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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liberation or Oppression? Native Christians and the Crusades

It is commonplace for people to portray the crusaders not only as barbarians vis-à-vis their Islamic enemies, but as “oppressors” of the native Christian populations that lived under crusader rule.  These popular views have their roots in books by scholars such as Runciman, Smail and Prawer, all of whom have argued to varying degrees that the crusader elites, like colonists, lived segregated lives for the natives of the Holy Land, and (as Prawer put it) practiced a form of “apartheid.” Yet, other historians have argued quite the opposite, claiming those crusaders who settled in Outremer soon “went native” and became “more oriental than European.” Based on the most recent research and archaeological evidence, the picture of crusader-native relations is undergoing a revision again.

Starting with the basics, the “native” population of Outremer that confronted the crusaders on arrival in 1099 was anything but a homogenous mass. First and foremost, it was not ― repeat, not ― predominantly Muslim. Historians are continuing to revise downwards the proportion of the population that had, in fact, converted to Islam during the less than four hundred years of Muslim domination.

Certainly, there were still Jewish communities, concentrated in Jerusalem, Tyre and Tiberius when the crusaders arrived. In sharp contrast to Western Europe that saw significant attacks on Jewish communities in association with the crusades, there was no systematic persecution of the Jews in the crusader states. On the contrary, although Jews were prohibited from living in the city Jerusalem, other cities, particularly Acre and Tyre, hosted large Jewish communities. There were rabbinical courts in both Acre and Tyre, and Palestine in the crusader period was one of only three contemporary centers for Talmudic studies. There is also anecdotal evidence that Jews continued to pursue respected professions such as medicine, and took part in commercial activities. There is no evidence that they were required to wear distinctive clothing or live in segregated communities, although it is almost certain that like the remaining Muslim population they were subject to additional taxes.

In addition, there was still a large Samaritan population. (Note: Samaritans believe that only the first five books of the Hebrew bible were divinely inspired.) Although many Samaritans had been driven into exile across the Middle East, the center of Samaritan worship and scholarship was located in Nablus, and this was where the largest Samaritan population was concentrated in the crusader era. The Samaritans appear to have flourished under crusader rule and a large number of Torah scrolls produced by the Samaritans have survived, suggesting a flourishing of activities rather than the reverse. 


Turning to the Christian population of the crusader states, this was divided theologically into three main groups: Melkites (more commonly but confusingly called Greek Orthodox although many of them did not speak Greek), Jacobites, and Armenians. In addition, there were small pockets of Maronite, Nestorian, Coptic and Ethiopian Christians resident in the Holy Land. The Armenian and Jacobite Christians indisputably made up the vast majority of the population in what was to become the County of Edessa and the Principality of Antioch. In what was to become the County of Tripoli, on the other hand, Maronite Christians were more numerous, but it is no longer clear if they made up an overall majority of the population or not. The Kingdom of Jerusalem appears to have had the most fragmented population with all of the above Christian and Jewish communities present, as well as some Muslims.

The situation is complicated by the fact liturgical and linguistic differences were not conform. While as a rule, Armenian Christians spoke and heard Mass in Armenian, the same cannot be said for Melkite Christians, who might still speak and hear Mass in Greek, but were just as likely to speak and worship in Syriac or Arabic.  Jacobites, Copts and Nestorians appear to have spoken and worshiped predominantly in Syriac and Arabic, but this adds to confusion when dealing with contemporary records since neither the use of Arabic in documents nor Arab-sounding names necessarily denoted Muslims ― a factor that has undoubtedly contributed to earlier exaggerations of the size of the Muslim population under crusader rule.

All these forms of “Orthodox” Christians were viewed with various degrees of skepticism by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Theologians were very concerned about the ― to layman’s eyes ― microscopic differences in doctrinal interpretation. Some of these Christian sects were considered “heretics,” but most were viewed merely as “schematics” ― by the Church. That said, the crusader states were not theocracies run by religious scholars, but secular states run by educated but fundamentally hard-nosed, practical, fighting men.

The feudal elites of the crusader states might have been pious enough to take the cross, but that did not make them masters of theological finepoints. They had answered the Pope’s call to “liberate” the native Christians from Muslim oppression, and the evidence is quite overwhelming that they did exactly that. Nor did they suddenly start oppressing those Christians themselves. On the contrary, all local Christians, regardless of liturgical rite, were immediately freed of the taxes, humiliations, and indignities imposed on them by Muslim rule.

The rule the crusaders “imposed” on the liberated territories, furthermore, borrowed far more from the traditions of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) than Western Europe. Recent scholarship demonstrates that, contrary to earlier assumptions, the crusader states did not introduce any form of serfdom on the native peasants ― Christian or Muslim.  On the contrary, although agricultural workers were effectively “tied” to the land, they did not owe any of the other feudal dues. Thus they were not required to work the lord’s land, did not have to pay to marry, retained ownership of their homes and moveable goods, and paid sometimes as little as one quarter of the corps to their lord.

