Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs 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.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Interview with J. Stephen Roberts


J., it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to my blog, and fun to be reversing roles after being your guest on Real Crusades History so often in the past. For my readers, who may not be familiar with you and Real Crusades History, let’s start off with a brief introduction. Would you mind telling my readers who you are, how you became interested in the crusades and what Real Crusades History is all about?

Thanks Helena! I have loved having you on RCH so many times and look forward to having you on many more times in the future. My name is Joseph Stephen Roberts, and I’ve been studying the Crusades for around 15 years.

During one of my early semesters in college I took a course on the history of Spain on a whim.  Learning about the Crusades in Spain really struck me – this titantic struggle of the Christians to reconquer their country from the invading Moors. There was an epic quality to this cause, which came to define medieval Iberians, moving them on a spiritual as well as a martial level. That led me to an interest in the Crusades waged in other venues, such as the Holy Land, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Real Crusades History is a multimedia platform dedicated to Crusades history. We release regular youtube videos on the Crusades, run facebook groups on the Crusades, and also release a podcast on Crusades history every 1st and 15th of the month.

Great, now, turning to Why Does the Heathen Rage, let’s jump right in by starting with a question I like to ask all my fellow novelists.

What inspired you to write this particular book? Your work with Real Crusades History has given you a fantastic overview of a fascinating period in human history stretching from the end of the 11th to the beginning of the 14th century and geographically from Spain to Syria. Why did you pick this particular sliver of that history for your book?

I’ve always loved the first few decades of the Kingdom of Jerusalem – the so-called “pioneering” period from 1099-1130. This was a time when the Kingdom was expanding rapidly and winning many military victories despite enormous challenges. Baldwin II of Jerusalem is the classic warrior-king, and his adventures during this period seem almost like something out of a movie – from marrying a beautiful eastern princess, to being captured and escaping from a Turkish prison, to winning a sweeping victory in the field of battle. This is a period that’s often neglected as well, with the First Crusade, the reign of Baldwin IV, and the Kingdom’s fall in 1187 usually coming up in novels and stories. I wanted to give this era its well-deserved attention.

Why a novel? Real Crusades History is a site devoted to history — not fantasy, myth, politics or polemics. You’ve done an outstanding job there of striking a balance between accuracy and accessibility. Real Crusades History is factual without being academic, but it is very much a site for facts not fiction. So why fiction now?

Thanks for the kind words! What has always frustrated me most about the medieval era is its remoteness. The chronicles rarely give us the human details that we crave. I want a time machine so that I can travel back and experience what it all felt like, but since that’s impossible historical fiction seems like the best alternative. We don’t have access to the inner lives of Baldwin II of Jerusalem or his daughter Melisende, but through historical fiction we can make reasonable inferences about how they would have felt, what the intimate details would have looked like, and thereby travel back in time in some sense. My drive to do straight history is satisfied by making videos and podcasts, historical fiction gives me an outlet to present these famous historical personalities as real people, to make the struggles they endured vivid.

Tell us a little more about your readers? Who did you set out to reach with this book? Men? Women? Young people? Professionals? Why should they be interested in this book?

My intended audience for this book has always been, for the most part, people who follow Real Crusades History. Running RCH has given me the opportunity to interact with all sorts of people who love history and find the Crusades inspiring, and that seems to be a pretty broad cross-section, from young people, to older people, men, women, people from all over the world, college students, lawyers, clergy, business people, the retired, the list really goes on. I’m often amazed by the scope. Most of my readers have been RCH fans so far, and it’s been nice to give them something to hold in their hands after all these years of them following through the youtube channel. But I also hope really anyone who loves the Crusades and wants to get closer to the time and place of the events will pick up the book and give it a try.

When researching this book, what were your greatest challenges? I know I would have been frustrated by the inability to personally visit some of the most important settings of the novel — Kharput, Edessa, Antioch, Shaizar. Did you at least manage to get to Tyre and Jerusalem?

