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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Winter War for Beirut

In the fall of 1232, an army under the command of the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri seized control of the port city of Beirut. John d'Ibelin, the Lord of Beirut, had just been disseized without a judgment of the court. That should have been the end of the story -- but it wasn't.

Above a 19th-century watercolor of Beirut harbor by Charles Pierron -- before the destruction of the castle. Copyright Christie's Images

As described last week, Beirut had been caught in Cyprus with nearly all his men when the Imperial Marshal struck at his lordship of Beirut. Ibelin knew that his citadel was well-stocked to withstand a siege, but the garrison was too small to withstand a determined assault. If he were to avoid complete defeat, he knew he had to raise a military force capable of breaking the siege of the citadel. The challenges were threefold: 1) he didn't himself command enough knights and men-at-arms to take on the Imperial army; 2) he didn't have any ships to transport his men and horses from Cyprus to the mainland, and 3) it was now late fall, the winter storms had started and the Mediterranean was largely closed to shipping.

Beirut addressed the first two issues by making a dramatic appeal to King Henry of Cyprus for aid. This appeal is notable in that Beirut was Henry's acting regent since the defeat of the Imperial baillies the previous summer. Presumably, Beirut could have simply commanded the resources of Cyprus. Instead, we are told that he went on his knees before the 14-year-old king and begged him for assistance. Pure theater? Probably, but at least the forms of legality were respected, in contrast to the Emperor's actions.

The High Court of Cyprus was summoned and knights and barons came in unprecedented number, "friends and enemies" both. The Lord of Beirut rose and reminded the king that he and his family (meaning his father and brother) had on more than one occasion defeated attempts to depose the Lusignans, a fact for which he had many witnesses and was not in doubt.  Then, according to the chronicler Philip de Novare, who was personally present, Beirut appealed to the king as follows:
"Now it has happened that the Langobards have taken my city and besieged my castle so closely that it is in danger of being lost, and ourselves and all our Syrian men disinherited. Wherefore I pray you, by God and by your honor, for our great services and because we are of one blood and nourished by a common motherland...that you come in person in all your power with me to succor my castle."
At this the lord of Beirut was silent and knelt as if to kiss the foot of the king. The king arose to his feet and all the others knelt, and the king and all the others said that they agreed willingly.... [Novare, LXXXIV]
Not everyone came willingly, as events soon showed, but what Beirut had achieved with his show of requesting aid where he could have commanded it was to leave the youthful king his dignity. The importance of that would become evident within six months.

First, however, the entire Cypriot host had to muster and cross to the mainland in the dead of winter. The army collected at Famagusta shortly after Christmas, there to await favorable weather for a crossing.  They waited a long time in weather that Novare describes as terrible. One source claims they did not risk a crossing until after the spring equinox, another that they departed on the first day of lent, that was roughly a month earlier on Feb. 25, 1232. Fatefully, Beirut refused to leave any of his bannerets or sons behind on Cyprus. According to Novare, Beirut argued that everything hinged upon the recovery of Beirut and that they needed every single fighting man they had, adding that many battles had been lost for the lack of a single nobleman. He concluded: 
"If we conquer, Cyprus will not need any captains; if we lose, it will be ended with us and the captain who would be in Cyprus could only hold out for a little time and after he would perish... For this I do not wish that any one of my family who bears the name of Ibelin should remain. If we conquer, each will have his part in the honor and profits; if we lose, we will all die together and for God in our rightful heritage, there where most of my relatives have been born and died." [Novare, LXXXVI]
Fine as these sentiments were (and Shakespeare appears to have liked them well enough to include them in Henry V's speech at Agincourt), they ignored a dangerous reality: the five former Imperial baillies might have yielded to peer pressure at the session of the High Court but they remained discontented and opposed to action against the Emperor. Throughout the winter they sought both to absent themselves from the host and to induce other knights and barons to abandon the Ibelin cause. 

At last, the order was given to embark apparently on Cypriot ships as there is no mention of assistance from one of the Italian cities at this point. The fleet sailed at night, according to Novare, in "very bad weather and heavy rain" -- but presumably in better weather than had gone before. The wind drove them to Puy du Constable in the County of Tripoli, where the army safely disembarked. Here, however, the five former baillies with their retinues and followers, numbering roughly 80 knights or 20% of the Cypriot feudal host, "fled." These men later turned up in Beirut fighting alongside Filangieri, so one presumes they made it to Tripoli and took ship from there to reinforce the Imperial besiegers.

