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, 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. 


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Friday, July 13, 2018

The House of Ibelin - Obscure Origins

The origins of the House of Ibelin remain obscure to this day, but one thing is certain: the first "Ibelin" was an adventurer, who made his fortune in the Holy Land. He was one of those men described by Fulk de Chartres, who soon "forgot" his origins and identified wholly with his new land and life in Outremer.


From the beginning of the 14th century, the Ibelins claimed their descent from the Counts of Chartres, but most historians dismiss this claim as concocted. Peter Edbury, one of the most important modern historians of the crusader states, writing in 1991 claims  "onomastic evidence points to a presumably less exalted Italian background, perhaps in Pisa or Sardinia.” (Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades 1191 -1374, p. 39) Six years later, however, Edbury had revised his thesis slightly, now suggesting Tuscan or Ligurian origins (Edbury, John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, p. 4). Sir Steven Runciman, in contrast, claimed that the house of Ibelin “was founded by the younger brother of a certain Guelin, who was deputy viscount of Chartres, that is to say, the Count of Blois’ representative in Chartres; and such officers in those days did not enjoy hereditary rank but were often drawn from lawyers’ families.” Runciman's preference for this version may have been influenced by the hindsight: so many of the 13th-century Ibelins were renowned lawyers.

Whatever his place of origin and whatever he called himself before coming to the Holy Land, the first man to identify himself as an “Ibelin” was a certain Barisan. Not only are his origins unknown, so are his dates of birth and death. All that we know about him for certain is that in 1115 he was appointed “Constable” of Jaffa. He was not raised to the nobility, however, until 1140, when the new castle of Ibelin, built as a bastion against attacks from Muslim-held Ascalon, was built. At some point (and this is a hotly debated issue among scholars of the topic) he married the heiress to the already extant barony of Ramla and Mirabel, Helvis. She, however, may not have been an heiress at the time of her wedding, as she had a brother, who clearly also had a right to inherit Ramla. Only after her brother's death, did Helvis have clear title to the barony, which she then passed to her husband and sons respectively.



Barisan is known to have had three sons, Hugh, Baldwin, and Barisan the Younger, more commonly known as Balian. Hugh succeeded to his father’s titles at the time of Barisan-the-Elder’s death (ca. 1150) and was active in military campaigns throughout the 1160s.  He was also the first man to style himself “of Ibelin.”  However, since Barisan-the-elder would have had to be a mature man (at least 30 years old) before he was entrusted with the constableship of one of the most important ports in the kingdom (Jaffa is not a good harbor but is the port closest to Jerusalem), we can assume that he was born no later than 1085. If he did not marry until 1140, he would have been a fifty-five-year-old bridegroom. While this is not exceptional in itself, it is rare for a first marriage, making it far more likely that Hugh was the son of an earlier, unrecorded marriage to a woman of more obscure origins than Helvis of Ramla. The next sons, Baldwin and Balian, however, are almost certainly the children of Helvis, and Baldwin always used his mother’s more prestigious title of “Ramla” rather than Ibelin. Balian, in contrast, initially used “Ibelin” as a family name because he was not lord of Ibelin (his brothers were) until he married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem.  But that is another story which will be told later.

Barisan-the-Elder died in or about 1150.  He probably died peacefully in his bed, as a more spectacular death would have been more likely to attract comment. He would have been about 65 years old when he died, which was a ripe old age in the early 12th century, particularly for a man who spent most of his life-fighting in a notoriously brutal environment. He would have been justified in being well-pleased with his rise from landless, younger son of a quasi-bourgeois family to baron in the Holy Land, but at his death, he could hardly envisage the power, prestige, and fame that his descendants would achieve over the next three centuries.

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.



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Friday, July 6, 2018

The House of Ibelin

During the 7th crusade led by St. Louis, the head of the Ibelin family attracted the amazement of the French Seneschal Jean de Joinville who wrote:

[Ibelin’s] galley came to shore painted all over above and below the water with armorial bearings, or a cross paté gules. He had full three hundred oarsmen in the galley, and each man had a shield bearing his arms, and with each shield was a pennon with his arms sewn in gold. (Joinville’s “Life of St. Louis,” Chapter 4: Landing in Egypt.)