Yes, Israel is the only location featured in the novel I have visited, although I have been to the western part of Turkey (the site of medieval Edessa is today in eastern Turkey, I believe).  Writing this novel was a huge undertaking, and there were plenty of false starts and rewrites. Finding a way to integrate all the sources I wanted to include was a challenge. Also, just reading all the sources I wanted to use and taking notes from them was a massive undertaking. To this day I have a huge database of notes dealing with this period that will certainly serve me well if I want to make any videos on events covered in the novel.

Did the research for the novel uncover anything you hadn’t already known through your work on Real Crusades History? Were there any surprises? Things that made you change your mind about historical people or events? If so, what?

Usama ibn-Munqidh’s chronicle was a major source for my book (indeed, Usama is himself a prominent character in the story), and there were things in that book that I found fascinating. For example, his pet cheetah (which made it into the novel), and the rather thorough details of hunts he provided. I pretty much used an account of one of his hunts as the firm basis for the hunting scene in the book. Baldwin’s queen, Morphia of Melitene, is a striking figure, and her enlistment of Armenian mercenaries to rescue her husband again seems almost too romantic for fiction, and yet it happened. I was really amazed that Baldwin II chose not to depart Kharput when he had the chance, but instead decided to stay and help the Armenians hold it. I suppose a cynical motivation for this might have been to hold on to another castle, but that seems a little insane considering the remoteness of his position. Why did he do it? Maybe out of a sense of honor, to stand with his rescuers who could not have all escaped.
Now, what about the writing itself? What was the most difficult aspect of actually writing the novel after you’d done the research and had defined the storyline, characters etc?

Fiction is tough because you’re trying to capture emotion. You’re trying to make the feelings real in every scene, and that isn’t easy. Making your characters grow and change is a challenge, but absolutely necessary. One thing you learn writing novels early on (after you’ve thrown a few away) is that a progression of events and people doing stuff doesn’t make a story. The people have to have relationships with one another, otherwise who cares about them interacting? The events happening have to matter to them, and to have an emotional impact on them – if your character is bored by what’s going on, your reader will be too. Balancing all of that isn’t easy. 

Unless I’m mistaken, the real William de Burres, who was Constable of Jerusalem during the reign of Baldwin II, died childless. So the Robert de Burres of your novel is fictional. What made you decide to insert a fictional character into the real events rather than use a historical figure?

Melisende had a real life childhood friend who everyone suspected was more than a friend, but he wasn’t much of a hero and I didn’t find him very inspiring, so I decided to come up with my own. I tried to imagine what a first generation knight born in the Kingdom would have been like, especially if he’d grown up in the wild, peripheral County of Edessa. Since Melisende was born there, it made sense that she might have known such a knight. William Burres was a rough and ready sort of a guy, a pioneering figure who did a lot to establish the fledgling Crusader states, so I liked the idea of giving him a son who shared his traits. Indeed, he never had a son in real life, which perhaps made it easier to give him one (real offspring might have gotten in my way!). Most historical fiction involves invented characters who interact alongside the historically real ones, so I didn’t feel bad about inserting a few of my own inventions. Dharr, the servant of Balak, also was an invented character.

You certainly don't have to apologize for either invented character! We all do it all the time and both of these are believable and plausible, moving the story forward without altering history.

 Now, another of my favorite questions: What scene is your favorite? (You’re allowed three! I can never pick just one scene either….)

One of my favorite scenes is when the Crusaders enter Tyre after the conquest. I liked the feel of them stepping into this new portion of the Kingdom for the first time, riding through the streets knowing that now this was theirs. I also really enjoy the scene where Baldwin II and his companions are busted out of the dungeon by Morphia’s gang of Armenians – that is just such an epic moment, it would be great in a movie! For my third, I’ll pick Robert and Melisende’s visit to the Holy Sepulcher, an emotionally powerful moment for them which melds a lot of their devotions, loves, struggles, and anxieties.

 What would you like your readers to take away from this book? What do you want them to remember or learn?