Meanwhile, the main force of the Cypriot/Ibelin army headed south to the relief of Beirut. The desertion of such a large contingent of men right at the start of the campaign we naturally demoralizing. Beirut, however, countered the dismay by making a show of relief and declaring that he was glad to be rid of the traitors. He reasoned, "as long as they were following him he momentarily waited for them to strike him between the shoulders. Now since they had broken their faith to their lord...had deserted him in the field and were perjured toward  him...they were not people whom it was necessary to fear...." [Novare, LXXXVIII]

King Henry's army advanced south along the coastal road, flanked -- as Richard the Lionheart's troops had been during the Third Crusade -- by their fleet. Unfortunately, the winter storms were far from over and almost immediately a violent storm drove their ships ashore at Botron. Nearly all the vessels were wrecked and with them the Cypriot siege engines and most of their tents. The advance continued overland "through rain and bad weather, through great torrents, deep and overflowing their banks, and through the Pass of the Pagans and the Pass of the Dog, which was most perilous to cross" until the came to the River of Beirut. [Novare, LXXXIX] Here they could be seen from the castle, inspiring great joy and hope of relief.

The castle, meanwhile, had been badly battered by the besiegers. The fosse (dry ditch surrounding the castle), "one of the finest in the world," had been turned into a covered street from which the enemy was digging tunnels under the walls of the castle. A large siege engine had also been set up on a hill outside the city, which caused great damage to the battlements. 

News of the arrival of the Cypriot army under the command of the Lord of Beirut also spread through the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Beirut's allies started to collect around him. Most important, his nephew the Lord of Caesarea brought up reinforcements. It appeared that a confrontation was, at last, going to take place. The  Imperial army issued forth from Beirut to draw up in battle array on the opposite side of the River of Beirut, but it did not risk crossing the river -- and nor did the Ibelins and their allies. Instead, they faced each other all day, and then both returned to their camps. On another occasion, the Cypriot army crossed the river and got as far as the fosse of the citadel hoping to lure the Imperial forces out for a confrontation. Instead, Filagnieri answered with only a feeble sally that was easily chased back into the city but left the Ibelins and their allies outside and no closer to their goal.

At some point, during this standoff,  the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Masters of the Temple and Hospital, and Beirut's other nephew, Balian of Sidon, came to Beirut. They attempted to persuade the parties to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Yet, neither side was ready to compromise. The clergy and Sidon withdrew.

The Imperial Marshal retained the upper hand. He was in firm possession of the town of Beirut, and for obvious reasons, the Lord of Beirut and his allies could not assault him there. Furthermore, the Sicilians had established a blockade of the citadel by sea as well as land by tying their gallies bow and stern on a great chain of iron that cut off the castle on the seaward side. Beirut's army could not penetrate to the citadel either through the enemy-held city or through the sea blockade. They had no choice but to remain on the far side of the River of Beirut, where supplies soon started to run low. Despite his dramatic appeal to King Henry, despite bringing the entire host of the Kingdom of Cyprus (minus 80 "traitors"), despite a hazardous crossing in winter storms, despite bringing his army down the coast in bad weather, and despite support from local supporters, Beirut was unable to muster sufficient force to break the Imperial stranglehold on his citadel, much less force the Imperial forces out of his city. 

Still, Beirut did not concede defeat. Instead, he asked for volunteers willing to risk taking an open boat through the blockade by night and attempting to scramble up the steep embankment to reach the postern of the castle. At once his heir Sir Balian, and his other adult sons Sir Baldwin and Sir Hugh, as well as roughly 100 other armed men -- knights, sergeants, and squires -- volunteered to make the attempt. Novare writes: "...no man was ever so loved by his people, for the vessel was so full of men that the water came up to the bulwarks." [Novare, XCIII] Yet Beirut chose his fourth son Sir John to lead the attempt, ignoring the vehement protests of his elder sons. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that he gave the operation so little chance of success that he did not want to risk his firstborn and heir!

Sure enough, the boat was seen by the Sicilians and there was a great deal of shouting and shooting. Worse, when the Ibelin men landed and started up toward the castle, the garrison thought they were being assaulted by the enemy and started to hurl boulders, lances and other missiles at them. Eventually, someone (presumably Sir John) managed to convince the garrison that this was a relief effort and the reinforcements were welcomed "with great joy."

From the shore, of course, it wasn't entirely clear what was happening out in the dark, and Beirut, thinking all was lost, threw himself face down on the earth with his arms outstretched like a cross praying to God. Finally, lights and faint cheering from the castle reached him. He could give thanks rather than begging for assistance. 

