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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Melisende I: Formidable Wife of Fulk d'Anjou

Melisende, born in 1105 and queen from 1131 until her death in 1161, was the first and unquestionably the most forceful of Jerusalem’s queens.  She was not only the hereditary heir to the kingdom, she tenaciously defended her right to rule against both her husband and her son, weathering two attempts to side-line her, albeit more successfully the first time. She was praised for her wisdom and her administrative effectiveness as well as being a patron of the arts and the church. Although largely forgotten, she ought to be remembered alongside her contemporaries the Empress Mathilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of the powerful women rulers of the 12th century. Today  Dr. Schrader looks at the first half of her life, ending with the death of her husband in 1143.

Melisende of Jerusalem was born in 1105, the first of four daughters, born to King Baldwin II and his Armenian wife, Morphia of Melitene. At the time of her birth in Edessa, her father was Count of Edessa, but 13 years later in 1118 her father was elected by the High Court of Jerusalem successor to Baldwin I. Some sources claim that her father was urged at this time to set-aside his Armenian wife and seek a new, and better-connected bride who might bear him sons as Morphia had failed to do.  Baldwin refused.  Furthermore, he designated his eldest daughter as his heir, and she was given precedence in the charters of the kingdom ahead of all other lords both sacred and secular. 

In 1128, when Melisende was already 23 years old, her father sent to the King of France, requesting a worthy husband for her. This appeal was sanctioned by the High Court, as all subsequent searches for worthy consorts of Jerusalem’s queens would be in the years to come. The King of France proposed Fulk d’Anjou. 

Although Anjou is small, it was a pivotal and powerful lordship in the heart of France. Fulk’s mother had married Philip I of France, and his daughter had been engaged to Henry I of England’s heir, William. When the latter died in a shipwreck, the agreement was mutated so that Henry’s daughter Mathilda married Fulk’s eldest son and heir Geoffrey. It was from this marriage of Fulk’s son Geoffrey and Henry I’s heir Mathilda that the Angevin kings of England sprang. 

Meanwhile, however, Fulk had traveled to the Holy Land and served with the Knights Templar. He responded positively to the proposal to marry Melisende, although some sources contend that he insisted on being named king, not merely consort. In fact, the terms may have been ambiguous, or at least open to alternative interpretations. Certainly, Fulk had a reputation for centralizing power and ruling unruly vassals with an iron fist. He was seen as militarily able, however, a vital qualification for ruling the ever-vulnerable Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In 1129, Fulk returned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and married Melisende, now 24 years old. He was at once associated with his father-in-law in the government of the kingdom.  Nevertheless, in 1130 when Melisende gave birth to a son, named Baldwin for his grandfather, the proud grandfather took the precaution publicly investing his Kingdom to his daughter, his son-in-law and his grandson. This was not a partitioning of the kingdom, but a means of binding his vassals to his heirs.  Furthermore, when he fell ill the following year, he reaffirmed on his death-bed the succession of his daughter Melisende, along with her king-consort Fulk and their joint son, Baldwin. Melisende and Fulk were crowned jointly in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on September 14, 1131.

Despite this, Fulk evidently felt that he had become sole ruler of Jerusalem. Melisende was abruptly excluded from the charters of the kingdom, suggesting she was excluded from power, and the important contemporary chronicle of Orderic Vitalis provides this revealing description of what happened next:

To begin with [Fulk] acted without the foresight and shrewdness he should have shown, and changed governors and other dignitaries too quickly and thoughtlessly. As a new ruler he banished from his counsels the leading magnates who from the first had fought resolutely against the Turks and helped Godfrey and the two Baldwins to bring towns and fortresses under their rule, and replaced them by Angevin strangers and other raw newcomers…; turning out the veteran defenders, he gave the chief places in the counsels of the realm and the castellanships of castles to new flatterers.[i]

While this was bad enough, he also appeared to seek the removal of his wife, Melisende. The suspicion was that he wanted to push aside the legitimate heirs of Jerusalem and replace them with his younger son by his first wife, a certain Elias.  His weapon was a not-so-subtle attempt to sully her reputation with an accusation of adultery.  In 1134, Melisende was (conveniently) accused of a liaison with the most powerful of the local barons, a certain Hugh, Count of Jaffa. 

