Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades including:
BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017: "Envoy of Jerusalem"
Find out more about her published and future novels, and share insights from her research here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The House of Ibelin: John the Righteous

John d'Ibelin, 1179 - 1236, has gone down in history as "the Old Lord of Beirut." The description originates with 13th century historian and jurist Philip de Novare, who  makes "the Old Lord of Beirut" the hero in his account of the baronial revolt against Emperor Fredrick II.  While modern historians warn that Novare was a vassal of the Ibelins and obviously a biased observer, he nevertheless provides a first-hand account of events that are rarely contradicted outright by other sources. Rather it is the invariable positive "spin" on the motives and actions of the Ibelins that modern historians object to.  Furthermore, none can deny that John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, was a towering figure of the the early 13th century, a man admired for his learning, wisdom and influence.

The seal of John d'Ibelin

John was the eldest son of Balian d’Ibelin and the Byzantine princess Maria Comnena. He was probably born in 1179, the second of their four children.  He was presumably a child of eight when the Battle of Hattin destroyed the world into which he had been born. He was certainly in Jerusalem when father came to the city to rescue his family―only to remain in the city and organize the defense. John, along with his siblings and his mother, however, was escorted from the apparently doomed city by Saladin’s own body-guard in a profoundly generous gesture on the part of the Sultan before the siege.

The next time John is mentioned in the historical record is in 1198, when he is named Constable of Jerusalem by King Aimery de Lusignan. He would have been only 19 at the time, and historians, balking at the idea of such a young man might have been capable of fulfilling the duties of Constable, hypothesize that the appointment was nominal, a means of providing for him materially. Yet, as his father’s eldest son, he would have already inherited the barony of Caymont, if (as historians assume) his father was already dead. Furthermore, historians appear to overlook the fact that young noblemen and kings came of age at 15 in the Holy Land, so a noblemen of 19 would have been young but not viewed as immature. If kings could command at 15, why shouldn’t a constable at 19? Last but not least, John witnessed all existing charters of King Aimery, suggesting a close relationship between the two men.



John was still quite young, 24, when he was named Regent of Jerusalem first for his half-sister Isabella (following the death of her fourth husband, King Aimery), and then for his niece, Isabella's eldest daughter and heir, Maria de Montferrat, after Isabella’s death a few months later. As regent he arranged a marriage between his niece Alice of Champagne (Isabella’s daughter by her third husband, Henri de Champagne) with the heir to the Cypriot throne, Hugh de Lusignan. In addition, he was influential in the marriage of Maria de Montferrat to John de Brienne. Meanwhile, sometime between 1198 and 1205, he had traded the position of Constable for the lordship of Beirut. It was as Lord of Beirut that he has gone down into history.

Beirut was retaken for Christendom by German crusaders in 1198, but was so badly destroyed in the process (either by the retreating Saracens or the advancing Germans or both) that it was allegedly an uninhabitable ruin.  Despite that, it was an immensely valuable prize because of its harbor, the fertile surrounding coastal territory, and the proximity to Antioch and Damascus.  It was clearly a mark of great favor and trust that John d'Ibelin was granted the lordship of Beirut.



John d’Ibelin resettled the city and rebuilt the fortifications. He also built a palace that won the admiration of visitors for its elegance and luxury. It included polychrome marble walls, frescoes, painted ceilings, fountains, gardens, and large, glazed windows offering splendid views to the sea.  

John first married (presumably in 1198 or 1199) a certain Helvis of Nephin, about whom nothing is known beyond that she delivered to him five sons, all of whom died as infants. Helvis herself died before 1207, when John married the widowed heiress of Arsur, Melisende. By Melisende, John had another five sons and a single daughter, all of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1210, Maria de Montferrat came of age, married John de Brienne, and the couple were crowned Queen and King of Jerusalem; John’s regency was over. Furthermore, he completely disappeared from the witness lists of the kingdom, suggesting he had withdrawn to Beirut rather than remaining in attendance on the new king and queen―whether voluntarily, or after some dispute is unknown.

While nothing is known for sure about John’s whereabouts between 1210 and 1217, by the latter date John and his younger brother Philip headed the list of witness to all existing charters of King Hugh I of Cyprus. This suggests that at some unknown point before 1217 he had acquired important fiefs on Cyprus. In 1227, he was named regent for the orphaned heir to the Cypriot crown, Henry I.