Nor was this perilous mission merely a gallant gesture. According to Novare, the reinforced garrison thereafter "defended themselves more vigorously, made a countermine against the miners, killed the miners without and within the mine, recaptured the fosse by force and fired the covered street...made many brave sallies and ... burned several engines." [Novare, XCIV] Beirut, meanwhile, confident that his castle could hold out for months more, moved his army to Acre where it could be better provisioned and began a diplomatic offensive to gain more allies.  
The story of Frederick's confrontation with Beirut continues next week. Meanwhile, the story forms the basis of The Emperor Strikes Back:

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, November 7, 2019

An Emperor, A King and a Wronged Vassal - Phase Two of the Civil War in Outremer

Emperor Frederick sailed away from the Kingdom of Jerusalem on May 1, 1229 still wearing the intestines his furious subjects had pelted at him. He never again set foot in the Holy Land. However, until his death in December 1250, he continued to call himself "King of Jerusalem." In those 21 intervening years, he made numerous attempts to exert his authority in Jerusalem and to control the kingdom of Cyprus as a vassal state. He was consistently foiled by a coalition of forces led by the very man he had tried to disseize, humiliate and exile: John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut.

Today I begin a five-part series looking at the second phase of the conflict: Emperor Frederick's attempt to eliminate Beirut by force of arms.
On his departure from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Frederick named two men, Balian de Sidon (a grandson of the Balian d'Ibelin who defended Jerusalem in 1187) and Garnier l'Aleman (Werner von Egesheim) as his baillies. In Cyprus, he left five men (who paid him 10,000 silver marks for the privilege) as his baillies. (See: The Emperor's Men) As described in The Battle of Nicosia and The Sieges of Kantara and St. Hilarion) the baillies on Cyprus were militarily defeated but then pardoned by the still under-aged king under the tutelage of the Lord of Beirut. 

Emperor Frederick received the news of the defeat of his appointed baillies in his Kingdom of Sicily. His immediate reaction is not recorded, but just over a year later in the autumn of 1231, he outfitted a fleet of 32 ships filled with more fighting men than he had taken with him on his "crusade" of 1228. This force of 600 knights, 100 squires, 700 foot soldiers, and 3,000 armed sailors was commanded by one of Frederick's most trusted officers, the Imperial Marshal, Riccardo Filangieri. Frederick's orders were to expel the Ibelins from their lands and titles and restore Imperial control over both the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus. 
News of the Emperor's fleet and intentions was brought to the Lord of Beirut in Acre -- either by an Ibelin spy in the Emperor's camp or by an Imperial defector/traitor. Beirut was at this point acting regent of the Kingdom of Cyprus for the 14-year-old King Henry I. Believing that Filangieri's first port of call would be Cyprus, he gathered his men and allies, denuding his base of Beirut of fighting-men, and took ship for Cyprus, arriving almost simultaneously with the Imperial fleet. 

Significantly, Filangieri himself was not with the ships that made landfall on the south coast of Cyprus and anchored off Limassol. Instead, the Emperor was represented by the Bishop of Melfi. The presence of an apparently large (but probably not very large) armed force under the Lord of Beirut's heir, Sir Balian, dissuaded the Imperial forces from attempting a landing, but the Bishop of Melfi requested an interview with King Henry.

This could hardly be refused, and the Bishop went ashore accompanied by two knights to meet with the King, notably in the presence of the Lord of Beirut, who was, after all, still nominally at least his baillie. Notably, the Eracles (a less pro-Ibelin source than Philip de Novare) describes the meeting between the Emperor's spokesperson and King Henry in great detail. According to this contemporary source, via his envoy Emperor Frederick addressed the young king as his vassal, and "ordered him" to "dismiss and require to leave your land, John d'Ibelin, his children, his nephews, and his relatives." 

The imperious tone strikes any reader familiar with Frederick Hohenstaufen as authentic. He clearly viewed himself as dealing with a subordinate -- and a child subordinate at that. He had recently brought his own son, the crowned "King of the Romans," to heel. Frederick no doubt expected little opposition for a fourteen-year-old, who had to date been his prisoner and pawn, married three years earlier to the woman of his choice, and besieged for nearly a year by the very men Frederick was asking him to disseize and expel. Perhaps he assumed that Henry resented or even hated the Lord of Beirut for that siege. Certainly, the fact that he was demanding a fellow monarch to break the constitution of his kingdom by disseizing vassals without due process does not appear to have bothered the Emperor in the least.  