While all chronicles agree that the charges were trumped up, the very fact that King Fulk was presumed to be behind them induced Jaffa to refuse to face a trial by combat, apparently fearing foul play.  The failure to show for a trial by combat, however, gave the king the right to declare him (and with him the queen) guilty, and to attempt to forfeit his fief. (Which some historians suggest may have been Fulk’s main motive in the first place.) What is notable about this incident is that the bulk of the High Court ― and most significantly the Church ― sided with Jaffa rather than Fulk. This underlines the degree to which Melisende was viewed as innocent of wrong-doing, and the degree to which the local nobility resented the Angevin influence described above. 

When the royal army moved against Jaffa, the southern lords, many of them Jaffa’s vassals, held firm for Jaffa. Until Jaffa made a severe tactical error: he sought military support from the Muslim garrison at Ascalon. The later was all too happy to see the Franks fighting among themselves and Jaffa beat off the royal army -- at the price of losing support among his own. Many of his vassals (and his own Constable, Barisan d’Ibelin) deserted his cause and reconciled with the king.

Yet just when Fulk seemed on the brink of complete victory, the Church intervened to end the dangerously self-destructive civil war and forced Fulk to offer astonishingly mild terms to the rebels. Hugh of Jaffa and those men who had remained loyal to him were induced to surrender Jaffa and accept exile for a mere three years, rather than the permanent loss of their fiefs. Although not explicit, subsequent events suggest that Melisende was behind this agreement and Fulk was anything but happy with it. Certainly, before Hugh could leave the kingdom to begin his exile, he was stabbed in the streets of Acre by a knight widely believed to be fulfilling Fulk’s wishes if not his orders. 

Hugh survived the attack and went into exile to die before the terms expired just three years later. Yet sympathy for the injured Hugh was so high that the Angevins found themselves in fear for their lives. Indeed, no one was more outraged than Queen Melisende, and the contemporary historian William of Tyre reports that Fulk feared for his life in the company of the queen’s men. Fulk had won the battle but lost the war. He had discovered he could not rule Jerusalem as he had Anjou. He could not impose his own counselors and ignore the men (and their sons) that had conquered his kingdom for him one bloody mile at a time. Most important, he could not replace his wife at whim, but must recognize her as her father had intended as his co-regent, his equal in power.

William of Tyre reports that after Jaffa’s exile Fulk “did not attempt to take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without [Melisende’s] knowledge.”[ii] This assessment is underlined by the subsequent documentary evidence that shows Melisende again jointly signing charters and otherwise actively engaged in the administration of the kingdom. She made some spectacular grants at this time (one presumes to her supporters), most especially to the Church. The reconciliation was furthermore sufficient to bring forth a second son, Amalric, who was born in 1136. 

In 1138, when Fulk and Melisende’s son Baldwin turned eight, he too was included in the charters of the kingdom, reaffirming his investiture along with his parents as ruler of Jerusalem, restoring the situation as it had been recognized by the High Court at the time of Baldwin II’s death. This troika of rulers continued until 1143, when Fulk died suddenly at the age of 53 in a hunting accident. Significantly, at Fulk’s death there was no need for the High Court to convene and elect a new ruler, because Melisende was already crowned and anointed and recognized, not merely as regent for her 13-year-old son, but as queen in her own right. 

This outline of the events in the first 38 years of Melisende’s life makes a mockery of modern commentary that dismiss medieval women as “chattels” or pawns.  Melisende’s right to inherit the power ― not just the title ― of monarch was not only recognized by the High Court (i.e. her vassals), but defended by both her barons and the Church. Melisende wielded real power, and she won the respect of her contemporaries. William of Tyre, for example, calls her “a very wise woman, fully experienced in almost all spheres of state business,” who took “charge of important affairs.”[iii]

The woman herself, her feelings, her temperament, her motives, fears and dreams, are lost to us.  A few things are clear, however. First, in contrast to her grand-daughter Sibylla, her virtue was considered unimpeachable; no one of importance seriously believed she had committed adultery. Second, her intelligence and abilities as queen were respected sufficiently for people to be willing to fight for her right to rule jointly with her husband. Third, she must have been sufficiently flexible and forgiving to reconcile with her husband despite his attempts to first side-line and then dishonor her. That takes a very wise woman indeed! 

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

Melisende is a major character in:

[i] Orderic Vitalis, quoted in translation by Hans Eberhard Mayer, “Angevins versus Normans: The New Men of King Fulk of Jerusalem,” Kings and Lords in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ashgate Publishing, 1994, p. IV-3

[ii] William of Tyre, quoted in translation by Bernard Hamilton, “Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem (1100-1190),” ed. Derek Baker, Medieval Women, Basil Blackwell, 1978, p. 150.

