Friday, February 26, 2016

Cast of Characters 5: Sibylla of Jerusalem

Today I continue my series of short biographies featuring the historical figures who play a role in my biographical novels of Balian d'Ibelin. Today I focus on the woman whose love for her husband cost her her kingdom: Sibylla of Jerusalem.

Sybilla in the Hollywood Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Sibylla of Jerusalem, Queen of Jerusalem from 1186 – 1190, was a tragic figure. The antithesis of a power-hungry woman, she put her affection for her second husband above the well-being of her kingdom — and in so being doomed her kingdom to humiliation, defeat and almost complete annihilation. 

Sibylla was born in 1160, the daughter of Amalric of Jerusalem, the younger brother of King Baldwin III, and his wife Agnes de Courtenay, the daughter of the Count of Edessa. At the time of her birth, her father was Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, while her mother was landless, since the entire County of Edessa had been lost to the Saracens. Shortly after her birth, however, in 1163, King Baldwin III died without issue, and the High Court of Jerusalem agreed to recognize Amalric as his heir — on the condition that he set aside Agnes de Courtenay. The official grounds for the annulment were that Amalric and Agnes were related within the prohibited degrees of kinship, something the church had suddenly discovered after six years of marriage. Obviously, the real reasons lay elsewhere, but it is not possible to know from this distance in time if it was Agnes' alleged immorality (as the Chronicle of Ernoul imputes) or fear that the Courtenays would try to muscle into positions of power in Jerusalem (as Malcolm Barber suggests in The Crusader States) or some other consideration now lost to the historical record. For Sibylla the implications, however, were severe. Her mother Agnes was banished from court, while she and her younger brother Baldwin remained under their father’s control.

While Baldwin remained at court to be raised in close proximity to his father and learn his future role as King of Jerusalem, Sibylla was sent to the convent at Bethany near Jerusalem to be raised by her father’s aunt, the youngest daughter of King Baldwin II, the Abbess Yveta. Thereafter, although she may have seen her father or brother on special occasions, she would have seen almost nothing of her mother, who promptly re-married.

The contemporary cloisters at Bethlehem as the look today.
By 1170 it was apparent that her brother Baldwin was suffering from leprosy. This meant that he might not live to adulthood and even if he did was unlikely to have heirs of his body. Finding a husband for the 10-year-old Sibylla was, therefore, of paramount importance to the kingdom. Friedrich, Archbishop of Tyre, was dispatched to the West to identify a husband for her, a man who would be suitable, when the time came, to rule the Kingdom of Jerusalem as her consort. 

A year later, Friedrich of Tyre returned with Stephen of Sancerre of the House of Blois. Stephen was clearly of sufficient rank; his sister was married to Louis VII of France and his brothers were married to Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters by Louis VII. But Stephen unexpectedly refused to marry Sibylla and returned to France, squandering his chance to become King of Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine what about a young girl living in a convent could have so offended an ambitious noblemen, and it is probable that his decision had nothing to do with Sibylla at all. Very likely he discovered he disliked the climate, the food, the role of the High Court of Jerusalem, or simply the military situation as Saladin was increasing in power. Then again, given Sibylla’s obvious lack of intelligence as demonstrated by her subsequent actions, maybe Stephen of Sancerre really was disgusted with her? Whatever his motives, Sibylla was probably deeply hurt by the public rejection.

In 1174, Sibylla’s father died unexpectedly and her younger brother ascended the throne as Baldwin IV. He was only 13 at the time and so placed under a regent, Raymond, Count of Tripoli, to whom fell the duty, in consultation with the High Court, of finding a suitable consort for Sibylla.  This time the choice of the High Court fell on William Marquis de Montferrat. William was first cousin to both Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich, and his family had a long tradition of crusading.

William of Montferrat arrived in the Holy Land escorted by a Genoese fleet in October 1176, and within six weeks, he married the then 16-year old Sibylla. He was invested with the title of Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the traditional title for the heir apparent to the throne.  The contemporary chronicler and then Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, William of Tyre, describes William of Montferrat as follows:

He was reasonably tall and was a good-looking young man with reddish-gold hair. He was brave, but quick-tempered and liable to over-react. He was very generous and completely frank, totally lacking in any kind of pretense. He ate to excess and was a very heavy drinker, but this did not impair his judgment.