Only a year later, however, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen arrived at the head of the Fifth crusade, and John immediately found himself on a collision course. At stake was the constitution of the Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus, with John defending the traditional pre-eminent role of the High Court against the Holy Roman Emperor's attempt to impose absolute monarchy on both kingdoms.  In the long-run, the Hohenstaufen suffered a complete defeat, eventually losing his suzerainty over Cyprus altogether, while neither he nor his heirs were ever able to exercise his royal authority  throughout the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But the cost was high: a civil war that dragged out over a quarter century.

John has been accused by historians of defending only the parochial interests of his family and the leading baronial families. Certainly, his stance undermined central authority in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and ultimately weakened it. Against this argument stands the fact that his rebellion actually strengthened the position of the Kings of Cyprus. Furthermore, Frederick II’s heavy handed attempts to disinherit men without due process and run rough-shod over local laws and customs meant John was fighting as much for the rule of law as for personal interests.   

The fact that John was strongly supported by the commons of Acre further underlines the fact that he was not solely self-interested.  John had no problem accepting the authority of John de Brienne and Henri de Lusignan, after all.  I believe, therefore, a strong case can be made for John opposing not the concept of central authority but rather the individual ― Frederick II, who even his admirers describe as arrogant and authoritarian.  Frederick II believed that, like a Roman Emperor, he was God’s representative on earth. Frederick II provoked revolts in the West as well as the East, and was excommunicated several times.  John d'Ibelin, on the other hand, was widely admired in his own lifetime and has been compared to St. Louis of France by later historians.

He died from injuries obtained fighting against the Saracens on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1236. On his deathbed he joined the Knights Templar. 

The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
 The Last Crusader Kingdom depicts John of Beirut as a youth, while Rebels against Tyranny and The Emperor Strikes Back focus on his struggle with the Holy Roman Emperor.

 Buy Now!

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!


For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The House of Ibelin: Eschiva the Invisible


Although Eschiva d'Ibelin was the founder of a dynasty that ruled Cyprus for over three hundred years, we know very little about her -- only enough to sense a possibly vital role at a critical juncture in history. 


What we do know is that she was the daughter of Baldwin d'Ibelin, the Lord of Ramla and Mirabel, and his wife Richildis. 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.

One of the most bizarre and curious recorded facts about her life was that she 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. 

Once 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 did that leave Eschiva?  Physically she stayed with her husband, but was her heart with her father? Maybe. Then again 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.

A Medieval Illustration depicting Nature creating a child.

Yet it does not take too much imagination to see Eschiva as the bridge that enabled the Ibelins to later become the most powerful supporters of the Lusignan 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 -- but we will probably never know. 

The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of four published novels and three yet to come.
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.




 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!


Friday, August 3, 2018

The House of Ibelin: Balian, Defender of Jerusalem

The Kingdom of Heaven, a film directed by Ridley Scott and released by 20th Century Fox in 2005, was based — very loosely — on the story of Balian d’Ibelin, a historical figure. Although Scott’s film was a brilliant piece of cinematography, the story of the real Balian d’Ibelin was not only different but arguably more fascinating than that of the Hollywood hero.



Balian was born in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem around the middle of the 12th century (the exact year is not recorded) and was probably the third (surviving) son of the First Baron of Ibelin.  He first enters the historical record when he is mentioned, along with his elder brother Baldwin, playing a role at the important Christian victory over an invading Saracen army led by Saladin at Montgisard in 1177. 

Shortly thereafter, Balian made a scandalously brilliant match, marrying the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena. With this marriage he also became the step-father of Isabella, the half-sister of King Baldwin of Jerusalem. She was second-in-line to the throne after the king's full-sister, Sibylla. At about the same time, and possibly as part of the marriage arrangement, he was accorded the title of Baron of Ibelin; one presumes his older brother was persuaded to turn this, the least of his three titles, over to his younger brother to make him a more suitable match for a dowager queen.