Furthermore, for members of the native elites, the situation under crusader rule was full of opportunities for advancement and enrichment. The new rulers needed the support of local elites in order to govern. The native elites had opportunities in a wide range of fields from collecting taxes and administering rural communities as “scribes” and “ra’is,” to serving as tax-collectors, harbor-masters, and accountants in the cities. Christopher MacEvitt in his excellent work The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance has provided examples of native Christians being land-owners in their own right, and being wealthy enough to make charitable bequests of significant value.  In addition, he claims to have identified native Christians serving as knights and, in one case, even as Marshal of Jerusalem. While earlier historians have assumed that these native Christians “must have” first converted to Latin Christianity, MacEvitt argues that there is no evidence of this whatsoever.

On the contrary, MacEvitt notes that there is ample evidence of the Frankish and native Christian communities intermingling not just in the bazaars and taverns, but by undertaking the same pilgrimages, by sharing churches, by taking part in the same processions, and by using each other’s priests as confessors ― a clear indication that for the average Frank the common belief in Christ outweighed the theological differences that animated church scholars. Riley-Smith notes that native Christian clergy enjoyed the privilege of being exempt from the jurisdiction of secular courts just as much as Latin clergy did. MacEvitt notes that the reason almost all Greek Orthodox patriarchs were replaced by Latin patriarchs is that they had already fled the Holy Land in the face of Muslim persecution before the arrival of the crusades. He notes further that on their arrival in Antioch “the crusaders enthroned the Greek patriarch...recognizing his authority over Latins and Melkites alike." (MacEvitt, p. 111.) Adding, “more Melkite bishops could be found throughout Palestine after the crusader conquest than had been there in the previous fifty years.” (MacEvitt, p. 112). The only instance of a Melkite bishop being ousted had to do with power politics (an attempt by the Greek Emperor to impose his authority) not church politics.

When we remember that “turcopoles,” native horseman, made up a significant portion of the feudal army of Jerusalem, we see further evidence of the fact that native Christians were far from oppressed. The fact that they were financially in a position to provide mounted troops underlines the fact that they were affluent and empowered. (Muslim laws prohibited Christians from riding and owning horses.) Perhaps more important, the fact that that native Christian communities consistently provided large numbers of these mounted troops to both offensive and defensive armies led by Frankish kings and barons shows that native Christians did far more than just intermingle much less "co-exist." The local Christian population came to identify strongly with the crusader states. Far from longing for a return to Muslim rule ― as so many superficial modern commentators suggest ― many native Christians of Outremer were willing to fight and die for the crusader states.

Native Christians are recognized as a critical part of society in my Jerusalem Trilogy:

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Friday, March 17, 2017

A Forgotten Victory over Saladin: Le Forbelet

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brings you another battle in our Battles of the Crusades Series. 
Le Forbelet, 1182
In much popular literature, the Sultan Salah ad-Din, more commonly known as Saladin, is portrayed not only as chivalrous but also invincible.  Even his critical biographer, Andrew Ehrenkreutz, attributes Saladin’s failure to defeat the forces of Christianity sooner than 1187 to Saladin’s obsession with crushing his Muslim rivals rather than to any capability on the part of his Christian foes.  While it is undoubtedly true that Saladin spent more time and resources defeating his Muslim rivals, the theory glosses over the fact that Saladin led three full scale invasions of the Kingdom of Jerusalem before his successful campaign of 1187 — and he was defeated each time. Furthermore, in all three instances he commanded significantly more numerous forces and was forced to withdraw by smaller forces of Christians.

Saladin’s first invasion ended in a crushing defeat in the Battle of Montgisard. His second invasion was not launched until five years later in the summer of 1182.  Significantly, this invasion occurred after the death of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I, who had been a staunch supporter of the crusader kingdoms. Under Manuel I, the Christian Kingdoms in Constantinople and Jerusalem had undertaken a number of joint military operations, notably against Egypt, and the Byzantine Empire provided the crusader kingdoms with a degree of protection. However, with Manuel I’s death and the assassination of his wife, daughter and son-in-law, the minor Emperor Alexius II was controlled by a clique completely hostile to the Latin kingdoms.  It was furthermore launched after Saladin had concluded a truce with the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. In short, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was isolated and could expect no short-term support.

Manuel I Comnenus, Emperor of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire
Saladin’s forces crossed into the Kingdom of Jerusalem on July 13 and immediately laid siege to the castle of Bethsan in southern Galilee on the River Jordan. Due to the nature of medieval warfare, i.e. the slow speed at which large forces can be mustered, Saladin’s intentions had not remained concealed. Far from surprising the King of Jerusalem, Saladin’s invasion was anticipated and the King had already called up his feudal levies and mustered them at the Springs of Sephorie (also written Saffuriya). While the Christians had shorter lines of communication and could probably muster more rapidly than Saladin’s diverse forces drawn from as far away as Cairo, the fact that the Christians had already mustered before Saladin’s army crossed the Jordan nevertheless speaks of considerable competence on two levels. 

On the one hand, the Kingdom of Jerusalem evidently enjoyed excellent intelligence of enemy movements, and on the other the King’s subjects were capable of a rapid response. The extent to which the Christians had reliable intelligence networks inside Saladin’s empire is something almost completely overlooked or neglected in most studies of the crusader kingdoms. Good intelligence is, of course, by its very nature almost invisible. Furthermore, it was only in the second half of the last century that spy thrillers became popular and the importance of intelligence widely recognized. For most of human history, spies have been despised as somewhat unsavory (not to say dishonorable) creatures, whose services were used but not valued. This may explain why no Christian chronicle highlights or even acknowledges the fact that the Christian kingdoms did have access to intelligence from inside the Muslim world. There were two important sources of this intelligence. First and foremost, traders who, we know, travelled across the cultural and religious borders of the age almost irrespective of the state of hostilities. Second, and perhaps even more important, the large communities of Christians who lived in both Egypt and Syria at this time.

