Friday, March 25, 2016

Cast of Characters 7: The Better King - Aimery de Lusignan

Today I continue my series of short biographies featuring the historical figures who play a role in my biographical novels of Balian d'Ibelin. Two weeks ago, I introduced readers to Guy de Lusignan's elder brother and left him in a Saracen dungeon. Today, I look at the second half of Aimery de Lusignan's life, in which he demonstrated greater competence than his more famous younger brother Guy.

Castle of St. Hilarion on Cyprus


After being rejected as King of Jerusalem by all the barons of the kingdom in 1192, Guy de Lusignan purchased the island of Cyprus from Richard of England and tried to establish Frankish/Latin rule over the Byzantine/Orthodox citizens of the island. Less than two years later he was dead. Notably, he designated his elder brother Geoffrey — not Aimery who had been with him so long and through so much with him — as his heir. The record is far too sketchy to know why, but there may have been tension between the brothers all along. Aimery’s support of his brother, as I noted before, was not necessarily indicative of genuine approval of his policies or actions but rather the imperative of family loyalty and self-interest. Fortunately for Aimery, Geoffrey de Lusignan had no interest in Cyprus. So Guy’s vassals chose Aimery as his successor.

Within three years of becoming the Latin/crusader overlord of Cyprus, Aimery had established peace on the island, set up a Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy alongside the Orthodox one (evidently following the model in the earlier crusader states that allowed the inhabitants to follow their own faith but giving the Latin clergy valuable properties), and raised Cyprus to the status of a kingdom. Thus while Guy de Lusignan was “Lord of Cyprus,” Aimery was “King of Cyprus.” He obtained the dignity of kingship by offering to do homage for Cyprus to the Holy Roman Emperor. This was to cause trouble for his successors and lead to a bloody civil war a generation later, but Cyprus remained a Kingdom for nearly 300 years — ruled by the direct descendants of Aimery de Lusignan.

The Abbey of Bellapais built during the Lusignan rule of Cyprus
Nor was that the end of Aimery's astonishing life. In 1197, his first wife, Eschiva d’Ibelin died having given him six children, three of whom had lived to adulthood. The eldest son of this marriage, Hugh, was now his heir apparent in Cyprus and would in due time inherit the Kingdom. When Henry of Champagne died in the same year, however, Aimery was selected as fourth husband for Isabella of Jerusalem, allegedly with the “almost unanimous” support of the barons and bishops of the rump-state.

Aimery promptly used his Cypriot resources to help strengthen his new kingdom. In the same year that he assumed the crown of the kingdom his brother had squandered, he recaptured the key coastal city of Beirut from Saracen control with the support of German crusaders as well as his Cypriot forces. The following year, he concluded a five year truce with the Saracens that gave the kingdom much needed breathing space to retrench and consolidate itself. It was also the year in which he named Balian d’Ibelin’s son John to his old position of Constable of Jerusalem — an exceptional mark of favor for a young man not yet 20 and one presumes more a gesture of gratitude to his father than a mark of confidence in one so young.  (John was later to swap the constableship for the lordship of Beirut.)

In 1204, with the Fourth Crusade diverted to Constantinople, Aimery concluded a new truce with a six year duration. This gave his kingdom the peace it needed for economic recovery, but he did not live long enough to enjoy it.  In February 1205, his son by Queen Isabella — the only son she ever had — died, and Aimery followed him to the grave within two months, Isabella shortly afterwards.  The crown of Cyprus passed to his son Hugh, and the crown of Jerusalem to Isabella’s oldest surviving child, her daughter Maria of Montferrat.

Aimery de Lusignan was King of Cyprus for eleven years and King of Jerusalem for eight — twice as long as his brother Guy had been. To both kingdoms he had brought stability and peace. His reign was looked back upon by subsequent generations as one of justice and prosperity — in both kingdoms.

Aimery de Lusignan plays a major role in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."


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