Continuing my series on the characters in my Balian d'Ibelin Trilogy: Eschiva d'Ibelin is the second of my quasi-fictional characters. She is a real, historical figure, indeed the founder of a dynasty that ruled Cyprus for over three hundred years, yet aside from her existence we know very little about her.
What we do know about her is that she was the daughter of Baldwin d'Ibelin, the Lord of Ramla and Mirabel, and his wife Richildis, making her Balian's neice. She was married at a very early age to Aimery de Lusignan, before his brother came to Jerusalem and seduced his way into a crown. We also know that she had at least six children by Aimery, three of whom lived to adulthood. We also know that Eschiva was "captured by pirates" and held for ransom in or about 1196; she was rescued by the King of Armenia, who had "high regard" for members of her family (i.e. the Ibelins, not the Lusignans.) She was released to her husband and sailed back to safety on Cyprus. There Eschiva lived long enough to know the Holy Roman Emperor had recognized her husband as King of Cyprus, but died shortly before his formal coronation in the fall of 1197. We do not know how old she was when she died or the cause of death. Within a few months, however, her husband had remarried, this time to Queen Isabella of Jerusalem, the daughter of her Aunt Maria Comnena.
In between these naked facts is a huge amount of possible drama. Eschiva was married to a landless adventurer as a child, and ended up married to a king without changing husbands. Her father married her to one Lusignan, but hated his brother so much that he preferred to renounce his land and titles and leave the kingdom rather than swear homage to him. Where, the novelist asks, did that leave Eschiva? Physically she stayed with her husband, but was her heart with her father? Maybe, but then maybe not; after all her father had divorced her blameless mother to marry someone more influential -- who would give him sons.
Eschiva lived in the very vortex of Jerusalem politics in the last two decades of the 12th century. She was an Ibelin by birth and a Lusignan by marriage and she founded a dynasty that would rule Cyprus for more than 300 years. But was she politically active? Did she have a say in affairs of state? Did she whisper advice to her husband? Or did she console and support her sister-in-law Sibylla? Was she there telling Sibylla not to renounce Guy, no matter what the pressure was from the High Court? Or did she see what her father and uncle saw? That Guy would be a disastrous king, and try to talk Sibylla into doing the reverse? Unless new sources come to light, we will never know.
As a novelist, however, I have given Eschiva a positive role. I see her as the bridge that enabled the Ibelins to later become the most powerful supporters of the Lusginan dynasty on Cyprus. Historians puzzle over the fact that the Ibelins, who were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, could so quickly become entrenched in his brother's kingdom of Cyprus. I see Eschiva as the key -- along with the fact that I don't think Aimery was as much in Guy's camp as he is usually assumed to be.
My Eschiva also represents the gentler medieval wife -- a contrast to my other female characters such as the imperial-born Maria Comnena, or the princesses Sibylla and Isabella. Eschiva is content to be a wife and mother. Eschiva's courage is subtler, but not less than that of the others. She is also wise without being witty, and she is often the one who provides commentary on the rest.
Although Eschiva is only a supporting character in the Balian Trilogy, she will play a more central role in my current work in progress, The Last Crusader Kingdom. This book describes the establishment of the Kingdom of Cyprus (including the episode with the pirates that capture Eschiva.) Meanwhile, discover Eschiva in all three of the Jerusalem trilogy:
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