The Hohenstaufen had miscalculated. After hearing the Emperor's "orders," Henry took counsel with his advisors and on his return allowed his seneschal and celebrated jurist, Sir William Viscount, to deliver his answer. While this may sound as if Henry was not free to speak for himself and that the answer was formulated not by the king by his advisors (including the Lord of Beirut himself), subsequent events belie that interpretation. We must assume that Henry wholeheartedly backed the sentiments expressed in the answer that Viscount gave. Viscount pointed out that King Henry "greatly marveled" at the Emperor's demands because to follow them he would put himself in the wrong -- i.e. violate feudal law and custom. Henry also reminded the Emperor via the Bishop of Melfi that he was himself a relative of Beirut so that the Emperor's demand that he expel "all Beirut's relatives" was an order for him to expel himself from his own kingdom. 

Perhaps something was lost in translation then or now. Perhaps the Emperor did not mean to suggest Henry quit his own kingdom. Perhaps he thought it was obvious he didn't mean that. However, Henry appears to have been deeply offended by the demand nevertheless as subsequent events made clear. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Melfi had no choice but to withdraw, his job as ambassador for Emperor Frederick complete if unsuccessful. 

Meanwhile, Marshal Filangieri had caught up with the rest of his fleet. Without attempting a landing or seeking an interview with King Henry he ordered his fleet to sail by night making directly for Beirut's lordship and power base: Beirut.

It is impossible to know if this had been the plan all along. It is possible that the man who brought the Lord of Beirut the news about Imperial intentions to land on Cyprus was an Imperial plant. Perhaps the mission to King Henry had been a ruse, intentionally designed to lure the Lord of Beirut away from his city with the bulk of his fighting men. Or, maybe, Filangieri had simply improvised brilliantly. Either way, it was an astute tactical move. Arriving off Beirut by night, Filangieri's forces "took the city unawares," according to the close ally and intimate of the Ibelins, Philip de Novare. Immediately, Novare tells, "as might a timid priest," the Bishop of Beirut surrendered the port city -- the source of much of the Lord of Beirut's wealth and revenue. 

Although the citadel of Beirut held out under a skeleton garrison, Emperor Frederick via his deputy Filiangieri had decisively won the opening round of this renewed confrontation with the Lord of Beirut. 

The story of Frederick's confrontation with Beirut continues next week. Meanwhile, the story forms the basis of The Emperor Strikes Back:

 Buy Now!

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Commanding a Crusade

"A crusade army was, in effect, a loosely organized mob of soldiers, clergy, servants, and followers heading in roughly the same direction for roughly the same purposes. Once launched, it could be controlled no more than the wind or the sea."
Professor Thomas Madden in The Concise History of the Crusades

When speaking or writing about the crusades, it is easy to forget just how different they were from modern military campaigns, not just in terms of weapons, clothes, and transport but with regard to structure and command and control.

First and foremost, as Professor Madden so eloquently pointed out, crusades were not regular armies with a clear command structure and officers nor were they composed of soldiers bound by discipline. Instead, they were collections of pilgrims led by prominent pilgrims whose presence (and pocketbooks) inspired greater or smaller numbers of other men to join them in their great undertaking. Not even the Holy Roman Emperor nor the various crusading kings from Richard the Lionheart to St. Louis commanded the troops of the crusades they led in the modern sense of the word. They literally could not order any action -- unless they had first persuaded their followers to follow their lead and their proposed course of action. 

The building blocks of a crusading army were individual pilgrims who had sufficient funds to finance such a long journey -- or could persuade someone else to finance it for them. The most common means to obtain the latter in the context of the crusades was to offer to serve in the entourage of a wealthier man. Thus, whether archer, sergeant or other foot-soldier, a man of modest means and common birth would look to attach himself to a knight or lord who would undertake to feed him and pay him wages throughout the journey in exchange for his "service."

Individual knights (with their squire, horses and one or more servants) would likewise attach themselves to a wealthier lord. These individual knights (their squire and servants like their horses being part of the "unit" that made a knight) were then "household" knights attached to another knight or lord. 

Wealthier knights that could afford to pay/provision other knights were known as "bannerets." They did not have to be noblemen or lords. A knight-banneret was simply a knight that commanded other knights, and usually some infantry (archers, pikemen) and maybe a couple of mounted sergeants as well. However, noblemen were all bannerets in the sense that they commanded other knights, at a minimum the knights of their own household or entourage. Most noblemen, however, were wealthy enough to engage not only their own household knights, sergeants, and soldiers, but to pay and provision other bannerets. Kings generally had the resources and prestige to support the support of many of their own barons as well as other independent knights.

