Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs 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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom: Leo of Armenia

Although most of the plot in "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is speculation based on earlier or later developments, one of the most bizarre incidents described, the capture of Eschiva d’Ibelin by pirates, is recorded in the chronicles. While little beyond the name of the pirate (Kanakes/Canaqui) is known, the positive role played by Leo of Armenia gave me an excuse to introduce this fascinating man into the novel ― even if only briefly.

Leo (also Levon) was an Armenian prince who successfully defended and expanded his territories, gained a crown, and through his pro-Latin policies opened Armenia up to increased trade with the Italian city-states, thereby greatly increasing its prosperity.   

He was born in 1150, the younger son of Stephan, the son of Leo I, Lord of Armenian Cilicia. When just fifteen his father was murdered, apparently by agents of Leo’s paternal uncle, who whereupon made himself lord of Cilicia, while Leo and his elder brother Rupin sought refuge with their maternal relatives.

Another assassination, this time of the man who had killed their father, brought Rupin to the throne, with Leo, now 25, acting as his loyal and able lieutenant. In 1183, however, Rupin was taken prisoner by Bohemond III of Antioch. With his brother in captivity, Leo assumed control of Cilicia and set about raising the huge ransom demanded. Four years later, when Rupin returned, he chose (whether voluntarily or not is unclear) to retire to a monastery rather than resume the rule of his principality. Leo became the ruler of Cilicia.

It was, however, now 1187 and the powerful Sultan of Syria and Egypt, Salah ad-Din, had just made an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus. Leo concluded a treaty of expediency with Antioch, acknowledging Antioch’s suzerainty over Cilicia, and then took the offensive against the Seljuk Turks successfully. He also supported the Third Crusade, both by first providing men and supplies to Friedrich Barbarossa and, later, troops for the siege of Acre. He also loaned money to Bohemond of Antioch, although the latter supposedly did not repay it.

In 1191, when Salah ad-Din withdrew from the formerly Templar castle of Baghras, Leo sent troops to seize control of this vital fortress. This brought him into renewed conflict with Bohemond of Antioch, who considered the castle part of his principality. Leo invited Bohemend to Baghras to discuss the situation and promptly took him and his wife hostage. The tables reversed from the situation after his brother’s capture, Leo demanded that Antioch acknowledge Armenian suzerainty over Antioch. 

Bohemond quickly caved in and sent orders for the surrender of Antioch to Leo’s troops. The citizens of Antioch, however, were not prepared to surrender. A riot ensued that overwhelmed the Armenian troops. Bohemond’s eldest son Raymond seized control and was installed as regent until his father’s release could be secured. Raymond of Antioch also appealed to the King of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne, for assistance. Henri duely undertook a diplomatic mission to Sis, Leo’s capital. In exchange for renouncing his claim to suzerainty over Armenia, Bohemend, his wife and entourage were released without further ransom payments.

At about the same time (the dates are very vague in the contemporary chronicles), Leo obtained a crown. He appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor, the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope, winning the support of the later by promising to submit the Armenian church to Rome. Although it is doubtful if this was anything more than a ploy, it was sufficient to win Leo a crown. Just like Aimery de Lusignan, he was crowned and anointed by the Imperial Chancellor of Henry VI Hohenstaufen and the Papal Legate, the Bishop of Mainz, in January 1198. Leo reigned until 1219, and much of his later life he was involved in a struggle to impose his great-nephew as Prince of Antioch, but that is long after the events described in The Last Crusader Kingdom and so beyond the scope of this post. 

What intrigued me about Leo beyond the fact that he played a positive role in securing the release of Eschiva d’Ibelin is the tantalizing possibility that he had known Eschiva’s father, Baldwin d’Ibelin.

Baldwin d’Ibelin, Balian’s elder brother, disappears from the history of the Holy Land in 1186, after dramatically refusing to do homage to Guy de Lusignan. He then renounced his titles and wealth in favor of his son and quit the kingdom. The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, presumably based on the lost account of the Ibelin squire Ernoul, describes it this way:

After this [Guy de Lusignan] summoned Baldwin d’Ibelin and the other barons to a parliament at Acre…He requested that they pay him homage and fealty as vassals should to their lord… [He] summoned [Baldwin d’Ibelin] three times. But he, being a wise and stalwart man…replied: “My father never did homage to yours, and I will not do it to you…I will quit your kingdom within three days."

Then he took leave of Balian his brother and entrusted his son to him to look after until he reached his majority. After that he got on the road and, setting off with the other knights who had commended their fiefs, went to the Prince of Antioch.  When the prince of Antioch heard that Baldwin of Ibelin and so many knights were coming, he was delighted. He went out to meet them and received them with great joy. (Peter Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation, Ashgate, 1998, p. 28-29. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, paragraph 21.)

And he is never heard from again.

To be sure, the chronicle sited above talks about the barons advising King Guy to send to Baldwin of Ibelin and the Prince of Antioch to come to the kingdom’s aid when Saladin invaded, but clearly neither of them did. The Prince of Antioch was soon fighting for his own survival, but we hear no mention of Baldwin d’Ibelin being at his side.

However, the chronicle tells us the following:

When Leo of the Mountain, who was lord of Armenia, came to hear of the outrage that had befallen King Aimery and his lady, he was deeply saddened because of the love that he had both for King Aimery who was his friend and for Baldwin of Ibelin whose daughter she had been.

But how, where and when had Leo of Armenia come to know Baldwin d’Ibelin?

There is no chance that Baldwin and Leo would have met prior to Baldwin’s self-imposed exile from the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1186. Thus, they could only have come to know and like one another after Baldwin left the Kingdom of Jerusalem, most likely during the short period of truce between Antioch and Armenia, 1187-1193. This was precisely the period in which Leo of Armenia was doing all he could to hold back the Seljuk Turks on one hand, and assist the crusaders and fellow Christian states in the East on the other.

Conceivably, Baldwin d’Ibelin escorted Leo’s brother Rupin back to Armenia after Rupin’s ransom was paid. As this coincided roughly with the Battle of Hattin, Baldwin’s absence in Armenia would explain why he did not follow any appeals sent him, presumably by his brother or former peers, to aid in the defense of his former kingdom.

If Baldwin was in Armenia when news of Hattin arrived, he might also have concluded that all was lost in Jerusalem (as he had allegedly predicted), and have offered his sword to Leo. Leo was about to undertake a daring strike with inferior forces against the Seljuks. And if Baldwin d’Ibelin fought with Leo in the years of his greatest peril, to die sometime thereafter, possibly in battle or of his wounds, it would explain why Leo of Armenia responded so vigorously when he learned of Eschiva’s kidnapping.

While this is mere speculation ― as with so much of The Last Crusader Kingdom ― it is not mere fantasy.  For Eschiva, I believe, it would have been a comfort to learn that her father had, after abandoning her in 1187, come to her aid from beyond the grave by bringing her the assistance of this remarkable prince in her hour of greatest need.

For more about Baldwin d'Ibelin see the Jerusalem Trilogy: 

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1 comment:

  1. "Leo concluded a treaty of expediency with Antioch, acknowledging Antioch’s suzerainty over Cilicia,"

    No doubt the only way that Bohemond III of Antioch would agree to the treaty.

    "Holy war?" ROFLMAO

    Many of these -- so-called -- "crusading lords" were infect with severe cases of greed. Not to mention their arrogance in assuming that "the Lord" was with them in their endeavors.