Medieval Caravan on the Silk Road
The second fact, that Baldwin IV could muster his forces rapidly when he summoned them, has also received far too little acknowledgement. For a Kingdom that so many describe as divided by factions and intrigue (see Ehrenkreutz, Bartlett, and others) that is quite remarkable. In fact, the ease and speed with which the feudal levies of Jerusalem mustered undermines the thesis of internal divisions — at least at this point in time.

Just two days after Saladin laid siege to Bethsan, the Christian army under King Baldwin IV confronted Saladin’s army in a bitter, full-scale battle. William of Tyre, who was Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at this time and could rely on first-hand accounts of the battle, reports that the older, more experienced Frankish commanders claimed never to have seen a Saracen force of this magnitude before, but there are no reliable estimates of just how large that force actually was. Five years later, however, Saladin mustered roughly 45,000 troops for the campaign that led to his victory at Hattin, including 12,000 cavalry. It is probable that Saladin’s army in 1182 was somewhat less numerous than at Hattin, simply because Saladin had not yet subdued his rivals in Mosul and so could not call on their contingents.  An educated guess might therefore put his army at as little as 35,000 of which 9,000 were horse.  On the Christian side were just 700 knights (compared to 1,600 at Hattin) and unknown numbers of Turcopoles and infantry. Again, using Hattin as a yardstick, and paring the numbers down proportionally, the Christian infantry probably did not number more than 10,000, probably less.

The battle was fought in such intense heat that a monk died of sunstroke while carrying the reliquary containing what was believed to be a fragment of the cross on which Christ was crucified. The battle was, furthermore, an all-day affair, and the dust churned up on a battlefield in the midst of the summer dry season must have been nearly as unbearable and killing as the heat. What fighting in metal armor under these conditions was like is literally unimaginable to modern man. It is probable that heat stroke and thirst contributed nearly as much as enemy action to the casualties.  

Hollywood's Portrayal of a Frankish Army carrying the True Cross into Battle; "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Unfortunately, there is no detailed account of the sequence of events; Tyre was a churchman, not a soldier, and the Arabs had nothing to write home about.  As Professor Bernard Hamilton words it: “Le Forbelet was a Frankish victory: a far larger Muslim army had been forced to retreat with heavy losses by a determined Frankish cavalry force.”

The few facts we do have, however, suggest that Hamilton may be slighting the Christian infantry in his above assessment. While there were practically no casualties among the Christian knights, the losses among the infantry were reportedly much greater. This suggests that the Frankish cavalry remained behind their infantry protection long enough to wear-down their enemy and then — still comparatively fresh — they launched an effective counter attack. These are the tactics that worked so well for Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade, and they weren’t new. These were the tactics the Franks had used again and again. It all came down to three factors: 1) disciplined infantry that held the line without cracking, 2) timing the cavalry charge correctly, and 3) carrying it out with verve and discipline. From the outcome, it is clear that the Christian forces at Le Forbelet did all three.

That would not have been possible without effective command, and clearly that still lay with Baldwin IV at this time. He was present at the battle, but after being unhorsed at the Battle on the Litani three years earlier, and given the ravages of leprosy over that space of time, it is almost certain he did not lead his army from horseback at the front. Rather, as in the following year, he was probably reduced to commanding from a liter at the back of his army. That despite this he could still defeat an army likely three times the size of his is and commanded by the tactically astute Saladin is remarkable.  It means that he still commanded the respect of his barons and troops, and that he could rely upon some very competent field commanders.

The small number of Frankish knights involved is attributable to the fact that the forces of neither Tripoli nor Antioch took part in this battle, both being pinned down elsewhere. So the most probable commanders at Le Forbelet were all from the Kingdom of Jerusalem, first and foremost, the Constable of the Kingdom, Aimery de Lusignan, followed by Reynald de Châtillon, Lord of Oultrejourdain, and Baldwin d’Ibelin, Lord of Ramla and Mirabel. Both of the latter had very strong reputations as battle commanders and fielded large contingents of troops.

Whoever deserves the credit, the victory proved fleeting. Baldwin’s successor, Aimery’s younger brother Guy, failed to follow the tactics that had worked so well at Le Forbelet. He led the Christian army to a devastating defeat just five years later — almost to the day — at Hattin. That was a defeat from which the crusader states never recovered, and so it obscured and turned to insignificance the crusader success at Le Forbelet.

The Battle of Le Forbelet is described in detail in Book II of my three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin:

A divided kingdom,

                             a united enemy,

                                                       and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The "Leper King"

Although Baldwin IV was arguably one of the Kingdom of Jerusalem's most able kings, effectively beating back no less no less than three invasions led by Saladin, he has gone down in history as the "Leper King" because throughout his reign he was suffering from leprosy and succumbed to the disease before he reached his 24th birthday.