I want readers to get a feel for what the project of the conquest of the Holy Sepulcher meant to twelfth century Latin Europeans. A deep piety lay at the heart of this enterprise, combined with a righteous anger over the idea that Christ’s tomb would be controlled by heathens. Wrongly, many moderns believe the Crusades were a cynical exercise in greed – which says more about our own culture than the medieval era. What I wanted to show was that the Holy Sepulcher was an enormous motivation for people like Baldwin II, Melisende, and my fictional Robert. They suffered for this, but they thought that it was worth it. They were willing to endure enormous trials for this cause.

1Do you plan any more novels? If so, will they follow Robert de Burres to new adventures? Or do you plan to choose a completely different piece of crusades history? (I hope I’m not be presumptuous to suggest it will be crusades history…..)

I’m working on notes right now for a novel about the Third Crusade, which is another hugely emotional and powerful episode that I think works brilliantly in a novel format. Unlike my first book, this is a Crusades topic that’s probably been done more than any other in fiction, but I still want to do it because the feelings I want to emphasize and bring out I have not seen elsewhere. The character of Richard the Lionheart has become vivid to me in studying him for all these years, and I want to capture him in a narrative as I see him. Many of his good qualities simply do not come through in most novelizations of the Third Crusade. 

I have done a couple of short stories centered around the "Why Does the Heathen Rage?" period and characters, and I’m currently writing a short story about the Crusade of Las Navas de Tolosa. I may end up putting out a collection of short stories – Tales of the Crusades - before my Third Crusade novel sees the light of day.

Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. I'll be interested to hear what you think of my Richard the Lionheart in Envoy of Jerusalem, which also covers the Third Crusade.  I promise he's neither a baffoon, a brute nor an idiot! It’s been fun talking to you — even if only virtually. Good luck with sales!

Thanks so much for your questions Helena, they were very enjoyable! Looking forward to all your future endeavours!

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Youngest Brother - An Excerpt from "Boy of the Agoge"

Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae, was not raised like a prince. Because he was born long after two elder brothers, he was not the heir to the throne and was subjected to the harsh upbringing of ordinary Spartan youth -- the agoge. The first book in my Leonidas trilogy, A Boy of the Agoge, describes what Leonidas' life as a Spartan schoolboy might have been like. In this scene, having failed to be elected leader of his "herd," he is confronted by both of his elder brothers.

At the sound of his name, Leonidas jumped guiltily and turned around to face his older brother. Dorieus was beautiful. In fact, he seemed to embody manly beauty in the abstract, as if he were a throwback to Herakles himself. He was tall for his age. His shoulders were as broad as a grown man's. His arms and legs were a melody of entwined muscle. His belly was flat and hard as if it were made of bronze. He was now an awesome 18 years of age, and so Leonidas had to stand with his hands at his side and his eyes at his feet and call him "sir." 

"Yes, sir," he said dutifully.

Dorieus came to stand directly before him. His head was shaved too, of course, but he was wearing training armor, carried a shield slung on his back, and a real sword hung from his baldric -- something Leonidas couldn't dream about for another ten years.

"Is it true what I hear? That you were not elected herd leader?" Dorieus had been herd leader of his unit ever since he had enrolled in the agoge. He had won the contest of Artemis Orthia at 16. He had innumerable prizes for running, wrestling, javelin and discus. Dorieus was quite simply the most splendid of all the young men still in the agoge -- not excepting even those youths in the age cohorts ahead of him.

"Yes, sir," Leonidas answered the question.

"And why not?"

"Ask the others, sir. They were the ones who voted." Even as he answered, Leonidas stiffened his stomach muscles and braced for the blow Brotus would have given him for such an impudent retort.

Dorieus was made of different stuff. "That was a very facile answer, boy, and you know it. Try again."

"Ephorus is faster and stronger than I am, sir."

"Then why aren't you in the gymnasium improving your strength rather than loitering around the agora looking for handouts like a mongrel dog?"

Everyone in the whole agora (it seemed like the whole city to Leonidas) was listening to them.

"Because, sir, if I get that meat pasty over there, I will have far more strength than if I try to exercise in the gym when I'm half starved to death."

