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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

True Tales of the Knights Templar 1: The Second Crusade

+Real Crusades History+ is dedicated to remembering the real contribution of the Knights Templar to the history of the crusades. 
Dr. Schrader continues our fifteen-part series on the Knights Templar with the first of our "Ten True Tales of the Knights Templar."  Today's essay looks at the role of the Knights Templar in the Second Crusade.

It was not until nearly two decades after the successful end of the First Crusade in 1118 that a handful of knights sought out the Patriarch of Jerusalem with an unusual request. These men wanted to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in exchange for devoting themselves to the service of God in an exceptional way.  Rather than withdrawing from the world and living a monastic life, they proposed (or according to Malcolm Barber, p. 7, accepted a proposal) to serve God by protecting unarmed pilgrims at risk of attack by robbers and Saracens while visiting the holy sites. The King of Jerusalem, welcomed this endeavor and agreed to give them space inside his palace, which was then located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in what was then thought to be the site of King Solomon’s Temple and residence. It was from this building that the Templars drew their name “the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.”  They were at this time so poor that they wore only cast-off clothing donated by the pious, and allegedly did not have enough horses to go around, resulting in their early seal showing two knights on a single horse.


However, founding members had powerful and wealthy relatives and connections. More important the attracted some powerful early recruits, notably Hugh, Count of Champagne, who joined the nascent order in 1125. Other nobles, not willing or able to take vows of chastity and poverty, showed their veneration for what the Poor Knights were trying to do by leaving land or revenues to them. Yet arguably their greatest asset in the first two decades after their founding was ties through one of their founding members, Hugh of Payns, to St. Bernard of Clairvaux ― the most influential churchman of the early 12th century.

It was not until 1129, however, that at the Council of Troyes that the “Poor Knights” received a monastic code, a “Rule” by which they were to live, and Papal sanction for their now official, religious order.  The Rule was drafted by none other St. Bernard and based on the Rule of the Cistercians, but differing as necessary to allow the knights to look after their armor, horses, and operate on highways rather than living in the seclusion of a monastery.  In fact, the exact wording of the Rule was developed in a large committee that included several of the knights themselves.  It was at this time that the Poor Knights (who were increasingly rich as an Order, although poor as individuals) adopted white robes and surcoats as their habit.  The exclusive right to wear a red cross patée on their shoulders and/or breast was granted 17 years later in 1147.

Yet despite their success with gaining recognition, property and recruits, the Knights Templar (as they increasingly came to be called) had not yet emerged as a significant military establishment nor proven their worth in battle. It was the Second Crusade that gave them that opportunity.

The loss of the County of Edessa to the powerful Selkjuk leader Zengi in 1144 shocked Western Europe and triggered a call for a new crusade. Pope Eugenius made the official appeal, while St. Bernard became the most passionate, articulate and effective preacher of this new crusade. Although St. Bernard succeeded in recruiting the German King, Conrad of Hohenstaufen, from the start the driving force behind this crusade was the young French King, Louis VII. Louis had in childhood been destined for the Church and only became heir to the crown of France after his elder brother’s death. Throughout his life, he was noted for his great piety, and the crusade appealed to him greatly.  After an impassioned speech by St. Bernard at Vézélay on Palm Sunday 1147, enough nobles (including the Duchess of Aquitaine, wife of King Louis) had been recruited to make the crusade viable.

From the start, however, the crusade suffered from poor coordination. The German crusaders set off ahead of the French and proceeded in such an undisciplined fashion across the Western territories of the Byzantine Empire that it came to many armed clashes with Imperial troops.  The French followed a month behind the Germans and although more disciplined, they now encountered inhabitants burned by the behavior of the Germans who were hostile ― which meant reluctant to sell food and other necessities. The situation was critical and King Louis sent envoys to the Greek Emperor to negotiate for market privileges in exchange for an orderly passage of the crusaders through Byzantine territory.

One of Louis’ envoys was the Master of the Temple in France (not to be confused with the Grand Master.) This was a certain Everard de Barres, already a close confidante of King Louis, and commander of 130 Templar Knights and probably equal numbers of sergeants and support elements for a total of about 300 Templars. These Templars were presumably all recent recruits from France, but they had had time to undergo training and indoctrination. From the start of the Second Crusade, they appear to have assumed their now traditional role of protecting pilgrims ― in this case armed pilgrims and their very large baggage train including the Queen of France and many other ladies.  

