euphrates River, had escaped the Turkish invasion. He continued to enjoy the wealth the fertile land of the region yielded. Unfortunately, he had no sympathy for his overlord. In fact, Joscelin arrogantly stated that Baldwin should return to France because he was incapable of holding onto his status (Rita Stark, 60).

Feigning illness, Baldwin summoned Joscelin to his bedside. Joscelin was probably not at all concerned for Baldwin because we wanted to claim Edessa. Nevertheless, he masked his coldhearted greed and asked how Baldwin’s health was. Much to his surprise and probably dismay, Baldwin leapt out of bed and harshly reproached Joscelin for his disloyalty. He then threw Joscelin in prison and stripped him of his fief.

However, in 1118, the two men made reconciliation, a move that would benefit both men greatly. Joscelin ardently supported Baldwin’s claim to the throne probably because he knew his rewards would be great. On the other hand, Joscelin held a deep respect for Baldwin and most likely felt regretful for his earlier actions against Baldwin.

In any case, Baldwin returned Turbessel to Joscelin.

The ruses Baldwin used to save him and his county from destruction never turned into treason. In fact, his actions were always followed by reconciliation. It’s highly possible some of the prominent barons of Outremer thought Baldwin II as a weak and ineffective king and desired a king like Baldwin I, who ruled with an iron fist. Yet, under Baldwin II’s rule, the Kingdom of Jerusalem thrived and flourished amidst the perpetual threat its enemies posed to it.


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