The pastry vendor laughed outright, but Dorieus was unimpressed. "You are either a fool or you are trying to provoke me. The leanest dogs run fastest, and the hungriest lion makes the kill."

"How do you know the hungriest lion makes the kill, sir? Have you talked to one?"

"Now I know you are just trying to provoke me, little brother, but I won't play your silly game. You disgrace our house and our mother, just as Brotus told me you did." Dorieus turned on his heel and departed, everyone in the agora making way for him as if before a reigning king. Leonidas stood in his wake, feeling very small and silly and worthless.

Someone jostled his arm. He looked over alarmed, but it was only the pasty vendor. "Here you go, lad." He offered him one of the good pasties -- not the one picked at by the birds. "Eat up and enjoy it. Don't let that pompous ass get you down."

The vendor was a helot, of course. Leonidas knew that his brother would be appalled if he turned around and saw what Leonidas did next, but he didn't care. He took the pasty and smiled up at the vendor. "Thank you! I won't forget this. When I grow up and have money, I'll buy only from you."

The vendor laughed. His front teeth were missing. "Is that a promise, little Leonidas? Will you make me a purveyor of the Agiad royal house one day?"

"Well, I can't do that," Leonidas admitted with evident regret, "I'm never going to be king. But I'll buy all my own pasties from you, " Leonidas assured him solemnly. He was serious, even if the helot seemed to think it was a joke.

By the time the third of his brothers, Cleomenes, took notice of his failure to win election from the other seven-year-olds in his "herd," Leonidas was rather tired of the whole thing. Besides, he had been raised to look down on this half-brother as something distinctly "inferior" and "distasteful."

Cleomenes was King Anaxandridas' son by "that other woman." Although the ephors had made a great show of setting aside Spartan marriage law and allowing King Anaxandridas to take a second wife, Leonidas had been raised in his mother's household, and she insisted that the ephors ("nothing but a rude coterie of jumped-up royal servants) had no such authority. How could five ordinary citizens (who were not even priests and without the sanction of Delphi!) simply set aside Spartan law? This question, when asked indignantly by the Agiad queen, was clearly rhetorical, and Leonidas had never heard anyone dare to answer her. Even his father, on the one occasion when Leonidas happened to hear her raise this beloved topic in his presence, had only shrugged. The ageing king had been too weary to fight with his queen over this bitter issue.

If the ephors had no right to set Spartan law aside, then "that other woman" was not King Anaxanadridas' wife, but his concubine. Ergo, the child this concubine bore was a bastard -- pure and simple. Queen Taygete never referred to Cleomenes by any other term than "that bastard" -- although the adjectives used to describe "the bastard" varied over time.

At first, on the basis of helot rumors, Taygete had been led to believe that Cleomenes was "sickly" and so he had been "that feeble bastard." Then it was rumored that he was rather wild and self-willed, so she called him that "unruly bastard." When as a little boy of about ten it was reported in the city that he had been caught telling some minor lie, he became "that deceitful bastard." And because, as heir apparent to the Agiad throne, he was exempt from flogging, she called him "that cowardly bastard" -- although obviously Cleomenes had no choice in the matter. Following an incident in which he allegedly showed disrepect for the gods, he became "that impious bastard." So it was this "feeble, unruly, deceitful, cowardly and impious bastard" that confronted Leonidas just outside the monument to Lycurgus one fine, summer morning of Leonidas' first year in the agoge.

Leonidas like most of his fellow "little boys" did his best to avoid interrogations from their elders about what they had (or had not) learned so far by avoiding his elders altogether. At the sight of someone older, most boys tried to dart out of the way without being noticed. Unfortunately, just when he thought he'd made his escape, a mocking voice called after him, "Well, if it isn't my littlest brother Leonidas! Trying to run away like a coward too. Come here, boy!"

With an inward sigh, Leonidas stopped, turned around, and when he stood a yard away from his tormentor, dutifully stopped and faced him. "Sir?"