Yet these relationships were fluid. As Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith words it:
The petty lords...and knights were independent and their allegiances constantly shifted as circumstances changed and the ability of princes to reward them and their little entourages came and went. [Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014) 62-63.
Nor was it just the "petty lords" and individual knights that changed their "employers" at whim. A famous case occurred in the Third Crusade, when the comparatively wealthy Henri, Count of Champagne, ran short of funds and asked for a loan from his uncle the King of France, in whose force he was then serving. The penny-pinching Philip II turned him down, so Henri turned to his other uncle, the King of England. Richard I gave generously, and Henri transferred his allegiance, bringing his glittering band of Champagnois knights to fight under the banner of the King of England. 

This was possible because a crusade was not a "nationalist" undertaking and oaths of fealty that bound vassals to their lords at home were irrelevant in the context of a pilgrimage far beyond the borders of their liege's territory. Indeed, it could be argued that oaths of fealty were temporary suspended or superseded by the oath to God to fight for Christ. Thus knights of the Holy Roman Empire might choose to ride under a French or English banner, and vice versa. The reputation of an individual commander as a man who looked after his men, paid well, or divided booty liberally thus impacted the size of their troop.

That said, at the core of any band of soldiers under a banner was the leader surrounded by his household, his dependants (servants) and his kin. Most lords had brothers, uncles, nephews and cousins, who rode with them. Good lords retained the loyalty of those of their vassals who had embarked on the crusade with them. They traveled surrounded by these well-knit groups of men who knew each other well and spoke the same language. 

What these structures meant for the command of a crusade was that there was never a single unified command, with the possible exception of St. Louis' two crusades. All the other crusades, starting with the First, were characterized by fragmented leadership.

During the First Crusade there were four different attempts to designate a commander-in-chief, and had the Byzantine Emperor agreed to lead the campaign he would undoubtedly have assumed this function without dissent -- but he didn't. None of the western leaders, however, was strong enough to either intimidate or inspire the other princes to subordinate themselves to him. 

The Second Crusade notoriously nearly fell apart because King Louis could not agree with the Prince of Antioch on a goal. The Third Crusade was weakened by the bickering between Philip of France and England of Richard, and later by the French refusal to follow Richard. The Fourth Crusade was characterized by assemblies at every stage along the way at which everyone discussed what to do next. With each decision that took the crusaders closer to the sack of Constantinople, more crusaders refused to follow the leadership and struck off on their own. The Fifth Crusade was riven by rivalries and bitter fights over strategy and spoils between the pope's representative, the Holy Roman Emperor's deputy and the King of Jerusalem. The Sixth Crusade saw the absurd situation of an excommunicated Emperor unable to command the forces of the military orders and alienating the local barons into revolt. 

Precisely because there was no commander-in-chief, the crusades were -- in the words of Professor Riley-Smith -- "run by committees and assemblies." On the one hand, each armed band engaged in the routine process familiar from government at home in which a lord (read banneret) consulted with his principle followers over any major decision. On the other hand, all the principle lords regularly met in "council" as necessary in order to make command decisions. Last but not least, the crusade leadership would call assemblies of the entire host in which proposals were put to the entire body of pilgrims, great and small.

This may surprise those unfamiliar with the Middle Ages. Yet medieval society was anything but authoritarian. On the contrary, society was communal and consensual as well as hierarchical. The medieval peasant was not a slave taking orders, but a member of society required to participate in consensus-building in daily life. At the village level, for example, basic decisions about planting, crop rotation and harvesting were taken communally. In the courts, judgments were reached by a jury, not handed down by the lord or judge. 

On crusade, "the non-noble elements...periodically acted in concert to influence the decisions of the leaders who regularly consulted them." [Riley-Smith, 63] In the First Crusade, for example, the common soldiers threatened to elect their own leaders unless the princes agreed to leave Antioch and march to Jerusalem. In the Third Crusade, the common soldiers twice forced Richard the Lionheart to undertake a march toward Jerusalem against his better judgment. Only with great difficulty was Richard able to dissuade them from making a costly attempt at an assault -- both times in a general assembly of crusaders where every man had a voice. 

Thus, while the lack of a unified command may strike us as a severe weakness for a military campaign, it was also a reflection of society and an important check on the leadership that was constantly required to explain and justify itself and its actions. 

Two of Dr. Schrader's novels, both winners of literary awards, describe crusades: 
"Envoy of Jerusalem" describes the Third Crusade
 and "Rebels against Tyranny" describes the Sixth.

                               Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 and 2019

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com