Baldwin IV as depicted in Ridley Scott's film "The Kingdom of Heaven"

Baldwin was born in 1161, the second child of Amalric of Jerusalem and Amalric's first wife, Agnes de Courtney. At the time of his birth, his father was the younger brother and heir apparent to the childless King Baldwin III of Jerusalem. 

Just two years latter, Baldwin III died and Amalric ascended the throne -- but only on the condition that he set aside Agnes de Courtney. Agnes was duly disposed of, but Amalric's children of his marriage, two-year-old Baldwin and his year-older sister Sibylla, were explicitly recognized as legitimate. They remained at court with their father. In 1167, Amalric remarried, this time to the Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena.

At about this same time, Baldwin was diagnosed with leprosy by his tutor William, later Archbishop of Tyre. According to Tyre, the leprosy first manifested itself as a lack of feeling in Baldwin’s right hand. However, initially, Baldwin retained the use of his other limbs and did not suffer from noticeable disfigurement. His illness was kept quiet.

In 1174, Baldwin's father died unexpectedly. Baldwin was elected King by the High Court of Jerusalem despite the fact that other crown vassals afflicted with leprosy were required to join the Knights of St. Lazarus.  Being still a minor (13) at the time of his father's death, the Kingdom was placed in the care of a regent, Raymond of Tripoli, himself a descendant of Baldwin II and one of the most powerful barons in the crusader states. Notably, at this time Baldwin could still move and above all ride without apparent impediment.

In the summer of 1176, Baldwin turned 15 and so attained his majority. He took the reins of government for himself and signaled this by calling his mother back to court and placing his maternal uncle, Joscelyn of Edessa, into the powerful position of Seneschal of Jerusalem. Tripoi appears to have been sidelined, but not in anyway humiliated.

Baldwin IV in "Kingdom of Jerusalem"

Given his illness, however, and the certainty that he would not sire a successor, the most pressing business of the Kingdom was the marriage of Baldwin's heir, his older sister Sibylla.  In fact, Tripoli had already arranged a marriage for her with William de Montferrat, a man from a powerful north Italian family. Unfortunately, William died in the summer of 1177, leaving Sibylla pregnant at 17. 

Meanwhile, the enemies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were getting stronger. The Kurdish general Salah-ad-Din had first murdered the Vizier in Cairo and then, on the death of the Fatimid Caliph, declared Egypt Sunni. The death of the Sultan of Damascus in 1174 opened the way for Salah-ad-Din to seize control of Damascus as well, with Nur-ad-Din's legal heir fleeing to Aleppo. Although Salah-ad-Din would need almost ten more years to consolidate his position and eliminate all his rivals, he had effectively united Shiia Egypt and Sunni Syria under his rule by 1177 -- and to bolster his own legitimacy he declared jihad against the Christian states in the Holy Land. 

Baldwin IV sought to counter the rise of Salah-ad-Din by following his father's policy of alliance with the Byzantine Empire and attacking Cairo. He hoped to capitalize on disaffection among Salah-ad-Din's Shiia and Arab subjects, particularly their resentment of a Kurdish and Sunni usurper. Unfortunately, the Count of Flanders, who had arrived from the West with a large contingent of knights, thought he should be made King of Egypt if he helped conquer it, and the coalition fell apart. The Byzantine fleet withdrew and Flanders went off to campaign against Syria, taking many of the barons and knights of Jerusalem with him. 

Salah-ad-Din had assembled his forces to meet the expected invasion and recognized that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was practically defenseless before him. He invaded, sacking and plundering as he advanced north, leaving well defended positions like the Templar castle at Gaza untouched until he came to Ascalon. Ascalon had been in Egyptian hands until 1153 and was considered a key strategic position for the defense of Egypt -- or the attack on Jerusalem. Saladin prepared to besiege the city.

In a dramatic move Baldwin IV rode to the rescue of Ascalon with just 367 knight, reaching the city shortly before the Sultan's army enveloped it. But Baldwin soon found himself trapped inside while the road to Jerusalem lay open and Jerusalem itself was practically defenseless. Salah-ad-Din predictably decided to make an attack on Jerusalem. Given his overwhelming superiority of force and the apparent weakness of a 16-year-old suffering from leprosy, Salah ad-Din left only a small force to keep Baldwin trapped in Ascalon, and continued north at a leisurely pace, allowing his troops to continue plundering along the way rather than concentrating on his goal.

He had miscalculated. Baldwin sallied out of Ascalon, called up the feudal levies and fell on Salah-ad-Din from the rear, winning a stunning and complete victory at Montgisard on November 25, 1177. (See Montgisard.)

A modern depiction of the Battle of Montgisard (copyright Talento)

But the consequences for Baldwin personally were also devastating. Based on the historical descriptions of Baldwin’s initial illness, which state he had lost the feeling in his arm but that there were no other symptoms such as discoloration or ulcers, modern experts in the disease believe that Baldwin IV initially had primary polyneuritic tuberculoid leprosy, which deteriorated into lepromatous leprosy during puberty. There was, according to Piers D. Mitchell ("An Evaluation of the Leprosy of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem in the Context of the Medieval World," in Bernard Hamilton's The Leper King and His Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000), nothing inevitable about this deterioration.  However, puberty itself can induce the deterioration as can untended wounds (that go unnoticed due to loss of feeling) which cause ulcers to break out. 

When Baldwin led his daring campaign against Salah-ad-Din that led to the surprise victory at Montgisard he was in puberty, just 16 years old. It is probable that it was in part because of this campaign — which required camping out in the field and going without the usual bathing of his feet and hands — that caused Baldwin's leprosy to take a turn for the worse. According to Mitchell, children who develop lepromatous leprosy are likely to die prematurely, and so once Baldwin’s leprosy had become lepromatous it inevitably took its course through the gruesome stages of increasing incapacitation to a an early death.

But Baldwin wasn't dead yet. In 1180, he allowed his sister Sibylla to marry a young adventurer from the West, Guy de Lusignan. According to one contemporary chronicler (Ernoul), Sibylla was seduced by Guy (and she would not have been the first princess in Outremer to be seduced by a young adventurer!), and Baldwin first threatened to hang Guy for "debauching" an princess, but then gave in to his sister and mother's pleadings to let his sister marry "the man she loved." Other sources (William of Tyre) suggest that Baldwin feared the Count of Tripoli was planning to depose him by arranging a marriage between Sibylla and Baldwin d'Ibelin, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. Whatever the reason, with Sibylla's marriage to Guy the succession appeared secure again.

A Royal Marriage

The succession might have been secure, but the Kingdom was not. Salah-ad-Din had invaded a second time in 1179 and Baldwin had been unhorsed in the engagement, an indication of his deteriorating condition. When Salah-ad-Din invaded a third time in 1182, Baldwin could no longer ride and commanded his army from a litter -- but still fought the Saracens to a stand-still, forcing them to withdraw. The following year, however, he was seized with fever and believing he was on his death-bed made his brother-in-law Guy de Lusignan regent. Thus when Salah-ad-Din invaded a fourth time in 1183, it was Guy de Lusignan who led the Christian armies to face him.

The results were not good. While the Saracens eventually withdrew, they had managed to do considerable damage and the barons of Jerusalem returned in a rebellious mood. The news that the key castle of Kerak was under siege (with both Princess of Jerusalem, the Queen Mother and the Dowager Queen all trapped inside for a wedding) should have triggered the immediate dispatch of a major relief force. Instead, the High Court (allegedly unanimously) refused to follow Guy de Lusignan anywhere. Baldwin IV responded by dismissing Guy, and dragging is disintegrating body halfway across the kingdom at the head of his army. The mere approach of the Leper King, however, was enough to convince Salah-ad-Din to withdraw.

The Castle of Kerak, now in Jordan

By now Baldwin IV knew he did not have much time left to him. He had his nephew, Sibylla's son by her first husband William de Montferrat crowned as a co-monarch, and asked his bishops to find a way to dissolve Sibylla's marriage to Guy in the hope that another husband, more congenial to his barons, could be found for her. In the latter he failed, and hence when he died just short of his 24th birthday in the spring of 1185, he was succeeded by his nephew Baldwin V, and -- at the latter's death a year latter -- by Guy de Lusignan.

Baldwin IV ruled for less than ten years and throughout his reign he was handicapped by a progressively debilitating and disfiguring disease. Yet he retained the loyalty of his subjects to the very end and on no less than five occasions prevented Salah-ad-Din's vastly superior forces from over-running his fragile kingdom. For that he should be revered and respected.

Baldwin IV plays a major role in the first two volumes of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

First Among Equals: The Kings of Jerusalem and the High Court

Arguably the most remarkable thing about the Kings of Jerusalem in the first 125 years of the history of the kingdom is that they were elected rather than born. The law of primogeniture did not automatically apply, but rather the High Court of Jerusalem, composed of all the nobility of the kingdom, formally elected the monarch. This was not just a formality, at least not in the first century of the Kingdom. The High Court could impose conditions on candidates, and also force its candidates for a consort upon female heirs. Without its consent, a king or queen, even if crowned and anointed, was just a usurper.

The tradition started, of course, with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. The First Crusade had never had a single leader and there was considerable (often destructive) rivalry between the leading lords that took the cross. By the time the crusaders reached Jerusalem, Stephan of Blois had abandoned the crusade altogether, Baldwin of Bouillon had struck off on his own and captured Edessa, and Bohemond of Taranto had remained in Antioch to re-establish a Christian state there.  The remaining lords, however, chose Godfrey of Bouillon to rule over Jerusalem.  Godfrey reputedly refused to wear “a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns” and took the title of “Defender” or “Protector” or possibly just “Ruler” of Jerusalem.  

Just one year later, however, he was dead without an heir. The nascent kingdom was in a more precarious state than ever, since the majority of the surviving crusaders felt they had fulfilled their vow and returned home. Those noblemen remaining in the Holy Land again (not without controversy) selected a successor from among themselves, in this case, Godfrey’s brother Baldwin.  Very significantly, he was not the heir entitled by the rules of primogeniture, as he had an elder brother in the West, Eustace. Baldwin did not share his brother’s qualms about calling himself king, and took the title of King Baldwin I. But in 1118 Baldwin I also died without an heir of his body, and the barons of the crusader kingdoms chose for a third time a leader from among their ranks, this time, Baldwin of Bourcq, who thereby became Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

Three such “elections” (with admittedly limited franchise!) set a legal precedent and the Kings of Jerusalem were henceforth always “elected” by the High Court of Jerusalem. The later was initially composed of the leading lords of the realm (which made the election process the equivalent of the English House of Lords electing the Kings of England.) By the mid-12th century, however, the High Court had been expanded to include the “rear-vassals,” that is men who held a fief from another lord. Thus, in addition to the tenants-in-chief of the king (the barons), the tenants of barons, and their tenants (as long as they were knights) also had a seat on the High Court. Here each man had (at least in theory) an equal voice. As Professor Riley-Smith puts it in his seminal work The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, (Macmillan, 1973), “the voice of the lowliest knight could be raised in the highest court in the land.”