After crossing the Bosporus in late October, the French crusaders received alarming reports of the destruction of the German crusader ― rumors that soon proved all too true. The German has been all but annihilated near Dorylaeum (the site of a great crusader victory in the First Crusade).  Allegedly only one in five of the German crusaders escaped the slaughter. Conrad von Hohenstaufen preferred to blame “betrayal” by the Greeks rather than take responsibility for his own poor leadership and failure to send out scouts. It was the message of “betrayal” that he gave King Louis.

Although the remnants of the Germans now joined the French, Conrad himself soon fell ill and returned by ship to Constantinople.  The French continued more cautiously along the coastal road.  Two days beyond Laodicea the road led through a steep pass over Mt. Cadmus.  The vanguard was ordered to camp at the top of the pass to give the rest of the army time to catch up, but the commander (a vassal of the Queen of France rather than her husband) ignored the orders and continued over the pass allowing a large gap between units to develop. The Turks, who had been shadowing the army all along, immediately took advantage of the situation and fell upon the main and rear divisions, still struggling up the slope.  King Louis was unhorsed early on and too refuge either among the rocks or up a tree (depending on account). In the ensuing slaughter and chaos, the Templars distinguished themselves as the only disciplined fighting force capable of delivering counter-blows. When darkness fell, the Turks had been driven back, but not before the crusaders had suffered severe losses, particularly to the horses and baggage train.

Shaken by his experience, King Louis effectively turned the command of his entire army over to the Templars!  Everard de Barres organized the crusader force into units of 50, each under the command of a single Templar.  The Templars established an order of march and insisted that it be maintained. They also gave orders for the infantry to protect the horse during attacks and that ensured that no counter attacks were undertaken until ordered and properly coordinated and led.  These were simple things, but they had evidently not been instituted prior the Templars taking command ― in sharp contrast to the highly disciplined army of Richard the Lionheart half a century later.

Yet discipline is not substitute for food and fodder. The Turks employed a form of “scorched earth” policy to deny the advancing crusaders both.  Soon the crusaders were eating their horses ― except for the Templars, who had husbanded their supplies and could still feed both themselves and their mounts. This enabled the Templars to disguise the weakness of the entire force ― and beat off four more attacks by the Turks before the crusaders finally reached the Byzantine controlled port of Adalia. (Howarth, p.88)

Here King Louis VII ignominiously (and unlike his descendant and namesake King Louis IX) promptly abandoned his army, and took ship for Antioch with his wife and his leading nobles. The common crusaders were left to die of plague and hunger or sell themselves into Turkish slavery in order to survive.

King Louis arrived in Antioch in March 1148 with none of his infantry and in desperate need of money. The Templars were now to prove their value in the second field of endeavor or which they were to become famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view): as bankers.  Everard des Barres sailed from Antioch to Acre and there managed to raise loans by mortgaging Templar properties. The sums raised were enormous, as King Louis’ instructions to his ministers in France to repay the Templars document that they amounted to nearly half the annual revenues of the King of France at this time. (Barber, p. 68)

The rest of the Second Crusade was equally disastrous. At Acre on June 24, 1148 a joint decision was taken by the leaders of the crusade including Conrad of Hohenstaufen (who had sailed from Constantinople directly to the Holy Land and joined the crusader council), King Louis and King Baldwin of Jerusalem to attack Damascus. The choice seems odd since the Sultan of Damascus at this time had been comparatively friendly and was a joint enemy of Zengi’s successor Nur ad-Din. Although the Masters of both the Temple and the Hospital were present at this war council, their opinions are not known, and their voices were not yet powerful enough to be decisive.  

Initial assaults on Damascus from the East/South were thwarted because the city was here surrounded by gardens and orchards with irrigation ditches that prevented the use of mass cavalry charges but provided archers with effective cover. The decision was therefore taken collectively to move the besieging army to the east where there were no such gardens and orchards ― but where there was also a dearth of water. Thereafter, the entire crusade broke down into bickering and recriminations while the crusading army disintegrated ― destroying the reputations of King Louis and Conrad of Hohenstaufen both.

The failure of the Second Crusade had serious repercussions.  It proved that “Frankish” knights were not invulnerable and Frankish armies not invincible. This greatly bolstered confidence among the Turks. In Western Europe it proved that God was not always on the side of the crusaders.  But since God had to be on their side, the search for scape goats was on at once.  The most obvious scapegoat was the Greeks. Both Conrad and Louis felt they had been “betrayed” ― misled at best or intentionally led into ambushes at worst. Another scapegoat were the “Poulains” ― the barons and lords of the Kingdom of Jerusalem ― who seemed to the crusaders too ready and willing to make truces with their Saracen foes.

