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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Lusignan Siege of Acre

In the history of the Holy Land there were many sieges of Acre. During the crusader era the most famous was the last siege in 1291 that marked the end of the crusader states and the swansong the crusades to the Holy Land. One hundred years earlier, however, Acre had been the setting for the first military engagement of the Third Crusade -- and of a massacre that has blotted Richard the Lionheart's record (rightly or wrongly) ever since. That 12th century siege, however, was not started by the leaders of the Third Crusade. Rather they "inherited" it from the strategist that gave us the Frankish humiliation of Hattin: Guy de Lusignan.  Today Helena P. Schrader looks at how Guy de Lusignan came to establish the siege of Acre and the consequences of it.





In August 1189 a Frankish army under the command of King Guy of Jerusalem laid siege to the city of Acre.  Once the economic heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Acre had surrendered to the Saracens just days after the Battle of Hattin, and by August 1189 it was garrisoned by Egyptian troops fiercely loyal to the Sultan Salah ad-Din. 
Located deep inside Saracen held territory, the siege of Acre was maintained largely by reinforcements arriving by sea, and the siege camp was itself encircled on land by the armies of Salah ad-Din, so that the besiegers were themselves besieged. The siege was to last two full years and cost tens of thousands of Christian lives. According to the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, one of the most important contemporary accounts, the siege cost Christendom the Patriarch of Jerusalem, six archbishops, twelve bishops, forty counts, and five hundred barons. It also cost Jerusalem a queen and two princesses, all of whom also died of fever in the siege camp. While there are no reliable sources for the number of commoners lost, such high casualties among the privileged elites (that could afford the best armor, accommodation and food even in times of scarcity) suggests that tens of thousands of ordinary people -- fighting men, clergy and camp followers -- were lost in the siege of Acre. They died in combat, from disease and even starvation.

Furthermore, although both sides repeatedly launched assaults against the other, all were ultimately defeated at high cost. Between these major battles, small scale skirmishing occurred almost on a daily basis, causing continuous attrition. Ultimately, however, disease, deprivation, and unsanitary conditions accounted for the lion’s share of the casualties. Even after the arrival of large crusading forces under the kings of England and France (the Third Crusade), victory was not achieved by offensive action, but rather through a naval blockade that cut the Saracen garrison off from supplies and reinforcements. The garrison at Acre surrendered and received terms rather than being crushed by Christian arms. In short, the history of the Siege of Acre is a grim tale of stalemate reminiscent of the horrible trench warfare of WWI.

And just like WWI, one wonders if it was worth the sacrifice made and if at any time the siege made military sense?

The Siege of Acre was the “brainchild” of the man who gave us the catastrophe at Hatttin: Guy de Lusignan. Furthermore, it was apparently undertaken by default more than design. After losing the Battle of Hattin, surrendering to Saladin and then swearing to depart the Holy Land and never take up arms against Islam again in order to secure his release, Guy de Lusignan went first to Tripoli and then Antioch. Here Guy spent a year doing we know not what before deciding to break his oath to Saladin (with the blessings of the Christian church, which argued he had made the oath under duress) and return to his own kingdom. 

Guy's kingdom by this point in time consisted of only a single city, Tyre, which had been saved from ignominious surrender by the timely arrival of Conrad de Montferrat. So Guy left Antioch with a body of several hundred knights and several thousand foot soldiers, all volunteers prepared to support Guy regain the kingdom he had squandered at Hattin – or, more probably, volunteers dedicated to the recapture of Jerusalem, even if that meant following Guy de Lusignan. Guy went naturally to his only remaining city with the intention of making it his base of operations.

 On arrival in Tyre, however, Conrad de Montferrat flatly refused to admit him to the city and furthermore refused to acknowledge him as king at all. Montferrat reasoned Lusignan had 1) forfeited his kingdom with his defeat at Hattin, and 2) renounced it to obtain his release from captivity. This turn of events had not been anticipated by Guy and took him by surprise. Allegedly, Guy was at a complete loss about what to do, and implicitly prepared to just go back to Antioch with his tail between his legs.
Guy’s older brother Geoffrey is credited with convincing him to take the offensive instead. Geoffrey was the second of the four Lusignan brothers. The eldest brother Hugh “le Brun” was Lord of the March and Lusignan, a vassal of the Plantagenets.  The third brother was Aimery, Constable of Jerusalem and like Guy a former captive of Saladin. Guy was the fourth and youngest of the Lusignan brothers of this generation.  Hugh would arrive later in the train of Richard of England with a significant crusader contingent, and Aimery was already with Guy. Geoffrey, the second of the four Lusignan brothers, appears to have been too impatient to await the ponderous collection of the entire crusader host. He rushed out to the Holy Land to join his younger brothers well before the departure of his elder brother with the men of Lusignan. 