The High Court of Jerusalem had many functions -- judicial, legislative and executive. John La Monte writes in Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Medieval Academy of America, 1932): “Its word was law…and the king who endeavored to act without the advice of, or contrary to the decision of, his High Court found himself confronted with a legalized rebellion on the part of his subjects.” In Jerusalem, the elected king remained “first among equals” vis-à-vis his barons and bishops rather than an absolute sovereign.

Which does not mean that the election of kings was an open, democratic affair. As the products of European feudalism with strong ties to the ruling houses of England and France, the members of the High Court favored the blood relatives of the last monarch. Disputes arose primarily over which of several close relatives had the better claim to the throne. These were legal issues (mixed, of course, with practical considerations, personalities and politics.) Nevertheless, the fact remained that the approval of the High Court was a pre-requisite for legitimate rule, and thus every time a king died there was effectively an interregnum (if not outright crisis), while factions positioned themselves and consensus was established.

It also meant that the High Court had the ability to impose conditions on candidates even where there was consensus on who that candidate was. An important example of this is the accession of Amalric after the death of Baldwin III. Amalric was Baldwin’s younger brother. He was a mature man with an overall positive reputation and a track record of fighting effectively (a critical criteria in the ever-beleaguered Kingdom of Jerusalem). However, for whatever reason (and these are highly controversial) the High Court did not like his wife, Agnes de Courtney. The High Court forced Amalric set her aside, by making this a condition of their consent to his coronation.

Amalric’s daughter Sibylla was also married to someone the High Court detested, Guy de Lusignan. However, unlike her father, she was not willing to set-aside her husband. With the support of only a couple of powerful barons (her uncle of Edessa and the Lord of Oultrejourdan) and the Templar Grand Master (who did not sit in the High Court, but controlled some pretty effective troops), she tried carried out a coup d’etat in which she was crowned without the consent or presence of the High Court. To add insult to injury, she then crowned her husband king with her own hand because the Patriarch would not do it.
Far from side-lining the High Court, this led to a constitutional crisis that was to last six years. First, the majority of the barons and bishops prepared to crown a (legitimate) rival king and queen: Amalric’s younger daughter, Isabella, and her husband Humphrey de Toron. The plan was foiled by Toron, who apparently in public agreed to it but then in the dark of night fled the baronial camp to do homage to Sibylla. Without an alternative to Guy, the baronial opposition temporarily collapsed, but that did not make Sibylla and Guy’s coronation any more legal. Notably, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel was so outraged that he preferred to renounce his entire estate and leave the realm. The Count of Tripoli went even farther and made a separate peace with Saladin.

With the loss of the kingdom in the aftermath of Hattin, the High Court temporarily vanished as well, but its spirit lived on in the actions of the leading barons and bishops. At the death of Sibylla in 1190, Isabella was unquestionably the rightful queen, but after Toron's betrayal four years earlier these men were no longer willing to even consider Toron as king. They effectively forced Isabella to separate from Toron and marry a man they believed better suited to rule. When Richard of England asked for a judgment on who should be king, his own candidate Guy de Lusignan, or Isabella’s (new) husband Conrad de Montferrat, the fighting men of Jerusalem (i.e. the same men who would have made up the High Court had the Kingdom still been intact) voted (allegedly unanimously) for Conrad the Montferrat ― and Richard the Lionheart backed-down, conceded defeat, and recognized Montferrat.

When Montferrat was assassinated a few days later, it was again the barons and bishops of Jerusalem, the de-facto High Court, that selected her next husband, Henri de Champagne. By the time Champagne died five years later, the High Court had been re-constituted, and officially selected Isabella’s last husband, Aimery de Lusignan.

Thereafter, the High Court selected the husband for the next two queens, which is the same thing as saying they selected the next two kings. Unfortunately, in the second instance they chose Friedrich II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, and he had neither understanding nor respect for an institution like the High Court. He tried to impose his brand of absolutism on Jerusalem, thereby provoking a full-scale rebellion by the barons that led to a humiliating defeat of the imperial faction and a validation of Jerusalem's unique laws -- but that is material for a separate entry.

The High Court in the Kingdom Jerusalem plays a key role particularly in the second and third books of my Jerusalem Trilogy:

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Monday, February 27, 2017

REVIEW: "God's Wolf" by Jeffrey Lee

At the start of each month + Real Crusades History + brings you a review of a book relevant to the crusades or the crusader states. Today we look at a recent work that attempts to rehabilitate the notorious "Reynald de Châtillon -- unfortunately by vary dubious methods that amount to falsification. I call this book "Pseudo History" 

 + Real Crusades History" +
does NOT recommend it, but we felt it was important to say why.