From this point onwards, Balain took part in all of the major military campaigns of the next decade and was also a member of the High Court of Jerusalem. Significantly, in 1183 when Baldwin IV decided to crown his nephew during his own lifetime to reduce the risk of a succession crisis, Balian was selected -- ahead of all the more senior and important barons in the kingdom -- to carry the child on his shoulders to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

At the death of Baldwin V in the summer of 1186, Balian took a leading role in opposing the usurpation of the throne by Sibylla of Jerusalem and most especially her devious tactics to get her unpopular second husband, Guy de Lusignan, crowned as her consort.  At his wife's dower property of Nablus, just north of Jerusalem, Balian hosted a meeting of the majority of the High Court -- all those opposed to Sibylla and Guy. At this rump-High Court, the bishops and barons proposed crowning Sibylla's half-sister (Balian's step-daughter) Isabella Queen of Jerusalem as a rival to Sibylla and Guy. These plans were thwarted by Isabella's young husband, Humphrey of Toron, who secretly did homage to Guy, robbing Isabella's supporters of a viable alternative to Sibylla/Guy.

In consequence, the majority of the barons became reconciled with Sibylla and Guy's usurpation and did homage to them, but Balian's older brother, Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel, refused.  Instead, in a dramatic gesture, he abdicated his titles in favor of his small son and gave both the boy and his baronies into the keeping of his brother Balian. He then quit the Kingdom to seek his fortune in the Principality of Antioch and disappears from the historical record.

With the departure of his brother, Balian was suddenly elevated to one of the most powerful barons in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, controlling (in the name of his nephew and wife) the second largest contingent of feudal levees owed to the crown. He used this power to try to reconcile the usurper, Guy de Lusignan, with the only baron more powerful than himself: Raymond Count of Tripoli. The latter, like his brother, was refusing to do homage to Guy, despite the clear and present danger posed by Saladin.  

Balian was ultimately successful in his reconciliation efforts, and shortly afterwards Balian and Raymond demonstrated their loyalty to the crown by answering the royal summons to muster under the leadership of Guy de Lusignan when he faced Saladin’s invasion of July 1187.  Against the advice of both Raymond and Balian, Guy chose to abandon the Springs of Sephoria and march the army across an arid plateau to the relief of the beleaguered city of Tiberius. The siege of Tiberius was bait, and Guy led the army into a trap set by Saladin that ended in the disastrous defeat of the Christian army on the Horns of Hattin. Balian was one of only three Christian barons to escape the debacle.  Toward the end of the battle, he Ied a successful charge against the Saracens at Hattin, possibly directed at Saladin himself, and effected a break-out. He is believed to have ridden to Tyre or Tripoli with the men he led out of the encirclement.


The destruction or capture of the bulk of the Christian army, however, left the Kingdom of Jerusalem undefended. Saladin followed up his victory at Hattin by capturing one city and castle after another until, by the start of September 1187, Saladin controlled the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem except for some isolated castles, the city of Tyre, and the greatest prize of all: Jerusalem. 

In Jerusalem were concentrated somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 Christians; twenty thousand inhabitants between forty and eighty thousand refugees from the territories Saladin had already conquered. But there were no knights in Jerusalem and no commander.  Saladin called a delegation from Jerusalem to him at Ascalon and offered to let those trapped in the city go free in exchange for the surrender of the city. The representatives from Jerusalem refused. According to Arab sources, they said that Jerusalem was sacred to their faith and that they could not surrender it; they preferred martyrdom. Saladin vowed to slaughter everyone in the city since it had defied him.

Among the refugees in the city of Jerusalem were Balian’s wife, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, and his four young children. Balian had no intention of letting his wife and children be slaughtered and so he approached Saladin and requested a safe-conduct to ride to Jerusalem and remove his wife and children. Saladin agreed -- on the condition that he ride to Jerusalem unarmed and stay only one night.

Balian had not reckoned with the reaction of the residents and refugees in Jerusalem. The arrival of a battle-tested baron --one of only two who had escaped Hattin with his honor still intact -- was seen as divine intervention and the citizens along with the Patriarch of Jerusalem begged Balian to take command of the defense. The Patriarch demonstratively absolved him of his oath to Saladin. Balian felt he had no choice. He sent word to Saladin of his predicament and Saladin graciously sent 50 of his own men to escort Balian’s family to the Tripoli (still in Christian hands), while Balian remained to defend Jerusalem against overwhelming odds.


And defend Jerusalem he did.  After conducting foraging sorties to collect supplies for the population from the surrounding Saracen-held territory, he so successfully held off assaults from Saladin’s army from September 21 – 25 that Saladin was forced to re-deploy his army against a different sector of the wall. On September 29, however, Saladin’s sappers successfully undermined a portion of the wall and brought down a segment roughly 30 meters long. Jerusalem was no longer defensible.