Geoffrey may have been impulsive and impatient by nature. Before coming on crusade, he was credited with leading a Lusignan attack on Eleanor of Aquitaine that resulted in the murder of the Earl of Salisbury (See Guy de Lusignan). In this incident, Guy is sometimes blamed for wielding the fatal lance, but Geoffrey as the elder brother was the man who made the decision to attack the unarmed and unsuspecting troop with the Queen of England. In any case, in August of 1189 Geoffrey de Lusignan had only recently arrived in the Holy Land. His proposal to lay siege to Acre may, therefore, have been either merely impulsive or based on ignorance because it is hard to imagine a military reason for the selection of Acre as a target.

To be sure, taking offensive action made sense. Jerusalem was never going to be recovered by defensive actions alone. By August 1189, it was more than two years since the disaster at Hattin and fighting men committed to regaining the Holy Land for Christendom were spoiling for a fight. They were tired of being cooped up in Tyre and anxious to start fighting back. This is well illustrated by the attempt to retake Sidon just two months earlier. (See Jerusalem FightsBack)

The difference between the campaign to take Sidon and Lusignan’s siege of Acre, however, is that Sidon lay between the two Frankish strongholds of Tyre and Tripoli. Recapturing Sidon and the coast between Tyre and Sidon (and presumably between Sidon and Tripoli) would have extended Frankish control to a continuous coastal strip, greatly increasing the strategic and economic viability of remaining Frankish territory. Acre on the other hand was even farther from Tripoli and Antioch than Tyre and, as the course of events show, rapidly isolated. 

Some historians have argued that Acre’s port was particularly valuable, which is certainly true, and that the riches that could be garnered from a port would have supported many “money fiefs,” which is also true. But given its isolation, its excellent defenses and the size and loyalty of the garrison holding it for Saladin, these arguments for selecting Acre as a target seem less than compelling.  Rather, the siege of Acre was a tactical blunder by a man (Guy de Lusignan) who never evidenced a shred of military acumen.

The Siege of Acre is an important event described in Envoy of Jerusalem.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Baronial Scholars of Outremer

 It is still common for people today to believe (and tell others) that most noblemen and knights in “the Middle Ages” were illiterate. Even authors of otherwise quite credible historical fiction make this assumption about their knightly and even noble characters. In reality, the noblemen of Outremer were not only literate, many of them spoke multiple languages -- including a command of written Arabic, Latin and Greek as well as the vernacular French, some were themselves composers of lyrics and poetry, and many more were highly sophisticated scholars and jurists.
Find out more about the Baronial Scholars of Outremer in this article 
by Helena P. Schrader
 


Kenneth Setton notes in Volume IV of his comprehensive "A History of the Crusades," for example, that a number of noblemen from Outremer distinguished themselves as translators of Arabic into French. He names specifically Renard de Sagette of Sidon, Baldwin d'Ibelin, Yves le Breton, and Stephen of Antioch. The latter, for example, translated the medical texts of the Arab physician Ali ibn Abbas. (See Setton, Kenneth M. ed, A History of the Crusades, Volume 4: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States, University of Wisconsin Press, 1977, p. 21.)

The court-system in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, meanwhile, required both jurors and counselors at every trial and these men were all drawn from the knightly class. They all had to be versed in the law and capable of entering and refuting pleas, of debating, deliberating and rendering judgement based on a legal opinion.  Indeed, every knight in the realm had the right to sit in the High Court and deliberate on such existential issues as the selection of regents, taxes and treaties. They were expected to know the law, and that meant reading about it.



Even more extraordinary, in the mid-13th century, an entire school of legal scholars evolved that wrote no less than seven books on legal issues and six other scholarly works. These men, none of whom were in Holy Orders and all of whom held fiefs, fought with sword and lance on horseback, and commanded troops, wrote histories, books of poems, philosophical works and legal discourses. Riley-Smith goes so far as to write: “Perhaps the greatest monument to the western settlers in Palestine, finer even than the cathedrals and castles still dominating the landscape, is the law-book of John of Jaffa, which…is one of the great works of thirteenth-century thought.” (The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277, Jonathan Riley-Smith, Macmillan Press, 1973, p. 230.) 

These books were not, however, merely philosophical or scholarly. They were also meant a practical handbooks for the ordinary knight and burgher involved in litigation, for his counselors and jurors. Thus, in addition to discussing the theories and issues, these books provided practical advice on the procedures for filing cases, how to protect witnesses, how to answer an opponent and test his evidence, the importance of using the right words ― even how to use the law to one’s advantage!


