Raymond of Tripoli, the most powerful baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th century, has always been controversial figure. His independent truce with Saladin in 1186, threatened the very existence of the kingdom at a time when it was surrounded by a resurgent Islam under a masterful general, Saladin. The Templar Grand Master went so far as to accuse Tripoli of conspiring with Saladin for a Saracen victory at the Battle of Hattin. In short, he has been blamed for nothing short of the disaster at Hattin and the loss of the Holy Land to Saladin. Yet, later historians such as Sir Stephen Runciman, have seen in Tripoli a voice of reason, compromise and tolerance -- a positive contrast to the fanaticism of the Templars and recent immigrants from the West such as Guy de Lusignan. Tripoli was the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s “Tiberius” in the Hollywood film “The Kingdom of Heaven.” Today Dr. Schrader weighs the evidence for and against Raymond of Tripoli.
While the Grand Master’s accusations can largely be dismissed as self-serving (the two men detested one another), and Scott’s portrayal is far from fact, even the most reliable and credible chronicler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in this period, William Archbishop of Tyre, has left an ambiguous image. On the whole the Archbishop of Tyre portrays Tripoli in a positive light, yet he also off-handedly suggests that Tripoli was plotting a coup against Baldwin IV in 1180. More recently, revisionist historians intent on challenging the still prevalent portrayal of Reyald de Chatillon as a madman, brute and self-interested rogue, have forcefully come out calling Raymond of Tripoli a "traitor" and the architect of the disaster at Hattin. In their zeal to rehabilitate Chatillon, I believe they overshoot the mark, however. Here is my analysis starting with some background.
The County of Tripoli was created after the liberation of Jerusalem by Raymond Count of Toulouse, one of the most important leaders of the First Crusade. Toulouse was widely believed to have coveted the crown of Jerusalem. When it fell to Godfrey de Bouillon instead, he set about conquering his own kingdom eventually capturing the entire coastal area between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Principality of Antioch. This gave the Latins control of three contiguous states along the shore of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although de jure autonomous, in reality the County of Tripoli did not have the resources to defend itself and so it was always quasi-dependent on the larger, more prosperous neighbors, Antioch and Jerusalem. In return, the Counts of Tripoli usually brought their knights, turcopoles and sergeants to the feudal muster of Jerusalem.
The Raymond of Tripoli under discussion here was the third by that name. His father Raymond II of Tripoli had been Count of Tripoli from 1137 and his mother, Hodiera, was a Princess of Jerusalem, the younger sister of Queen Melisende. However, the marriage was so notoriously turbulent that Queen Melisinde intervened and recommended an amicable separation. In 1152, Raymond II was assassinated, leaving his minor son Raymond III, his heir. The King of Jerusalem served as regent until Raymond came of age, and not long after this, in 1164, Raymond was taken captive by the Saracen leader Nur ad-Din. He was not released for eight years, and became proficient in Arabic while in captivity. It is often imputed by his enemies that it was during this period in captivity that he was "converted" or "coopted" by the the Muslims and in effect became as Saracen "mole" or "sleeper" in the Frankish camp.
When he was set free, it was for a ransom largely contributed by the Knights of St. John, and in exchange for the ransom he gave the Order considerable territory on his western border. Here the Hospitallers built a series of castles including the famous Krak de Chevaliers.
So far, Raymond’s career had not been very auspicious.
In 1174, however, King Amalric died suddenly, leaving his 13 year old son Baldwin as his heir. As the closest male relative of the young king, Raymond of Tripoli was elected, although not immediately, regent. William of Tyre describes him as follows:
He was a slight-built, thin man. He was not very tall and he had dark skin. He had straight hair of medium color and piercing eyes. He carried himself stiffly. He had an orderly mind, was cautious, but acted with vigor.
Contemporary Arab chronicles noted he was highly intelligent, and this was borne out by his sophisticated diplomatic policies in the coming 15 years.
Shortly after becoming regent, Raymond also married for the first time, taking to wife the greatest heiress in the Kingdom, Eschiva, princess of Galilee. She was a widow with four sons by her previous marriage, but William of Tyre explicitly states it was a happy marriage and that Tripoli was on excellent terms with his step-sons. More important, however, the marriage made Tripoli the greatest nobleman inside the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a baron owing 200 knights to the crown. Thus, even after he stepped down as regent when Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, he remained a powerful figure in the kingdom as well as in his own right as Count of Tripoli.
By now, however, it was evident that Baldwin IV was suffering from leprosy and was not going to sire an heir — or live very long. The need to find a replacement was acute. Baldwin had two sisters, the elder of which, Sibylla, was the heir apparent to the throne, but the constitution of Jerusalem dictated that a female heir could only rule jointly with a consort. Sibylla was duly married to a suitable candidate (William Marquis de Montferrat), but he promptly died of malaria, leaving her a young (and pregnant) widow. In 1180, she made a surprise and hasty marriage to a young nobleman only recently arrived in the Holy Land, Guy de Lusignan. There are various versions about why she married Guy (see Sibylla and Guy). The version provided by William of Tyre is that the Prince of Antioch, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel, and Raymond of Tripoli had been planning to marry Ramla to Sibylla and then depose Baldwin IV, so he married his sister off in great haste — only to regret it latter.