It was now that Balian proved his talent as a diplomat. With Saracen forces pouring over the breach and into the city, their banners flying from one of the nearest towers, Balian went to Saladin to negotiate. According to Arab sources, Saladin scoffed: one doesn’t negotiate the surrender of a city that has already fallen. But as he dismissively pointed to his banners on the walls of the city, those banners were thrown down and replaced again by the banners of Jerusalem. Balian played his trump. If the Sultan would not give him terms, he and his men would not only kill the Muslim prisoners they held along with all the inhabitants: they would desecrate and destroy the temples of all religions in the city, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. Saladin gave in.  The Christians were given 40 days to raise ransoms of 10 dinars per man, 5 per woman and 2 per child. Although an estimated fifteen thousand Christians were still marched off into slavery at the end of the forty days, forty to sixty thousand Christians survived as free men and women thanks to Balian’s skill as a negotiator.

Balian escorted a column consisting of roughly one-third of refugees from Jerusalem to Tyre, the closest city still in Christian hands. The man commanding Tyre at the time, Conrad de Montferrat, however, could not admit fifteen thousand more people to a city already under siege and at risk of starvation if relief did not come from the West. So while the bulk of the non-combatants continued to Tripoli, Balian and other fighting men remained in Tyre to continue the fight against Saladin.  

In 1188 Saladin released Guy de Lusignan, taken captive at Hattin, but Montferrat refused to either admit him to the city of Tyre or recognize him as king. On the advice of his brother Geoffrey, recently arrived from France, Guy de Lusignan raised troops in the Principality of Antioch and laid siege to the city of Acre, formerly the most important port of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and now in Saracen hands. Balian, despite his profound disagreements with Guy, joined him there; his determination to recapture some of the former kingdom was more important to him than his disagreements with Guy de Lusignan.

When Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem and both her daughters by Guy de Lusignan died in 1190, however, the situation changed for Balian. Guy's claim to the throne was through his wife. With her death, the legitimate queen of Jerusalem was Balian's step-daughter, Isabella. Isabella had been married since the age of 11 to an ineffectual young nobleman, Humphrey de Toron. Realizing that the Kingdom at this time needed a fighting man as its king, Balian and his wife convinced Isabella to set Humphrey aside on the grounds that she had been forced into the marriage against her will before reaching the legal age of consent. (She had been forcibly separated from her mother and step-father at age eight and married at age eleven.) Having divorced Toron, she at once married Conrad de Montferrat. 

Thereafter, Balian staunchly supported Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. This put him in direct conflict with Richard I of England, who backed Guy de Lusignan, the latter being the brother of one of his vassals. As a result, during the first year of Richard’s presence in the Holy Land, Balian remained persona non grata in Richard’s court. In fact, he served as an envoy for Conrad de Montferrat to the Sultan’s court — something Richard’s entourage and chroniclers viewed as nothing short of outright treason to the Christian cause.

Richard the Lionheart, however, was neither a fool nor a bigot. He recognized that after he went home (as he must) only the barons and knights of Outremer could defend the territories he had conquered in the course of the Third Crusade. He also reluctantly recognized that Guy de Lusignan would never be accepted as King by the barons and knights of the Kingdom he had led to disastrous defeat at Hattin. So in April 1192, Richard withdrew his support for Lusignan and recognized Isabella and her husband as the rightful rulers of Jerusalem. 

By doing so, he opened the doors to cooperation with Balian d’Ibelin.  Soon thereafter, Richard employed Ibelin as a negotiator with Saladin and in August Balian cut a deal with Saladin that provided for a three-year truce (neither side wanted peace for both were unsatisfied with the status quo), which provided for free access to Jerusalem for unarmed Christian pilgrims. Like the surrender of Jerusalem five years earlier, this was not a triumph -- but it was far better than what might have otherwise been expected under the circumstances. Notably, Balian's truce left Ibelin and Ramla in Muslim hands, something that he must have negotiated with a heavy heart. However, he was compensated with the barony of Caymont near Acre.