[iii] Ibid, p. 157.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Knights and Nobles of Outremer

Whereas most kingdoms of the West emerged organically from the remnants of the Roman empire, the crusader states were abrupt creations -- and so were their feudal elites. Today Dr. Schrader discusses the origins and -- until recently misunderstood --characteristics of the knights and nobles in these states.

The leaders of the First Crusade naturally brought their notions of society and government with them.  Although, they made a virtue out of necessity and co-opted institutions and traditions with Arab, Turkish and even Greek roots. (See: Administrative Backbone.) They nevertheless succeeded at imposing a feudal over-structure onto their newly acquired territories.  John de La Monte in his classic study, Feudal Monarchy in Jerusalem 1100-1291, writes:

… in the feudal system of Jerusalem we find an almost ideal system of feudalism….The colonist carried with him from his native land his native ideal of the state and put it into effect as far as he was able in the land of his adoption.

Yet there was a problem: feudalism depends on nobility and a knightly class --  both of which were lacking in the newly conquered territories. To be sure, the leaders of the First Crusade had been French noblemen, and a handful of these leaders remained behind, forming the very summit of the feudal pyramid as kings, counts and princes. But feudalism, in contrast to the absolutism of the renaissance, depended on a much broader base; it depended on a class of barons (tenants-in-chief), and lesser vassals (the tenants of the barons) and “simple” knights as well. 

In Western Europe, barons and knights held land, and drew from the land the income to support their military apparatus. For a knight that had to be enough income to support himself, his squire, four horses and armor and weapons for all. For a baron, it might be enough land to support scores of knights. But in the early years of the crusader kingdoms, there was no land to share out and Joshua Prawer points out:  “...the mass of milites [knights] was no more than a salaried army, composed of knights receiving salaries or assigned fixed revenues.” (p. 129)

In the decades that followed, however, the crusader states expanded from the cities to take control of a broad band of territory along the Eastern Mediterranean occupying roughly what is now Lebanon, Israel and the western half of Jordan. The Kingdom of Jerusalem at its greatest extent touched the tip of the Red Sea at Eilat in the south and reached to Antioch in modern Turkey in the North, as well as stretching across the Jordan River to the East. With this expansion came the establishment of lordships, roughly two-dozen in all. 

So lordships had been created, but who were these lords ― the Prince of Galilee, the Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the Lords of Beirut, Hebron, Sidon, Oultrejourdain, Ibelin, Ramla, Arsur, Nablus, Caesarea, Haifa, Sabaste, Bethsan, Toron and more?

One thing is clear: they were not counts and lords from Western Europe. They were men who had made their fortune in the Holy Land. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres, who summarized the opportunities in the Holy Land ― and the social mobility we seldom associate with the Middle Ages. In A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem 1095-1127, written in the early 12th century, he claims: 

“Every day relatives and friends…come to join us. They do not hesitate to leave everything they have behind them. Indeed…he who was poor attains riches here. He who had no more than a few pennies finds himself in possession of a fortune.”

Attempts to trace the origins of even some of the most prominent noble families, such as the Ibelins, are rarely fruitful. In charters and deeds, donors, recipients and witnesses are often listed by first names and descriptors (such as “the old”) only. If they are referred to by first name and a place, it is as common for this to be the place of current residence rather than the place of origin. To make things even more difficult, many place names are very vague indeed ― such as “l’Aleman” to mean simply “the German.” 

This is partly due to the period, family names were only just emerging and coming into use in the 12th century. But the situation was compounded in the Holy Land by the fact that so many of the early settlers came from non-noble background and were at best knights. Yet when these men won the favor of the king they were named to important offices (e.g. like constable and marshal) ― or given fiefs. Men of sufficient worth, gained important and wealthy fiefs, which they held directly from the crown. They were now barons.

Barons, however, were only the second strata in feudal society. They derived their power from the ability to field large numbers of fighting men, both knights and sergeants and/or Turcopoles. The larger the barony, the more knights fees it supported, i.e. the larger number of knights it could support. Knights were essential to the defense of the crusader states because they formed the core or elite military force of the kingdom’s army.