Moving from the abstract to the specific, let me introduce you to some of the most prominent among them:

 

Royal Wisdom:


Arguably the first of the great jurists of Jerusalem was none other than Aimery de Lusignan, the elder brother of the incompetent Guy de Lusignan (who usurped a crown only to lose the kingdom less than a year later). Aimery was a very different man than Guy, notably popular with the same barons who detested his brother. He had been in the Holy Land since about 1175. He was named Constable of the Kingdom by Baldwin IV in 1182. He fought and was taken captive at Hattin. Released in 1188, he joined the siege of Acre in 1189 and fought throughout the Third Crusade. In 1193, he joined his brother on Cyprus, and after Guy’s death he succeeded him as lord. He negotiated with the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor to make Cyprus a Kingdom within the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1196 was granted the title of King of Cyprus. In late 1197, after the death of Henri de Champagne, he was selected by the High Court of Jerusalem as the fourth husband if Isabella of Jerusalem and in January 1198, he was crowned in Acre.


Between 1198 and his death in 1205, King Aimery either wrote (or commissioned the writing) of a book intended to capture all known laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been lost when Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187. It is questionable whether the laws of Jerusalem had really been neatly written down, sealed and stored in the vaults of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but this was what contemporaries claimed. Certainly, when Aimery set out to collect and transcribe the laws of his kingdom, he was working from oral records based on a consensus of what people remembered about the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during its first century of existence. Throughout the twelfth century, those laws had been evolving largely through practical necessity, but from this point onwards there was a clear point of reference: Aimery de Lusignan's “Livre au roi” ― the Book of the King.

The “three wisest men this side of the sea”


After Aimery (who is revered more for compiling than analyzing or interpreting the law), came three men who in subsequent generations were revered as exceptionally wise. These were:



·      Ralph of Tiberias – the Socrates of the Barons. Ralph was a son the Prince of Galilee, a step-son of Raymond of Tripoli. He had fought at Hattin but escaped with Tripoli rather than falling into Saracen captivity. He participated in the siege of Acre, and in 1194 was named Seneschal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a position he held for the next thirty years. Like the real Socrates, he passed on his wisdom in oral form to the next generation of jurists rather than writing himself, but by the mid-thirteenth century he was viewed by his successors as “the finest jurist there had ever been in the kingdom.” (Riley-Smith, p. 157.)



·    John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut ― “The Old Lord of Beirut.” John was the eldest son of Balian d’Ibelin. He had been no more than eight years old when the Kingdom had been lost at Hattin, including his home and inheritance at Ibelin. He spent the next five years in considerable uncertainty in Tyre, while his father and the other surviving lords fought to regain the Kingdom. In 1192, his father was granted the small lordship of Caymont, but the Ibelins never seemed to identify with it. John was appointed Constable of Jerusalem in or about 1198 by Aimery de Lusignan, but he traded the office for the newly conquered lordship of Beirut. Here he built a magnificent palace much admired by visitors. While Beirut was his principle base of power, he also held extensive fiefs (unnamed) on Cyprus, also from Aimery de Lusignan. John of Beirut was the leader of the baronial revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor and his lieutenants, which was based strictly (at least initially) on a point of law, i.e that the King of Jerusalem did not have the right to “lay hand on vassal or his property without a judgement of the High Court.” According to Riley-Smith, John of Beirut enjoyed such prestige in later years that his opinions effectively decided cases. (Riley-Smith, p. 123).



·   Balian of Sidon. Balian was the son of Reginald (also Reynald/Renaud) of Sidon, an important baron in the later half of the twelfth century, and his wife Helvis d’Ibelin, Balian d’Ibelin’s eldest daughter. Reginald had escaped Hattin and for a period defied Saladin at his castle Belfort, but he was eventually forced to surrender Belfort after being seized and tortured by Saladin. Allegedly, as an act of remorse, Saladin restored a portion of his barony to him, and King Aimery restored the rest after it had been recaptured in 1197, which is interesting as Sidon had been a staunch opponent of Guy de Lusignan.



The Writers of Legal Wisdom


·       Philip of Novara. His origins are obscure and he is used as an example of how a man could make a fortune through legal scholarship and practice. Eventually he held a fief on Cyprus from the Ibelins, but his fame rests on his literary works. He wrote a history of the war between the barons and Friedrich the II, poetry, philosophy and a legal tract on “how to plea.”



·   John of Jaffa: The Plato of the Barons. John was the son of Philip d’Ibelin, Balian d’Ibelin’s second son, who had been regent of Cyprus 1218 – 1227. He fought with his uncle against the Emperor, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Casal Imbert. In 1241 he acquired the old Ibelin fief of Ramla, and in 1247 was granted the County of Jaffa and Ascalon. He spent much of the rest of his life trying to defend that exposed fief on the borderland. He took part in Louis IX’s crusade against Egypt. And he is the man described by Jean de Joinville in his account of the crusade as follows: “He arrived most nobly of all, for his galley came painted below the waterline and above with escutcheons of his arms ― or a cross paté gules. He had at least 300 oarsmen in his galley….As he approached it seemed as though his galley flew as the oarsmen drove it forward….” (Joinville, Life of St. Louis, Chapt. 4) I think we can safely say he was not particularly humble, but maybe he had no need to be. He is also the author of the book sited above as the most impressive legacy of the Kingdom of Jerusalem!



·       Geoffrey le Tor. Like Philip, a man of knightly rather than baronial estate, his family held property in and near Acre in the twelfth century, and he later received a fief on Cyprus from King Henry I. He was also chamberlain in the Kingdom of Cyprus, and twice served as ambassador to the Holy See. He is credited with writing one of the seven surviving books on legal practices.



The Others


Lest you think this a paltry number of men to make my claim that most of the knightly class were well-educated and highly literate, the above are the leaders, but the following men are also recorded as being notable and respected jurists among an even wider class of jurors and counselors including men of bourgeois origins: Renier and Arneis of Gibelet, Rostain Aimer, Reynald Forson, Paul of Nablus, Philip Lebel, William Raymond, Philip of Baisdoin, Raymond of Conches, Raymond and Nicholas of Antiaumes, and James Vidal.  Riley-Smith argues that “the practice of law was a route to fame and status in the Latin East.” (Riley-Smith, p. 124).



I hope I have laid to rest any remaining doubts about whether the barons and knights of Jerusalem were illiterate and uneducated brutes….




Recommended Reading: Riley Smith, Jonathan, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174 – 1277, MacMillan, 1973.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Diastrous Queen: Sibylla of Jerusalem - Part II

Last week I described the many disappointments of Princess Sibylla's early life -- from the banishment of her mother and the death of her first husband to being twice jilted by European noblemen. Today we pick up her story in 1180.
Sibylla from "The Kingdom of Heaven
Sibylla was now 20 years of age and had been a widow for three years. Two noblemen from Europe had jilted her, and one had been rejected on her behalf by the High Court of Jerusalem. Her name was apparently associated with the Baron of Ramla, who had set aside his first wife (according to Ernoul) to be able to marry her, but there had been no official announcement of a betrothal. Then, abruptly at Easter 1180, only weeks after Burgundy’s decision could have been made known to her, she married the landless, fourth son of the Lord of Lusignan, Guy.



Guy de Lusignan was newly arrived in the Holy Land, probably arriving at much the same time as the news that Burgundy was not coming. Meanwhile, Ramla was in Constantinople trying to raise his ransom. Shortly before Easter, according to William of Tyre, and shortly after the news of Burgundy’s default on his promise, King Baldwin learned that Prince Bohemond of Antioch and the Count of Tripoli had entered the kingdom with an army. According to Tyre, Baldwin became so terrified that they had come to lay claim to his kingdom that he “hastened his sister’s marriage” to a man that Tyre patently describes unworthy of her (Guy de Lusignan), adding pompously “acting on impulse causes harm to everything.”

With all due respect for the Archbishop of Tyre, his explanation of Sybilla’s marriage to Guy makes no sense at all. Antioch and Tripoli were Baldwin’s closest relatives on his father’s side. They had been bulwarks of his reign up to now, Tripoli had served as his regent, and they continued to be his supporters to his death. Baldwin himself chose Tripoli to act as regent again for his nephew. There is no trace of evidence — except this speculation by Tyre — of treason on their part at any time during Baldwin IV’s life. Even Tyre admits that they “completed their religious devotions in the normal way” and returned home without the least fuss upon learning that Sibylla was already married. That’s hardly the way men intending a coup d’etat would have reacted. In short, they probably came to Jerusalem for Easter and, despite having large entourages with them (as nobles of the period were wont to have), they never posed any threat to the king.

A far better explanation of what happened is offered by the much-maligned Ernoul. He claims that Guy de Lusignan seduced Sibylla, that Baldwin threatened to hang him for “debauching” a Princess of Jerusalem, and was then persuaded by his mother (the highly influential but self-serving and far from intelligent Agnes de Courtenay) and the tears of his sister to relent and allow Sibylla to marry Guy. This explanation of events makes perfect sense and appears borne out by Sibylla’s subsequent behavior. Sibylla had just been jilted for a second time. She was probably feeling very sorry for herself and may even have been wondering if something was “wrong” with her.  Ramla may have been his own choice for her husband rather than hers--or he might just have been too far away at a critical moment. Suddenly, there was a dashing, handsome young nobleman who was paying court to her, flattering her, making love to her. She fell for him. Not a terribly unusual thing for a 20 year old girl, who was no virgin but a widow and mother. 



The evidence that Guy was Sibylla’s choice and not her brother’s is provided by subsequent events. Within three years, Baldwin IV was desperately trying to find a way to annul her marriage while Sibylla was doing everything she could to prevent it. Had Sibylla been forced into a dynastic marriage by her brother in 1180, she would have been just as willingly talked into a dynastic divorce in 1183/1184. She was not.

What is more, by the time her brother and young son by Montferrat were dead, it was obvious that virtually the entire High Court, secular and sacred, mistrusted her husband Guy and did not want to see him crowned king beside her. Bernard Hamilton in his excellent history of Baldwin’s reign, The Leper King and his Heirs, admits that even sources favorable to Guy de Lusignan admit that Sibylla’s supporters “required her to divorce Guy before they would recognize her as queen.” (The Leper King, p. 218.) Sibylla reportedly agreed to divorce Guy but asked that she be allowed to choose her next husband. This was agreed to. She then proceeded to choose Guy as her next husband. By clinging to Guy as her husband and consort, she alienated not only the barons and bishops already opposed to her but also those who had loyally supported her on the condition she divorce Guy. Again, these are hardly the actions of a woman in a dynastic marriage, but very much the actions of a woman desperately in love with her man.



Normally, it is admirable for a wife to be devoted to her husband, as church chroniclers were quick to point out. For a queen, however, clinging to an unpopular man at the expense of alienating her entire nobility is neither intelligent nor wise.

Furthermore, it is rare for a man to provoke so much unanimous opposition and animosity as Guy de Lusignan. Even if we cannot fully fathom it today, there is no reason to think that hostility was baseless. On the contrary, Guy proved all his opponents right when within a year of usurping the throne (since he was never approved by the High Court he was not legally King of Jerusalem), he had lost roughly 17,000 Christian fighting men (the flower of Jerusalem’s Christian manhood!) at an avoidable defeat on the Horns of Hattin and, worse, lost the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem with it! Guy himself, furthermore, was a captive of Saladin, yet he ordered Ascalon to surrender to Saladin (when it might well have resisted), then promised Saladin never to take up arms against him again only to break his promise and lay siege to Muslim Acre. Guy had few if any redeeming characteristics, but that is getting ahead of the story.

In September of 1187, Sibylla found herself trapped in Jerusalem as the rest of the Kingdom crumbled before Saladin’s onslaught for lack of defenders because her husband had led them all into death and slavery. She was the reigning, crowned and anointed Queen, and she did nothing — except beg to be allowed to join her husband in captivity! A queen? Asking to be allowed to go into enemy captivity? This is more than a gesture of love, it is evidence of Sibylla’s utter stupidity and lack of sense.

Saladin naturally granted Sibylla the right to join her husband in captivity — what better way to ensure that his enemies were completely in his hands? Meanwhile, the defense of the last remnants of her kingdom fell to her former brother-in-law, Conrad de Montferrat, the younger brother of her first husband in Tyre, and the Baron of Ibelin in Jerusalem.

But Sibylla’s devotion to Guy was not broken even by the humiliation of captivity. When he was released, she joined him at the siege of Acre. While the Christians surrounded Muslim-controlled Acre, Saladin’s forces surrounded the Christian besiegers, hemming them in and cutting off all supplies except by sea. Deplorable conditions reigned, including acute hunger at times and, eventually, disease. Yet Sibylla, crowned Queen of Jerusalem, preferred to be with her beloved Guy than in any way act the part of queen. She paid the price. She died of fever with both her children by Guy in the squalor of the siege camp before Acre in 1190. She was 30 years old.

She shares the blame for losing the Holy Land with Guy de Lusignan because it was her stupidity and stubbornness that left the kingdom in the hands of an incompetent and despised man. At no time in her life did she show even a flicker of responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of Christians entrusted to her or a shred of royal dignity. Had she been a baker’s daughter and a butcher’s wife her devotion to her husband might have been admirable; as a queen she was a tragic clown. 


Sibylla plays a major role in my Jerusalem Trilogy:



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