Richard the Lionhearted returned to Europe and Isabella was crowned Queen of the much reduced but nevertheless viable Kingdom of Jerusalem. The man crowned as her consort was not, however, Conrad de Montferrat, who had fallen victim to an assassin only shortly before her coronation. Instead, her consort was her third husband, Henry of Champagne, a French noblemen, who had come out to the Holy Land in the Third Crusade. (Henry of Champagne was a grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, which made him a first cousin of both Philip II of France and Richard of England.)

Balian was the leading nobleman in his stepdaughter's kingdom, but he disappears from the historical record in 1194. It is usually presumed that he died about this time, but it is equally possible that he instead he was simply out of the kingdom, possibly on a diplomatic mission -- or helping his niece and her husband establish Latin rule on Cyprus. See: The Ibelins on Cyprus and the Role of a Byzantine Princess

Whenever he died, Balian left behind two sons, John and Philip. John became Constable of Jerusalem in 1198, Lord of Beirut, and Regent of Jerusalem from 1205 - 1210. He also led the baronial revolt against Emperor Frederick II. Philip was to be Regent of the Kingdom of Cyprus. From these sons the Ibelin dynasty descended, a family often described as the most powerful of all baronial families in the Latin states of the Eastern Mediterranean for the next three hundred years.

Balian is the subject of my three-part Jerusalem Trilogy, and plays an important role in The Last Crusader Kingdom:


The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of four published novels and three yet to come.


 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!




Friday, July 27, 2018

The House of Ibelin: Baldwin the Proud

Although Balian d’Ibelin is better known today, his elder brother Baldwin was arguably the more colorful and (initially at least) more important figure during their lifetime. He reached for a crown but ended up renouncing all his honors and titles. He abandoned his wife and children to disappear from the pages of history, yet the daughter of the wife he divorced became a queen and founder of a dynasty that lasted more than 300 years.

So who and what sort of man was Baldwin, Third Baron of Ibelin?


As with all the early Ibelins, we don’t know the date of his birth, only that it was after his father received the lordship of Ibelin and married Helvis of Ramla in the mid-1140s. Baldwin d’Ibelin himself married Richildis, the sister of a local baron (but not an heiress), in 1156, but this still gives us little indication of his age since marriage alliances were often made when both parties were still children. 

However, it is certain that Baldwin inherited the paternal estate of Ibelin when his elder brother Hugh died childless about 1171. He also inherited the maternal estate of the dual barony of Ramla and Mirabel at this time if not before. Thus by 1172, when he was probably in his mid-twenties, Baldwin of Ramla (as he was best known to his contemporaries) held the three baronies of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel.  This made Baldwin of Ramla an important baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, albeit in the second tier.

This was because all three of Baldwin’s baronies were fiefs of the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, making him a “rear baron” or vassal of a vassal rather than a crown vassal. However, at the time Baldwin assumed control of his lands, the Count of Jaffa and Ascalon had become King of Jerusalem, holding the County and Kingdom in personal union. This meant that Baldwin was de facto, but not de jure, a vassal of the crown. He owed 50 knights to the army of Jerusalem, a number that is respectable but only half of what Galilee, Sidon or Caesarea owed.

Baldwin first emerges as someone of note at the Battle of Montgisard, fought only a few miles from Ramla and Ibelin both. According to contemporary sources, he and his younger brother Balian played an important role in this decisive victory over Salah ad-Din and the near complete destruction of the Saracen army.



Shortly afterward, his younger brother Balian married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena, and at about this time Baldwin bestowed the smallest of his baronies (Ibelin) on him. The move would appear to have been motivated by the need to make the younger Ibelin a more suitable match for the wealthy, royal widow. How willingly Baldwin gave up his paternal inheritance is not known, but as the alliance was very much in the interests of the Ibelin family as a whole, Baldwin may not have needed much persuasion.

What is clear is that Baldwin’s ambitions were increasing. Inspired (or provoked) by his brother’s brilliant match, Baldwin set aside the mother of his two daughters to make way for a more favorable marriage. He took to wife a widowed heiress, Elizabeth Gotman, but she died in 1179. This freed Baldwin to look even higher. By this time king’s eldest sister, Sibylla, was a young widow with an infant son. She was also the heir apparent to the throne of Jerusalem. While the High Court of Jerusalem sent to France for a suitable husband, Baldwin courted Princess Sibylla directly.



According to the contemporary chronicle written by “Ernoul,” a client of the Ibelin family, Princess Sibylla was not disinclined to his suit. Unfortunately for Baldwin, however, he had the misfortune to be taken captive by the Saracens in the Battle on the Litani in June 1179. The fact that he was seen as a prospective King of Jerusalem is suggested by the outrageous ransom Salah ad-Din demanded for his release: 200,000 gold bezants, or more than had been paid for a crowned and ruling king (Baldwin II) in 1123. There is no way the prosperous but relatively small baronies of Ramla and Mirabel could have raised this enormous sum; Salah ad-Din could only have assumed that the entire kingdom would raise his ransom, as was customary for a captive king.

Furthermore, when Baldwin was released to collect his ransom, he turned to the Byzantine Emperor — and was successful. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor was the great-uncle of his brother’s wife does not explain such generosity. The fact that the Byzantine Emperor believed Baldwin was destined to be the next King of Jerusalem might.


The most convincing evidence for Baldwin’s aspirations to the throne of Jerusalem via a marriage with Sibylla, however, is provided by the most reliable of all contemporary sources, William Archbishop of Tyre. The Archbishop was at this time also the chancellor of the kingdom and so a veritable “insider” without any bias in favor of the Ibelins. He records that shortly before Easter 1180 King Baldwin received news that Baldwin of Ramla was approaching Jerusalem in company with the Prince of Antioch and the Count of Tripoli, all accompanied by large retinues.  According to Tyre, the King (who was suffering from leprosy) feared that the two men ruling the other crusader states (the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli) had come to depose him by raising up Baldwin of Ramla in his place via a marriage to his sister Sibylla. As I have pointed out elsewhere, I find it unlikely that Tripoli was intent upon a coup d’etat at this point, but the fact that Tyre mentions the possibility of a marriage between Sibylla and Baldwin of Ramla underlines the fact that rumors to this effect were in circulation.

Ramla’s hopes were dashed by Sibylla’s hasty marriage to an adventurer from the west, Guy de Lusignan. Whether she had been seduced by Lusignan or forced into a hasty and demeaning marriage by her frightened brother is unimportant. Ramla’s hopes of gaining a crown through marriage to the heir were crushed. Ramla had every reason to be disappointed (not to say outraged) by these developments, particularly because Guy was in no way his equal in terms of status or experience. (Guy was a landless younger son and as a newcomer to the Holy Land had absolutely no experience in fighting the Saracens.) Ramla’s feelings would have been further complicated by the fact that Guy was the younger brother of his own son-in-law; Baldwin’s eldest daughter Eschiva had been married sometime prior to 1180 to Aimery de Lusignan. To add insult to injury, however, King Baldwin IV raised his new brother-in-law Guy to Count of Jaffa and Ascalon (to make him worthy of Princess Sibylla). That effectively demoted Baldwin from tenant-in-chief to “rear vassal” — a man holding a fief from a tenant-in-chief rather than the crown directly. 

There can be little doubt that this rankled and, indeed, embittered the proud Baldwin of Ramla, but it did not make him a rebel. He dutifully mustered with his knights when called upon to do so by King Baldwin IV on at least of three occasions between 1180 and Baldwin’s death in 1185. Indeed, he played a prominent role (with his brother Balian) in defeating the Saracen forces attempting to take the springs at Tubanie in 1183.  Notably, this action at the springs of Tubanie was in support of his son-in-law, the elder brother of his hated rival Guy de Lusignan, suggesting that Ramla may have retained good relations with his son-in-law despite his hostility of Guy. In any case, as long as King Baldwin IV was king, Ramla appears to have accepted his fate, even marrying again, this time Maria of Beirut.

At Baldwin IV death in 1185, he was succeeded by his nephew, Sibylla’s son by her first marriage, who ruled as Baldwin V. Since he was still a child of eight when he came to the throne, however, the welfare of the kingdom was placed in the hands of a regent, the Count of Tripoli. Baldwin was on good terms with Tripoli and showed no signs of rebelliousness. The elevation of his hated rival, Guy de Lusignan, to King of Jerusalem in a coup d’etat, on the other hand, was too much.



I have described the constitutional crisis of 1186 elsewhere and will not go into the details here. Significant for this article is that two barons initially refused to do homage to Guy on the grounds that he was not legally king: 1) the Count of Tripoli withdrew to his own lands and made a separate peace with Salah ad-Din (which he later abrogated before eventually doing homage) and 2) the Lord of Ramla, who took the even more dramatic and unusual step of renouncing all his lands and titles in favor of his infant son! 