Yet as Barber points out it is ominous that one German chronicler pinned the blame for the disaster at Damascus on the Templars. The Templars, he claimed, had accepted a massive bribe from the Saracens to give secret aid to the besieged (Barber, p. 69). It is notable that this allegation came only from German sources and not from French. King Louis returned to France full of praise for the Templars, and their reputation there continued to grow.  The Templars never really put down strong roots in the German speaking world and within half a century, the Germans would found their own Order, the Deutsche Ritter Orden. Yet it would be a French king who destroyed the Templars.

Join Dr. Schrader next week for the second in our series Ten True Tales of the Knights Templar.

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 most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Knights Templar: An Historical Overview

 +Real Crusades History+ is dedicated to remembering the real contribution of the Knights Templar to the history of the crusades. 
Our fifteen-part series continues today with a brief historical overview of the Knights Templar.  Here Dr. Schrader provides a prelude to our series, which will be highlighting ten episodes from the history of the Knights Templar in the coming weeks. 

After the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem following the First Crusade, pilgrims flooded to the newly freed Holy Land, but the situation was far from stable and the secular authorities were unable to guarantee the safety of pilgrims who ventured out upon the dangerous roads from Jerusalem to other pilgrimage sites such as Jericho and Nazareth. 

In 1115 Hugues de Payens, a Burgundian knight, and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar, a Flemish knight, decided to join forces and form a band of sworn brothers dedicated to protecting pilgrims. They soon recruited seven other knights, all men like themselves – stranded in the Holy Land without wealth or land, and allegedly so poor that Payens and St. Adhemar had only one horse between them. In 1118 the King of Jerusalem gave them the stables of what was believed to have been the palace (or temple) of King Solomon for their quarters, and from this they took their name, “The Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem” – a name was soon shortened to the Knights Templar. 

At the same time, or shortly afterwards, these nine knights took monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience before the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Knights Templar rapidly attracted new recruits – and powerful patrons -- highlighting the extent to which the concept of knights dedicated to the service of God touched a chord in men at this time. But the concept of fighting monks was revolutionary. Even the crusades had not sanctioned the bearing of arms by men dedicated to the Church; the crusades had only allowed secular men to serve the interests of the Church. What the Knights Templar proposed was to allow men of God to also be fighting men.

Tomb from the Temple Church in London
showing a Templar from the 12th Century
Recognizing the need for guidance and official sanction, Payens approached the Pope, and not only was his new kind of monastic order recognized, it was enthusiastically praised. Bernard of Clairvaux, the most influential churchman of his age (credited with founding 70 new Cistercian monasteries), agreed to write the Templars’ Rule. Not surprisingly, he fashioned the Templar Rule on that of the Cistercians; more unusual, however, was that he also wrote a treatise in praise of the Knights Templar, the De Laude Novae Militiae (In Praise of the New Knighthood), in which he contrasted the virtuous Templars with the vain, greedy, and (senselessly) violent secular knights of the age. 

According to De Laude Novae Militiae, the Knights Templar were disciplined, humble, and sober. Thus, “impudent words, senseless occupations, immoderate language, whispering, or even suppressed giggling are unknown. They have a horror of chess and dice; they hate hunting; they don’t even enjoy the flight of the falcon. They despise mimes, jugglers, storytellers, dirty songs, performances of buffoons – all these they regard as vanities and inane follies.” The documented initiation ceremonies – in contrast to the fabricated accusations of King Philip IV’s paid informers tasked with discrediting the Order two centuries later – were simple and sober professions of Catholic orthodoxy and vows to obey the officers of the Order, to remain chaste, to own no property, and to protect the Holy Land and Christians.” (See Hopkins, p. 90.)

The Templars were an instant success (by medieval standards), and their resources increased exponentially over the next decades. They soon controlled properties in virtually every kingdom of Christendom, from Sicily to Ireland, but particularly in France, England, and Portugal. The Order also rapidly developed a sophisticated hierarchy and structure. The bulk of the Order’s members were lay brothers: men who worked the fields of Templar landholdings and served as skilled laborers, from blacksmiths to stone masons, in the fortresses of Outremer. 

Furthermore, although only men already knighted, i.e., men from the landed class, could become Knights Templar, men of lesser birth could be men-at-arms, just as in any other army of the age. In contrast to the usual pattern, however, these men were not foot soldiers or archers but mounted fighting men, armed with sword and lance and called “sergeants.” While the knights were allowed four horses and two squires, the sergeants appear to have been allowed two horses and one squire. These squires, incidentally, were not members of the Order, and not bound by monastic vows nor compelled to fight. Last but not least, as enthusiasm for the Holy Land waned in the West, the Templars came to rely more and more on auxiliary troops raised in the Holy Land itself: men of Armenian, Greek, Arab, or mixed descent, called “Turcopoles.” The Templars also had their own priests and clerks.  

But manpower is only half the equation. Fighting men, particularly monks who had renounced all wealth and owned nothing, had to be clothed, equipped, mounted, armed, and fed at the expense of the Order. The great castles in the Holy Land – absolutely crucial to the defense of the Christian kingdoms – had to be built, maintained, and provisioned. The cost of equipping even one knight was substantial, the cost of keeping a castle enormous; the costs of maintaining thousands of knights in the field and dozens of castles in defensible condition were astronomical. It would not have been possible without the huge estates donated to the Templars in the West.

The Templar Castle of Collieure in the Languedoc
The Templars’ extensive properties in Western Europe provided the Order with recruits, remounts, and above all, financial resources. They also created a network through which the Templars could influence secular leaders. Furthermore, the extensive network of Templar “commanderies,” combined with the Templars’ reputation for incorruptibility and prowess at arms, enabled the Templars to move money (then still exclusively in the form of gold and silver) across great distances. Furthermore, the Templar network made it possible for someone to deposit money at one commandery and withdraw it from another with a kind of “letter of credit” – a service unknown before the Templars. Because of their own wealth and the funds deposited with them, the Templars were soon in a position to provide substantial loans, and are on record as having lent money to the Kings of both England and France. Because of their reputation as being scrupulously honest yet financially astute, they were also often employed as tax collectors and financial advisors by ruling monarchs, from Richard I of England to Philip IV of France.  

Yet the Knights Templar would not have attracted these riches or enjoyed such prestige if they had not delivered impressive military accomplishments in the Holy Land. The ethos of the Knights Templar called on knights to fight to the death for the Holy Land, to defend any Christian molested by Muslims, never to retreat unless the odds were greater than 3 to 1, and to refuse ransom if captured. Such attitudes clearly set the Templars apart from secular knights of the period. A hundred years after their founding and a hundred years before their demise, the Bishop of Acre wrote in his History of Jerusalem that the Templars were: “Lions in war, mild as lambs at home; in the field fierce knights, in church like hermits or monks; unyielding and savage to the enemies of Christ, benevolent and mild to Christians.”

A modern depiction of a Templar charge
by Mariusz Kozik (copyright Mariusz Kozik)
More important, the vow of obedience enabled disciplined fighting – a rarity in the Middle Ages, when most men were proud to fight as individuals, conscious of their own glory and gain. In contrast, a Templar who acted on his own was subject to severe disciplinary measures, including imprisonment or degradation for a year. There are many accounts of the Templars forming the shock troops during the advance and the rear guard during the retreat on crusades, of Templars defending the most difficult salient in a siege, and of Templar sorties to rescue fellow Christians in distress. At the height of their power, the Templars controlled a chain of mighty castles from La Roche de Roussel, north of Antioch, to Gaza, as well as a powerful fleet.  

The Knights Templar suffered a fatal blow, however, when Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. Although the consequences were not immediately apparent, the loss of Jerusalem – and the failure of all subsequent crusades to regain permanent control – slowly eroded the faith in Christian victory and, ultimately, the interest in fighting for the Holy Land. As the territory controlled by Christians shrank, so did the resources of the local barons. Soon, sufficient resources could not be raised in the Holy Land to finance its defense. This meant that the defense of the remaining Christian outposts fell increasingly to the militant orders, the Templars and Hospitallers, who could still draw on the profits of their extensive holdings in the West. 

But these resources proved insufficient in face of the huge cost of maintaining their establishment in the Holy Land as enthusiasm for fighting for the Holy Land waned. Throughout the second half of the 13th century, the crusader territories were lost, castle by castle and city by city, mostly as a result of the defenders having insufficient manpower to maintain their garrisons. When the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land, the Temple at Acre, fell to the Saracens in 1291, some 20,000 Templars had given their lives for the Holy Land.  

The Knights Templar transferred their headquarters to Cyprus after losing their last foothold in Palestine, but they had lost their raison d’être. That would have been crippling in itself, perhaps, but what proved fatal was that they retained their apparent wealth. 

King Philip IV, whose coffers were again empty, decided to confiscate the Templar “treasure” – meaning their entire property. To justify this move, Philip accused the Templars of various crimes, including devil worship, blasphemy, corruption, and sodomy. Without warning, on the night of Friday, October 13, 1307, officers of the French crown simultaneously broke into Templar commanderies across France and seized all the Templars and their property. While most of the men arrested were lay brothers and sergeants (since most knights who had survived the fall of Acre were on Cyprus), Philip IV made sure he would also seize the senior officers of the Temple by inviting them to Paris “for consultations” in advance of his strike. All those arrested, including the very men King Philip had treated as friends and advisors only days before, were subjected to brutal torture until they confessed to the catalog of crimes the French King had concocted.  

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Templars were in any way heretical in their beliefs. Furthermore, although Philip persuaded the Pope to order a general investigation of the Templars, in countries where torture was not extensively employed (such as England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Cyprus), the Templars were found innocent.

Meanwhile, in France, Templars who retracted the confessions torn from them under torture were burned at the stake as “relapsed heretics.” Tragically, the Pope at the time lived in terror of King Philip IV, who had deposed his predecessor with accusations almost identical to those leveled against the Templars. He preferred to sacrifice the Templars rather than risk confrontation with King Philip. Thus, although the evidence against the Order was clearly fabricated and the Pope could not find sufficient grounds to condemn the Order, he disbanded it in 1312. The last Master and Marshal of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney respectively, were burned at the stake in the presence of King Philip for retracting their confessions on March 18, 1314. Not until 2007 did the Vatican officially declare the Templars’ innocent based on the evidence still in the Papal archives.

Recommended Reading:

  • Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.  Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Hopkins, Andrea. Knights: The Complete Story of the Age of Chivalry, From Historical  Fact to Tales of Romance and Poetry. Collins & Brown Ltd, 1990.
  • Howarth, Stephan. The Knights Templar. Barnes and Noble Books, 1982.
  • Pernoud, Regine. The Templars: Knights of Christ. Ignatius Press, 2009.
  • Robinson, John J., Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.,
The Templars are present to a greater or lesser extent in all my novels set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem:

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and in:

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Battle of Fraga, 1134

Toward the end of his reign, Alfonso the Battler had conquered enormous portions of the Moors’ Ebro Frontier. By 1132, Alfonso felt ready to push on to Lérida and Fraga. He assembled an impressive coalition army of Aragonese, Navarrese, and French troops. By 1133 Alfonso took control of the Mohammedan fortress of Mequinenza, and he besieged Fraga.

The siege of Fraga was long and difficult, especially due to the capable leadership of Abd Allah ibn-Iyad, the governor of Lérida, who harassed Alfonso’s efforts as much as possible. The siege dragged on over a year: a testament to Alfonso’s abilities as a general, since he managed to hold together disparate forces for a long period of time.

Realizing the enormous danger posed by Alfonso’s campaign, the Almoravid governor of Valencia, ibn-Ganiya attempted to relieve Fraga twice. The first time, in early 1134, ibn-Ganiya was defeated. But later that year, ibn-Ganiya came up with a new plan. On July 17, 1134, ibn-Ganiya’s Almoravid army attacked Alfonso’s camp. When the Battler rallied his forces for a counterattack, the Moors of Fraga mounted a sally and attacked Alfonso’s troops from behind. The fighting that followed was hard, but the Almoravids gained the advantage. Alfonso’s army was devastated. His old ally, Centulle of Bigorre was killed, along with thousands of French and Spanish troops. Alfonso himself was wounded, but managed to escape with a group of knights, despite being doggedly pursued by the victorious Almoravids.

This victory was important psychologically for the Almoravids. After being defeated repeatedly by Alfonso the Battler for years, the Almoravids finally managed to take revenge on the conqueror of Zaragoza. The Almoravids did manage to make some temporary gains as a result of the victory, but the overall reality of Alfonso’s Ebro conquests remained. An attempt by the Moors to recapture Zaragoza in the wake of Fraga failed, and in the coming years Alfonso’s heirs would not only regain what was lost at Fraga, but push the Mohammedan frontier back even farther.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: "The New Knighthood" by Malcolm Barber

 "Knightfall," a TV series aired by the History Channel, is fictional drama filled with inaccuracies and misinformation. + Real Crusades History will be running a "counter series" in the form of fifteen blog posts which will draw attention to good books about the Knights Templar, provide an historical overview of the Templars, and highlight true episodes from the history of the Knights Templar in "Ten True Tales of the Knights Templar" and an epilogue.  
Our entries will appear the day after each episode of "Knightfall."

 Dr. Schrader kicks off the series today by drawing attention to one of the best books about the Knights Templar ever written.

Professor Malcolm Barber is arguably the world's leading academic expert on the Knights Templar, and their trial for heresy under Philip IV of France at the start of the 14th Century.  He was a professor of Medieval European History at the University of Reading until he retired in 2004, and has also published important scholarly works on the crusader states and the Cathar heresy.

In The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple Professor Barber has condensed his encyclopedic knowledge of the Templars into a concise, readable handbook.  This book provides the reader with a solid foundation of facts to counter the still rampant and ridiculous allegations of heresy and mystery regurgitated endlessly by hysterical and irresponsible writers, TV producers and Hollywood. 