Because Tyre is considered such a knowledgeable insider and sober historian, most modern historians accept this version uncritically. I find it flawed in many ways. First, if Tripoli had been intent on power, he was in a far better position to seize it after becoming regent. Secondly, Tyre admits that the trio of lords came to Jerusalem as if to attend Easter Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, and when they found Sibylla already married they went away peaceably — which hardly sounds like the behavior of men intent on a coup d’etat. Most important, Sibylla’s behavior from this point until her death ten years later was that of a woman passionately in love with her husband. Had she in fact been married in haste against her will to a man far beneath her station by a panicked brother, she would probably have been resentful. She would certainly have been receptive to the idea of setting the unwanted husband aside the minute her brother changed his mind. Instead, she clung tenaciously to Guy even when her brother pressed her to divorce him, and later went to great lengths to get her husband crowned king despite the opposition of the entire High Court.
Meanwhile, Baldwin IV was getting weaker. He briefly made Guy his regent in the hope of being able to retire from the world and prepare to face God, but Guy was such an unmitigated disaster that Baldwin was forced to take the reins of government back into his decaying hands. He then took the precaution of having his nephew (Sibylla’s son by William de Montferrat) crowned co-king as Baldwin V, and the High Court (i.e. his peers) selected Raymond of Tripoli to be regent after Baldwin IV’s death. The latter occurred in 1185, and Raymond duly became regent of Jerusalem a second time. He explicitly refused to be the guardian of the young king, however, arguing that if anything happened to the boy he would be accused of have done away with him.
Clearly some people thought him capable of murdering the young king, and Arab sources suggest that he already coveted the crown, but no one suggests that, in fact, he did murder the young king, who was in Sibylla’s not Raymond’s custody when he died in August 1186. What followed instead was not Tripoli's usurpation by Sibylla's, which left the crusader states in the hands of a completely incompetent man -- her husband Guy.
Raymond’s refusal to pay homage to Guy de Lusignan was completely comprehensible under the circumstances. His separate peace with Saladin, on the other hand, was just as clearly treason because it endangered not just he usurper Guy but every man, woman and child in the crusader states. This separate peace is what modern historians point to when calling Tripoli a traitor. But it is not the end of the story.
In Tripoli's defense, however, he soon saw the error of his ways. When Saladin requested a "safe-conduct" for a “reconnaissance patrol” to pass through Tripoli's lands of Galilee, Tripoli felt compelled to grant the request -- but warned his fellow Franks to leave the patrol in peace. The Saracen "reconnaissance patrol" was, however, a provocation that the Master of the Knights Templar felt honor-bound to meet. An combined attack by Templar, Hospitaller and civilian knights led by the Templar Grand Master resulted in a Frankish defeat from which only three Templars escaped. The sight of Templar and Hospitaller heads spiked on the tips of Saracen lances so distressed Raymond that he acceded to the pleas of the Baron of Ibelin and made peace with Guy de Lusignan. He did homage to the usurper as his king, and was received the kiss of peace from Guy. This is a very significant concession on both parts, and underlines how great Tripoli's remorse was.
The problem was that while Raymond’s action (and the abrogation of his treaty with Saladin) healed the fracture of the kingdom, it did not transform Guy de Lusignan into a competent leader. Raymond of Tripoli dutifully brought his troops to the feudal muster called by Lusignan in late June 1187, and he followed Lusignan’s orders, even though he vehemently disagreed with them. The catastrophe of Hattin was not of Raymond’s making; it was Guy de Lusignan and Grand Master of the Temple between them who had engineered the unnecessary defeat. (See Hattin.)
Trapped on the Horns of Hattin, Raymond of Tripoli led a successful charge through the Saracen lines. There is nothing even faintly cowardly or treacherous about this action. On the contrary, a massed charge of heavy cavalry was the most effective tactic the Franks had against the Saracens. It was the tactic used by Richard the Lionheart to win at Arsuf. It was not the charge that discredited Tripoli, but the fact that so few men broke out with him, and apparently no infantry was able to reinforce the breakout. That, however, was hardly Tripoli’s fault. He spearheaded the attack with is knights. It was the duty of the King to reinforce his shock-troops. Something Guy de Lusignan singularly failed to do.
So the Kingdom of Jerusalem was lost, and Raymond of Tripoli retreated to his county to die within a few months by all accounts a broken man.
In summary, Raymond of Tripoli was a highly intelligent, well-educated and competent man, who as regent and Count of Tripoli ruled prudently and effectively. Yet he was condemned to watch as a parvenu usurper led the crusader states to an avoidable disaster. It is hardly any wonder that he harbored thoughts of seizing the throne himself when the alternative, as history was to show, was to leave it in the hands of a man so totally unsuited to wear a crown. If Tripoli was a traitor, it was for the right reasons: to save the kingdom from destruction. For me he more a tragic figure than a traitorous one.
Dr Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is the author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction, including a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin.