Sunday, September 25, 2016

Chivalry and Balian d'Ibelin: Love

Whereas prowess has been a manly virtue since the start of time, the idea that loving (as opposed to abducting, mastering, humiliating, controlling, abusing, subjugating etc.) a woman was a manly virtue that increased a man's stature among men is arguably the most remarkable aspect of chivalry altogether.  Indeed, love for a lady became a central -- if not the central -- concept of chivalry in literature.

Significantly, the chivalric notion of love was that it must be mutual, voluntary, and exclusive – on both sides.  The troubadours of the Age of Chivalry put love for another man’s wife on an equal footing with love for one’s own -- but only provided the lady returned the sentiment. The most famous of all adulterous lovers in the age of chivalry were, of course, Lancelot and Guinevere, closely followed by Tristan and Iseult. Yet, in the tradition of chivalry, love could also occur between husband and wife. In fact, some of the most influential romances such as Erec et Enide by Chr├ętien de Troyes or Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival revolve in part or in whole around the love of a married couple.

Balian's relationship with his wife Maria Comnena is one of the features of his life that attracted me to him as a worthy subject of a novel. Maria Comnena came from the most exalted royal family in Christendom, the Imperial family of the Eastern (Greek or Byzantine) Roman Empire. As such, she had been deemed fit to marry the King of Jerusalem himself, and came to Jerusalem as a bride of 12 or 13 years old. She was anointed Queen of Jerusalem at the time of her marriage to King Amalric. 

She was no more than 22 or 23 years old at the time of his death, and received the immensely wealthy and strategically important barony of Nablus as her dower portion. That is, she held Nablus for as long as she lived but it reverted to the crown at her death; she could not pass it on to heirs or bequeath it at will. Nablus was a center of manufacturing, known for its perfumes and soaps. It also owed 80 knights to the feudal army. It was, in short, more than sufficient to support a woman in luxury and security. Maria Comnena had no need to remarry and the customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not permit a widow to be coerced into a second marriage. Officially, the king was supposed to "suggest" three candidates and the widow was supposed to choose between them, but the law was consistently ignored from Antioch to Kerak. In short, Maria Comnena had no need to remarry and if she did, she did so voluntarily to the man of her choice. She chose Balian d'Ibelin.

At the time of their marriage, Balian was the younger son of a crusader, who had slowly worked his way up through loyal service to the rank of baron and then married an heiress, Helvis of Ramla (Balian's mother). Balian's elder brother had inherited the paternal and maternal lands and titles, and held three fiefs: Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel. Of these, the joint barony of Ramla and Mirabel was the significantly more significant and lucrative. In short, Balian was a landless knight. 

For a Dowager Queen and Byzantine Princess to choose a landless knight as her second husband was nothing short of scandalous -- if not unprecedented. Constance, Princess of Antioch had chosen the adventurer Reynald de Chatillon, and Sibylla, Princess of Jerusalem, would later choose the landless Guy de Lusignan. Nevertheless, as in the other two cases, the choice of a landless man underscores the fact that the lady was not marrying for wealth and status (both of which she already had) but rather from love. 

Obviously, Balian's motives may well have been far more material -- at last at the time of the wedding. He certainly has left us no record of what he felt towards her, and none of his contemporaries commented on it either. Nevertheless, whether he loved her from the start or not, there is considerable evidence that he came to love her deeply.
First, although their own four children hardly count given the pressure to produce heirs, the fact that Balian is credited with having a powerful influence on Maria’s child by her first marriage, Isabella, is significant.  Since Isabella was a princess and of higher rank (i.e. she had no need not take any note of him0, her respect for him suggests he had been a good surrogate father to her – something that is unlikely if he had not been close to Maria. The family was furthermore a close-knit family, in which all the children supported one another closely -- again something indicative of a good marriage, which provides children with a living example of love.   

Second, and more dramatically, Balian did not abandon his wife to her fate (as most of his contemporaries did) after the defeat at Hattin. Instead, he took the unprecedented step of requesting a safe-conduct from Saladin to remove her from Jerusalem before the impending siege could begin. Such a step took an unusual kind of courage and commitment since the defenses of the kingdom were shattered and Saladin held all the cards. It was also very risky: first going to Saladin, and then crossing Saracen-held territory unarmed.  

Third, after the surrender of Jerusalem, Balian rejoined his wife and they worked together to regain some of what had been lost -- so much so that hostile chroniclers describe them as a team, alike to one another. They certainly are described working together to secure an annulment of Isabella's marriage to Humphrey of Toron. Cooperative work is, in my eyes, likewise a mark of a good marriage.

Last but not least, it seems unlikely that Maria, who had a choice, would have remained so loyal to a man beneath her station, if she had not felt loved. It is one thing to marry in infatuated haste, but had Balian proved an indifferent much less an unpleasant spouse as the years went by, Maria could have withdraw to her estates or all the way to Constantinople.  She did not. Instead, she stayed with Balian through the worst years of defeat and desperation.

Maria and Balian are the central characters, and their loving relationship a key feature, of all three novels of the Jerusalem Trilogy:

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Chivalry and Balian d'Ibelin: Prowess

Prowess or physical courage is probably the most ancient of all manly virtues; one need only think of Achilles and Hector. It was admired in men long before and long after the Age of Chivalry, and it is deemed the prime adornment and most important asset of men in nearly every culture from the native American indians to Japan and from the Norsemen to the highlands of Ethiopia. The romances of the age could be summarized as tales of "brave knights and fair ladies."

Balian’s courage is one of the few chivalrous virtues for which we have ample evidence. Even the Arab sources mention his military prowess, starting with the Battle of Montgisard. He is also credited with fighting his way out of the encirclement at Hattin – according to some interpretations with Raymond of Tripoli, according to others breaking out in the other direction. At all events, he fought his way out after hours of being in the thick of the grueling engagement.  When he took command of the defenses of Jerusalem, he did not remain behind the walls, but first conducted dangerous foraging sorties into the surrounding area controlled by the enemy in order to capture necessary food supplies. After the siege began, he led a nearly suicidal assault on the Saracen camp.  Balian d’Ibelin had physical (as well as moral) courage in abundance.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chivalry and Balian d'Ibelin: Righteousness

Righteousness in the context of the chivalry can best be described as a strong sense of right and wrong. It is about having a conscience and following it. On one level, morality was of course defined by Christianity, but in the highly legalistic societies of Western Europe it was also about "justice." Nobles and knights were the king's deputies and the executors of his justice. As such, knights were expected to enforce the law, contribute to the maintenance of law and order, and ensure justice in the abstract by recognizing and acting upon what was right and opposing that which was wrong/unjust -- even in the absence of specific laws and customs.

While it is hard to know the motives for actions, we can say with certainty that there is no recorded incident in which Balian d'Ibelin is known to have acted from base motives. He did not break treaties as Reynald de Chatillon did, nor did he usurp a crown as Guy de Lusignan did. He treated with Saladin as a devout Christian, never pretending (as Reginald de Sidon and Raymond de Tripoli allegedly did) that he wanted to convert.  More important, there is positive evidence of Balian d'Ibelin's righteousness: first, his decision to take command of the defense of Jerusalem in 1187, and second the Treaty of Ramla. 

In 1187, when Balian d'Ibelin came to Jerusalem on a safe-conduct from Saladin to remove his family to the comparative safety of Tyre, he could have chosen to stick to the letter of his agreement with Saladin. He could have remained only a single night and left the next day with his wife, children and household. He could have abandoned a city of roughly 20,000 inhabitants flooded with a further 60,000 refugees but without significant numbers of fighting men to the avowed vengeance of Saladin. That he instead agreed to take command of a hopeless defense -- although this meant that his own wife and children were put at risk -- strongly suggests that his sense of responsibility to others outweighed his personal desires. Perhaps that isn't the same thing as righteousness, but I think it is fair to equate the two. Balian had a choice and he chose not to do what was in his personal interest, but rather in the interest of others. 