Barber's  book is organized thematically into chapters on: 1) the origin of the Order, 2) the concept of the Order, 3) the rise of Templar power in the east, 4) the Templars in the period between the battles of Hattin and La Forbie, 5) the last years of the Templars in Palestine, 6) Templar life, 7) the Templar network, 8) the destruction of the Order, and 9) an analysis of the myths that grew up around the Order after its demise. It also provides a chronology of key events, a list of the Grand Masters, and -- what I found most useful and fascinating -- a map with the major houses (commanderies) of the order from Ireland to Greece. (It has helped me find  many a Templar ruin overlooked by others!)

This book is my "bible" on the Templars. I keep it handy on a nearby bookshelf and consult it whenever I have a question about the Knights Templar. I recommend it highly to all readers interested in the 12th and 13th centuries. It should be required reading for anyone who intends to publish a book, film or TV series -- fictional or not -- in which the Knights Templar have a role. 

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 most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

  Read her award-winning novels set in the crusader states!

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Friday, November 24, 2017

A Royal Abduction?

In November 1190, Princess Isabella of Jerusalem, then 18 years old, was forcibly removed from the tent she was sharing with her husband Humphrey of Toron in the Christian camp besieging the city of Acre.  Just days earlier, her elder sister, Queen Sibylla, had died, making Isabella the hereditary queen of the all-but-non-existent -- yet symbolically important-- Kingdom of Jerusalem.  A short time after her abduction, she married Conrad Marquis de Montferrat, making him, through her, the de facto King of Jerusalem.  This high-profile abduction and marriage scandalized the church chroniclers and is often sited to this day as evidence of the perfidy of Conrad de Montferrat and his accomplices. Dr. Schrader explores the implications of this "abduction" and the pseudo-shock of contemporaries and chroniclers.

The anonymous author of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi (Itinerarium), for example, describes with blistering outrage how Conrad de Montferrat had long schemed to “steal” the throne of Jerusalem, and at last stuck upon the idea of abducting Isabella—a crime he compares to the abduction of Helen of Sparta by Paris of Troy “only worse.”  To achieve his plan, the Itinerarium claims, Conrad “surpassed the deceits of Sinon, the eloquence of Ulysses and the forked tongue of Mithridates.” Conrad, according to this English cleric writing after the fact, set about bribing, flattering and corrupting bishops and barons alike as never before in recorded history. Throughout, the chronicler says, Conrad was aided and abetted by three barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Sidon, Haifa and Ibelin) who combined (according to our chronicler) “the treachery of Judas, the cruelty of Nero, and the wickedness of Herod, and everything the present age abhors and ancient times condemned.” Really? The author certainly brings no evidence of a single act of treachery, cruelty, or wickedness — beyond this one allleged abduction, which (as we shall see) was hardly a case of rape as we shall see.

Indeed, this chronicler himself admits that Isabella was not removed from Humphrey’s tent by Conrad himself, nor was she handed over to him. On the contrary she was put into the care of clerical “sequesters,” with a mandate to assure her safety and prevent a further abduction, “while a clerical court debated the case for a divorce.” Furthermore, in the very next paragraph our anonymous slanderer of some of the most courageous and pious lords of Jerusalem, declares that although Isabella at first resisted the idea of divorcing her husband Humphrey, she was soon persuaded to consent to divorce because “a woman’s opinion changes very easily” and “a girl is easily taught to do what is morally wrong.” 

While the Itinerarium admits that Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey was reviewed by a church court, it hides this fact under the abuse it heaps upon the clerics involved. Another contemporary chronicle, the Lyon continuation of William of Tyre, explains in far more neutral and objective language that that the case hinged on the important principle of consent. By the 12th century, marriage could only be valid in canonical law if both parties (i.e. including Isabella) consented. The issue at hand was whether Isabella had consented to her marriage to Humphrey at the time it was contracted.  

The Lyon Continuation further notes that Isabella and Humphrey testified before the church tribunal separately. In her testimony, Isabella asserted she had not consented to her marriage to Humphrey, while Humphrey claimed she had. The Lyon Continuation also provides the colorful detail that another witness, who had been present at Isabella and Humphrey's wedding, at once called Humphrey a liar, and challenged him to prove he spoke the truth in combat. Humphrey, the chronicler says, refused to “take up the gage.” At this point the chronicler states that Humphrey was “cowardly and effeminate.” 