The conventional portrayal of Reynald de Châtillon as a “rogue baron,” whose brutal and fanatical policies led directly to the destruction of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, has long been in need of revision. Professor Bernard Hamilton, one of the leading historians of the crusades, argues persuasively in his biography of Baldwin IV, for example, that Reynald de Châtillon’s strategy in the last decade before the Battle of Hattin was both brilliant and effective. Even the infamous Red Sea Raids, usually treated as appalling piracy, Hamilton notes, were a highly effective means of undermining Saladin’s authority and support among his fellow Muslims. I therefore bought this book eager for a more detailed and more fully documented account than Hamilton provided in passing.  

Instead, I was confronted by a work dressed-up as if it were scholarly ― with footnotes and bibliography ― but, in fact, not only cluttered with errors but intentionally manipulative of the primary sources to the point that it borders on fraud. To put it simply: sometimes he cites a source that, when consulted, in fact says the opposite of what he has written. More commonly, he simply dismisses as “biased” or ignores it altogether primary sources when they contradict his thesis. More serious still, however, is Lee’s tendency to omit important relevant facts from his narrative whenever they get in the way of his polemic ― apparently on the assumption that his readers will be so ignorant that they will not notice. Alternatively, Lee makes bald assertions without bothering to give a source of any kind. Last but not least, Lee’s logic is bizarrely biased. Below are some examples of all these practices for those who need evidence to be convinced. 

Citing Sources that say the Opposite:

Lee cites the highly respected history written by the Archbishop of Tyre, the tutor and chancellor of Baldwin IV, when claiming that the King was too ill to fight at the Battle of Montgisard. However, Tyre’s account of the Battle of Montgisard explicitly states that the King called up what knights he had, that the King rode to Ascalon, that the King led his knights out to confront Saladin in a day long battle, that the King followed Saladin’s plundering forces up the coast, and – joined by the Knights Templar – that the King decided to give battle “at the eighth hour of the day” despite having many fewer troops. Far from being the commander at the battle (as no man could be in the presence of the king), Châtillon is not even listed as the commander of one of the divisions. Tyre lists him along with several other noblemen including the Uncle of the King, the Count of Edessa, and the barons of Sidon, Mirabel and Ibelin. (Note: the custom of the Kingdom of Jerusalem gave the baron in whose territory a battle was fought the honor of leading the vanguard; Montgisard was fought in the lordship of Ramla, meaning that the Baron of Ramla would have led the van – not, as Lee claims – Châtillon.)

Omission of Relevant Facts:
1. The High Court and Constitution of Jerusalem: Lee’s entire description of Sibylla and Guy de Lusignan’s usurpation of the throne in 1186 is cast as the legitimate queen (Sibylla) supported by the “loyal” Châtillon against a coup attempt by the Count of Tripoli and his cronies. Lee’s account conveniently ignores both the High Court of Jerusalem and its role in the election of the king. The point Lee either ignores, forgets or intentionally conceals is that the crown of Jerusalem was NOT hereditary. The king was chosen by the High Court of Jerusalem (and there is a huge body of very sophisticated legal writing to support this!), and no one could legally wear the crown without the consent of the High Court. Far from being a loyal supporter of the legitimate monarch, Châtillon actively supported an illegal putsch by crowning Sibylla against the wishes of the majority of the High Court. She was not the “legal” queen of Jerusalem as Lee would have us believe (although I suspect he knows better himself.) 

2. The Springs of Cresson: Although Lee otherwise frequently cites the Chronique de Ernoul, he doggedly refuses to follow this source’s description of the events leading up to and the slaughter of the Templars at the Springs of Cresson. He thereby omits the important attempts by leading members of the High Court to reconcile Tripoli and Lusignan.  Yet scholars believe that the description of the events surrounding the engagement at Cresson is the most accurate and verifiable piece of the entire (lost) chronicle because it is the section in which Ernoul identifies himself as having been personally present. In short, there is a firsthand account. Furthermore, this part of the chronicle (that takes up fully six pages of text in the Ashgate translation, or paragraphs 23-28 of the original) is very precise. But Lee discredits the passages that all other scholars consider credible with a dismissive footnote in which he remarks: “Ernoul spun a convoluted yarn about the Battle of Cresson.” In other words, the firsthand account by an eyewitness that Lee otherwise quotes as absolute truth is suddenly just “spinning tales” while Lee, living over eight hundred years later and half way around the world, knows the “truth.” Really?
3. The Count of Edessa at Hattin: Lee argues that everyone who escaped from Hattin alive were “precisely the forces most opposed to Guy’s faction….”(p. 264). He conveniently “forgets” or overlooks the fact that the Joscelyn de Courtenay, Count of Edessa, the uncle of Queen Sibylla, and a core member of putsch that illegally made Guy king a few months early, also escaped from Hattin alive. Edessa’s escape undermines and exposes the absurdity of his Lee’s entire thesis, namely: that a traitorous clique of nobles around the Count of Tripoli deliberately lost the battle ― strangely by charging with leveled lance straight into the center of the Saracen lines.