A splashier display of wealth was hardly imaginable in the midst of battle. So just who were the "Ibelins" and where did he come from?


The House of Ibelin was by the time of the 7th crusade one of the most powerful noble families in the crusader states.  Sons of the House of Ibelin had held many noble titles over time: Lords of Ibelin, Ramla and Mirabel, Caymont, Beirut, Arsur, and Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the last traditionally a royal domain and title of the heirs to the throne.  The daughters of Ibelin married into the royal families of Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus, and Armenia. Ibelins served as regents of Jerusalem and Cyprus on multiple occasions, and they led revolts against what they viewed as over-reaching royal authority, most notably taking on the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II in 1229-1233.  They were respected as scholars. One translated Arab poetry into French, another (John of Jaffa) wrote a legal treatise that is not only a goldmine of information about the laws of the crusader kingdoms but is admired for the elegance of its style and the sophistication of its analysis.  The Ibelins also built magnificent palaces, whose mosaic courtyards, fountains, gardens and polychrome marble excited admiration. 

The Ibelins exemplified the Latin East in many ways. They were rich, luxury-loving, patrons of the arts, yet they were also fighitng men who could hold their own against Saracens, Mamlukes or their fellow knights. They were highly-educated and multi-lingual, whose diplomatic skills won the admiration of Saladin and whose legal reasoning confounded the "Wonder of the World," Emperor Frederick II. They also exemplified the crusader states in another way: the origins of the family are completely obscure, and the first Ibelin was almost certainly an adventurer, a man of knightly-rank but without land or title in whatever country he originated. Their story is a microcosm of the crusader states. 

Join me in the weeks to come as I look at individual Ibelins and their role in history.

 Members of the House of Ibelin are the subject of four published novels and three novels 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!




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Review: Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem



In this seminal work of immense importance to understanding the crusader states Ellenblum challenges the assumptions of prominent 20th century scholars concerning the composition and character of crusader settlement and society. Ellenblum, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, bases his startling conclusions on meticulous (indeed tedious) study of legal documents recording the demarcation and/or sale and settlement of disputes over landed property combined with an intensive archaeological survey of the region north of Jerusalem.



Sadly hidden behind a prosaic title (that probably discourages many readers) is one of the most important books on crusader society available today. The insights provided here about settlement patterns, the degree of integration with the local Christian inhabitants and segregation from the Muslim population, the sophistication of the agricultural techniques employed, and the levels of conversion to Islam are all invaluable insights that no one interested in the crusades or the Holy Land in the Middle Ages can afford to ignore.



Ellenblum’s research enabled the “reconstruction” of entire villages ― property by property ― identifying in the process the origins and vocations of many of the inhabitants. His survey turned up roughly 200 Frankish settlements, most of which had never been heard of before either because the settlements themselves had since been abandoned, ruined and overgrown, or because their Frankish origins were hidden behind modern Arabic names and more recent construction.



One of Ellenblum’s chief theses is that: “The Franks…were very successful settlers and were not only fighters and builders of fortifications.  The migrants who settled in the Kingdom of Jerusalem established a network of well-developed settlements…includ[ing] the construction of developed castra [towns], of ‘rural burgi,’ and monasteries, of castles that served as centers for seigniorial estates, of smaller castles, manor houses, farm houses, unfortified villages, parochial systems etc.”



Even more important, Ellenblum proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the claim of earlier historians such as Prawer and Smail “that the Franks were completely unaware of what went on in their fields (save when it came to collecting their share of the crops), and had no contact with the local inhabitants, is not based on written or archeological sources and is certainly not accurate.” (Emphasis added.)



Although the level of detail and the cataloguing of findings can make at times somewhat turgid text and slow reading, it is the level of detail that leaves no doubt that Ellenblum’s findings are based on incontrovertible facts. This book makes all previous conclusions about Frankish society obsolete, and any depiction of Frankish Palestine that does not take Ellenblum’s conclusions into account can be dismissed as inaccurate.

Ellenblum's findings are reflected in my novels set in Outremer.

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and characters 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!