Both accounts (the Itinerarium and the Lyon Continuation) agree that following the testimony and deliberations the Church council ruled that Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey was invalid. There was only one dissenting voice, that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, both chroniclers insist that this decision was reached because Conrad corrupted all the other clerics, particularly the Papal legate, the Archbishop of Pisa. The Lyon Continuation claims that the Archbishop of Pisa ruled the marriage invalid and allowed Isabella to marry Conrad only because Conrad promised commercial advantages for Pisa from should he win Isabella and become king. The Itinerarium on the other hand claims Conrad “poured out enormous generosity to corrupt judicial integrity with the enchantment of gold.”

There are a lot of problems with the clerical outrage over Isabella’s “abduction” — not to mention the dismissal of Isabella’s change of heart as the inherent moral frailty of females. There are also problems with the slander heaped on the barons and bishops, who dared to support Conrad de Montferrat's suit for Isabella.

Let’s go back to the basic facts of the case as laid out by the chroniclers themselves but stripped of moral judgements and slander:

  • Isabella was removed from Humphrey de Toron’s tent against her will.
  • She was not, however, taken by Conrad or raped by him.
  • Rather she was turned over to neutral third parties, sequestered and protected by them.
  • Meanwhile, a church court was convened to rule on the validity of her marriage to Humphrey.
  • The case hinged on the important theological principle of consent. (Note: In the 12th Century, both parties to a marriage had to consent. To consent they had be legally of age. The legal age of consent for girls was 12.)
  • Humphrey claimed that Isabella had consented to the marriage, but when challenged by a witness to the wedding he “said nothing” and backed down.
  • Isabella, meanwhile, had “changed her mind” and consented to the divorce.
  • The court ruled that Isabella's marriage to Humphrey had not been valid.
  • On Nov. 25, with either the French Bishop of Beauvais or the Papal Legate himself presiding, Isabella married Conrad.  Since a clerical court had just ruled that no marriage was valid without the consent of the bride, we can be confident that she consented to this marriage. In fact, as the Itinerarium so reports (vituperously) reports, “she was not ashamed to say…she went with the Marquis of her own accord.”

To understand what really happened in the siege camp of Acre in November 1190, we need to look beyond what the church chronicles write about the abduction itself.  The story really begins in 1180 when Isabella was just eight years old. Until this time, Isabella had lived in the care and custody of her mother, the Byzantine Princess and Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Commena. In 1180, King Baldwin IV (Isabella’s half-brother) arranged the betrothal of Isabella to Humphrey de Toron. Having promised this marriage without the consent of Isabella’s mother or step-father, the king ordered the physical removed of Isabella from her mother and step-father’s care and sent her to live with her future husband, his mother and his step-father. The latter was the infamous Reynald de Chatillon, notorious for having seduced the Princess of Antioch, tortured the Archbishop of Antioch, and sacked the Christian island of Cyprus. Isabella was effectively imprisoned in his border fortress at Kerak and his wife, Stephanie de Milly explicitly prohibited Isabella from even visiting her mother for three years.

In December 1183, when Isabella was just eleven years old, Reynald and his wife held a marriage feast to celebrate the wedding of Isabella and Humphrey. They invited all the nobles of the kingdom to witness the feast. Unfortunately, before most of the wedding guests could arrive, Saladin's army surrounded the castle and laid siege to it. The wedding took place, and a few weeks later the army of Jerusalem relieved the castle, chasing Saladin’s forces away. 

Note, at the time the wedding took place, Isabella was not only a prisoner of her in-laws, she was only eleven years old. Canonical law in the 12th century, however, established the “age of consent” for girls at 12. Isabella could not legally consent to her wedding, even if she wanted to. The marriage had been planned by the King, however, and carried out by one of the most powerful barons during a crisis. No one seems to have dared challenge it at the time.

At the death of Baldwin V three years later, Isabella’s older sister, Queen Sibylla, was first in line to the throne but found herself opposed by almost the entire High Court of Jerusalem (that constitutionally was required to consent to each new monarch). The opposition sprang not from objections Sibylla herself, but from the fact that the bishops and barons of the kingdom almost unanimously detested her husband, Guy de Lusignan. Although she could not gain the consent of the High Court necessary to make her coronation legal, she managed to convince a minority of the lords secular and ecclesiastical to crown her queen by promising to divorce Guy and choose a new husband. Once anointed, Sibylla promptly betrayed her supporters by declaring that her “new” husband was the same as her old husband: Guy de Lusignan. She then crowned him herself (at least according to some accounts). 

This struck many people at the time as duplicitous, to say the least, and the majority of the barons and bishops decided that since she had not had their consent in the first place, she and her husband were usurpers. They agreed to crown her younger sister Isabella (now 14 years old) instead.  The assumption was that since they commanded far larger numbers of troops than did Sibylla’s supporters (many of whom now felt duped and were dissatisfied anyway, no doubt), they would be able to quickly depose of Sibylla and Guy. 