According to Ernoul, he did this is a public confrontation at Acre before the whole High Court. In whatever form, it was a dramatic and unprecedented act. Peter Edbury, author of a detailed biography of Baldwin’s great nephew, (John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Boydell Press, 1997, p. 12) notes: “It was an extraordinary thing to do. It meant giving up his inheritance, jeopardizing the future of his heirs and abdicating the political and social standing that he, the senior member of his family, and his father and elder brother before him had nurtured for the past three-quarters of a century.”

A man who took such a dramatic step was clearly a man of strong emotions. His hatred and resentment of Guy de Lusignan must have been enormous. More baffling, however, is that his outraged pride was more important to him than the substance of power and wealth. Equally notable, if less obvious is that he was a singularly callous husband and father.  He’d discarded the mother of his two daughters for no better reason than a better marriage, and now he abandoned his latest wife and only son to the dubious mercy of Guy de Lusignan. To be sure, he claimed he was leaving his wife and son in the care of his younger brother Balian, but this was legally dubious. A vassal who refuses homage usually forfeits his fief to his overlord, in this case to none other than Guy de Lusignan as both Count of Jaffa and King of Jerusalem. It is a forgotten measure of Lusignan’s chivalry (or appreciation of his very precarious situation) that he took no action to seize Ramla and Mirabel from Balian d’Ibelin, but rather allowed him to control both until Hattin obliterated all the baronies of the kingdom.

Ironically, it was the daughter of Baldwin’s discarded wife Richildis who was to wear a crown. That story will be told next week.  Meanwhile, Baldwin d'Ibelin is an important character in Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem (see below).


The story of the Ibelins continues next week.
Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of four published novels and three yet to come.
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.



 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!


Friday, July 20, 2018

House of Ibelin: Hugh the Forgotten

The first Baron Ibelin died in or about 1150 and was succeeded by his eldest son Hugh. Although he is often overlooked or forgotten in histories of the Holy Land, even when speaking of the Ibelins, it was his marital adventures that laid the foundation of future Ibelin successes.


Hugh's date of birth is unknown -- and so is his mother. Hugh, always referred to as "of Ibelin," may or may not have inherited the baronies of Ramla and Mirabel, derived from his father's widow Helvis. Some historians postulate that Helvis did not become an heiress until after the death of her brother, shortly before Hugh's own death. Another explanation would be that Hugh was the son of an earlier marriage, and so only entitled to his paternal inheritance, while Ramla and Mirabel went immediately to Helvis' eldest son, Baldwin. 

In or about 1157, Hugh married the (not yet but soon to become ) notorious Agnes de Courteney.


Now Agnes de Courteney came from one of the best families in Outremer, but by the time she married Hugh d'Ibelin, she was nothing but a penniless and landless orphan.  The County of Edessa had been hopelessly and completely lost to the Saracens by 1150. She was also already a widow. Her first husband, Reynald of Marash, had been killed in battle in 1149, although there is no way of knowing for sure how old Agnes had been at the time. Since she was probably 12 at the time of her first marriage, by 1157 she was in all probability in her late teens. 

It is unlikely she had much to say about her marriage. At the time it took place, her father was languishing in a Saracen prison (never to return; he died there ca. 1159). Her brother, the ever ineffectual Joscelyn III of Edessa, was in control of her, and both she and he were living on lands held by their mother (since their entire paternal inheritance was in the hands of the enemy) in the Principality of Antioch. Antioch was at the far north of the crusader territories; Ibelin was in the extreme south. It is unlikely that Agnes would have ever met Hugh d'Ibelin, the second Baron of Ibelin, and a man who held a small, unimportant fief not from the crown but from the County of Jaffa. A match between a sub-tenant and a penniless widow was a completely suitable match, even if Agnes' family had previously been powerful. Nothing really remarkable here.

But then things get interesting. Hugh d'Ibelin was taken captive by the Saracens in 1157 -- the year he presumably or allegedly married Agnes. Peter Edbury in his outstanding book John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Boydell Press, 1997, p. 8) speculates based on a variety of primary sources that Agnes was betrothed to Hugh, but that on her arrival in Ibelin to celebrate the marriage, he was already in a Saracen prison. Under the circumstances, since Hugh's father was dead and his brothers were still young children, Agnes' care fell to Hugh's feudal lord, the Count of Jaffa. The Count of Jaffa, however, was none other than the younger brother of the ruling King Baldwin III, Prince Amalric of Jerusalem.