Again, when negotiating the Treaty of Ramla that ended the Third Crusade, Balian placed the interests of the majority of inhabitants ahead of his personal interests. In August 1192 Richard of England was determined to return to the West and the French were no longer taking orders from Richard in any case. In short, the crusade was disintegrating. Although Saladin's troops were tired and demoralized, the Sultan still held the better cards. Convincing him to sign a truce was certainly a diplomatic coup, and it is significant that Balian did not endanger the desperately-needed pause in the fighting by trying to regain his own barony of Ibelin -- although it was just 13 miles south of Jaffa, which Saladin granted to the Christians. The temptation to try to include it must have been almost unbearable, but rather than risk the peace Balian surrendered his own inheritance and source of wealth. 

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Chivarly and Balian d'Ibelin: Loyalty

In the medieval context, the concept of loyalty was interpreted primarily as hierarchical loyalty to one's lord: a vassal to his liege, a servant to his master, a son to his father, a wife to her husband. While not unconditional and (as I have noted elsewhere) based on reciprocal obligations, medieval loyalty was nevertheless more comprehensive and consuming than modern notions. Loyalty was expected "unto death" with very few exceptions. Collateral loyalty -- to siblings, comrades, companions and compatriots -- was more similar to what we know today, i.e. was more voluntary and less binding. However, for a tenant-in-chief to the crown, as Ibelin was, the defining loyalty was that to the king.

The test of Balian d'Ibelin's loyalty to the crown came after the death of Baldwin V of Jerusalem; up to that time he like the bulk of his contemporaries was steadfastly loyal to the kings of Jerusalem. On the death of the child-king Baldwin V, Sibylla, the eldest of the two surviving children of King Amalric I and mother of Baldwin V, was the most obvious candidate to succeed to the throne. Unfortunately, she was married to a man who had lost the trust and respect of almost the entire High Court of Jerusalem. To gain support for her coronation, Sibylla promised to divorce the mistrusted Guy on the condition that she be allowed to marry the man of her choosing thereafter. Her supporters agreed to this condition, only for her to betray them by naming Guy de Lusignan as the man of her choice. With the help of the Patriarch and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, she had herself crowned Queen of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then crowned Guy as her consort. 

The problem was that the constitution of Jerusalem gave to the High Court of Jerusalem the prerogative of electing the monarch, and Sibylla had by-passed the High Court. Without the consent of the High Court, she and Guy were usurpers. The High Court attempted to crown her younger sister instead of her, only to be betrayed by her sister's husband. who refused to play the role of consort to his wife. At this point the opposition of most of the barons collapsed, and Guy and Sibylla were recognized as de facto King and Queen. 

Two barons, however, refused to accept the usurpation. One was Raymond of Tripoli, who promptly signed a separate peace with Saladin. The other was Baldwin d'Ibelin, Balian's older brother. The elder Ibelin renounced his two baronies in favor of his son, turned this infant son over to the keeping of his younger brother and left the kingdom voluntarily. Balian, in contrast, placed the interests of the kingdom over his personal pride; he took the oath of fealty to the hated Guy de Lusignan. Not only that, but he was one of the intermediaries sent to reconcile Tripoli with Lusignan, and after the death of two of the others, the main spokesman. 

An even greater indication of his loyalty was that despite his reservations about Guy de Lusignan's leadership, he dutifully mustered his feudal levees and his knights when Guy summoned them less than a year later. Most significantly, when Guy overrode the advice of his barons and ordered the advance on Tiberias, Ibelin commanded the rear-guard of the Christian army that marched -- against his better judgement -- to destruction on the Horns of Hattin. 

It was not until after the death of Sibylla of Jerusalem, when Lusignan lost his last shadow of a claim to the throne, that Balian abandoned Lusignan. Following Sibylla's death, Ibelin's loyalty turned to the last remaining blood descendant of the royal family, the only surviving child of King Amalric, Isabella. But Balian's loyalty to Isabella was not mindless or blind. Because she was married to a man incapable of defending the kingdom, Ibelin led the faction of barons that insisted Isabella be separated from her ineffectual (and allegedly effeminate) husband before taking an oath to her. Only after she had been divorced from Humphrey de Toron and married to Conrad de Montferrat did the barons of Jerusalem, including Balian d'Ibelin, take an oath of fealty to her. Ibelin remained loyal to this oath despite Richard the Lionheart's fierce and tenacious support for Guy de Lusignan. 

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