The plan, however, came to nothing because Isabella’s husband, Humphrey de Toron, had no stomach for a civil war (or a crown, it seems), and chose to sneak away in the dark of night to do homage to Sibylla and Guy. The baronial revolt collapsed. Almost everyone eventually did homage to Guy, and he promptly led them all to an avoidable defeat at the Battle of Hattin. With the field army annihilated, the complete occupation of the Kingdom by the forces of Saladin followed – with the important exception of Tyre. Tyre only avoided the fate of the rest of the kingdom because of the timely arrival of a certain Italian nobleman, Conrad de Montferrat, who rallied the defenders and defied Saladin. 

Montferrat came from a very good and very well connected family. He was first cousin to both the Holy Roman Emperor and King Louis VII of France. Furthermore, his elder brother had been Sibylla of Jerusalem’s first husband (before Guy), and his younger brother had been married to the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I. Furthermore, he defended Tyre twice against the vastly superior armies of Saladin, and by holding Tyre he enabled the Christians to retain a bridgehead by which troops, weapons and supplies could be funneled back into the Holy Land for a new crusade to retake Jerusalem. While Conrad was preforming this heroic function, Guy de Lusignan was an (admittedly unwilling) “guest” of Saladin, a prisoner of war following his self-engineered defeat at Hattin.  

So at the time of the infamous abduction, Guy was an anointed king, but one who derived his right to the throne from his now deceased wife (Sibylla died in early November 1190, remember), and furthermore a king viewed by most of his subjects as a usurper—even before he’d lost the entire kingdom through his incompetence. It is fair to say that in November 1190 Guy was not popular among the surviving barons and bishops of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and they were eager to see the kingdom pass into the hands of someone they respected and trusted. The death of Sibylla provided the perfect opportunity to crown a new king because with her death the crown legally passed to her sister Isabella, and, according to the Constitution of the Kingdom, the husband of the queen ruled with her as her consort.

The problem faced by the barons and bishops of Jerusalem in 1190, however, was that Isabella was still married to the same man who had betrayed them in 1186: Humphrey de Toron. He was clearly not interested in a crown, and it didn’t help matters that he’d been in a Saracen prison for two years. Perhaps more damning still, he was allegedly “more like a woman than a man: he had a gentle manner and a stammer.”(According to the Itinerarium.)

Whatever the reason, we know that the barons and bishops of Jerusalem were not prepared to make the same mistake they had made four years earlier when they had done homage to a man they knew was incompetent (Guy de Lusignan). They absolutely refused to acknowledge Isabella’s right to the throne, unless she had first set aside her unsuitable husband and taken a man acceptable to them. We know this because the Lyon Continuation is based on a lost chronicle written by a certain Ernoul, who as an intimate of the Ibelin family and so of Isabella and her mother, and provides the following insight. Having admitted that Isabella “did not want to [divorce Humphrey], because she loved [him],” the Lyon Continuation explains that her mother Maria persuasively argued that so long as she (Isabella) was Humphrey’s wife “she could have neither honor nor her father’s kingdom.” Moreover, Queen Maria reminded her daughter that “when she had married she was still under age and for that reason the validity of the marriage could be challenged.” At which point, the continuation of Tyre reports, “Isabella consented to her mother’s wishes.” 

In short, Isabella had a change of heart during the church trial not because “woman’s opinion changes very easily,” but because she was a realist—who wanted a crown. Far from being a victim, manipulated by others, or a fickle, immoral girl, she was an intelligent young woman with an understanding of politics. 

As for the church court, it was not “corrupted” by Conrad or anyone else. It simply faced the unalterable fact that Isabella had very publicly wed Humphrey before she reached the legal age of consent. In short, whether she had voiced consent or not, indeed whether she loved, adored and positively desired Humphrey or not, she was not legally capable of consenting. 

No violent abduction, and no travesty of justice took place in Acre in 1190. Rather a mature young woman recognized that it was in her best interests -- and the best interests of her kingdom -- to divorce an unpopular and ineffective husband in order to marry a man respected by the peers oft he realm. To do so, she allowed the marriage she had contracted as an eleven-year-old to be recognized for what it was -- a mockery. Isabella's marriage in 1183 as a child prisoner of a notoriously brutal man not her marriage in 1190 as an 18 year old queen was the real "abduction" of Isabella.
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 most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com 

Isabella, Humphrey, her mother Maria and her step-father are major characters in Schrader's award-winning three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.

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