What happened next is shrouded in obscurity, but at least one account suggests that Amalric "took her by force on the advice of his men." (See Edbury). On the other hand, there does not appear to have been any animosity between Hugh and Amalric in later years, and the king may even have helped pay Hugh's ransom. Since many captives did not ever return from captivity (such as Agnes own father) or spent years and years in prison (Raymond de Chatillon spent 15 years in a Saracen dungeon, and Raymond de Tripoli, seven), Hugh may well have viewed giving up a girl he'd never seen in exchange for Amalric's contributions to his ransom a perfectly reasonable, indeed good, deal.

 
In any case, when Hugh was released, Agnes was already married to Amalric and within the next half dozen years gave him two children, Sibylla (ca. 1159) and Baldwin (1161). Hugh, apparently still financially burdened by the after-effects of his ransom, did not marry. Then in February 1163, King Baldwin III died abruptly. His young Byzantine wife, the reputedly stunningly beautiful Theodora, had not yet produced an heir. Amalric, as the younger but mature brother of the king, a fighting man who already had two children, was the obvious best candidate to succeed him.

That the High Court of Jerusalem did not do so rapidly lay in the fact that suddenly objections were raised about Agnes. We do not know why the High Court objected to her. Officially, it suddenly discovered that she and Amalric were related within the prohibited degrees, but this hardly seems credible as it could easily have been overcome by a papal dispensation. Historians have therefore speculated that the real reason was that the barons of Jerusalem feared Agnes would use her influence to reward her penniless relatives with offices (thereby denying them these lucrative appointments) -- or that her reputation was so sullied that she was considered unsuitable to wear a crown in the Holy City. Another explanation is that the Church, which viewed a betrothal as sacrosanct, considered her marriage to Amalric bigamous because -- in the eyes of the Church -- she was still married (via the betrothal) to Hugh d'Ibelin.  


The latter explanation has a certain charm and is supported by the fact that after Amalric set Agnes aside in order to secure the crown of Jerusalem, she became the wife of Hugh d'Ibelin. She was his wife at the time of his death in ca. 1171. 

Since Hugh and Agnes had no children together, the significance of this marriage is often overlooked. Yet, whatever the reasons the High Court objected to Agnes, Amalric must have been very grateful to Hugh d'Ibelin for taking her off his hands and clearing the way to the throne. From Hugh's perspective, on the other hand, Agnes was "damaged goods" (and possibly discarded on moral grounds, i.e. because of infidelity and licentiousness; she was later said to have had affairs with Aimery de Lusignan and with the future patriarch Heraclius.) Yet, while Agnes herself may have been no great prize, she was the mother of the heir to the throne because the High Court explicitly recognized the legitimacy of Amalric's children by Agnes even as it forced him to discard her. Thus Hugh d'Ibelin got a wife of dubious virtue and tarnished reputation, but he earned the gratitude of the king and the status of step-father to the future king. 

Unfortunately for Hugh, he did not live long enough to capitalize on his relationship to the young Baldwin. He was dead in 1171. Yet it may well have been the Ibelins' ties to Agnes de Courtney that brought them within the "royal" circle. Certainly, after Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, the surviving Ibelins were in a stronger position than before as (step) uncles of the king. 


Even Balian d'Ibelin's marriage to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena, the woman who had replaced Agnes in Amalric's bed and had been crowned queen in her place, is quite possibly in an ironic way the result of Agnes influence -- though not necessarily her intention. Agnes and Maria reputedly detested one another, and Maria as a wealthy widow could be compelled by no one -- not even the king -- to marry against her wishes. Yet, perversely it may have been because his sister-in-law was such a powerful woman at court that Balian had the opportunity to meet and court the Dowager Queen Maria. We will never know for sure, but the ties between Agnes and the Ibelins have too often been overlooked. We should never forget, however, that while family relations were more important in power-sharing in the Middle Ages, they were no less fraught with emotional complexities than they are today.


The story of the Ibelins continues next week.

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of four published novels and three yet to come. 


 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                          Buy now!