There is no reason to think that Sibylla was ill-pleased with this choice of husband, or he with her. He certainly did not reject her and she became pregnant shortly after the marriage. Unfortunately, William de Montferrat became ill within six months and after eight, in June 1177, he was dead. Sibylla gave birth to a posthumous son in August and named him Baldwin after her brother.



At once the search for a new husband for Sibylla commenced. The Count of Flanders arrived with a large force even before Sibylla gave birth to her son, and as a close kinsman (his mother was Baldwin and Sibylla’s aunt) he felt entitled to decide Sibylla’s next husband. The High Court of Jerusalem disagreed. Worse, the name he put forward was a comparatively obscure Flemish noblemen, who the High Court viewed as an insult to the crown of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he wanted to marry this man’s younger brother (of equally inferior status) to Sibylla’s half-sister, Isabella, thereby binding both princesses to his vassals — a crude means of making himself master of the kingdom without actually doing the hard work of fighting for it or ruling it. This was, understandably, unacceptable to the High Court of Jerusalem.  The Count of Flanders returned to Europe and Sibylla was still without a new husband.

According to the Chronicles of Ernoul, it was now, after Sibylla had been widowed, that the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel became interested in marrying Sibylla. While Ernoul is considered a biased and unreliable source, other sources corroborate the fact that Ramla clearly had designs on Sibylla three years later. It is possible that it was after Flander’s unsuitable suggestions had been rejected he started to harbor hopes that the High Court would favor a powerful local baron over an unknown and unsuitable nobleman from the West.

Meanwhile, Baldwin IV took the step of associating his sister with him in some of his public acts as a means to reinforce her stature as his heir. (His great-grandfather, Baldwin II, had done the same toward the end of his reign to stress that his daughter Melisende would succeed him.) Baldwin IV also wrote to the King of France (perhaps convinced that the King of England — as represented by Philip of Flanders — did not have the best interests of his Kingdom at heart) and begged him (Louis VII) to choose from among his barons a man who could take up the burden of ruling the “Holy Kingdom” (i.e. the Kingdom of Jerusalem). Louis’ choice was Hugh, Duke of Burgundy, a very high-ranking nobleman indeed. He was expected to arrive in the spring of 1180.



Meanwhile, Baldwin of Ramla had been taken captive at the engagement on the Litani in the summer of 1179, and Saladin demanded the outrageous ransom of 200,000 bezants.  This was without doubt a “king’s ransom” — indeed higher in monetary terms than the ransom demanded for Baldwin II of Jerusalem when he had been taken captive by 1123, and more than twice the ransom paid for the Count of Tripoli in 1174. It was clearly beyond the resources of Ramla’s baronies to pay, and suggests that Saladin thought (had intelligence to suggest?) that Ramla was destined to Sibylla’s next husband and could command (in advance) the resources of the kingdom. Even more significant: the Byzantine Emperor paid a significant portion of Ramla’s ransom. Again, there is hardly any other plausible explanation of such generosity except that the Byzantine Emperor also believed Ramla was destined to become King of Jerusalem by marrying Sibylla.

It was a scenario that appeared more plausible than ever when, for a second time Sibylla (and Jerusalem) was rejected after everything appeared to be settled. At least the Duke of Burgundy’s excuse was clear: the King of France had died leaving the kingdom to his young son Philip II and the Plantagenet was predatory. Burgundy felt he had to remain in France to defend it.

Sibylla was now approaching 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, King 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 as 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 deCourtenay) 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 her brother's 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 an annulment. Had Sibylla been forced into a dynastic marriage by her brother in 1180, she would  just as willingly have been 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 lost roughly 17,000 Christian fighting men (the flower of Jerusalem’s Christian manhood!) at an avoidable defeat on the Horns of Hattin and with them entire Kingdom of Jerusalem! 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.

Because her husband had led Jerusalem's fighting men into death and slavery, Sibylla soon found herself trapped in Jerusalem as the rest of the Kingdom crumbled around her. 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 others. In Tyre, it was her former brother-in-law, Conrad de Montferrat, the younger brother of her first husband who saved a vitally important port, and in Jerusalem the defense fell to the Baron of Ibelin, the younger brother of the man she had jilted in favor of Guy in 1180.

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 care. Nor did she have 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. 




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



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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Defender of Jerusalem: A Review from Feathered Quill




Most readers will agree that to create a biographical/historical tome that will entrance,
excite and lure them in to the point where they literally do not want to stop reading until the six hundred or so pages are over, is a feat next to impossible. However, this is the second book in a series of three – the first being Knight of Jerusalem – that owns the power to do everything just stated above. The story is incredible. The locations are brought to life by this author with perfect clarity during a time in history that was more than confusing. This was a time where everyone seemed to work night and day to gain power – whether it was individuals with personal plans set in place, or entire religious sects that refused to step away.

In this second novel, Jerusalem (the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem) is under massive
siege. Salah ad-Din is the Kurdish leader who is so vibrant that he can basically sell any
idea to anyone (think the old adage of selling ice to the Eskimos). He was able to bring
together two units to form one, Shiite Egypt and Sunnite Syria. Now that these two
powerful forces are one team, so to speak, they declare jihad against the Christians. King
Baldwin IV is already dealing with a horrific issue: leprosy. The disease is attacking him,
and has been since he was a boy. But now he must rise up in the face of this monumental
battle coming straight at him and find a way to stop Salah ad-Din from coming in and
taking over the kingdom.

The one man who has already proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to King Baldwin
is Balian. Balian d’Ibelin (for those who did not read the first in this amazing three-part
series) was a man who had no land and no title. All he has this day is his background with
the king. When the king was just a prince, Balian was placed in the kingdom by then
monarch Amalric I, to take care of the boy with leprosy who was isolated from nearly
everyone. Balian is still there beside him and has worked with the courage, strength, and
bravery that outranks any knight or loyal follower. Balian is in this struggle for the long
haul, and he is the one fence that this jihad will have to knock down in order to take out the people of Jerusalem, bury the king, and rip to shreds the basis of Christianity.
Watching Balian grow with the Prince was beyond memorable in the first book. He was
involved in the inner core of this kingdom and made friends with the right ones, as well as
some of the wrong who were sent away. Now, in the year 1178, his mission in life is
anything but complete.

This is a book that is biographical, yes. But the real meat and bones of this story are the
emotions. Everything from war to suspense; romance to kindness; good to absolute evil –
and even the presence of the well-known and well-read Templar crusaders – everything is
offered by this writer in order to bring Balian’s life, as well as the fight for Jerusalem, into full-blown Technicolor. (Note to Hollywood: This should be done on-screen in
Technicolor, as well.) In addition, the author has included maps of the Holy Land during
this period, genealogical family charts, as well as historical notes for readers to understand every crack and crevice of this kingdom and its legendary battles.

Quill says: This is a do-not-miss series that you will keep on your shelves in order to read again and again, with each time awakening more emotion and bringing Balian’s valiant history to life.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Cast of Characters 4: Guy 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. Today I focus on the man who destroyed the Kingdom of Jerusalem: Guy de Lusignan.

 Guy de Lusignan in Ridley Scott's Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"

Guy de Lusignan has the distinction of being the man who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by leading the Christian army to an unnecessary but utterly devastating defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187.  Such noted modern historians as Malcolm Barber, Bernard Hamilton and W.B. Bartlett argue Lusignan’s disastrous decision to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march to the relief of the garrison of Tiberius in July 1187 can be explained by the fact that he was criticized for not taking the offense in the campaign of 1183.  Guy they argue was in a difficult psychological position and had every reason to doubt the Count of Tripoli’s loyalty. They generally portray Guy more as a victim of circumstances than the cause of disaster.  Indeed, it has become popular to blame the “disloyalty” of other lords rather than Guy for the loss of his kingdom. Guy’s contemporaries saw it differently. 

So who has the right of it? A brief resume of Guy de Lusignan’s career.

Guy de Lusignan enters history with his marriage to Sibylla of Jerusalem, King Amalric’s first-born child and older sister too King Baldwin IV. Or does he?

In the spring of 1168, the Earl of Salisbury was escorting Queen Eleanor of England to Poitiers with a small escort when the party was ambushed by “the Lusignans.” The Lusignans had recently been dispossessed of their lands for rebelling against Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. They hoped by capturing Eleanor to gain a bargaining chip for the restoration of their fortunes. The Earl of Salisbury turned over his own horse, which was stronger and faster, to Eleanor so she could escape, but while he was remounting he was fatally pierced from behind by a lance. Salisbury’s nephew William Marshal (later famous as tutor of the Henry the Young King, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England) was in Salisbury’s entourage.  According to the 13th century biography of William Marshal, commissioned by his eldest son and based on the accounts of many of Marshal’s contemporaries, this ambush was led by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey. Some sources claim that Guy himself wielded the murderous lance.  Allegedly, this act made Guy persona non grata in the courts of the Plantagenets and induced him to seek his fortune in Outremer. 

Maybe, but there was a gap of some 12 years, so maybe not. Nevertheless, when considering Guy de Lusignan’s later reputation, it is important to remember that he was accused of a profoundly unchivalrous murder by contemporaries — before he ever set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

A Blow from Behind -- Here with a Sword

Guy appears to have arrived in Jerusalem in late 1179 or early 1180 at the invitation of his elder brother Aimery. Aimery was making a career in Jerusalem -- according to some, by sleeping with the Queen Mother Agnes de Courtney. At the time Guy arrived in the Holy Land, Baldwin IV was king — and clearly dying of leprosy. Since it was also clear that Baldwin IV would not sire heirs of his body, his nephew Baldwin was his heir apparent. This boy had been born to his elder sister Sibylla after the death of her first husband, William of Montferrat. Sibylla herself was thus a young (20 year old) widow. There were rumors, however, that she had pledged herself to the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. The rumors were widespread enough for Salah-ad-Din to demand a king’s ransom when Ramla was taken captive on the Litani in 1179 (apparently in anticipation of Ramla becoming King of Jerusalem) — and for the Byzantine Emperor to pay that exorbitant ransom (since Ramla could not possibly pay it from his own resources) in anticipation of the same event.

But suddenly at Easter of 1180, Sibylla married not Ramla (who was on his way back from Constantinople) but the virtually unknown and landless Guy de Lusignan.  The wedding was concluded in a hasty ceremony lacking preparation and pomp. According to the most reliable contemporary source, the Archbishop of Tyre (who was also Chancellor at the time and so an “insider,”) Baldwin rushed his sister into the marriage with the obscure, landless and discredited Guy because the Prince of Antioch, the Count of Tripoli and the Baron of Ramla were planning to depose him and place Ramla on the throne as Sibylla’s consort. 


Allegedly a Depiction of a Royal Wedding in Jerusalem

Perhaps, but there is no other evidence of Tripoli’s disloyalty, and Ramla’s hopes of marrying Sibylla had been known for a long time — and all the way to Damascus and Constantinople. Why did that marriage suddenly seem threatening to Baldwin IV?

Another contemporary source, Ernoul, suggests another reason for the hasty and unsuitable (for there is no way the third son of a Poitevin baron could be considered a suitable match for a Princess of Jerusalem) marriage: that Guy had seduced Sibylla. Aside from the fact that this had happened more than once in history, the greatest evidence for a love match is Sibylla’s steadfast — almost hysterical — attachment to Guy, as we shall see.  Meanwhile, however, the marriage alienated not only the jilted Baron of Ramla, but the Count of Tripoli as well. In short, it was not a very wise political move and thus hard to explain as a political decision.  Last but not least, even the Archbishop of Tyre admits the King soon regretted the decision. All these factors point to Ernoul’s explanation of a seduction, a scandal and an attempt to “put things right” by a King who was devoted to his sister.

Guy was named Count of Jaffa and Ascalon and appears to have been accepted by the Barons of Jerusalem as a fait accompli that could no longer be changed — until, in September 1183, King Baldwin became so ill that he named his brother-in-law Regent.  As such, Guy took command of the Christian forces during Salah-ad-Din’s fourth invasion of the Kingdom. What happened next is obscure. Although Saladin managed to burn some monasteries and there were some bitterly fought skirmishes, ultimately the Saracens were forced to withdraw; an apparent Christian victory (and certainly better than what happened four years later, the next time Guy was in command!)

Yet something more must have happened on this campaign because just two months later, when word reached Jerusalem that the vital castle of Kerak was besieged by Saladin, the barons of Jerusalem “unanimously” refused to follow Guy. They flat out refused to come to the relief of an important border fortress in which both royal princesses (Sibylla and Isabella), the Queen Mother and the Dowager Queen were all trapped (because of a wedding) until Guy was stripped of the regency. 

That is an incredibly strong statement.  The fact that the historical record is too patchy to enable us to explain it does not negate the importance of the event. The collective barons of Outremer were not dolts, cowards or fools.  They had accepted Guy’s command two months earlier. Even Tripoli and Ramla, who both detested him, had mustered under Guy’s command to face Salah-ad-Din in September, putting the welfare of the kingdom ahead of their personal feelings. But two months later even men who had previously shown no particular animosity toward Lusignan refused to accept his leadership. King Baldwin had no choice but to take back the reins of government, command of his army and have his nephew crowned as co-king. The latter was to reassure the barons that even if he died in the near term (as he expected), they would not have to pay homage to Guy.


After Kerak had been successfully relieved, Baldwin IV sought desperately to have his sister’s marriage to Guy annulled. This had nothing to do with personal grievances against Guy (although he had those too); it was necessary in order to find a long-term solution to the succession crisis. His nephew was a sickly boy, and the kingdom needed a vigorous and militarily competent leader. Baldwin’s efforts to replace the discredited Guy were thwarted by Sibylla, who refused to consider a divorce — something she is hardly likely to have done, if the marriage had been political in the first place. If Sibylla had married for reasons of state, she would have divorced for reasons of state.  Less than a decade later, her half-sister Isabella put the kingdom ahead of her affections when she divorced the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron to marry the man around whom the barons had rallied, Conrad de Montferrat.

Baldwin IV died in 1185 and was succeed by his nephew with Raymond de Tripoli as regent.  The fact that Tripoli was made regent — with the consent of the High Court — and the Count of Edessa was made the boy's guardian are both indications of the intensity of the animosity and suspicion the bishops and barons of Jerusalem still harbored for Guy de Lusignan. There was, after all, a precedent for a queen reigning for an under-aged son, Melisende a had reigned in their own right for her son Baldwin III.

At the death of Baldwin V roughly one year later, hostility to Guy had not substantially weakened. In accordance with the constitution of the Kingdom, the High Court was convened to elect the next monarch. Some modern historians have made much of the fact that Tripoli summoned the High Court to Nablus rather than convening in Jerusalem itself. This is interpreted as a sign of disloyalty, but there is nothing inherently disloyal about meeting in another city of the kingdom. High Courts also met in Acre and Tyre at various times.  Nablus was part of the royal domain, comparatively close to Jerusalem, and the Templars under their new Master, Gerard de Ridefort (surely the worst Master the Templars ever had!), were said to have taken control of the gates and streets of Jerusalem. The Templars did not have a seat on the High Court, but they controlled 300 knights and the decision to hold the High Court in Nablus can better be explained as the legitimate desire to avoid Templar pressure than as disloyalty on the part of Tripoli.

In any case, while the bulk of the High Court was meeting in Nablus, Sibylla persuaded the Patriarch to crown her queen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  In addition to the Patriarch (allegedly another former lover of her mother) and the Templars (whose Grand Master had a personal feud with Tripoli), Sibylla was supported by her uncle Joscelyn Count of Edessa and the colorful and controversial Reynald de Chatillon, Lord of Oultrejourdan by right of his wife.  We know of no other supporters by name, but we know that Reynald de Chatillon sought to increase Sibylla’s support by saying she would be queen in her own right without mentioning Guy.  Even Bernard Hamilton, one of Guy’s modern apologists, admits that: "Benjamin Kedar has rightly drawn attention to sources independent of the Eracles [e.g. Ernoul] and derived from informants on the whole favorable to Guy de Lusignan, which relate that Sibyl's supporters in 1186 required her to divorce Guy before they would agree to recognize her as queen.” (The Leper King and His Heirs, Cambridge University Press, 2000 p. 218). 

According to these sources, Sibylla promised to divorce Guy and choose another man for her husband as her consort. Instead, once she was crowned, she chose Guy as her consort — and crowned him herself, when the Patriarch refused.  Once again, Sibylla had chosen Guy over not only the wishes of her subjects but in violation of an oath/promise she had made to her supporters (not her enemies, note, to her supporters). I repeat: this is not the behavior of a woman who had been forced in to a hasty and demeaning marriage by her brother out of political expediency; it is consistent with a woman who was passionately in love with the man who she had foisted upon her brother and her subjects against their wishes.
 The Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Sibylla was Crowned

With this dual coronation, Sibylla and Guy had usurped the throne of Jerusalem, but without the Consent of the High Court they were just that — usurpers.  The High Court (or rather those members of it meeting at Nablus) was so outraged that, despite the acute risk posed by Salah-ad-Din, they considered electing and crowning Sibylla’s half-sister Isabella. To risk civil war when the country was effectively surrounded by a powerful and united enemy is almost incomprehensible — and highlights just how desperate the opposition to Guy de Lusignan was. In retrospect, it seems like madness that men would even consider fighting their fellow Christians when the forces of Islam were so powerful, threatening and well-led.

Then again, with the benefit of hind-sight, maybe it would have been better to depose of Guy de Lusignan before he could lead the country to utter ruin at Hattin?

In the event, Humphrey de Toron, Isabella’s young husband, didn’t have the backbone to confront Guy de Lusignan. In the dark of night he fled Nablus to go to Jerusalem in secret to pay homage to Guy. With this act, the High Court lost their alternative monarch and capitulated — except for Ramla and Tripoli, the most inveterate opponents of Lusignan.  Ramla preferred to quit the kingdom altogether, turning over his lucrative lordships to his younger brother and seeking his fortune in Antioch. (He disappears from history and we don’t know where or when he died.) Tripoli simply refused to recognize Guy as his king and made a separate peace with Salah-ad-Din — until he was reconciled after a tragic incident in May 1187.

Two months latter, Guy de Lusignan proved that Ramla, Tripoli and the majority of the High Court had rightly assessed his character, capabilities and suitability to rule. Guy led the Christian kingdom to an unnecessary but devastating defeat which resulted in the loss of the holiest city in Christendom, Jerusalem, and indeed the entire kingdom save the city of Tyre. Only a new crusade would restore a fragment of the Kingdom and enable Christendom to hang on to the coastline for another century.

With all due respect to revisionism and the legitimate right of historians to question familiar and popular interpretations of events, it is also wise to remember that chronicles and other historical documents provide us with an imperfect and incomplete picture.  The actions and judgment of contemporaries, on the other hand, were based on much more comprehensive knowledge and information than is available to us today.  Based on the actions of Guy de Lusignan’s contemporaries, I believe the Ernoul’s portrayal of Guy de Lusignan is closer to the mark than the apologist image of modern historians.


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



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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sneak Preview: The Opening Scene of "Envoy of Jeusalem"


Tyre, October 1187



The harbor side tavern was filled to overflowing with fighting men. Whether they had escaped the carnage at Hattin, been left to garrison cities that had since surrendered, or come from overseas in ignorance of the catastrophe that had obliterated the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they had all washed up here. It was the only place left for a man still determined to defend the Holy Land to go. Every other city in the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen in the three bitter months between July 4 and today, October 3, 1187.
Today they had been shaken by the clamorous shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” and the beating of Saracen drums.  They had rushed to the walls prepared to fight off a new assault, only to discover these shouts marked not the start of an attack, but rather a celebration instead.  Riders from the enemy camp, just out of range, pumped their swords triumphantly in the air as they shouted: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem is ours!” Those with an understanding of Arabic translated for the new-comers and less linguistically skilled: Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin.
Most of the fighting men collected in Tyre recognized that the fall of Jerusalem had been inevitable — more so than the fall of Acre, Haifa, Sidon, Gibelet, Beirut, Caesarea, Jaffa, and Ascalon. The latter had been defensible coastal cities capable of reinforcement and supply from the sea and manned by garrisons worthy of the name. But Jerusalem? Jerusalem had been denuded of her defenders when the knights of the militant orders left the city for Hattin. The garrison left behind had been made up of middle-aged merchants, Syrians, Greeks and pilgrims.
Yet while the garrison was old, ineffective and small, the population of the city had swollen with refugees. From along the Jordan valley and other inland settlements, Christian women, children and elderly — all those who had not been at Hattin — had fled to the Holy City after the destruction of the Christian army at Hattin. By some accounts as many as 100,000 Christians had taken refuge there.
And now they were either dead or slaves.
The thought depressed the men in Tyre for while their military minds had known Jerusalem was indefensible their hearts had hoped for a miracle. For many, those native to the Kingdom, it had been a hope fed by the desperation of knowing that it was the only place their own loved ones might yet be free — if they weren’t already in Tyre. After all the defeats of the last three months, this was the worst since Hattin itself.
In the dingy harbor side tavern despair hung in the smoky air. These men had survived to fight another day. They had taken heart when Conrad de Montferrat had sailed into Tyre harbor and spit defiance at the victorious Sultan. They had fought with him and for him, and they had believed that not all was lost after all.
But now Jerusalem was lost. The site of Christ’s passion. The home of the Holy Sepulcher. Lost. What was there left to fight for?
A youth with a lute in his left hand shoved his way between the tables toward the serving counter. He was thin and boney. His light-brown hair was over-long as if he couldn’t afford a barber, and his face was marred by acne. One shoulder hung distinctly lower than the other, and when he tried to hoist himself up to sit on the countertop, he gave a gasp and his face screwed up with pain. The innkeeper shook his head in annoyance and warned in a low growl as he helped him onto the counter, “This better be good, Ernoul.”
Ernoul didn’t answer directly. He sat on the countertop with his feet dangling and settled his lute under his right arm, grimacing slightly as he lifted his left to the neck of the instrument. Then his face cleared. He took a deep breath and played a few chords.  
Some men were talking or dicing, but most had come here to drink themselves into oblivion. They were in no mood for entertainment. The young man on the counter elicited at best indifference and aroused hostility from many. One man called out resentfully: “Go back to your great hall, puppy! Your lord might like a love song, but we’re in no mood for it!”
“How can he? His lord was in Jerusalem!” The man across from the speaker retorted bitterly.
On the counter, Ernoul cleared his throat and began to sing:
“Salah ad-Din, you have the grave,
“And you have made our brothers slaves,

Instantly the squire had their attention. Across the room a dozen desultory conversations stopped and men glared at him. Hostility hung in the air. They didn’t need to have their noses rubbed in it by the likes of this puny and shabby squire!
Ernoul appeared not to notice. He sang in a low, soft, melodic tenor:
But we survived, we are alive,

          The men in the tavern were transfixed. Not a man raised his mug to drink, not a foot clumped on the floor, not a word was spoken. They were staring at the squire as he continued more certainly now in his firm and resonant voice.
Salah ad-Din, you have the Tomb
But it is dark, deserted gloom
For Christ is risen! And by our side!

Ernoul seemed to draw strength from their rapt attention; his voice grew stronger, louder as he continued.
We are with Him, we have no fear
Of you, you army, or your emirs
Christ on our side, we cannot die!

The squire had struck a chord in the dingy tavern, and more than one scarred and bearded veteran found himself close to tears. Others crossed themselves or said the Lord’s Prayer in an affirmation of faith they had too often neglected in the past.
Still Ernoul sang, the melody mutating slightly.

“Christ is with us, Salah ad-Din.
“He is with us, and not with you!
“Christ is with us, we cannot die,
“But we will fight you — “until you do!”

“Hear! Hear!” Some shouted, but his comrades hushed him.
Ernoul raised his voice and though he reverted to the original melody he picked up the pace and volume as he sang out:
“The day will come, when we will win
When we will take Jerusalem
For Him, not us, for Christendom!

We are alive, Salah ad-Din
We are alive and cannot die
We will retake Jerusalem!

With a flourish on the strings and a bow of his head, Ernoul indicated he was done.
For a stunned second no one in the tavern moved, and then they burst into thunderous applause. Some men stamped their feet, others clapped their hands or pounded on the tables with their pottery mugs. The acclamation was so powerful, enthusiastic and unexpected that Ernoul’s ears turned bright red and he readily took the mug shoved at him by the relieved tavern-keeper. The cheers had turned into calls for “Again! Again! Sing it again!”
Ernoul put the mug aside, wiped his lips on the back of his linen sleeve and straightened his crooked shoulders as best he could. The receptiveness of his audience had taken him by surprise; it flattered and elated him like a drug, blotting out his pain. By the time he’d repeated his song two more times, the more musical of his listeners had already picked up the tune. By the fourth time, they were all singing with him. The song that had seemed so melancholy and mourning when sung by a lone squire had become a fighting song laden with defiance and determination.



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