For much of the last century, the image of the knights of Outremer was shaped by Joshua Prawer, who argued:

As a rule, the Frankish landowner did not retain demesne lands of any importance, and his income came almost wholly from the tenurae held from him by his peasants. There was, then, little interest in the direct management of rural estates and no incentive to live in a manor house in the village or in the fief. (p. 130)

From this premise, Prawer evolves the theory that the knights of Outremer were urban rather than rural ― and hardly distinguishable from the Frankish bourgeoisie. He also claims that they often intermarried with the Italian and even native merchant-class, and were highly dependent on royal or baronial patronage.  He concludes that in the “second” Kingdom of Jerusalem (after the loss of the interior of the Kingdom to Saladin in 1187-1188), “simple knights, already very much dependent on their lords in the twelfth century, [were] little more than salaried knights, not to say simple mercenaries.” (p. 140) 

More recent research, notably that of Ronnie Ellenblum, has since proved that Prawer's assumptions were utterly incorrect. Archaeological evidence turned up by surveys conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Franks had extensive rural settlements, constructed manor houses, villages, mills, irrigation systems and roads -- and these rural land holdings "owed" knights to the feudal lord.  In short, this was a feudal society based on rural land-holdings just as in Western Europe. 

And where did these knights come from? We don't know very much beyond the fact that the names associated with the rural holdings reflect immigration from Western Europe especially France and Italy. Likewise, charters indicate that families that in one generation were designated as "sergeants" often produce knights in the next generation.  Intriguingly, we also know of isolated instances of native Christians rising to the knightly class through service to the Frankish elite. In short, upward mobility was very much possible in the crusade states.  Last but not least, it was also a common practice to give land to younger brothers, for them to hold from their elder brother, thus providing "cadet lines" of the leading barons with landed property that kept them rooted in society and financially secure, rather than creating a class of "landless younger sons." 

Admittedly, not all knights in the crusader states had rural estates. Some did have "money fiefs" based on urban incomes, but to suggest that the majority of knights in the crusader states were "urban knights" is wrong. A thirteen century catalog of feudal service by lordship -- including money fiefs -- lists  only 131 of 677 ― less than 20% ― urban knights.  The rest came from the barons with extensive land holdings. 

Even the loss of the interior of the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not, as Prawer and others argue, lead to the urbanization of the entire knightly class. This is because almost immediately after the loss of the interior came the acquisition of the even larger and richer Kingdom of Cyprus.  We know that nearly all the barons of Jerusalem also held fiefs in Cyprus. They did so because Guy and Aimery de Lusignan, who were both kings of both Cyprus and Jerusalem, rewarded their supporters with fiefs on Cyprus.  George Hill in his A History of Cyprus Volume 2: The Frankish Period 1192-1432, for example, stresses that the Lusignan “let it be known in Palestine, in Syria and in Armenia that he would grant fiefs and lands to all those who were willing to come and settle the island.” (p. 39).

This is certainly an exaggeration in that Cyprus was not an “empty” island in need of settlement. Peter Edbury, the leading historian of medieval Cyprus today, estimates the population was around 100,000. Nevertheless, it is still indicative of the opportunities available on Cyprus for men of Frankish origin.  It is also undoubtedly true that some of those who went to Cyprus had lost everything to Saladin and only held land on Cyprus. Nevertheless, we know of many noble families, starting with the Ibelins, MontbĂ©liards, and the Princes of Antioch and Tiberias, held fiefs in both kingdoms.

The exact location and extent of these holdings, however, is nearly impossible to quantify, because the Syrian barons continued to use their Syrian titles. They did so even if the lands from which they derived their titles had been lost irretrievably (e.g. Ibelin and Tiberias), as well as when the territory from which the title derived remained in Frankish hands but had been supplemented by new fiefs on Cyprus such as Caesarea, Beirut and Jaffa.

Especially in cases where lords held a city on the mainland and a rural fief on Cyprus, the rural estates would have been farmed out to vassals so ensure the good governance and economic productivity of the land, while freeing the baron to remain in his principle residence at Beirut, Caesarea, Arsuf etc. This explains how the Syrian lords could still field substantial armies to fight in the Holy Land, despite having very limited land in Syria itself. It is underlined by the fact that the Lord of Beirut could move troops from Cyprus to relieve the Imperial siege of Beirut and take troops back again to expel Imperial troops from Cyprus.

In short, the crusader states did have a higher percentage of “money fiefs” and urban knights than was common in Western Europe in the 12th and 13th century. However, such knights made up only roughly one fifth of the feudal host in the “first” kingdom, and possibly ― but not necessarily ― a larger percentage in the “second” kingdom, without ever representing the majority.

Because of a continuous flow of pilgrims from the West, including a significant number that settled and intermarried with the existing Frankish elites, the knights and nobles of Outremer remained in close contact with the traditions, fashions, thinking, and attitudes of the West. Despite the obscurity of their origins, they shared the same fundamental Weltanschauung or world-view as their contemporaries in France, Flanders and England.  Feudalism, Christianity and Chivalry shaped and guided the lives of nobles and knights in the Holy Land no less than in the West.

Discover the crusader states and the knights and nobles that inhabited them in Dr. Schrader's award-winning series: 

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Ellenblum, Ronnie, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Hill, George. A History of Cyprus Volume 2: The Frankish Period 1192-1432. Cambridge University Press, 1948.

Jotischky, Andrew. Crusading and the Crusader States. Pearson Longman, 2004.)

La Monte, John. Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291. Medieval Academy of America, 1932.

Prawer, Joshua. “Social Classes in the Latin Kingdom: the Franks,” Zacour, Norman P. and Harry W. Hazard. A History of the Crusades Volume Five: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East. University of Wisconsin Press, 1985

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Teutonic Knights III: Twilight in the Holy Land

The Teutonic Knights had received the right to colonize Prussia as early as 1226, but the Order continued to prioritize the Holy Land for decades after that. The Mongol threat to Europe, however, forced the Teutonic Knights to increasingly divert resources to the Baltic frontier.  Gradually, perhaps even unconsciously, the emphasis of the Order shifted. What had started as a necessity, slowly became policy. Dr. Schrader looks at the last years of the Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land.

In 1254 Pope Innocent IV granted the Teutonic Knights the right to give secular knights willing to fight the Mongols the same spiritual privileges as those who took the cross to fight in the Holy Land. The fight against the Mongols was effectively raised to a “crusade.”  Even recruits to the Teutonic Knights were no longer required to serve first in the Holy Land; they could go into service directly in the Baltic.  Increasingly, German knights and noble families turned their attention to the Baltic. After 1250 there was never again large contingents of armed pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Not that the Teutonic Order entirely gave up on the Holy Land. It was in the last half of the 13th century that the Order made a number of major acquisitions.  Yet significantly these came primarily through purchases from the secular lords of Outremer. The Baron of Sidon essentially gave up entirely, selling his lands to the Templars and Teutonic Knights. Even John d’Ibelin, Count of Jaffa and Ascalon (son of Philip d’Ibelin the former regent of Cyprus, grandson of Balian d’Ibelin, the defender of Jerusalem in 1187) sold or leased entire lordships and castles to the Teutonic Knights. After the Battle of La Forbie (1244) an exodus of ordinary people out of the remaining crusader states had started. Hope of a Christian recovery was waning.

In 1271, the Teutonic Knights first and mightiest castle, Starkenburg (or Montfort), fell to the Mamluks. It was the same year in which the Hospitallers lost Krak de Chevaliers and the Templars lost Castel Blanc. But Starkenburg was also the Teutonic Knight’s headquarters.  Morton writes:

It appears that the fall of Montfort was turning point in the policy of the Teutonic Knights. It is significant that shortly after the loss of the stronghold, [the Master of the Teutonic knights] Arno [von Sangershausen] created a new castle named Montfort in Prussia. (Morton, p. 125)

Thereafter, no master of the Teutonic Knights spent much time in the Holy Land either. The focus had shifted definitively and finally to the Baltic frontier.

In the final two decades of crusader presence in the Levant, the Teutonic Knights played a cooperative and supportive role, often mediating disputes between other actors, but nothing could stop the juggernaut of Mamluk aggression. When Acre fell in 1291, the Teutonic Knights, like the Templars, died to the last man. The HQ of the Teutonic Knights was moved initially to Venice and a presence was maintained on Cyprus until at least 1300, but before long the HQ moved to Marburg and the Teutonic Knights focus turned exclusively to the Baltic theater.

Principle source: Morton, Nicholas. The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land, 1190-1291. Boydell Press, 2009.

Discover the crusader states at the end of the 12th century in the award-winning series by Dr. Schrader:

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Monday, May 7, 2018

How the Seljuks Crushed the Crusade of 1101

In the aftermath of the Latin acquirement of Jerusalem in 1099, Pope Pashal II launched a follow-up campaign aimed at bolstering the defenses of the newly established Latin States in the Levant. The resulting campaign pitted several Latin armies against the forces of the Seljuks and the Danishmends in Anatolia.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

What Inspired a Knight to Go on Crusade?

Take a look at some interesting quotes from well-known historical figures from the Crusades. What motivated a knight to set out on Crusade? Featuring the song "Siege" from J Stephen Roberts.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Isabella of Spain and the Reconquest of Granada

Real Crusades History presents a full documentary dealing with the epic Crusade to reconquer Granada that took place between 1482 and 1492. Queen Isabel I of Castile, known to history as Isabella of Spain, played a vital role in this long war, helping to organize and inspire the Christian armies that waged crusade against the Moors of Granada.