Cleomenes was a year older than Dorieus and hence 19 years old and should have been a so-called meleirene. But Cleomenes, as the heir-apparent to the Agiad throne, was exempted from the agoge. He did not wear his hair shaved, nor was he barefoot. He was dressed in a simple but fine chiton. Although Leonidas was supposed to keep his eyes down, he couldn't resist one glance at the face of this feeble-unruly-deceitful-impious coward. To his embarrassment, he met his brother's eyes, where were examining him with discomfiting intensity.

Cleomenes could not be called beautiful by any means.  He did not have Dorieus' even features or his broad shoulders and muscular arms and legs. He was tanned and by no means fat, but there was nevertheless a softness about him. Furthermore, his shoulders were narrow and the joints all seemed too large for his limbs, suggesting that his muscles were underdeveloped. His face, too, was somehow misshapen without being actually deformed. He had his father's too large nose, his teeth were too prominent, and his eyes set too close together.

But those eyes were very sharp, and they seemed to miss nothing as they drilled into Leonidas. "So you're the runt of the family, are you?"

Leonidas viewed this as a rhetorical question and said nothing, but Cleomenes snapped his fingers. "I asked you a question, boy."


"Yes, sir, what?"

"I'm the runt of the family, sir."

"Couldn't even get elected herd leader, I heard."

"No, sir."

"I like that," Cleomenes answered with a smile that was anything but friendly. "At least you won't have any populist delusions like your elder brother."

Leonidas wasn't sure what he was talking about and held his tongue. Cleomenes' eyes narrowed. "I must say one thing for you, however. You don't look as dumb as your brothers." He paused as if expecting Leonidas to protest, but Leonidas had no intention of making that mistake. So Cleomenes continued with a mixture of provocation and satisfaction. "You're not so dumb, are you, little Leonidas."

Although this too seemed rhetorical, Leonidas did not want to risk another rebuke and answered dutifully, "I wouldn't know, sir."

"If you are half as clever as you look, you'll remember one thing: you are the product of incest, the product of a boneheaded sire crossbred with a dim-witted dam. I, in contrast, am descended through my mother from Chilon the Wise, honored throughtout the civilized world for his intelligence. You won't outwit me, little Leonidas."

Leonidas shook his head dutifully, noting that the "feeble-unruly-deceitful-impious-cowardly bastard" clearly had a long of unpleasant titles for his half-brothers as well.

 Buy a copy of  A Boy of the Agoge in ebook or paperback on Amazon now!



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Knight of Jerusalem - An Excerpt

Today is the last day to buy Knight of Jerusalem for just $2.99. 


 Envoy of Jerusalem, the third book in my Balian d'Ibelin biography will be released later this summer. So, I'll be offering the first two books at a discount for a limited time only. Knight of Jerusalem is on sale now for $2.99. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. Balian's elder brother, Hugh Baron of Ibelin, has had an accident. Balian is with him.