Bizarre Logic: In describing the Battle of Hattin, Lee writes: “The charge was the Franks’ most fearsome weapon. To opponents it seemed that a mounted mailed knight could ‘drive a hole through the walls of Babylon.’ In close formation wedged together so tightly that some horses might even be lifted off the ground” (really? I wonder if Lee has even ridden a horse in his life, but ok), “the charge, with its cutting edge of couched lances, could prove unstoppable.” (p. 262) So far so good. This is all well-known, accepted fact (except for the fanciful bit about horses being lifted off the ground), but two pages earlier when he mentions the Count of Tripoli’s charge into the very teeth of the Saracen army he calls it “fleeing the field.” Indeed, he imputes that not only Tripoli but Ibelin (who was almost certainly not with Tripoli) and Sidon (who he never mentions by name) all just “fled,” while “Reynald de Châtillon stood and fought loyally beside the king.” (p. 260.) 

This is nothing short of turning the facts on their head. A charge is charge, and, it is not inherently less “brilliant” or less effective, just because it is led by the Count of Tripoli rather than by Reynald de Châtillon. You cannot rationally call two groups of men doing exactly the same thing ― charging the center of the enemy line with levelled lances ― two different things, simply because one group is led by your hero and the other by your villain.  Indeed, it would be more rational to characterize a charge after the disintegration of the army when the field was already lost as running away (and deserting the infantry) than a charge that took place at the height of the battle, when it might have successed.  With any Frankish charge, as Richard the Lionheart knew and proved, what matters is timing, and Châtillon had once before landed himself in Saracen captivity because he failed to charge at the appropriate time.

Manipulation of Sources and Half Truths:

1. Aftermath of the Springs of Cresson catastrophe: Having told an apparently fabricated account of the Springs of Cresson that deviates from the rare first-hand account provided by Ernoul, Lee describes a delegation allegedly sent from King Guy to the Count of Tripoli to “censure Raymond for his actions.” Lee provides verbatim quotes of the exchange between the king’s messenger and Tripoli ― and cites a Muslim source (p. 249). So we are to believe that Saladin’s secretary was sitting in the room during an exchange between two Christian leaders? This is grossly misleading. The first-hand accounts that other scholars follow make it clear that the delegation of nobles was on their way to Tiberias to meet with Tripoli before the catastrophe at Cresson and their message was one of reconciliation, not censure.

2. Baldwin IV’s Leprosy: Lee consistently portrays Baldwin the IV as a crippled and disfigured invalid. This is false. In reality Baldwin was neither disfigured nor handicapped when he came to the throne and his condition only deteriorated significantly after Montgisard – where, as I pointed out above, he commanded his army from horseback.  Indeed, according to Tyre (who was Baldwin’s tutor and chancellor, and one of the sources Lee repeatedly cites), Baldwin IV was “more skilled than men who were older than himself in controlling horses and in riding them at a gallop.” (quoted in Hamilton, The Leper King, p.43.) Even at the Battle on the Litani which occurred two years after Montgisard, Baldwin IV fought on horseback at the head of his troops.  (Note: Ridley Scott in his otherwise inaccurate film “The Kingdom of Heaven” was more accurate on this point; he has Baldwin IV reminiscing about Montgisard, saying how he had then been beautiful and strong.)

3. King Richard’s Support for Chatillon’s “Faction”: Lee attempts to show that Richard the Lionheart was an admirer of Châtillon by claiming: “…Richard embraced Reynald’s faction and backed the claim of Guy de Lusignan to the disputed throne of Jerusalem.” Aside from the fact that Richard had other motives for favoring Lusignan quite irrelevant to Châtillon’s support for a usurper, Lee conveniently leaves out the fact that Richard soon recognized his error, changed sides, and endorsed “the party led by Reynald’s bitter enemy, Balian of Ibelin.” Indeed, not only did Richard recognize Conrad de Montferrat as king of Jerusalem, he personally appointed “Reynald’s bitter enemy, Balian of Ibelin” is own envoy in his negotiations with Saladin ― an extraordinary mark of both trust and respect. Lee doesn’t want his readers to know that since it might cast doubt on his depiction of Ibelin as a lackey of Tripoli, so he just ignores the judgment of ― in Lee’s own words ― “the great King Richard himself.” (Lee, p. 281-282.)

Baldly Inaccurate Statements: These are littered throughout the book and I’ve only selected three examples to underscore my case.

1. Lee arbitrarily declares that Isabella of Jerusalem was 12 when she went to Kerak to live with her future husband under Châtillon’s guardianship; historically she was 8.

2. Lee claims Muslim troops garrisoned Tiberius against King Guy in 1186; utter fantastical nonsense.

3. Lee dismissively claims that medicine of the period was “no more than base superstition, with treatment usually exacerbating any malady.” (p. 11). In fact, as experts such as Piers Mitchell (Medicine in the Crusade, Cambridge University Press, 2004) make abundantly clear, medical practice at this time was remarkably sophisticated, made extensive use of anesthetics, saved many lives, and ― with respect to trauma treatment ― was not very different from medical practice today.  

Because of the above inaccuracies, misleading use of sources and biased presentation, + Real Crusades History + does NOT recommend "God's Wolf" by Jeffrey Lee. Instead, please consult the recent RCH podcast on Reynald and watch for forthcoming books by Dr. Paul Crawford.