“I need a priest, Balian,” his brother’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“The nearest Latin priest is at Ibelin. I’ve sent Alexis for a litter—”
“There’s an Orthodox church in the next village,” Hugh cut him off. “Send for him!” That his devout brother would think of turning to an Orthodox priest made it even more certain that Hugh thought he was dying, but Balian still refused to believe it—even though he dutifully sent the squire for the Syrian priest. Balian reached for his brother’s hand; it was so cold it chilled him. “What happened, Hugh? Were you attacked?”
“No. Nothing so dramatic. My stallion shied. I fell badly. Iheard my bones crack. In my neck.”
“Can you move your legs?” Balian asked anxiously.
“No. Now you know why I want the priest.”
Balian crossed himself and started praying silently. “We’ll get you back to Ibelin—” he started to assure his brother, but his brother cut him off.
“No. Just—fetch me—a priest.”
“He’s on his way, Hugh,” Balian assured him, holding his hand. The cold hand flinched slightly and then closed around Balian’s with surprising strength. His brother clamped his teeth together, apparently fighting a wave of pain. As the pain eased somewhat, Hugh started speaking earnestly. “Balian, I’m sorry to leave you like this. I had hoped —” He broke off with a gasp and held his breath until the pain had eased again. “Never forget that our father was a younger son. He came to Outremer with nothing. Nothing but his sword and his courage.”
Balian nodded. He himself had grown up knowing that with two elder brothers, he would inherit nothing. Hugh was still speaking. “He won Ibelin with his service to the King and nothing else.”
Balian nodded again; he was intimately familiar with his father’s history even if he had never known the man. Hugh had fought alongside their father for a decade and had raised Balian on tales of his father’s strength, courage, and wisdom.
“Barry will inherit Ibelin now—since I have no issue.” The dying man’s regret was audible, and Balian’s heart went out to him. Hugh’s mind, however, was on the younger brother he had raised like a son. “You’ll always have a place in Barry’s household—but that will bring you little. Neither honor nor fortune.”
Balian had to agree with that. He was only two years younger than their father’s namesake and in consequence had always lived in his brother’s shadow. Barry was tall, blond, and powerfully built. He cast a big shadow.
“Better to seek honor and wealth elsewhere,” Hugh advised, grasping Balian’s hand firmly for emphasis. Hugh and Barry had become increasingly estranged ever since Barry came of age and took control of Ramla. Ramla had an income four times that of Ibelin—and Hugh, who’d held Ramla for almost ten years as guardian for his younger brother, naturally felt the loss of both income and prestige. It didn’t help that the loss of Ramla had coincided with the “return” of Hugh’s lost bride, Agnes de Courtenay. She had done much to poison the atmosphere between the brothers.

“Jerusalem,” continued the dying man, drawing Balian’s attention back to the present. “Go to Jerusalem.” Balian frowned. He had been at court often enough with his brothers as a child, even attending the coronation and later the marriage of King Amalric, but he had not been to Jerusalem since he was knighted two years earlier and came to live again at Ibelin with Hugh.
“Jerusalem owes me a favor,” Hugh remarked, his contorted face twisting into a kind of smile, “and since I cannot call it in, I want you to. Go to Jerusalem and tell him I sent you on my deathbed to collect the debt.”
Balian suspected this had to do with his sister-in-law, Agnes. Amalric’s succession had been controversial at the time and contingent on him setting aside Agnes de Courtenay. Balian speculated that it was only because Hugh had agreed to take Agnes back that it had been possible for Amalric to persuade her, the Patriarch, and her powerful family to accept the dissolution of her marriage to Amalric. Then again, it didn’t really matter what debt the King owed Hugh, as long as it helped Balian in a court overflowing with young men who had come to seek their fortunes from all over Christendom. Balian wasn’t convinced he had much of a chance of rising among such competition, but he supposed this was as good a place to start as any. “I’ll go,” he assured his brother.
The pain had its grip on the dying man, and he could only clutch his brother’s hand and grind his teeth in answer. When the painreceded, he asked again for the priest.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Cast of Characters 12: Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel

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 his older brother, Baldwin, Baron of Ramla and Mirabel.

In the Hollywood film "The Kingdom of Heaven," Balian d'Ibelin has an affair with Princess Sibylla, but historically it was his elder brother Baldwin who courted her -- with the hope of becoming king.

Baldwin was arguably the more colorful and (initially at least) more important character during the brothers' 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 afterwards, 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 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 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 for the time being 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 were 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.

Baldwin IV 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. As we have seen, 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.  Tripoli withdrew to his own lands and made a separate peace with Salah ad-Din (which he later abrogated before eventually doing homage).  Ramla 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) 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.” (p. 12.)

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. Seven years after Baldwin had abandoned a second wife and disappeared from history, Baldwin’s son-in-law, Aimery de Lusginan, became Lord of Cyprus. Aimery then offered to place Cyprus under the Holy Roman Empire in exchange for a crown. Roughly ten years after Baldwin of Ramla had turned his back on the Kingdom of Jerusalem, his daughter Eschiva was crowned Queen of Cyprus. For the next three hundred years, the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus was ruled by her descendants.

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

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